Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Summer Reading Project Completed

This summer I set myself a task of tackling one of the 'big' books of the wargaming library shelf (a metaphorical shelf at that!). I've had it for over five years, probably nearer to ten come to think about it, without having the stamina or minimum background knowledge to try and understand it. I did flick through it a couple of times but bottled out of reading it in full and turned to something with pictures in it (aka various Osprey titles). Arguably it is the first 'History', as in the first modern history book of all time; Herodotus and his "The Histories". Not really one book but a compilation of nine separate tomes, a bargain for sure. Its readability is somewhat restricted as its chapters are acknowledged as being artificial divisions of his writings so that the scrolls would roll up neatly for Alexandrian scholars to shelve away. Nevertheless it is a hotbed of tyrannical intrigue, sex and stomach turning gratuitous violence. A do-it-yourself kit for any would-be tyrant of the ancient world and on reflection quite reminiscent of certain characters that I have I met in the commercial world of business/industry over the last twenty years. Some things seem much clearer to me now ;)

I read "The Histories" in a rather peculiar order (but in hindsight I found it to be a recommended reading pattern). As I was interested in "The Greeks in Peril" campaign I read:
  • Book 7: The Xerxes invasion to Thermopylae
  • Book 8: Sack and ruin of Attica and Athens until the unlikely victory at Salamis
  • Book 9: The told you so ending at Platea
Although a good story in itself you don't get the hang of why the Persians and Greeks were all so highly strung, what was this Ionian business about? Therefore I read:
  • Book 5: Those meddlesome Greeks being naughty on the Mediterranean coast and Black Sea
  • Book 6: It all ends in tears for the Greeks as Darius get angry that is until he meets his match Marathon
But what was this Darius doing so far over in the Western Mediterranean? Further there is hinting of his ambitions over to what is now modern Russia and even more perplexing the Ionian Greeks had been actively helping him? This is all getting too curious and confusing for words. So I read:
  • Book 4: Darius versus the Skythians and the Skythians win hands down, "never, never, never and try and catch a nomadic conglomeration of tribes with no fixed place worth for them to fight over, especially if most of your army is on two legs and all of their army is on four legs, and they have several thousand miles of steppe to run around in" (Hitler should have noted this about the Russians in WWII)
So now I know about the Persian Wars but I don't know anything yet about the Persians. Who were they and how did they become so big and powerful yet somehow were capable of such self-destructing or self-defeating behaviour? Therefore I read:
  • Chapter 1: Who the Persians are why the "Cyrus the Great" was so important in the Persian psyche and how he came to sticky end underestimating the Skythians
  • Chapter 2: Herodotus describes the Egyptians and you suddenly realise how big a part of the ancient world Egypt was, as everybody knew it was really, really old ad everybody feared it. No fighting (and it was a bit of a grind to get through) but it cast Herodotus as the first modern documentary producer. Half way between the National Geographic and the History Channel.
  • Chapter 3: How after the death of Cyrus, Cambyses II (a deranged fellow but nevertheless he still managed to conquered Egypt - hence it was worth Herodotus spending all that time telling us about it in Chapter II) expanded the Persian Empire and how then Darius I after an internal squabble with the Magi (Persian religious hierarchy) who try a fast one to put a Mede back in charge, again expanded the Persian Empire.  
When you finally finish it, fables, myths, sensationalism, geography and history all rolled into one, you get a great appreciation what a life's worth it must have been to compile wandering around the whole wold picking up stories and making sense of them.

And what did I get out of it? A lot of background for my "Greeks in Peril" game for sure! I will read it again (it's one of those books), but I'll also probably go for the Landmark edition with maps to get a better geographical sense of where things are ;)


Giano said...

Great post! you made me want to read Herodotus myself. I think I have that book somewhere in my cellar... bought far more than 10 years ago! :D

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Cheers Giano it was a hardcore read but I felt up for it after painting all those DBA armies ;)

Give yourself a couple of months and go for it :)

Giano said...

I'll do! but first I've got a few osprey stuff to read. They're re-publishing some osprey titles in italian - at a decent price - so I promptly bought a few. I can't say if I wasted more money on plastic kits and figures or on books....