I suppose he did this not because he had reached such a state of idiocy that he could believe his own force might prevail over those of the King, but rather out of spite…
The Landmark Herodotus – Edited by Robert B. Strassler translated by Andrea L Purvis
Meanwhile back at the cocktail party, Herodotus is in high form with his exotic tales of Persia: sorting, cavorting and reporting the fact and fiction of history.
But they are incorrect, for they are well aware of the rule (and if anyone at all knows Persian customs, it is the Egyptians). (3.2 525?)
Not shy about taking sides and declaring one version of events true over another, our stalwart annotator continues in his efforts to bring reality to Herodutus’ “pretty stories.” The story of the “somewhat insane” Cambyse (son of Cyrus) is funny in a scary kind of way (don’t kill me!). At one point of his reign he calls upon the authorities to decide whether or not he can legally wed his sister:
The royal judges are men selected from all Persians to serve in this capacity until they die or are found guilty of some injustice. (3.31)
Yes, because every knows that the latter inevitability is only prevented by the guarantee of the former. Anyway they neatly skirt the issue by declaring that although there is no law that says he can, there is a most convenient law clearly stating that the king of Persia can do what ever he damn well pleases. Phew, next case.
Soon he descends into complete madness anyway. Lots of people die including his wife’s sister, which is of course also his sister, as I might have reminded Herodotus, but no matter. Cambsye kills his brother too; and then there are all the usual unsung nameless victims of the tyrants of history. After all that, Cambsye accidentally stabs himself in the leg. He comes back to his wits and confesses something close to regret.
He was so overwhelmed by the misfortune that the Magus had inflicted on him and by his wound that he regained his sanity. (3.64 522)
Overwhelming misfortune and wounds usually have the opposite effect, but that’s just part of his charm I suppose.
At any rate, soon Darius takes the helm and there is more intrigue, coups, and adventure. Somehow the women are always getting a share of the punishment despite their lowly servitude or hanger-on status. In one memorable Sophie’s Choice-esque section a woman is allowed to chose one of her male kin to escape execution. She chooses her brother and Darius is intrigued enough to ask her how she came to this unusual choice (brother over sons or husband). She tells him that she can always marry again and have more children, but as her own parents are dead she can never have another brother. Hmmm. Too bad Sophie didn’t have her cool logic. And here I was worrying about my chances of winning mother of year…
Oh dear, Herodotus is babbling about giant ants collecting gold in India. Far be it from me to questions another’s imbibing, but…wait, the annotator is whispering in my ear:
For a plausible and ingenious explanation for this apparently fabulous tale of huge ants in India whose nest mounds contain gold, see M. Peissel, the Ant’s Gold (Harvill Press, London, 1984)….which recounts a tale from a resident of the Indus River valley about marmots (animals like prairie dogs in the United States) whose burrows contained high concentration of gold dust. (3.102.2a)
Someone get that man another drink.
Here is the rather sage Ethiopian king who disparages all of Cambyse’s royal gifts save one:
To this the Ethiopian replied that it was no wonder they survived only a few years if they subsisted on manure, and they would not even be able to live that long if they did not restore themselves with drink; and as he made this remark to the Fish-eaters, he pointed to the wine, for at least in this one respect he admitted that his own people were inferior to the Persians. (3.22)
One thousand and three apologies to the photographer of image above, currently on view (10/2012 – 1/27/2013) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exhibition – Faking It, Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. I had written things down on a slip of paper- now gone. Last night I was dreaming I kept losing slips of paper…