The Role of the Narrator in the Story of Periander of Corinth and His Son Lycophron (Hdt. 3.50-3)
The role of the primary external narrator in Herodotus’ 3.50-3 is essential in developing the discourse, and transforming the fabula from historical facts into the structure of an Aristotelean tragedy. This essay will examine the role of the primary external narrator in developing the discourse from a literary perspective by comparing the narratological structure to Aristotle’s tragic model; literary techniques such as prolepsis, dramatic irony and irony are used to captivate the audience. In critically investigating Herodotus, one most also consider how the narrator influences perceptions of characters through language, and the significance of the secondary internal narrator in using persuasive narrative techniques, as well as the effect of being quoted directly on the audience and the progression of the discourse.
In examining the role of the primary external narrator in Herodotus’ Histories 3.50-3, it is important to identify the objective of the digression. Despite Herodotus’ stated objective to ‘display his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time’, Gould writes that the story of Periander ‘has a scale and power, and a weight out of all proportion to its overt function as an explanatory link in the larger narrative, and in this it resembles a whole range of other Herodotean stories’. This point is corroborated by Sourvinou-Inwood who ‘finds it to be so patterned by mythic consciousness that the historical data are almost irrecoverable’, and further by Griffiths who writes ‘Herodotus… conceives of historical narrative as a discourse which needs constant variation and enlivening by means of vivid digression’. Therefore, it is evident that the role of the narrator is no longer to give an accurate representation of historical facts, but rather to captivate the secondary external naratees in a fascinating yet likely fabricated version of events. Furthermore, the narrator’s role is to develop the secondary external naratees’ perceptions of characters. This is done effectively in the opening line: ‘Periander had murdered his wife Melissa’. Instantly we do not like Periander and this follows the Aristotelean tragic model, where a man of high esteem falls victim to his own hubris and false self-perception of infallibility, which ultimately leads to his demise. Furthermore, by quoting Lycophron indirectly, it is difficult for the audience to build a relationship with the character.
In using this narratological technique of exclusive indirect quotation, Herodotus distances the secondary external naratees from Lycophron, thus representing Lycophron’s distancing from his father, as Periander is the protagonist in this digression. Therefore, Herodotus subtly yet effectively couples narratology and discourse in illustrating to the audience the divide between Periander and Lycophron. In using various dramatic devices, the narrator takes the audience on a literary journey. Dewald writes that Herodotus’ readers ‘admire him as a stylist but not as a historian’, and thus it makes sense to approach this excerpt as a literary source rather than a historical one, and to evaluate the narratological devices accordingly. The narrator’s role is to develop the discourse and in using the Aristotelian tragic model, with clear hamartia (3.50.0, 3.52.25), peripeteia (3.51.9) and anagnorisis (3.53.28), a micro tragedy is produced. Examples of this are also evident in other digressions in the histories, for example, the stories of Cypselus, Cyrus and Lycophron which all ‘show a common pattern and set of motifs’, which further diminishes the passage’s historical reliability. The role of the narrator is to play with the audience, using literary devices like foreshadowing (‘and another misfortune was to follow’), ensuring that the audience stays engaged with the discourse. Prolepsis (3.53.1) is used to keep the audience engaged as the narration fast-forwards to the attempted reconciliation of Periander in the second section, which shows the narrator’s objective to keep this dramatized historic reconstruction succinct.
