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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

Chapter 2 - ‘Romantic Poet-Sage of History’


This chapter uses the figure of Arion, the lyric poet from Methymna whose story is told early in Herodotus’s Histories, to explore the adoption of Herodotus, in the long nineteenth century, as the ‘Romantic poet-sage of History’. This is the title bestowed upon him by the Anglican priest and hymn-writer John Ernest Bode, who in 1853 (following in the fashion set by Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border and Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome) adapted tales from Herodotus into old English and Scottish ballad forms. Herodotus was seen as the prose avatar of poets – of medieval balladeers, lyric singers, epic bards and even authors of verse drama. These configurations of Herodotus are cast into sharp relief by comparing them with his previous incarnation, in the Early Modern and earlier eighteenth century, as a writer who most strongly resembled a novelist. Isaac Littlebury, Herodotus’s 1709 translator, was attracted to the historian for the simple reason that in 1700 he had enjoyed success with a previous translation. But the earlier work was certainly not a translation of an ancient historian. Littlebury had translated Fénelon’s Télémaque, a work of fantasy fiction derived ultimately from the Posthomerica, perhaps better described as a novel combining a rites-of-passage theme with an exciting travelogue.