Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Histories...

I feel like I need some kind of degree for having finished this book.  It took me about four months.  Here are a few thoughts and favorite excerpts...

It sucked to be a woman in ancient times.
1.196  Herodotus describes an auction of all the marriageable Babylonian girls.  The girls are sorted by attractiveness.  Each of the pretty girls goes to the highest bidder, and the money is pooled and used to bribe men to marry the ugly girls.  There is a reverse auction for the ugly girls.  The ugliest stands up first and is married off to the man who will marry her for the least amount of money.  This continues for the rest of the ugly girls.
1.199  "The most disgraceful Babylonian custom is that at some point in her life every woman of the land is required to sit in a sanctuary of Aphrodite and have sex with a strange man...A woman sitting in the sanctuary is not allowed to return home until one of the strangers has thrown money into her lap and had sex with her...It can be any amount of money:  by religious law she is not allowed to refuse it...Women who are attractive and tall get to go home quickly, while the ugly ones wait for a long time without being able to do their duty.  In fact, some of them wait three or four years."

People do horrible things to one another (also see excerpts above).
Old Testament law was revolutionary.  It seems so obvious because our law is based on Judeo-Christian law, but for the ancient world, it was revolutionary.
Pagan religion is just another version of working out your own salvation.
7.114 (Speaking of Xerxes' entourage)  "When they learnt that the name of the place was Nine Ways, they buried alive nine local boys and girls in the ground there."

Xerxes was a psycho.  Reading the book Esther, I never understood why Esther was so scared to speak with Xerxes without being summoned.  It seemed melodramatic and suspect.  Now, I ABSOLUTELY believe in the reasonableness of Esther's misgivings.  Xerxes was a freaking PSYCHO!!!
7.35  The newly completed bridge across the Hellespont was destroyed in a violent storm.  "This news made Xerxes furious.  he ordered his men to give the Hellespont three hundred lashes and to sink a pair of shackles into the sea...So the sea was punished at his orders, and he had the supervisors of the bridging of the Hellespont beheaded."
7.38  When Xerxes' friend, Pythia, asked that the eldest of his five sons be allowed to stay back from war, Xerxes had the young man cut in two.  The Persian army marched in between the two halves of his body.

What it means to be free...
5.78  "Now the advantages of everyone having a voice in the political procedure are not restricted just to single instances, but are plain to see wherever one looks.  For instance, while the Athenians were ruled by tyrants, they were no better at warfare than any of their neighbours, but once they had got rid of the tyrants, they became vastly superior.  This goes to show that while they were under an oppressive regime they fought below their best because they were working for a master, whereas  as free men each individual wanted to achieve something for himself."

The problem with tyranny...
3.80  "How can monarchy be an orderly affair, when a monarch has the licence to do whatever he wants, without being accountable to anyone?  Make a man a monarch, and even if he is the most moral person in the world, he well leave his customary ways of thinking."
5.92  [Periander, tyrant of Corinth]  "He sent an agent to Thrasybulus to ask what was the safest kind of government for him to establish, which would allow him to manage the state best...Every time he [Thrasybulus] saw an ear of grain standing higher than the rest, he broke it off and threw it away, and he went on doing this until he had destroyed the choicest, tallest stems in the crop...[Periander] He realized that he [Thrasybulus] had been advising him to kill outstanding citizens, and from then on he treated his people with unremitting brutality."

Crucifixion was a big deal.
3.125  "Once he had killed him - in a way which does not bear mentioning - Oroertes crucified the corpse."

Many fantasy writers get inspiration from the ancients.  
I see shades of the Lacedaemonians (Spartans, but since I finished this gargantuan book, I want to use the hoity-toity name) in Robert Jordan's Aiel and the Seanchan remind me of the Persians.

And a big hit in my house...
2.162  "When Apries found out what was going on, he sent as a herald to Amasis an eminent Egyptian who was loyal to him, whose name was Patarbemis, with instructions to escort Amasis back to him alive.  Patarbemis approached Amasis and issued the king's command, but Amasis, who happened to be on horseback at the time, lifted himself up in the saddle, farted, and told him to take that back to Apries."

* Here's a link to the translation I used.  All of the above quotes are from this version.


  1. This reminds me that I have this book sitting on my shelf. I need to try to Wade through it, but I am currently reading the Aeneid.

  2. How is that? I think it's on my shelf. It's definitely on my someday list.


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