Edmond François About visited Greece in 1851, approaching his first experience with that country armed with superficial, almost schoolboy, ideas. His preconceived notions were disappointed, and he spent the next two years reevaluating his impressions.
After his return to Paris in 1853, he wrote a number of books dealing with his Grecian experiences. His first work was the sparkling and satiric volume LA GRECE CONTEMPORAINE (1854), whose portrait of Greek society gave great offense in Athens but was widely read in other parts of Europe. THE KING OF THE MOUNTAINS, which followed, is even more satirical, drawing on the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern in Greece for its wit. A satirist like About could not have a finer theme, and the book gained a wide popularity in its time. The author made cosmopolitan fun of his subjects. The German botanist, so brave, simple, and honest, deeply in love without knowing it, is the literary ideal of the Germans before the war of 1870. The British banker’s wife, with her appetite and her ungracious gratitude is a fair caricature of that terrible being—the rich, middle-aged, middle-class British female. The grave irony of the king himself is worthy of Jonathan Swift. His item of expenditure, “Repairs of the road to Thebes, which has become impracticable, and where unfortunately, we found no travelers to rob,” is inimitable.
THE KING OF THE MOUNTAINS is, in short, a caricature of the same devastating sort as Charles Dickens’ AMERICAN NOTES (1842), showing that while human nature does not really differ much anywhere, people become much more sensitive to their own faults and limitations when they are exhibited in the context of other worlds and cultures.