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Artemisia in Herodotus

Author(s): Rosaria Vignolo Munson

Source: Classical Antiquity, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Apr., 1988), pp. 91-106
Published by: University of California Press
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Artemisia in Herodotus

ARTEMISIA, queen of Herodotus' native Halicarnassus and ally of Xerxes in

the expedition against Greece, belongs to the restricted category of those phe
nomena in theHistories explicitly qualified as th6mata:1

Of the officers I shall make no mention, because no need is laid on me,

but I shall mention Artemisia at whom I especially marvel [Tig
loT a
dOA aO ta LEIoeDct], who being a woman went to war against
Greece. After the death of her husband she herself held the royal
power, and although she had a grown up son, she took part in the
expedition on account of her daring and manly courage [av6gQqirg],
and not under any compulsion.
This passage opens a rather lengthy chapter devoted toArtemisia (7.99.1-3) in
the Catalogue of the Persian Forces, where Herodotus just names non-Persian
commanders and generals, as well as several "most famous" Persian individuals
embarked on the ships (7.98), but otherwise declines to mention the native
leaders of the foreign divisions of both fleet and army (7.96). The formulaic
transition found at 7.99.1, which singles out for discussion one item from awhole
class, occurs again in the account of Salamis, where Herodotus states that he is
not able to tell exactly how individualGreeks andBarbarians behaved during the

1. The term often serves to draw attention to the special significance of a fact about to be
discussed. See R. V. Munson, "The Celebratory Purpose of Herodotus: The Story of Arion in the
Histories," Ramus 15, no. 2 (1986) 93-104; H. Barth, "ZurBewertung undAuswahl des Stoffe durch
Herodot (Die Begriffe th6ma, thomaz6, th6masios und th6mastos),"Klio 50 (1968) 93-110.


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ANTIQUITY Volume 7/No. 1/April 1988

battle, but he will mention Artemisia (8.87.1).2 Artemisia represents a remark

able exception in the historian's selectivity: she contributes to the expedition
only 5 ships out of 1,207 inXerxes' fleet (7.89.1, 99.2), and yet, on the whole,
she receives more coverage in the narrative of that expedition than any other
individual fightingon the Persian side, afterMardonius.
Herodotus must have felt especially inclined to relate interesting informa
tion about Halicarnassus and was perhaps even proud of his countrywoman's
exploits.3 But to assume that thesemotives, external as they are to the historical
circumstances which Herodotus is describing, fully explain the prominence he
gives toArtemisia is equivalent to denying in advance that she plays an integral
role in the context and thatHerodotus is here fully in control of his material.
One should rather ask how much and in which way Artemisia contributes to
Herodotus' account of Xerxes' expedition againstGreece, and in particularwhy
the author allows her to dominate his carefully balanced narrative of the crucial
battle of Salamis. In the attempt to answer these questions, Iwill examine the
individual appearances of Artemisia in theHistories. But first Iwill start to show
how the conspicuous feature of her feminine gender andmasculine role, which in
all likelihood sparked Herodotus' interest in this extraordinary character,4 al
ready relates her to the history of thewar between Greeks andBarbarians.


The word andreie, paradoxically applied to Artemisia in the introduction

(7.99.1),5 coupled with Xerxes' comment in reference to her action at Salamis
that "hismen have become women and thewomen men" (8.88.3), indicates that
Artemisia somehow partakes of the Greek-Barbarian antithesis cast in the terms
of a contrast between male and female.6 Artemisia herself in her speech to
Xerxes before Salamis declares that "the Barbarians are inferior to the Greeks
on the sea as women are to men" ( Used figuratively, male and female
are somewhat shifting and undefined terms, whose range of connotations will
become clearer at the end of this paper. As opposed to theGreeks, theBarbari

2. For analogous formulae of selection, cf., e.g., 1.29.1, 82.1, 184, and see Henry Wood, The
Histories of Herodotus: An Analysis of theFormal Structure (TheHague 1972) 14.
3. F. Jacoby, "Herodotus," inRE Suppl 2 (Stuttgart 1913) 205-520, esp. 216.
4. See A. Tourraix, "La Femme et le pouvoir chez Herodote," DHA 2 (1976) 369-86, for the
importance of women inHerodotus' narrative.
5. In a unique instance. The adjective andreios occurs six times, and in three cases a contrast
with women is expressed or implied: J. E. Powell, A Lexicon toHerodotus (Cambridge, England
1936), s.v.
6. Cf. 7.57.2, 210.2, 9.20, 107.1. Opposites in early Greek thought are discussed by G. E. R.
Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in Early Greek Thought (Cambridge,
England 1966), esp. 94-102. For Herodotus' treatment of opposites, seeM. Rosellini and S. Said,
"Usages de femmes et autres nomoi chez les "sauvages" d'Herodote: Essai de lecture structurale,"
ASNP 3, no. 8.3 (1978) 949-1005; D. Lateiner, "Polarita: II principio della differenza comple
mentare," QS 22 (1985) 79-193; J. Redfield, "Herodotus theTourist," CP 80 (1985) 97-118.

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Artemisia inHerodotus 93

ans are not manly because they prove inadequate in themasculine task of war, as
the utterances of both Artemisia andXerxes convey. In addition, theBarbarians
are, in Herodotus and other Greek authors, female-like in a much broader
sense: their culture appears on the whole characterized by many different fea
tures which the Greeks regarded as female-softness, but also deviousness,
ferocity, and excess-as well as by the dangerous predominance of realwomen.7
Artemisia, the woman whom Herodotus callsmasculine, is both analogous
and antithetical to the Persians, and this ambiguity affects her relation to the
opposite side, theGreeks. As anAsiatic female invaderof Greece, assistant to
Xerxes and even caretaker of his children-a female function she shares, signifi
cantly, with a ferocious emasculated "slave"8-she identifieswith the Barbari
ans. She appears from the Greek point of view as the embodiment of a "monde a
l'envers,"where thewomen are "men" and themen are "women" and "slaves,"9
aworld threatening to overcome Greece, the place of normality and civilization.
Aristophanes in fact equates Artemisia with theAmazons (Lys. 671 ff.), and in
Herodotus the report that theAthenian generals, outraged that awoman should
appear in arms against Greece, put up a special reward for her capture (8.93.2),
reflects this contemporary view.10
On the whole, however, an opposite and apparently irreconcilable side of
Artemisia, her Hellenic and "male" side, predominates inHerodotus' portrayal.
Unlike most other ruling queens of theHistories," Artemisia is of Greek stock
and the ruler and commander of Greeks.'2 Her character corresponds to these
facts. IfHerodotus knew about her any gossip of female deviousness, passion, or

