Turbulent Iran: Recollections, Revelations and a Proposal for Peace

By Eldon Griffiths | Go to book overview

DISCOVERING PERSIA AS A SCHOOLBOY

All should he free to worship their God without harm.

Cyrus, King of Persia

The first time I spoke up for Persia was as a child. This arose from my grammar school’s practice of organizing its pupils into four houses, Romans, Trojans, Spartans and Vikings. The first three were classical, befitting a school that grounded its students in Latin and Greek, but the Vikings were an anomaly since these Scandinavian raiders did not appear on the coasts of England until Rome, Troy and Sparta long since had ceased to exist. I therefore asked my house master why we did not have a house named for the Persians, since they were civilized contemporaries of the Romans, Trojans and Spartans, while the uncivilized Vikings were not. His one word answer was “Herodotus,” naming the Roman scribe whose chronicles of the Greeks and Persians did most to fix their stories in the minds of generations of English schoolboys and politicians.

Explaining, the housemaster averred that there’s no such thing as history: only historiography. The narratives of those who write about past events inevitably are colored by the sources available to them and by the cultures and attitudes of their times. So the Greeks, as chacterized by Herodotus and most of the European historians who later relied on him, nearly always emerged as “the good guys,” as per Socrates and Alexander the Great, while the Persians were the “bad guys,” black bearded Asians who no self respecting English grammar school would want to be identified with. “That’s wrong,” said my housemaster, reaching up for a thick volume on his bookshelf. “Read this if you want to know more about Persia.”

-3-

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