Travel Literature:The venerable method of historiography

Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.

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Background: The Global Communication Association’s conference in Krakow, Poland, October 2010, organized by several Polish and American Universities, provided me with an opportunity to present an academic framework for my travel writings. The choice of venue was propitious. The earliest written mention of Krakow, indeed the Polish state under Mieszko I, its first historical ruler, came in the memoirs of his journey by a 10th century Hispanic-Arabic traveler, Ibrahim ibn Yaqub (al-Tartushi).

abstract: The use of travel writing to inform the audience at home about the world abroad is not new. The History by Herodotus offers an ancient example. Written some 2,500 years ago, this was history based on what the author personally saw and heard as he traveled throughout his world (which was essentially the region around the Mediterranean), as well as what he had read. Herodotus is noteworthy for two other reasons. He was a storyteller whose narrative was not limited only to military and political happenings. Furthermore, although he aimed at covering actual events, he also drew upon folklore and myth. He thought that the imaginative record of the past mattered for the present. His method, I suggest, is a good working definition for travel literature.

Certain special values distinguish travel “literature” from other writings. Far more than merely keeping journals, it requires an attentive and diligent traveler. Physical presence on the location allows a unique possibility for insight. Conversation with the local inhabitants enhances that sense of the place. Their narrative provides context for what others can merely read about it. The traveler’s focus is harnessed as observing the place becomes his purpose. The process of reflection that follows brings in similarities and contrasts with other places. This leads to new general perceptions and conceptualization.

The importance of travel literature for global education has grown substantially in our time. This is because traveling has become unusually easier. Furthermore, the creation of the World Wide Web has created a forum for true global interactive communication. The travelers’ reports about everywhere may now be heard and responded to in all corners of the world. Imagine the change from the time Herodotus told his tales only in Greek forums!

I have been traveling and writing almost exclusively in the past six years. When I compare my understanding of places and events now with when I talked about them in the first year I taught (1962 at Colby College, Maine. U.S.A.), I find the difference truly dramatic. I will share with you today as evidence some examples from my journeys.

Introduction

This paper consists of five segments entitled: The Cooperation Model, The Domination Model, Idols, Ethnicity Identity and Religion, and The Role of Women. These topics are loosely related. The cohesion of the five segments, however, is based on their serving as disparate illustrations of the value of travel for education. In each I attempt to show how on-site observation focused my attention to what the object signified, how conversations with the residents helped provide the meaning of that message for those most directly affected, and how reflection thus stimulated provided me with a fresh and perhaps new perspective on the broader encompassing subjects. Whenever possible I will show illustrating pictures taken on these trips.

The Cooperation Model

The wall separating the two great civilizations of the ancient world, Persia and China was real; it was physical. The Pamir Mountains are so called, meaning the “foot of Mitra”, because they were so high: they were the closest that man got to the Sun God of Mithraism, the ancient Persian religion. Passage through these mountains is still extremely difficult . I experienced this on the morning of September 12, 2005. I was at the Irkeshtam Pass. We had to cross the Kyrgyz Republic on a rutted segment of the Silk Road to get from China to Uzbekistan.

The real miracle was that people had done it as early as a few centuries before Christ. A good evidence for this is the Manichaean manuscripts found in the ancient city of Goachang, near Turpan, Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan). They reveal the exodus from Persia of the followers of Mani, the ancient Persian prophet who challenged the official creed, Zoroastrianism. Goachang, which I had visited just a few days before, was in a desert 260 feet below the sea level! Note, however, the equally remarkable fact that from early on the exchange across these formidable barriers was not just of goods but also of ideas.

The territory that the travelers of the Silk Road traversed in Central Asian was controlled by the Sogdians, who were Persian speaking and Zoroastrian. They were, however, tolerant of other creeds, and received in their midst the followers of other religions: Manichaeism, Judaism, Christianity, Nestorianism, and Buddhism.

