Way back in 2012 when I began my Dionysian imitatio (look it up, nerds) of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, I promised that afterwards I would cover the Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guanzhong. However, upon reflection and examination I’ve decided to go another way. Few different reasons for this. Firstly, unlike Le Morte D’Arthur, the Three Kingdoms is not a horrible miasma of continuity errors and aimless plots. Secondly, while Le Morte D’Arthur has been seen as something of an embarrassment for centuries now, the Three Kingdoms is justly revered as one of the Four Great Masterpieces of Chinese literature. One of the main characters, Lord Guan Yu, is literally worshipped as a god in parts of the world. There’s simply no way I can approach it, as a subject, in the same vein as Malory’s terrible, terrible epic.
Fortunately, there’s a decent alternative present within Western literary tradition: the Histories, by the Father of History himself, Herodotus of Halicarnassus! It’s not nearly as bad as Malory but c’mon, what is?
Herodotus didn’t invent history per se; other people were writing more-or-less accurate accounts of selected events before he came along. However none of his predecessors’ works have survived to the present day. His sweeping (and extremely lengthy) text includes a survey of the world as he knew it and all the people within it, just to provide background for his main topic, the Second Persian War. This may sound dry, but that’s only because you aren’t aware that the world as he knew it included giant ants that collected gold, flying serpents, crystal mummy-tombs, and a temple with a plutonium altar! Plutonium may be too strong a word, but what else do you call a big cylinder that glows green in the dark and is considered more precious than gold?
Herodotus’s editors divided his work into nine books, each named for one of the Nine Muses. This is twelve fewer than Malory needed, though the Histories and Le Morte D’Arthur are approximately the same length. Granted, they could have merged Terpsichore with Erato and Urania with Calliope, and thus have seven books all very roughly equal length instead of nine books with wildly divergent word counts, but this organization has some rhyme and reason to it, unlike Sir Thomas “I’ll just paste the conclusion of Books VIII, IX, and X in here at the end of Book XII, no one will notice” Malory’s.
My Dionysian imitatio of the Histories will, I warn you, differ in structure and tone somewhat. I’m looking at this not as a final product, but as the first-draft rough-cut version of something I’ll eventually assemble into handsome ebook volumes and recoup literally tens of dollars with. Also, while Le Morte D’Arthur had dialog and a relatively limited number of characters, the Histories is wall-to-wall stultifying description and character-free narratives that meander wildly before drifting back to the Second Persian War. It’s Abraham Simpson stories, all the way down. In the future when I’m editing this behemoth, I’ll do my best to carve out the most interesting bits and contextualize events. I’ll have sections titled “Croesus, What a Guy,” or “In which the Oracle at Delphi peddles some entertaining balderdash.” But that’s not until 2017 or whenever I finish this first pass. Right now, we’re going to be working our way through the book in the approximate order it was written in. You’ve been warned.
(Also, for serious, the ebook version of Arthur Dies at the End is a substantial improvement on the rough-cut stuff I’ve had posted here. It’s reasonably priced and comes with attractive ebook covers! What more could you want? Buy it! Tell your friends! Tell your coworkers! Send out mass emails! I need those literally tens of dollars, people! I’m not going to beg but okay, I’m begging! This is me begging!)
We start with Book I, Clio, named for the Muse of History. Clio the Proclaimer! Clio, Daughter of the Lord of Cloud-Capped Heaven! Golden Clio, the Giver of Sweetness! Clio, Queen of Song! Clio who granted us the art of remembering things that have already been; she taught us to write and to sing. She knows the hearts of the gods and the way by which things come to be. It is right to begin the sacred work with Clio, for unforgetting Clio keeps all ages, and all the storied annals of the past.