Herodotus is a hoot. Sure, to him history is the story of rulers and would be rulers, battles won and lost, and all the intrigues associated with all of the above, but sometimes the things he says or reports are so outrageous that they make me laugh.
Take Cambyses for example. He was a crazy king of Persia. He hears rumors that the Persians don’t think he is as great a king as his father, Cyrus, and that he is crazy. But of course Cambyses’ advisors all tell him he is really great. So he tells his right hand man, Prexaspes that he is going to shoot an arrow at Prexaspes’ son who is standing just outside the chamber. If he hits the boy in the middle of the heart it will prove that the Persians are wrong and if he misses, then the Persians are right and he is indeed crazy. He shoots his arrow and of course hits the boy right in the heart. Prexaspes’ son is now dead and Cambyses tells him, “it has now been made evident…that I am not mad, but it is the Persians who are out of their senses; and now tell me, whom of all men did you ever see before this time hit the mark so well in shooting?” Prexaspes can’t say anything against him so praises him and tells him that not even God could shoot better.
Ok, maybe that’s not so funny. At another time Cambyses ordered one of his close advisors to be killed for lying to him. It was a false accusation. Some of Cambyses’ people realizing this hid the condemned away because they knew his innocence would come to light and then Cambyses would want the man back. Cambyses finds out the man is innocent and wails how he wishes he had not had the guy killed. The people who had hid him away, thinking they would be rewarded and praised, produced Cambyses’ advisor whom he was overjoyed at seeing alive. But then he had all the people who had saved the guy’s life put to death for disobeying his orders.
Um, that’s not so funny either. Okay. How about the ants smaller than dogs but larger than foxes that live in India? These giant ants live in the desert underground. In their digging, they bring up pieces of gold. The Indians sneak up to the anthills at night with three camels and load them up with the gold. If the ants wake up they have to run like the wind to get away because the ants will kill them. Now two of the camels are males and one is female. The female is one that has recently had a baby. The baby camel is left home. If the ants get too close and the male camels can’t keep up, they will let the males go which slows down the ants because they stop to eat the camel. But the female, having a baby at home, will always outrun the ants. This story is told because the Indians have to pay the biggest tribute to the king of Persia so Herodotus had to tell how they come by all the gold.
Tomorrow, an argument for and against democracy and where cinnamon comes from.