The Sogdians were pivotal as the channel for the transmission of Buddhism to China from the Kushans in India. In Dunhaung, west of Xinjiang in China, I visited caves that have yielded invaluable manuscripts about this phenomenon. Due to shortage of paper, these Buddhist religious texts were written on whatever scraps which could be found, including the reverse side of ordinary commercial and personal correspondence. In the fifth and sixth centuries, glass, horses, and perfumes were imported here from the West and raw silk was exported from China.

By the 8th century the Persians had learned the art of sericulture (silk-making) from the Chinese. They, in turn, transferred a most valuable technology of their own to China, the irrigation system of karez which I saw in the outskirts of Turpan. A succession of wells connected by underground channels which used gravity to bring water from high elevations, karez (from the Persian word kuhriz, meaning flowing from the mountain) was vital for the agrarian society of these arid lands.

The Silk Road continued to be the main channel for globalization even after the sea routes gradually eroded its commercial role. The spread of Islam came by land. After the battle of Talas in 751 sealed its domination of Central Asia, Islam introduced a complex mix of religion, art, and architecture, imbued with local elements, which spread to Xian, the ancient capital of China. For many centuries, the polyglot and multiethnic peoples of Turkestan, a vast territory that extended west from Xian to the Caspian Sea, identified themselves simply as Muslims. With Samarkand and Bukhara as their pivot, from the 10th century to the mid- 15th century they established the most advanced civilization of the time, the Persianate Islamic civilization. With the exception of the Persian Samanids, the rulers were mostly Mongol and Turks — nomads who adopted Persian culture and language. The scope of their ambition was universal. Genghis Khan’s descendants — who even ruled China for sometime — were succeeded by Tamerlane and his descendants, and then the chiefs of various Turkic tribes. The luminaries who had major roles in developing that glorious civilization are now claimed by disparate groups in this fragmented region. I noted in the Museums of Tashkent and Samarkand that Uzbekistan has appropriated the legacy of many as its own. Thus, among its favorite sons are: Rudaki who is considered to be “the founding father” of Persian poetry; Al-Khorezmi” who invented algorithm, which is his namesake; “Avicenna” whose Qanun had been the standard medical textbook in Europe for half a millennium until the 19th century; and Farabi, the greatest of all Muslim philosophers, who was the channel for transmitting the thoughts of Plato and Aristotle to the modern world.

These same luminaries, however, are claimed by Iran because they were from Persian families and spoke Persian; they were indeed the principles in Iran’s “Golden Century” under the Samanids. On the other hand, the scientists Farabi and Avicenna mostly wrote in Arabic — because it was the official language of the realm, and the creation of Persian as a technical language was still taking shape. That fact has given the Arabs a reason to also claim these luminaries.

How does one resolve the dispute that follows when several nations assert an exclusive right to the legacy of these men? The only solution may be to describe them as the heritage of (all) humanity, to paraphrase UNESCO’s appellation given to so many monuments on the old Silk Road.

Let us now pause a moment and ponder the word globalization, the dominant concept in understanding international relations in our time. It evokes the shape of the globe. Depending on where you are on that globe, the rest of the globe looks different: it is on your right, or left, or above or below you. This metaphor gains huge significance when regarded as the phenomenon of ethno-centricity. In that light, it is noteworthy that the Silk Road did not really exist until it was coined by the German explorer Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877, as Seidenstrasse. The ancient superhighways, with their multitude of tributaries , which were the conduit of many exchanges of goods and ideas between the Persian and Chinese civilizations, did not have any specific name. The silk that went to Rome was not, in fact, a very significant part of this process of globalization. For the European scholars of the 19th century, however, it was the focus of attention. In that sense, theirs was a warped view. On the other hand, in the books on China, the attention is focused on the significance of the Silk Road for that country. The difference is understandable. So is the reason for the claims by various Islamic nations to these regions luminaries as noted above. What all these perspectives suffer from is the fragmented vision of the one earth we all share. What is needed for the common good is the integration of those visions.

