Translated and annotated by A. D. Godley
 As to the customs of the Persians, I know them to be these. It is not their custom to make and set up statues and temples and altars, but those who do such things they think foolish, because, I suppose, they have never believed the gods to be like men, as the Greeks do; but they call the whole circuit of heaven Zeus, and to him they sacrifice on the highest peaks of the mountains; they sacrifice also to the sun and moon and earth and fire and water and winds. From the beginning, these are the only gods to whom they have ever sacrificed; they learned later to sacrifice to the “heavenly“1 Aphrodite from the Assyrians and Arabians. She is called by the Assyrians Mylitta, by the Arabians Alilat, by the Persians Mitra.
 And this is their method of sacrifice to the aforesaid gods: when about to sacrifice, they do not build altars or kindle fire, employ libations, or music, or fillets, or barley meal: when a man wishes to sacrifice to one of the gods, he leads a beast to an open space and then, wearing a wreath on his tiara, of myrtle usually, calls on the god. To pray for blessings for himself alone is not lawful for the sacrificer; rather, he prays that the king and all the Persians be well; for he reckons himself among them. He then cuts the victim limb from limb into portions, and, after boiling the flesh, spreads the softest grass, trefoil usually, and places all of it on this. When he has so arranged it, a Magus comes near and chants over it the song of the birth of the gods, as the Persian tradition relates it; for no sacrifice can be offered without a Magus. Then after a little while the sacrificer carries away the flesh and uses it as he pleases.
 The day which every man values most is his own birthday. On this day, he thinks it right to serve a more abundant meal than on other days: oxen or horses or camels or asses, roasted whole in ovens, are set before the rich; the poorer serve the lesser kinds of cattle. Their courses are few, the dainties that follow many, and not all served together. This is why the Persians say of Greeks that they rise from table still hungry, because not much dessert is set before them: were this too given to Greeks (the Persians say) they would never stop eating.
They are very partial to wine. No one may vomit or urinate in another’s presence: this is prohibited among them. Moreover, it is their custom to deliberate about the gravest matters when they are drunk; and what they approve in their deliberations is proposed to them the next day, when they are sober, by the master of the house where they deliberate; and if, being sober, they still approve it, they act on it, but if not, they drop it. And if they have deliberated about a matter when sober, they decide upon it when they are drunk.
 When one man meets another on the road, it is easy to see if the two are equals; for, if they are, they kiss each other on the lips without speaking; if the difference in rank is small, the cheek is kissed; if it is great, the humbler bows and does obeisance to the other. They honor most of all those who live nearest them, next those who are next nearest, and so going ever onwards they assign honor by this rule: those who dwell farthest off they hold least honorable of all; for they think that they are themselves in all regards by far the best of all men, that the rest have only a proportionate claim to merit, until those who live farthest away have least merit of all. Under the rule of the Medes, one tribe would even govern another; the Medes held sway over all alike and especially over those who lived nearest to them; these ruled their neighbors, and the neighbors in turn those who came next to them, on the same scheme by which the Persians assign honor; for the nation kept advancing its rule and dominion.2
 But the Persians more than all men welcome foreign customs. They wear the Median dress, thinking it more beautiful than their own, and the Egyptian cuirass in war. Their luxurious practices are of all kinds, and all borrowed: the Greeks taught them pederasty. Every Persian marries many lawful wives, and keeps still more concubines.
 After valor in battle it is accounted noble to father the greatest number of sons: the king sends gifts yearly to him who gets most. Strength, they believe, is in numbers. They educate their boys from five to twenty years old, and teach them only three things: riding and archery and honesty. A boy is not seen by his father before he is five years old, but lives with the women: the point of this is that, if the boy should die in the interval of his rearing, the father would suffer no grief.
 This is a law which I praise; and it is a praiseworthy law, too, which does not allow the king himself to slay any one for a single offense, or any other Persian to do incurable harm to one of his servants for one offense. Not until an accounting shows that the offender’s wrongful acts are more and greater than his services may a man give rein to his anger.
They say that no one has ever yet killed his father or mother; when such a thing has been done, it always turns out on inquest that the doer is shown to be a changeling or the fruit of adultery; for it is not to be believed (say they) that a son should kill his true parent.
 Furthermore, of what they may not do, they may not speak, either. They hold lying to be the most disgraceful thing of all and next to that debt; for which they have many other reasons, but this in particular: it is inevitable (so they say) that the debtor also speak some falsehood. The citizen who has leprosy or the white sickness may not come into town or mingle with other Persians. They say that he is so afflicted because he has sinned in some way against the sun. Every stranger who gets such a disease, many drive out of the country; and they do the same to white doves, for the reason given. Rivers they especially revere; they will neither urinate nor spit nor wash their hands in them, nor let anyone else do so.
 There is another thing that always happens among them; we have noted it although the Persians have not: their names, which agree with the nature of their persons and their nobility, all end in the same letter, that which the Dorians call san, and the Ionians sigma; you will find, if you search, that not some but all Persian names alike end in this letter.
 So much I can say of them from my own certain knowledge. But there are other matters concerning the dead which are secretly and obscurely told: how the dead bodies of Persians are not buried before they have been mangled by birds or dogs. That this is the way of the Magi, I know for certain; for they do not conceal the practice. But this is certain, that before the Persians bury the body in earth they embalm it in wax.
These Magi are as unlike the priests of Egypt as they are unlike all other men: for the priests consider it sacrilege to kill anything that lives, except what they sacrifice; but the Magi kill with their own hands every creature, except dogs and men; they kill all alike, ants and snakes, creeping and flying things, and take great pride in it. Leaving this custom to be such as it has been from the first,3 I return now to my former story.
Herodotus, Histories, 1.131–140
1 The great goddess (Mother of Heaven and Earth) worshipped by Eastern nations under various names — Mylitta in Assyria, Astarte in Phoenicia: called Heavenly Aphrodite, or simply the Heavenly One, by the Greeks.
2 This appears to mean, that the farther off a subject nation is, the less direct is the control exercised by the Medes; on the same principle as that which makes the Persians hold their subjects in less and less estimation in proportion to their distance from the seat of empire.
3 Lit. “let matters stand concerning this custom as it was first instituted”: i.e., apparently, “let us be content with knowing that this custom is as it has been from its origin.”
8 January 2023