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Produced by John Bickers; Dagny; David Widger


By Herodotus

Translated By G. C. Macaulay


HERODOTUS was born at Halicarnassus, on the southwest coast of Asia
Minor, in the early part of the fifth century, B. C. Of his life we know
almost nothing, except that he spent much of it traveling, to collect
the material for his writings, and that he finally settled down at
Thurii, in southern Italy, where his great work was composed. He died in
424 B. C.

The subject of the history of Herodotus is the struggle between the
Greeks and the barbarians, which he brings down to the battle of Mycale
in 479 B. C. The work, as we have it, is divided into nine books,
named after the nine Muses, but this division is probably due to the
Alexandrine grammarians. His information he gathered mainly from oral
sources, as he traveled through Asia Minor, down into Egypt, round
the Black Sea, and into various parts of Greece and the neighboring
countries. The chronological narrative halts from time to time to give
opportunity for descriptions of the country, the people, and their
customs and previous history; and the political account is constantly
varied by rare tales and wonders.

Among these descriptions of countries the most fascinating to the
modern, as it was to the ancient, reader is his account of the marvels
of the land of Egypt. From the priests at Memphis, Heliopolis, and the
Egyptian Thebes he learned what he reports of the size of the country,
the wonders of the Nile, the ceremonies of their religion, the
sacredness of their animals. He tells also of the strange ways of the
crocodile and of that marvelous bird, the Phoenix; of dress and funerals
and embalming; of the eating of lotos and papyrus; of the pyramids and
the great labyrinth; of their kings and queens and courtesans.

Yet Herodotus is not a mere teller of strange tales. However credulous
he may appear to a modern judgment, he takes care to keep separate what
he knows by his own observation from what he has merely inferred and
from what he has been told. He is candid about acknowledging ignorance,
and when versions differ he gives both. Thus the modern scientific
historian, with other means of corroboration, can sometimes learn from
Herodotus more than Herodotus himself knew.

There is abundant evidence, too, that Herodotus had a philosophy of
history. The unity which marks his work is due not only to the strong
Greek national feeling running through it, the feeling that rises to a
height in such passages as the descriptions of the battles of Marathon,
Thermopylae, and Salamis, but also to his profound belief in Fate and
in Nemesis. To his belief in Fate is due the frequent quoting of oracles
and their fulfilment, the frequent references to things foreordained by
Providence. The working of Nemesis he finds in the disasters that befall
men and nations whose towering prosperity awakens the jealousy of the
gods. The final overthrow of the Persians, which forms his main theme,
is only one specially conspicuous example of the operation of this force
from which human life can never free itself.

But, above all, he is the father of story-tellers. "Herodotus is such
simple and delightful reading," says Jevons; "he is so unaffected and
entertaining, his story flows so naturally and with such ease that
we have a difficulty in bearing in mind that, over and above the hard
writing which goes to make easy reading there is a perpetual marvel in
the work of Herodotus. It is the first artistic work in prose that Greek
literature produced. This prose work, which for pure literary merit no
subsequent work has surpassed, than which later generations, after
using the pen for centuries, have produced no prose more easy or more
readable, this was the first of histories and of literary prose."




When Cyrus had brought his life to an end, Cambyses received the royal
power in succession, being the son of Cyrus and of Cassandane the
daughter of Pharnaspes, for whose death, which came about before his
own, Cyrus had made great mourning himself and also had proclaimed to
all those over whom he bore rule that they should make mourning for her:
Cambyses, I say, being the son of this woman and of Cyrus, regarded
the Ionians and Aiolians as slaves inherited from his father; and he
proceeded to march an army against Egypt, taking with him as helpers not
only other nations of which he was ruler, but also those of the Hellenes
over whom he had power besides.

