The Shadow

"Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow . . . For Thine is the Kingdom"

11 April 2007


Reading and hearing about the movie '300' recently, led me back to a favourite old book of mine, Herodotus's The Histories. In late high school I fell in love with this work while studying the Persians.

The so-called Father of History, the main aim of this epic work was to explain the origins of the clash between the Persians and the Greeks in the early 5th century. To do this, he went around and spoke to all sorts of people, finding out their stories and customs.

And the thing that really attracted me to Herodotus as he did this was his ability to tell a ripping yarn. Some of them are quite fanciful, but he's aware of that himself. In The Histories he said:

"My business is to record what people say, but I am by no means bound to believe it -- and that may be taken to apply to this book as a whole."

I'm no historian and know relatively little about Herodotus but here are two tales from his work that stuck with me.

When Cyrus, Emperor of Persia went out to fight the distinguished Lydian cavalry, he got his soldiers to mount the camels that were normally used as pack-animals. Why?

"The reason for confronting the Lydian cavalry with camels was the instinctive fear which they inspire in horses. No horse can endure the sight or smell of a camel."

Herodotus also shares a little of the family history of Otanes, the Persian governor of the Ionian coast some years later.

"Otanes' father Sisamnes had been put to death by Cambyses [Cyrus's son]: He was one of the royal judges and as a punishment for taking a bribe and perverting the course of justice Cambyses had him flayed; all his skin was torn off and cut into strips, and the strips stretched across the seat of the chair which he used to sit on in the Court. Cambyses then appointed his son to be judge in his place, and told him not to forget what his chair was made of, when he gave his judgments."

How good is that?


At 11:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

natto here, too lazy to log in...

wow! crazy stuff.

At 10:22 pm, Blogger tdix said...

Good on you for owning up to yourself nonetheless natto.

Good to see you and Megan today! Hope Cindy and Richard's move went well.


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