The Histories —by Herodotus

C. 425 bC.

Points West [today northern Argelia]. It is here that huge snakes are found —and lions, elephants, bears, asps, and horned asses, not to mention dog-headed men, headless men with eyes in their breasts (I merely repeat what the Lybians say), wild men and wild woman, and a great many other creatures.

Cyrauis Island [today northwest Lybia]. Full of olive trees and vines. In the island is a lake, and the native girls dip feathers smeared with pitch into the mud at the bottom of it and bring up gold dust.

Egypt. The Egyptians in their manners and customs seem to have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind. For instance, women attend market and are employed in trade, while men stay at home and do the weaving. Men in Egypt carry loads on their heads, women on their shoulders; women urinate standing up, men sitting down.

Ethiopia. The tallest and best-looking people in the world.

The Black Sea. Round the Black Sea are to be found, if we except Scythia, the most unlearned nations in the world.

Altai Mountains [today northwest China]. The bald men tell a tale (which I do not believe) that the mountains are inhabited by a goat-footed race, beyond which, still farther north, are men who sleep for six months in the year —which to my mind is utterly incredible.

Issedonia [today northwest China]. When a man’s father dies, his kinsmen bring sheep to his house as a sacrificial offering; the sheep and the body of the dead man are cut into joints and sliced up, and the two sorts of meat, mixed together, are served and eaten. The dead man’s head, however, they gild, after stripping off the hair and cleaning out the inside, and then preserve it as a sort of sacred image to which they offer sacrifice.

Babylon. They grow their hair long, wear turbans, and perfume themselves all over; everyone owns a seal and a walking stick specially made for him, with a device carved on the top of it, an apple or rose or lily or eagle or something of the sort.

Persia. If an important decision is to be made, they discuss the question when they are drunk, and the following day the master of the house where their discussion was held submits the decision for reconsideration when they are sober. If they still approve it, it is adopted; if not, it is abandoned. Conversely, any decision they make when they are sober, is reconsidered afterward when they are drunk.

Athens. The Greeks have never been simpletons; for centuries past they have been distinguished from other nations by superior wits; and of all the Greeks the Athenians are allowed to be the most intelligent.

From The Histories. Herodotus wrote the first-known example of prose history in Western literature. For his research he traveled throughout both the Greek and Persian empires —as far north as the Don River, as far south as Aswan, and as far east as Babylonia.