I devoutly wish that Herodotus’s other characteristics were imitable; not all of them, of course — that is past praying for — but any one of them: the agreeable style, the constructive skill, the native charm of his Ionic, the sententious wealth, or any of a thousand beauties which he combined into one whole, to the despair of imitators. But there is one thing — the use he made of his writings, and the speed with which he attained the respect of all Greece; from that you, or I, or any one else, might take a hint. As soon as he had sailed from his Carian home for Greece, he concentrated his thoughts on the quickest and easiest method of winning a brilliant reputation for himself and his works. He might have gone the round, and read them successively at Athens, Corinth, Argos, and Sparta; but that would be a long toilsome business, he thought, with no end to it; so he would not do it in detail, collecting his recognition by degrees, and scraping it together little by little; his idea was, if possible, to catch all Greece together. The great Olympic Games were at hand, and Herodotus bethought him that here was the very occasion on which his heart was set. He seized the moment when the gathering was at its fullest, and every city had sent the flower of its citizens; then he appeared in the temple hall, bent not on sight-seeing, but on bidding for an Olympic victory of his own; he recited his Histories, and bewitched his hearers; nothing would do but each book must be named after one of the Muses, to whose number they corresponded.
He was straightway known to all, better far than the Olympic winners. There was no man who had not heard his name; they had listened to him at Olympia, or they were told of him by those who had been there; he had only to appear, and fingers were pointing at him: ‘There is the great Herodotus, who wrote the Persian War in Ionic, and celebrated our victories.’ That was what he made out of his Histories; a single meeting sufficed, and he had the general unanimous acclamation of all Greece; his name was proclaimed, not by a single herald; every spectator did that for him, each in his own city.
The royal road to fame was now discovered; it was the regular practice of many afterwards to deliver their discourses at the festival; Hippias the rhetorician was on his own ground there; but Prodicus came from Ceos, Anaximenes from Chios, Polus from Agrigentum; and a rapid fame it brought, to them and many others.
However, I need not have cited ancient rhetoricians, historians, and chroniclers like these; in quite recent times the painter Aetion is said to have brought his picture, Nuptials of Roxana and Alexander, to exhibit at Olympia; and Proxenides, High Steward of the Games on the occasion, was so delighted with his genius that he gave him his daughter.
It must have been a very wonderful picture, I think I hear some one say, to make the High Steward give his daughter to a stranger. Well, I have seen it — it is now in Italy — so I can tell you. A fair chamber, with the bridal bed in it; Roxana seated — and a great beauty she is — with downcast eyes, troubled by the presence of Alexander, who is standing. Several smiling Loves; one stands behind Roxana, pulling away the veil on her head to show her to Alexander; another obsequiously draws off her sandal, suggesting bed-time; a third has hold of Alexander’s mantle, and is dragging him with all his might towards Roxana. The King is offering her a garland, and by him as supporter and groom’s-man is Hephaestion, holding a lighted torch and leaning on a very lovely boy; this is Hymenaeus, I conjecture, for there are no letters to show. On the other side of the picture, more Loves playing among Alexander’s armour; two are carrying his spear, as porters do a heavy beam; two more grasp the handles of the shield, tugging it along with another reclining on it, playing king, I suppose; and then another has got into the breast-plate, which lies hollow part upwards; he is in ambush, and will give the royal equipage a good fright when it comes within reach.
All this is not idle fancy, on which the painter has been lavishing needless pains; he is hinting that Alexander has also another love, in War; though he loves Roxana, he does not forget his armour. And, by the way, there was some extra nuptial virtue in the picture itself, outside the realm of fancy; for it did Aetion’s wooing for him. He departed with a wedding of his own as a sort of pendant to that of Alexander; his groom’s-man was the King; and the price of his marriage-piece was a marriage.
Herodotus, then (to return to him), thought that the Olympic festival would serve a second purpose very well — that of revealing to the Greeks a wonderful historian who had related their victories as he had done. As for me — and in Heaven’s name do not suppose me so beside myself as to intend any comparison between my works and his; I desire his favour too much for that — but one experience I have in common with him. On my first visit to Macedonia, my thoughts too were busy with my best policy. My darling wish was to be known to you all, and to exhibit my writings to as many Macedonians as might be; I decided that it would be too great an undertaking at such a time of year to go round in person visiting city by city; but if I seized the occasion of this your meeting, appeared before you all, and delivered my discourse, my aspirations, I thought, might be realized that way.
And now here are you met together, the elite of every city, the true soul of Macedonia; the town which lodges you is the chief of all, little enough resembling Pisa, with its crowding, its tents and hovels and stifling heat; there is as great a difference between this audience and that promiscuous crowd, mainly intent upon mere athletics, and thinking of Herodotus only as a stop-gap; here we have orators, historians, professors, the first in each kind — that is much in itself; my arena, it seems, need not suffer from comparison with Olympia. And though, if you insist on matching me with the Polydamases, Glaucuses, and Milos of literature, you must think me a very presumptuous person, it is open to you on the other hand to put them out of your thoughts altogether; and if you strip and examine me independently, you may decide that at least I need not be whipped. 37 Considering the nature of the contest, I may well be satisfied with that measure of success.
37 Cf. Remarks addressed to an Illiterate Book-fancier, 9.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57