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The plot unravels: Darius's numbered days in Scythia (Herodotus 4.98).


  Every tragedy comprises of a binding and an unraveling. The binding
  takes place before the tragedy and often in the opening scenes; the
  unraveling is the rest.
  Aristotle, Poetics

  The pages falling off the calendar, the notches marked in a tree that
  no longer stands--these are the signs of the everyday, the effort to
  articulate difference through counting. Yet it is precisely this
  counting that reduces difference to similarities, that is designed to
  be "lost track of."
  Susan Stewart, On Longing

Not pages falling off the calendar, not notches marked in a tree, but knots unraveled from a length of string--this is the way that Darius chooses to count his days in Scythia. In Herodotus's Histories 4.98, Darius gives to the Ionians a leather strap with sixty knots in it, with orders that one knot should be untied each day for as long as he is gone. It is not the first time in the Histories we see a tyrant setting specific orders when it comes to counting. (1) But the incident with the strap, because it sets Egyptian and Scythian practices of measuring and marking at odds with one another, takes on a symbolic and as yet unrecognized force within Herodotus's work. I demonstrate in this paper that Darius sets up the knotted cord as a counting device that resembles an Egyptian system of measurement (the schoinos), but that he manifestly fails to comprehend the meaning of his cord in the context of Scythia. By showing how the brief but significant mention of knots and cords on the eve of Darius's invasion picks up on larger themes at work in the Histories, I argue that the knotted rope of 4.98 functions as a sign of Darius's misguided approach to conquest and empire through the principles of enumeration, quantification, and measurement.

As the two quotations from Aristotle and Susan Stewart at the head of this paper suggest, the incident with the knotted cord is also illuminating in relation to a topic of wider application in the Histories--the concept of plot and narrative progress. The implications of releasing a knot, on the one hand, and repetitively counting off a series of identical notches in sequence, on the other, are starkly in contrast in terms of the way that plots are supposed to "work" in both ancient and modern narrative theory. Under the auspices of the knotted cord that sets this section of the Histories in motion (4.98-144), Darius loses not only his way but also the linear thread of his story, as it begins to loop hopelessly in a series of tangles and deviations. (2) The complexities inherent in Darius's device of the knotted cord will go some way to explain why his invasion of Scythia is doomed to fail on narratological, as well as practical, grounds.

The details of Darius's expedition into Scythia in Book 4 are well known and may be summarized briefly here. The Persian king decides to invade Scythia to avenge the latter's twenty-eight-year occupation of Asia (4.1) and as a prelude to his planned attack against Greece (3.134). He assembles a vast army and marches to the Danube, where the Ionians have formed a bridge for him across the river. Once inside Scythian territory, however, things go increasingly wrong for Darius. He is led on a chase across the countryside by an elusive enemy and ends up retreating back across the river in defeat, once again by means of the reassembled Ionian bridge.

The Scythian expedition has been examined from many angles by scholars, and its importance within the Histories has rightly been stressed. (3) In particular, its strongly symmetrical and contrastive relationship to the Egyptian logos in Book 2 has provided rich material for discussion. (4) That material is of considerable importance to this argument, since it focuses on the contrasting ways that the topographies of Egypt and Scythia are mapped out within the larger frame of the Histories. (5) My reading of how the knotted strap is put to use as a measuring device, with quite different results within the two different countries, will underscore that distinction.

Unlike the Egyptians, the Scythians are a relatively unexceptional race in Herodotus's account, except for one particular skill--their ability to elude capture: "For such is their manner of life that no one who invades their country can escape destruction, and if they [the Scythians] wish to avoid engaging with an enemy, that enemy cannot by any possibility come to grips with them" (4.46.2). (6) The problem with Scythia for an invading army is getting out, not getting in. Darius is unaware of just how hard it will be to remove himself from Scythia and foolishly commands the Ionians to dismantle the bridge as soon as the first crossing has been made. But the Ionian tyrant Coes tactfully advises an exit strategy:

  "My lord," he said, "you are going to attack a country without a
  single town in it, and no part of which is under cultivation. Surely
  it would be wiser to leave this bridge intact, and under the guard of
  the men who built it; for whether we do make contact with the
  Scythians and succeed in what we hope to do, or not, we should then,
  in either case, have a safe means of getting back by the same route."

Darius agrees, and follows Coes' advice in the following manner:

  He called a meeting of the Ionian tyrants and showed them a long
  leather strap in which he had tied sixty knots. "Men of Ionia," he
  said, "my orders to you about the bridge are now cancelled; I want you
  to take this strap, and every day undo one of the knots, beginning
  with the day on which you see me start my march against the Scythians.
  Should I fail to return before all the knots have given out, you are
  at liberty to sail home; meanwhile, in accordance with my change of
  plans, guard the bridge with every possible care for its safety This
  will be the greatest service you can do me."

By means of the strap and its sixty knots, Darius sets a limit of sixty days upon his time in Scythia. His method for doing so has struck commentators as unusual, since both the Persian- and the Greek-speaking world (particularly Ionia) were considerably advanced in their practices of arithmetic and recordkeeping. (7) Thus R. W. Macan, in his 1895 commentary, labeled Darius's method of counting so "primitive" as to be "hardly credible," with subsequent commentators largely concurring with his assessment. (8) Most recently, Aldo Corcella in his commentary on Book 4 (1993, ad loc.) has argued that this surprising method of counting days may be slightly ironic, having more to do with Herodotus's narrative practices than with historical reality. The only fuller treatment of this incident, to my knowledge, appears in a 1989 Russian article, which argues that the device of setting the sixty-day limit is a folktale motif with very little basis in the historical facts of Darius's expedition. (9) Apart from these scattered remarks, the incident with the knotted cord has not attracted substantial scholarly attention. Indeed, this is hardly surprising, since it is not mentioned again by Herodotus in the rest of his narrative. (10)

Within the logic of Herodotus's overall narrative plan, however, the episode is more significant than has previously been realized, for the single strand of Darius's knotted cord interweaves with other threads already at play within the scope of the Histories, with the result that Darius's simple and somewhat quirky experiment with a sequence of knots along a strap of leather uniquely ties together our reading of certain key themes in the work. Moreover, although such a simple method of counting days may have little precedent in Greek and Near Eastern practices, the use of knots and cords for the counting off of land does have a strong precedent within the considerably advanced and sophisticated measuring systems of Egypt.

The repeated use of the word "primitive" in the scholarship should alert us to the fact that this passage of the Histories is ideologically charged, precisely because it occurs at the intersection of a number of cross-cultural contexts. These are signaled by Darius's movement from Persia to Scythia (via Egypt), his exchange with the Ionians, and the symbolic value of his crossing from Asia to Europe. My first concern is to argue that Darius's device does not betray a "primitive" sensibility when it comes to mathematics and measurement, but rather an affinity to the Egyptian measuring rope, by which the pharaohs had been surveying and accounting for their land for centuries. In light of the correspondence between these two knotted cords, I will seek to reread Darius's invasion of Scythia through the lens of certain Egyptian antecedents that have to do with counting, measurement, and conquest. This will go some way in explaining why Darius, who mistakenly thinks he has mastered the art of measurement and appropriation from the great masters of geometry, the Egyptians, is bound to fail as soon as the plan with the knotted strap is set in motion.

