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February 9, 2013

Who would you visit if you had a time machine?

One of the little treats for a history buff working at a daily newspaper is the “Today in History” nugget we run on Page 2 each day. It’s always neat when a little event and quote can take you back in time, even if this time-traveling occurs only in your head.

But for me, that’s never sufficient. As odd as this might sound, I’d do almost anything for a time machine. Fortunately, for me, Nobel Prize-winning MIT physicist Frank Wilczek in 2012 postulated that such a machine could run on what he calls “space-time crystals.” I’d elaborate, but the articles I found were crammed with impenetrable, esoteric jibberish about “periodicities of time” and “quantum entanglement.”

I can’t make any sense of that — but I can start working on my itinerary. I’ll avoid the heavyweights such as Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon Bonaparte, since our most eminent historians deserve first crack at those folks. So here are a few historical B-listers for whom I have some questions when I get my turn with the machine:

• Herodotus (c. 484 — 425 B.C.), Greek historian.

The “Father of History” was a trailblazer who wrote during Western civilization’s halcyon days. His The Histories is filled with colorful vignettes; of Egyptian pharaohs making fart jokes (2.162.3) and pot-smoking Scythians (4.73-75), to name but a few.

Herodotus’ contemporary and arch-frienemy Thucydides, the grim Athenian known for pioneering the realpolitik school of thought, wasn’t shy about the fact that he was the more accurate and meticulous historian of the two. But we’re talking about using a time machine to meet interesting people, so I’m going with Herodotus for his joie de vivre. Thucydides, if you can tolerate him for a day, you’re welcome to join us.

• Julia Domna (170 — 217 A.D.), Roman empress.

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