Once it was Horace who was the discerning traveller’s author of choice. Richard Burton supposedly took the Odes to Lake Tanganyika, and the naturalist Charles Waterton was never without them up the Orinoco (he even recited them in his hammock while waiting for vampire bats to alight on his proffered big toe). Horace soothed the spirit, passed the time; his syntax no less than his urbanity provided food for lofty thought. But tastes have changed. Nowadays the educated adventurer’s hand luggage is more likely to contain Herodotus. Ryszard Kapuscinski, the legendary Polish correspondent, was despatched on his first assignment with a copy of The Histories by way of an induction to news gathering. He carried it throughout an infallibly unnerving career and then celebrated it in the memoir Travels with Herodotus. First published in English in 2007, Kapuscinski’s book must have appeared just as Justin Marozzi was completing The Man Who Invented History, an account of his own travels with Herodotus.
Seemingly Herodotus is more of our times than Horace. He wrote in admirably accessible prose, loved a good story, punctuated it with endearing asides, and focused on war – specifically the Graeco-Persian conflict of the early fifth century BC that included the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae and Plataea. Great deeds,