Darius approaches Scythia with little experience of the land he is about to enter, but with a great deal of experience of the Persian province of Egypt he has just left behind. The Histories follows a similar path, taking the reader (or listener) from the extended geographic and ethnographic description of Egypt in Book 2 to the rich description of Scythia in Book 4. As noted above, the parallel structure inevitably invites comparison of the ways that the landscape of each is described, and it is immediately apparent that the two topographies are very different. Egypt is characterized by order; Scythia by aporia. Egypt is a geometric landscape of straight lines and right angles; Scythia is an open landscape of meandering paths and irregular, hazy edges. The parallels and contrasts between the two are extensive, and it has long been recognized that Herodotus's representation of these topographies tends toward the extremes of two opposite poles. (11)

As Phiroze Vasunia has observed, Herodotus's treatment of Egyptian space is determined by "a representational technique that thrives on enumeration, surveying, measuring, and mapping," and at almost every point the Histories' description of Egypt is qualified by calculation and measurement. (12) Indeed, Herodotus's own oft-noted fascination with counting in Book 2 appears to grow organically out of the importance of enumeration within the Egyptian tradition. According to Herodotus, the Egyptians not only devised the means of calculating time--from the generation to the year to the month (13)--but they also invented the art of land measurement or "geometry" that was later adopted by the Greeks.

Herodotus tells us that King Sesostris, the first Egyptian King (2.102-10), radically redesigned the flat landscape of Egypt when he "cut up" (katetamne) the country into a network of canals, and consequently made the land unsuitable for horses and carriages (2.108). Sesostris then went on to parcel out the land of Egypt in the following way:

  [Sesostris] divided the land into lots and gave everyone a square
  piece of equal size, from the produce of which he exacted an annual
  tax. Any man whose holding was damaged by the encroachment of the
  river would go and declare his loss before the king, who would send
  inspectors to measure the extent of the loss, in order that he might
  pay in future a fair proportion of the tax at which his property had
  been assessed. I think this is the way in which geometry was invented,
  and passed afterwards into Greece.

Numerous material and literary sources testify that the method of measuring the land after the annual flooding of the Nile was by means of a knotted rope that the Greeks referred to as a schoinos or schoinion, with each knot marking a set distance along a prescribed length of the line, like the markers on a ruler. (14) This rope was stretched out between two officials for the reapportioning of the amount to be paid in taxes after the inundation of the Nile, and the length of each crop field was then recorded by a king's scribe and set down in the official records. The knotted measuring rope was in use from at least the time of the Second Dynasty (2700 B.C.E.) and since it was of great importance in the Ptolemaic period as well, scholars have assumed that it continued to be used without interruption during the Persian occupation of Egypt. (15) Images of these knotted cords appear on several wall paintings within Egyptian tombs and are held in the hands of several figures in statues. (16) They seem to have been used in Mesopotamia at about the same period. (17)

The evidence for the use of ropes to measure land in Greece within Herodotus's time, however, is inconclusive. (18) The technical surveying instruments of the measuring-rope (schoinion) and the similar, shorter device of a wooden measuring-rod (kalamos or akaina) are not documented in Greek material and literary records for the archaic or the classical period. The words schoinos and schoinion mean simply "rope" or "reed" in all authors up to Herodotus, and apart from in Herodotus--where they do take on a technical, measuring sense, as I outline below--the words do not appear in the context of measurement until pseudo-Aristotle's Mechanica (18.853b5) and after that in the Hellenistic period. (19) In fact, the form schoinos/schoinion itself was not particularly common as a word for rope in Herodotus's time--he uses it far more often than his contemporaries. (20) This suggests that when Herodotus employs one form of the word or the other, he is using it to apply to a practice of measuring or marking out space which he has observed among the Egyptians.

Herodotus equates the schoinos with a measuring line in Book 1 of the Histories, when the Pythia tells the Spartans, in response to their request for land: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII],/ [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (I will give you foot-beaten Tegea to dance on / And a beautiful plain to measure with the line, 1.66.2). It is only later, to their chagrin, that the Spartans discover that the schoinos will be formed by the chains that bind their own legs, as they "measure with the line" (schionoi diametresamenoi) the fields of Tegea as laborers (1.66.4). The rope's double meaning as both fetters and measuring instrument is set within the context of sixth-century Sparta, whose early agrarian problems are juxtaposed, in this case, with their pursuit of territorial expansion. (21) At other times, Herodotus's references to the rope (usually called schoinion) bear no explicit connection to Egyptian measuring cords, as, for example, when he relates how the Ephesians attached a schoinion between the temple of Artemis and their city wall to protect themselves from attack by Croesus (1.26). Yet it is noteworthy that this rope also serves, if inadvertently, as a measuring device within the narrative, for Herodotus explains that the distance between the city wall and the temple is seven stades (1.26.2), just as if that distance had been measured by the rope. (22)

Herodotus also uses the adjective schoinotenes (LSJ, s.h.v., "stretched out like a measuring cord"; Powell 1938, s.h.v., "dead straight") in his descriptions of the 180 river channels cut by Cyrus in order to punish the river Gyndes (1.189.3), and of the myriad of passageways leading to different women in the temple of Aphrodite at Babylon (1.199.2). The term evokes the idea of a network of straight lines running across the surface of the ground. Additionally, in Book 7, Xerxes has a straight line drawn or taped on the ground through some form of rope of cord (schoinotenes poiesasthai) to mark the place where a canal should be dug (7.23.1). (23)

Herodotus is alone among his contemporaries in using the word schoinos to refer not only to the Egyptian measuring cord (1.66.2, 1.66.4, 1.189.3, 1.199.2, 7.23.1) but also to the Egyptian unit of measurement ("a rope's length") that he employs fairly frequently in Book 2 when calculating the various distances and dimensions of Egypt (2.6.1, 2.6.2, 2.6.3, 2.9.1, 2.15.1, 2.29.3, 2.41.5, 2.149.1). Herodotus sets the length of an Egyptian measuring rope at sixty stades (2.6) and uses this as his measuring standard in describing the topographical dimensions of Egypt. The matter of the Egyptian schoinos's actual length is difficult to resolve, (24) but if we leave aside matters of precision (which are of much less concern to us here than the method of measurement used), it is clear that Herodotus's own interest in the calculation of distances becomes markedly more prominent in Book 2. At the very outset of the Egyptian logos, Herodotus makes explicit his attempt to coordinate all of the world's geography according to a set of relative standards by setting up a system for translating between fathom, stade, parasang, and schoinos. Each term, he explains, corresponds to the amount of land owned: "The people there who own very little land measure it by fathoms; those not so poor, by stades, or furlongs; those with much land in parasangs, and those with vast estates in schoinoi. The parasang is equal to thirty stades, the schoinos, as I have said, to sixty" (2.6.2). (25) Herodotus's frequent use of the schoinos measurement in Book 2 offers him a new standard for recording exceptionally large distances (such as the Egyptian coastline), thereby expanding his ambitious surveying program as histor. (26) But his use also, as Matthew Christ has shown, sets up a symbiotic relationship between his narrative practice and the countries he writes about. By adopting the measuring standard of the Egyptians in the course of describing them, Herodotus both recounts and imitates (or, as Christ would have it, competes with) the pharaohs' preoccupation with recording the length, width, and depth of all things Egyptian.

