Copyright
Herodotus.

Voyages and travels; ancient and modern online

. (page 2 of 35)
Online LibraryHerodotusVoyages and travels; ancient and modern → online text (page 2 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that those were Egyptians who dwelling below the city of
Elephantine drank of that river. Thus was it answered to



14 HERODOTUS

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 num-
ber 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
has whereby it is of a nature opposite to that of all other
rivers. And I made inquiry, desiring to know both this
which I say and also why, unlike all other rivers, it does
not give rise to any breezes blowing from it. However
some of the Hellenes who desired to gain distinction for
cleverness have given an account of this water in three
different ways: two of these I do not think it worth while
even to speak of except only to indicate their nature; of
which the one says that the Etesian Winds are the cause
that makes the river rise, by preventing the Nile from
flowing out into the sea. But often the Etesian Winds fail
and yet the Nile does the same work as it is wont to do ; and
moreover, if these were the cause, all the other rivers also
which flow in a direction opposed to the Etesian Winds
ought to have been affected in the same way as the Nile,
and even more, in as much as they are smaller and present
to them a feebler flow of streams: but there are many of
these rivers in Syria and many also in Libya, and they are
affected in no such manner as the Nile. The second way
shows more ignorance than that which has been mentioned,
and it is more marvellous to tell ; for it says that the river
produces these effects because it flows from the Ocean,
and that the Ocean flows round the whole earth. The
third of the ways is much the most specious, but neverthe-



EGYPT IS

less it is the most mistaken of all: for indeed this way has
no more truth in it than the rest, alleging as it does that
the Nile flows from melting snow; whereas it flows out of
Libya through the midst of the Ethiopians, and so comes out
into Egypt. How then should it flow from snow, when it
flows from the hottest parts to those which are cooler? And
indeed most of the facts are such as to convince a man (one
at least who is capable of reasoning about such matters),
that it is not at all likely that it flows from snow. The first
and greatest evidence is afforded by the winds, which blow
hot from these regions; the second is that the land is rain^
less always and without frost, whereas after snow has
fallen rain must necessarily come within five days, so that
if it snowed in those parts rain would fall there; the third
evidence is afforded by the people dwelling there, who are
of a black colour by reason of the burning heat. More-
over kites and swallows remain there through the year and
do not leave the land; and cranes flying from the cold
weather which comes on in the region of Scythia come
regularly to these parts for wintering : if then it snowed ever
so little in that land through which the Nile flows and in
which it has its rise, none of these things would take place,
as necessity compels us to admit. As for him who talked
about the Ocean, he carried his tale into the region of the
unknown, and so he need not be refuted; since I for my
part know of no river Ocean existing, but I think that
Homer or one of the poets who were before him invented
the name and introduced it into his verse.

If however after I have found fault with the opinions
proposed, I am bound to declare an opinion of my own
about the matters which are in doubt, I will tell what to
my mind is the reason why the Nile increases in the sum-
mer. In the winter season the Sun, being driven away
from his former path through the heaven by the stormy
winds, comes to the upper parts of Libya. If one would
set forth the matter in the shortest way, all has now been
said ; for whatever region this god approaches most and
stands directly above, this it may reasonably be supposed
is most in want of water, and its native streams of rivers
are dried up most. However, to set it forth at greater



