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Thetis in the ‘Ovens’: A Reconsideration of Herodotus’ Topography of Magnesia

  • J.Z. Van Rookhuijzen (a1)

Abstract

While scholars have long acknowledged the limitations of Herodotus’ Histories as a historical source, Herodotus’ topography of the Persian Wars is still usually seen as historically reliable information. This article, by contrast, aims to show that memory studies offers an attractive means to understand this layer of information, as the alleged locations of events do not, in many cases, necessarily reflect the historical situation. Instead, these places may, for various reasons, have been designated as such in local traditions in the ca. 50 years between the wars and Herodotus’ research. As a case in point, this article discusses the topography of Herodotus’ story of the Persian shipwreck along the coast of Thessaly before the Battle of Artemision in 480 BC (Hdt. 7.183, 7.188, 7.191–92). It argues that the attitude among scholars automatically to regard the locations in this account as historically correct has created various problems. In doing so, it identifies the elusive place of Sepias with the coast near the town of Veneto where a remarkable cluster of sea caves (the so-called ‘Ovens’) plausibly formed an ‘anchor’ for the myth of the abduction of Thetis by Peleus, as well as for the Persian shipwreck.

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* . This article is based on my doctoral research undertaken at the Institute for Historical, Literary and Cultural Studies of Radboud University, Nijmegen, and has benefitted from the expertise of my supervisors, Maarten De Pourcq, André Lardinois and Eric Moormann. It was presented as a paper in Ravenstein, the Netherlands, on 26 September 2014, to which Robert Parker responded with helpful remarks. I would like to thank Vasilis Gravanis of Olympos Trek for sharing his knowledge of the local geography and for taking me on a private sea-kayak tour of the Veneto caves, Reinder Reinders for providing me with information on the depiction of Thetis on Thessalian coins, Claire Stocks and Chris Dickenson for their comments on a draft version and helping with the English and the anonymous reviewers and editors of JHS for contributing some valuable points. The travel in Greece during which I was able to visit Magnesia was made possible by a generous grant from Stichting Philologisch Studiefonds. The translations of Greek, the map and the photographs are my own work.

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Thetis in the ‘Ovens’: A Reconsideration of Herodotus’ Topography of Magnesia

  • J.Z. Van Rookhuijzen (a1)

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