Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Egyptians: Diodoros on the origins of civilization and on Egyptian views (mid-first century BCE),' Last modified January 15, 2023, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=6993.
Ancient authors: Various oral or written sources (“they”), Hekataios of Abdera, and Diodoros of Sicily, Library of History, book 1 (link Greek text and full translation).
Comments: Writing in the mid-first century BCE, Diodoros of Sicily (also known as Diodorus Siculus) aimed to write a universal history that covered not only the central role of Greece in the emergence of civilization but also the alternative claims of ostensibly older “barbarian” peoples. Much of the first part of the work, therefore, is concerned with outlining “barbarian” claims in order to move on to the central importance of the “superior” Greeks. The comparison of peoples and the establishment of particular peoples as superior or inferior to others is an ongoing theme, so this supplies important evidence for ethnic relations. For Diodoros, the Greeks come out on top of the ethnic hierarchy, of course.
In doing so, Diodoros’ work begins by outlining a theory of the origins of humanity and the development of civilization. This passage, which is included below, affirms a particular Greek point of view regarding the gradual emergence or evolution of civilization which lies in tension with “barbarian” claims, such as those of the Egyptians. That alternative view was that civilization emerged long ago and was passed along to Greeks. Greek civilization would then be partially if not extensively derivative of “barbarian” predecessors. The “barbarian” or in this case Egyptian view implied the superiority of the Egyptians to the Greeks. Early in the work (see below), Diodoros expressly states that peoples like the Egyptians claim civilizational priority and superiority but that Diodoros strongly disagrees with that view.
This is, in part, why Diodoros’ extensive account of Egyptian customs and contributions to civilization is consistently couched in the frame of “Egyptians say” or “they say” or “Egyptian accounts say” (regardless of how we evaluate the degree to which Diodoros accurately or inaccurately represents Egyptian views or sources of information). Although Diodoros rarely openly critiques the views he presents, it is important to notice that he frames these as someone else’s assumptions or claims rather than as facts or Diodoros’ own opinions. As a result, it is difficult to know when we are actually hearing Diodoros’ own evaluations about what Egyptians did or did not contribute to the advancement of civilization (though there are times when he more actively engages in evaluations). He outlines many many Egyptian achievements, but rarely clearly says whether he agrees that they are true.
Diodoros includes many ostensibly Egyptian views regarding the contributions or achievements of particular Egyptian figures, especially pharoahs, for instance. The outstanding figure in this part of the discussion is Sesoosis, a transliteration of the Egyptian name Senwosret (also transliterated as Sesostris in some other Greek authors). Sesoosis is presented (ostensibly by Egyptian accounts) as the first world-conqueror and as instigator of many advancements in the organization of Egyptian society. You can read much more about the Sesoosis / Sesostris legends’ importance for the study of ethnic relations in Harland’s article on “Ethnic Relations and Circulating Legends in the Villages of Egypt” (link).
We do not really know what sources Diodoros was using in most cases. Because he at one point directly draws on Hekataios (or: Hecataeus) of Abdera’s work on Egyptian Matters (46.8, and following on the monumental grave of Osymandyas, perhaps written just before 305 BCE), many have assumed that the entire Egyptian account is drawn primarily from Hekataios. But this is a problematic assumption in some respects. When Diodoros does mention Hekataios as a source, he consistently continues with “he says” (about Osymandyas’ tomb) rather than Diodoros’ usual “they say” or “Egyptians say” or “Egyptian accounts say.” So the question of sources remains up in the air and, in a way, does not matter for our concern with how a Greek like Diodoros presents ostensibly Egyptian views regarding the achievements of the Egyptians to a Greek-speaking audience. (For a more solid case of Diodoros’ extensive use of a now lost historical work, see the post on Ktesias Persian Matters at this link). It may be at times that Diodoros’ own views were in tension with those of his sources (e.g. if Hekataios was his source on many things, did Hekataios have a more positive view that accepted ostensibly Egyptian views concerning the superiority of Egyptian society?). But we do not have the evidence to evaluate that. In any case, Diodoros’ work provides us with an ancient Greek author who was actively interested in how Greek peoples and societies related to “barbarian” peoples such as the Egyptians.
Source of the translation: C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volumes 1-6, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1935-1952), public domain (copyright not renewed, passed away in 1954), adapted by Victoria Muccilli and Harland.
[A theory on the origins of humanity and civilization]
6 Since it would require a long account, we will refrain from presenting most of the details concerning the various conceptions of the gods formed by those who were the first to introduce the worship of the deity and concerning the myths which are told about each of the immortals. Yet, whatever on these subjects we may feel to be pertinent to the several parts of our proposed history, we will present in a summary fashion, so that nothing which is worth hearing may be found missing. (2) However, concerning every human descent group (genos) and all events that have taken place in the known parts of the inhabited world, we will give an accurate account. We will do so as far as that is possible in the case of things that happened so long ago, beginning with the earliest times.
(3) Now with regard to the descent group (genos) of humanity as a whole, two opinions have arisen among the best authorities both on nature and on history. One group, which takes the position that the universe did not come into being and will not decay, has declared that the descent group of humanity has also existed from eternity, there having never been a time when humans first came into being.
The other group, however, which hold that the universe came into being and will decay, has declared that, like it, humans had their first origin at a definite time. 7 When in the beginning, as their account runs, the universe was being formed, both heaven and earth were indistinguishable in appearance, since their elements were intermingled. Then, when their bodies separated from one another, the universe took on in all its parts the ordered form in which it is now seen. The air set up a continual motion, and the fiery element in it gathered into the highest regions, since anything of such a nature rises because of its lightness (and it is for this reason that the sun and the multitude of other stars became involved in the universal whirl), while all that was mud-like and thick and contained an admixture of moisture sank because of its weight into one place. (2) And as this continually turned about upon itself and became compressed, out of the wet it formed the sea and out of what was firmer it formed the land, which was like potter’s clay and entirely soft. (3) But as the sun’s fire shone upon the land, it first of all became firm, and then, since its surface was in a ferment because of the warmth, portions of the wet swelled up in masses in many places, and in these pustules covered with delicate membranes made their appearance. Such a phenomenon can be seen even now in swamps and marshy places whenever, the ground having become cold, the air suddenly and without any gradual change becomes intensely warm. (4) While the wet was being impregnated with life by reason of the warmth in the manner described, by night the living things immediately received their nourishment from the mist that fell from the enveloping air, and by day were made solid by the intense heat. Finally, when the embryos had attained their full development and the membranes had been thoroughly heated and broken open, there was produced every form of animal life. (5) Of these, such as had partaken of the most warmth set off to the higher regions, having become winged, and such as retained an earthy consistency came to be numbered in the class of creeping things and of the other land animals, while those whose composition partook the most of the wet element gathered into the region congenial to them, receiving the name of water animals. (6) Since the earth constantly grew more solid through the sun’s fire and the winds, it was finally no longer able to generate any of the larger animals, but each kind of living creatures was now begotten by breeding with one another. (7) And apparently Euripides also, who was a pupil of Anaxagoras the natural philosopher, is not opposed to this account of the nature of the universe, for in his Melanippe he writes as follows: “The Sky and Earth were once one form. / But since the two were split apart from each other, / They now beget and bring to life all things, / The trees and birds, the beasts, the spawn of sea, / And humankind.”
8 Concerning the origin of the universe this is the account which we have received. But the first humans to be born, he [name never stated] says, led an undisciplined and bestial life, setting out one by one to secure their sustenance and taking for their food both the tenderest herbs and the fruits of wild trees. (2) Then, since they were attacked by the wild beasts, they came to each other’s aid, being instructed by expediency, and when united in this way by reason of their fear, they gradually came to recognize their mutual characteristics. (3) Though the sounds which they made were at first unintelligible and indistinct, gradually they came to give articulation to their speech, and by agreeing with one another upon symbols for each thing which presented itself to them, made known among themselves the significance which was to be attached to each term. (4) But since groups of this kind arose over every part of the inhabited world, not all humans had the same language, since every group organized the elements of its speech by mere chance. This is the explanation of the present existence of every conceivable kind of language and, furthermore, out of these first groups to be formed came all the original peoples (ethnē). (5) Now since none of the things useful for life had yet been discovered, the first humans led a wretched existence. They had no clothing to cover them, they did not know about using dwellings or fire, and they were totally ignorant about cultivated food. (6) Since they even neglected the harvesting of the wild food, they did not store fruits for their needs. Consequently large numbers of them perished in the winters because of the cold and the lack of food. (7) Little by little, however, experience taught them both to take to the caves in winter and to store such fruits as could be preserved. (8) When they had become acquainted with fire and other useful things, as well as technical skills and whatever else is capable of furthering human social life were gradually discovered. (9) Actually, speaking generally, in all things it was necessity itself that became the teacher of humanity, supplying in appropriate fashion instruction in every matter to a creature which was well endowed by nature and had, as its assistants for every purpose, hands, speech, and a ready mind. (10) Regarding the first origin of humans and their earliest manner of life we will be satisfied with what has been said, since we would keep due proportion in our account.
[Different peoples’ claims of antiquity and civilizational priority]
9 But regarding all the events which have been handed down to memory and took place in the known regions of the inhabited world, we will now try to give a full account of them. (2) Now as to who were the first kings we are in no position to speak on our own authority, nor do we give assent to those historians who profess to know. For it is impossible that the discovery of writing was so early that it was contemporary with the first kings. But if a man should concede even this last point, it still seems evident that writers of history are, as a group, a quite recent appearance in the life of humankind. (3) Concerning the antiquity of the descent group of humanity, not only do Greeks put forward their claims but many of the barbarians as well, all holding that it is they who were indigenous and the first of all humans to discover the things which are useful in life, and that it was the events in their own history which were the earliest to have been considered worthy to record. (4) So far as we are concerned, however, we will not make the attempt to determine with precision the antiquity of each people or which of the peoples (ethnē) are prior in point of time to the rest and by how many years. But we will summarize (keeping our account to an appropriate length) what each people has to say concerning its antiquity and the early events in its history. (5) The first peoples which we will discuss will be the barbarians, not that we consider them to be earlier than the Greeks, as Ephoros has said, but because we wish to present most of the facts about them at the outset. We do this so that we may not, by beginning with the various accounts given by the Greeks, have to interpolate in the different narrations of their early history any event connected with another people. (6) Since Egypt is the country where mythology places the origin of the gods, where the earliest observations of the stars are said to have been made and, furthermore, where many noteworthy accomplishments of great men are recorded, we will begin our history with the events connected with Egypt.
[Superiority of Egyptian climate for human life, according to Egyptian accounts]
10 Now the Egyptians have an account like this: When in the beginning the universe came into being, men first came into existence in Egypt, both because of the favourable climate of the land and because of the nature of the Nile. For this stream, since it produces much life and provides a spontaneous supply of food, easily supports whatever living things have been engendered. For both the root of the reed and the lotus, as well as the Egyptian bean and korsaion [tuber of the Nile water-lily], as it is called, and many other similar plants, supply humankind with nourishment all ready for use. (2) As proof that animal life appeared first of all in their land, they would offer the fact that even at the present day the soil of the region around Thebes (Thebaid) [southern Egypt] at certain times generates mice in such numbers and of such size as to astonish all who have witnessed the phenomenon. For some of them are fully formed as far as the breast and front feet and are able to move, while the rest of the body is unformed, the clod of earth still retaining its natural character. (3) From this fact it is evident that, when the world was first taking shape, the land of Egypt could better than any other have been the place where humankind came into being because of the fertile nature of its soil. For even at the present time, while the soil of no other country generates any such things, and only there certain living creatures may be seen coming into being in a marvellous fashion. (4) In general, if in the flood which occurred in the time of Deukalion most living things were destroyed, it is probable that the inhabitants of southern Egypt survived rather than any others, since their country is rainless for the most part. Or if, as some maintain, the destruction of living things was complete and the earth then brought forth again new forms of animals, the first genesis of living things is appropriately attributed to this country even on this assumption. (5) For when the moisture from the abundant rains, which fell among other peoples, was mingled with the intense heat which prevails in Egypt itself, it is reasonable to suppose that the air became very well tempered for the first generation of all living things. (6) In fact, even in our day during the inundations of Egypt the generation of forms of animal life can clearly be seen taking place in the pools which remain the longest. (7) For, whenever the river has begun to recede and the sun has thoroughly dried the surface of the slime, living animals, it is said, take shape, some of them fully formed, but some only half so and still actually united with the very earth.
[Celestial deities and the elements create the ideal environment for life in Egypt, according to Egyptians]
11 Now the men of Egypt, when ages ago they came into existence, as they looked up at the universe and were struck with both amazement and wonder at its nature, conceived that two gods were both eternal and first, namely, the sun and the moon. They called them respectively Osiris and Isis, these appellations having in each case been based upon a certain meaning in them. (2) For when the names are translated into Greek Osiris means “many-eyed,” and rightly so, for in shedding his rays in every direction he surveys with many eyes, as it were, all land and sea. The words of the poet are also in agreement with this conception when he says: “The sun, who sees all things and hears all things.” [Homer, Odyssey 12.323] (3) Among ancient Greek writers of mythology, some give to Osiris the name Dionysos or, with a slight change in form, Sirios. One of them, Eumolpos, in his Bacchic Hymn speaks of ” Our Dionysos, shining like a star / With fiery eye in every ray,” while Orpheus says: “And this is why men call him Shining One / And Dionysos.” [frag. 237, Kern] (4) Some say that Osiris is also represented with the cloak of fawn-skin about his shoulders as imitating the sky spangled with the stars.
As for Isis, when translated the word means “ancient,” the name having been given her because her birth was from everlasting and ancient. And they put horns on her head both because of the appearance which she has to the eye when the moon is crescent-shaped, and because among the Egyptians a cow is held sacred to her.
(5) These two gods, they hold, regulate the entire universe, giving both nourishment and increase to all things by means of a system of three seasons which complete the full cycle through an unobservable movement, these being spring, summer, and winter. These seasons, though in nature most opposed to one another, complete the cycle of the year in the fullest harmony. Moreover, practically all the physical matter which is essential to the generation of all things is furnished by these gods: the sun contributes the fiery element and the spirit, the moon contributes moisture and dryness, and both together the air. It is through these elements that all things are engendered and nourished. (6) So it is out of the sun and moon that the whole physical body of the universe is made complete. As for the five parts just named of these bodies — the spirit, the fire, the dry, as well as the wet, and, lastly, the air-like — just as in the case of a human being we enumerate head, hands, feet and other parts, so in the same way the body of the universe is composed in its entirety of these parts.
12 Each of these parts they regard as a god and to each of them the first men in Egypt to use articulate speech gave a distinct name appropriate to its nature. (2) Now the spirit they called, as we translate their expression, Zeus, and since he was the source of the spirit of life in animals, they considered him to be in a sense the father of all things. They say that the most renowned of the Greek poets also agrees with this when he speaks of this god as “The father of men and of gods.” (3) The fire they called Hephaistos, as it is translated [likely Ptah], holding him to be a great god and one who contributes much both to the birth and full development of all things.
(4) The earth, again, they looked upon as a kind of vessel which holds all growing things and so gave it the name “mother.” In like manner the Greeks also call it Demeter, the word having been slightly changed in the course of time, since in ancient times they called her Ge Meter (Earth Mother), to which Orpheus bears witness when he speaks of “Earth the Mother of all, Demeter giver of wealth” [frag. 302, Kern]
(5) Moisture, according to them, was called by the men of old Oceane. When translated, this means Fostering-mother, though some of the Greeks have taken it to be Oceanos, in connection with whom the poet also speaks of “Oceanos source of gods and mother Tethys” [Homer, Iliad 14.302]. (6) For the Egyptians consider Oceanos to be their river Nile, on which also their gods were born. They say that Egypt is the only country in the whole inhabited world where there are many cities which were founded by the first gods, such as Zeus, Helios, Hermes, Apollo, Pan, Eileithyia, and many more.
(7) The air they called Athena, as the name is translated. They considered her to be the daughter of Zeus and conceived of her as a virgin, because of the fact that the air is by its nature uncorrupted and occupies the highest part of the entire universe. For the latter reason also the myth arose that she was born from the head of Zeus. (8) Another name given her was Tritogeneia (Thrice-born), because her nature changes three times in the course of the year, in the spring, summer, and winter. They add that she is also called Glaukopis (Blue-eyed), not because she has blue eyes, as some Greeks have held – a silly explanation, for sure – but because the air has a bluish cast.
