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Are you ready for more Herodotus?

So Crazy King Cambyses dies but not before some court intrigue in which a Magian named Smerdis takes over by making everyone think he was Cambyses’ brother Smerdis. Same name, different people but for some reason it was hard for the Persians to figure out. Anyway, Cambyses, who was hanging out in Egpyt after he conquered it, knew it wasn’t his brother because he had secretly had his brother Smerdis killed many years ago after he had had a prophetic dream that Smerdis would take his throne. And of course Cambyses realizes too late that the dream was not about his brother. Oops!

So Cambyses is dead and Smerdis, the usurping Magian, is king. When some Persian noblemen figure it out, they trick their way into the palace and kill Smerdis. Then, five days later, they meet again to decide what kind of government Persia will have. Otanes makes the outrageous suggestion that they should “resign the government into the hands of the whole body of Persians.” Then the people will not have to suffer from crazy kings, usurpers, and good kings who inevitably turn bad because who wouldn’t with all that power and no one to have to answer to? At least if the people are in charge the offices of state would be exercised by lot and the people in those positions would have to “render account of their actions.”

Megabyzos says, no, no. We should have a small group of people, ourselves for instance, rule. He argues, “Nothing is more senseless or insolent than a worthless crowd” and concludes that “unrestrained popular power is by no means to be endured.”

But Dareios pipes up and says that Megabyzos is right about the “multitudes” but wrong about having a small group in power. He argues they should stick with a king. If you have an oligarchy, inevitably there will be enmities that build up between those in power because each secretly wants to be the sole person in charge. And so you end up with corruption and murder. Therefore, they should have a monarch in which the best among men holds the power.

How does one find out who the best of men is? Why you come up with a silly contest of course! The group of seven decide they will meet at dawn in a certain place and whoever’s horse neighs first it will be the new king. Of course Dareios has the clever groom who manages to fix it so Dareios’s horse neighs first. Looks like it’s not only the multitudes who are stupid.

We know that cinnamon is a tree bark, but in Herodotus’ time this apparently wasn’t common knowledge. Cinnamon came from Arabia but what, exactly it was or how it grew no one was sure, supposedly not even the Arabs. So how did the Arabs get cinnamon? Well, you see, there were large birds that carried cinnamon sticks to their nests. These nests were made of clay and stuck to the sides of mountains that no man could climb. Why the birds needed cinnamon sticks when their nests were clay, I don’t know. Maybe they used the cinnamon for brewing up some mulled cider or perhaps for air freshener.

The problem then is how to get the cinnamon sticks from the birds? The Arabs collect the limbs of their dead oxen, asses, and other beasts of burden, load them up in carts and dump them at the base of the mountain where the bird nests are. The birds swoop down and take the limbs back up to their nests. These limbs were probably rather stinky by then so it’s a good thing they had so much cinnamon in their nests to cover the smell. But the nests are not strong enough to hold the weight of the limbs and so break from the mountainside and fall down to the ground. Then the men can easily collect the cinnamon sticks from the nests. Cinnamon is such an expensive spice not only because of the work to get it from the nests, but also because of the work of cleaning off the bird poo and the rancid meat. Remember that next time you sprinkle some of that pretty brown spice on your breakfast oatmeal.