7. F. I. Zeitlin, "The Dynamics of Misogyny: Myth and Mythmaking in the Oresteia," in

Women in theAncient World: The Arethusa Papers, ed. John Peradotto and J. P. Sullivan (Albany,
N.Y. 1984) 159-94, esp. 163-64; Helen SancisiWeerdenburg, "ExitAtossa: Images ofWomen in
Greek Historiography on Persia," Images of Women inAntiquity, ed. A. Cameron and A. Kuhrt
(Detroit 1983) 20-33.
8. At 8.103-6; Hermotimus is the author of "the greatest revenge we know about" (105.1).
9. I have borrowed the expression fromR. Weil, "Artemise, ou lemonde i l'envers,"Recueil
Plassart (Paris 1976) 215-24. For the idea of the Persian king's subjects as slaves, see infra, pp. 00,
00-00 and n.18. A society made up of effeminate and enslaved men represents a complete reversal
with respect to the world of the Greek polis, exclusive of both women and slaves. See P. Vidal
Naquet, "Slavery and the Rule of Women inTradition, Myth and Utopia," inMyth, Religion and
Society, ed. R. C. Gordon (Cambridge, England 1981) 187-200, esp. 188.
10. The Amazons are often mentioned in fifth-century oratory as the precedent of Persia
invadingGreece. See W. B. Tyrrell, Amazons: A Study inAthenian Mythmaking (Baltimore 1984)
13-19, 62-63, andHdt. 9.27.4.
11. I.e., theMassagetan Tomyris (1.205 ff.); the Babylonian Semiramis and Nitocris (1.184
ff.); Nitocris of Egypt (2.100); and Pheretime of Cyrene, who isGreek (4.165).
12. At 7.99.2-3. Jacoby, RE Suppl. 2, 211;W. W. How and J.Wells, A Commentary on
Herodotus (Oxford 1928) ad loc.Herodotus somewhat implausibly states thatHalicarnassus and the
other cities under Artemisia's command all had an entirely Doric population, since they had been
colonized by Dorians. Of Artemisia he says that her mother was Cretan and her father "Halicarnas
sian."Although Lygdamis may have been Carian in the proper sense (SimonHornblower, Mausolus
[Oxford 1982] 10 n.49), in the light of what Herodotus says aboutHalicarnassus it is evident that he
regardedhim of Greek descent, and not of the race he discusses at 1.171.

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ANTIQUITY Volume 7/No. 1/April 1988

bloody revenge such as we find in some later accounts of Artemisia,13 or such as

Herodotus himself goes out of his way to report concerning her indirect associ
ate, the eunuch Hermotimus, he mentions nothing of the sort and keeps her
remarkably free of those barbaric traitswhich in theHistories tend to character
ize the dominant females of the East.14 Foreign to bedroom politics and to
feminine issues,15theHerodotean Artemisia belongs to the "outdoors," and by
virtue of her skill both in public council and inwar she appears, not merely
masculine like a wild Amazon, but the representative of a straightmale world,
like a cultured Athena. More important, for all that history assigns her to the
Persian side, Artemisia presides over the failure of Xerxes at Salamis,16and all
the features that distinguish her from the rest of the Persian force and from
Xerxes himself make her, with respect to the victors, not "other" but "same." I
shall focus on this aspect of her character, showing in particular how inHerodo
tus' narrative, although Artemisia does eventually become identified with a
topsy-turvy world, threatening to Hellas, that world resembles Athens more
than it does Persia.
The passages that need to be examined in relation to their surroundings and
to other parts of the account of Xerxes' expedition againstGreece are the follow
ing: (1)Herodotus' introduction of Artemisia (7.99), partially quoted above; (2)
the Persian Council scene before Salamis, with Artemisia's advice (8.67-69); (3)
the story of Artemisia's action at Salamis (8.87-88); and (4) the report of her
advice toXerxes after the battle (8.102-3). Passage 4 is complementary to 2 and
will be treated in conjunction with it. In passage 3 Artemisia's character and
significancebecome fully defined.


In the introductory chapter Artemisia is represented as antithetical to the

Barbarians by virtue of a peculiarity which in itselfmakes her worthy of mention
to the exclusion of other members of her class. The reason why Herodotus had
not considered it necessary to name the national leaders in Xerxes' army is that

they followed the expedition without authority, as mere slaves, just like any
other soldiers (7.96.1-2). In direct contrast to this passage, the historian intro
13. According to Ptolemy Hephaestion (Photius 190, 153a), Artemisia blinded in his sleep a
man who had spurned her love, and then jumped off the rock of Leucas. In Polyaenus 8.53.4, she
captures a town by feminine wiles: she hides her army and appears in a nearby grove of theGreat
Mother with eunuchs, flute and cymbal players, thereby taking by surprise the citizens who have
come out to admire her.
14. Cf. the ferocity of Candaules' wife (1.8-12), Tomyris (1.214.4-5), Pheretime (4.202, 205),
Amestris (9.112), and theEgyptian Nitocris (2.100.2-3).
15. Unlike Atossa (3.31, 68.5, 88.1, 133-34, 7.2-3) and Phaidymie (3.68), among others.
16. C. Dewald, "Women and Culture inHerodotus' Histories," Women's Studies 8, no. 1/2
(1981) 93-127, esp. 111. The motif of women as foils formen's weaknesses is introduced in the
Histories with the Candaules-Gyges episode (1.8-13). See also Tomyris (1.205-14), the Babylonian
Nitocris (1.187), and the SpartanGorgo (5.51).