(9) They say that these five deities visit all the inhabited world, revealing themselves to men in the form of sacred animals, and at times even appearing disguised as humans or in other shapes. This is not a fabulous thing, but possible, if these are really the gods who give life to all things. Also the poet, who visited Egypt and became acquainted with such accounts as these from the lips of the priests, in some place in his writings sets forth as actual fact what has been said: “The gods, in strangers’ form from alien lands, / Frequent the cities of men in every guise, / Observing their insolence and lawful ways.” [Homer, Odyssey 17.485-487]. Now so far as the celestial gods are concerned, whose genesis is from eternity, this is the account given by the Egyptians.
[Contributions of pharoahs / terrestrial deities, according to Egyptian accounts]
13 Besides these there are other gods, they say, who were terrestrial, having once been mortals. By reason of their wisdom and the good services which they rendered to all men, they attained immortality, some of them having even been kings in Egypt. (2) Their names, when translated, are in some cases the same as those of the celestial gods, while others have a distinct designation, such as Helios, Kronos, and Rhea, and also the Zeus who is called Ammon by some, and besides these Hera and Hephaistos, also Hestia, and, finally, Hermes.
[Helios’ or Hephaistos’ contributions as first pharoah]
Helios (Sun) was the first king of the Egyptians, his name being the same as that of the heavenly star. (3) Some of the priests, however, say that Hephaistos was their first king, since he was the discoverer of fire and received the rule because of this service to humankind. For once, when a tree on the mountains had been struck by lightning and the forest nearby was on fire, Hephaistos went up to it, for it was winter-time, and greatly enjoyed the heat. As the fire died down, he kept adding fuel to it, and while keeping the fire going in this way, he invited the rest of humankind to enjoy the advantage which came from it.
[Kronos’ or Zeus and Hera’s contributions]
(4) Then Kronos became the ruler, and upon marrying his sister Rhea he begat Osiris and Isis, according to some writers of mythology. However, according to the majority, Zeus and Hera, whose high achievements gave them dominion over the entire universe, were the ones. From Zeus and Hera sprang five gods, one born on each of the five days which the Egyptians intercalate: the names of these children were Osiris and Isis, Typhon, Apollo, and Aphrodite. (5) Osiris when translated is Dionysos, and Isis is more similar to Demeter than to any other goddess.
[Osiris’ and Isis’ contributions]
After Osiris married Isis and succeeded to the kingship, he did many things of service to the social life of humanity. 14 Osiris was the first, they record, to make humankind give up cannibalism. For after Isis had discovered the fruit of both wheat and barley which grew wild over the land along with the other plants but was still unknown to man, and Osiris had also devised the cultivation of these fruits, all men were glad to change their food, both because of the pleasing nature of the newly-discovered grains and because it seemed to their advantage to refrain from their butchery of one another. (2) As proof of the discovery of these fruits they offer the following ancient custom which they still observe: Even today at harvest time the people make a dedication of the first heads of the grain to be cut. Standing beside the sheaf, they beat themselves and call upon Isis. By this act, they honour the goddess for the fruits which she discovered at the season when she first did this. (3) Moreover in some cities, during the Festival of Isis as well, stalks of wheat and barley are carried among the other objects in the procession, as a memorial of what the goddess so ingeniously discovered at the beginning. Isis also established laws, they say, in accordance with which the people regularly dispense justice to one another and are led to refrain through fear of punishment from illegal violence and disrespectful behaviour. (4) It is for this reason also that the early Greeks gave Demeter the name Thesmophoros (Law-bearer), acknowledging in this way that she had first established their laws.
15 Osiris, they say, founded in the Egyptian Thebaid a city with a hundred gates, which the men of his day named after his mother, though later generations called it Diospolis, and some named it Thebes. (2) There is no agreement, however, as to when this city was founded, not only among the historians, but even among the priests of Egypt themselves. For many writers say that Thebes was not founded by Osiris, but many years later by a certain king of whom we will give a detailed account in connection with his period. (3) Osiris, they add, also built a temple to his parents, Zeus and Hera, which was famous both for its size and its costliness in general, and two golden chapels to Zeus, the larger one to him as god of heaven, the smaller one to him as former king and father of the Egyptians, in which role he is called Ammon by some. (4) Osiris also made golden chapels for the rest of the gods mentioned above, allotting honours to each of them and appointing priests to have authority over these.
Special esteem at the court of Osiris and Isis was also accorded to those who should invent any of the arts or devise any useful process. (5) Consequently, since copper and gold mines had been discovered in the region around Thebes (Thebaid), they fashioned implements with which they killed the wild beasts and worked the soil. In this way, eager rivalry resulted in the cultivation of the country. They made images of the gods and magnificent golden chapels for their worship.
(6) Osiris, they say, was also interested in agriculture and was reared in Nysa, a city of Arabia Felix near Egypt, being a son of Zeus. The name which he bears among the Greeks is derived both from his father and from the birthplace, since he is called Dionysos. (7) Mention is also made of Nysa by the poet in his Hymns, to the effect that it was in the vicinity of Egypt, when he says: “There is a certain Nysa, a mountain high, / With forests thick, in Phoenike afar, / Close to Aegyptus’ streams” [Homeric Hymns 1.8-9]. (8) The discovery of the vine, they say, was made by him near Nysa. After devising the proper treatment of its fruit, he was the first to drink wine and taught humankind at large the culture of the vine and the use of wine, as well as the way to harvest the grape and to store wine. (9) The one most highly honoured by him was Hermes, who was endowed with unusual ingenuity for devising things capable of improving the social life of humanity.
16 It was by Hermes [likely equated with Thoth], for instance, according to them, that the common language of humankind was first further articulated, and that many objects which were still nameless received a name, that the alphabet was invented, and that ordinances regarding the honours and offerings due to the gods were duly established. He was the first also to observe the orderly arrangement of the stars and the harmony of the musical sounds and their nature, to establish a wrestling school, and to give thought to the rhythmical movement of the human body and its proper development. He also made a lyre and gave it three strings, imitating the seasons of the year. So he adopted three tones: high, low, and medium. The high from the summer, the low from the winter, and the medium from the spring. (2) The Greeks also were taught by him how to expound (hermeneia) their thoughts, and it was for this reason that he was given the name “Hermes.” In a word, Osiris, taking him for his priestly scribe, communicated with him on every matter and used his counsel above all others. The olive tree also, they claim, was his discovery, not Athena’s as the Greeks say.
[Osiris’ military campaign and contributions continued]
17 Of Osiris they say that, being beneficent, and eager for glory, he gathered together a great army, with the intention of visiting all the inhabited earth and teaching humankind how to cultivate the vine and sow wheat and barley. (2) He supposed that if he made men give up their savagery and adopt a gentle manner of life he would receive immortal honours because of the magnitude of his benefactions. This did in fact take place, since not only the people of his time who received his gift, but all succeeding generations as well, because of the delight which they take in the foods which were discovered, have honoured those who introduced them as gods most illustrious.
(3) Now after Osiris had established the affairs of Egypt and turned the supreme power over to Isis his wife, they say that he placed Hermes at her side as counsellor because his prudence raised him above the king’s other friends, and as general of all the land under his sway he left Herakles, who was both his kinsman and renowned for his courage and physical strength. As governors, he appointed Bousiris over those parts of Egypt which lie towards Phoenicia and border upon the sea, and Antaeus over those adjoining Ethiopia and Libya. Then he himself left Egypt with his army to make his campaign, taking in his company also his brother, whom the Greeks call Apollo. (4) It was Apollo, they say, who discovered the laurel, a garland of which all men place about the head of this god above all others. The discovery of ivy is also attributed to Osiris by the Egyptians and made sacred to this god, just as the Greeks also do in the case of Dionysos. (5) In the Egyptian language, they say, the ivy is called the “plant of Osiris” and for purposes of dedication is preferred to the vine, since the latter sheds its leaves while the former ever remains green. Moreover, the people of ancient times have followed the same rule in the case of other plants which are perennially green, ascribing, for instance, the myrtle to Aphrodite and the laurel to Apollo.
18 Now Osiris was accompanied on his campaign, as the Egyptian account goes, by his two sons Anubis and Macedon [Wepwawit, the wolf god], who were distinguished for their courage. Both of them carried the most notable equipment of war, taken from certain animals whose character was not unlike the boldness of the men, Anubis wearing a dog’s skin and Macedon the fore-parts of a wolf. It is for this reason that these animals are held in honour among the Egyptians.
(2) He also took Pan [Min] along on his campaign, who is held in special honour by the Egyptians. For the inhabitants of the land have not only set up statues of him at every temple but have also named a city after him in the region around Thebes (Thebaid), called by the natives Chemmo, which when translated means City of Pan. In his company were also men who were experienced in agriculture, such as Maron in the cultivation of the vine, and Triptolemos in the sowing of grain and in every step in the harvesting of it.
[Osiris’ campaign in Ethiopia]
(3) When all his preparations had been completed Osiris made a vow to the gods that he would let his hair grow until his return to Egypt and then made his way through Ethiopia. This is the reason why this custom with regard to their hair was observed among the Egyptians until recent times, and why those who journeyed abroad let their hair grow until their return home. (4) While he was in Ethiopia, their account continues, the Satyr-people were brought to him, who, they say, have hair upon their loins. For Osiris was laughter-loving and fond of music and the dance. Consequently he took with him a multitude of musicians, among whom were nine maidens who could sing and were trained in the other arts, these maidens being those who among the Greeks are called the Muses, and their leader (hegetes), as the account goes, was Apollo, who was for that reason also given the name Musegetes. (5) As for the Satyrs, they were taken along in the campaign because they were proficient in dancing and singing and every kind of relaxation and pastime. Osiris was not warlike, nor did he have to organize pitched battles or engagements, since every people received him as a god because of his benefactions. (6) In Ethiopia he instructed the inhabitants in agriculture and founded some notable cities, and then left men behind to govern the country and collect the tribute.
19 They say that while Osiris and his army were employed in this way, the Nile at the time of the rising of Sirius (which is the season when the river is usually at flood) broke out of its banks, inundated a large section of Egypt, and covered especially that part where Prometheus was governor. Since practically everything in this district was destroyed, Prometheus was so grieved that he was at the point of ending his own life wilfully. (2) Because its water sweeps down so swiftly and with such violence the river was given the name Aëtus. But Herakles, being ever intent upon great enterprises and eager for the reputation of a manly spirit, speedily stopped the flood at its breach and turned the river back into its former course. (3) Consequently some of the Greek poets worked the incident into a myth, to the effect that Herakles had killed the eagle which was devouring the liver of Prometheus. (4) The river in the earliest period bore the name Oceane, which in Greek is Oceanos. Then because of this flood, they say, it was called Aëtus, and still later it was known as Aegyptos after a former king of the land. The poet also adds his testimony to this when he writes: “On the river Aegyptus my curved ships I stayed.” [Homer, Odyssey 14.258]. For it is at Thonis, as it is called, which in early times was the trading-port of Egypt, that the river empties into the sea. Its last name and that which the river now bears it received from the former king Nileus.
[Osiris’ campaign in Arabia and India]
(5) Now when Osiris arrived at the borders of Ethiopia, he curbed the river by dykes on both banks, so that at flood-time it might not form stagnant pools over the land to its detriment. Instead, the flood-water would be redirected to the countryside in a gentle flow as it might be needed through gates which he had built. (6) After this he continued his march through Arabia along the shore of the Red Sea as far as India and the limits of the inhabited world. (7) He also founded numerous cities in India, one of which he named Nysa, wishing to leave there a memorial of that city in Egypt where he had been reared. Osiris also planted ivy in the Indian Nysa. Throughout India and those countries which neighbour it, the plant to this day is still to be found only in this region. (8) He also left many other signs of his stay in that country. This has led the Indians of a later time to lay claim to the god and say that he was by birth a native of India.
20 Osiris also took an interest in hunting elephants, and everywhere left behind him inscribed pillars telling of his campaign. He visited all the other peoples (ethnē) of Asia as well and crossed into Europe at the Hellespont. (2) In Thrace he slew Lykourgos, the king of the barbarians, who opposed his undertaking. He left Maron, who was now old, there to supervise the culture of the plants which he introduced into that land and caused him to found a city to bear his name, which he called Maroneia. (3) Macedon his son, moreover, he left as king of Macedonia, which was named after him, while to Triptolemos he assigned the care of agriculture in Attika. Finally, Osiris in this way visited all the inhabited world and advanced community life by the introduction of the fruits which are most easily cultivated. (4) If any country did not permit growing of the vine [for wine], he introduced the drink prepared from barley [i.e. beer], which is not much inferior to wine in aroma and strength.
[Osiris’ death and the granting of divine honours for his contributions]
(5) On his return to Egypt, Osiris brought with him the very greatest presents from every quarter. By reason of the magnitude of his benefactions, he received the gift of immortality with the approval of all men and honour equal to that offered to the gods of heaven. (6) After this, he passed from the midst of human beings into the company of the gods, and received from Isis and Hermes sacrifices and every other highest honour. They also instituted rites for him and introduced many things of a mystic nature, magnifying in this way the power of the god.
21 Although the priests of Osiris had from the earliest times received the account of his death as a matter not to be divulged, in the course of years it came about that through some of their number this hidden knowledge was published to the many. (2) This is the story as they give it: When Osiris was ruling over Egypt as its lawful king, he was murdered by his brother Typhon, a violent and impious man. Typhon then divided the body of the slain man into twenty-six pieces and gave one portion to each of the band of murderers. This was because he wanted all of them to share in the pollution and felt that in this way he would have in them steadfast supporters and defenders of his rule.
(3) But Isis, the sister and wife of Osiris, avenged his murder with the aid of her son Horos, and after slaying Typhon and his accomplices became queen over Egypt. (4) The struggle between them took place on the banks of the Nile near the village now known as Antaios, which, they say, lies on the Arabian side of the river and derives its name from that of Antaios, a contemporary of Osiris, who was punished by Herakles.
(5) Now Isis recovered all the pieces of the body except the private parts, and wishing that the burial-place of her husband should remain secret and yet be honoured by all the inhabitants of Egypt, she fulfilled her purpose in somewhat the following manner. Over each piece of the body, as the account goes, she fashioned out of spices and wax a human figure about the size of Osiris. (6) Then summoning the priests group by group, she required all of them an oath that they would reveal to no one the trust which she was going to confide to them. Taking each group of them separately, she said that she was consigning to them alone the burial of the body. After reminding them of the benefactions of Osiris, she instructed them to bury his body in their own district and pay honours to him as to a god. She also instructed them to consecrate to him also one of the animals native to their district, pay it while living the honours which they had formerly rendered to Osiris, and upon its death accord it the same kind of funeral as they had given to him. (7) Since Isis wished to induce the priests to render these honours by the incentive of their own profit also, she gave them the third part of the country to defray the cost of the worship and service of the gods. (8) Being mindful of the benefactions of Osiris, being eager to please the queen who was petitioning them, and being incited by their own profit as well, it is said that the priests did everything just as Isis had suggested. (9) For this reason, even today each group of priests supposes that Osiris lies buried in their district, pays honours to the animals which were originally consecrated to him, and, when these die, renews in the funeral rites for them the mourning for Osiris. (10) However, the consecration to Osiris of the sacred bulls which are named Apis and Mneuis and the worship of them as gods were introduced generally among all the Egyptians. (11) This was because these animals had, more than any others, rendered aid to those who discovered the fruit of the grain in connection with both the sowing of the seed and with every agricultural labour from which humankind profits.
[Isis’ further contributions, death, and divine honours for her]
22 They say that, after the death of Osiris, Isis took a vow never to marry another man. She passed the remainder of her life reigning over the land with complete respect for the law and surpassing all sovereigns in benefactions to her subjects. (2) Like her husband she also, when she passed from among humankind, received immortal honours and was buried near Memphis. Her shrine there is pointed out to this day in the temple-area of Hephaistos. (3) According to some writers, however, the bodies of these two gods rest, not in Memphis, but on the border between Egypt and Ethiopia, on the island in the Nile which lies near the city which is called Philai, but is referred to as the “Holy Field” because of this burial. (4) As proof of this, they point to remains which still survive on this island, both to the tomb constructed for Osiris, which is honoured in common by all the priests of Egypt, and to the three hundred and sixty libation bowls which are placed around it. (5) For the priests appointed over these bowls fill them each day with milk, singing all the while a dirge in which they call upon the names of these gods. (6) For this reason, travellers are not allowed to set foot on this island. All the inhabitants of the region around Thebes (Thebaid), which is the oldest portion of Egypt, consider it to be the strongest oath when a man swears “by Osiris who lies in Philai.”