Christ has offered an effective example of this phenomenon in Herodotus's and King Psammetichus's joint use of the plumbing or sounding line to chart water depth in Egypt. Historian and king both conduct experiments using ropes to determine the level of the sea and the Nile, respectively. (27) Herodotus arrives at relatively straightforward results, positing a depth of eleven fathoms at a day's sail from Egypt by means of the line (2.5.2). Psammetichus, on the other hand, who attempts to measure the depth of the Nile in the cataract area, runs into difficulties, for, even though he "had a sounding line [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] woven many thousands of fathoms long," when he lets it down into the water he is not able to reach the bottom with his line (2.28.4). (28) Psammetichus's failure is a rare example of measurement not working in Egypt; almost everywhere else within its borders, the dimensions of the land are easily calculated and recorded. It is only here, at the uncharted depths of the mysterious Nile, that measurement is elusive. Otherwise, one has to go beyond Egyptian borders to find space that resists being calculated by the line. (29)

This overview of the prevalence of different kinds of measuring cords in the Histories indicates their thematic importance in Herodotus's work. I now wish to return to the idea, first suggested at the beginning of this paper, that the various measuring ropes, tapes, cords, and chains we have considered in the Histories are often motivated by the impulse toward conquest and empire. (30) On the eve of the invasion of Scythia at 4.98, the knotted cord is passed from the hands of one tyrant to another, although the Ionians eventually come to understand that they will be better off, as tyrants, by not playing by its rules (4.137-39). In Darius's hands, however, the knotted strap predominantly marks him as a barbarian king whose approach to empire-building is inextricably linked to an obsession with counting.

Darius's attempt to record the number of days that he will spend in Scythia fits into a larger scheme of measuring, surveying, and counting in which the kings of the Histories routinely engage. (31) Just as the Egyptian pharaohs consolidated their power over Egypt by marking and dividing its landscape--whether through mathematically advanced building projects such as the pyramids or the labyrinth at Moeris, the parceling out of land into carefully measured allotments tied to annual taxation, or the setting up of stelae on its borders (32)--so Darius is also characterized in the Histories as a king obsessed with accounting, surveying, and reshaping as a means of mastering the landscape around him. The continuity between Darius and the pharaohs is stronger than with any other Persian monarch, for he even completes one of the projects of an earlier Egyptian king, Necos, by finishing the construction of a canal to the Arabian gulf (2.158). (33)

Like the pharaohs and other barbarian monarchs before and after him, Darius repeatedly poses the question "How much?" when seeking to determine the extent of his power or fortune. (34) His counting is based on self-aggrandizement, on what Christ has called an example of the "egotistical and misguided" attempt of barbarian monarchs to "reassure themselves of their power and demonstrate their greatness to others" (1994, 172-73). This is a common motif regarding the barbarian king that runs through the Histories, from Croesus and his interactions with Solon (1.30) to Xerxes and his tallying of his troops (7.44, 7.59-60, 7.100, 7.103). (35) Indeed, Darius's character as a money counter or "trader" (kapelos) is established early in the text, in Herodotus's lengthy report on the grand total of the monarch's annual revenue from all of his provinces (3.90-95). (36) As counting becomes increasingly bound up with empire, moreover, it overlaps with the practice of surveying, since not only objects and people but also land fall under the tyrant's jurisdiction. Thus, in order to prepare himself for conquest over Greece and Asia, respectively, Darius sends Democedes to "make a written record of the results of a careful survey of most of the notable features of the coast" (3.136.1), and Scylax to make his own logbook of the river Indus (4.44). (37)

It might seem paradoxical, then, that Darius's expedition to Scythia fails, in part because he emphasizes too much recordkeeping and numbers. Darius mistakenly believes that the system that had worked for the Egyptians would work for him too, in his attempt to make seamlessly the transition from one culture to another. On the one hand, Darius fails because he is unaware of the complexities that must inevitably come into play when moving between the different cultures of Persia, Egypt, and Scythia. On the other, Darius is also oblivious to the fact that counting itself is a complex business and that the sum of one's accounts may not always add up in the way one had intended. As I will discuss below, the problem becomes more acute within the domain of Scythia, for that kingdom is more impervious to the effects of counting and surveying than any other country in the Histories. (38)

As if he were following in the footsteps of Sesostris, Darius records the progress of his march towards Scythia with frequent recourse to both marking and counting. En route, he erects two marble columns that list the number of nations and troops serving on his campaign, which add up to 700,000 men and 600 ships (4.87.1). After erecting a third pillar to denote his passage beside the river Tearus (4.91), Darius then conducts a census of his troops by having each man deposit a stone as he passes by a certain spot (4.92).

Darius, therefore, fits into an ongoing tradition of Lydian, Persian, and Egyptian monarchs in his attempts to account for and survey his domain, but he displays an error in judgment in attempting to adhere to a model based on counting to mark his time in Scythia. Scythia resists classification not only because it lacks the normal signs of orientation, such as roads, architecture, and borders, but also because its people do not stay in one place long enough to be counted. Herodotus remarks that he was never able to discover the population of Scythia, despite several attempts (4.81). The closest he could come to an indication (but not a figure) was by observing the giant bronze bowl at Hypanis, said to be made of individual arrowheads brought by every inhabitant of Scythia to their king upon pain of death (4.81.3-6). (39) This monument does not necessarily involve counting, but it is the closest to quantification that the Scythians ever come in Book 4. (40) Unlike the huge pile of

stones left by Darius as a marker of the number of his troops (4.92), the bronze arrows, because they have been melted down to form the bowl, cannot be separated and recounted by succeeding generations. This speaks, in no uncertain terms, to the Scythians' own approach to history-making and recordkeeping. The bowl may mark a spot in the landscape where a census was carried out, but, once fashioned into a conglomerate whole, it resists interpretation as an object with any secondary significance. (41)

