Literary/Historical Inspiration: Herodotus, #1

So, there have been a lot of dudes who were hugely influential to fantasy, well beyond “Appendix N”. I’ve talked about William Morris before (who was one of Tolkein’s foundations – much of the Good Professor’s work was lifted, based on, or adapted from Morris’, in the tradition of all good storytellers). Another enormous influence was Lord Dunsany, who laid the cornerstone of Weird Fiction for Clark Ashton Smith and HP Lovecraft. Vance was the first to make “wizards” squabbling murderers hunting each other’s spells (although calling D&D-style magic “Vancian” is at best a bit blinkered. Perhaps I’ll touch on that later).

But there’s another figure towering behind them all. Because he worked in the “real” historical field, it’s not as easy to recognize Herodotus’ contribution to the RPG hobby. For example, the first Monster books and Manuals owe him a tremendous debt. Most were compiled from historical sources, especially Medieval bestiaries – which were, in turn, copied from the Histories. Herodotus remained one of the most widely-traveled, literate human beings on the bloody planet until the Crusades, and his work was literally seminal for every other historian and travelogue author down to the present day. He reported not just the things he saw, but the tales he was told, and it is to him we owe the surviving accounts of everything from Griffins to the Bonnacon.

In addition, unlike most other sources, the Father of History hasn’t really been mined nearly as extensively as, say, HPL by the OSR. He describes everything from atmospheric sculptures and rumors to adventure seeds, and is tremendously funny to boot. Even if the translators are shitty writers. Since it’s out of copyright, it’s available for free or very cheaply in complete editions; I have a B&N Classics edition of the Macaulay/Latenier translation, which cost me less than $10, and free versions are available all over the ‘net.
I’ve been through about 3/4ths of the Histories thus far (it is a bit dense..), and every time I find a tasty tidbit I highlight it for future reference. I’ve got far, far too many for my own campaigns, so I’ll be sharing particularly tasty tid-bits with you all. All quotes are referenced by Book: verse, to the aforementioned Macaulay/Latenier translation.

They say that [Queen Nitocris], desiring to take vengeance for her brother, who the Egyptians had slain when he was their king and then had given his kingdom to her, she destroyed by trickery many Egyptians. For she caused to be constructed a very large chamber underground, and making as though to inaugurate it but in her mind devising other things, she invited those Egyptians whom she knew to be guiltiest of the murder, and gave a great banquet. Then while they were feasting, she let in the river upon them by a large secret conduit. They told no more than this of her, except that when this had been accomplished, she threw herself into a room full of embers to escape vengeance.
II: 100 (Adventure/Plot seed)

Fun with magic:

..Immediately upon [cursing the river-god], Pheros suffered a disease of his eyes and became blind. For ten years thereafter, he was blind. In the eleventh year, there came to him an oracle from the city of Buto saying that the period of his punishment had expired, and he should see again when he washed his eyes in the urine of a woman who had had sex only with her own husband and none other.
Book II: 111 (Lulzy oracles: check!)

(His wife failed. So did the wives of most of the leaders of Egypt. After he got his sight back, he took all the ones who failed to another city, and burned them to death. Then burned down the city. Because Egyptians.)

Hand’s still bugging me, so done for now. More later.

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