Grudging Gods: theology and characterization in Herodotus, and Interpretation from Plutarch to the present
Ellis, Boschetti Anthony
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This thesis is an investigation into Herodotus’ views about the gods and how they relate to human life and history, and particularly how narrative and theology interact. It is divided into four chapters: Chapter one (The History of Herodotean Theology) falls into two parts. In the first I outline the reception of Herodotus’ theological views from antiquity to the present, focusing on the warners’ statements that ‘the divinity is phthoneros’, the subject of controversy since Plutarch. I explore the role of contemporary rhetorical and religious pressures in forging various interpretative traditions, and trace their evolution over the last five centuries of scholarship. The second part examines the assumptions and approaches of more recent scholarship to the problems that arise in Herodotean theology. Chapter two (Religious Discourses in the Histories) develops our understanding of Herodotus’ theological inconsistencies, which have increasingly come to dominate discussion of Herodotean religion. I make the case that Herodotus uses various theological discourses or registers, which are (literally interpreted) quite incompatible. I explore the influence of narrative style, narratorial persona, and context upon Herodotus’ theological assumptions and vocabulary, before considering the question of his own ‘belief’. Chapter three (The Phthonos of Gods and Men) offers my own analysis of the much-disputed concepts of ‘divine φθόνος’ and ‘νέμεσις’ in the Histories and classical Greek more widely. I begin by examining the use of phthonos in the context of humans from Homer to the fourth century. I then offer a close analysis of the meaning and significance of the five speeches that assert that ‘the divinity is phthoneros’ (or phthoneei), which precede or refer back to the most dramatic reversals of fortune in the work. Chapter four (Theology in the Croesus Logos) analyses the treatment of theology in the Croesus logos. It explores how Herodotus crafts a coherent narrative while negotiating the numerous theological principles of his contemporary world and narrative tradition. I argue that Croesus’ character and the deceptive oracles that force him to campaign are commonly misread, largely due to attempts to interpret the story on a quite different narrative patterning that is compatible with anachronistic principles of divine ‘benevolence’ or ‘divine justice’. The Epilogue draws together the themes discussed in the previous chapters, with some comments on the relationship between literature and theology more generally.