The Scythians' nomadism is key to their representation as unquantifiable in the Histories. (42) Since they do not own land, they do not need a standard of measure to account for it. Herodotus's statement concerning the relative values of the schoinos in Book 2 ("The people there who own very little land measure it by fathoms; those not so poor, by stades, or furlongs; those with much land in parasangs, and those with vast estates in schoinoi," 2.6.2) does not make a provision, importantly, for those who are without land. By the same token, since the Scythians have neither monuments nor architecture, they lack the need to use measurement in the design and construction of their building projects, whether public or private. Whereas the Egyptians have many thomata (e.g., the pyramids), which rely on the advanced use of measurement and mathematics to make their impression (2.124-27), the Scythians' marvels ensue from the natural environment (weather and mules, 4.30.1; the plants that grow along the Borysthenes, 4.53.3; the Black Sea, 4.85.2; Heracles' enormous footprint, 4.82), whose measurements Herodotus records if possible but which are not man-made. The fact that according to Herodotus the Scythians' only real marvels are their rivers (4.82), which are as numerous as the canals of Egypt but run at will in their own meandering direction, is also significant. The only river that the Egyptians allow to run on its own path--the Nile--is constantly monitored by means of the Nilometer and the measuring cord. (43)

Darius learns too late that it is impossible to leave even a trace among Herodotus's Scythians: they forget quickly, they do not use writing, and they keep even the graves of their fathers secret. Their landscape is impervious to markings of any kind, but especially to the form of geometrical marking so familiar from Egypt. If, as the Egyptologist John Ball (1942, 8) informs us, the Egyptians were concerned with only the right angle, and therefore only with measuring in straight lines, then the Scythians are the opposite. Their movement is the meandering curve of the river, the wagon, and the pack animal, all of which weave their way indeterminately across open space, and, not incidentally, the way of the Egyptian horse and cart before Sesostris cut up his country into a series of canals (2.108.2). Darius's one attempt at a building project in Scythia--a series of eight large forts on the banks of the river Oarus, each separated at regular intervals of approximately sixty stades--is abandoned before it can be completed (4.124). Similarly, the Persians can only find their way through this landscape by following not a straight and ordered path, but rather the trail ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of whoever has preceded them (4.122.1, 4.140.3). The landscape forces them to track blindly, following marks that are impermanent and roads that, since they are unmarked and "uncut" (4.136.2), do not follow either a straight line or a simple logic.

Herodotus may attempt to measure and even "geometrize" Scythia by describing it as a perfect square (tetragonos) with sides of exactly equal length (4,000 furlongs: 4.99-101), but in his narrative of Darius's invasion it quickly emerges as a labyrinthine country of blind turns and an endless array of directions in which to proceed. (44) Despite the confidence of the opening phrase, "I will now give some indication of the extent of the Scythian coastline through measurement" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 4.99.2) and its reminiscence of the opening of Herodotus's description of Egypt, "The length of the Egyptian coastline is sixty schoinoi ..." ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 2.6.1), Herodotus relies on numbers less and less as his description of the Scythian landscape continues. This is in sharp contrast to his enumeration of all things Egyptian.

Something of Herodotus's initial confidence at the prospect of mapping Scythian territory can be found in Darius's actions on the eve of invading Scythia. As a tyrant, Darius's mode of operation conforms to the principles of counting, planning, and surveying, born from an impulse not only to quantify but also to mark by the line. If Darius has learned anything from the pharaohs' redistribution and realignment of Egypt and from Croesus's attachment to quantification as a means of measuring power, then his project in Scythia will similarly be to define the landscape in such a way that it will reflect his imperial control, and to categorize its inhabitants numerically so that they eventually can be counted among his subjects and extrinsic possessions. Everything Darius knows about rule corresponds to a system of power based, as it is in Egypt, on the right angle, the line, and the sequential enumeration of events or objects filed into order. The gesture of tying sixty knots into a strap and leaving it with the Ionians looks back, obliquely, not only to the Egyptian schoinos, but also to every linear system of measurement that has been at play in the Histories, from the stade to the rope to the counting of distance through the monitoring of days and nights. (45) This is particularly marked in the text by the fact that sixty knots are tied into the strap, for it is the number sixty that Herodotus focused on in first introducing both the schoinos ("One schoinos, which is the unit of measurement the Egyptians use, is sixty stades," 2.6.3) and the measurements of Egypt ("The length of the coastline of Egypt proper is sixty schoinoi," 2.6.1). Even Herodotus's calculation of Egypt as a whole results in a multiplication of sixty (3600 stades: 2.6.3). Once inside Scythia, Darius's one attempt at architecture will again revolve around the number sixty, as he attempts to erect fortresses at regular distances of sixty stades from one another (4.124).

Although the strap is ostensibly intended to measure time, not space, its resemblance to the Egyptian schoinos betrays Darius's larger project to master the Scythian landscape, for as Herodotus has made clear throughout the Histories, the counting off of days is often the most stable indicator in the measurement of distance across space. (46) Darius's strap is designed to serve as both a mnemonic and a measuring device, which, by the release of one knot a day, will keep a record of the progress of time both inside and outside Scythia. The chronological sequence of the knots along the strap anticipates a movement through Scythia that will be equally linear and ordered, in a scheme within which the coordinates of time are designed to match reciprocally with the coordinates of space. In this way the Persian king attempts to construct, through the strap, a scale by which time may be measured, just as he had attempted to use stelai and rocks to keep a record of the number of his men and of the distances they had traveled. Like the Egyptian priests who habitually reestablished not only the boundaries but also the proportions of their landscape through a knotted measuring rope, Darius turns to geometry and measurement in an attempt to master a new and unknown topography.

The regular sequence of knots along the strap also suggests that Darius will keep his narrative in order by moving sequentially along a clear line or plan in the course of his expedition. But objects in Herodotus can carry their own, hidden set of meanings, especially in the hands of barbarian tyrants (Dewald 1993), and Darius's scheme begins to unravel almost as soon as he devises it. In attempting to make the transition from Egyptian to Scythian rule, Darius believes that the series of knots along the line will provide him with a secure reference point for measurement. The device he chooses to count the amount of time he will spend on his invasion also, as I have suggested, looks forward to the amount of space he intends to capture and add to his great catalogue of empire. In Egypt, where both the preparation and the material content of the rope were chosen with great care so as to provide the least amount of shrinkage or expansion from moisture (Lewis 2001, 20), the schoinos was an official standard of measurement designed to remain uniform across the entire space of the country. In Scythia, though, precisely the opposite happens, for as Darius instructs that one knot a day should be untied, he unwittingly creates a length of cord that, rather than staying fixed at a certain, quantifiable length, will continue to expand with each passing day. As each knot is successively untied, the line does not become "shorter," as Darius had intended, but begins to double in length, causing the dimensions of the measuring line to change from one day to the next.

It is precisely this extension of space for which Darius has not accounted. Like the strap that symbolizes the progress of his journey, his expedition into Scythia follows a single line that seems only to increase in length, as if inexhaustibly, and gives the impression of having an end that stretches ever more into the distance the further along it Darius progresses. As Darius's men shift back and forth between the roles of hunter and quarry (Hartog 1988, 41), the normal patterns of time begin to slip into the same mutability as the Scythian landscape. This results in the Scythians unknowingly overtaking the Persians in an absurd race towards the Danube which neither side really "wins," because the Scythians get there too soon and the Persians, by overlooking the shortest route and missing the sixty-day deadline, end up unwittingly buying themselves the time they need to eventually escape (4.136-40).

