Monday, September 29, 2008

Helen and Herodotus Say, "Wow!"

My brief post on Helen of Memphis unleashed a veritable avalanche of learned commentary about Herodotus's treatment of Helen and related subjects. Thank you all, and my complements.

While I have you, may I ask a question? What's the current learning on where or how the alternate Helen-went-to-Egypt story got started? Stesichorus's (640-555?) wonderful Palinode indicates that the idea was already floating around before Herodotus composed his Histories. I don't buy Herodotus's argument that certain passages of Homer suggest that "Homer" was aware of the variant. Did Stesichorus start the whole thing? Or maybe he visited Egypt, or heard the story from someone who did?


  1. BCKnowlton6:05 PM

    I'm not sure of the answers to your questions -- they would be well worth looking into. I can, however, explain the "veritable avalanche of learned commentary." I teach a Herodotus course at Stonehill College in N. Easton MA, and have set up a Google Alert for Herodotus. I got the Helen of Memphis posting just when my students and I had been looking at the passage in the Histories that recounts the alternate version of the sttory of Helen. I encouraged my students to comment upon the post, and there you are...

  2. Professor Knowlton,

    You are obviously doing one heck of a job. I was a Classics major in college, and your students obviously know more about Herodotus than I ever did.

    Keep up the good work. Although I wound up not going to grad school in Classics (came close though), the training and discipline served me very well. Plus, what else can you major in where the average class size is about six?

    What's next on your curriculum? Maybe I can provoke another avalanche!

    Please thank, and congratulate, your students.

  3. BCKnowlton9:47 PM

    And I am glad to be able to show my students that, indeed, there are people out in the world, doing their jobs and going about their lives, and reading Herodotus. He is not just for college professors.

    Next up in Herodotus is the Debate on Government among the Persians who have overthrown Smerdis the Magus and have to decide what to do next (3.80-88).


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