16 HERODOTUS

length, thus it is: the Sun passing in his course by the
upper parts of Libya, does thus, that is to say, since at
all times the air in those parts is clear and the country is
warm, because there are no cold winds, in passing through
it the Sun does just as he was wont to do in the summer,
when going through the midst of the heaven, that is he
draws to himself the water, and having drawn it he drives
it away to the upper parts of the country, and the winds
take it up and scattering it abroad melt it into rain; so it
is natural that the winds which blow from this region,
namely the South and South-west Winds, should be much
the most rainy of all the winds. I think however that the
Sun does not send away from himself all the water of the
Nile of each year, but that he also lets some remain behind
with himself. Then when the winter becomes milder, the
Sun returns back again to the midst of the heaven, and
from that time onwards he draws equally from all rivers ;
but in the meanwhile they flow in large volume, since water
of rain mingles with them in great quantity, because their
country receives rain then and is filled with torrent streams.
In summer however they are weak, since not only the
showers of rain fail then, but also they are drawn by the
Sun. The Nile however, alone of all rivers, not having rain
and being drawn by the Sun, naturally flows during this
time of winter in much less than its proper volume, that is
much less than in summer; for then it is drawn equally
with all the other waters, but in winter it bears the burden
alone. Thus I suppose the Sun to be the cause of these
things. He also is the cause in my opinion that the air in
these parts is dry, since he makes it so by scorching up his
path through the heaven : thus summer prevails always in
the upper parts of Libya. If however the station of the
seasons had been changed, and where now in the heaven
are placed the North Wind and winter, there was the
station of the South Wind and of the midday, and
where now is placed the South Wind, there was the North,
if this had been so, the Sun being driven from the midst of
the heaven by the winter and the North Wind would go to
to the upper parts of Europe, just as now he comes to the
upper parts of Libya, and passing in his course through-



EGYPT 17

out the whole of Europe I suppose that he would do to the
Ister that which he now works upon the Nile. As to the
breeze, why none blows from the river, my opinion is that
from very hot places it is not natural that anything should
blow, and that a breeze is wont to blow from something cold.
Let these matters then be as they are and as they were
at the first : but as to the sources of the Nile, not one either
of the Egyptians or of the Libyans or of the Hellenes, who
came to speech with me, professed to know anything, except
the scribe of the sacred treasury of Athene at the city of
Sa'is in Egypt. To me however this man seemed not to
be speaking seriously when he said that he had certain
knowledge of it ; and he said as follows, namely that there
were two mountains of which the tops ran up to a sharp
point, situated between the city of Syene, which is in the
district of Thebes, and Elephantine, and the names of the
mountains were, of the one Crophi and of the other Mophi.
From the middle between these mountains flowed (he said)
the sources of the Nile, which were fathomless in depth,
and half of the water flowed to Egypt and towards the
North Wind, the other half to Ethiopia and the South Wind.
As for the fathomless depth of the source, he said that
Psammetichos king of Egypt came to a trial of this matter;
for he had a rope twisted of many thousand fathoms and let
it down in this place, and it found no bottom. By this the
scribe (if this which he told was really as he said) gave me
to understand that there were certain strong eddies there
and a backward flow, and that since the water dashed
against the mountains, therefore the sounding-line could
not come to any bottom when it was let down. From no
other person was I able to learn anything about this matter;
but for the rest I learnt so much as here follows by the most
diligent inquiry; for I went myself as an eye-witness as
far as the city of Elephantine and from that point onwards
I gathered knowledge by report. From the city of Elephan-
tine as one goes up the river there is country which slopes
steeply ; so that here one must attach ropes to the vessel
on both sides, as one fastens an ox, and so make one's
way onward; and if the rope break, the vessel is gone at
once, carried away by the violence of the stream. Through



