Jan 26: Yarns of the Ancients

I have to pay bills, and start thinking about an actual project, one that might make me money. But I know if I don’t do this reading now, I won’t get to it today. Today it feels like an olive-bound millstone.

Perhaps a “delightful story of old Egypt” from Herodotus will change the mood. It’s from Volume 33: Voyages and Travels. (There’s a certain “ripping yarns” subtheme in the Harvard Classics – “Two Years Before The Mast” gets its own volume – and all to the good, I say. You’re not a sissy because you read classics! On the contrary! Now don’t hold your glasses like that, you’ll get them smudged. )

The whole of page 65, where I’m supposed to start, is the middle of one paragraph. I have no idea where to start, but helpfully the DRG’s description (“a king who entombed his daughter in a golden cow” – that sounds delightful) allows me to scan down in the middle of the paragraph and get started.

-- perhaps, they say, the daughter was entombed because she killed herself because her father “ravished her”. Delightfuler and delightfuler!

-- you wouldn’t think you’d be reading a capital-K Classic and see the word “cow” so much. But that’s the thing about the classics -- they're surprising.

-- I like this also:
This king also left behind him a pyramid, much smaller than that of his father, of a square shape and measuring on each side three hundred feet lacking twenty, built moreover of Ethiopian stone up to half the height. This pyramid some of the Hellenes say was built by the courtesan Rhodopis, not therein speaking rightly: and besides this it is evident to me that they who speak thus do not even know who Rhodopis was…
The whole rest of the paragraph is about Rhodopis. Then we shift back. It’s like a stereotypical country yokel tellin’ yarns (or Grandpa Simpson), but even more breathless.

There follows a yarn about the time when the Ethiopian was a-rulin’ Egypt, and he stops because of a dream. This seems odd, but then we have rulers who also invade Middle Eastern countries because God tells them too, so maybe it’s not so different. Is the Ethiopian ever named?…you have to flip back…yes, there he is: Sabacos. Btu the rest of the time he’s just “The Ethiopian”. Herodotus might have just as well called him “that black fella.” Although the Ethiopian is both preceded and succeeded by “the blind man”. Who can keep track of all their funny names?

-- Then the next guy lost his throne because field mice ate his army’s quivers and bows. Again with the mice! Maybe Burns should have plowed that nest up after all.

-- Herodotus keeps translating the Egyptian gods into Greek Gods -- “Osiris in the tongue of Hellas is Dionysos” Is this common? It’s interesting – just the assumption that of course they’re the same gods, they just go native wherever they are.

There now, all done. I’m not particularly delighted, but it wasn’t so bad, all things considered.

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