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Versailles with Panthers

James Davidson: A tribute to the Persians, 10 July 2003

From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire 
by Pierre Briant, translated by Peter Daniels.
Eisenbrauns, 1196 pp., $79.50, January 2002, 1 57506 031 0
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Ancient Persia from 550 BC to 650 AD: reissue 
by Josef Wiesehöfer, translated by Azizeh Azodi.
Tauris, 332 pp., £35, April 2001, 1 85043 999 0
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... Handel’s Xerxes begins with a famous largo, ‘Shade as it never was’ (Ombra mai fu), sung by the self-same King of Kings to his beloved: a plane tree. Aelian, a collector of amazing historical facts, provides the fullest account of this bizarre episode: That Xerxes fellow was a clown … he was slavishly devoted to a plane tree, as if the tree was something to be wondered at ...

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