Dog-headed men? The best travel book for the Mediterranean: “The Histories”

“Call no man happy until he is dead.”

You might already know many of the stories from “The Histories” by Herodot. If you have seen the movie “The English Patient”, you will for instance recognize the story of king of Sardis Caundales (grandchild of hero Hercules by the way), who ends up being killed by his friend Gyges for having made him sneak peek at the queen. Gyges is accepted as the new king by the oracle, and this is how the family of the famous tyrant Croesus inherited the throne. And it is to Croesus himself, that Solon says: “But mark this: until he is dead, keep the word ‘dead’ in reserve”. And Solon is right! Nemesis strikes the wealthy Croesus with the help of the Persians.

You might also have heard about The battle of Thermopylae and the Spartan king Leonidas! It is clear, where the movie “300” got its inspiration:

“Many of the barbarians fell; behind them the company commanders plied their whips indiscriminately, driving the men on. Many fell into the sea and were drowned, and still more were trampled to death by one another. No one could count the number of the dead. The Greeks, who knew that the enemy was on their way round by the mountain track and that death was inevitable, put forth all their strength and fought with fury and desperation. By this time most of their spears were broken, and they were killing Persians with their swords.”

Actually Greece was not yet a country as we know it today, but a collection of independent city states as Athens or Sparta. Not all stories in the book are about the Greeks and their internal quarrels, but it is also about the different societies around the Mediterranean whom the Greeks met, fought and traded with and Herodot often describes the barbarians (uncivilized; mainly non-Greeks) with positive attributes – like the Egyptians, whom he thinks ancient Greece owes a huge cultural debt. You also hear about dog-headed men, gold-digging ants and other amazing creatures. As someone who is living in the barbaric North, we were definitely monsters. The book is more story then history!

Reading the classical books in the same place where they were written or where the story unfolds, makes both the book and the destination more interesting. (As if Homer or Greece needs to be more interesting…) “The Histories” by the ancient author Herodot around 5th century B.C. is a masterpiece in classical literature and was a huge success in its time. Buy it here.  Of course you might want to consider buying an e-book since it’s 600 pages, but then you also get very helpful maps of the ancient world and timelines.

What’s your favourite travel book?