Now they say that the parts of the body of Osiris which were found were honoured with burial in the manner described above. But the privates, according to them, were thrown by Typhon into the Nile because no one of his accomplices was willing to take them. Yet Isis thought them as worthy of divine honours as the other parts. Fashioning a likeness of Osiris’ private parts, she set that likeness up in the temples, commanded that it be honoured, and made it the object of the highest regard and reverence in the rites and sacrifices accorded to the god. (7) Consequently the Greeks too, inasmuch as they received from Egypt the celebrations of rites (orgia) and festivals connected with Dionysos, honour this member in both the mysteries and the initiatory rites and sacrifices of this god, giving it the name “phallos.” 23 The number of years from Osiris and Isis, they say, to the reign of Alexander, who founded the city which bears his name in Egypt, is over ten thousand, but, according to other writers, a little less than twenty-three thousand.
[Aside on rival Greek claims about the origin of the rites of Dionysos]
(2) Those who say that the god [i.e. Dionysos] was born of Semele and Zeus in Boiotian Thebes are, according to the priests, simply inventing the tale. For they say that Orpheus, upon visiting Egypt and participating in the initiation and mysteries of Dionysos, adopted them and as a favour to the descendants of Kadmos, since he was kindly disposed to them and received honours at their hands, transferred the birth of the god to Thebes. The common people, partly out of ignorance and partly out of their desire to have the god thought to be a Greek, eagerly accepted his initiatory rites and mysteries.
(3) What led Orpheus to transfer the birth and rites of the god, they say, was something like this. (4) Kadmos, who was a citizen of Egyptian Thebes, begat several children, of whom one was Semele. She was violated by an unknown person, became pregnant, and after seven months gave birth to a child whose appearance was what Egyptians would consider similar to the appearance of Osiris. Now such a child is not usually brought into the world alive, either because it is contrary to the will of the gods or because the law of nature does not allow it. (5) But when Kadmos found out what had taken place, having at the same time a reply from an oracle commanding him to observe the laws of his fathers, he both gilded the infant and paid it the appropriate sacrifices. He did this on the ground that there had been a sort of epiphany of Osiris among men. (6) The fatherhood of the child he attributed to Zeus, in this way magnifying Osiris and averting slander from his violated daughter, and this is the reason why the tale was given out among the Greeks to the effect that Semele, the daughter of Kadmos, was the mother of Osiris by Zeus.
Now at a later time Orpheus, who was held in high regard among the Greeks for his singing, initiatory rites, and instructions on things divine, was entertained as a guest by the descendants of Kadmos and accorded unusual honours in Thebes. (7) Since he had become conversant with the teachings of the Egyptians about the gods, he transferred the birth of the ancient Osiris to more recent times and, out of regard for the descendants of Kadmos, instituted a new initiation. In this new ritual, the initiates were given the account that Dionysos had been born of Semele and Zeus. The people observed these initiatory rites, partly because they were deceived through their ignorance, partly because they were attracted to them by the trustworthiness of Orpheus and his reputation in such matters, and most of all because they were glad to receive the god as a Greek, which, as has been said, is what he was considered to be. (8) Later, after the writers of myths and poets had taken over this account of his ancestry, the theatres became filled with it and among following generations faith in the story grew stubborn and immutable.
[Controversies and Greek appropriation of Egyptian deities, according to Egyptian accounts]
In general, they say, the Greeks appropriate to themselves the most renowned of both Egyptian heroes and gods, and so also the colonies sent out by them. 24 Herakles, for instance, was by birth an Egyptian, who by virtue of his manly vigour visited a large part of the inhabited world and set up his pillar in Libya. (2) They try to draw their proofs for this assertion from the Greeks themselves. For since it is generally accepted that Herakles fought on the side of the Olympian gods in their war against the Giants, they say that it in no way accords with the age of the earth for the Giants to have been born in the period when, as the Greeks, Herakles lived, which was a generation before the Trojan War. Rather, in their own account this took place at the time when humankind first appeared on the earth. For from the latter time to the present the Egyptians reckon more than ten thousand years, but from the Trojan War less than twelve hundred. (3) Likewise, both the club and the lion’s skin are appropriate to their ancient Herakles, because in those days arms had not yet been invented, and people defended themselves against their enemies with clubs of wood and used the hides of animals for defensive armour. They also designate Herakles as the son of Zeus. But they say that they know nothing about the identity of Herakles’ mother.
(4) The son of Alkmene, who was born more than ten thousand years later and was called Alkaios at birth, in later life became known instead as Herakles, not because he gained glory (kleos) by the aid of Hera, as Matris says, but because, having admitted the same principles as the ancient Herakles, he inherited that one’s fame and name as well. (5) The account of the Egyptians agrees also with the tradition which has been handed down among the Greeks since very early times, to the effect that Herakles cleared the earth of wild beasts, a story which is in no way suitable for a man who lived in approximately the period of the Trojan War. At that time, most parts of the inhabited world had already been reclaimed from their wild state by agriculture and cities, and the multitude of men settled everywhere over the land. (6) Accordingly this reclamation of the land suits better a man who lived in early times, when men were still held in subjection by the vast numbers of wild beasts, a state of affairs which was especially true in the case of Egypt, the upper part of which is to this day desert and infested with wild beasts. (7) Indeed it is reasonable to suppose that the first concern of Herakles was for this country as his birthplace. After he had cleared the land of wild beasts, he presented it to the peasants, and for this benefaction was accorded divine honours. (8) They also say that Perseus was born in Egypt, and that the origin of Isis is transferred by the Greeks to Argos in the myth which tells of that Io who was changed into a heifer.
25 In general, there is great disagreement over these gods. For the same goddess is called by some Isis, by others Demeter, by others Thesmophoros, by others Selene, by others Hera, while still others apply to her all these names. (2) Osiris has been given the name Sarapis by some, Dionysos by others, Ploutos by others, Ammon by others, Zeus by some, and many have considered Pan to be the same god. Some say that Sarapis is the god whom the Greeks call Ploutos. As for Isis, the Egyptians say that she was the discoverer of many health-giving drugs and was greatly versed in the skill of healing. (3) Consequently, now that she has attained immortality, she finds her greatest delight in the healing of humankind and gives aid in their sleep to those who call upon her, plainly manifesting both her very presence and her beneficence towards men who ask her help. (4) In proof of this, as they say, they advance not legends, as the Greeks do, but manifest facts, for practically the entire inhabited world is their witness, in that it eagerly contributes to the honours of Isis because she manifests herself in healings. (5) For standing above the sick in their sleep she gives them aid for their diseases and works remarkable cures upon such as submit themselves to her. Many who have been despaired of by their physicians because of the difficult nature of their malady are restored to health by her, while numbers who have altogether lost the use of their eyes or of some other part of their body, whenever they turn for help to this goddess, are restored to their previous condition. (6) Furthermore, she discovered also the drug which gives immortality, by means of which she not only raised from the dead her son Horos, who had been the object of plots on the part of Titans and had been found dead under the water, giving him his soul again, but also made him immortal.
[Horos as the final pharoah-god]
(7) It also appears that Horos was the last of the gods to be king after his father Osiris departed from among men. Moreover, they say that the name Horos, when translated, is Apollo. They say that, having been instructed by his mother Isis in both medicine and divination, he is now a benefactor of humankind through his oracular responses and his healings.
[Egyptian chronologies for the reigns of the pharaoh-gods]
26 The priests of the Egyptians, reckoning the time from the reign of Helios (Sun god) to the crossing of Alexander into Asia, say that it was in round numbers twenty-three thousand years. (2) Furthermore, as their legends say, the most ancient of the gods ruled more than twelve hundred years and the later ones not less than three hundred. (3) But since this great number of years surpasses belief, some men would maintain that in early times, before the movement of the sun had as yet been recognized, it was customary to reckon the year by the lunar cycle. (4) Consequently, since the year consisted of thirty days, it was not impossible that some men lived twelve hundred years, for in our own time, when our year consists of twelve months, not a few men live over one hundred years. (5) A similar explanation they also give regarding those who are supposed to have reigned for three hundred years, for at their time, namely, the year was composed of the four months which comprise the seasons of each year, that is, spring, summer, and winter. It is for this reason that among some of the Greeks the years are called “seasons” (horoi) and that their yearly records are given the name “horographs.” (6) Furthermore, the Egyptians relate in their myths that in the time of Isis there were certain creatures of many bodies, who are called by the Greeks Giants, but the Egyptians themselves represent them on their temples in monstrous form and as being cudgelled by Osiris. (7) Now some say that they were born of the earth at the time when the genesis of living things from the earth was still recent, while some hold that they were only men of unusual physical strength who achieved many accomplishments and for this reason were described in the myths as of many bodies. (8) But it is generally agreed that, when they stirred up war against Zeus and Osiris, they were all destroyed.
[Egyptian marriage customs]
27 The Egyptians also made a law, they say, contrary to the general custom of humankind, permitting men to marry their sisters. This was due to the success attained by Isis in this respect, for she had married her brother Osiris. Upon his death, having taken a vow never to marry another man, she both avenged the murder of her husband and reigned all her days over the land with complete respect for the laws. In a word, she became the cause of more and greater blessings to all people than any other. (2) It is for these reasons, in fact, that it was established [among Egyptians] that the queen should have greater power and honour than the king and that among private persons the wife should enjoy authority over her husband, the husbands agreeing in the marriage contract that they will be obedient in all things to their wives.
[Hieroglyphic inscriptions on the contributions of Isis and Osiris]
(3) Now I am not unaware that some historians give the following account of Isis and Osiris: The tombs of these gods lie in Nysa in Arabia, and for this reason Dionysos is also called Nysaios. In that place there stands a monument (stele) of each of the gods bearing an inscription in hieroglyphs. (4) The monument of Isis states:
“I am Isis, the queen of every land, she who was instructed of Hermes, and whatever laws I have established, these can no man make void. I am the eldest daughter of the youngest god Kronos. I am the wife and sister of the king Osiris. I am she who first discovered fruits for humankind. I am the mother of Horos the king. I am she who rises in the star that is in the constellation of the Dog. The city of Bubastus built by me. Farewell, farewell, O Egypt that nurtured me.”
(5) And on the monument of Osiris the inscription is said to run:
“My father is Kronos, the youngest of all the gods, and I am Osiris the king, who campaigned over every country as far as the uninhabited regions of India and the lands to the north, even to the sources of the river Ister [Danube], and again to the remaining parts of the world as far as Oceanos. I am the eldest son of Kronos, and being sprung from a fair and noble egg I was begotten a seed of kindred birth to Day. There is no region of the inhabited world to which I have not come, dispensing to all men the things of which I was the discoverer.”
(6) This is the part of the inscriptions on the monuments that can be read, they say, but the rest of the writing, which was of greater extent, has been destroyed by time. However this may be, varying accounts of the burial of these gods are found in most writers by reason of the fact that the priests, having received the exact facts about these matters as a secret not to be divulged, are unwilling to give out the truth to the public, on the ground that perils overhang any men who disclose to the common crowd the secret knowledge about these gods.
[Egyptian colonization of Babylon, Kolchos, Judea, Argos, and Athens, according to Egyptian accounts which Diodoros doubts]
28 Now the Egyptians say that also after these events a great number of colonies (apoikia) were spread from Egypt over all the inhabited world. To Babylon, for instance, colonists were led by Belos, who was held to be the son of Poseidon and Libya. After establishing himself on the Euphrates river he appointed priests, called Chaldaians by the Babylonians, who were exempt from taxation and free from every kind of civic service, as are the priests of Egypt. They also make observations of the stars, following the example of the Egyptian priests, physicists, and astrologers.
(2) They also say that those who set forth with Danaos, likewise from Egypt, settled what is practically the oldest city in Greece, namely Argos. They say that the people (ethnos) of the Kolchians in Pontos [east of the Black Sea] and the people of the Judeans situated between Arabia and Syria were founded as colonies by certain emigrants from their country. (3) This is the reason why it is a long-established institution among these two peoples to circumcise their male children, the custom having been brought over from Egypt. (4) Even the Athenians, they say, are colonists from Sais in Egypt, and they attempt to offer proofs of such a relationship. For the Athenians are the only Greeks who call their city “Asty,” a name brought over from the city Asty in Egypt. Furthermore, their body politic had the same classification and division of the people as found in Egypt, where the citizens have been divided into three orders: (5) the first Athenian class consisted of the “eupatridai,” as they were called, being those who were such as had received the best education and were held worthy of the highest honour, as is the case with the priests of Egypt. The second was that of the “geomoroi,“ who were expected to possess weapons and to serve in defence of the city, like those in Egypt who are known as farmers and supply the warriors. The last class was reckoned to be that of the “demiourgoi,” who practise manual labour and fulfill only the most menial services to the state, this class among the Egyptians having a similar function. (6) Moreover, certain of the leaders of Athens were originally Egyptians, they say. Petes, for instance, the father of that Menestheus who took part in the expedition against Troy, having clearly been an Egyptian, later obtained citizenship at Athens and the kingship. . . [material missing in the manuscript, but likely switching to a discussion of the legendary king Kekrops]. (7) He [Kekrops (?)] was of double form, and yet the Athenians are unable from their own point of view to give the true explanation of this nature of his. Yet it is obvious to everyone that it was because of his double citizenship, Greek and barbarian, that he was held to be of double form, that is, part animal and part man.
29 In the same way, they continue, Erechtheus also, who was by birth an Egyptian, became king of Athens, and in proof of this they offer the following considerations. Once there was a great drought, as is generally agreed, which extended over practically all the inhabited earth except Egypt because of the peculiar character of that country. This resulted in destruction of both crops and large numbers of people. As a result of his kinship with Egyptians, Erechtheus brought a large supply of grain from Egypt to Athens, and in return those who had enjoyed this aid made their benefactor king. (2) After he had secured the throne, he instituted the initiatory rites of Demeter in Eleusis and established the mysteries, transferring their ritual from Egypt. The tradition that an advent of the goddess [Demeter, the grain goddess] into Attica also took place at that time is reasonable, since it was then that the fruits which are named after her were brought to Athens. This is also why it was thought that the discovery of the seed had been made again, as though Demeter had bestowed the gift. (3) The Athenians on their part agree that it was in the reign of Erechtheus, when a lack of rain had wiped out the crops, that Demeter came to them with the gift of grain. Furthermore, the initiations and mysteries of this goddess were instituted at Eleusis at that time. (4) And their sacrifices as well as their ancient ceremonies are observed by the Athenians in the same way as by the Egyptians, for the Eumolpidians [hereditary priests at Eleusis] were derived from the priests of Egypt and the Kerykes [at Athens] from the [Egyptian] shrine-bearers (pastophoroi.). They are also the only Greeks who swear by Isis, and they closely resemble the Egyptians in both their appearance and manners.
[Diodoros’ doubts about the Egyptian accounts he has been reporting]
(5) By many other statements like these, spoken more out of a love for glory than with regard for the truth, as I see the matter, they claim Athens as a colony of theirs because of the fame of that city. In general, the Egyptians say that their ancestors sent forth numerous colonies to many parts of the inhabited world due to the pre-eminence of their former kings and their excessive population. (6) However, since they offer no precise proof whatsoever for these statements, and since no historian worthy of credence testifies in their support, we have not thought that their accounts merited recording. So far as the ideas of the Egyptians about the gods are concerned, let what we have said suffice, since we are aiming at due proportion in our account. But with regard to the land, the Nile, and everything else worth hearing about we will try to summarize the facts in each case.
[Earliest Egyptians’ diet]
[lengthy section on the land and the Nile omitted] . . . 43 As for their means of living in primitive times, they say the Egyptians in the earliest period got their food from herbs and the stalks and roots of the plants which grew in the marshes, trying each one of them by tasting it. The first one eaten by them and the most favoured was that called “agrostis” [dog’s-tooth grass], because it excelled the others in sweetness and supplied sufficient nutrients for the human body. (2) For they observed that this plant was attractive to the cattle and quickly increased their bulk. Because of this fact, still today the natives remember the usefulness of this plant when approaching the gods as they hold some of it in their hands as they pray to the gods. They believe that man is a creature of swamp and marsh, basing this conclusion on the smoothness of his skin and his physical constitution, as well as on the fact that he requires a wet rather than a dry diet.
(3) A second way by which the Egyptians subsisted was, they say, by eating fish which the river provided in great abundance, especially at the time when it receded after its flood and dried up. (4) They also ate the flesh of some of the pasturing animals, using for clothing the skins of the beasts that were eaten. They built their dwellings out of reeds. Traces of these customs still remain among the herdsmen of Egypt, all of whom, they say, have no other dwelling up to this time than those made out of reeds, since they think that this is enough for them.