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Artemisia inHerodotus 95

duces Artemisia by saying that "she served on account of daring and manly
courage, and not under any compulsion (oi6e&tfi;g ol FoiolS;avcayxaCrISg, 7.99.1).
Autonomy with regard to political choices is generally a prerogative of the
Greek side, and especially of the Athenians,17, not of Eastern peoples. With
small resources and voluntary bravery Artemisia is free like a Greek within a
huge force where even the leaders are slaves and all are compelled to serve.18
Freedom in an ally of Xerxes and manly courage in a woman are paradoxes
which set Artemisia aside as a special case-a thoma (99.1)-while relating her
to both sides in the war at the same time. Equally surprising is the statement
made shortly below (99.3) that her five shipswere "most famous" after those of
the Phoenician contingent (the largest and best inXerxes' fleet, 7.89.1, 96.1). In
the same sentence Herodotus adds thatArtemisia also provided Xerxes with the
best opinions (&QLxcta Yv6)twa). The Carian queen is here elevated to the first
rank of contenders, and her value to the Persian enterprise is defined in a way
that recalls those among the Greeks who in the present war can lay claim to the
same marks of excellence: an oustanding contribution to the navy and to strat

egy. Already in the introductory chapterArtemisia's affinitywith theGreek side

is beginning to take the form of a resemblance to the Athenians.


Artemisia's "excellent opinions" are exemplified in her next appearance in

the narrative, during the Persian Council before Salamis (8.67-69), and then
again in the report of her advice to Xerxes before the battle (8.102-4). On the
first occasion Artemisia maintains that Xerxes should not risk a sea-battle with
the superior Greeks; the latter will soon scatter each to his own city if the
Persians move directly to the Peloponnese. A naval engagement could be ruin
ous forXerxes, however, since his allies are but cowardly slaves (xaxol bo0Xo0)
of an excellent master (8.68.a-y). In her second advisory interventionArtemisia
suggests that Xerxes, who has been defeated at Salamis, should now provide for
his own safety by returning to Asia, although he may leaveMardonius behind
with chosen land forces (asMardonius himself had insisted, 8.100.2-5). Mardoni
us and the Persians are all Xerxes' slaves anyway, mere instruments of his
success or scapegoats for an eventual defeat (8.102).
17. Some Greek states chose neutrality orMedism (7.132, 148-52, 157-63, 168, 8.66.2), others
"wished to be free" (7.178.2). For Greek choices see also 7.136.1, 220.1, 221, 228.3, 233, 8.4, 46-47,
49, 56, 70. Athenian political autonomy is underlined throughout: see 7.139.5 (eXo6tevot), 143.3
(aiQETWdTEQa), 8.62, 140-44, 9.4-6. The speech of Themistocles to the fleet before Salamis (8.83.2)
verges on the theme of choice: H. Kleinknecht, "Herodot und Athen, 7.139, 8.140-144," inHer
odot: Eine Auswahl aus der neueren Forschung, ed. Walter Marg (Munich 1962) 541-73; Wood
(supra n.2) 166-67, 179. Earlier in the Histories, Athenian freedom is exemplified by Miltiades
(4.137,cf. 142).
18. Forced participation inwar (anank-): 7.108.1, 110, 172, 103.4. For slavery to the king in
Book 7, see 39.1 (Pythius), 135.3 (Hydarnes), 233 (Thebans), and the frequent references to whip
lashing (22.1, 35.1, 56, 103.4, 223.3). For slavery at 8.68 and 102, see infra.

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The two speeches are examples of wise advice, one disregarded and the
other followed, according to a pattern frequent in theHistories.19The character
ization of Artemisia as an adviser is consistent. On both occasions her flattery of
the king and her expressed acknowledgment of the master-slave relationship
between Xerxes and his subjects befits a Persian ally.What is important, how
ever, is the difference in format between the two scenes and the special circum
stances of Artemisia's first advisory intervention.After Salamis, Xerxes consults
Artemisia in private, having dismissed all the other counsellors (8.101.2). This
setting dramatizes in a direct way the permanently operative fact of the king's
absolute arbitrium and of his unaccountability vis-a-vis subjects, allies, and advis
ers. Artemisia's previous speech, by contrast, is inserted in themore ambiguous
frame of a group deliberation, since on the question of whether or not to fight at
Salamis,Xerxes wishes to hear the opinion of themajority of his allied command
ers (8.67.1) and then actually chooses to abide by thatopinion (69.2).
Thus, a democratic element exceptionally intrudes in a Persian council,20
underlining by contrast its other more predictable autocratic features: courtly
formalities (67.2, 68.1), the speakers' address toXerxes asmaster ( and,
most important, a final result (the decision to engage the enemy in a naval battle)
which corresponds to the king's own preference, according to the royal nomos of
aggression.2sOn the one hand, the substance of Artemisia's speech helps to
explain why the strategy thatwas adopted failed, as in other cases of wise advice
rejected (e.g., 1.71). On the other hand, the narrative frame represents the
deliberative process as a failed test of democratic behavior, in order to explain
why an unsound strategy was adopted in the first place. Since the vote of the
allied commanders, all of whom expect that punishment will strike the single
nonconformist speaker (69.1), clearly proceeds from fear of displeasing the king
rather than from strategic considerations, the voting procedure reveals how
despotism impairs the capacity of individuals to participate in public matters.
The ultimate responsibility for thewrong decision falls implicitlyon Xerxes, who
is the master and can in any case do as he wishes, majority or no (see 8.103). But
Herodotus here emphasizes, rather, the endemic slavishness of his subjectswho,
for once, have been called upon to deliberate.
In these circumstances, Artemisia appears as disengaged from the barbarian
context as the introductory chapter already implied.While in both her advisory
interventions she recognizes the reality of an autocratic environment and assumes
it as the basis of her arguments (see supra, p. 00), in the Persian Council her very
role aswise adviser depends on her not being subject to the overbearing pressures

19. Richmond Lattimore, "TheWise Advisor inHerodotus," CP 24 (1939) 24-35.

20. The Constitutional Debate (3.80-83) is the only other Persian council recorded byHerodo
tus that isbased on majority voting, and it occurs during an interregnum.
21. The Persian nomos of aggression, which inevitably compels Xerxes (7.8, 12-18), also
produces amarked preference for immediate attack in the case of individualbattles. SeeMardonius
at Plataea, 9.41. J.A. S. Evans, "Despotes Nomos," Athenaeum 43 (1965) 142-53.

