Presented by Jana and Bertie
Written by Bertie with a little help from Herodotus
Image courtesy of https://depositphotos.com/
Dedicated to Rory, who supports us on Patreon.
And sponsored by Storyworth - a fantastic gift this holiday season
A special edition for Christmas, dedicated to Rory in Philadelphia, whose family supports us on Patreon
Hello, This is Jana,
And I’m here to introduce a special Christmas edition of Herodotus with Bertie. Hey Bertie, I’ve been listening to your Herodotus stories, and I’ve got the idea that he was writing about the world long before Christ was born - so I’m a little puzzled. What has Herodotus got to do with Christmas?
Bertie: A very good question. You are right, he lived about 400 years before Christ, and some of the events he is writing about happened even earlier. But he is writing about the Middle East where Jesus was born. Specifically, he can tell us about some very Christmasy gifts, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, which you’ve probably heard of from the Christmas story, or maybe you’ve seen them on Christmas cards, showing the three wise men kneeling before the Baby Jesus in the stable, offering these mysterious gifts of the East.
Jana: But actually, in the Bible, Matthew writes that the Magi followed a star to a house in Bethlehem. The stable and the manger scene is in a different gospel written by Luke.
BERTIE: Oh right? Interesting. That scene’s not quite so good on a Christmas card.
Bertie: Yes, Sorry about that. But of course, the stable with a star overhead looks nicer on a card.
Jana: So Who do you think the three wise men were? The Bible calls the wise men Magi, and says they came from the East following a star. It doesn’t say how many there were, by the way. The tradition of three wise men grew up later. Who do you think they were?
Bertie: But Magi were priests in the Persian religion, Zoroastrianism. If you’ve been listening to Herodotus you will have a good idea who the ancient Persians were. And also you might know that we get the word Magic from Magi.
Jana: Ok, so onto the gifts. Gold comes from many places. If you are lucky, you can find it in Africa, America, Australia, India… What does Herodotus say about it?
Bertie: He mentions Ethiopia as being very rich in gold. And he also has a fascinating story about gold from India.
Herodotus didn’t visit India, but he heard about it from the Persians who had conquered part of India in the time of King Darius. That’s how he picked up a story about gold-digging ants. These ants were somewhat bigger than the usual ants that you find in the garden. They were about the size of a fox, and they were furry. They lived in the desert, where sand and gold dust were all mixed up. And they sorted it out somehow, sifting the gold from the sand, and local people collected the gold from their burrows where the ants lived.
Jana: That doesn’t sound true to me Gold digging ants the size of foxes! come on!
Bertie: Well, Herodotus didn’t get everything right. But some people think he was talking about a furry creature called a marmot that lives in Pakistan.
Jana: Mmm. It still sounds unlikely. What else does he say about India?
Bertie: He says that some people in India are vegetarians.
Jana: Well, at least he got that right, because that’s certainly true.
Bertie: And he also says that some people in India eat their parents when they die.
Jana: That is horrifying! I definitely don’t believe that!
Bertie: I’m not sure I do either, but CNN, the cable news company, claims to have met some people in Northern India called Aghori who eat human brains.
Jana. Oh! It’s Ok! if it’s on CNN then it must be true!
Bertie: Well, as I’ve said before, one reason to study ancient history is to develop your sense of what is true and not true - because just as not all history is true, not all news is true either. You have to learn to decide for yourself, what’s true and what’s false.
Jana: Ok, so what tall stories does Herodotus give us about frankincense and Myrrh?
Bertie: Herodotus tells us that they come from Arabia, in fact he says that most rich and wonderful things come from the extreme North or South of the world - or at least the world that he knew about. As for Greece, which he sees as the centre of the known world, he says that they have nice weather, but not much in the way of precious things.
Jana: I think I might be able to tell you a little bit about Frankincense and Myrrh, but before we do, we’re giving a shoutout to our great sponsor, Storyworth!
Jana, Right, so just to prove that I do listen to your Herodotus histories, here’s what we’ve heard already about frankincense and Myrrh. Cambyses, the Persian king who conquered Egypt, sent them as gifts to the king of Ethiopia.
Bertie: That’s right! It’s great to have at least one listener! So thanks Jana. Jana, I know that you are interested in Frankincense and Myrrh, so perhaps you can tell us a little bit about them.
Jana: Frankincense is a resin - or a thick gooey gum - that comes out of the bark of some trees in the Middle East. And chiefly, it smells nice. So it’s often used in incense and perfume. Is this what Herodotus tells us?
Bertie: Pretty much and, he says that they come from Arabia. And he also mentions that the trees that make Frankincense are guarded by winged snakes.
Jana: I knew it! There had to be at least one tall story!
Bertie: Well, maybe he means locusts or possibly mosquitoes.
Jana: Ok, so Myrrh is also a kind of resin or gum from the Middle East. It smells lovely and is used in perfume. It’s also antiseptic and can be put on minor cuts. Some people use it as a mouthwash or toothpaste. And it’s in some ancient remedies for colds. Very useful
Bertie: Yes, Myrrh has been a special gift for many thousands of years.
Jana - so there we have it - gold from giant Indian ants - and frankincense and myrrh from Arabian trees.
Bertie - guarded by winged snakes
Jana: Now we know! We hope you’ve enjoyed this Christmassy version of Herodotus
And we are delighted to dedicate this story to Rory, aged 8, from Philadelphia, whose family kindly supports us on Patreon
Bertie: that’s a great name. Rory rhymes with Storynory.
Jana: Oh It certainly does! His mum Anna writes that he enjoys listening to Storynory in the car and in the bath.
Bertie: fantastic, both great places to listen to podcasts, I should know, and especially to listen to Storynory