(5) After subsisting in this manner over a long period of time, the early Egyptians finally turned to the edible fruits of the earth, including the bread they made from the lotus. The discovery of these is attributed by some to Isis, but by others to one of their early kings called Menas. (6) The priests, however, have the story that the one who discovered the branches of learning and skills was Hermes, but that it was their kings who discovered the things which are necessary for existence. The story is that this was the reason why the kingship in early times was given not to sons of their former rulers, but to whoever conferred the greatest and most numerous benefits upon the peoples. Either the inhabitants wanted to provoke their kings to useful service for the benefit of everyone in this way, or the Egyptians have actually received an account to this effect in their sacred writings.
[Contributions or mistakes of Egyptian pharoahs after the pharoah-gods, according to Egyptian accounts]
44 Some of them give the story that at first gods and heroes ruled Egypt for a little less than eighteen thousand years. The last of the gods to rule was Horos, the son of Isis, and mortals have been kings over their country, they say, for a little less than five thousand years down to the 180th Olympiad [ca. 60 BCE], the time when we visited Egypt and the king was Ptolemy [XI, 80-51 BCE], who took the name of the “New Dionysos.”
(2) For most of this period the rule was held by native kings, and for a small part of it by Ethiopians, Persians, and Macedonians. Now four Ethiopians held the throne, not consecutively but with intervals between, for a little less than thirty-six years in all. (3) The Persians, after their king Cambyses had subdued the peoples (ethnos) by arms, ruled for one hundred and thirty-five years. This includes periods of revolt on the part of the Egyptians which they raised because they were unable to endure the harshness of the Persians’ dominion and impiety towards native gods. (4) Last of all the Macedonians and their successors held rule for two hundred and seventy-six years.
For the rest of the time all the kings of the land were natives, four hundred and seventy of them being men and five women. The priests had records about everyone of them which were regularly handed down in their sacred books to each successive priest from early times, giving the stature of each of the former kings, a description of his character, and what he had done during his reign. As for us, however, it would be a long task to write about each of them individually, and superfluous also, seeing that most of the material included is of no profit. (5) Consequently we will undertake to recount briefly only the most important of the facts which deserve a place in history.
[Menas introduces luxury]
45 After the gods the first king of Egypt, according to the priests, was Menas, who taught the people to worship gods and offer sacrifices. He also taught them to make tables and couches and to use costly bedding, and, in a word, introduced luxury and an extravagant manner of life.
(2) Many generations later, Tnephachthos, the father of Bocchoris the wise, was king. While on a campaign in Arabia, he ran short of supplies because the country was desert and rough. We are told that he was obliged to go without food for one day and then to live on quite simple food at the home of some ordinary folk in private station. We are told that, enjoying the experience exceedingly, he consequently denounced luxury and pronounced a curse on the king who had first taught the people their extravagant way of living. So deeply did he take to heart the change which had taken place in the people’s habits of eating, drinking, and sleeping, that he inscribed his curse in hieroglyphs on the temple of Zeus in Thebes. This, in fact, appears to be the chief reason why the fame of Menas and his honours did not persist into later ages. (3) And it is said that the descendants of this king, fifty-two in number all told, ruled in unbroken succession more than a thousand and forty years. However, it is said that in their reigns nothing occurred that was worthy of record.
[Bousiris founds Thebes]
(4) Subsequently, Bousiris became king and his descendants in turn, eight in number. The last of the line, who bore the same name as the first [Bousiris], founded, they say, the city which the Egyptians call Diospolis the Great, though the Greeks call it Thebes. Now the circuit of it he made one hundred and forty stades, and he adorned it in marvellous fashion with great buildings and remarkable temples and dedicatory monuments of every other kind. (5) In the same way he caused the houses of private citizens to be constructed in some cases four stories high, in others five, and in general made it the most prosperous city, not only of Egypt, but of the whole world. (6) Since, by reason of the city’s pre-eminent wealth and power, its fame has been spread abroad to every region, even the poet, we are told, has mentioned it when he says: “No, not for all the wealth / of Thebes in Egypt, where in every hall / there lies vast treasure; a hundred are / her gates, and warriors by each issue forth / two hundred, each of them with car and steeds.” [Homer, Iliad 9.381-384] (7) Some, however, tell us that it was not one hundred “gates” (pulai) which the city had, but rather many great entrances (propylaia) in front of its temples. They tell us that it was from these that the title “hundred-gated” was given it, that is, “having many gateways.” Yet twenty thousand chariots did actually, we are told, pass out from it to war. For there were once scattered along the river from Memphis to the Thebes which is over against Libya one hundred post-stations, each one having accommodation for two hundred horses, whose foundations are pointed out even to this day.
46 Not only this king, we have been informed, but also many of the later rulers devoted their attention to the development of the city [Thebes]. For no city under the sun has ever been so adorned by votive offerings made of silver and gold and ivory, in such number and of such size, by such a multitude of colossal statues, and, finally, by obelisks made of single blocks of stone. (2) The oldest of the four temples built there [perhaps the temple of Amun at Karnak] is a source of wonder for both its beauty and size, having a circuit of thirteen stades, a height of forty-five cubits, and walls twenty-four feet thick. (3) In keeping with this magnificence was also the embellishment of the votive offerings within the circuit wall, marvellous for the money spent upon it and exquisitely built with regard to workmanship. (4) Now the buildings of the temple survived down to rather recent times, but the silver and gold and costly works of ivory and rare stone were carried off by the Persians when Cambyses burned the temples of Egypt. It was at this time, they say, that the Persians, by transferring all this wealth to Asia and taking artisans along from Egypt, constructed their famous palaces in Persepolis and Susa and throughout Media. (5) So great was the wealth of Egypt at that period, they declare, that from the remnants left in the course of the sack and after the burning the treasure which was collected little by little was found to be worth more than three hundred talents of gold and no less than two thousand three hundred talents of silver. (6) There are also in this city, they say, remarkable tombs of the early kings and of their successors, which leave to those who aspire to similar magnificence no opportunity to outdo them. (7) Now the priests said that in their records they find forty-seven tombs of kings. However, down to the time of Ptolemy son of Lagos [Ptolemy I Soter, reigned 303-282 BCE], they say, only fifteen remained, most of which had been destroyed at the time we visited those regions, in the One Hundred and Eightieth Olympiad. (8) Not only do the priests of Egypt give these facts from their records. But many of the Greeks who visited Thebes in the time of Ptolemy son of Lagos and composed histories of Egypt, one of whom was Hekataios, agree with what we have said.
47 Ten stades from the first tombs, he [Hekataios] says, in which, according to tradition, are buried the concubines of Zeus, stands a monument of the king known as Osymandyas [likely Ramesses II, ca. 1303–1213 BC] . . . [A detailed description of the tomb of king Osymandyas follows in 47-49, with 47-48 likely drawn from Hekataios, with frequent references to “he says”] . . 49 . . . (6) Such, they say, was the tomb of Osymandyas the king, which is considered far to have excelled all others, not only in the amount of money lavished upon it, but also in the ingenuity shown by the builders.
[Aside on Theban claims about philosophy and astrology]
50 The Thebans say that they are the earliest of all humans and the first among whom philosophy and accurate astrology were discovered, since their country enables them to observe more distinctly than others the rising and settings of the stars. (2) Also peculiar to them is their ordering of the months and years. For they do not reckon the days by the moon, but by the sun, making their month of thirty days, and they add five and a quarter days to the twelve months and in this way fill out the cycle of the year. But they do not intercalate months or subtract days, as most of the Greeks do. They appear to have made careful observations of the eclipses both of the sun and of the moon, and predict them, foretelling without error all the events which actually occur.
[Ouchoreus founds Memphis]
(3) Of the descendants of this king, the eighth, known as Ouchoreus [perhaps Menes, ca. 3200–3000 BCE], founded Memphis, the most renowned city of Egypt. For he chose the most favourable spot in all the land, where the Nile divides into several branches to form the “Delta,” as it is called from its shape. The result was that the city, excellently situated as it was at the gates of the Delta, continually controlled the commerce passing into upper Egypt. (4) Now he gave the city a circumference of one hundred and fifty stades, and made it remarkably strong and adapted to its purpose by works of the following nature. (5) Since the Nile flowed around the city and covered it at the time of inundation, he threw out a huge mound of earth on the south to serve as a barrier against the swelling of the river and also as a citadel against the attacks of enemies by land. All around the other sides he dug a large and deep lake, which, by taking up the force of the river and occupying all the space about the city except where the mound had been thrown up, gave it remarkable strength. (6) And so happily did the founder of the city reckon upon the suitableness of the site that practically all subsequent kings left Thebes and established both their palaces and official residences here. Consequently from this time Thebes began to wane and Memphis to increase, until the time of Alexander the king. For after he had founded the city on the sea which bears his name, all the kings of Egypt after him concentrated their interest on the development of it. (7) Some adorned it with magnificent palaces, some with docks and harbours, and others with further notable dedications and buildings, to such an extent that it is generally reckoned the first or second city of the inhabited world. But a detailed description of this city we shall present in the appropriate period.
[Aside on elite Egyptian customs and beliefs about the dead]
51 After constructing the mound and the lake, the founder of Memphis erected a palace which, while not inferior to those of other peoples, yet was no match for the grandeur of design and love of the beautiful shown by the kings who preceded him. (2) For the inhabitants of Egypt consider the period of this life to be of no account whatever, but place the greatest value on the time after death when they will be remembered for their virtue. While they give the name of “lodgings” to the dwellings of the living, thus intimating that we dwell in them only a brief time, they call the tombs of the dead “eternal homes,” since the dead spend endless eternity in Hades. Consequently, they give less thought to the furnishings of their houses, but on the manner of their burials they do not forgo any excess of zeal.
(3) According to some people, the city mentioned above was named after the daughter of the king who founded it. They tell the story that she was loved by the river Nile, who had assumed the form of a bull, and gave birth to Egyptos, a man famous among the natives for his virtue, from whom the entire land received its name. (4) For upon succeeding to the throne he showed himself to be a kindly king, just, and, in a word, upright in all matters. Because everyone considered him worthy of great praise because of his goodwill, he received the honour mentioned.
(5) Twelve generations after the king just named, Moeris [sometimes thought to refer to Amenemhet III, ca. 1831–1786 BCE, but uncertain] succeeded to the throne of Egypt and built in Memphis itself the north monumental gateway (propylaea), which far surpasses the others in magnificence, while ten schoinoi above the city he excavated a lake [i.e. in the Fayum] which was remarkable for its utility and an undertaking of incredible magnitude. (6) For its circumference, they say, is three thousand six hundred stades and its depth in most parts fifty fathoms. Accordingly, what person in trying to estimate the magnitude of the work, would not reasonably inquire how many tens of thousands of men labouring for how many years were required for its completion? (7) As for the utility of this lake and its contribution to the well-being of all the inhabitants of Egypt, as well as for the ingenuity of the king, no person could praise them highly enough to do justice to the truth.
52 (1) For since the Nile did not rise to a fixed height every year and yet the fruitfulness of the country depended on the constancy of the flood-level, Moeris excavated the lake to receive the excess water. This way, the river might not, due to its massive volume, excessively flood the land and form marshes and pools, nor, by failing to rise to the proper height, ruin the harvests by the lack of water. (2) He also dug a canal from the river to the lake that was eighty stades long and three plethra wide. Sometimes turning the river into the lake and sometimes shutting it off again, this canal furnished the farmers with an opportune supply of water, opening and closing the entrance by a skilful device and yet at considerable expense. For it cost no less than fifty talents if a man wanted to open or close this work. (3) The lake has continued to serve well the needs of the Egyptians down to our time, and bears the name of its builder, being called to this day the Lake of Moeris. (4) Now the king in excavating it left a spot in the centre, where he built a tomb and two pyramids, a stade in height, one for himself and the other for his wife, on the tops of which he placed stone statues seated upon thrones. He thought that by these monuments he would leave behind him an imperishable commemoration of his good deeds. (5) The income accruing from the fish taken from the lake he gave to his wife for her unguents and general embellishment, the value of the catch amounting to a talent of silver daily. (6) for there are twenty-two different kinds of fish in the lake, they say, and they are caught in such abundance that the people engaged in salting them, though exceedingly many, can scarcely keep up with their task. Now this is the account which the Egyptians give of Moeris.
[Sesoosis’ / Sesostris’ / Senwosret’s contributions and conquests]
53 (1) They say that Sesoosis [a blend of various legendary pharaohs including Senwosret I, ca. 1956–1911 BCE, and Senwosret III, ca. 1870-1831 BCE], who became king seven generations later, performed more renowned and greater deeds than did any of his predecessors. With regard to this king, not only are the Greek writers at variance with one another but also among the Egyptians the priests and the poets who sing his praises give conflicting stories. So we will try to give the most probable account and that which most nearly agrees with the monuments still standing in the land. (2) Now at the birth of Sesoosis his father did a thing worthy of a great man and a king: Gathering together from over all Egypt the male children which had been born on the same day and assigning them nurses and guardians, he prescribed the same training and education for them all. He did this on the theory that those who had been reared in the closest companionship and had enjoyed the same frank relationship would be most loyal and most brave as fellow-combatants in the wars. (3) Sesoosis amply provided for their every need and then trained the youths by unremitting exercises and hardships. For no one of them was allowed to have anything to eat unless he had first run one hundred and eighty stades. (4) Consequently, upon reaching manhood, they were all truly athletes with healthy bodies, and in spirit qualified for leadership and endurance because of the training which they had received in the most excellent pursuits.
[Conquest of Arabia and Libya]
(5) First of all, along with his companions, Sesoosis was sent by his father with an army into Arabia, where he was subjected to the laborious training of hunting wild animals. After toughening himself by depriving himself of food and drink, he conquered the entire nation of the Arabs, which had never been enslaved before his day. (6) Then, on being sent to the regions to the west, he subdued most of Libya, though in years still only a youth. (7) After he ascended the throne upon the death of his father and being filled with confidence by reason of his earlier exploits, he set out to conquer the inhabited earth. (8) There are those who say that he was urged to acquire domination over the whole world by his own daughter Athyrtis. According to some, she was far more intelligent than any of her day and showed her father that the campaign would be an easy one. But according to others, she had the gift of prophecy and knew what would happen beforehand by means both of sacrifices and the practice of sleeping in temples, as well as from the signs which appear in the heavens. (9) Some have also written that, at the birth of Sesoosis, his father had thought that Hephaistos had appeared to him in a dream and told him that the son who had been born would rule over the whole civilized world. (10) For this reason, therefore, his father collected the children of the same age as his son and granted them a royal training. In this way he was preparing them ahead of time for an attack upon the whole world. When he reached manhood, his son, who believed the prediction of the god, was led to set out on this campaign.
54 (1) In preparation for this undertaking Sesoosis first of all confirmed the goodwill of all the Egyptians towards himself. In order to bring his plan to successful completion, he felt it was necessary that his soldiers on the campaign should be ready to die for their leaders, and that those left behind in their native lands should not rise in revolt. (2) Therefore, he showed kindnesses to everyone by all means at his disposal, winning over some by presents of money, others by gifts of land, and others by remission of penalties. He connected the entire people to himself by his friendly interactions and kind ways. For he set free unharmed everyone who was held for some crime against the king and cancelled the obligations of those who were in prison for debt, there being a great multitude in jails.
[Introduction of nomes / districts]
(3) Dividing the entire land into thirty-six parts which the Egyptians call “nomes” [districts], Sesoosis set over each a nome-leader (nomarch), who would oversee the collection of the royal revenues and administer all the affairs of his division. (4) He then chose out the strongest of the men and formed an army worthy of the greatness of his undertaking. For he enlisted six hundred thousand foot-soldiers, twenty-four thousand cavalry, and twenty-seven thousand war chariots. (5) In command of the several divisions of his troops he set his companions, who were by this time accustomed to warfare, had striven for a reputation for courage from their youth, and cherished with a brotherly love both their king and one another, the number of them being over seventeen hundred. (6) He granted all these commanders allotments of the best land in Egypt, in order that, enjoying sufficient income and lacking nothing, they might diligently engage in war.