As the countdown of the sixty days becomes increasingly important to the Scythian strategy, an element of suspense enters into the story of Darius's expedition. The cord supplies that tension, for the movement from knot to knot serves to wind the plot tight, as the time that the Persians spend away from their escape route increasingly comes to matter. Concurrently, though, the Scythians strive to make the passage of time aimless, even meaningless, within the confines of their land. Their technique of leading Darius on a chase around the countryside has no object other than that they should always be "one day" ahead of him (4.120.3, 4.122.1, 4.125.1), and at times they trick the Persians into carrying out raids on small amounts of cattle in order to keep deliberately stringing them along (4.130). The repetitive and directionless nature of their behavior drives Darius into a state of confusion (4.126, 4.131) and finally prompts him to try to escape. The Scythians' plan to stretch out the time that the Persians spend within their borders (4.130) causes the flow of time to appear to slow down, as Darius and his men find themselves endlessly repeating a game of hide and seek with the enemy. Time ticks away on the Scythian border in the hands of the Ionians, but it does not appear to run inside the country itself. Instead, within the interior of the country, the space of a day represents simply the unbridgeable amount of distance between Darius and the Scythians. As Susan Stewart (1993, 14) observes in the epigram to this paper, the repetitive and overly similar nature of the space that the daily interval represents leads it to become meaningless and for the differences between the days to be "lost track of."

Within this scenario of time-stood-still, the interval of the day takes on a magnified sense of importance to the exclusion of all other units of measurement in this section of the work (4.98-142). The interval of the day becomes increasingly spatialized. We have seen Herodotus follow, throughout the Histories, the standard Greek practice of using the day as a unit of spatial distance, such as in his description of Scythia at 4.101 ("It is a ten days' journey from the Ister to the Borysthenes"). But here the conversion goes further, for not only are the spatial coordinates of the day set by Darius as the distance between one knot and the next along a strap of leather, but they also materialize as a set area of land within Scythian terrain, marked by the intervening "dead space" that the Scythians ensure is always maintained between themselves and the pursuing Persians as the former plot to keep themselves always "ahead by a day" on the road. The strap's resemblance to a scaled down version of the Persians' path through Scythia, as if it were the route of their expedition in miniature, is further underscored when we consider that the Ionians will successively work their way through the knots on the cord, using the same verb (diexerchomai) that is used to describe Darius's passage through a series of different tribal areas in Scythia (4.98.2, 4.122.3, 4.123.2). In each example, the empty, repetitive spaces between knots along the cord are correlative with the Persians' progress through Scythian territory.

Although the regular, temporalized unknotting of the strap day by day does have a clearly structured rhythm, the consequences of the unraveling nevertheless cause that order increasingly to slacken and dissipate. If the knotted measuring cord figuratively represents all that is ordered, surveyed, and accounted for within the rule of Egypt, the gradual unraveling of Darius's knotted strap comes to represent everything that is unquantifiable, disordered, and elusive within the Scythian landscape. By predicating his invasion of Scythia on the principle of unknotting, Darius sets up an interesting challenge for himself in seeking to follow his plot through to the end, for the consequences of his knotting and unknotting lead him to get tangled up in complications associated with narrative and plot.

The knotted cord is a key instrument in two specific plots that take shape in the minds of the protagonists of the Scythian expedition (4.98-142). First, it frames Darius's plot of how to get both into and out of Scythia, an incursion that is set to last no longer than sixty days. But Darius's plot is also, unbeknownst to him, co-opted by the Scythians, who devise to keep him inside their country until all of the knots on the strap have been untied. The individual machinations of Darius and the Scythians branch out further, though, to encompass other definitions of plot in the wider context of narrative theory, from the idea of a marked-out "plot" of land to, more generally, the concept of narrative structure. Because of its associations in Herodotean discourse with both a "rope's length" (the schoinos) and, in the context of 4.98, the area covered in sixty days of marching, the knotted strap encompasses not just a sequence of days but also an area of ground, one that Darius anticipates measuring and cordoning off as his own. In this way, the knotted leather cord works in parallel with Peter Brooks's well-known analysis (1984, 11-12) of the several, interrelated definitions of plot: 1. a measured area of ground; 2. a ground plan, chart, or diagram; 3. an outline of the action of a narrative; 4. a secret plan or scheme. The strap, in more ways than one, is really all the plot there is within Herodotus's tale of the Scythian expedition. Skrzhinskaya's insistence that the sixty-day limit set for Darius's expedition is historically inaccurate, and is rather a motif that emerges from narrative concerns, reinforces the point. (47) It is the strap that sets the premise for the expedition as a story with beginning and end, and which provides the tension within the narrative as a countdown device. In fact, without 4.98 it is hard to imagine a plot emerging at all in Herodotus's account of the Scythian expedition.

When Aristotle thought about plot, he must have imagined it in some forms as a thread, for his analysis of tragic plots returns again and again to the idea of binding (desis), weaving together (ploke), and untying (lusis). (48) Subsequent readers of narrative have picked up on this idea, imagining narrative as precisely such a "thread" or line that the reader follows along in the course of a story. (49) In Sterne's Tristram Shandy, the line of the plot is famously drawn on the page as a series of squiggles or arabesques, as the author absurdly strives to write a chapter that will correspond to a straight line, drawn with a ruler. (50) There has been a great deal of speculation on why the "line" or thread (lino) of a successful plot must always include deviations, detours, "bindings," and complications. According to J. Hillis Miller's study (1992) of narrative threads, the narrative line can, and should, tie itself up in knots, since these knots both complicate and order its linearity. (51) That complication arises not only from the fact that a knot may be a problem, even "a kind of irritation, which demands narration," (52) but also from the role of repetition in the narrative process. As soon as the knot is untied, there is a danger that the narrative line will rebind again, organizing itself into the shape of a new plot and deterring the narrative's initial inclination towards closure. (53)

What, then, of Darius's binding and untying? By predicating Darius's plan on the idea of a knot waiting to be undone, Herodotus's narrative technique, which always follows, on its own admission, the way of the detour (4.30.1), falls into an uneasy relationship with the orthogonal culture of conquest that Darius brings with him from Egypt. The strap, instead of symbolizing a journey across a landscape that will be direct and that will quickly reach its endpoint (a fixed point in space, which Darius might mark with the erection of a stele), will instead unravel on and on, lengthening with each untied knot and deferring its end. The unbinding (lusis) that comes with Aristotle's formulation for tragedy takes place only once, within the confined time period of the play. But the knots in Darius's rope instead lead only to another unbinding and another and another. The state of repetition and stasis that the ordered flow of knots along the line engenders serves to sixty times retard the action of the plot, to hold it at bay, just as Darius is trapped in a repetitive hunting cycle within the borders of Scythia.

