I enjoyed this article in Aeon about the eighteenth-century French scholar-adventurer, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron, who authored the first translation of the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures into a Western language. According to the article, Anquetil was also the prototype for a long line of swashbuckling Orientalists like Sir Richard Burton and Lawrence of Arabia, and indirectly the inspiration for fictional heroes such as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.
I was less impressed by the author’s efforts to paint Anquetil as some kind of con artist. “Violent, paranoid bully” he might have been, but that only makes Anquetil more interesting as a historical figure.
Banal incidents such as passing through customs inspections, suffering travel delays and being propositioned appeared to Anquetil as life-or-death crises. In his memoirs, he transformed them into stories of his own bravery and of the dangers lurking in India.
What a huckster! I’m sure traveling through India in the mid-eighteenth century was perfectly safe.
Also, the suggestion that later British adventurers such as Burton and Lawrence “adopt[ed] Anquetil’s methods of self-promotion” is something of a cheap shot that does nothing to detract from their undeniable achievements… like translating One Thousand and One Nights and helping lead the successful Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. For example.