[Conquest of the Ethiopians, Indians, Kolchians, Scythians]
55 (1) After he had made ready his army he marched first of all against the Ethiopians who dwell south of Egypt, and after conquering them he forced that people to pay a tribute in ebony, gold and the tusks of elephants. (2) Then he sent out a fleet of four hundred ships into the Erythraian sea [Red Sea, including the Arabian Sea], being the first Egyptian to build warships. He not only took possession of the islands in those waters, but also subdued the coast of the mainland as far as India. Meanwhile, he himself made his way by land with his army and subdued all Asia. (3) Not only did he, in fact, visit the territory which was afterwards won by Alexander of Macedon, but also certain peoples into whose country Alexander did not cross. (4) For he even passed over the river Ganges and visited all of India as far as the ocean, as well as the tribes of the Scythians as far as the river Tanais, which divides Europe from Asia. It was at this time, they say, that some of the Egyptians, having been left behind near the lake Maiotis [Sea of Azov], founded the people (ethnos) of the Kolchians [east of the Black Sea in the Caucasus area]. (5) They offer proof of the Egyptian origin of this people by pointing to the fact that the Kolchians practise circumcision like the Egyptians do, the custom continuing among the colonists sent out from Egypt as it also did in the case of the Judeans.
[Conquest of Asia and the Thracians]
(6) In the same way he brought all the rest of Asia into subjection as well as most of the Kyklades islands [Greek islands in the southeastern Aegean]. After he had crossed into Europe and was on his way through the whole length of Thrace, he nearly lost his army through lack of food and the difficult nature of the land. (7) Consequently he fixed the limits of his expedition in Thrace, and set up monuments (stelai) in many parts of the regions which he had acquired. These had the following inscription in the Egyptian writing which is called “sacred”: “This land the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Sesoosis, subdued with his own arms.” (8) He fashioned the monument with a representation of the private parts of a man if the enemy people were warlike but with the private parts of a woman if the enemy people were abject and cowardly, since he held that the quality of the spirit of each people would be presented most clearly to succeeding generations by the dominant member of the body. (9) In some places he also erected a stone statue of himself, armed with bow and arrows and a spear, in height four cubits and four palms, which was in fact his own height. (10) He dealt gently with all conquered peoples and, after concluding his campaign in nine years, commanded the peoples to bring presents each year to Egypt according to their ability. Meanwhile, after assembling a multitude of captives which has never been surpassed and a mass of other booty, he himself returned to his country, having accomplished the greatest deeds of any king of Egypt to his day. (11) All the temples of Egypt, moreover, he adorned with notable votive offerings and spoils, and honoured with gifts according to his merits every soldier who had distinguished himself for bravery. (12) In general, as a result of this campaign not only did the army, which had bravely shared in the deeds of the king and had gathered great wealth, make a brilliant homeward journey, but it also came to pass that all Egypt was filled to overflowing with benefits of every kind.
56 (1) Sesoosis now relieved his peoples of the labours of war and granted to the comrades who had bravely shared in his deeds a care-free life in the enjoyment of the good things which they had won. Since he was ambitious for glory and intent upon everlasting fame, he himself constructed works which were great and marvellous in their conception as well as in the lavishness with which their cost was provided. In this way, he won immortal glory for himself and security combined with ease for all time for the Egyptians.
[Use of subjugated foreigners for building programs]
(2) For beginning with the gods first, he built in each city of Egypt a temple to the god who was held in special reverence by its inhabitants. On these labours he used no Egyptians, but constructed them all by the hands of his captives alone. For this reason he placed an inscription on every temple that no native had toiled over its construction. (3) It is said that the captives brought from Babylonia revolted from the king, being unable to endure the hardships entailed by his works. Seizing a strong position on the banks of the river, they sustained warfare against the Egyptians and ravaged the neighbouring territory. But finally, on being granted amnesty, they established a colony on the spot, which they also named “Babylon” after their native land. (4) For a similar reason, they say, the city of Troy likewise, which even to this day exists on the bank of the Nile, received its name: for Menelaus, on his voyage from Ilion with a great number of captives, crossed over into Egypt. The Trojans, revolting from him, seized a certain place and sustained warfare until he granted them safety and freedom, at which point they founded a city, to which they gave the name of their native land.
[Diodoros’ disagreement with Ktesias over what people founded the cities]
(5) I am not unaware that regarding the cities named above Ktesias of Knidos has given a different account, saying that some of those who had come into Egypt with Semiramis founded them, calling them after their native lands. (6) But on such matters as these it is not easy to present the precise truth, and yet the disagreements among historians must be considered worthy of record, in order that the reader may be able to decide what is true without prejudice.
[Other achievements of Sesoosis]
57 (1) Now Sesoosis built up many great mounds of earth and moved to them such cities as happened to be situated on ground that was not naturally elevated, in order that at the time of the flooding of the river both the inhabitants and their herds might have a safe place of retreat. (2) Over the entire land from Memphis to the sea, he dug frequent canals leading from the river. His purpose was to allow the people to carry out the harvesting of their crops quickly and easily and to allow every district to enjoy both an easy livelihood and a great abundance of all things which provide enjoyment through the constant interactions of the peasants with one another.
The greatest result of this work, however, was that Sesoosis made the country secure and difficult to access in case of attacks by enemies. (3) For practically all the best part of Egypt, which before this time had been easy of passage for horses and carts, has from that time on been very difficult for an enemy to invade by reason of the great number of canals leading from the river. (4) He also fortified with a wall the side of Egypt which faces east, as a defence against inroads from Syria and Arabia. The wall extended through the desert from Pelousion to Heliopolis, and its length was some fifteen hundred stades.
(5) Moreover, he also built a ship of cedar wood, which was two hundred and eighty cubits long and plated on the exterior with gold and on the interior with silver. This ship he presented as a votive offering to the god [likely Amon-re] who is held in special reverence in Thebes, as well as two obelisks of hard stone one hundred and twenty cubits high, upon which he inscribed the magnitude of his army, the multitude of his revenues, and the number of the peoples he had subdued.
Also in Memphis in the temples of Hephaistos he dedicated monolithic statues of himself and of his wife, thirty cubits high, and of his sons, twenty cubits high, the occasion of their erection being as follows: (6) When Sesoosis had returned to Egypt after his great campaign and was waiting at Pelousion, his brother, who was entertaining Sesoosis and his wife and children, plotted against them; for when they had fallen asleep after the drinking he piled great quantities of dry rushes, which he had kept in readiness for some time, around the tent in the night and set them on fire. (7) When the fire suddenly blazed up, those who had been assigned to wait upon the king came to his aid in a mean-spirited way, as would men heavy with wine. But Sesoosis, raising both hands to the heavens with a prayer to the gods for the preservation of his children and wife, dashed out safe through the flames. (8) For this unexpected escape he honoured the rest of the gods with votive offerings, as stated above, and Hephaistos most of all, on the ground that it was by his intervention that he had been saved.
58 (1) Although many great deeds have been credited to Sesoosis, his magnificence seems best to have been shown in the treatment which he accorded to foreign rulers when he went out from his palace. (2) The kings whom he had allowed to continue their rule over the peoples which he had subdued and all others who had received from him the most important positions of command would present themselves in Egypt at specified times, bringing him gifts. The king would welcome them and in all other matters show them honour and special treatment. But whenever he intended to visit a temple or city, he would remove the horses from his four-horse chariot and in their place yoke the kings and other potentates, taking them four at a time, in this way showing to all men, as he thought, that, having conquered the mightiest of other kings and those most renowned for their excellence, he now had no one who could compete with him for the prize of excellence.
(3) This king is thought to have surpassed all former rulers in power and military exploits, and also in the magnitude and number of the votive offerings and public works which he built in Egypt. After a reign of thirty-three years, he deliberately took his own life, his eyesight having failed him. This act won for him the admiration not only of the priests of Egypt but of the other inhabitants as well, for it was thought that he had caused the end of his life to match with the loftiness of spirit shown in his achievements.
(4) So great became the fame of this king and so enduring through the ages that when, many generations later, Egypt fell under the power of the Persians and Darius, the father of Xerxes, was bent upon placing a statue of himself in Memphis in front of the statue of Sesoosis, the chief priest opposed it in a speech which he made in an assembly of the priests, to the effect that Darius had not yet surpassed the deeds of Sesoosis. The king [Darius] was far from being angered. On the contrary, being pleased at his frankness of speech, the king said that he would strive not to be found behind that ruler in any point when he had attained his years, and asked them to base their judgment upon the achievements of each at the same age, for that was the fairest test of their excellence. (5) As far as Sesoosis is concerned, we will have to be content with what has been said.
[Uneventful successors of Sesoosis]
59 (1) But his son, succeeding to the throne and assuming his father’s appellation, did not accomplish a single thing in war or otherwise worthy of mention . . . [sections omitted].
60 (1) After this king a long line of successors on the throne accomplished no deed worth recording. But Amasis, who became king many generations later, ruled the masses of the people with great harshness. . . [sections omitted].
[Mendes’ building of the Labryrinth]
61 (1) After the death of this king, the Egyptians regained the control of their government [from the Ethiopians] and placed on the throne a native king, Mendes, whom some call Marrus. (2) So far as war is concerned this ruler did not accomplish anything at all, but he did build himself a tomb known as the Labyrinth, which was not so remarkable for its size as it was impossible to imitate in respect to its ingenious design. For a man who enters it cannot easily find his way out, unless he gets a guide who is thoroughly acquainted with the structure. (3) And some say that Daidalos, visiting Egypt and admiring the skill shown in the building, also constructed for Minos, the king of Krete, a labyrinth like the one in Egypt, in which was kept, as the myth relates, the beast called Minotaur. (4) However, the labyrinth in Krete has entirely disappeared, whether it be that some ruler razed it to the ground or that time effaced the work, but the one in Egypt has stood intact in its entire structure down to our lifetime. . . [sections omitted]
[Customs and accomplishments of Egyptians, according to Egyptians]
69 Now that we have discussed sufficiently the accomplishments of the kings of Egypt from the very earliest times down to the death of Amasis, we will record the other events in their proper chronological setting. (2) At this point we will give a summary account of the customs of Egypt, both those which are especially strange and those which can be of most value to our readers. For many of the customs obtained in ancient days among the Egyptians have not only been accepted by the present inhabitants but have aroused no little admiration among the Greeks. (3) For that reason those men who have won the greatest repute in intellectual things have been eager to visit Egypt in order to acquaint themselves with its laws and institutions, which they considered to be worthy of note. (4) For despite the fact that (for the reasons mentioned above) strangers found it difficult in early times to enter the country, it was nevertheless eagerly visited by Orpheus and the poet Homer in the earliest times and in later times by many others, such as Pythagoras of Samos and Solon the law-giver.
[Egyptian claims of superiority]
(5) Now it is maintained by the Egyptians that it was Egyptians who first discovered writing and the observation of the stars, who also discovered the basic principles of the measurement of the land and most of the technical skills, as well as established the best laws. (6) The best proof of all this, they say, lies in the fact that Egypt for more than four thousand seven hundred years was ruled over by kings of whom the majority were native Egyptians, and that the land was the most prosperous of the whole inhabited world. These things could never have been true of any people which did not enjoy most excellent customs and laws and the institutions which promote culture of every kind.
[Critique of Herodotos and other authors]
(7) Now as for the stories invented by Herodotos and certain writers on Egyptian affairs, who rather than preferring the truth deliberately told marvellous tales and the invented myths for the entertainment of their readers, these we will omit. We will present only what appears in the written records of the priests of Egypt and has passed our careful scrutiny.
[Customs of the pharaohs]
70 In the first place, then, the life which the kings of the Egyptians lived was not like that of other men who enjoy autocratic power and do in all matters exactly as they please without being held to account. But all their acts were regulated by prescriptions presented in laws. This was true not only of their administrative acts, but also those that had to do with the way in which they spent their time from day to day, and with the food which they ate. (2) In the matter of their servants, for instance, not one was a slave, such as had been acquired by purchase or born in the home. But all were sons of the most distinguished priests, over twenty years old and the best educated of their own people, in order that the king, by virtue of his having the noblest men to care for his person and to attend him throughout both day and night, might not adopt any lowly practices. For no ruler advances far along the road of evil until he has those around him who will minister to his passions.
(3) The hours of both the day and night were laid out according to a plan. At the specified hours, it was absolutely required of the king that he should do what the laws stipulated and not what he thought best. (4) For instance, in the morning, as soon as he was awake, he first of all had to receive the letters which had been sent from all sides. The purpose of this was that he might be able to despatch all administrative business and perform every act properly, in this way being accurately informed about everything that was being done throughout his kingdom. Then, after he had bathed and dressed his body with rich garments and the insignia of his office, he had to sacrifice to the gods. (5) When the victims had been brought to the altar it was the custom for the high priest to stand near the king, with the common people of Egypt gathered around. The priest had the custom of praying in a loud voice that health and all the other good things of life would be given the king if he maintains justice towards his subjects. (6) An open confession had also to be made of each and every virtue of the king, the priest saying that towards the gods he was piously disposed and towards men most kindly, for he was self-controlled, just, generous, truthful, and freely giving from his possessions. In a word, the priest would say that the king was superior to every desire, and that the king punished crimes less severely than they deserved and rendered to his benefactors a gratitude exceeding the benefaction. (7) After reciting much more in a similar vein, the priest concluded his prayer with a curse concerning things done in error. This exempted the king from all blame and asked that both the evil consequences and the punishment should fall upon those who served him and had taught him evil things. (8) All this he would do, partly to lead the king to fear the gods and live a life pleasing to them, and partly to accustom him to a proper manner of conduct, not by sharp admonitions, but through praises that were agreeable and most conductive to virtue.
(9) After this, when the king had performed the divination from the entrails of a calf and had found the omens good, the sacred scribe read before those assembled from out of the sacred books some of the edifying counsels and accomplishments of their most distinguished men. This was done in order that he who held the supreme leadership should first contemplate in his mind the most excellent general principles and then turn to the prescribed administration of the several functions. (10) For there was a set time not only for his holding audiences or rendering judgments, but even for his taking a walk, bathing, and sleeping with his wife. In a word, there was a set time for every act of his life.
(11) It was also the custom for the kings to partake of delicate food, eating no other meat than veal and duck, and drinking only a prescribed amount of wine, which was not enough to make them unreasonably over-full or drunk. (12) Speaking generally, their whole diet was so suitably arranged that it had the appearance of having been drawn up not by a law-giver, but by the most skilled of their physicians, with only their health in view.
71 Strange as it may seem that the king did not have complete control of his daily food consumption, far more remarkable still was the fact that kings were not allowed to render any legal decision or transact any business at random or to punish anyone through malice or in anger or for any other unjust reason, but only in keeping with the established laws relative to each offence.
(2) In following the dictates of custom in these matters, the kings were far from being indignant or taking offence in their souls. Rather, they actually held that they led a most happy life. (3) They believed that all other people, in thoughtlessly following their natural passions, commit many acts which bring them injuries and perils, and that often some who realize that they are about to commit a sin nevertheless do base acts when overpowered by love or hatred or some other passion. They, on the other hand, by virtue of their having cultivated a manner of life which had been chosen before all others by the most prudent of all men, fell into the fewest mistakes.
(4) Since the kings followed such a righteous procedure in dealing with their subjects, the people manifested a goodwill towards their rulers which surpassed even the affection they had for their own kinship group. For not only the order of the priests but, in short, all the inhabitants of Egypt were less concerned for their wives and children and their other cherished possessions than for the safety of their kings. (5) Consequently, during most of the time covered by the reigns of the kings of whom we have a record, they maintained an orderly civil government and continued to enjoy a most pleasing life, so long as the system of laws described was in force. More than that, they conquered more peoples (ethnē) and achieved greater wealth than all others, and adorned their lands with monuments and buildings never to be surpassed, and their cities with costly dedications of every description.
[Customs around the death of pharoahs]
72 Again, the Egyptian ceremonies which followed upon the death of a king afforded no small proof of the goodwill of the people towards their rulers, for the fact that the honour which they paid was to one who did not notice the honour constituted an authentic testimony to its sincerity. (2) For when any king died all the inhabitants of Egypt united in mourning for him, rending their garments, closing the temples, stopping the sacrifices, and celebrating no festivals for seventy-two days. Plastering their heads with mud and wrapping strips of linen cloth below their breasts, women as well as men went around in groups of two or three hundred, and twice each day, reciting the dirge in a rhythmic chant, they sang the praises of the deceased, recalling his virtues. Nor would they eat the flesh of any living thing or food prepared from wheat, and they abstained from wine and luxury of any sort. (3) As well, no one would ever have seen fit to make use of baths or ointments or soft bedding, and would not even have dared to indulge in sexual pleasures. Instead, every Egyptian grieved and mourned during those seventy-two days as if it were his own beloved child that had died. (4) But during this interval they had made splendid preparations for the burial and, on the last day, placing the coffin containing the body in front of the entrance to the tomb, they set up, as custom prescribed, a tribunal to sit in judgment upon the accomplishments done by the deceased during his life. (5) When permission had been given to anyone who so wished to lay complaint against him, the priests praised all his noble accomplishments one after another, and the common people who had gathered in the tens of thousands for the funeral, listening to them, shouted their approval if the king had led a worthy life. (6) But if he had not led a worthy life, they raised a clamour of protest. In fact, many kings have been deprived of the public burial customarily accorded them because of the opposition of the people. The result was, consequently, that the successive kings practised justice, not merely for the reasons just mentioned, but also because of their fear of the violation of their body after death and of eternal slander. Of the customs, then, touching the early kings these are the most important.