18 HERODOTUS

this country it is a voyage of about four days in length, and
in this part the Nile is winding like the river Maiander, and
the distance amounts to twelve schoines, which one must
traverse in this manner. Then you will come to a level
plain, in which the Nile flows round an island named
Tachompso. (Now in the regions above Elephantine there
dwell Ethiopians at once succeeding, who also occupy half
of the island, and Egyptians the other half.) Adjoining
this island there is a great lake, round which dwell
Ethiopian nomad tribes; and when you have sailed through
this you will come to the stream of the Nile again, which
flows into this lake. After this you will disembark and make
a journey by land of forty days ; for in the Nile sharp rocks
stand forth out of the water, and there are many reefs, by
which it is not possible for a vessel to pass. Then after
having passed through this country in the forty days which
I have said, you will embark again in another vessel and
sail for twelve days ; and after this you will come to a great
city called Meroe. This city is said to be the mother-city
of all the other Ethiopians: and they who dwell in it
reverence of the gods Zeus and Dionysos alone, and these
they greatly honour; and they have an Oracle of Zeus
established, and make warlike marches whensoever this
god commands them by prophesyings and to whatsoever
place he commands. Sailing from this city you will come to
the " Deserters" in another period of time equal to that
in which you came from Elephantine to the mother-city
of the Ethiopians. Now the name of these " Deserters "
is Asmach, and this word signifies, when translated into
the tongue of the Hellenes, " those who stand on the left
hand of the king." These were two hundred and forty
thousand Egyptians of the warrior class, who revolted and
went over to these Ethiopians for the following cause :
In the reign of Psammetichos garrisons were set, one
towards the Ethiopians at the city of Elephantine, another
towards the Arabians and Assyrians at Daphnai of Pelu-
sion, and another towards Libya at Marea: and even in
my own time the garrisons of the Persians too are ordered
in the same manner as these were in the reign of Psam-
metichos, for both at Elephantine and at Daphnai the



EGYPT 19

Persians have outposts. The Egyptians then of whom I
speak had served as outposts for three years and no one
relieved them from their guard; accordingly they took
counsel together, and adopting a common plan they all
in a body revolted from Psammetichos and set out for
Ethiopia. Hearing this Psammetichos set forth in pur-
suit, and when he came up with them he entreated them
much and endeavoured to persuade them not to desert the
gods of their country and their children and wives : upon
which it is said that one of them pointed to his privy
member and said that wherever this was, there would they
have both children and wives. When these came to
Ethiopia they gave themselves over to the king of the
Ethiopians ; and he rewarded them as follows : there were
certain of the Ethiopians who had come to be at variance
with him; and he bade them drive these out and dwell in
their land. So since these men settled in the land of the
Ethiopians, the Ethiopians have come to be of milder man-
ners, from having learnt the customs of the Egyptians.
The Nile then, besides that part of its course which is
in Egypt, is known as far as a four months' journey by
river and land: for that is the number of months which
are found by reckoning to be spent in going from Elephan-
tine to these " Deserters " : and the river runs from the West
and the setting of the sun. But what comes after that point
no one can clearly say; for this land is desert by reason of
the burning heat. Thus much however I heard from men
of Kyrene, who told me that they had been to the Oracle
of Ammon, and had come to speech with Etearchos king
of the Ammonians : and it happened that after speaking
of other matters they fell to discourse about the Nile and
how no one knew the sources of it ; and Etearchos said that
once there came to him men of the Nasamonians (this
is a Libyan race which dwells in the Syrtis, and also in the
land to the East of the Syrtis reaching to no great distance),
and when the Nasamonians came and were asked by him
whether the}' were able to tell him anything more than he
knew about the desert parts of Libya, they said that there
had been among them certain sons of chief men, who were
of unruly disposition; and these when they grew up to be