The Domination Model

In the courtyard of Delhi’s Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque an iron pillar stood witness to that Indian capital city’s history. The inscription engraved on it in the Gupta characters of the 4th century records its erection by King Chandra. Since no other relics from the Golden Age of the Gupta Empire (319-510 AD) have been found around here, the pillar had most likely been uprooted from somewhere else. Delhi, of course, had existed for many centuries before.

King Chandra’s Iron pillar was originally installed to support an image of Garuda, the mythical bird that was the vehicle of Vishnu, in front of a temple dedicated to that god. No old Hindu temple has survived in the Delhi area, although a clan of Rajput ruled here from 736 to 1130 AD, followed by Chauhan rulers from 1150-1170.

According to the publications of the official Archaeological Survey of India, the Chauhans were overrun in 1192 by a “ferocious horde” of Muslims from Ghur, in modern day Afghanistan. They built the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque on the site that had been the Rajput citadel. As recorded in the Mosque’s north gateway, its construction was completed within a mere six years after the Ghurs arrived. Not surprising in such urgent projects, the materials used for the mosque came from 27 demolished Hindu temples, as the main eastern entrance records. The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque is a simple quadrangular court surrounded by pillared cloisters . Their arcades were made of columns from diverse Hindu and Jain temples arranged together, sometimes set upon another, in rows to support a roof.

The use of materials from the sacred temples of the vanquished Hindus was the first phase of the cultural history of Islamic Delhi as revealed in the architecture of the monuments in Quwwat-ul-Islam Complex. The next phases were combining the Islamic and Indian styles, introducing innovations and, finally, purifying the Islamic style.

The calligraphy I saw in the Quwwat-ul-Islam Complex also makes a contribution to understanding the history of the Islamic domination of India which lasted for another 600 years. The earlier gateways to the Mosque, on the east and north, have inscribed lintels in Naksh , an Arabic script developed in the 10th century. However, the screen across the front of the Mosque built in 1230 used the Arabic lettering which combined the later, more advanced heavy square Kufic and the intricately interwoven Tughra scripts . These are all the first examples of calligraphy in sandstone in India. The architectural scheme of red sandstone and white marble, later much favored by Islamic builders of India also made its first appearance here, in the Alai Darwaza (gate) which was added to Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in 1311.

The domination of the sacred grounds of a vanquished culture by the conqueror is not uncommon. Another vivid example is the Rotunda of St. George, in the heart of Sofia, Bulgaria. Originally this was a Roman rotunda. On top of it a Byzantine cross-dome church was built in the 4th Century. Frescoes were added in the 12th Century. Then the Muslim Ottoman Turks followed and turned the church into a mosque, in the process covering up the frescoes. When the Ottomans were forced to leave with the help of Russia in the 19th Century, the place was converted back into a church. The frescoes have since been uncovered.

In Cordoba, Spain, I also saw the evidence of the same phenomenon after the Catholic kings defeated the Islamic rulers of the land in 13th century. The vast Great Mosque that used to be in Cordoba, having been converted by Iberia’s Andalusian Umayyad caliphs from the original Visigothic Christian Church, has since been reconverted into a Roman cathedral, Our Lady of Assumption. The Catholic conquistadors followed this example a few decades later in Peru. As I noticed in my visit, they had turned Coricancha, the major temple of the vanquished Incas in Cusco,  into a church, Santo Domingo.

Idols

The 14th century Arab traveler Ibn Batuta is often quoted as the source for the claim that the Quwwat-ul-Islam Complex was erected at the site which the Hindus called elbut-khana, meaning the house of idols. The Muslims’ strong objection to religious idolatry is well-known. The Hindu resurgence in India, on the other hand, has produced many new statutes of the gods they worship. Just outside Delhi in the famous Birla Garden there were two such anthropomorphic divine sculptures. One was Vishnu’s 7th reincarnation as Rama, with quiver and arrows, standing alongside his consort Sita. The other was Vishnu’s 8th reincarnation as Krishna, a cowherd with a flute. The sacred text Ramayana is about Rama, and Mahabharata is about Krishna. The 9th  reincarnation of Vishnu is Buddha.