Dramatic irony is another literary device used by the narrator to add interest to the discourse as Periander does not know why Lycophron ignores him after visiting Procles whereas the audience does. This adds to the tension of the discourse to make the tale interesting and engaging for the audience. Irony is also key to the discourse as the observational skills of the younger son that would make him the best ruler of the country are the very skills that lead to the misfortune and demise of both Periander and Lycophron. It is this presentation of the fabula that encourage critics to analyse the text not as historical data, but rather approach it as a literary work, as the narrator has clearly fictionalised the facts to promote a more entertaining discourse. However, Baragwanath argues that ‘Herodotus foregrounds the fact that history is contested territory: that differing interpretations… of historical events and personalities arise from the perspectives of different individuals’, therefore arguing that although this is likely not an accurate representation of historical fact, it is an accurate account of the tale people believed to be true, as ‘most of [Herodotus’] source material was somehow orally transmitted’. This point is further explored by De Jong who states that ‘the Herodotean narrator is clearly indebted to the Homeric narrator’. Thus, the narrator’s role is to give an account of the tales people believed despite the likely fabrications. The role of the narrator in 3.50-3 is to invoke as much distaste for Periander within the audience as possible, and this is succinctly achieved in the tale’s denouement which ends abruptly with Lycophron suffering the worse punishment for his father’s immoral actions. The discourse closes with a sense of unjustness as although Periander does suffer due to the loss of his heir, Lycophron has felt the full force of his father’s malice, consequently enduring exile and suffering death. In shadowing the attempt for justice by Lycophron with his unjust death caused by the actions of his father, the Herodotean narrator’s role in developing a malevolent portrayal of Periander is completed.
In examining the role of the narrator in the excerpt, it is important to analyse the role of Periander as a secondary internal narrator. The Herodotean narrator’s role proceeding Periander’s plea is to give the audience a sense of hope that the separation of son and father will be bridged to avoid any further tragedy (as foreshadowed in 3.50.1). This is achieved by describing how ‘the father’s heart melted at the sight’ of his son living in squalor, which invokes slight empathy within the audience for Periander, as this tender moment illustrates a father who loves his son and is eager to resolve their differences. However, despite this appeal, Lycophron’s blunt dismissal of his father’s reaching out reminds us through the use of an impersonal indirect quote of the severity of Periander’s crimes to his family, and distaste towards the tyrant within the audience resumes. The narratological technique of having the primary external narrator paraphrase Lycophron’s response to a heartfelt yet untruthful directly quoted plea from Periander emphasises Lycophron’s dismissal of his father. In including a direct quote form Periander (3.52.11) rather than paraphrasing dialogue as done for the majority of the passage, the narrator signifies the importance of Periander’s plea for Lycophron to return home. In looking at Periander’s narratological role in more detail, it is important to analyse the way he uses language in attempting to achieve his objectives. Periander’s narratological objective is to make Lycophron’s decision obvious, by contrasting the inheritance of ‘wealth and tyranny’ to the ‘beggar’s life’ he is living now. Therefore, the role of Periander as a secondary internal narrator is to persuade Lycophron to return home, by using a persuasive syntax, but also to invoke catharsis within the audience as we are urged to feel sorry for him, as his own hubristic megalomaniacal actions have led to his tragic misfortune. This literary device is used in the same way in Oedipus Rex, in which the protagonist’s hubristic nature leads to his downfall, and the audience cannot help but feel slightly empathetic in accordance.
It is evident that the role of the primary external narrator in Herodotus 3.50-3 is to make the fabula as interesting and engaging as possible as the narrator uses the Aristotelean tragic model to invoke catharsis within the audience. The role of the narrator in developing the audience’s perceptions of characters has also been discussed, as well as the literary devices that help develop the discourse in the most entertaining and engaging way. The second section which focuses on the influence of a direct quote from Periander in a text that is predominantly narrated from an omniscient narrator is examined, and the significance of including a secondary internal narrator is further explored.
Bibliography Baragwanath, E. (2008), Motivation and Narrative in Herodotus De Jong, I. J. F (2014), Narratology and Classics a Practical Guide Dewald, C. (1987), “Narrative Surface and Authorial Voice in Herodotus’ Histories”, Arethusa 20 Gould, J. (2000), Herodotus Gray, V. J. (1996), “Herodotus and the Images of Tyranny: The Tyrants of Corinth” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 117, no. 3 Griffiths, A. H. (2006), “Stories and storytelling in the Histories” in Dewald-Marincola (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus (Cambridge)  Hdt. 1.1  Gould, 2000, 51-53  Sourvinou-Inwood as cited in Gray, 1996, 363  Griffiths p.176 mole skin  Hdt. 3.50  Dewald, 1987, 151  Gray, 1996, 367  Hdt. 3.50.1  Baragwanath, 2008, 2  Griffiths p.177 moleskin  De Jong, 2014, 172  Hdt. 3.2.11
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