20 HERODOTUS

men had devised various other extravagant things and
also they had told off by lot five of themselves to go to
see the desert parts of Libya and to try whether they could
discover more than those who had previously explored fur-
thest: for in those parts of Libya which are by the
Northern Sea, beginning from Egypt and going as far as
the headland of Soloeis, which is the extreme point of
Libya, Libyans (and of them many races) extend along
the whole coast, except so much as the Hellenes and
Phenicians hold ; but in the upper parts, which lie above the
sea-coast and above those people whose land comes down
to the sea, Libya is full of wild beasts; and in the parts above
the land of wild beasts it is full of sand, terribly waterless
and utterly desert. These young men then (said they),
being sent out by their companions well furnished with sup-
plies of water and provisions, went first through the in-
habited country, and after they had passed through this
they came to the country of wild beasts, and after this they
passed through the desert, making their journey towards
the West Wind; and having passed through a great tract
of sand in many days, they saw at last trees growing in
a level place; and having come up to them, they were
beginning to pluck the fruit which was upon the trees:
but as they began to pluck it, there came upon them small
men, of less stature than men of the common size, and these
seized them and carried them away; and neither could the
Nasamonians understand anything of their speech nor could
those who were carrying them off understand anything of
the speech of the Nasamonians: and they led them (so it
was said) through very great swamps, and after passing
through these they came to a city in which all the men were
in size like those who carried them off and in colour of
skin black ; and by the city ran a great river, which ran
from the West towards the sunrising, and in it were seen
crocodiles. Of the account given by Etearchos the Am-
monian let so much suffice as is here said, except that, as
the men of Kyrene told me, he alleged that the Nasamo-
nians returned safe home, and that the people to whom they
had come were all wizards. Now this river which ran by
the city, Etearchos conjectured to be the Nile, and more-



EGYPT 21

over reason compels us to think so ; for the Nile flows from
Libya and cuts Libya through in the midst, and as I con-
jecture, judging of what is not known by that which is
evident to the view, it starts at a distance from its mouth
equal to that of the Ister: for the river Ister begins from the
Keltoi and the city of Pyrene and so runs that it divides
Europe in the midst (now the Keltoi are outside the
Pillars of Heracles and border upon the Kynesians, who
dwell furthest towards the sunset of all those who have
their dwelling in Europe) ; and the Ister ends, having its
course through the whole of Europe, by flowing into the
Euxine Sea at the place where the Milesians have their
settlement of Istria. Now the Ister, since it flows through
land which is inhabited, is known by the reports of many;
but of the sources of the Nile no one can give an account,
for the part of Libya through which it flows is uninhabited
and desert. About its course however so much as it was
possible to learn by the most diligent inquiry has been
told; and it runs out into Egypt. Now Egypt lies nearly
opposite to the mountain districts of Kilikia ; and from thence
to Sinope, which lies upon the Euxine Sea, is a journey
in the same straight line of five days for a man with-
out encumbrance ; and Sinope lies opposite to the place where
the Ister runs out into the sea: thus I think that the Nile
passes through the whole of Libya and is of equal measure
with the Ister.

Of the Nile then let so much suffice as has been said.
Of Egypt however I shall make my report at length, be-
cause it has wonders more in number than any other land,
and works too it has to show as much as any land, which
are beyond expression great: for this reason then more
shall be said concerning it.

The Egyptians in agreement with their climate, which
is unlike any other, and with the river, which shows a
nature different from all other rivers, established for them-
selves manners and customs in a way opposite to other men
in almost all matters : for among them the women fre-
quent the market and carry on trade, while the men remain
at home and weave ; and whereas others weave pushing the



22 HERODOTUS

woof upwards, the Egyptians push it downwards: the men
carry their burdens upon their heads and the women upon
their shoulders : the women make water standing up and
the men crouching down: they ease themselves in their houses
and they eat without in the streets, alleging as reason for
this that it is right to do secretly the things that are unseem-
ly though necessary, but those which are not unseemly, in
public: no woman is a minister either of male or female
divinity, but men of all, both male and female: to support
their parents the sons are in no way compelled, if they do
not desire to do so, but the daughters are forced to do so,
be they never so unwilling. The priests of the gods in
other lands wear long hair, but in Egypt they shave their
heads : among other men the custom is that in mourning
those whom the matter concerns most nearly have their hair
cut short, but the Egyptians, when deaths occur, let their
hair grow long, both that on the head and that on the chin,
having before been close shaven : other men have their
daily living separated from beasts, but the Egyptians have
theirs together with beasts: other men live on wheat and
on barley, but to any one of the Egyptians who makes his
living on these it is a great reproach ; they make their
bread of maize, which some call spell . they knead dough
with their feet and clay with their hands, with which also
they gather up dung: and whereas other men, except such
as have learnt otherwise from the Egyptians, have their
members as nature made them, the Egyptians practice cir-
cumcision : as to garments, the men wear two each and the
women but one : and whereas others make fast the rings
and ropes of the sails outside the ship, the Egyptians do
this inside: finally in the writing of characters and reckon-
ing with pebbles, while the Hellenes carry the hand from
the left to the right, the Egyptians do this from the right to
the left; and doing so they say that they (fo it themselves
rightwise and the Hellenes leftwise: and they use two kinds
of characters for writing, of which the one kind is called
sacred and the other common.