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Artemisia inHerodotus 97

that the Persian system imposes upon the other deliberators-deference to a

royal tradition and fear for personal safety.Artemisia ishere, inother words, the
unique ally identified earlier (7.99.1), who stands outside the generally accepted
master-slave norm and does her best to contribute to an enterprise inwhich she
is a voluntary partner: just as she has proven to be "not theworst" fighter (ofitE
xcxioxTj yEvo?Lvq... oiTE EXladoa ato6?E&aitv. contrast with
the xaxoi 6boOot (8.68.y)-so now she gives what she thinks is the best strategic
advice (xa TvyXavwo cpgoveovoa aQLota,
Since the freedom from compulsion attributed toArtemisia in the introduc
tory chapter manifests itself in the Persian Council as freedom of speech, her
advisory intervention is equivalent to an isolated display of what Herodotus
would call isegorie. This is the essential principle of political life in democratic
Athens: it results in the people's best efforts on behalf of the state. Herodotus
firstmentions it in order to explain why the Athenians became more eager
fighters after the fall of tyranny (5.78).22Later he describes its direct application
inAthens in the face of Xerxes' imminent invasion (7.142-44). At that time, on
two separate occasions, Themistocles, a private individual initially less influen
tial thanArtemisia in the Persian context, (at least according toHerodotus: see
vECaoTat 7.143.1), contributed his excellent opinions (see 144.1, yv(0[tq...
QLTQi?oe) to a community of men like himself, who chose to be persuaded
without regard for official authorities (see 1.142) or theirmost immediate per
sonal advantage (144.1). The Persian Council scene, insofar as it emphasizes
despotism as the cause of a wrong decision and therefore of defeat at Salamis,
recalls the earlier passage which shows how on the other side democracyworked
in the opposite way, taking the first strategic steps toward victory in the same
At the same time, the Persian Council scene falls between two sections of
Greek deliberations just before Salamis,23 towhich it is related by a different set
of analogies and contrasts. The parallel between Artemisia on the one hand and
Themistocles/Athens on the other is in this case made immediately obvious by
the simple fact thatArtemisia advises the Persians on the very same issue on

22. The term isegorie, which refers to the right of anyone who wishes to do so to speak (not
merely vote) in theAssembly, here designates, rightly or wrongly, theCleisthenic democracy. G. T.
Griffith, "Isegoria in theAssembly atAthens," Ancient Society and Institutions:Studies Presented to
Victor Ehrenberg on His 75th birthday (Oxford 1966) 115-38.
23. Herodotus seems to record three distinct Greek councils at Salamis (8.49-56, 56-63, 74
83), but because of interruptions in the narrative 8.56-63 and 74-83 form parallel units, before and
after the Persian Council.
24. In Artemisia's speech, oqpeag bLaoxeSbg xaxa t6XkLg b6eexaoTol (peviovTra recalls the
words of Mnesiphilus to Themistocles (57.2, xatd ... Jt6olkg exacTOLTxQelovtal; bLaToxYbtaootvaL
T1iVoaTacLrTv), while ov6e owpL EXiOEl TQo6 TCv 'A0Nvcov vavCtIaXZ ev, later confirmed in the
author's voice at 8.70.2 (cf. 74.2), is countered by Themistocles at 8.60.a, 6oiLos atrxoi eTevcov
tQovavacRaXjoEtg InekXoovviooov xactJiQog T( 'Io0uq. Themistocles' speech is not otherwise the
counterpart of Artemisia's, because it avoidsmentioning weaknesses on either side and concentrates
on what is in the best interests of the different groups of Greeks.

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ANTIQUITY Volume 7/No. 1/April 1988

which Themistocles, as the representative of Athens, advises theGreeks- that

is,whether to fight a naval battle at Salamis or proceed/withdraw to the Isthmus.
The strategies which the two advisers prescribe are mutual opposites,24 both
conducive to success and both unpopular with themajority (8.67.2; 8.57, 74).
Another important similarity relates theGreek deliberations to the Persian
Council as awhole. In the latter the democratic voting procedure is shown to be
incompatible with the Persian system. In each of the two sections of Greek
deliberations democracy appears impossible among theHellenes. These, unlike
Xerxes' allies, exercise their right to vote as free men, but Themistocles uses
military force to reverse their decision: first he threatens to withdraw the indis
pensable Athenian ships (8.62.2), and later he even summons the enemy fleet to
blockade theGreeks at Salamis (8.75-82). The Athenian general is the executive
rather than the adviser on this occasion. Besides playing the role equivalent to
that of Artemisia in the Persian Council, he assumes a sort of power that among
the Persian allies only Xerxes could have exercised in case of disagreement with
The significance of this breakdown in the democratic process in the Greek
deliberations will be considered below (p. 101).What is important for themo
ment is that it creates a mutual difference between the circumstances under
which Themistocles/Athens and Artemisia respectively operate. Just as Themi
stoclesmanaged to influence public policy atAthens (7.142-43), so now through
his agency Athens is able to exercise control over the policy of all the Greeks,
and to safeguard her own interestswhile contributing to the common cause. The
most farsighted strategist of the opposite side, by contrast, remains isolated and
powerless. It is precisely Artemisia's failure at the stage of deliberations that
determines her extraordinary action in the midst of a defeat she had tried to



Herodotus reports that, in the general confusion of the Persian fleet at

Salamis, in order to escape from the attack of an Athenian trireme Artemisia

thought of doing the following, which in fact turned out to her advantage (T6xcai
oUvvveIxE 3ToLTqodorl): she rammed an allied ship (vqYi(pin) from Calynda,
which carried the king of Calynda himself, Damasithymus (8.87.2). The histo
rian declares that he is unable to say if there had been a previous quarrel "at the

Hellespont" between Artemisia and Damasithymus, or if she had premeditated

this action (against him for some other reason), or if the Calyndian ship just
happened to be there by chance (xnact TirUv, 87.3). At any rate, by ramming
and sinking it Artemisia was lucky enough to obtain a double advantage
XQoaaLivrl bIZnka
(e?ixv(Tn &ni>Iv% ayafa eQyaoato). In the first place, the
Athenian captain desisted from his pursuit, thinking thatArtemisia was fighting
on theGreek side (87.4), and consequently she was successful in saving her life

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Artemisia inHerodotus 99

aciT orvVlxe blaqpvye?vTExcal AI ajokXElah, 88.1). But
besides that, she derived from a bad action the advantage of looking good
(xaxo6vEQyaoaitlEVv... evb6ox[iroal) inXerxes' eyes, because the king, watch
ing from afar, thought thatArtemisia had sunk an enemy ship (88.1-2). Arte
misia was also fortunate (acvTi ovvlvex? eg EUT/XvXir) in that no one from the
Calyndian crew survived to accuse her. Xerxes' alleged reaction to what he
thought he saw was to exclaim that his men had become women and the women
men (88.3).
This report, singled out from among deeds of Greeks and Barbarians
(8.87.1), somewhat surprisingly constitutes the central and most extensive epi
sode in the account of what Herodotus regards as the decisive battle of the
Persian Wars and an Athenian victory (see 7.139). In her preceding appear
ances, as we have seen, Artemisia emerged as possessing attitudes and assets
that make her similar to the Athenians: an important role in the naval part of the
war, political freedom, freedom from old conventions, and strategic expertise. I
will now argue that the prominence of Artemisia in the context of the battle of
Salamis can be explained in the light of a continuing analogy between this char
acter and Athens, and that the story of her action makes reference to the begin
ning of a new era of Athenian hegemony inGreece.


