The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)

Casus Belli

In 491 B.C. King Darius I of Persia sent out his envoys to the various Greek city states, demanding of them earth and water – in those times, a sign of submission, the acceptance of, in this case, Persian rule. Some city states were cowed into complying while others refused; but the demand went down particularly badly in Athens and in Sparta:

…the Athenians cast these heralds, when they made their request, down into a pit, and the Spartans had thrown theirs into a well; and the heralds were told to take their earth and water to the King from there!

(Herodotus: The Histories, Book VII.133) 

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Three Thousand Year Old Bowls

Quote of the Week:

We can travel to the moon nowadays, but the basic shape of a bowl remains unchanged. I remember similar specimens in Africa, but they were not three thousand years old. I make a supreme effort to sense how ancient these are and I succeed because I know it’s true: three thousand years of violence, of profound upheaval have left this pottery intact, ready for use. I would gladly steal a piece from the cabinet and take it home, not to sell it on for some exorbitant price but to drink from it behind locked doors just in order to prove the continuity of my species, and to reflect a little on the unknown potter who fashioned it.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Mundane

Face to Face with My Ancestors (The Scythians in the British Museum)

I went to see the Scythian exhibition in the British Museum on Friday night and I came face to face with a Scythian warrior from over 2000 years ago.

Was this what my great-grandfather 50 times removed looked like?

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Throwback Thursday: The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Last month when I reposted Return from the Stars for Throwback Thursday, it went weird and hardly any of you got to see it. I sought enlightenment from support and they told me I was doing it all wrong. I'm trying their way now.

The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Originally published on 9 October 2015

Why Homer Doesn’t Matter

Now that’s a heading that nobody should have been expecting from me, given how I go on and on about Homer whenever I have nothing better to do. But I have finished reading The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson, and put it down with the feeling that sadly, it failed in what it set out to do: namely to convince skeptics that Homer mattered, that Homer should still be read, perhaps even studied, because he’s relevant to our lives.

CONTINUE READING →

Amun-Ra Sailing Under the Starry Sky

My second favourite profession I would have gone for if I had the choice when I was young? Marine archaeologist.

I just mention this because in the past half-year I was haunting the now closing Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds exhibition of the British Museum which told the story of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, two cities that sank into the Mediterranean Sea (in Aboukir Bay, previously only known to me as the place where Nelson defeated the French). The site is being excavated by the team of Franck Goddio – the marine archaeologist who seems to get to excavate all the best sunken things in the world. (This is envy speaking.)

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A History of The Great Sea

In 2015 it took me an entire year to work my way through The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia, a book I had been very keen to get my hands on. And it is a substantial book but that was not the reason it took me so long; after all, I only recently read The Bible in Spain, all 550 pages of it, in less than a week. So what held me up?

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The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Mausolus British Museum
Larger than life statue of Mausolus from the Mausoleum (British Museum)

Halicarnassus, the birth place of Herodotus (nowadays Bodrum, Turkey) was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the Mausoleum, a colossal tomb of Mausolus, a Persian satrap and a ruler of Caria (377-353 B.C.). The word mausoleum as used today originates precisely in the name of Mausolus and his tomb.

Halicarnassus, the royal residence of the dynasts of Caria,” wrote the Greek geographer Strabo two thousand years ago. “Here is the tomb of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders, a monument erected by Artemisia in honour of her husband.” (Strabo: Geography, XIV.2)

Mausolus made Halicarnassus his capital and spent a huge amount of money on improving the harbour, fortifying the town and embellishing it with temples, palaces and statues.

 About halfway up the curving slope… a broad wide street was laid out, in the middle of which was built the Mausoleum, a work so remarkable that it is classed among the Seven Wonders of the World. (Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture, II.8)

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The Caldera of Santorini

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The collapsed caldera of Santorini. View from Fira.

“The most expensive lunch I’ve ever had in my life,” is how my husband refers to our visit to the island of Santorini – possibly the most photographed tourist destination on Earth – in the summer of 2013. The lunch in question, ferry tickets included, cost us some four hundred pounds. “But it was worth every penny,” he adds.

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Short Biography of a Boring Author

Today, let’s talk about an author that you all consider ever so boring. By the time you finish reading this, however, you’ll realise he’s an author worth reading.

(At least that’s the theory.)

The Author’s Picture

To begin with, let’s have the author’s picture:

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With a beard like that he’s obviously boring!

The Author’s Short Biography

For my part, what I consider boring… is biographical facts. So I’m going to keep this part short – mercifully we know next to nothing about him.

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Oranges Like Blazing Fire

The oranges of the island are like blazing fire among the emerald boughs,
And the lemons are like the pale faces of lovers who have spent the night crying.

Citrus_myrtifolia_2
Chinotto oranges. Photo by Nadiatalent via Wikipedia.

Two widely quoted lines from an obscure poet. If you can name the island this quote refers to, I’m impressed. If you can also name the poet, you know far too much about literature and history – would you be interested in writing a guest post for me?

