The Discursive and Ethnocultural Parametrisation of Deceit in Herodotus’ Histories

Author: Anna Polishchuk (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine)
Speaker: Anna Polishchuk
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


This research has been carried out in line with the long historical and cultural controversy over the ethnic and national identity of western and eastern civilisations and the ethno-specific perception of falsehood in ancient peoples mentioned in The Histories by Herodotus. Given the breadth and relative objectivity of information about the contacts of the Persian Empire of the Achaemenids with neighbouring nations in the Mediterranean region, Herodotus’ work is a unique resource for study which traditionally belongs to the prerogatives of modern comparative linguoconceptology. Despite the abundance of scholarship on falsehood and deception in Herodotus (Lateiner 1990; Harrison 2004; Mash 2010; Hollmann 2011; Wesselmann 2011), little of it has paid attention to the communicative entities within different ethnic and cultural groups. This study of the Ancient Greeks’ concept of deceit has used traditional semasiological methods in combination with cognitive methods of discourse analysis, metaphorical modelling and axiological scaling. As a result of the semantic and stylistic analysis of 34 denotations of the concept, represented by cognates of ψευδ-, (ἐξ)απατ-, διαβαλ-, δολ-, μηχαν- etc., ‘the core’ and ‘the periphery’ have been singled out. These lexical means have been differentiated according to the frequency of use, variety of derivatives, types of connotative meanings and discursive functions. Discursive distribution of the lexical items concerned the social sphere in the political, religious, investigatory and personal domain. A comparative analysis of deceit for different national communities – Persians, Egyptians and Hellenes with their main ethnic sub-categories, the Ionians, Spartans and Athenians – showed that the most influential representatives of the East more often used non-verbal forms of deceit such as ruse and insidiousness. Among verbal means, they preferred misinformation – straight untruth through the literal distortion of facts – while for the logocentric Greeks, verbal tactics looked much more complex and demanding as a misleading impression balancing on the edge between truth and untruth, using complex, multi-step verbal strategies, such as slander, manipulation and intrigue. Finally, stylistic sensitivity to the cultural characteristics has revealed prevailing forms of deception not only for the eastern and western oecumenes, but also for the marginal ethnic groups of Trojans and Ionians which seem to challenge some regional stereotypes concerning deception.

Keywords: sacred language, profane language, translation, narrative