Now the Egyptians, before the time when Psammetichos became king over
them, were wont to suppose that they had come into being first of all
men; but since the time when Psammetichos having become king desired to
know what men had come into being first, they suppose that the Phrygians
came into being before themselves, but they themselves before all other
men. Now Psammetichos, when he was not able by inquiry to find out any
means of knowing who had come into being first of all men, contrived a
device of the following kind: - Taking two newborn children belonging to
persons of the common sort he gave them to a shepherd to bring up at
the place where his flocks were, with a manner of bringing up such as
I shall say, charging him namely that no man should utter any word in
their presence, and that they should be placed by themselves in a room
where none might come, and at the proper time he should bring them
she-goats, and when he had satisfied them with milk he should do for
them whatever else was needed. These things Psammetichos did and gave
him this charge wishing to hear what word the children would let break
forth first after they had ceased from wailings without sense. And
accordingly it came to pass; for after a space of two years had gone by,
during which the shepherd went on acting so, at length, when he opened
the door and entered, both children fell before him in entreaty and
uttered the word _bekos_, stretching forth their hands. At first when
he heard this the shepherd kept silence; but since this word was often
repeated, as he visited them constantly and attended to them, at last
he declared the matter to his master, and at his command he brought the
children before his face. Then Psammetichos having himself also heard
it, began to inquire what nation of men named anything _bekos_, and
inquiring he found that the Phrygians had this name for bread. In this
manner and guided by an indication such as this, the Egyptians were
brought to allow that the Phrygians were a more ancient people than
themselves. That so it came to pass I heard from the priests of that
Hephaistos who dwells at Memphis; but the Hellenes relate, besides many
other idle tales, that Psammetichos cut out the tongues of certain women
and then caused the children to live with these women.

