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Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Front. Philos. China    2019, Vol. 14 Issue (1) : 75-93
Honour and Kingship in Herodotus: Status, Role, and the Limits of Self-Assertion
Douglas Cairns()
Department of Classics, University of Edinburgh, EH8 9AG, Scotland, UK
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The notion of timê (τιμή, normally translated “honour”) is a key concept when it comes to thinking about virtues, roles, and duties in ancient Greek ethics and society, both in popular and in philosophical terms. This discussion concentrates on the work of the fifth-century historian, Herodotus, where the idea of timê as the fulfilment of a specific role in society takes on particular and interesting inflections. In Herodotus, as in Greek generally, timê covers both the esteem that one receives from others and the claim to esteem that the individual him- or herself brings to bear in social interaction. Thus timê is both “deference” and “demeanour” (to use Goffman’s terminology). As a quality of an individual that commands others’ respect, timê also encompasses the roles that are bound up with one’s status. Roles and offices express, attract, and demand timê, but such demands are normally constrained by reciprocal respect for the timê of others. The office of the Persian king, however, appears at first sight to involve unconditional claims to recognition respect, powerful drives towards appraisal respect (in Darwall’s terminology), and only limited acknowledgement of either ethical norms or others claims as potential limitations to regal self-assertion. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the values of mutual respect that underpin the freedom enjoyed by citizens of Greek poleis are also felt by Herodotus to ground claims to freedom and independence on the part of those poleis themselves, claims that the historian’s narrative suggests are ultimately upheld by the gods and embedded in the structure of the cosmos itself.

Keywords Herodotus      honour      timê      Persian wars      Xerxes     
Issue Date: 16 April 2019
 Cite this article:   
Douglas Cairns. Honour and Kingship in Herodotus: Status, Role, and the Limits of Self-Assertion[J]. Front. Philos. China, 2019, 14(1): 75-93.
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