Magazine article The Spectator

In the Footsteps of Herodotus

Magazine article The Spectator

In the Footsteps of Herodotus

Article excerpt

THE MAN WHO INVENTED HISTORY by Justin Marozzi John Murray, £25, pp. 333 ISBN 9780719567117 £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

When Kristin Scott Thomas told a saucy tale out of Herodotus in the film of The English Patient, sales of The Histories shot up 450 per cent, according to Justin Marozzi, who has taken the seemingly inevitable step of travelling around the Herodotean world in the footsteps of the Father of History. Marozzi bubbles with enthusiasm for the man who was, he says, also the first travel writer, the first prose stylist, the first anthropologist, foreign correspondent, 'an aspiring geographer, a budding moralist, a skilful dramatist, a high-spirited explorer and an inveterate storyteller'. It's not an easy act to follow, but Marozzi writes with great vigour and his own observations are always sharp.

After its victory over Xerxes, 5thcentury Athens became the most interesting place in the world. Marozzi points out that Herodotus could have known, among others, Hippocrates, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, Pericles, Aristophanes and Thucydides. Herodotus's object in writing his history was to explain why the Greeks won and the Persians lost; in doing so, Marozzi says, he invented the notion of East and West. He also laid down the bottom line on tolerance. 'If anyone were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, ' Herodotus wrote, 'he would inevitably -- after careful considerations of their relative merits -- choose that of his own country. Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best.' Travelling in Iraq, Egypt, Greece and Turkey, Marozzi proves the wisdom of this observation again and again, while celebrating the spirit of the historian, his humanity and his inquiring nature. He stresses his gift as an entertainer, too, imagining him regaling an audience at Halicarnassus with startling factoids, mostly of a sexual nature.

Packing his book with digressions and tidbits, including a visit to Patrick Leigh Fermor, Marozzi follows suit, though now and then he stretches his Heredotean McGuffin a little thin. Plutarch called Herodotus the Father of Lies and Marozzi's editor could have reminded the author that a few lies do season a book marvellously. …

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