Herodotus and the Origins of the Political Community


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Arion`s Leap

Norma Thompson

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Norma Thompson opens a new angle of political vision in this imaginative and engaging interpretation of Herodotus' History. She claims for the "father of history" a position in the canon of political thought, finding modern validity in his fundamental perceptions about the importance of stories to the coherence of political communities.

Thompson arrives at a unique explanation for Herodotus' side-by-side placement of factual and fanciful historical stories. She contends that he recognized the central importance of compelling stories, even imaginary ones like the tale of Arion, the poet and singer who leaped into the sea to escape Corinthian pirates and was carried to safety on the back of a dolphin. Such stories can become the "facts" of a people's past and thereby the core of the political community. Herodotus understood that stories define and bind together one polity as distinct from others. Further, a polity evolves in reference to its own defining story. Thompson relates Herodotus' work to historical and cultural debate among such scholars as Martin Bernal, Francois Hartog, and Edward Said, and she invites philosophers, philologists, anthropologists, historiographers, and political theorists into the discussion.

Norma Thompson is assistant professor of political science and director of undergraduate studies, the Program of Directed Studies, at Yale University. 

"Thompson's elegantly written Herodotus is original, sound, and well conceived. Her analysis explains certain puzzling features of his History and is relevant to contemporary discussions of historical theory."—Charles W. Hedrick, Jr., University of California, Santa Cruz

"This coherent, plausible account of Herodotus possesses an identity of its own. The author has a capacity to feel as well as to enjoy what sort of man Herodotus was, what sort of spirit could have produced a book like his."—Stanley Rosen, Boston University

"A fresh, spirited exploration. . . . While defending Herodotus as a 'philosophical storyteller,' Thompson steps back to apply her insights to contemporary debates on history, culture, and the canon, with particular attention to the use of Herodotus in the work of Martin Bernal, Francois Hartog, and Edward Said. Throughout the book, the author has a Herodotean ear and a Herodotean voice: She draws Nietzsche and Heidegger, Emerson and James, Longfellow and Melville seamlessly into her narrative, without losing the thread of her logos."—Michael A. Little, Perspectives on Political Science

"Thompson's book is commendable because while it addresses these contemporary concerns appropriately, its main task is to understand Herodotus as he understood himself. In this task, Thompson does particularly well. She convinces us to give Herodotus another look, to perhaps give his History as much attention as has been given that of Thucydides."—Laurie M. Johnson Bagby, Review of Politics

ISBN: 9780300062601
Publication Date: January 24, 1996
208 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4