Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Why Read Herodotus, Why Travel?

Almasy's copy of Herodotus from the film 'The English Patient'

Herodotus, however, besides being the first reporter, was also the first “globalist.” Fully aware of how many cultures there were on Earth, he was eager to become acquainted with all of them. Why? He believed that the best way to learn about your own culture is by familiarizing yourself with others. For your culture will best reveal its depth, value and sense only when you see how it is reflected by other cultures, which can shed the best, most penetrating light on your own, and thereby help you understand it best by yourself.

What did he accomplish with his comparative method of confrontation and reflection? Well, Herodotus taught his countrymen modesty, tempered their self-conceit and hubris, their belief in their superiority and arrogance toward non-Greeks, towards all others. He told them, “You think that the Greeks created gods? No. As a matter of fact, you've appropriated them from the Egyptians. You say your structures are magnificent? Yes, but the Persians have a far better system of communication and transportation.”

Thus Herodotus tried by means of his reportage to consolidate the most important message of Greek ethics: restraint, a sense of proportion and moderation.

~ Ryszard Kapuscinski, Herodotus and the Art of Noticing

8 comments:

Damyanti said...

Came here through Ovidia's blog. Love what I see here, and will come back again.

ovidiayu said...

Herodotus was a power guy & power brain... first published travel anthropologist probably (please don't shoot me down if I'm wrong, just an observation) but what I think is so great about him is he highlights how many of us only 'see' ourselves when contrasted to 'others'.
Which suggests our human need to identify or invent 'others' different from us?

Dark Orpheus said...

Damyanti Thank you for the kind words, and thank you for dropping by. See you on your the next visit. :)

Ovidia No worries. Will not shoot you down. Back in Herodotus's days they probably don't have a term for what he did.

Back in his days, it's incredible he traveled so extensively, since travel meant great physical hardship and a death-wish. He was progressive - way beyond his time - in his desire to learn beyond his own culture. It is insight and great wisdom. Even today, a lot of us can't see beyond the Others, because we lack that imagination.

Carl V. said...

I look forward to the day when I stop talking about how I am going to pick this book up and start reading it and can say, "Hey, guess what, I've finally read Herodotus!".

stefanie said...

Are you reading Travels with Herodotus? I'm trying to finish Histories first but it is so hard to wait.

Dark Orpheus said...

Carl I think to really motivate us to finish reading Herodotus, we need to be stuck in on a very boring island with no distractions whatsoever.

Stefanie I'm still trying to read Herodotus - but not much forward motion on the book. Was stopped by boring account of irrigation in Egypt.

stefanie said...

Yes, that is a boring bit. I didn't find the Egypt section to be all that interesting except for the burial/mummification bits.

Dark Orpheus said...

Stefanie *Suddenly perks up* Tell me the mummification bit comes up immediately after the irrigation, please...