Our Hindu guide explained, “Vishnu is the Protector in our trinity of Hindu divines, the other two being Brahma, the Generator, and Shiva, the Destroyer who thus makes possible the birth of the new.” Is Sita also a God, a fellow traveler asked the guide? “I don’t know what to call her, a God, a Mrs. God?” the guide said. “In fact it is not certain if there is any God like the Christian God in Hinduism. But Indians are very religious. They hardly pass a holy place without offering prayers , no matter to which God.” Then the guide showed us the Shiva Lingam, “for male, vertical, and for female, like a saucer,” saying this abstract presentation perhaps served better to express the Hindu idea of divinity.

The line between god and human idols appeared even more blurred among the Jains, who established their religion to reform Hinduism. The Jains worship their 24 Jinas (or Tirthankaras), men who are “fordmakers,” that is acting as “ford” to help the Jain community across the “river of human misery”. Especially revered is the 24th Jina. His sculpture adorned the new Jain Temple in Khajuraho , India, which I visited. He looked like Buddha, who was his contemporary in the 6th century B.C., except that the Jina was naked. His body was idealized, devoid of details to reveal the effect of his “revocation of the flesh,” the denouncement of materiality.

Mao. I have also seen evidence of the apotheosis of living men in our times, especially among those who honor “materialism.” In Lanzhou, central China, I showed my tour guide the pictures of Tiananmen Square which was dominated by Mao’s visage. I asked, “Why haven’t I seen any sign of him in Lanzhou?” David, the guide, said nothing, but led me to the other side of the street and pointed to the statute of the Chairman at the intersection which I had missed. “Is he popular?” I persisted. David smiled, “Mao is seventy-thirty; seventy percent good and thirty percent bad.” Then David hedged, characteristically, “That is what people say about him here.” David wanted to avoid attribution. On the map of China, Lanzhou is close to the middle. I was willing to accept that assessment of Mao as the view of “middle China”.

Many miles later in Kashgar, the furthest south-western city of China, for dinner we went to Chini Bagh (Chinese Garden), once a famous venue of international intrigues. It was the residence of British India’s representative in Kashgar during the Great Game rivalry between Imperial Britain and the Tsarist Russia in the 19th century. A most charming building and evocative of nostalgia for British visitors who flocked there, Chini Bagh now seemed totally out of place. It was flanked on one side by a plaza hosting one of the biggest statutes of Mao I had seen in China -at a height of 60 feet.

Ho Chi Minh. Our guide said of the French that they came to Vietnam “with Bible in one hand and a sword in the other hand. That pretty much summarized the sentiment of resistance they met here. Hanoi was the capital of the French Indochina and its Government House here was their seat of power. When Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France in 1945, he refused to move into that building, saying that “the Government House smelled of Colonialism,” our guide said.

The most successful resistance to France in Vietnam came from the Communists who were first organized by Ho in 1925. They were also the group that put up a serious resistance to the Japanese occupier in WW Two, and defeated the French efforts to reassert control after the war and the American campaign following the French. We all love Ho, even the Southerners who fought him,” our guide said when we were touring the abode that Ho chose instead of the imposing Government House. The bare and austere bedroom , dining room , and office could not be simpler. Even after Ho moved to a stilt house next door in 1958, the rooms were no less modest . This was one place where we saw many Vietnamese visitors: old women , students , be-medaled people who were mostly teachers and veterans .

