Flights into Antiquity by Arthur Weigall

Flights Into Antiquity

Flights into Antiquity is out of print. Every copy you find on Amazon is used. It’s not even available on Kindle. So why am I reviewing it? Quite simply, it’s because it’s a shining example of how history writing has changed over the past 90 years. To paraphrase Mr. Spock, “It’s history – but not as we know it.”

Flights into Antiquity was published in 1925 in the wake of increased interest in Ancient History brought about by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. It’s a collection of 30 vignettes about episodes of Ancient History, from Ancient Egypt to Ancient Britain, by way of Syria and Ancient Greece. There are no references and no footnotes. Weigall gives his opinion and the reader is stuck with it. For example, he disputes whether Boudicca was ‘beaten with rods’ – in his opinion, she was probably just slapped. He makes her seem like a woman throwing a tantrum, which is not grounds for starting a war with the Roman army. Another story guaranteed to upset some people is the one about the ancient Ethiopian king Piankhi. There’s nothing wrong with the story itself, about a negro warrior king thousands of years ago. The offensive bit is the repeated use of the ‘N’ word when describing him. I’m not black, but it did make me wince to see it.

There are a few interesting stories. but the book is pitched at a level that modern writers would only use for children. There are also things that have become superseded by later research. For example, he takes the famous bust of Nefertiti as an actual representation, rather than a piece used for training apprentice sculptors. In his piece about her, she suffered from a cataract in one eye!

Flights into Antiquity probably sold well in its day. Now it’s so full of inaccuracies and out-of-date information that I wouldn’t even give it to a child to read – except as an example of how not to write history.

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