Thev are religious excessively beyond all other men,
and with regard to this they have customs as follows:
they drink from cups of bronze and rinse them out every



EGYPT 23

day, and not some only do this but all: they wear garments
of linen always newly washed, and this they make a special
point of practice: they circumcise themselves for the sake
of cleanliness, preferring to be clean rather than comely.
The priests shave themselves all over their body every other
day, so that no lice or any other foul thing may come to
be upon them when they minister to the gods ; and the
priests wear garments of linen only and sandals of papyrus,
and any other garment they may not take nor other sandals ;
these wash themselves in cold water twice in a day and
twice again in the night; and other religious services they
perform (one may almost say) of infinite number. They
enjoy also good things not a few, for they do not consume
or spend anything of their own substance, but there is
sacred bread baked for them and they have each great
quantity of flesh of oxen and geese coming in to them each
day, and also wine of grapes is given to them ; but it is not
permitted to them to taste of fish : beans moreover the
Egyptians do not at all sow in their land, and those which
grow they neither eat raw nor boil for food ; nay the priests
do not endure even to look upon them, thinking this to be
an unclean kind of pulse: and there is not one priest only
for each of the gods but many, and of them one is chief-
priest, and whenever a priest dies his son is appointed to
his place.

The males of the ox kind they consider to belong to
Epaphos, and on account of him they test them in the fol-
lowing manner: If the priest sees one single black hair
upon the beast he counts it not clean for sacrifice ; and one
of the priests who is appointed for the purpose makes in-
vestigation of these matters, both when the beast is standing
upright and when it is lying on its back, drawing out its
tongue moreover, to see if it is clean in respect of the
appointed signs, which I shall tell of in another part of
the history : he looks also at the hairs of the tail to see if
it has them growing in the natural manner; and if
it be clean in respect of all these things, he marks it with
a piece of papyrus, rolling this round the horns, and then
when he has plastered sealing-earth over it he sets upon
it the seal of his signet-ring, and after that they take the



24 HERODOTUS

animal away. But for one who sacrifices a beast not sealed
the penalty appointed is death. In this way then the beast
is tested; and their appointed manner of sacrifice is as
follows : they lead the sealed beast to the altar where they
happen to be sacrificing, and then kindle a fire : after that,
having poured libations of wine over the altar so that it
runs down upon the victim and having called upon the god,
they cut its throat, and having cut its throat they sever
the head from the body. The body then of the beast they
flay, but upon the head they make many imprecations first,
and then they who have a market and Hellenes sojourning
among them for trade, these carry it to the market-place
and sell it, while they who have no Hellenes among them
cast it away into the river: and this is the form of impre-
cation which they utter upon the heads, praying that if any
evil be about to befall either themselves who are offering
sacrifice or the land of Egypt in general, it may come rather
upon this head. Now as regards the heads, of the beasts
which are sacrificed and the pouring over them of the wine,
all the Egyptians have the same customs equally for all
their sacrifices; and by reason of this custom none of the
Egyptians eat of the head either of this or of any other
kind of animal: but the manner of disembowelling the vic-
tims and of burning them is appointed among them dif-
ferently for different sacrifices ; I shall speak however of
the sacrifices to that goddess whom they regard as the
greatest of all, and to whom they celebrate the greatest



Online LibraryHerodotusVoyages and travels; ancient and modern → online text (page 2 of 35)