Ba Dinh Square where Ho publicly read Vietnam’s declaration of independence is now the site of a lotus-shaped mausoleum bearing his mummified body which is refreshed by Russian technicians every September. This is against Ho’s wish as he wanted to be cremated and his ash divided three ways in north, south, and central Vietnam, symbolic of his cherished unification. As we entered the mausoleum to see Ho we were instructed not to stop, laugh, have our hands in pocket, or take pictures. To enforce these admonitions there were uniformed soldiers, notably taller than the average Vietnamese, and men in black suits. A woman ahead of me was told to take her hands out of her pocket. Ho’s body lay with his arms on his sides in a recessed area. Four soldiers stood on his corners. A flag of Vietnam and a flag with a hammer and sickle were on poles above his head.

Outside, a banner hung on the face of the mausoleum recalling a saying by Ho: “Nothing is more important than liberty and freedom.” Our guide said, “in Vietnam some make Ho to be a saint. They even say he did not ever need to go to toilette.” That night, in the book Reminiscences of Ho Chi Minh by 21 of his Vietnamese comrades, I read the following summation by the sole French contributor: “Ho Chi Minh was possessed of these virtues of the Vietnamese people to a high degree: he was modest, frugal, hardworking; he tilled the land like a farmer and caught fish like a fisherman. His (sic) incontested authority came from his political acumen as well as the example he set.”

Tito. After Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović’s death in 2003, his followers campaigned to rename the main street of Sarajevo in his memory. The Serbs objected and the street is still called the Marshall Tito Boulevard. There were no other visible memorials in Sarajevo to Tito, who when he died in office as President of Yugoslavia in 1980, was still very popular in that country. Unlike Ho and Mao, and Lenin, Tito was not mummified. They did not erect many statutes honoring him even while he was alive. I found one memorial to him, however, more compelling. It was the destroyed bridge in Jablanica,  a hamlet on the winding canyon road from Sarajevo to Mostar. Graphically, it spoke of Tito’s legendary charismatic leadership.

Tito headed the partisans who fought the occupying Nazis during World War II. “There were many partisans who had been wounded in a recent battle on this side,” our guide told us near a broken iron bridge over the gorge through which rushed the river Neretva. “This was the only bridge that could be used to rescue them to safety. Tito ordered that it be destroyed. He did this as a trick so that the enemy would be fooled into thinking that he had abandoned the wounded. As the Nazis left the area, Tito had a new temporary bridge quickly built at night and soon moved the sick and wounded to the other side. This event is remembered by everyone as the measure of Tito’s leadership. It is called the Battle of the Wounded.” A nearby museum commemorated this feat that in 1943 saved the lives of about 4,000 wounded partisans. Today it was closed and looked in a state of disrepair.

Farms are not far beyond the Croatian capital Zagreb’s city limits. Zagria to the northwest is a rural landscape of exceptional beauty . There the village of Kumrovec is maintained as an “open door museum” to illustrate how life was around the turn of the 20th Century  when Josip Broz, alias Tito, was born. Next to his house is the only statue of him I saw in all of Croatia. How many of these are there in all of former Yugoslavia? I asked my guide. He conferred with a woman who was standing outside the house. She pondered and they discussed. “There are four statues,” they said. The woman was in charge of a collection of Tito memorabilia in the neighboring cottage. These are mostly pictures from the Tito era. The biggest one was familiar; it showed Tito standing between two other leaders of the non-aligned nations during the Cold War, Nehru and Nasser -all three beaming broadly. I bought a T shirt from the souvenir shop. On it was emblazoned, “Tito: The Man of Peace.”

My guide said “When Tito died his blue train went slowly the length of Yugoslavia. Everywhere people poured out to pay emotional respect to him.” The woman from the museum joined in. “Tito’s funeral was the last time all people in Yugoslavia showed unity,” she said wistfully, “we miss him.” The guide said: “Tito is best remembered for leading the fight against the Nazis in the Second World War and for standing up to Stalin during the Cold War.” The woman said “Now in Croatia we are searching for an alternative sense of purpose. The politicians want to join the European Union. Not everybody is in favor of it. But we don’t have any choice. We are too small to survive on our own.”

