Magazine article The Spectator

Herodotus in Sochi

Magazine article The Spectator

Herodotus in Sochi

Article excerpt

As a result of Russian laws against propagating homosexuality, there are calls to boycott the 2013 Winter Olympics in Sochi and 2018 Fifa World Cup due to be held there. The West's first historian Herodotus (5th century bc) would not have sympathised.

Herodotus' magnificent Histories of the wars fought between the Persians and the Greeks (491-479 bc) regularly digress into lengthy discussions of the culture and customs of the peoples with whom the expanding Persian empire came into contact. The subject thrills him. He is amazed at the discrepancies beween different cultures. Sex and marriage are of especial interest.

Babylonians, for example, gather all girls of marriageable age in the square and sell off the beauties to the highest bidder. The money raised is offered as a 'dowry' to encourage the sale of the less attractive. A failed marriage is annulled and the money returned. Herodotus contrasts this 'excellent' custom with a 'shameful' one. On one day of her life, each Babylonian woman must go to the temple of Aphrodite and offer herself to a man. …

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