Coincidences: Herodotus and the Piazza San Marco

I’ve been reading the Histories of Herodotus. In fact, it’s the only book I’ve been reading so far this month — which is quite unusual for me, since I’m usually working on three or four books at any given time and finish one every week or so. This is what the cover of my copy looks like:


Hanging on the side of my refrigerator is a calendar which I got for free from a Taiwanese insurance company and which, for some reason, features pictures of various tourist spots in Italy. This month it’s the Piazza San Marco. The picture below is from the calendar.


Yesterday I noticed that both my book and the calendar featured a winged lion and thought it was a mildly interesting coincidence. (Actually, the creature on the Greek oenochoe is presumably a sphinx, but the picture on the book cover doesn’t show its face.) Then I noticed that both pictures also included a man with a spear and shield, making the coincidence a little more impressive.

The winged lion in the Piazza represents St. Mark (in keeping with a rather odd tradition identifying the four Evangelists with the four living creatures of the Apocalypse), but I didn’t know who the man with the spear was. So I looked it up and found that he was St. Theodore of Amasea — Mark’s predecessor as patron saint of Venice. I immediately noticed (being the kind of person who notices such things) that Herodotus is a perfect anagram of Theodorus, the Latin form of Theodore. In fact, the two names turn out to be anagrams in many European languages, including French (Hérodote, Théodore), German (Herodot, Theodor) and Italian (Erodoto, Teodoro); English is an exception because we use the Latin form of the one name and the French form of the other.

I also learned that, while it is not clear in the picture on my calendar, the Venetian statue depicts St. Theodore with a crocodile — a creature which puts in a prominent appearance in the Histories. In fact, I assume that Herodotus’s is the first description of a crocodile in Western literature.

In a minor subsidiary coincidence (not Herodotus-related), just below the picture of the Piazza San Marco is the Chinese character 三 (pronounced san; the Chinese name for March is 三月, “third month”) directly above the English word March (only one letter different from Marco).


Every time I notice something like this, I get the nagging feeling that such coincidences occur more often than they ought to by chance — but of course there is no way to define “such coincidences” or to quantify how often they “ought to” occur, nor is there any possible control against which to compare their frequency.


Filed under Anecdotes, Coincidence / Synchronicity

2 responses to “Coincidences: Herodotus and the Piazza San Marco

  1. Since writing this, I’ve gone back and read John M. Marincola’s introduction to my edition of the Histories; the first paragraph mentions that, according to tradition, Herodotus had a brother named Theodorus.

  2. One more coincidence: The day I finished reading the Histories (March 21), one of my students showed up to class with an illustrated children’s book (in Chinese) about various wars in history. The war described in the first chapter, and depicted in the cover illustration, was the Greco-Persian conflict which is Herodotus’s primary subject.

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