With regard then to the rearing of the children they related so much as
I have said: and I heard also other things at Memphis when I had speech
with the priests of Hephaistos. Moreover I visited both Thebes and
Heliopolis for this very cause, namely because I wished to know whether
the priests at these places would agree in their accounts with those at
Memphis; for the men of Heliopolis are said to be the most learned in
records of the Egyptians. Those of their narrations which I heard with
regard to the gods I am not earnest to relate in full, but I shall name
them only because I consider that all men are equally ignorant of these
matters: and whatever things of them I may record I shall record only
because I am compelled by the course of the story. But as to those
matters which concern men, the priests agreed with one another in saying
that the Egyptians were the first of all men on earth to find out the
course of the year, having divided the seasons into twelve parts to make
up the whole; and this they said they found out from the stars: and they
reckon to this extent more wisely than the Hellenes, as it seems to
me, inasmuch as the Hellenes throw in an intercalated month every other
year, to make the seasons right, whereas the Egyptians, reckoning the
twelve months at thirty days each, bring in also every year five days
beyond number, and thus the circle of their season is completed and
comes round to the same point whence it set out. They said moreover that
the Egyptians were the first who brought into use appellations for the
twelve gods and the Hellenes took up the use from them; and that they
were the first who assigned altars and images and temples to the gods,
and who engraved figures on stones; and with regard to the greater
number of these things they showed me by actual facts that they had
happened so. They said also that the first man who became king of Egypt
was Min; and that in his time all Egypt except the district of Thebes
was a swamp, and none of the regions were then above water which now lie
below the lake of Moiris, to which lake it is a voyage of seven days
up the river from the sea: and I thought that they said well about the
land; for it is manifest in truth even to a person who has not heard it
beforehand but has only seen, at least if he have understanding, that
the Egypt to which the Hellenes come in ships is a land which has been
won by the Egyptians as an addition, and that it is a gift of the river:
moreover the regions which lie above this lake also for a distance of
three days' sail, about which they did not go on to say anything of
this kind, are nevertheless another instance of the same thing: for the
nature of the land of Egypt is as follows: - First when you are still
approaching it in a ship and are distant a day's run from the land, if
you let down a sounding-line you will bring up mud and you will find
yourself in eleven fathoms. This then so far shows that there is a
silting forward of the land. Then secondly, as to Egypt itself, the
extent of it along the sea is sixty _schoines_, according to our
definition of Egypt as extending from the Gulf of Plinthine to the
Serbonian lake, along which stretches Mount Casion; from this lake then
the sixty _schoines_ are reckoned: for those of men who are poor in
land have their country measured by fathoms, those who are less poor by
furlongs, those who have much land by parasangs, and those who have
land in very great abundance by _schoines_: now the parasang is equal
to thirty furlongs, and each _schoine_, which is an Egyptian measure, is
equal to sixty furlongs. So there would be an extent of three thousand
six hundred furlongs for the coast-land of Egypt. From thence and as
far as Heliopolis inland Egypt is broad, and the land is all flat and
without springs of water and formed of mud: and the road as one goes
inland from the sea to Heliopolis is about the same in length as that
which leads from the altar of the twelve gods at Athens to Pisa and the
temple of Olympian Zeus: reckoning up you would find the difference
very small by which these roads fail of being equal in length, not more
indeed than fifteen furlongs; for the road from Athens to Pisa wants
fifteen furlongs of being fifteen hundred, while the road to Heliopolis
from the sea reaches that number completely. From Heliopolis however,
as you go up, Egypt is narrow; for on the one side a mountain-range
belonging to Arabia stretches along by the side of it, going in a
direction from the North towards the midday and the South Wind, tending
upwards without a break to that which is called the Erythraian Sea, in
which range are the stone-quarries which were used in cutting stone for
the pyramids at Memphis. On this side then the mountain ends where I
have said, and then takes a turn back; and where it is widest, as I was
informed, it is a journey of two months across from East to West;
and the borders of it which turn towards the East are said to produce
frankincense. Such then is the nature of this mountain-range; and on the
side of Egypt towards Libya another range extends, rocky and enveloped
in sand: in this are the pyramids, and it runs in the same direction
as those parts of the Arabian mountains which go towards the midday. So
then, I say, from Heliopolis the land has no longer a great extent so
far as it belongs to Egypt, and for about four days' sail up the
river Egypt properly so called is narrow: and the space between the
mountain-ranges which have been mentioned is plain-land, but where it is
narrowest it did not seem to me to exceed two hundred furlongs from the
Arabian mountains to those which are called the Libyan. After this again
Egypt is broad. Such is the nature of this land: and from Heliopolis to
Thebes is a voyage up the river of nine days, and the distance of the
journey in furlongs is four thousand eight hundred and sixty, the number
of _schoines_ being eighty-one. If these measures of Egypt in furlongs
be put together, the result is as follows: - I have already before this
shown that the distance along the sea amounts to three thousand six
hundred furlongs, and I will now declare what the distance is inland
from the sea to Thebes, namely six thousand one hundred and twenty
furlongs: and again the distance from Thebes to the city called
Elephantine is one thousand eight hundred furlongs.

