Between east and west: movements and transformations in Herodotean topology

Barker, Elton and Bouzarovski, Stefan (2016). Between east and west: movements and transformations in Herodotean topology. In: Barker, Elton; Bouzarovski, Stefan; Isaksen, Leif and Pelling, Chris eds. New Worlds from Old Texts: Revisiting Ancient Space and Place. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 155–180.



The central premise of this chapter is that, alongside conventional ‘topographical’ maps, spatial relationships can also be conceptualized in a ‘topological’ manner—as sets of overlapping networks in which the nature and the content of links between geographical locations matter more than physical, Cartesian distances. The study owes much to the ‘hodological’ view of space already discussed by de Bakker, but formalized by a qualitative analysis of the connections that Herodotus draws between spatial concepts over the course of his narrative. As Stevens observes in the previous chapter, place names alone are insufficient to capture the full complexity of spatial constructions depicted in the text, and the solution—to identify and analyse proxies (individual characters or groups), who represented places, as well as the places themselves—recalls the point that geographic space is better thought of in terms of lived experience and human agency rather than abstract topography. Like Stevens too, the study is based on close textual analysis, in this case a clause by clause analysis (extending throughout Book 5) of spatial concepts on the basis of their co-presence in a sentence and on the verbal form that connects them, and then evaluated according to the quality of the relationship. Using two geographical principles of movement and transformation, that quality is identified as being either spatially static, spatially dynamic, transformative but not involving movement, or spatially-transformative. All four individual graphs, along with the total network map, show a world that is organized around action and influence rather than cartographic location. And, while these initial results bear out the customary understanding of Herodotus’s conception of space as a world divided between East and West, between Persia and the Greek city-states of, especially, Athens and Sparta, the network picture that emerges is a good deal more complex and nuanced, as internal relationships remain critical for determining the shape and nature of the networks.

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