Wackernagel’s law and the fall of the Lydian empire


This paper offers a novel reading of the Delphic oracle’s response to Croesus’s question of whether he should attack Persia (Herodotus 1), by focusing on a previously unacknowledged feature of the oracular answer: the preposing of the adjective μεγάλην. Preposing is a construction in which an element occurs before the start of the clause proper. In the oracle’s response, preposing serves a corrective function. As preposing creates surface exceptions to Wackernagel’s Law, it is only through an accurate understanding of the “Law” that we can even detect this construction. Working within a framework of (neo-) Gricean pragmatic theory, I detail the semantic and pragmatic contribution of preposing in the oracular response. More broadly speaking, I suggest that Gricean pragmatics can provide new insights into classical texts by offering a principled method for decoding implicit meaning.

Transactions of the American Philological Association 143:323–346