Of this land then, concerning which I have spoken, it seemed to myself
also, according as the priests said, that the greater part had been won
as an addition by the Egyptians; for it was evident to me that the
space between the aforesaid mountain-ranges, which lie above the city
of Memphis, once was a gulf of the sea, like the regions about Ilion and
Teuthrania and Ephesos and the plain of the Maiander, if it be permitted
to compare small things with great; and small these are in comparison,
for of the rivers which heaped up the soil in those regions none is
worthy to be compared in volume with a single one of the mouths of the
Nile, which has five mouths. Moreover there are other rivers also, not
in size at all equal to the Nile, which have performed great feats; of
which I can mention the names of several, and especially the Acheloos,
which flowing through Acarnania and so issuing out into the sea has
already made half of the Echinades from islands into mainland. Now there
is in the land of Arabia, not far from Egypt, a gulf of the sea running
in from that which is called the Erythraian Sea, very long and narrow,
as I am about to tell. With respect to the length of the voyage along
it, one who set out from the innermost point to sail out through it into
the open sea, would spend forty days upon the voyage, using oars; and
with respect to breadth, where the gulf is broadest it is half a day's
sail across: and there is in it an ebb and flow of tide every day. Just
such another gulf I suppose that Egypt was, and that the one ran in
towards Ethiopia from the Northern Sea, and the other, the Arabian,
of which I am about to speak, tended from the South towards Syria,
the gulfs boring in so as almost to meet at their extreme points, and
passing by one another with but a small space left between. If then the
stream of the Nile should turn aside into this Arabian gulf, what would
hinder that gulf from being filled up with silt as the river continued
to flow, at all events within a period of twenty thousand years? indeed
for my part I am of the opinion that it would be filled up even within
ten thousand years. How, then, in all the time that has elapsed before I
came into being should not a gulf be filled up even of much greater size
than this by a river so great and so active? As regards Egypt then, I
both believe those who say that things are so, and for myself also I am
strongly of opinion that they are so; because I have observed that Egypt
runs out into the sea further than the adjoining land, and that shells
are found upon the mountains of it, and an efflorescence of salt forms
upon the surface, so that even the pyramids are being eaten away by it,
and moreover that of all the mountains of Egypt, the range which lies
above Memphis is the only one which has sand: besides which I notice
that Egypt resembles neither the land of Arabia, which borders upon it,
nor Libya, nor yet Syria (for they are Syrians who dwell in the parts
of Arabia lying along the sea), but that it has soil which is black and
easily breaks up, seeing that it is in truth mud and silt brought down
from Ethiopia by the river: but the soil of Libya, we know, is reddish
in colour and rather sandy, while that of Arabia and Syria is somewhat
clayey and rocky. The priests also gave me a strong proof concerning
this land as follows, namely that in the reign of king Moiris, whenever
the river reached a height of at least eight cubits it watered Egypt
below Memphis; and not yet nine hundred years had gone by since the
death of Moiris, when I heard these things from the priests: now
however, unless the river rises to sixteen cubits, or fifteen at the
least, it does not go over the land. I think too that those Egyptians
who dwell below the lake of Moiris and especially in that region which
is called the Delta, if that land continues to grow in height according
to this proportion and to increase similarly in extent, will suffer for
all remaining time, from the Nile not overflowing their land, that same
thing which they themselves said that the Hellenes would at some time
suffer: for hearing that the whole land of the Hellenes has rain and is
not watered by rivers as theirs is, they said that the Hellenes would at
some time be disappointed of a great hope and would suffer the ills of
famine. This saying means that if the god shall not send them rain, but
shall allow drought to prevail for a long time, the Hellenes will be
destroyed by hunger; for they have in fact no other supply of water
to save them except from Zeus alone. This has been rightly said by
the Egyptians with reference to the Hellenes: but now let me tell
how matters are with the Egyptians themselves in their turn. If, in
accordance with what I before said, their land below Memphis (for
this is that which is increasing) shall continue to increase in height
according to the same proportion as in the past time, assuredly those
Egyptians who dwell here will suffer famine, if their land shall not
have rain nor the river be able to go over their fields. It is certain
however that now they gather in fruit from the earth with less labour
than any other men and also with less than the other Egyptians; for they
have no labour in breaking up furrows with a plough nor in hoeing nor in
any other of those labours which other men have about a crop; but when
the river has come up of itself and watered their fields and after
watering has left them again, then each man sows his own field and turns
into it swine, and when he has trodden the seed into the ground by
means of the swine, after that he waits for the harvest, and when he has
threshed the corn by means of the swine, then he gathers it in.

If we desire to follow the opinions of the Ionians as regards Egypt, who
say that the Delta alone is Egypt, reckoning its sea-coast to be from
the watch-tower called of Perseus to the fish-curing houses of Pelusion,
a distance of forty _schoines_, and counting it to extend inland as far
as the city of Kercasoros, where the Nile divides and runs to Pelusion
and Canobos, while as for the rest of Egypt, they assign it partly to
Libya and partly to Arabia, - if, I say, we should follow this account,
we should thereby declare that in former times the Egyptians had no land
to live in; for, as we have seen, their Delta at any rate is alluvial,
and has appeared (so to speak) lately, as the Egyptians themselves say
and as my opinion is. If then at the first there was no land for them
to live in, why did they waste their labour to prove that they had come
into being before all other men? They needed not to have made trial of
the children to see what language they would first utter. However I am
not of the opinion that the Egyptians came into being at the same time
as that which is called by the Ionians the Delta, but that they existed
always ever since the human race came into being, and that as their land
advanced forwards, many of them were left in their first abodes and many
came down gradually to the lower parts. At least it is certain that in
old times Thebes had the name of Egypt, and of this the circumference
measures six thousand one hundred and twenty furlongs.