The untying of knots should signal a release for the narrative, therefore, but not when the act of untying is itself bound up in an ongoing process of repetition. In such cases, the plot succumbs to its own "temptation to over-sameness" (Brooks 1984, 109), and the action of untying becomes mundane and empties of its significance. Consider Penelope, who arrests the onward flow of narrative time on Ithaca by unpicking the threads of her shroud every night (Od. 2.94-110). With the release of each woven knot on the shroud that she insists she must create for Laertes before her marriage to a suitor, Penelope suspends all of Ithaca in a form of narrative limbo for as long as her ruse goes undetected. Over a three-year period, through her acts of tying and untying the threads of her plot, Penelope secretly manipulates the progression of time and events on the island. By ensuring that the Ithacan subplot stays at bay until Odysseus's return, she puts to excellent effect the same plan that Darius unwittingly uses to monitor his progress during his expedition into Scythia. Both plots "fail" to the extent that they set up a very simple structure (the weaving of a shroud; the untying of sixty knots) whose completion points to narrative closure (marriage and death; conquest), but which in fact, inadvertently or not, serve to complicate or divert the plot's resolution. The difference is that Penelope knows exactly what she is doing as she unpicks her knots over a seemingly interminable sequence of days. The less astute Darius, on the other hand, has no idea of just how accurately his knotted cord will serve as a measure of his time in Scythia. (54)

The foolhardy nature of Darius's plan with the strap is hardly in doubt throughout the whole of the episode in Book 4. The presence of the Ionian tyrants and their considered deliberations about whether to destroy the bridge or not shows just how close Darius comes to losing an escape route out of Scythia. It also speaks to a connection with his successor, Xerxes, who will similarly try to reshape the landscape he moves through in his invasion of Greece, most explicitly by his act of yoking and then attempting to whip and fetter the Hellespont (7.34ff.). (55) Xerxes' bridge is held together, with considerable difficulty, by ropes (hopla) of flax and papyrus. (56) The first time it is erected, it collapses in a storm, and even after the second successful crossing, the Persians are surprised to find that it has collapsed upon their return from Greece. Specifically, the bridge has come undone (dialelumenas), although they expected to find it still taut (eti entetamenas, 9.114.1; cf. 8.117.1). As a further indication of the ropes' significance in the whole conception of the bridge, the broken hopla are carried home by the Greeks as a victory offering for their temples (9.121). (57) Xerxes' bridging of the Hellespont has, of course, long been recognized as the final culmination in a number of transgressive river crossings in the Histories (Lateiner 1985), but to read Darius's bridging of the Danube and subsequent plan with the rope in relation to Xerxes' invasion sheds further light on this sequence of crossings. By calling on the Ionians to release (luo) the knots that will determine how long his bridge will stand, Darius is already prefiguring Xerxes' mistakes.

Darius's use of knots and cords in invading Scythia speaks to a larger family trait, therefore, which marks his identity as a Persian monarch who loves to count up (consider the number of men in Xerxes' possession), but who nearly always forgets or fails in his "counting down" by neglecting to think through the consequences of his territorial ambitions. Here, he is most clearly set at odds with the wise Athenian Solon, who tried to teach precisely this lesson to Croesus by carefully adding up the number of days in a man's life, and then working backwards from the end (1.32-33). Solon's calculations are so precise as to even include the intercalary months, and his final sum is posited as a number of days. This is the kind of methodical calculation that Herodotus also aspires to in his Histories. Although Darius may have believed that he was "looking to the end" in his plan with the knotted rope, he instead reveals an affinity to Croesus who, in his overriding concern to enumerate and quantify his possessions, heeded Solon's advice too late.

The knotted cord that Darius leaves behind him as he enters Scythia is topographically structured to measure not just the time of his journey but also the space he hopes to cover and, in doing so, to capture and quantify land among his possessions. In marking out his plot, however, Darius mistakenly believes that all topographies are the same, and that Scythia will submit to Egypt's strict rule of linearity. (58) There is more than one way to add up in the Histories, and the text's own resistance to straightforward, linear equations suggests that the barbarian king's mode of invasion and conquest is more likely to complicate, rather than to resolve, cross-cultural difference. It is only as the thread of Darius's strap slowly unravels that he comes to realize that his days in Scythia have been numbered according to a narrative patterning, and within a larger narrative context, which is quite different from the one he had originally counted on. (59)


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(1) See, e.g., Croesus's orders to his messengers to count a hundred days from leaving his palace before questioning the oracles (1.47.1). Instances of counting kings in the Histories are extensive and, with the exception of 4.98, well documented in Herodotean scholarship. See especially Konstan 1987; Christ 1994, 171-75; Steiner 1994, 142-49; Kurke 1995 and 1999, 65-100; Vasunia 2001, 75-109.

(2) Darius sets up the knotted strap as the kind of image that he would like to envision for his narrative--that of the straight, teleological line that moves directly along a sequence from A (invasion) to B (conquest). Instead, he finds the progress of his journey bound to a series of knots whose systematic unraveling causes his plot to regress and stagnate, trapped in a complex of loops that imply his expedition is ever further from reaching an endpoint. I develop the narratological aspects of the cord's significance in the final stages of this paper.

(3) As Harmatta (1990, 121) has observed, the Scythians appear in seven of the nine books of the Histories. While some scholars have focused on the historicity of the Scythian account (e.g., Armayor 1978; Gardiner-Garden 1987; Skrzhinskaya 1989; Harmatta 1990; Ivantchik 1999) and its connections to ethnographic data from similar cultures (West 1988), others have focused upon what Francois Hartog (1988) has characterized as Herodotus's "imaginary Scythians," seen through the eyes of a Greek traveler with his own set of biases and, in particular, his own set of narrative constructs; cf. Levy 1981; Redfield 1985.

(4) See, inter alios, Benardete 1999, 99; Hartog 1988, 15-19; Redfield 1985, 106-11; Luraghi 2001, 151-55; Vasunia 2001, 96-98.

(5) The Nile and the Ister are equidistant from the equator and in many ways symmetrical to one another. Scythia is a country positioned between Asia and Europe, Egypt between Asia and Libya. Egypt was a wide, nomad kind of space, like Scythia, before King Sesostris. The Egyptians had one major river, the Nile, while the Scythians had many. After Sesostris, however, Egypt with its many canals came to resemble Scythia with its many rivers. Scythia was traversed by horse and cart; Egypt used to be but is no longer. See Hartog 1988, 15-19.

(6) Cf. Hartog 1988; Redfield 1985, 109. All translations of Herodotus are from De Selincourt 1996, with occasional modifications.

(7) See further Dilke 1987.

(8) Macan 1895, ad loc., although he believes that "the device is probably geographically true: i.e. it may have been employed by the Greek traders in their intercourse with the natives of the steppes, or by the natives among themselves" (original emphasis). How and Wells (1989, ad loc.) call the method "curiously out of place in Darius, who had the learning of Chaldaea at his service."