In itsmost immediate import, theArtemisia episode depicts the triumphof a

self-serving action. Before examining that passage in greater depth, it will be
necessary to show how that action is not inconsistent with what appears in the
Histories as potential Athenian behavior in the newly established democratic
Herodotus explicitly declares (5.78, cf. 66.1) and laterdemonstrates (7.143
44) that the citizens' right to have equal voice in the administration of public affairs
is an asset for the state as a whole (XQvlPcaojuov6aiov, 5.78). Nevertheless, Athe
nian isegorie, which motivates each citizen to work for the state in order to benefit
himself (cf. autog iexaTrog enov
wuT nQofhEVET xarcTyaE4Eoal, 5.78), sanctions
as the individual's ultimate goal the pursuit of his own interests. This means that
on the one hand the people's ability to recognize where their interest truly lies (as
at 7.144) is likely to produce common efforts no less valiant, and often more
effective in practice, than the almost blind dedication to the community expected
of the Spartans;25 on the other hand, the public and private good are not regarded
as necessarily and invariably identical, nor does the sacrifice of the second to the

25. The "social" character of Spartan arete, as it is described at 7.104.2-3, is discussed by A.

Dihie, "Herodot und die Sophistik," Philologus 106 (1967) 206-20, esp. 208-10. Although individual
Spartans in the Histories occasionally go astray, total identification with the state and its values
remains the ideal (see, e.g., Pausanias at 9.79.2 and how the Spartans judge an individualbrave for
personal reasons at 9.71.2-4).

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7/No. 1988
first seem to be an essential part of the ethical foundation to the new Athenian
democracy as it isof the Spartan state.
Both patriotic energy and utilitarian individualismmanifest themselves espe
cially in Themistocles, who in general embodies Athenian tendencies to an ex
treme degree.26 Themistocles in the Histories does everything in his power to
promote the success of his city; as he pursues that task, he also takes the opportu
nity to benefit himself separately but without direct damage to the state.27In the
eventuality that public and private interests should at a certain point cease to be
mutually compatible, then he is ready to choose between the two, even resorting
to some degree of treason for the sake of self-preservation (8.109-10). What
Themistocles plans and prepares for after Salamis, a daring change of sides in
order to secure an escape for himself (&aoorQocp1,109.5), is equivalent towhat
Artemisia actually does during the battle.
Among individualAthenians, Themistocles is of course as exceptional in his
actions as he is in his position of leadership, but Herodotus' account of earlier
Athenian history shows that Themistocles' motives stem from the climate of
Athens, which is both ethically and politically flexible, according towhat seems
most expedient.28At the time of Xerxes' invasion,Themistocles' attitude toward
his own city is closely comparable to that of the polis Athens-that is, "the
Athenians" as a deliberating citizen body-toward the rest of the Hellenes.
Athens saved Greece (7.139.7), just as Themistocles was instrumental to the
survival of Athens. But just as Themistocles is only conditionally loyal toAth
ens, so the city's Panhellenism, for all that ithas an idealistic component,29 is also
variable in themeasure towhich it servesAthenian interests.Herodotus praises
theAthenians for yielding the command of the fleet to the Spartans on the eve of
the Persian invasion, thereby avoiding internal strife in the face of an external
threat; but he adds that later,when they no longer needed the Spartans as allies,
the Athenians were quick to take the leadership of the fleet away from them
(8.3).30During the earlier stages of thewar against the Persians, the cooperation
of the other Greek stateswas absolutely required by the goal that theAthenians
had set for themselves, a successful resistance (7.143.3, 145.1). Therefore Ath

26. This point has been convincingly argued by Henry Immerwahr, Form and Thought in
Herodotus (Cleveland 1966) 223-25; see alsoWood (supra n.2) 185-86. It is necessarily connected
with the view that Herodotus' portrait of Themistocles is not as unfavorable as some critics still
regard it as being (e.g., recently, A. J. Podlecki, The Life of Themistocles [Montreal 1975] 68-72).
On this question, see H. Strasburger, "Herodot und das perikleische Athen," inMarg (supra n. 17)
574-608, esp. 603; C. W. Fornara, Herodotus: An InterpretativeEssay (Oxford 1971) 66-74.
27. In Euboea (8.4-5) he takesmoney forwhat he must think is in the city's interest anyway
(unlike Eurybiades and Adeimantus, who also accept bribes). For Themistocles' pleonexie among
the islanders (8.111-12), see infra, n.33.
28. H. J. Diesner, "Der athenische Burger bei Herodot und Thukydides," Wiss. Z. Halle 6
(1957) 899-903, esp. 901; Immerwahr (supran.26) 209-15.
29. Immerwahr (supra, n.26) 217-23. See infra, n.31.
30. I paraphrase according to the most common rendering of this passage. For a different
interpretation and related discussion, see Immerwahr (supran.26) 220-21 and n.87.

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Artemisia inHerodotus

ens proved willing to do everything in her power to secure that cooperation.

