Yesterday, I picked up a book from the New Acquisitions’ shelf at the Humanistic Studies’ section of the University of Bergen’s library. I had already seen the book while it was still being registered at the office of Pål Steiner, academic librarian, good friend and colleague, leading figure in the Egyptological circle in Norway. He knows our passion with all things Nubian and we were recently talking about the author. And I knew that I will read very quickly the 136 pages of text – the shortest book that to the best of my knowledge he has ever written.
Despite this fact, both the depth of the analysis and the richness of the references was once again astonishing. Note 10 in pages 2 and 3 for example is one of the most complete and to the point recapitulations of the main publications on Nubian Studies. Useful not only for students of the discipline, but for all those who will learn in this book for the first time about Nubia, getting the fine new publication by Brill in their hands because their interest lies with the main figure whose relations with Nubia are treated in the book: Herodotus.
But things Nubiological are not the only treasures to be gleaned by historians and philologists of the classical world that will read “Herodotus in Nubia”. They will moreover confront themselves both with an acute critic of the way the archaeological record is often forgotten when we exercise “traditional” Quellenforschung with classical texts (pp. 15-18); but also of the way historians forget that their object is not single and uniform, but that rather the quest for universal historical truth proves the multiplicity and almost autobiographical character of the histor-ies (pp. 133-136).
I would never dare claim though that I have read the whole book in a day. For example, I did not even touch the pages of the second chapter with the fresh translation in English of the original Herodotian text. I know the details of what we call the Aithopian Logos, although I had never thought that this is not a proper Herodotian Logos, since it does not function in the same manner that the other Logoi in the Herodotian work do. I understood the difference today, and I quote from page 52:
Uniting as an experiment the Aithiopian passages into a hypothetical Aithiopian logos, we would find that the history of Aithiopia – as far as this ‘reconstructed’ narrative has a historical dimension at all – has only Egyptian references. … It may thus be concluded that Herodotus did not collect material for, and/or compose an Aithiopian logos dealing with the historical kingdom of Kush lying south of Egypt’s southern border, whose kings also ruled over Egypt for a period of time some centuries before Herodotus’ day. Instead, he described…
…an imaginary world inspired by the Homeric traditions and a real world that he got a glimpse of from his own experiences in the Nile Valley. But I will reveal nothing more from what was magisterially proven in the pages that constitute Chapter 3 titled “The Problem of the ‘Aithiopian’ Logos”, nor from the dazzling shedding of light in the difference between ” ‘Fiction’ and ‘Reality’ ” in the Herodotian narrative(s) – which is the title of Chapter 4. I will only return to the title of the book – shared with the concluding chapter 5 – because in the opening Chapter about “Herodotus’ Nubia in Modern Scholarship” my favorite passage from the book describes in the most playful manner a plausible answer to the question: Was Herodotus in Nubia? I quote first from page 8:
Preceding the first enlargement of the original Aswan Dam, in the first systematic record of the monuments and the archaeological sites of Lower Nubia, the archaeologist Arthur Weigall added the following remark to his description of the Eighteenth Dynasty temple at Amada:
On the roof of the temple there are a few Coptic inscriptions of no interest. There is here an interesting forgery probably dating from the Middle Ages. It is a Greek inscription reading “Herodotus of Halicarnassus beheld and admired” and near it in a later style of writing is “No he did not“.
And then from page 9:
I prefer to date a hoax of this type to the nineteenth century, picturing a party of high-spirited scholars visiting the monuments of Egypt and Nubia or else some well-educated young gentlemen on their Grand Tour travelling along the Nile with the respectful expectation that they find remains of things described by Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, Pliny and other ancient writers, but at the same time mocking their guides’ priggish habit of elevating the value of a site or monument by directly associating it with some famous personality of antiquity.
This was in fact precisely the topic of the first direct encounter I had with our author. During a workshop on ancient and medieval languages of Sudan in the frame of the 11th International Congress of Nubian Studies, I referred to an inscription in Greek naming a king of peoples Alexander on the back wall of the main temple of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra that I believed should be dated in an early period of the medieval era, since it was written with a kind of Nubian majuscules using what seemed to me a Meroitic letter for the sound X in the name of the most renown Greek king of the ancient world. I was corrected by professor László Török that this was a graffito made by a Greek guide of an early traveller in Sudan!
Professor Török writes as a dedication of his latest book “Herodotus in Nubia”:
In memory of my wife Elizabeth
24 February 1943-8 August 2012
[Post written in Bergen on the 24th of February 2015]