Tag Archives: Herodotus

Quote of the Day

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“Why seek to cure evil by evil? Mercy, remember, is by many set above justice…Power is a slippery thing – it has many suitors.”

Lycophron of Corinth’s Sister

So, to begin, a few disclaimers. (1) The above bust is of Periander, the father of Lycophron. I assume they looked relatively alike (and busts from back then are hard to come by), so it’ll have to do; (2) I don’t know what the sister’s name is because she’s called “Lycophron’s sister” in The Histories; (3) The above quote comes from Herodotus, whom many consider to be “The Father of History,” so I’m not sure if we can verify with any certainty the exact words the sister used 2,600 years ago; (4) “the results of the enquiry carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus” (aka The Histories) was one of the subtlest – but most romantic/intriguing – elements to the relationship between Count Almásy and Katharine Clifton in Ondaatje’s The English Patient.

But back to the Quote of the Day!

Somewhere in the ballpark of two and a half millennia ago, Lycophron’s sister is said to have uttered these words about mercy. I’m not sure if she was referring to one person or event in particular, but it’s quite possible she was thinking about her father, otherwise known as the Second Tyrant of the Cypselid dynasty that ruled over Corinth. However, this same tyrant was also considered one of the Seven Sages of Greece, so perhaps he wasn’t all bad and his daughter was just waxing poetic for no special reason.

Either way,  I’m not sure what it was about the Ancient Greeks, but it seems as if they all nailed their aphorisms effortlessly. Like the following conversation, which very well could have been an everyday moment shared between two Greeks:

“Hey, Plasticoratorus, are you going to apply for that job you mentioned?” 

“I haven’t made up my mind yet. Neverthless, let us spare no pains; for nothing comes without trouble; but all that men acquire is got by painstaking. What about you, Socratotalitis? Any plans to do anything but drink wine and carry on with your symposiums?”

“Ha ha, Plasticoratorus. I can sense the irony and envy in your voice. Remember, when men counsel reaosnably, reasonable success ensues; but when in their counsels they reject reason, God does not choose to follow the wanderings of human folies.”

“Well done, Socratotalitis. Your pithy pithism Trumped my circuitous mental aberration.”

In the case of today’s Quote of the Day, Lycophron’s sister was clearly a visionary ahead of her time. Even today in what are arguably the two world’s most powrful countires (America and China) not only is captial punishment still practiced, but these respective governments seem to imprison people with impunity.

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Adventures in Russia’s Far East

I’m a sucker for good adventure stories, fiction or non-fiction. From The Count of Monte Cristo, The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights and Heart of Darkness to Herodotus’s The Histories, The Travels of Marco Polo, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Robert Young Pelton‘s The Adventurist: My Life in Dangerous Places, they all have a jaw-dropping story to tell in far-off lands and bygone eras.

But not all great adventure stories are by famous writers or about well-known places like Mt. Everest, Timbuktu or Shangri-La.

Take, for example, Donald Clark’s Living Dangerously in Korea,  easily one of my favourite books on my second home.

Another example is a new literary work to join the ranks of awesome adventure stories, an updated translation from the legendary explorer of Russia’s Far East named Vladimir Arsenyev. While serving in the Russian Imperial Army, Arsenyev travelled extensively throughout the region from 1902-1930, subsequently wrote about his experiences in great detail, and, so I’m led to believe, in beautiful prose devoid of any hubris. (NOTE TO SELF: Does every Russian writer always knock it out of the park?)

Yet Stalin, in all his wisdom, thought it would be a stupendous idea to censor much of Arsenyev’s writing (the original books were finally released in Russian in 2007). However, it was only when a young go-getter from the U.S. named Jonathan Slaght recently retranslated the original account (written in Russian) of Arsenyev’s first book, Across the Ussuri Kray (1921), and published it under the same name through Indiana University Press (2016), that we English readers got a sense of what the Wild East was once like.

Slaght is now the Wildlife Conservation Society’s coordinator for Russia and Northeast Asia, and Michelle Nijhuis wrote a thoroughly engaging piece in this week’s The New Yorker about Ansenyev and Slaght (make sure you check out the photo gallery, which is almost like a journey to another world). If you’re intrigued about what a pre-industrial Russia’s Far East looked like a century ago – the only place on Earth where brown bears, leopards and tigers co-exist because the region was spared from being touched by glaciation during the last Ice Age – take the time to read this article entitled “A Fuller Vision of Russia’s Far East.”

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