Quite a title to hold ”The Father of History” and yet, it is quite firmly in the dead cold fingers of Herodotus. Nephew of the poet Payasis and not only the father of history but of anthropology, and one can equally (but not so forcefully) argue he is the father of all travel writers and vagabonds. One should also point out that because of his sometimes fanciful tales he has also been known as the ‘father of liars’ which also seems to make him the patron saint of modern travel writers.
Born at Halicarnasus, which is modern day Bodrum, Turkey in the year 484 B.C. He was a rich kid and we can guess like modern rich kids in Bodrum, he spent plenty of time on his parent’s yacht and enjoyed the perfect summer climate there. At 20 years of age, he left, not for a gap year travel, but to explore and document as much of the known and unknown world of his time. As far as we know, he was the first to undertake such a journey with such a goal.
He first headed towards Memphis – no silly, not the home of the King of Rock and Roll (Memphis, Tennessee) but Memphis, Egypt. He visited the pyramids, watched the Nile overflow its banks, and wrote of Heliopolis and Thebes. It’s he who was really the first tourist of the world. He described the religious rituals, the daily life, the food, and the culture of Egypt and in the process, he set the foundation of anthropology.
From Egypt he set out to Libya where he was amazed by snakes, elephants, and an animal he described as “having no head but eyes on the chest” – from this we can guess he wasn’t averse to trying out the local psychedelics. From there to Ethiopia before leaving Africa and heading back towards Bodrum by way of Phoenicia (Lebanon), Syria, Palestine, and Arabia.
He described Arabs as the people who ‘kept any vow they might have made’ and wrote lyrically of their spices and religion in Assyria and Babylon (Iraq). Next he went to Persia (Iran) because he wanted to document as much as possible about the wars between the Persians and the Greeks – at the time, Persia wasn’t a Muslim place and Herodotus notes that the Persians of that time didn’t like their gods to be depicted in human form either. He was enthusiastic about the Persian custom of transacting business over too much wine – something that would probably make the mullahs of Iran a bit mellower today if they adopted it.
Next, Herodotus ventured into India, the Punjab, and Afghanistan. From there he ventured into the ancient country of Media – which today is what we call ‘the ‘stans’ of Central Asia. From Central Asia he ventured around the Caspian and Black Seas and into the Caucasian Mountains. He explored a considerable portion of what is today European Russia including stretches of the Volga, the Don, and the Danube.
Around the Black Sea and to the Bosphorus before returning back to the Aegean Sea where he explored the many Greek isles and introduced his readers (later of course) to the Amazons, Lesbians, and Cretans – three terms today which have very different meanings than in his time.
After eight long years – he returned to Halicarnassus and read his travels at the Olympic games in 456 BC. At this time he was exiled to Samos by a dictator who was obviously threatened by what he represented (an open travelers’ mind perhaps) – he returned in rebellion and the tyrant was overthrown – at which point he was again exiled to Samos.
Finally, he retired to Italy (like all good travelers should) and died in the year 406 B.C. – one can imagine that he was completely unaware of the iimpact he would have on the world, but as you can see – as I write this nearly 2,500 years later – he was one very kick ass vagabond.