Wednesday 30 April 2008

natural cycle

Daniel Mendelsohn's 5,500-word essay on Herodotus (in this week's New Yorker) identifies the Greek historian's overarching theme in The Histories as 'the seemingly inevitable movement from imperial hubris to catastrophic retribution'.

Herodotus is writing history as if it's Greek drama: there's a hero, Persia itself, that is 'as grandiose, as admirable yet doomed, as any character you get in Greek tragedy'. It was inevitable, given Persia's character, that it would destroy itself.

Environmentalists are often accused of following an apocalyptic narrative that's taken from the Bible. But equally pertinent, for environmentalists and playwrights, is the hubristic narrative that's taken from Greek tragedy.

There are moments in Mendelsohn's essay when Herodotus sounds positively Gaian. Actions lead to reactions. 'For Herodotus,' he writes, 'nearly everything can be assimilated into a kind of natural cycle of checks and balances.'

'Herodotus is trying to give you a picture of the world entire, of how everything in it is, essentially, linked.'

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