Herodotus and the ‘Myth’ of the Trojan War

Suzanne Said

in Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199693979
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191745324 | DOI:
Herodotus and the ‘Myth’ of the Trojan War

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This chapter examines the allusions in the Histories to what we nowadays call the ‘myth’ of the Trojan War. It first attempts to define its status: where should it be placed on Herodotus' scale of credibility, with muthoi undeserving of belief on the one end and plain historical facts on the other? Does Herodotus, in this respect, differentiate between a spatium mythicum and a spatium historicum? Next, it explores Herodotus' strategies in demythologizing the stories of the Trojan War and offers a suggestion about the deeper purpose behind his rationalizing agenda. It then addresses the role that excerpts of the Trojan War myth play in the rhetoric ascribed to Herodotus' characters, especially in the context of individual and collective propaganda. Finally, it investigates Herodotus' own rhetorical use of these mythical stories as an exemplum in a work that, in Herington's words, ‘stands exactly at the frontier where two great literary eras meet, the era [of] poetry and legend…and the era of prose, of history’. For as in archaic poetry or Attic tragedy, the myth of Troy reverberates throughout the work and helps us to understand the more recent past (the Persian Wars) as well as the present (the Peloponnesian War).

Keywords: Trojan War; demythologization; rationalisation; character speech; myth as example; spatium mythicum; patium historicum; women

Chapter.  7742 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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