If then we judge aright of these matters, the opinion of the Ionians
about Egypt is not sound: but if the judgment of the Ionians is right, I
declare that neither the Hellenes nor the Ionians themselves know how
to reckon since they say that the whole earth is made up of three
divisions, Europe, Asia, and Libya: for they ought to count in addition
to these the Delta of Egypt, since it belongs neither to Asia nor to
Libya; for at least it cannot be the river Nile by this reckoning which
divides Asia from Libya, but the Nile is cleft at the point of this
Delta so as to flow round it, and the result is that this land would
come between Asia and Libya.

We dismiss then our opinion of the Ionians, and express a judgment
of our own on this matter also, that Egypt is all that land which is
inhabited by Egyptians, just as Kilikia is that which is inhabited by
Kilikians and Assyria that which is inhabited by Assyrians, and we
know of no boundary properly speaking between Asia and Libya except
the borders of Egypt. If however we shall adopt the opinion which is
commonly held by the Hellenes, we shall suppose that the whole of Egypt,
beginning from the Cataract and the city of Elephantine, is divided into
two parts and that it thus partakes of both the names, since one side
will thus belong to Libya and the other to Asia; for the Nile from the
Cataract onwards flows to the sea cutting Egypt through in the midst;
and as far as the city of Kercasoros the Nile flows in one single
stream, but from this city onwards it is parted into three ways; and
one, which is called the Pelusian mouth, turns towards the East; the
second of the ways goes towards the West, and this is called the Canobic
mouth; but that one of the ways which is straight runs thus, - when the
river in its course downwards comes to the point of the Delta, then it
cuts the Delta through the midst and so issues out to the sea. In this
we have a portion of the water of the river which is not the smallest
nor the least famous, and it is called the Sebennytic mouth. There are
also two other mouths which part off from the Sebennytic and go to
the sea, and these are called, one the Saitic, the other the Mendesian
mouth. The Bolbitinitic, and Bucolic mouths, on the other hand, are
not natural but made by digging. Moreover also the answer given by the
Oracle of Ammon bears witness in support of my opinion that Egypt is of
the extent which I declare it to be in my account; and of this answer
I heard after I had formed my own opinion about Egypt. For those of the
city of Marea and of Apis, dwelling in the parts of Egypt which border
on Libya, being of opinion themselves that they were Libyans and not
Egyptians, and also being burdened by the rules of religious service,
because they desired not to be debarred from the use of cows' flesh,
sent to Ammon saying that they had nought in common with the Egyptians,
for they dwelt outside the Delta and agreed with them in nothing;
and they said they desired that it might be lawful for them to eat
everything without distinction. The god however did not permit them to
do so, but said that that land was Egypt where the Nile came over and
watered, and that those were Egyptians who dwelling below the city of
Elephantine drank of that river. Thus was it answered to them by the
Oracle about this: and the Nile, when it is in flood, goes over not only
the Delta but also of the land which is called Libyan and of that which
is called Arabian sometimes as much as two days' journey on each side,
and at times even more than this or at times less.

As regards the nature of the river, neither from the priests nor
yet from any other man was I able to obtain any knowledge: and I was
desirous especially to learn from them about these matters, namely
why the Nile comes down increasing in volume from the summer solstice
onwards for a hundred days, and then, when it has reached the number of
these days, turns and goes back, failing in its stream, so that through
the whole winter season it continues to be low, and until the summer
solstice returns. Of none of these things was I able to receive any
account from the Egyptians, when I inquired of them what power the Nile

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