Herodotus also shows, however, that in case she had failed in this endeavor,
Athens was ready to adapt her goals to circumstances rather than suffer irrepara
ble damage either in the name of the Panhellenic cause or for the sake of
heroism, as the Spartans would have been likely to do (see 7.139.3): like the
individual Themistocles on his own behalf when he forsees trouble from the
Athenians, soAthens herself, unsupported by the other Greeks, considersmak
ing an advantageous alliance with Xerxes in order to secure her own survival.31
Athenian self-interest and pragmatism include the notion that the end justi
fies themeans; inparticular, it even justifies, if need be, the use of force directed
against allies and other Greeks. Former allegiances and enmities are irrelevant
factorswhen a specific goal must be achieved.32 If theAthenians make a separate
peace with Xerxes, they will also march in arms against any land where the
Barbarians may lead them (9.11.2). Actual initiatives of aggression by Athens
against individual Greek states start shortly after Salamis.33The high-handed
action by which Themistocles compelled the Greeks to fight at Salamis against
theirwill (see supra, p. 98) worked in favor of all, not of Athens alone; yet, the
readiness it reveals to violate the autonomy of Greek states represents a threat to
the Greeks in view of a future, already predicted (5.90.2, 93.1), when their
interests and those of Athens will not be identical. In Herodotus' own time itwas
the argument of Athenian national security thatwarranted the transition of the
Delian League from alliance to empire.34The historian's representation in his
narrative of past actions of how the Athenians dared be unconventional and

aggressive, making the best of difficult circumstances at least for themselves,

does a great deal to explain the role of the saviors of Greece later on, a role
which the other Greeks interpreted as a turnabout and a betrayal.35

31. The Athenian speeches at 8.143 and 144, 9.7 and 11 should all be taken as sincere state
ments. They constitute a series, which shows the breaking point, not only of the greatly tested
Athenian Panhellenism, but of Athenian idealism in general (8.144.1-2). The transition to a purely
practical attitude starts in the centerpiece with an introduction of the antithesis between the useful
and the just (9.7.2). Fornara (supran.26) has rightly emphasized the allusive importance and ironical
effect of this group of passages.
32. See, e.g., Themistocles' cooperation with his enemy Aristides, paralleled by the coopera
tion of Athens with her rivalAegina (8.79-80, 83.2).
33. At 8.111-12. The Andros episode closely parallels the Athenian attack on Paros after
Marathon (6.132) and is the forerunner of Thucydides' Melian Dialogue. It is anticipated in the
account of Greek deliberations before Salamis by Themistocles' intimation toAdeimantos that the
Athenian fleet is strong enough to vanquish any of theGreek states (8.61.2). See Strasburger (supra
n.26) 602; R. J. Lenardon, The Saga of Themistocles (London 1978) 86.
34. See the Athenian ambassadors at Sparta in Thuc. 1.75.4-5, who conclude by saying that
"no one can blame those who in the greatest danger take care of their own advantage." Thucydides'
speeches at least reflect contemporary arguments and therefore bear evidence of some of the ways
theAthenians gave account of themselves or were regarded by other Greeks. For a recent discussion
of the problem of Thucydides' speeches, see J. J.Wilson, "WhatDoes Thucydides Claim for His
Speeches?" Phoenix 36 (1982) 95-103.
35. See Thuc. 1.86.1. I am especially indebted to C. Fornara, "Herodotus' Knowledge of the
Archidamian War," Hermes 106 (1981) 149-56, see esp. 155, for the view thatHerodotus correlates

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ANTIQUITY Volume 7/No. 1/April 1988

Artemisia at Salamis mirrors the tendencies of theAthenians asHerodotus

portrays them and conveys a prophetic vision of Athens beyond the chronologi
cal range of the Histories. Since she has by now failed in helping to achieve a
public goal, Artemisia has reached the point at which her interests no longer
coincide with those of others. She therefore dissociates herself from the common
good and thinks of her personal advantage, even at the cost of adding damage to
her own side. Her action is boldly unconventional and it includes betrayal and
aggression, in particular at the expense of an ally and a close neighbor with
whom shemay or may not (Herodotus clearly devalues revenge in favor of self
interest as amotive, 8.87.3) have had a previous quarrel.


The Artemisia episode is related to the rest of the Salamis narrative by the
finalwords of Xerxes (88.3), which contrastArtemisia's behavior with the inade
quacy of the Persians in this battle, thereby equating her superioritywith that of
the victorious Greeks. At Salamis, however, the contrast between Greeks and
Barbarians competes with evidence of their similarity. The preceding delibera
tion sections have already suggested that theGreeks, no less than the Persians,
fight under compulsion (cf. 8.69.2 and 80). During the battle, both sides are
disunited,36 but they are also brave to an equal degree.37
Thus, Xerxes' comment that "his men have become women," meant as a

complaint of the lack of valor of his force analogous to his perception of the
Persians at Thermopylae ("many human beings, few truemen," 7.210.2), is not
borne out by the surrounding context in the same way as in that earlier case. In
the light of Herodotus' narrative, it is, rather, with respect to competence that
Xerxes, without realizing it, confirms what Artemisia had said about his force in
the Persian Council ("inferior to the Greeks on the sea as women are to men," From the point of view of intellectual achievement, then, Xerxes

ironically indicts himself above all: he has been the major cause of the Persian
defeat by proving inferior to a woman in strategy-gnom--and is now blind to
her gnome in action.

his narrative with events of his own time. That Herodotus was partially critical toward Periclean
Athens has been especially maintained by Strasburger (supra n.26), Fornara (supran.26) 75-90, and
C. W. Forrest, "Herodotus andAthens," Phoenix 38 (1984) 1-11.
36. At one level, theArtemisia episode itself indicates Persian disunity, confirmed at 8.90. For
disunity among the Greeks, see 8.92 as well as the two reports of conflicting claims (8.84, 94.4),
which suggests quarrels in the aftermath of the battle.
37. "Great deeds" were performed by the Greeks (see esp. 8.91) and also by the Barbarians
(8.85, 90.3). Herodotus stresses that the Persians were braver than usual (8.86, 89.2). On the other
hand, 84.2 and 94 temper the representation of Greek valor, furtherminimizing the discrepancy
between the two sides.
38. The Barbarians do nothing with a plan (aorvv6o), drown ingreat numbers because they do
not knowing how to swim, and accidentally inflictdamage upon each other (8.86, 89).

