Black doves speak: Herodotus and the languages of Barbarians. By Rosaria Vignolo Munson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005. Pp. 121. ISBN 0674017900. $14.95.
Reviewed by Edmund P. Cueva, Xavier University
Black doves speak: Herodotus and the languages of Barbarians asks the central question, ‘Does the role Herodotus attributes to language reinforce or undermine the authoritative Greek-barbarian antithesis of contemporary thought?’ (3). Consequently, Munson aims to examine the numerous instances in Herodotus’s Histories where issues of language provide the historian with ‘special opportunities to instruct his audiences’ (5). These opportunities, in sum, demonstrate that to Herodotus, non-Greek cultures were similarly proficient in assorted areas. In addition, M suggests in her introductory chapter that the language differences did not serve as impediments to understanding non-Greek peoples, but rather allowed for greater analyses that in turn improved not only the historian’s but also his readers’ knowledge about other cultures, and, more importantly, enhanced the knowledge of their own Greek culture. M’s volume includes an introduction, four chapters, a bibliography, an index of passages, and a general index.
Ch. 1, ‘Greek speakers’ (7–18), focuses on Herodotus’s conceptions about the Greek linguistic community and its relationship to Pelasgian, barbarians, and other languages. M places emphasis on diachronic and synchronic differentiations and their use in determining Greek and non-Greek ethnicities and the distinctions between barbaroi and xenoi. In Ch. 2, ‘The ethnographer and foreign languages’ (19–29), M justifies Herodotus’s venture into language as a legitimate area of ethnographic and anthropological study; she writes, ‘Herodotus’ recurring reminders of a people’s different or special speech confirms that language constitutes a branch of the ethnographer’s study of nomoi, diaita, and ēthea’ (25). Indeed, the linguistic heteroglossia of the text endows the historian with a multilingual character; this is not to say that Herodotus is a polyglot, but rather he is comfortable with the major languages included in the history and attentive to the importance of these languages in constructing his narrative.
Ch. 3, ‘Herodotus Hermēneus’ (30–66), assembles passages that serve as metanarrative and metalinguistic glosses that appear in the ethnographic descriptions and historical section of the text. These glosses are translations that both give ‘a means of access to a distant environment’ and ‘emphasize … the gap between “here” and “over there” ’ (32). The significance of these glosses ‘indicate[s] that different languages are equivalent in worth and meaning, so that the narrator can make an unfamiliar world more familiar through translation’ (51). The final chapter, ‘The meaning of language difference’ (67–83), reviews passages from the history that have language as their centers of attention. The conclusion from this review is that for Herodotus, language does not make a difference.
This concise examination of Herodotus’s text is intriguing and should serve as a catalyst for future scholarly discussion and research. It should be noted that there are several errors in the Greek print, and in the bibliography and corresponding references in the footnotes.