[Customs on land distribution and classes of people]
73 Now since Egypt as a whole is divided into several parts which in Greek are called “nomes” [districts], over each of these a nome-leader is appointed who is charged with both the oversight and care of all its affairs. (2) Furthermore, the entire country is divided into three parts, the first of which is held by the order of the priests, which is accorded the greatest veneration by the inhabitants both because these men have charge of the worship of the gods and because, by virtue of their education, they bring to bear a higher intelligence than others. (3) With the income from these holdings of land they perform all the sacrifices throughout Egypt, maintain their assistants, and minister to their own needs. For it has always been held that the honours paid to the gods should never be changed, but should always be performed by the same men and in the same manner. It has also been held that those who deliberate on behalf of everyone should not lack the necessities of life. (4) For, speaking generally, the priests are the first to deliberate upon the most important matters and are always at the king’s side, sometimes as his assistants, sometimes to propose measures and give instructions. Through their knowledge of astrology and divination, they also forecast future events and they read to the king, out of the record of acts preserved in their sacred books, those which can be of assistance. (5) For it is not the case with the Egyptians as it is with the Greeks, that a single man or a single woman takes over the priesthood, but many are engaged in the sacrifices and honours paid the gods and pass on to their descendants the same rule of life. They also pay no taxes of any kind, and in repute and in power are second after the king.
(6) The second part of the land has been taken over by the kings for their revenues, out of which they pay the cost of their wars, support the splendour of their court, and reward with fitting gifts any who have distinguished themselves. They do not overwhelm the private citizens by taxation, since their income from these revenues gives the kings plenty of income.
(7) The last part of the land is held by the warriors, as they are called, who are subject to call for all military duties. The purpose of this is for those who hazard their lives to be most loyal to the country because of such allotment of land and thus may eagerly face the perils of war. (8) For it would be absurd to entrust the safety of everyone to these men and yet have them possess in the country no property to fight for valuable enough to increase their enthusiasm. But the most important consideration is the fact that, if they are well-to‑do, they will readily have children and so increase the population that the country will not need to call in any paid mercenaries. (9) Since their calling, like that of the priests, is hereditary, the warriors are incited to bravery by the distinguished records of their fathers. Insofar as they become ethusiastic students of warfare from their boyhood up, they turn out to be invincible by reason of their daring and skill.
[Herdsmen, farmers, and artisans]
74 There are three other classes of free citizens, namely, the herdsmen, the farmers, and the artisans. Now the farmers rent on moderate terms the arable land held by the king, the priests, and the warriors. They spend their entire time in tilling the soil, and since from very infancy they are brought up in connection with the various tasks of farming, they are far more experienced in such matters than the farmers of any other peoples (ethnē). (2) For of all humankind they acquire the most exact knowledge of the nature of the soil, the use of water in irrigation, the times of sowing and reaping, and the harvesting of crops in general. Some details about this they have learned from the observations of their ancestors and others in the school of their own experience.
(3) What has been said applies equally well to the herdsmen, who receive the care of animals from their fathers as if by a law of inheritance, and follow a pastoral life all the days of their existence. (4) They have received, it is true, much from their ancestors relative to the best care and feeding of grazing animals, but to this they add not a little by reason of their own interest in such matters. The most astonishing fact is that, by reason of their unusual application to such matters, the men who have charge of poultry and geese, in addition to producing them in the natural way known to all humankind, raise them by their own hands, by virtue of a skill peculiar to them, in numbers beyond telling. (5) For they do not use the birds for hatching the eggs, but, in effecting this themselves artificially by their own intelligence and skill in an astounding manner, they are not surpassed by the operations of nature.
(6) Furthermore, one may see that the technical crafts also among the Egyptians are very diligently cultivated and brought to their proper development. For they are the only people where all the craftsmen are forbidden to follow any other occupation or belong to any other class of citizens than those stipulated by the laws and handed down to them from their parents. The result is that neither ill-will towards a teacher nor political distractions nor any other thing interferes with their interest in their work.
[Aside on craftsmen in other societies, including Greek city-states]
(7) Among all other peoples it can be observed that the artisans are distracted in mind by many things. In that case, through the desire to advance themselves, they do not stick exclusively to their own occupation, for some try their hands at agriculture, some dabble in trade, and some cling to two or three crafts. In democratic cities [i.e. Greek cities], vast numbers of craftsmen, trooping to the meetings of the civic assembly, ruin the work of the government. At the same time, they make a profit for themselves at the expense of others who pay them their wage. Yet among the Egyptians if any artisan should take part in public affairs or pursue several crafts he is severely punished. (8) Such, then, were the divisions of the citizens, maintained by the early inhabitants of Egypt, and their devotion to their own class which they inherited from their ancestors.
[Customs relating to justice and legislation]
75 In their administration of justice the Egyptians also showed no merely casual interest, holding that the decisions of the courts exercise the greatest influence upon community life, and this in each of their two aspects. (2) For it was evident to them that if the offenders against the law should be punished and the injured parties should be afforded support there would be an ideal correction of wrongdoing. But if, on the other hand, the fear which offending parties have of the judgments of the courts should be brought to nothing by bribery or favour, they saw that the disintegration of community life would follow. (3) Consequently, by appointing the best men from the most important cities as judges over the whole land, they did not fall short of the aim they had in mind. For from Heliopolis, Thebes, and Memphis, they used to choose ten judges from each, and this court was not regarded as inferior to that composed of the Areopagites at Athens or of the Elders at Sparta. (4) When the thirty judges assembled, they chose the best one of their number and made him chief-justice, and in his place the city sent another judge. Allowances to provide for their needs were supplied by the king, to the judges sufficient for their maintenance, and many times as much to the role of chief-justice. (5) The latter regularly wore suspended from his neck by a golden chain a small image made of precious stones, which they called “Truth.” The hearings of the pleas commenced whenever the chief justice put on the image of Truth. (6) The entire body of the laws was written down in eight volumes which lay before the judges. The custom was for the accuser to present in writing the particulars of his complaint, including the charge, how the thing happened, and the amount of injury or damage done. At this point, the defendant would take the document submitted by his opponents in the suit and reply in writing to each charge, to the effect either that he did not commit the deed or, if he did, that he was not guilty of wrongdoing or, if he was guilty of wrongdoing, that he should receive a lighter penalty. (7) After that, the law required that the accuser should reply to this in writing and that the defendant should offer a rebuttal. After both parties had twice presented their statements in writing to the judges, it was the duty of the thirty judges at once to declare their opinions among themselves and of the chief-justice to place the image of Truth upon one or the other of the two pleas which had been presented.
76 This was the manner, as their account goes, in which the Egyptians conducted all court proceedings, since they believed that if the advocates were allowed to speak, they would greatly obscure justice in the case. For they knew that the clever devices of orators, the cunning witchery of their delivery, and the tears of the accused would influence many to overlook the severity of the laws and the strictness of truth. (2) At any rate, they were aware that men who are highly respected as judges are often carried away by the eloquence of the advocates, either because they are deceived, or because they are won over by the speaker’s charm, or because the emotion of pity has been aroused in them. However, by having the parties to a suit present their pleas in writing, it was their opinion that the judgments would be strict, only the bare facts being taken into account. (3) For in that case there would be the least chance that gifted speakers would have an advantage over those who were slower, or the well-practised over the inexperienced, or the audacious liars over those who were truth-loving and restrained in character. Instead, all would get their just dues on an equal footing, since by the provision of the laws ample time is taken both by the disputants for the examination of the arguments of the other side and by the judges for the comparison of the allegations of both parties.
77 Since we have spoken of their legislation, we feel that it will not be foreign to the plan of our history to present such laws of the Egyptians as were especially old or took on an extraordinary form, or, in general, can be of help to lovers of reading. (2) Now in the first place, their penalty for perjurers was death, on the ground that such men are guilty of the two greatest transgressions: being impious towards the gods and overthrowing the mightiest pledge known among men. (3) Again, if a person who was walking on a road in Egypt saw a person being killed or, in a word, suffering any kind of violence and did not come to his aid if able to do so, he had to die. If such a person was truly prevented from aiding the other person because of inability, he was in any case required to lodge information against the bandits and to bring an act against their lawless act. In case the person failed to do this as the law required, it was required that the guilty person be scourged with a fixed number of stripes and be deprived of every kind of food for three days. (4) Those who brought false accusations against others had to suffer the penalty that would have been delivered to the accused persons had they been found guilty.
(5) All Egyptians were also individually required to submit to the magistrates a written declaration of the sources of their livelihood, and any man making a false declaration or gaining an unlawful means of livelihood had to pay the death penalty. It is said that Solon, after his visit to Egypt, brought this law to Athens. (6) If anyone intentionally killed a free man or a slave, the laws enjoined that he be put to death. For, in the first place, they did not want it to be through accidental differences in men’s condition in life that all men should be hindered from doing bad things, but through the principles governing their actions. Secondly, they aimed to accustom humankind, through such consideration for slaves, to refrain all the more from committing any offence whatever against freemen. (7) In the case of parents who had slain their children, the laws did not prescribe death and yet the offenders had to hold the dead body in their arms for three successive days and nights, under the surveillance of a state guard. For it was not considered just to deprive of life those who had given life to their children, but rather by a warning which brought with it pain and repentance to turn them from such deeds. (8) But for children who had killed their parents, they reserved an extraordinary punishment. In this case, it was required that those found guilty of this crime should have pieces of flesh about the size of a finger cut out of their bodies with sharp reeds and then be put on a bed of thorns and burned alive. They held that to take by violence the life of those who had given them life was the greatest crime possible to man. (9) Pregnant women who had been condemned to death were not executed until they had been delivered. The same law has also been enacted by many Greek cities, since they held it entirely unjust that the innocent should suffer the same punishment as the guilty and that a penalty should be exacted of two people for only one crime. Furthermore, those in Greek cities held that, since the crime had been actuated by an evil intention, a being as yet without intelligence should receive the same correction, and, what is the most important consideration, that in view of the fact that the guilty had been laid at the door of the pregnant mother it was by no means proper that the child, who belongs to the father as well as to the mother, should be despatched. (10) For a man may properly consider judges who spare the life of a murderer to be no worse than other judges who destroy that which is guilty of no crime whatsoever. (11) Now of the laws dealing with murder these are those which are thought to have been the most successful.
78 Among their other laws one, which concerned military affairs, made the punishment of deserters or of any who disobeyed the command of their leaders, not death, but the uttermost disgrace. (2) However, if later on such men wiped out their disgrace by a display of manly courage, they were restored to their former freedom of speech. In this way, the law-giver at the same time made disgrace a more terrible punishment than death, in order to accustom all the people to consider dishonour the greatest of evils. The law-giver also believed that, while dead men would never be of value to society, men who had been disgraced would do many good deeds through their desire to regain freedom of speech. (3) In the case of those who had disclosed military secrets to the enemy, the law prescribed that their tongues should be cut out. In the cases of counterfeiters or falsifiers of measures and weights or imitators of seals, official scribes who made false entries or erased items, and any who adduced false documents, it ordered that both their hands should be cut off. The aim was that the offender, being punished in respect of those members of his body that were the instruments of his offence, should himself keep until death his irreparable misfortune. At the same time, by serving as a warning example to others, this should turn them from the commission of similar offences.
(4) Severe also were their laws dealing with women. For if a man had violated a free married woman, they stipulated that his private parts should be cut off, considering that such a person by a single unlawful act had been guilty of the three greatest crimes: assault, abduction, and confusion of offspring. (5) But, if a man committed adultery with the woman’s consent, the laws ordered that the man should receive a thousand blows with the rod, and that the woman should have her nose cut off. This was done on the ground that a woman who aims to do something forbidden should be deprived of that which contributes most to a woman’s attractive appearance.
79 Their laws governing contracts they attribute to Bocchoris [Egyptian king]. These prescribe that men who had borrowed money without signing a bond, if they denied the indebtedness, might take an oath to that effect and be cleared of the obligation. The purpose, was, in the first place, that men might stand in awe of the gods by attributing great importance to oaths. (2) Since it is manifest that the man who has repeatedly taken such an oath will in the end lose the confidence which others had in him, everyone will consider it a matter of the utmost concern not to have recourse to the oath in case he forfeits his credit. In the second place, the law-giver assumed that by basing confidence entirely upon a man’s sense of honour, he would incite everyone to be virtuous in character, in order that they might not be talked about as being unworthy of confidence. Furthermore, he held it to be unjust that men who had been trusted with a loan without an oath should not be trusted when they gave their oath regarding the same transaction. Whoever lent money along with a written bond was forbidden to do more than double the principal from interest. (3) In the case of debtors, the law-giver ruled that the repayment of loans could be exacted only from a person’s estate. Under no condition did he allow the debtor’s person to be subject to seizure, holding that whereas property should belong to those who had gained it or had received it from some earlier holder by way of a gift, bodies should belong to the community (polis), to the end that the community might gain the services which its members owed it in times of both war and peace. For it would be absurd, the law-giver felt, that a soldier, at the moment perhaps when he was setting forth to fight for his homeland, should be hauled to prison by his creditor for an unpaid loan, and that the greed of private citizens should in this way endanger the safety of everyone. (4) It appears that Solon took this law also to Athens, calling it a “disburdenment,” when he absolved all the citizens of the loans, secured by their persons, which they owed. (5) But certain individuals find fault, and not without reason, with the majority of the Greek law-givers, who forbade the taking of weapons and ploughs and other quite indispensable things as security for loans, but nevertheless allowed the men who would use these implements to be subject to imprisonments.
80 The Egyptian law dealing with thieves was also a very peculiar one. For it bade any who chose to follow this occupation to submit their names with the person in the role of the chief of the thieves and by agreement to bring to him immediately the stolen articles. At the same time, any who had been robbed filed with him in like manner a list of all the missing articles, stating the place, the day, and the hour of the loss. (2) Since by this method all lost articles were readily found, the owner who had lost anything had only to pay one-fourth of its value in order to recover just what belonged to him. For as it was impossible to keep all humankind from stealing, the law-giver devised a scheme whereby every article lost would be recovered upon payment of a small ransom. . .
[Customs relating to marriage and children]
(3) In keeping with the marriage-customs of the Egyptians, the priests have only one wife but any other man takes as many as he may determine. Egyptians are required to raise all their children in order to increase the population, on the ground that large numbers are the greatest factor in increasing the prosperity of both country and communities. Nor do they consider any child a bastard, even though he was born of a slave mother. (4) For they have taken the general position that the father is the sole author of procreation and that the mother only supplies the fetus with nourishment and a place to live, and they call the trees which bear fruit “male” and those which do not “female,” exactly opposite to the Greek usage. (5) They feed their children in a sort of happy-go‑lucky fashion that in its inexpensiveness quite surpasses belief. For they serve them with stews made of any stuff that is ready to hand and cheap, and they give them such stalks of the byblos plant as can be roasted in the coals, and the roots and stems of marsh plants, either raw or boiled or baked. (6) Since most of the children are reared without shoes or clothing because of the mildness of the climate of the country, the entire expense incurred by the parents of a child until it comes to maturity is not more than twenty drachmas. These are the leading reasons why Egypt has such an extraordinarily large population, and it is because of this fact that Egypt possesses a vast number of great monuments.
[Customs relating to education]
81 In the education of their sons the priests teach them two kinds of writing, that which is called “sacred” and that which is used in the more general instruction. Measurement of the land and calculations are given special attention. (2) For the river, by changing the face of the country each year in manifold ways, gives rise to many and varied disputes between neighbours over their boundary lines. These disputes cannot be easily tested out with any exactness unless a person trained in land measurement works out the truth precisely by the application of his experience.
