Herodotus, History and Kristin Scott Thomas: Decline and Fall, and then Decline some more – Part Two

by |March 6, 2010

We sail, rudderless, upon the vast, nameless seas of CYBERSPACE. We are blown hither and thither by the winds of Twitter and Facebook, assaulted by the unthinking thoughts of the thoughtless from the waves below. From above we are anointed, as by the hand of a god, when, clouds parting, a celebrity momentarily shines down upon us, adding us as a friend, thereby answering our pathetic call.

As we sail these seas, ever hoping to reach our destination, never knowing the name of that destination, never sure that we would recognise it even if we were blown into its safe harbour, a question may arise in our hearts – what did people do before the Internet?

To answer this question I have called on the help of resident Booktopia classicist Dr Jonathon Cant PhD, ETA, BA, RSVP, MA.

Me: Dr Cant, thank you for accepting my invitation.

Cant: Accept, how could I not? The informed must aid the ignorant.

Me: You are too kind.

Cant: Kindness has nothing to with it. I act in self-defence!

Me: This ignoramus thanks you.

Cant: Bother!

Me: Please, make yourself comfortable, doctor. Together, we must answer an important question.

Cant: I have an important question – Why am I, an acknowledged genius, at your beck and call?

Me: That is a good question, too. An ancient question, I’m sure. But no, the question I want answered is – what did people do before the Internet?

Cant: Sorry, the what?

Me: The Internet.

Cant: Yes, I see. I see. No, in truth, I don’t see. There are small gaps in my knowledge. Case in point: that period of history between the fall of Rome and err… yesterday, at about 4pm… A complete blank, I’m afraid.

Me: What happened at 4pm yesterday?

Cant: Tea and scones with Mr Templeton in his rooms.

Me: (sigh!) (aside: This is turning out to be a waste of time. Must think of something.) What is that book you have with you?

Cant: The Histories.

Me: Can you tell us about that? Who is it by?

Cant: Simply put, Herodotus is the father of history and historical writing. This volume, simply entitled The Histories is, if you are interested in history, the source of all you love. However, be prepared for a bit of a shock. The father of history he may well be but it is probably unlike any history that you have read before.

Me: You make it sound intriguing.

Cant: Whilst you sound like a buffoon. Do not interrupt!

Me: (sound of a tongue being bitten)

Cant: Where was I? Err… Strange… it’s strange to students of history. It’s called narrative history and it’s more like a story than the scientific history that you’re used to reading today.

Me: I wouldn’t know, history bores me.

Cant: Ah!! That’s because you haven’t read Herodutus! The father of history includes many fantastical events simply because he and the ancient Greeks believed them to be true. Manifestations of the gods, miracles, divine punishments and hubristic retributions all form part of the rich tapestry of what Herodotus considers to be history.

Me: So one might call him the father of lies?

Cant: One would be wrong to! When Herodotus relates the tale of Gyges…

Me: Wait! I know this guy. He’s in the film, The English Patient. Remember when the delectable Kristin Scott Thomas tells the story of Gyges?

Cant: No. I don’t know what you are talking about.

Me: Oh, I do. It’s a wonderful scene. She stands before a group of men in a desert; face lit by firelight, black night beyond, and tells a tale of wickedness:

And that evening, says Kristin, it’s exactly as the King has told him.

The Queen goes to the chair, removes her clothes one by one until she’s standing naked in full view of the hidden Gyges. And indeed, she was more lovely than he could have imagined.

But then she looked up…

Cant: Yes, yes, that is Herodotus. Good boy. A film you say?

Me: A novel first.

Cant: You see, story telling is sometimes more important than the truth! You remembered Gyges.

Me: He became king.

Cant: Yes. The power of Herodotus is that his tales are remembered and retold. If you would like to take the alternate route to wisdom and want to read a history of the Greek world from a different view and through the eyes of an ancient man, an eyewitness, of a kind, then purchase a copy of The Histories.

Me: I will clear a weekend and settle back with this weighty tome.

Cant: Not this weighty tome, this is mine. Get your own… Now go, go, and enjoy prose, as it should be enjoyed. Take a journey through the Ancient Greek world with Herodotus, the father of history.

Me: Having taken a roundabout route, I suppose I have, after all, found my answer.

Cant: You have? What was the question?


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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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