(9) Skrzhinskaya 1989, 83-84. See now Rubincam 2003 on the phenomenon of numbers that are "typical" or "formulaic," and hence that result "not from a process of real counting or precise measurement, but from a human desire for literary and symbolic patterning" (448), and for a reassessment of Fehling's famous inquiry into the matter of Herodotus's historical sources (Fehling 1989, 216-39). On the recurring figure of sixty in this context, see page 13 above. Fehling (1989, 223-24) records the formulaic nature of six, sixty, and 600, without reference to 4.98.

(10) At 4.133, the Scythians remind the Ionians that they have permission from Darius to go home once the sixty days are up. After that point, at 4.136.3, the Scythians urge the Ionians to leave. The knotted strap is not mentioned in either case.

(11) See notes 4-5 above.

(12) Vasunia 2001, 87. See also Hartog 1988, 340-46; Redfield 1985; Christ 1994, 171-75. Herodotus gives metrical accounts of several natural and man-made Egyptian features, including the coastline (2.9); the width of the country (2.11); the island of Prosopitis (2.41); the pyramids (2.127); the land allotments of the warrior class (2.141, 2.168); Lake Moeris (2.149); the length and breadth of Necos's canal (2.158); and Amasis's remarkable temples to Athena, Hephaestus, and Isis (2.175-76). Cf. Vasunia 2001, 89. On problems connected with Herodotus's use of measurement, see Armayor 1978. Dilke (1971, 20) describes Egypt as "the land of pyramids and exact geometrical calculations" to the Greeks who visited it. On the actual building practices of the Egyptians, see Rossi 2004.

(13) Herodotus watches the Egyptian priests at Thebes calculate the generations since their first king by adding up the statues of the high priests at the temple at Thebes (2.142). He also tells us that the Egyptians were the first to invent the year and its division into twelve months (2.4.1).

(14) The Egyptian name was itrw or khet, depending on the length of the cord. The Greek name for the measuring cord means simply "rush" or "rope" (LSJ, s.h.v.; see further Lloyd 1994, 2: 44). On the use of the knotted measuring cord in Egypt, see Lyons 1927; Ball 1942, 6; Kiely 1947, 9-10; Sauneron 1964, 40-42; Dilke 1971, 20-22, 49, and 1987, 7-8, 23; Gillings 1982, 207; Robins and Shute 1990, 5-10; Lewis 2001, 13-17; Manning 2003, 146-47; Rossi 2004, 154-59.

(15) Manning 2003, 147.

(16) One of the best examples comes from a wall painting in a tomb at Thebes (see the figure at the end of the article). Egyptian officials stretch a long cord over a field of wheat, and knots are clearly visible at regular intervals along the rope. In the lower panel of the fresco, scribes enter the calculations into record books.

(17) Woolley 1925, 397-400, pl. XLVIII.

(18) The Greeks must have had a way of measuring or marking out land (cf. the metra, or measuring rods, used by the two men arguing over an area of land at Il. 12.421-22), especially in their use of temple design, in city planning, and in their implementation of land reforms such as Solon's; however, no evidence for the use of measuring ropes survives from this period of Greece. See further Coulton 1975, 90-91; Dilke 1971, 22-25, who finds "little evidence of systematic land surveying" of the kind found in Egypt in archaic and classical Greece. Dilke observes (ibid., 22) that Greece had few wide, flat expanses of arable land to measure. See further Boyd and Jameson 1981, esp. 335.

(19) Pindar (Ol. 6.54; frag. 70bl Snell-Maehler; frag. 248 Snell-Maehler) and Aeschylus (frag. 156.12 [= 20 A Mette]) make brief mentions of schoinoi, schoinia, or the adjective schoinotenes; other irregular references appear in early authors. Excepting Herodotus, the word is most popular in Aristophanes' comedy, where it refers to a range of "ropes"--from the dyed rope that ushered citizens into the assembly (Ach. 22) to the phallus (Vesp. 1342); cf. Ach. 230; Pax 36, 299. For the single occurrence in Homer, see note 22 below. In the Hellenistic period, the "rope" as a unit of measure features in descriptions of Egypt (e.g., Hecataeus of Abdera, frag. 25.55.5 [FGrH 264]), and once in the work of Callimachus (see note 49 below). By the time of Strabo, the schoinos was fully canonized as an Egyptian unit of measurement (cf. Geog., and later still the schoinion, or measuring rope, appears with great frequency in the technical works of Hero of Alexandria (see, e.g., Geom. 2.1.9; Lewis 2001, 20).

(20) Words such as hoplon, boeus, and speira were employed much more frequently than schoinos or schoinion. It is also worth taking into account the variety of technical words for nautical ropes that were in use at this time.

(21) Sparta was a relatively isolated society in this period, with practices that were very different from those in the rest of Greece. The reference to a "measuring line" here most likely bears some connection to their division of good land into lots. See How and Wells 1989, ad loc.

(22) Ropes are often connected to measurement in a general way in Greek thought. Cf. Homer, Od. 10.167, where Odysseus weaves a rope "a fathom in length" in order to drag back a stag to his men.

(23) One might make a connection here to the Egyptian practice, related to measuring by the cord to "stretching the cord," which was employed in setting the foundations for temple building. As Rossi (2004, 151-53) notes, the Egyptian word for "to found" and "plan" or "foundation" is drawn as a looped cord. See further note 54 below.

(24) How and Wells 1989, ad loc.; Lloyd 1994, ad loc.

(25) Benardete 1999, 38; Hartog 1988, 341.

(26) See the section titled "Herodotus as Rhapsode and Surveyor" in Hartog 1988, 340-44. Herodotus often corroborates his role as an eyewitness by offering measurements, at the same time as he appears to be deliberately "improving" on the measurements of Hecataeus before him. See Armayor 1978, 48; Marincola 1987, esp. on the preponderance of eyewitness reports in Book 2.

(27) 2.28; Christ 1994, 171-72.

(28) It has been argued, based on archaeological and regional evidence, that the rope that Psammetichus uses in sounding the Nile at 2.28 should be seen as a measuring cord that is linked, through symbolic and religious associations, to the schoinion used for surveying land. See Sauneron 1959, 35-36 (with further references); Lloyd 1994 ad 2.2.8 (contra). Sauneron bases his evidence on the fact that Khnoum, the god of the First Cataract, was also the patron of land surveyors, and that he is pictured holding a measuring cord at Elephantine.

(29) The northern regions of Scythia are also unquantifiable (4.16-17). Cf. Vasunia 2001, 89: "It is only when one travels south and southwest outside of Egypt that one's capacity to quantify space begins to fail" (original emphasis).

(30) This is especially true of 1.66.2; see page 7.

(31) See note I above.