As for the rest of you, the hoi polloi, the mere mortals 🙂 reading this:

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Soft Lands Breed Soft Men: The Persian Choice

Let’s start today’s post with the one thing we should never start a piece of writing with: a cliché. Today’s cliché is that life is full of choices. None of us can avoid them, although some people make a damn good effort to as they’re painfully aware that by choosing something, they will miss out on something else.  To these people the most of awful thing about choice is the very fact that they have to make one; that maybe none of the alternatives are any good only comes distant second.

To these people then the most fateful word in the world is:

Choice

When it comes to choices in literature, Antigone by Sophocles of course offers itself up for examples of moral choices on a positively indecent scale but I wouldn’t want to spoil your enjoyment in reading it. Besides, you haven’t heard from Herodotus for a while (this is where you all stop reading!) and he too loaded his Histories with plenty of fateful choices. There was, for example, the juicy case of Gyges, the favourite bodyguard of King Candaules and the king’s wife… but we’ll leave that for another time. Instead we’ll read the very end of The Histories, the last chapter of Book Nine, in which…

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The Battle of Salamis: Poetry & All

You’ve Been 404’d!

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over…”

Riszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus

Your journey is not over! There was once a post here but it’s been updated & republished – in two parts. Read them here:

The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry

The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II

 

The Battle of Salamis: To Fight Or Not To Fight

You’ve Been 404’d!

A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over…

Riszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus

Your journey is not over! There was once a post here but it’s been updated & republished. Read it here:

Salamis (According to Herodotus)

The Forgotten Battle (Best Stories of Herodotus)

Most people who took any notice of the Persian wars in their history class would know about the battle of Marathon in the first Persian war and the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis in the second; maybe, if you were really into it, you’d be aware that in fact there were a couple more battles, that of Plataea and Mycale the year after, that marked the genuine end of the Persian invasion of Greece. But the battle that almost everybody invariably forgets is the battle Artemisium, a sea battle fought simultaneously with the battle of Thermopylae. Yet without holding the Persian navy up at Artemisium there would have been no battle of Thermopylae – nothing would have prevented Xerxes to simply sail his troops round the wretched pass, making its defence wholly pointless. It’s hardly surprising, however, that in the end the battle of Artemisium got entirely overshadowed by the fame of Thermopylae.

So what happened in the forgotten battle at Cape Artemisium?  

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Of the Mani, Manhattan and Alexander the Great

What kind of a book would a chain-smoking former Special Operations Executive officer write? A man who at 18 had thought he had nothing better to do but to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople with a volume of English verse and Horace’s Odes in his pocket? A man who felt equally at home in shepherds’ huts and in aristocratic palaces?…What kind of book?!

And English readers, who know exactly whom I’m talking about, here answer in unison: a travel book, of course.

A travel book, yes. Er… sort of.

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The Labyrinth of Knossos

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Knossos

The archeological site of Knossos, near Heraklion on the island of Crete, was discovered in 1878 and excavated by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 to 1935. The palace of Knossos was the centre of the Minoan Civilisation and was abandoned towards the end of the Bronze Age. There’s a theory that the Minoan Civilisation collapsed as a consequence of the explosion of the volcano at Santorini, with the ensuing tidal wave destroying the low-lying coastal areas of Crete and volcanic ash falling over the island; there’s another theory that the Minoans’ downfall was brought about by large scale Mycenaean invasion (who destroyed Troy too). Or you can take the two in combination – how the Minoans, weakened by the consequences of the volcanic eruption, were unable to resist the invading Mycenaeans.

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The Destruction of Athens (Best Stories of Herodotus)

It appears that I went like a month without blogging about Herodotus. I don’t know what I’m coming to. All this reading of 20th century literature! It’s time I got my act together, so here we go:

The last episode of the Greek-Persian Wars à la Waterblogged saw the Persians chased away from Delphi by no less personage than the handsome Apollo himself. (No, I don’t mean the one in Battlestar Galactica. I mean the god of the silver bow.)

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The Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion

Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die.

Lord Byron: The Isles of Greece

Byron wrote these lines about the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion which he visited during his Grand Tour (carving his name into one of the columns).

The Temple of Poseidon was built in 440 BC, when Athens was led by Pericles. The first temple on the site, dating from the Archaic period, was destroyed by the army of Xerxes during the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. If you need help to imagine what the temple might have looked like, the Temple of Hephaestus on the agora of Athens was built at about the same time, possibly by the same architect, and is in a much better shape.

Cape Sounion is a promontory on the southern tip of the Attica Peninsula, not far from Athens. You can reach it by coach from Athens taking either the coastal route or an inland route passing by the ancient mines of Laurium (whose silver enabled Athens to build its famous fleet). According to legend, Cape Sounion is the spot where King Aegeus threw himself off the rocks, giving his name to the sea in which he died. Cape Sounion is also famous as the location from which to watch the sun set over the Aegean Sea. There is a path leading down from the temple to the bay below and you can finish your visit with a swim in the crystal clear water. (Shame about the ugly hotel.)