Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus, by Justin Marozzi

Historians tend to be a bit snooty about Herodotus, just because he hammed it up a little to keep his audience entertained with tales of dog-headed men, gold-digging ants and flying snakes. Cicero dubbed him the “Father of History”, for which historians ought to be grateful, says Justin Marozzi, even if Plutarch later called him the “Father of Lies”. What Marozzi most admires about Herodotus is his “life-grabbing energy”, which he shares. On his travels through Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Greece clutching his copy of the Histories, his enthusiasm is everywhere apparent. He even occasionally cries “Eureka!” – once when the semi-legendary Patrick Leigh Fermor invites him to lunch at Kardamyli, and again when he finally tracks down his lost Moleskine notebook at the feet of a statue of Pythagoras. We never really learn from history, says Marozzi, although in wartorn Iraq he observes how one of Herodotus’ favourite literary devices in the Histories is the wise adviser, popping up regularly to counsel against war (“Haste is the mother of failure,” etc.). Every leader needs one.

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