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Artemisia inHerodotus 103

Xerxes' praise of Artemisia, "women become men," is also justified by the

facts in a sense different than themisguided speaker intends.Artemisia's action
is emblematic of Xerxes' opponent's superiority in this naval war and analogous
to that by which Themistocles crossed into the opposite camp and used the
enemy fleet on behalf of theGreeks (8.75-76). The ability of both characters to
master circumstances by means of the most effective plan-which here makes
Artemisia "manly" vis-a-vis the Persians (cf. andreie at 7.99.1)-is, however, a
morally neutral trait and therefore entails a relative deficiency of arete in the
traditional sense of straightforward valor based on a firm ethical stance. Thus,
Themistocles calls himself aristos kai sophotatos, "best and wisest" among the
Greeks (8.110.3), but his merit cannot be ranked in the same category as the
merit of those who were most eager to die fighting for their country: after
Salamis he is awarded by the Spartans an extraordinary prize for sophie and
dexiotes but fails to obtain the standard prize of valor, the aristeia (8.123-24; cf.
the Athenians themselves at 8.93.1). In the case of Artemisia at Salamis, the
intelligence and skill she displays even blatantly deny heroic valor. Thus, the
men-women reversalmentioned by Xerxes, which at first inevitably suggests a
Barbarian-Greek antithesis in the pattern of a polarity between Persians and
Spartans (as at 7.210.2), ismeasured againstArtemisia's actual achievement and
helps to assign it to its proper sphere, far removed from both those other polar
extremes. To this sphere of Athenian efficiency (as to the androgynous Arte
misia herself) the termsmale and female can be alternately applied, depending
on whether it is Persia or the aspect of Hellenic culture which Sparta represents
thatprovides the point of reference.39


Artemisia, whose aristai gnomai make her the equivalent of Themistocles in

his role of wise adviser, suddenly emerges at Salamis as analogous to Themi
stocles the trickster. The success of her action depends on the deception of both
sides in the battle, her Athenian pursuers as well as Xerxes and his court (8.87.4,
88.2). In a similar way, Themistocles implemented his strategy at Salamis by

deceiving both the enemy Xerxes and hisGreek allies (8.75).

Simulation and cunning are aspects of Athenian intelligence as Herodotus

represents it throughout the Histories starting with Solon,40 but they become
more prominent with its last embodiment, Themistocles, who on two other
occasions deceives several parties at the same time.41 In every case, the decep

39. Cf. the discussion of "hard" and "soft" cultures inRedfield (supra n.6) 111-15.
40. See the contrivances of Solon (1.29) and Pisistratus (1.60.3, 63.2). The fifth-centuryview of
Themistocles as heir of Solon is discussed byG. Ferrara, "Temistocle e Solone," Maia 16 (1964) 55
70. For deception as a sign of intelligence according to theGreeks, see J. P. Vernant, Les Ruses de
l'intelligence:La Metis des Grecs (Paris 1974), esp. 18-31.
41. At 8.5: the Euboeans, Eurybiades andAdeimantus; 8.109.110: Xerxes and theAthenians.

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ANTIQUITY Volume 7/No. 1/April 1988

tion practiced by Themistocles is based on the contradictory data that reality

itself provides, and it consists in the exploitation of part of the truthor at least of
what Herodotus regards as the truth. In particular Themistocles' argument at
8.109 by which, according toHerodotus, he deceived theAthenians (6bk3aXXe,
8.110.1) interprets the current situation in a way which is in itself unobjection
able from the historian's viewpoint.42That speech is nevertheless dishonest be
cause it is part of an antilogy (see 8.108.1) and a tool of persuasion bearing no
relation to the speaker's beliefs. Because of his ability to argue convincingly on
either side of an issue, Themistocles in theHistories appears as the forerunner of
the Sophists of Herodotus' own time,43whose ambivalence encouraged people to
question all absolute assumptions and appeared tomany (cf.Aristoph. Nub. 94
103) as strikingly akin to systematic deception.
Unlike the representation of Themistocles, the narrative of Artemisia at
Salamis emphasizes less the trickster's intention to deceive (ESboe of To66
o3toL]oaL, 8.87.2) than the confusing nature of an experience that has become
susceptible to manipulation (see 87.2, 06Q4pog). Here a friend becomes an
enemy, but perhaps already was an enemy in the guise of an ally (87.2-3); a
woman displays manly valor, but valor has the goal "escape and not die" (88.1)
in place of the canonical "conquer or die" (see 7.104.5); theweaker turnsout to
be the stronger, from a bad thing comes a good thing (8.87.4, 88.1), and utter
disaster for some produces still greater prosperity for others (88.3). This accumu
lation of reversals44mirrors a relativistic view of reality and recalls another
manifestation of that same intelligence which prevailed through strategy against
the Persians: the theoretical framework that later helped to justify themotives
andmethods of Athenian leadership inGreece.45


The miniature of Artemisia at Salamis also contains the reference to another

contemporary debate, that on the respective influence of intelligence (gnome)

and chance (tyche) on human affairs.46In the progressive atmosphere of Athens,

42. See infra, n.55.

43. See also Themistocles' speech before Salamis, summarized at 8.83. W. Schmid and 0.
Stahlin, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, Part 1,Vol. 2 (Munich 1934) 575n.
44. Cf. the list inWeil (supra n.9) 220, who first took this passage as a conscious reference to
Athenian sophistics. However, Weil thought that themaintheme of this story was the reference to
discussions fashionable inHerodotus' time about the nature and status of women, which would be
inexplicable in this context. The men-women reversal is simply themost conspicuous of the series.
For other evidence in the Histories of Herodotus' contact with the Sophists, see Wolf Aly,
Volksmarchen, Sage und Novelle bei Herodot und seinen Zeitgenossen (Gottingen 1921/1969) 286
92; Schmid-Stahlin (supra n.43) 572-77; Dihle (supran.25).
45. See Mario Untersteiner, ISofisti: Testimonianze eframmenti (Milan 1964), esp. chapter 18,
"Sofisticae realismo politico," vol. 2, 191-215.
46. See especially L. Edmunds, Chance and Intelligence in Thucydides (Cambridge, Mass.
1975);H. Herter, "Thukydides undDemokrit fiberTyche," WS N.F. 10 (1976) 106-28.