Tito, whose mother was Slovene, also has many supporters in Slovenia. “No matter what else could be said about him,” my guide, Irena, said, “he was a great man. He was very popular until the end. He was especially admired for his leadership of the Partisans in defeating the Nazis during World War II. There are some memorials to him in other towns.” At the entrance to the lodge in Lake Bohinj, Slovenia, I saw a display case publicizing its famous guests. The fading pictures showed only two dignitaries: Tito and Willy Brandt. “There is no nostalgia for the communist times. There is no desire to return to those days,” Irena assured us, her American guests. In Ljubljana they have changed the name of the street that used to be called Tito.

Ethnicity Identity and Religion

In the imposing new door of Ljubljana’s Cathedral I saw a symbol of efforts by religion to come back from the communist times. The scenes on the massive iron door which was installed in 1997, depict the history of the Catholic Church in Slovenia, under the paternal gaze of John Paul II . Some 58% of Slovenes declare themselves Roman Catholic. “We are not really observing Christians,” Irena told us, however. “We go to Church only on holidays like Christmas.” Indeed, according to a recent poll, 10% of the population still identify themselves as atheist, and another 15% decline affiliation with any religion.

The history of religion in Slovenia shows greater allegiance to “Sloveneness.” As Irena told us, Christianity was brought here by two Greek monks Cyril and Methodius, two brothers who were sent by the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century to minister to Christian Slavs in their own language. The brothers could speak the local Slavonic vernacular. The Slovenes who became Roman Catholic changed to Protestantism as a result of the Reformation in the 16th Century, then reverted to Catholicism after the Counter-Reformation some 150 years later.

The right corner of the door at the Ljubljana Cathedral alludes to the threat from the Muslim Ottomans which emerged after the 15th century. Religion, however, did not play a significant role in Slovenia’s break from its Yugoslav compatriots, many of whom were Muslim. Indeed, Slovenia’s main lingering conflict is with its co-religionist, Catholic Croatia. In this, characteristically, both the primacy of economics and Slovenia’s adjustment to new realities are on exhibit.

The nuclear power plant in Krsko is the prime example. Irena pointed it out as we drove by. That power plant was built with Croatian money in the early 1980s. Its output is shared between Croatia and Slovenia. The plant provides one-fourth of Slovenia’s power requirements. Slovenia’s contribution is to furnish storage for its spent fuel waste. The original agreement called for another joint nuclear power plant to be built in Croatia, but after independence Slovenia has declined to accept storage responsibility for its additional waste.

In the little bazaar behind the flower market in the center of Zagreb, I met a surprising remnant of the Socialist times. As we shopped for souvenirs, I struck up a conversation with the owners of three small stalls who were friends . The man was Croatian, one of the women was from Slovenia and the other was a Bosnian Muslim.

Along with a reputation as a unifier of the community, what all those leaders mentioned here had in common was popularism. I was struck by the fact that winning people over seemed to be a prerequisite for their absolute rule. This was even true in the case of the medieval king the Cambodians consider to be their greatest. A map of Khmer in its golden years is on prominent display in the Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace with a saying by the country’s most revered king, Jayavarman VII: “The King was suffering from the disease of the subjects more than his because it is the pain of the people which makes the pain of the King and not his own one.”

The Role of Women

It was less surprising but no less noteworthy that these leaders were all men. Women even as their queens did not receive proper respect. As late as the end of 19th century the Emperor of Vietnam, Tu Duc, had over one-hundred wives and concubines. They continued to live after his death in the compound that became his tomb, which I visited. The Fourth King of Bhutan, its longest ruling monarch, whose pictures I saw everywhere in that country, as he continues to play a dominant role even after abdicating in favor of his son, married three additional wives after his first wife, all three sisters and all at the same time in 1979.