(32) This is even true to the extent that Cheops prostitutes his daughter in order to pay for his pyramid, and she herself "keeps accounts" (Steiner 1994, 138) for that prostitution with a stone from each man, with which she builds a pyramid of her own (2.126; Vasunia 2001, 82-83). Steiner (1994, 128-30) and Vasunia (2001, 78-80) also discuss Sesostris's placement of stelae at the outermost limit of his empire (2. 103) in the context of ideologies of conquest and power. Steiner (1994, 132) connects this kind of activity with writing, describing "[Sesostris and Deioces'] treatment of their lands as tablets on which they can draw the divisions and impose the topography that they wish. Both are geometricians, fashioning straight lines and concentric circles to demarcate their authority over the landscape in which they move."

(33) Vasunia 2001, 86. Darius engages in several other projects that aim to restructure foreign landscapes according to his imperial will. In his conquest of Asia, he blocks the gorges of a large lake, which causes serious consequences for the surrounding inhabitants (3.117). See Kurke 1999, 80-81.

(34) Konstan (1987) was the first to identify this problematic aspect of the barbarian despots, and the first to show the negative associations of Persian counting, especially in contrast to Greek virtue or arete. See further Kurke's rereading (1999, 87-88) of Darius's famous question to the Greeks in the nomoi section of the Histories (3.38.3-4) within the context of the marketplace: "For how much money would you eat your fathers?"

(35) Konstan 1987, 64-67; Christ 1994, 174-75.

(36) "Because of his imposition of regular taxes, and other similar measures, the Persians have a saying that Darius was a tradesman [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]], Cambyses a tyrant, and Cyrus a father." Darius was given the nickname of kapelos (trader), because he was the first to introduce not only a tax upon his subjects, but also his own coin (the Daric) as a monument to be remembered by; see Kurke 1999, 69-87.

(37) Cf. Steiner 1994, 146: "What prompts several of Herodotus's kings to refashion their domain is the desire to make a written inventory and accounting book: the territory must be measured, assessed, and entered into the catalogue of the King's possessions."

(38) On the Scythians as a race who are explicitly marked as different to other barbarians because they are not fixated by counting, see Kurke 1999, 62-64.

(39) Cf. Dewald 1993. On the unrealistically large size of this bronze bowl, see Armayor 1978, 49-52.

(40) The Scythians do count of course (they are the first to point out when Darius's sixty days are up), but the instances of counting as a practice among them are negligible: they claim their race is 1,000 years old (4.7); 150 wagonloads of sticks are used to light the fire for Ares' sacrifice, for which one out of 100 men is chosen (4.62); and the best man among the Scythians is the one with the greatest number of scalp "handkerchiefs" tied to his horse's bridle (4.64), although the next sentence about sewing the handkerchiefs together into a cloak possibly contradicts this idea.

(41) Cf. 4.131-32, where the bird, mouse, frog, and five arrows sent to Darius by the Scythians end up signifying nothing more complex than themselves: Steiner 1994, 175-76.

(42) Hartog (1988) was the first to tease out fully the importance of the Scythians' identity as nomads in relation to their representation in the Histories.

(43) The Nilometer is not explicitly mentioned by Herodotus, but he must have seen or heard about one in order to come up with his calculations at 2.13. Cf. Lloyd 1994, 2: 71-73. Archaeological evidence suggests its widespread use; cf. Dilke 1987, 7.

(44) Herodotus's square Scythia is as laughably symmetrical as the mapmakers' view of the world so derided by Herodotus at 4.36. Although there is some attempt to measure the distances of Scythia in the Histories, Herodotus's overall attempt to describe the geography of this region has been classified as a "mess" by Thomson 1948, 60. On Herodotus's "geometrization" of Scythia, see Hartog 1988, 348.

(45) Herodotus often measures distance, according to the Greek practice, by number of days' march or sail (see next note). On Herodotus's counting methods, and on the connection between rhapsode and surveyor, see esp. Hartog 1988, 340-49.

(46) In his measurement of the Black Sea, for example, Herodotus takes great pride in explaining how he has arrived at his calculations by counting the number of days and nights' sailing time (4.85-86). This very common practice of measuring distance is particularly well known from periplus accounts. On the number of days' marching distance (and of the placement of way-stations at intervals of a day's march along the route), see Herodotus's description of the Persian Royal Road (5.52-54).

(47) Skrzhinskaya (1989) argues that the motif of setting a set number of days' limit, after which the obligated party will be freed from all commitments, is a common folklore motif.

(48) Aristotle uses the words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (a binding together: LSJ, s.h.v., I) and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (anything twisted or woven: LSJ, s.h.v, II) to describe the original entangling of the plot, and the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to characterize its untying: Poet. 15.1454a37, 18.1455b24, 18.1455b25, 18.1455b30, 18.1455b31, 19.1456a9, 25.1460b6.

(49) Callimachus, who holds quantity in an inverse relationship to quality, wittily tries to distance his poetry from the measure of the Persian schoinos (Aet. 1, frag. 1, 17-18). The trope can also be detected in Pindar, who says that the songs of the dithyrambic poets used to be schoinoteneia (long stretched) (frag. 70bI Snell-Maehler).

(50) Sterne 1795, 6: chap. 40. See further Shklovsky 1965, 55-57; Brooks 1984, 104; Miller 1998, 66-74.

(51) Miller 1992, 1-27; cf. Miller 1998.

(52) Brooks 1984, 103; cf. Aristotle in note 48 above.

(53) Brooks 1984, 101; Miller 1998, 52-56.

(54) It could be argued that Darius's setting of the sequence of binding/unraveling is a similarly misguided attempt to transfer to Scythia the Egyptian ceremony of the "stretching of the cord," which marked the foundation of temples and the setting out of plots for building projects (see note 23 above). The practice consisted of two actions, first the stretching of the cord and then its "loosening" or "unraveling" (Rossi 2004, 153).

(55) Note also that Xerxes' troops have such a radical effect on the landscape that they even eliminate the smaller rivers by drinking them dry (7.21, 7.43, 7.127, 7.196). On the Persian "invasion narrative," see Harrison 2002, 560-71.

(56) How and Wells 1989, ad 7.34: "The cables are the foundation of the whole bridge, and the bridge is, as it were, suspended on them ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])." See Hammond and Roseman (1996) for a detailed technical analysis of how the cables worked to uphold the bridge.

(57) Lateiner (1985, 89) notes that this act is heightened in its symbolic importance by the fact that it is the last action carried out by the Greeks in the Histories.

(58) On the concept of "orthogonal" or "linear" cultures, see Ingraham 1998. McGlew's observation that the Greek tyrant was often described as an aner euthunter ("reformer" but also "straightener") may also be relevant here: McGlew 1993, 52-86, and cf. 100, 197; Kurke 1999, 67, n. 7.

(59) I wish to thank Ralph M. Rosen, Phiroze Vasunia, and the anonymous reader for Helios for their helpful suggestions on this paper.
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Author:Purves, Alex
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Date:Mar 22, 2006
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