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Artemisia inHerodotus

many intellectuals of Herodotus' timewould maintain that the achievement of a

given result ultimately depends on the greater or lesser intelligence and expertise
with which men act.47 In theHistories, this tendency to devalue tyche is reflected
inThemistocles' expressed trust in the connection between plan and outcome
(8.60.y). Herodotus himself, in spite of his more traditional, "Solonian," view
about the degree of control thatman can exercise over his own destiny,48never
even mentions good luck as he relates the successes of Themistocles.49 It is all the
more remarkable, therefore, that he should now emphasize the role of tyche in a
storywhose major theme is themanifold achievement of intelligence, andwhich
reports an intelligent action analogous to Themistocles' own. Here tyche ismen
tioned three times (see my summary above, pp. 98-99).50 In the firstoccurrence
(87.3), the author's supposition thatDamasithymus may have found himself in
the role of victim "by chance" simply shows the casual character of Artemisia's
betrayal, as a means to a self-centered end. In the other two cases (87.4, 88.3),
EiTXr'Xqismade to account forArtemisia's success, as Herodotus emphasizes,
not the intended outcome of her action (survival), but the advantage she reaped
beyond any possible calculation (survival and good reputation with the king).
The phrase bLnka aya6ta, reminiscent of Themistocles' double or alternative
goals-a sign of his strategical flexibility and foresight51-here denotes an overall
result, the excess of which can be explained only in irrational terms.
Through the Artemisia episode, the moral question of useful versus just
action, and the intellectual gnomeltyche issue come together on the battlefield of
Salamis in a way that perhaps suggests the author's response to subsequent
history. Tyche inHerodotus often clearly indicates the divine influence52that
man does not comprehend by reason, aswhen an outcome cannot be interpreted
as the logical consequence of a good or bad decision53 or as an appropriate

46. See especially L. Edmunds, Chance and Intelligence in Thucydides (Cambridge, Mass.
1975);H. Herter, "Thukydides und Demokrit fiberTyche," WS N.F. 10 (1976) 106-28.
47. This is not to deny the role of chance, but, rather, to emphasize that men can react to itwith

intelligence, thus planning and techno are primary, and bad luck is often the result of human error.
See Pericles inThucydides (especially 1.40.1, 2.62.5) and cf. Democritus, fr. 119, 176, 196;Edmunds
(supran.46) 1-6, 7-36, 70-75.
48. At 1.32.4, tdv eoaL adv@QOYog ovu(poQpi , "man is utterly a thing of chance" (cf. 7.49.3). We
cannot presume that this corresponds exactly with Herodotus' view, but the narrative at 1.34-45, for
example, seems designed to confirm its correctness.
49. Only at 7.144.1 the suggestion of lucky timing for theNaval Bill proposal ismade inevitable
by Herodotus' version, according to which an internalwar ironically caused the salvation of Greece
from an external threat.
50. The insistence on chance is also reinforced by the occurrence of oJvvIrvexe three times

(8.87.2, 88.1, 3).

51. See especially 8.5.3 and 22.3 (eu' awcp6TEgQavowov).
52. The simple TixX and OETin xUjXT(1.126.6, 3.139.3, 4.8.3, 5.92.y) appear to be equivalent in
53. In thewords of Artabanus to Xerxes (7.1062), tychemay determine the failure of a good
deliberation or the success of bad ones; all the same, man must attach the greatest importance to

deliberating well. XvvxvXIT tends especially to be used to indicate a chance happening unrelated to
planning (1.68.1, 3.121.2, 5.41.1, 65.1, 9.91.1).

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ANTIQUITY Volume 7/No. 1/April 1988

retribution for amoral or immoral action.54Tyche, therefore, has no part in the

outcome of the Persian Wars, and particularly in the victory of Salamis (nor,
consequently, in the success of Themistocles' efforts). These were rational
events, andHerodotus believes both explanations which Themistocles provided,
with greater or lesser sincerity, on two separate occasions: intelligent delibera
tion brought about commensurate results, and the gods supported a just cause.55
But the end of the Persian Wars opens a new era, in which a spectacular success,
crowned by fame, was achieved by Athens at the expense of both her former and
her current allies. Herodotus' astonishment, in the course of the Salamis narra
tive, for a double achievement which exceeded planning as it defied morality,
seems to answer the contemporary claim voiced by Pericles inThucydides that
theAthenians "not only repelled the Barbarian, but also (Te ... xai) made the
city what it is today by gnome, rather than by tyche. "56

Historically unimportant actions and secondary characters do not remain iso

lated curiosities inHerodotus. Even though analysis of them risksmaking us
forget that they provide only rapid hints within the context of a large and com
plex narrative, it serves nevertheless to confirm Herodotus' method: through
analogy, his thomata lend depth and clarity to the report of major events. Like
Artemisia, thewoman-man who controverts all assumptions, daring and compe
tent in counsel and on the sea, so Athens, the city noncity,57 free from human
despots and from despotic restraints to deliberation, is both a wonder and a
threat to the "normal" world-the Hellenic world as it is defined by a common
tradition.58 It could well appear as if the triumph of her intelligence had come to
defy reason--aya&f TUiXn
University of Pennsylvania
54. The obstinate success of Polycrates (in whose story at 3.39-46, 120-25, tyche derivatives
occur thirteen times) is described as good fortunewithout a cause, just as his downfall ismotivated
only generally by the necessary instability of tyche. In other cases, tyche accounts for an outcome
unexpected especially from an ethical viewpoint, a non-tisis. See 1.204.2, 6.16.2, 1.119.1.
55. Cf. 8.60.y and 109.3. The second statement occurs in a deceitful speech (110.1) but never
theless seems consistent with Herodotus' belief. See 8.65, 83.2, 94, forHerodotus' interest in alleged
evidence of divine intervention at Salamis.
56. Thuc. 1.144.4. The antithesis and combination of these and similar terms provided familiar
categories for assessing events. Cf. the Spartan exhortation to the Athenians after Pylos (Thuc.
4.18.3-4). InHerodotus, chance and intelligence are explicitly combined at 1.68.1.
57. At 8.61; cf. Thuc. 1.74.3, "a city that no longer existed." The ships became the city.
58. The old Hellenic tradition is expressed by Demaratus: "Poverty has always been endemic to
Greece, arete is an added virtue, achieved from sophie and strong nomos; by practicing it, Hellas
defends itself against poverty and tyranny" (7.102.1). The Spartan ethos represents an intensification
of common Greek values (102.3-4, 104.4-5), but Athens is bent on a course of financial prosperity
(Thuc. 2.13.3-6), daring well beyond defensive valor, innovation, and ethical complexity (see, e.g.,
Thuc. 1.68-71).
59. I am grateful to Professor A. J. Graham for reading all the various drafts of this paper and

discussing them with me. I also thank Professors W. Robert Connor, Carolyn Dewald, C. W.
Fornara, and Donald Lateiner, who also have read the article and have offered valuable suggestions
and criticism. The responsibility for allmatters of fact and interpretation rests solely with me.

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