The Histories

From the 450s to 420s BCE, Ancient Greek Herodotus wrote the sweepingly titled The Histories. This is now considered the founding work in history for western literature. Given that Herodotus established the precedent for history as we know it, this seems a perfectly fitting place to begin our Curated Feast.

A later author took the liberty to divide Herodotus' works into nine books and name them after the nine muses:, Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia, Urania, and Calliope. The Histories begins with Clio, the muse of history, and ends with Calliope, the muse of epic song and eloquence. These goddesses, as we can infer today because their cultural reference has persisted, were considered the source of inspiration, or prophetic springs, of literature, science, and the arts.

There is no shortage of examples of invoking the divine feminine as a wellsping of inspiration. Dante Alighieri calls out in Canto II of The Inferno: "O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!" And indeed in contemporary culture we still know of the notion of a muse as a mechanism for one's inspired works.

And so beginning with the muses and covering an incredible array of topics from rise of the Persian Empire, the events of, and causes for, the Greco-Persian Wars, the cultures of Assyria, Persia, Egypt, India, China, Scythia (now Central Eurasia), and more. The cultures are what of particular interest for this inquiry by The Curated Feast, and the incredible fact that Herodotus had such an in-depth view of each of these far-flung places reminds us, humbly, that globalization is nothing new.

One agricultural/agronomic excerpt reads:

"There is little rain in Assyria. This nourishes the roots of the grain; but it is irrigation from the river that ripens the crop and brings the grain to fullness. In Egypt, the river itself rises and floods the fields; in Assyria, they are watered by hand and by swinging beams. 

For the whole land of Babylon, like Egypt, is cut across by canals. The greatest of these is navigable: it runs towards where the sun rises in winter, from the Euphrates to another river, the Tigris, on which stood the city of Ninus. This land is by far the most fertile in grain which we know. It does not even try to bear trees, fig, vine, or olive, but Demeter's grain is so abundant there that it yields for the most part two hundred fold, and even three hundred fold when the harvest is best. The blades of the wheat and barley there are easily four fingers broad; and for millet and sesame, I will not say to what height they grow, though it is known to me; for I am well aware that even what I have said regarding grain is wholly disbelieved by those who have never visited Babylonia.

They use no oil except what they make from sesame. There are palm trees there growing all over the plain, most of them yielding fruit, from which food is made and wine and honey. The Assyrians tend these like figs, and chiefly in this respect, that they tie the fruit of the palm called male by the Greeks to the date-bearing palm, so that the gall-fly may enter the dates and cause them to ripen, and that the fruit of the palm may not fall; for the male palms, like unripened figs, have gall-flies in their fruit."

This passage illuminates some key foodstuffs that the Greeks would have known, from olive and sesame oils, to fruits such as figs and dates, and of grains and their inextricable connection to goddess Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. 

The extensive knowledge demonstrated by Herodotus is useful in building the foundation of our first didactic feast.

Liz PearComment