December 22, 2008

THE SAME FOUNTAINS:

The humanity of history: Lisa Hilton hails a brilliant and entertaining study of Herodotus: a review of Lisa Hilton, 22 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

The word “history” comes from Herodotus: we use the term from his adoption of the Greek “to inquire” or investigate. The premise of the world’s first prose epic was modest: “so that great and marvellous deeds – some displayed by the Greeks, some by barbarians – may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought each other”. Two and a half thousand years later, Marozzi aims to follow in his footsteps. Just as the Histories sweep the reader into a maelstrom of gossip, philosophy, breathless journeying and delightful digression, so Marozzi’s account of his tour of Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Greece creates a dialogue with his mentor, which encompasses wassailing Olympians, the mysteries of Euclidian engineering and an alarming account of a Greek exorcism. Marozzi relishes the human curiosities he encounters.

Yet at the heart of this book is a serious conundrum: if, as Herodotus observed, every culture considers its own customs to be superior, what is the best system to permit them to co-exist? What happens when respect for one person’s freedom requires someone else’s repression? If the West was born at Marathon in 490 BC, we might argue that culturally, at least, the Persian wars are still going strong. The fault line that Herodotus drew between the East and the West is perhaps the most significant issue in contemporary politics. Marozzi sets out to explore its source and what solution, if any, history can offer.



Posted by Orrin Judd at December 22, 2008 3:44 PM
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