Tag Archives: cambyses

The Father of Tall Tales

I have been reading Herodotus–called by Cicero “the Father of History,” and by other ancient commentators “the Father of Lies.” I don’t know which side to come down on, but one thing’s for sure: Herodotus was definitely the Father of Tall Tales. Davy Crockett was a mere exaggerator, compared to him.

Herodotus’ Histories, written sometime around 450 B.C., is one of the most entertaining books in the world. Boy, could that old man spin yarns! The book is supposed to be about the wars between the Greeks and the Persians, but Herodotus crams it full of stories about anything and everything you could imagine.

Here we find the giant ants of India, as big as foxes, and the flying serpents of Arabia, not to mention griffins that guard huge stores of gold, the first circumnavigation of Africa by a Phoenician sailor–a story which Herodotus himself was unable to believe because it only makes sense if you consider the world to be a globe with an Equator–and a treasury of historical curiosities, from the character and riches of Croesus to the homicidal madness of Cambyses, son of Cyrus the Great. Open the book at random, and on any page you’ll find either an eye-popping marvel or a desperate adventure.

Warning: once you start reading Herodotus, you’ll find it very hard to stop. And I defy you to read it only once. I come back to it again and again, every few years.

If we had a cottage by the bay, and a stretch of rainy winter nights too cold for fishing, my wife and I agree that nothing would suit us better than to have old Herodotus visit for a time and treat us to several dozen hours of his tales.

No fantasy writer who ever lived was able to top Herodotus for flights of the imagination.


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