Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Wordy Wednesday Goes Back in Time
My continuing effort to learn Greek means that I always have a book on the go. Despite the fact that my reading speed is much lower than in English, I am still reading more than I used to.
At the moment, I'm working my way through Herodotus' "The History of the Persian Wars.", translated from Ancient Greek by Angelos Vlachos. A lot of the book describes the cultures of the various peoples involved. Herodotus seems to have visited them all, and gives interesting details about their beliefs and habits.
For example, Egyptian women urinate standing up, and they are the ones who go off to the market and do business whilst the men stay at home knitting.
The Babylonians had a novel solution to the whole knotty problem of dating and marriage. Every year in each village, they'd have an auction of all the single women of marriagable age. They started with the most beautiful women, who would be sold to the highest bidder, and worked their way down. They shifted the less desirable ones by offering money to the "buyer" - the man who was willing to accept the least money got the girl. This was funded from the sale money, and helped poorer suitors get a decent start in life.
The buyers had to agree to marry the women, but there was a full money back guarantee if they subsequently got divorced.
Before any of my male readers book flights, I should point out that Herodotus was describing things as they were 2500 years ago, and I suspect that the Political Correctness Brigade have probably got these auctions banned by now.
In addition to the travel guide and the actual Persian Wars, Herodotus gives some historical background to the various kings, power struggles, and so on. Some of the stories are horrible - someone being "punished" by being invited to a banquet at which their child was the main course (they told the father after he'd finished eating and complimented the chef on an excellent meal).
Others are a bit more entertaining. I like the one where about a king who used to boast about how attractive his wife was was. He didn't think that his mate was suitably impressed, so he arranged for him to hide in the royal bedroom and get a glimpse of the naked queen. This was arranged as illustrated below.
Unfortunately what sounded over a few beers like a fun laddish prank went rather badly wrong for the king. The queen found out and was incensed. She told the king's friend that now he'd seen her naked, he couldn't be allowed to live, since he wasn't her husband. She said that he'd either have to do the honorable thing and top himself, or he could kill her husband, marry her and become king instead. It's not difficult to guess which option he chose. Herodotus explains that some cultures are a lot more prudish about nudity than the Greeks.
Anyway, I'm only about a fifth of the way through this rather large tome, so I'm off to continue reading about Egyptian sacrificial rites...