No Future? Possibilities and Permanence in Herodotus’ Histories
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Every character in Herodotus – every individual, city, or people – has a future, owing to the rather banal fact that every story has an ending which at some point in the narrative has not yet happened and therefore is ‘future’. While this is the case in practically all narrative texts, Herodotus is in the special habit of pointing out the endings of his micro-stories long before they actually happen. Apart from these ‘actual’ futures of the protagonists, which, from the narrator’s point, lie in the past, there are less obvious cases of future in the Histories, such as the characters’ possible future that does not happen, and the future outside the narrative, for example Herodotus’ Athenian readers’ future. Added to that is another temporality which I will call ‘mythical’ – in the sense of a traditional pattern of events: in the Histories, the same stories, or very similar ones, seem to be happening again and again, only to different people. When this is the case, there can be no concept of future in a progressive sense, no true change or perfectibility. Instead, we have permanence, something like an ‘eternal return of the same’, a perpetuum mobile with variations and changing personnel that nevertheless in its entirety consists of a continuous system of plot rules. While the actors are exchanged, the play stays much the same.