[Egyptian astrological customs and competition with Babylonians]
(3) Calculations are useful in business affairs connected with making a living and also in applying the principles of land-measurement, and likewise is of no small assistance to students of astrology as well. (4) For the positions and arrangements of the stars as well as their motions have always been the subject of careful observation among the Egyptians, if anywhere in the world. They have preserved to this day the records concerning each of these stars over an incredible number of years. This is because this subject of study has been ethusiastically preserved among them from ancient times. They have also observed with utmost eagerness the movements, orbits, and stoppings of the planets, as well as the influences of each one on the generation of all living things, namely the good or the evil effects of which they are the cause. (5) While they are often successful in predicting events which are going to befall people in the course of their lives, not infrequently they foretell destructions of the crops or, on the other hand, abundant yields, and pestilences that are to attack people or beasts. Furthermore, as a result of their long observations, they have prior knowledge of earthquakes and floods, of the risings of the comets, and of all things which the ordinary man looks upon as beyond discovery. (6) According to them [Egyptians], the Chaldaeans of Babylon, being colonists from Egypt, enjoy the fame which they have for their astrology because they learned that skill from the priests of Egypt.
(7) As to the general mass of the Egyptians, they are instructed from their childhood by their fathers or kinsmen in the practices proper to each manner of life as previously described by us. But as for reading and writing, the Egyptians at large give their children only a superficial instruction in them, and not all do this, but for the most part only those who are engaged in the crafts.
In wrestling and music, however, it is not customary among them to receive any instruction at all, for they hold that from the daily exercises in wrestling their young men will not gain health but a vigour that is only temporary and in fact quite dangerous. They consider music to be not only useless but even harmful, since it makes the spirits of the listeners effeminate.
[Customs regarding health]
82 In order to prevent sicknesses they look after the health of their bodies by means of liquids, fasts, and substances that cause vomitting, sometimes every day and sometimes at intervals of three or four days. (2) For they say that the larger part of the food taken into the body is superfluous and that it is from this superfluous part that diseases are caused. Consequently, the treatment just mentioned, by removing the beginnings of disease, would be most likely to produce health.
(3) On their military campaigns and their journeys in the country they all receive treatment without the payment of any private fee. For the physicians draw their support from public funds and administer their treatments in keeping with a written law which was composed in ancient times by many famous physicians. If they follow the rules of this law as they read them in the sacred book and yet are unable to save their patient, they are absolved from any charge and go unpunished. But if they go contrary to the law’s prescriptions in any respect, they must submit to a trial with death as the penalty. The law-giver held that only a few physicians would ever prove themselves wiser than the mode of treatment which had been closely followed for a long period and had been originally prescribed by the best practitioners.
[Customs regarding animals and honours for them]
83 As regards the consecration of animals in Egypt, the practice naturally appears to many to be extraordinary and worthy of investigation. For the Egyptian honour certain animals exceedingly, not only during their lifetime but even after their death, such as cats, mongeese and dogs, as well as hawks and the birds which they call “ibis,” as well as wolves and crocodiles and a number of other animals of that kind. We will try to present the reasons for such worship after we have first spoken briefly about the animals themselves.
(2) In the first place, for each kind of animal that is offered this worship there has been consecrated a portion of land which returns a revenue sufficient for their care and sustenance. Moreover, the Egyptians make vows to certain gods on behalf of their children who have been delivered from an illness, in which case they shave off their hair and weigh it against silver or gold, and then give the money to the attendants of the animals mentioned. (3) These cut up flesh for the hawks and calling them with a loud cry toss it up to them, as they swoop by, until they catch it. For the cats and mongeese, they break up bread into milk and, after calling them with a clucking sound, set it before them, or else they cut up fish caught in the Nile and feed the flesh to them raw. In like manner each of the other kinds of animals is provided with the appropriate food.
(4) As for the various services which these animals require, the Egyptians not only do not try to avoid them or feel ashamed to be seen by the crowds as they perform them. On the contrary, in the belief that they are engaged in the most serious rites of worship, they assume airs of importance and, wearing special insignia, they make the rounds of the cities and the countryside. Since it can be seen from far away in the service of what animals they engaged, all who meet them fall down before them and render them honour.
(5) When one of these animals dies, they wrap it in fine linen and then, wailing and beating their breasts, carry it off to be embalmed. After it has been treated with cedar oil and such spices as have the quality of imparting a pleasant odour and of preserving the body for a long time, they lay it away in a consecrated tomb. (6) Whoever intentionally kills one of these animals is put to death, unless it be a cat or an ibis that he kills. But if he kills one of these, whether intentionally or unintentionally, he is certainly put to death, for the common people gather in crowds and deal with the perpetrator most cruelly, sometimes doing this without waiting for a trial. (7) Because of their fear of such a punishment, any who have caught sight of one of these animals lying dead withdraw to a great distance and shout with lamentations and protestations that they found the animal already dead.
(8) The superstitious regard for these animals is so deeply implanted in the hearts of the common people and the emotions cherished by every man regarding the honour due to them is so unchangeable. So much so that when one of the Romans killed a cat and the multitude rushed in a crowd to his house, neither the officials sent by the king to beg the man off nor the fear of Rome which all the people felt were enough to save the man from punishment, even though his act had been an accident. (This happened even though this was at the time when Ptolemy [XI, 80-51 BCE] their king had not as yet been given by the Romans the appellation of “friend” and the people were eagerly courting the favour of the embassy from Italy which was then visiting Egypt and, in their fear, were intent upon giving no cause for complaint or war) (9) We relate this incident not from hearsay, but we saw it with our own eyes on the occasion of the visit we made to Egypt.
84 But if what has been said seems incredible to many people and like a fanciful tale, what is to follow will appear far more extraordinary. Once, they say, when the inhabitants of Egypt were being hard pressed by a famine, many in their need laid hands upon their fellow humans, yet not a single person was even accused of having partaken of the sacred animals. (2) Furthermore, whenever a dog is found dead in any house, every inhabitant in the house shaves his entire body and goes into mourning. What is more astonishing than this is that, if any wine or grain or any other thing necessary to life happens to be stored in the building where one of these animals has expired, they would never think of using it afterwards for any purpose. (3) Also, if they happen to be making a military expedition in another country, they ransom the captive cats and hawks and bring them back to Egypt, and this they do sometimes even when their supply of money for the journey is running short.
(4) As for ceremonies connected with the Apis [bull-god] of Memphis, the Mneuis of Heliopolis and the goat of Mendes, as well as with the crocodile of the Lake of Moeris, the lion kept in Leontopolis, as it is called, and many other ceremonies like them, they could easily be described, but the writer would scarcely be believed by any who had not actually witnessed them. (5) For these animals are kept in sacred enclosures and cared for by many men of distinction who offer them the most expensive feed, for they provide, with unfailing regularity, the finest wheaten flour or wheat-groats seethed in milk, every kind of candy made with honey, and the meat of ducks, either boiled or baked, while for the carnivorous animals birds are caught and thrown to them in abundance, and, in general, great care is given that they have an expensive feed. (6) They are continually bathing the animals in warm water, anointing them with the most precious ointments, and burning before them every kind of fragrant incense. They furnish them with the most expensive coverlets and with splendid jewellery, and exercise the greatest care that they will enjoy sexual intercourse according to the demands of nature. Furthermore, with every animal they keep the most beautiful females of the same species, which they call his concubines and attend to at the cost of heavy expense and assiduous service.
(7) When any animal dies, they mourn for it as deeply as do those who have lost a beloved child, and bury it in a manner not in keeping with their ability but going far beyond the value of their estates. (8) For instance, after the death of Alexander and just subsequently to the taking over of Egypt by Ptolemy the son of Lagos [i.e. in 303 BCE or just after], it happened that the Apis [bull] in Memphis died of old age. The man who was charged with the care of the Apis spent on his burial not only the whole of the very large sum which had been provided for the animal’s maintenance, but also borrowed in addition fifty talents of silver from Ptolemy. Even in our own day some of the keepers of these animals have spent on their burial not less than one hundred talents.
85 There should be added to what has been said what still remains to be told concerning the ceremonies connected with the sacred bull called Apis [associated with the gods Ptah and Osiris at Memphis]. After he has died and has received a magnificent burial, the priests who are charged with this duty seek out a young bull which has on its body markings similar to those of its predecessor. (2) When it has been found, the people cease their mourning and the priests who have the care of it first take the young bull to Nilopolis, where it is kept forty days. Then, putting it on a state barge fitted out with a gilded cabin, they conduct it as a god to the sanctuary of Hephaistos [Ptah] at Memphis. (3) During these forty days only women may look at it. These stand facing it and pulling up their garments show their genitals, but afterwards they are forever prevented from coming into the presence of this god. (4) Some explain the origin of the honour accorded this bull in this way, saying that at the death of Osiris his soul passed into this animal, and therefore up to this day has always passed into its successors at the times of the manifestation of Osiris. (5) But some say that when Osiris died at the hands of Typhon, Isis collected the members of his body and put them in an ox (bous), made of wood covered over with fine linen, and because of this the city was called Bousiris. Many other stories are told about the Apis, but we feel that it would be a long task to recount all the details regarding them.
[Popular Egyptian accounts regarding the origins of animal worship]
86 Since all the practices of the Egyptians in their worship of animals are astonishing and beyond belief, they occasion much difficulty for those who would seek out their origins and causes. (2) Now their priests have on this subject a teaching which may not be divulged, as we have already stated in connection with their accounts of the gods. But the majority of the Egyptians give the following three causes, the first of which belongs entirely to the realm of fable and is in keeping with the simplicity of primitive times. (3) They say, namely, that the gods who came into existence in the beginning, being few in number and overpowered by the multitude and the lawlessness of earth-born men, took on the forms of certain animals. In this way they saved themselves from the savagery and violence of humankind. But afterwards, when they had established their power over everything in the universe, out of gratitude to the animals which had been responsible for their salvation at the outset, they made sacred those kinds whose form they had assumed. They instructed humankind to maintain them in a costly fashion while living and to bury them at death.
(4) The second cause which they give is this: that the early Egyptians, after having been defeated by their neighbours in many battles because of the lack of order in their army, conceived the idea of carrying standards before the several divisions. (5) Consequently, they say, the commanders fashioned figures of the animals which they now worship and carried them fixed on lances, and by this device every man knew where his place was in the array. Since the good order resulting from this practice greatly contributed to victory, they thought that the animals had been responsible for their deliverance. So the people, wishing to show their gratitude to them, established the custom of not killing any one of the animals whose likeness had been fashioned at that time, but of rendering to them, as objects of worship, the care and honour which we have previously described.
87 The third cause which they adduce in connection with the dispute in question is the service which each one of these animals renders for the benefit of community life and of humankind. (2) The cow, for example, helps workers and ploughs the lighter soil. The sheep have lambs twice a year and provide by their wool both protection for the body and its decorous covering, while by their milk and cheese they furnish food that is both appetizing and abundant. Again, the dog is useful both for the hunt and for man’s protection, and this is why they represent the god whom they call Anubis with a dog’s head, showing in this way that he was the bodyguard of Osiris and Isis. (3) There are some, however, who explain that dogs guided Isis during her search for Osiris and protected her from wild beasts and wayfarers. They explain that the dogs helped her in her search, because of the affection they bore for her, by baying. This is also the reason why the procession at the Festival of Isis is led by dogs, those who introduced the rite showing forth in this way the kindly service rendered by this animal of old. (4) The cat is likewise useful against asps with their deadly bite and the other reptiles that sting, while the mongoose keeps a look-out for the newly-laid seed of the crocodile and crushes the eggs left by the female, doing this carefully and eagerly even though it receives no benefit from the act. (5) Were this not done, the river would have become impassable because of the multitude of beasts that would be born. Crocodiles themselves are also killed by this animal in an astonishing and quite incredible manner. For the mongeese roll themselves over and over in the mud, and when the crocodiles go to sleep on the land with their mouths open, they jump down their mouths into the centre of their body. Then, rapidly gnawing through the bowels, they get out unscathed themselves and at the same time kill their victims instantly. (6) Of the sacred birds the ibis is useful as a protector against the snakes, the locusts, and the caterpillars, and the hawk against the scorpions, horned serpents, and the small animals of noxious bite which cause the greatest destruction of men. (7) But some maintain that the hawk is honoured because it is used as a bird of omen by the soothsayers in predicting to the Egyptians events which are to come. (8) Others, however, say that in primitive times a hawk brought to the priests in Thebes a book wrapped in a purple band, which contained written directions concerning the worship of gods and the honours due to them. It is for this reason, they add, that the sacred scribes wear on their heads a purple band and the wing of a hawk. (9) The eagle also is honoured by the Thebans because it is believed to be a royal animal and worthy of Zeus.
88 They have deified the goat, just as the Greeks are said to have honoured Priapos, because of the generative member. For this animal has a very great propensity for copulation, and it is fitting that honour be shown to that member of the body which is the cause of generation, being, as it were, the primal author of all animal life. (2) In general, not only the Egyptians but not a few other peoples as well have in the rites they observe treated the male member as sacred, on the ground that it is the cause of the generation of all creatures. The priests in Egypt who have inherited their priestly offices from their fathers are initiated first into the mysteries of this god. (3) And both the Pans and the Satyrs, they say, are worshipped by men for the same reason. This is also why most peoples set up in their sacred places statues of them showing the phallus erect and resembling a goat’s in nature, since according to tradition this animal is most efficient in copulation. Consequently, by representing these creatures in such fashion, the dedicants are returning thanks to them for their own numerous offspring. (4) The sacred bulls — I refer to the Apis and the Mneuis — are honoured like the gods, as Osiris commanded, both because of their use in farming and also because the fame of those who discovered the fruits of the earth is handed down by the labours of these animals to succeeding generations for all time. Red oxen, however, may be sacrificed, because it is thought that this was the colour of Typhon, who plotted against Osiris and was then punished by Isis for the death of her husband. (5) Men also, if they were of the same colour as Typhon, were sacrificed, they say, in ancient times by the kings at the tomb of Osiris. However, only a few Egyptians are now found red in colour, but the majority of such are non-Egyptians, and this is why the story spread among the Greeks of the slaying of foreigners by Bousiris, although Bousiris was not the name of the king but of the tomb of Osiris, which is called that in the language of the land. (6) The wolves are honoured, they say, because their nature is so much like that of dogs, for the natures of these two animals are little different from each other and hence offspring is produced by their interbreeding.
But the Egyptians offer another explanation for the honour accorded this animal [the wolf], although it pertains more to the realm of myth, for they say that in early times when Isis, aided by her son Horos, was about to commence her struggle with Typhon, Osiris came from Hades to help his son and his wife, having taken on the guise of a wolf. And so, upon the death of Typhon, his conquerors commanded men to honour the animal upon whose appearance victory followed. (7) But some say that once, when the Ethiopians had marched against Egypt, a great number of bands of wolves (lykoi) gathered together and drove the invaders out of the country, pursuing them beyond the city named Elephantine, and therefore that district was given the name Lycopolite and these animals were granted the honour in question.
89 It remains for us to speak of the deification of crocodiles, a subject regarding which most men are entirely at a loss to explain how, when these beasts eat the flesh of men, it ever became the law to honour like the gods creatures of the most revolting habits. (2) Their reply is, that the security of the country is ensured not only by the river but to a much greater degree by the crocodiles in it. That for this reason the robbers that infest both Arabia and Libya do not dare to swim across the Nile, because they fear the beasts, whose number is very great. And that this would never have been the case if war were continually being waged against the animals and they had been utterly destroyed by hunters dragging the river with nets. (3) But still another account is given of these beasts. For some say that once one of the early kings whose name was Menas, being pursued by his own dogs, came in his flight to the lake of Moeris, as it is called, where, strange as it may seem, a crocodile took him on his back and carried him to the other side. Wishing to show his gratitude to the beast for saving him, he founded a city near the place and named it Crocodile. He commanded the natives of the region to worship these animals as gods and dedicated the lake to them for their sustenance. In that place, he also constructed his own tomb, erecting a pyramid with four sides, and built the Labyrinth which is admired by many.
(4) A similar diversity of customs exists, according to their accounts, with regard to everything else, but it would be a long task to present the details concerning them. That they have adopted these customs for themselves because of the advantage that accrues to their life is clear to all from the fact that there are those among them who will not touch many particular kinds of food. Some, for instance, abstain entirely from lentils, others from beans, and some from cheese or onions or certain other foods, there being many kinds of food in Egypt. In this way, they show that people must be taught to deny themselves things that are useful, and that if all ate of everything the supply of no article of consumption would hold out. (5) But some adduce other causes and say that, since under the early kings the multitude were often revolting and conspiring against their rulers, one of the kings who was especially wise divided the land into a number of parts and commanded the inhabitants of each to revere a certain animal or else not to eat a certain food. The king’s thought was that, with each group of people revering what was honoured among themselves but despising what was sacred to all the rest, all the inhabitants of Egypt would never be able to be of one mind. (6) This purpose, they declare, is clear from the results. For every group of people is at odds with its neighbours, being offended at their violations of the customs mentioned above.