My tour guide in India told me that Sonia Gandhi was considered to be the most powerful politician in the country. Her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi had, of course, been as important as anyone in Independent India’s politics, both as the confidant of her father and in her own right as a long-time Prime Minister. Yet, India has the ancient historical legacy of sati, the customary self immolation of the wife upon the death of her husband. In that, however, India was not unique. In Oslo, Norway, I visited the Viking Ship Museum. We were told that Scandinavia’s greatest impact on world history was made by the Vikings. The three ships in the museum had been taken out of the sea to be used on land as burial vassals for the wealthy. Kept in blue clay, they had been preserved since the 9th century. The Vikings supplied the coffins with belongings, including live servants, which they believed the deceased might need. One of the servants was a slave girl. I was told that the best sources about this and, indeed, the earliest records of the Vikings, are considered to be the writings of the 10th century Arab diplomat Ahmad ibn Fadlan and his contemporary the Persian explorer Ibn Rustah, who on their travels met the Viking traders. These traders from Sweden had sailed the rivers of Russia to the Caspian Sea region where they came into contact with the Muslim people. Ibn Fadlan wrote the following on what he saw and heard about the Viking Kings:

“When the (Viking) chieftain had been put in the ship, (the slave girl) went to tent where she visited warriors and traders. Every man told her that they did what they did for their love to the dead chieftain. Lastly, she entered a tent that had been raised on the ship, and in it six men had intercourse with her before she was strangled and stabbed. The sexual rites with the slave girl show that she was considered to be a vessel for the transmission of life force to the deceased chieftain.” [Wikipedia: Norse Funeral]

In Bulgaria I went to the Valley of the Thracian Kings, so called because several Thracian royal tombs have been unearthed there since 1965. The most famous tomb is located in the town of Kazanluk. We walked through the terraced Tylube Park to see mural paintings of the Kazanluk Vault which are considered to be masterpieces of Thracian paintings of the end of the 4th century. Battle scenes decorated the vaulted entry to the burial center which had a dome with murals of a funeral celebration showing both the deceased and his wife. Our guide shared with us the local legend that the Thracian kings had their favorite wife buried alive with them. This seemed to be a version of Herodotus’s more interesting history:

“Those of the Thracians who live above the Crestonaeans do the following: each man of them has many wives, and when a man among them dies, there is a great judging of the wives, and much earnestness among his friends in this respect: as to which he had loved the most. She that is so judged to be best loved, and is so honored, is greatly praised by men and women and then slaughtered at his tomb by her closest kinfolk, and, being so slaughtered she is buried with her man. The other wives feel this is a great calamity, for it is for them the greatest of reproaches.”

Travel Writings’ Contribution

What I have said in this paper has been largely anecdotal. No grand theory is claimed. The generalizations that these stories support are not novel. Yet, travel observations can inspire a new articulation of big ideas. One example is the great Polish poet and writer, Czeslaw Milosz’s use of ketman. As Miloz saw it in the 19th century French traveler Arthur de Gobineau’s account (in his Religions and Philosophies of Central Asia), ketman was the Persian concept of selective identities. This was the concept Milosz chose in his masterpiece, The Captive Mind, to articulate his explanation of why Europe’s intellectuals were attracted to Stalinism and, we can say by extension, the appeal of authoritarianism to them. As Gobineau reported Ketman enabled the Persian practitioners to believe in one thing and say another, thus complying with the requirements of their ruler while believing that they still retained inside themselves the independence of a free thinker [Judt, T. (2010) ‘Captive Minds’, The New York Review of Books, 30 September]

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Bio: Keyvan Tabari has practiced law in San Francisco since 1979. In addition to the J.D., he has a Ph.D. in International Relations. He has taught at Universities in the United States and Iran. The international part of his legal practice took him to several countries. In the last six years he has had the time to see many other parts of the world. He has written extensively about these journeys. His articles have been published on various websites. They are also collected in http://www.tabarionline.com.

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This article entitled,  Travel Literature: the  venerable method in historiography, was published on the following website of Iranian.com on January 4, 2011 with related pictures:

http://www.iranian.com/main/2011/jan/travel-literature

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