90 Some advance some such reason as the following for their dedication to the animals: They say that when people first ceased living like the beasts and gathered into groups, at the outset they kept devouring each other and warring among themselves, the more powerful ever prevailing over the weaker. But later those who were deficient in strength, taught by expediency, grouped together and took for the device upon their standard one of the animals which was later made sacred. Then, when those who were from time to time in fear flocked to this symbol, an organized body was formed which was not to be despised by any who attacked it. (2) When everybody else did the same thing, the whole people came to be divided into organized bodies, and in the case of each the animal which had been responsible for its safety was accorded honours like those belonging to the gods, as having rendered to them the greatest service possible. This is why to this day the several groups of the Egyptians differ from each other in that each group honours the animals which it originally made sacred.
In general, they say, the Egyptians surpass all other peoples in showing gratitude for every benefaction, since they hold that the return of gratitude to benefactors is a very great resource in life. For it is clear that all men will want to bestow their benefactions preferably upon those who they see will most honourably treasure up the favours they grant. (3) It is apparently on these grounds that the Egyptians prostrate themselves before their kings and honour them as being in truth very gods, holding, on the one hand, that it was not without the influence of some divine providence that these men have attained to the supreme power, and feeling, also, that such as have the will and the strength to confer the greatest benefactions share in the divine nature. (4) Now if we have focussed too long on the topic of the sacred animals, we have at least thoroughly considered those customs of the Egyptians that people find most incredible.
91 But a person will find incredible the peculiarity of the customs of the Egyptians when he learns of their usages with respect to the dead. For whenever anyone dies among them, all his relatives and friends, plastering their heads with mud, roam about the city lamenting, until the body receives burial. Even more, during that time they indulge in neither baths nor wine nor in any other food worth mentioning, nor do they put on bright clothing.
(2) There are three classes of burial, the most expensive, the medium, and the most humble. If the first is used, the cost, they say, is a talent of silver, if the second, twenty minai, and if the last, the expense is, they say, very little indeed. (3) Now the men who treat the bodies are skilled artisans who have received this professional knowledge as a family tradition. These experts lay before the relatives of the deceased a price-list of every item connected with the burial, and ask them in what manner they wish the body to be treated.
(4) When an agreement has been reached on every detail and they have taken the body, they turn it over to men who have been assigned to the service and have become accustomed to it. The first is the scribe, as he is called, who, when the body has been laid on the ground, circumscribes on the left flank the extent of the incision. Then the one called the slitter cuts the flesh, as the law commands, with an Ethiopian stone and at once takes to flight on the run, while those present set out after him, pelting him with stones, heaping curses on him, and trying, as it were, to turn the profanation on his head. For in their eyes everyone is an object of general hatred who applies violence to the body of a man of the same tribe or wounds him or, in general, does him any harm.
(5) The men called embalmers, however, are considered worthy of every honour and consideration, associating with the priests and even coming and going in the temples without hindrance as being undefiled. When they have gathered to treat the body after it has been slit open, one of them thrusts his hand through the opening in the corpse into the trunk and extracts everything but the kidneys and heart, and another one cleanses each of the viscera, washing them in palm wine and spices. (6) In general, they carefully dress the whole body for over thirty days, first with cedar oil and certain other preparations, and then with myrrh, cinnamon, and such spices as have the faculty not only of preserving it for a long time but also of giving it a fragrant odour. And after treating the body they return it to the relatives of the deceased, every member of it having been so preserved intact that even the hair on the eyelids and brows remains, the entire appearance of the body is unchanged, and the cast of its shape is recognizable. (7) This explains why many Egyptians keep the bodies of their ancestors in costly chambers and gaze face to face upon those who died many generations before their own birth, so that, as they look upon the stature and proportions and the features of the countenance of each, they experience a strange enjoyment, as though they had lived with those on whom they gaze.
92 When the body is ready to be buried the family announces the day of interment to the judges and to the relatives and friends of the deceased, and solemnly affirms that he who has just passed away – giving his name – “is about to cross the lake.” (2) Then, when the forty-two judges have assembled and have taken seats in a semi-circle which has been built across the lake, the baris-boat is launched, which has been prepared in advance by men especially engaged in that service, and which is in the charge of the boatman whom the Egyptians in their language call “charon.” (3) For this reason they insist that Orpheus, having visited Egypt in ancient times and witnessed this custom, merely invented his account of Hades, in part reproducing this practice and in part inventing on his own account. But this point we will discuss more fully a little later. (4) At any rate, after the baris-boat has been launched into the lake but before the coffin containing the body is set in it, the law gives permission to anyone who wishes to arraign the dead person. Now if anyone presents himself and makes a charge, and shows that the dead man had led an evil life, the judges announce the decision to all and the body is denied the customary burial. But if it will appear that the accuser has made an unjust charge, he is severely punished. (5) When no accuser appears or the one who presents himself is discovered to be a slanderer, the relatives put their mourning aside and praise the deceased. They say nothing about his ancestry, as the Greeks do, since they hold that all Egyptians are equally well born. But after recounting his training and education from childhood, they describe his righteousness and justice since adulthood, also his self-control and his other virtues, and call upon the gods of the lower world to receive him into the company of the righteous. The multitude also shouts its assent and the glory of the deceased, as of one who is about to spend eternity in Hades among the righteous. (6) Those who have private graves lay the body in a vault reserved for it, but those who possess none construct a new chamber in their own home, and stand the coffin upright against the firmest wall. Also, anyone who is forbidden burial because of the accusations brought against the person or because the body has been made security for a loan they lay away in their own homes. It sometimes happens that their grandsons, when they have become prosperous and paid off the debt or cleared them of the charges, give them later a magnificent funeral.
[Comparison with Greek practices and views]
93 It is a most sacred duty, in the eyes of the Egyptians, that they should be seen to honour their parents or ancestors all the more after they have passed to their eternal home. Another custom of theirs is to put up the bodies of their deceased parents as security for a loan, and failure to repay such debts is attended with the deepest disgrace as well as with deprivation of burial at death. (2) A person may well admire the men who established these customs, because they strove to inculcate in the inhabitants, as far as was possible, virtuousness and excellence of character, by means not only of their interaction with the living but also of their burial and affectionate care of the dead. (3) For the Greeks have handed down their beliefs in such matters — in the honour paid to the righteous and the punishment of the wicked — by means of fanciful tales and discredited legends. Consequently these accounts not only cannot avail to spur their people on to the best life. On the contrary, being scoffed at by worthless men, they are received with contempt. (4) But among the Egyptians, since these matters do not belong to the realm of myth but men see with their own eyes that punishment is meted out to the wicked and honour to the good, every day of their lives both the wicked and the good are reminded of their obligations and in this way the greatest and most profitable amendment of men’s characters is effected. The best laws, in my opinion, must be held to be, not those by which men become most prosperous, but those by which they become most virtuous in character and best fitted for citizenship.
[Egyptian law-givers’ contributions to civilization]
[Mneues / Menes]
94 We must speak also of the law-givers who have arisen in Egypt and who instituted customs unusual and strange. After the establishment of settled life in Egypt in early times, which took place, according to the mythical account, in the period of the gods and heroes, the first, they say, to persuade the multitudes to use written laws was Mneues [i.e. Menes (?)], a man not only great of soul but also in his life the most public-spirited of all law-givers whose names are recorded. According to the tradition he claimed that Hermes [Thoth] had given the laws to him, with the assurance that they would be the cause of great blessings.
[Comparison with law-givers among other peoples]
This is just as among the Greeks, they say, Minos did in Crete and Lykourgos did among the Lakedaimonians [Spartans], the former saying that he received his laws from Zeus and the latter his from Apollo. (2) Also among several other peoples, tradition says that this kind of a device was used and was the cause of much good to those that believed it. So it is recorded that among the Arians Zathraustes [i.e. Zarathurstra, usually transliterated into Greek as Zoroaster] claimed that the Good Spirit gave him his laws. Among the people known as the Getians, who represent themselves to be immortal, Zalmoxis asserted the same of their common goddess Hestia. Among the Judeans, Moyses [Moses] referred his laws to the god who is invoked as Iao. They all did this either because they believed that a conception which would help humanity was marvellous and completely divine, or because they held that the common crowd would be more likely to obey the laws if their gaze were directed towards the majesty and power of those to whom their laws were ascribed.
(3) A second law-giver, according to the Egyptians, was Sasychis, a man of unusual understanding. He made numerous additions to the existing laws and, in particular, laid down with the greatest precision the rites to be used in honouring the gods. He was also the inventor of land-measurement and taught his countrymen both to speculate about the stars and to observe them.
[Sesoosis / Sesotris / Senwosret]
(4) A third one, they tell us, was the king Sesoosis, who not only performed the most renowned accomplishments in war of any king of Egypt but also organized the rules governing the warrior class and, in conformity with these, set in order all the regulations that have to do with military campaigns.
(5) A fourth law-giver, they say, was the king Bocchoris, a wise sort of a man and conspicuous for his craftiness. He drew up all the regulations which governed the kings and gave precision to the laws on contracts. And so wise was he in his judicial decisions as well, that many of his judgments are remembered for their excellence even to our day. And they add that he was very weak in body, and that by disposition he was the most greedy of all their kings.
95 After Bocchoris, they say, their king Amasis gave attention to the laws. According to their accounts, Amasis drew up the rules governing the district-leaders (nomarchs) and the entire administration of Egypt. Tradition also describes him as exceedingly wise with a virtuous and just disposition, for which reasons the Egyptians invested him with the kingship, even though he was not of the royal line. (2) They also say that the citizens of Elis, when they were giving their attention to the Olympic Games, sent an embassy to him to ask how they could be conducted with the greatest fairness, and that he replied, “Provided no man of Elis participates.” (3) Although Polykrates, the ruler of the Samians, had been on terms of friendship with him, when he began oppressing both citizens and foreigners that came to Samos, it is said that Amasis at first sent an embassy to Polykrates and urged him to moderation. When no attention was paid to this, Amasis wrote a letter in which he broke up the relations of friendship and hospitality that had existed between them, for he did not wish, as he said, to be plunged into grief in a short while. He knew very well that misfortune is near at hand for the ruler who maintains tyranny in such a fashion. Amasis was admired, they say, among the Greeks both because of his virtuous character and because his words to Polykrates were speedily fulfilled.
[Darius of Persia]
(4) A sixth man to concern himself with the laws of the Egyptians, it is said, was Darius the father of Xerxes. For he was incensed at the lawlessness which his predecessor, Cambyses, had shown in the treatment of the sanctuaries of Egypt, and aspired to live a life of virtue and of piety towards the gods. (5) Indeed Darius associated with the priests of Egypt themselves, and took part with them in discourses about the gods and about events recorded in their sacred books. When he learned from these books about the greatness of soul of the ancient kings and about their goodwill towards their subjects, he imitated their manner of life. For this reason he was the object of such great honour that he alone of all the kings was addressed as a god by the Egyptians in his lifetime. At his death, Darius was accorded equal honours with the ancient kings of Egypt who had ruled in strictest accord with the laws.
(6) The system, then, of law used throughout the land was the work, they say, of the men just named, and gained a renown that spread among other peoples everywhere. But in later times, they say, many institutions which were regarded as good were changed, after the Macedonians had conquered and destroyed once and for all the kingship of the native line.
[Greeks who visited Egypt and learned its customs, according to Egyptians]
96 (1) Now that we have examined these matters, we must enumerate what Greeks who have won fame for their wisdom and learning visited Egypt in ancient times, in order to become acquainted with its customs and learning. (2) For the priests of Egypt recount from the records of their sacred books that they were visited in early times by Orpheus, Mousaios, Melampos, and Daidalos, also by the poet Homer and Lykourgos of Sparta, later by Solon of Athens and the philosopher Plato, and that there also came Pythagoras of Samos and the mathematician Eudoxos, as well as Demokritos of Abdera and Oinopides of Chios. (3) As evidence for the visits of all these men they point in some cases to their statues and in others to places or buildings which bear their names, and they offer proofs from the branch of learning which each one of these men pursued. They argue that all the things for which they were admired among the Greeks were transferred from Egypt.
(4) Orpheus, for instance, brought from Egypt most of his mystic initiations, the rites that accompanied his wanderings, and his fabulous account of his experiences in Hades. (5) For the rite of Osiris is the same as that of Dionysos and that of Isis very similar to that of Demeter, the names alone having been interchanged. Also, the punishments in Hades of the unrighteous, the Fields of the Righteous, and the fantastic conceptions, current among the many, which are figments of the imagination — all these were introduced by Orpheus in imitation of the Egyptian funeral customs. (6) Hermes, for instance, the Conductor of Souls, according to the ancient Egyptian custom, brings up the body of the Apis to a certain point and then gives it over to one who wears the mask of Kerberos.
And after Orpheus had introduced this notion among the Greeks, Homer followed it when he wrote: “Cyllenian Hermes then did summon forth / The suitors’ souls, holding his wand in hand.” And again a little further on he says: “They passed Oceanus’ streams, the Gleaming Rock, / The Portals of the Sun, the Land of Dreams; / And now they reached the Meadow of Asphodel, / Where dwell the Souls, the shades of men outworn.” (7) Now Homer calls the river “Oceanos” because in their language the Egyptians speak of the Nile as Oceanos; the “Portals of the Sun” (Heliopulai) is his name for the city of Heliopolis; and, “Meadows,” the mythical dwelling of the dead, is his term for the place near the lake which is called Acherousia, which is near Memphis, and around it are fairest meadows, of a marsh-land and lotus and reeds. The same explanation also serves for the statement that the dwelling of the dead is in these regions, since the most and the largest tombs of the Egyptians are situated there, the dead being ferried across both the river and Lake Acherousia and their bodies laid in the vaults situated there. (8) The other myths about Hades, current among the Greeks, also agree with the customs which are practised even now in Egypt. For the boat which receives the bodies is called baris, and the passenger’s fee is given to the boatman, who in the Egyptian tongue is called charon. (9) And near these regions, they say, are also the “Shades,” which is a temple of Hekate, and “portals” of Kokytus and Lethe, which are covered at intervals with bands of bronze. There are, moreover, other portals, namely, those of Truth, and near them stands a headless statue of Justice.
97 (1) Many other things as well, of which mythology tells, are still to be found among the Egyptians, the name being still preserved and the customs actually being practised. (2) In the city of Akanthos, for instance, across the Nile in the direction of Libya one hundred and twenty stades from Memphis, there is a perforated jar to which three hundred and sixty priests, one each day, bring water from the Nile. (3) Not far from there the actual performance of the myth of Oknos is to be seen in one of their festivals, where a single man is weaving at one end of a long rope and many others beyond him are unravelling it.
(4) Melampos also, they say, brought from Egypt the rites which the Greeks celebrate in the name of Dionysos, the myths about Kronos and the War with the Titans, and, in a word, the account of the things which happened to the gods. (5) Daidalos, they relate, copied the maze of the Labyrinth which stands to our day and was built, according to some, by Mendes, but according to others, by king Marros, many years before the reign of Minos. (6) The proportions of the ancient statues of Egypt are the same as in those made by Daidalos among the Greeks. The very beautiful monumental entrance of the temple of Hephaistos [Ptah] in Memphis was also built by Daidalos, who became an object of admiration and was granted a statue of himself in wood, which was made by his own hands and set up in this temple. Furthermore, Daidalos was accorded great fame because of his genius and, after making many discoveries, was granted divine honours. For on one of the islands off Memphis there stands even to this day a temple of Daidalos, which is honoured by the people of that region.
(7) And as proof of the presence of Homer in Egypt they adduce various pieces of evidence, and especially the healing drink which brings forgetfulness of all past evils, which was given by Helen to Telemachos in the home of Menelaos. For it is manifest that the poet had acquired exact knowledge of the “nepenthic” drug which he says Helen brought from Egyptian Thebes, given her by Polydamna the wife of Thon. For, they allege, even to this day the women of this city use this powerful remedy, and in ancient times, they say, a drug to cure anger and sorrow was discovered exclusively among the women of Diospolis. But, they add, Thebes and Diospolis are the same city.
(8) Again, Aphrodite is called “golden” by the natives in accordance with an old tradition, and near the city which is called Momemphis there is a plain “of golden Aphrodite.” (9) Likewise, the myths which are related about the affair of Zeus and Hera and of their journey to Ethiopia he also got from Egypt. For each year among the Egyptians the shrine of Zeus is carried across the river into Libya and then brought back some days later, as if the god were arriving from Ethiopia. As for the affair of these deities, in their festal gatherings the priests carry the shrines of both to an elevation that has been strewn with flowers of every description.
98 (1) Lykourgos as well as Plato and Solon, they say, incorporated many Egyptian customs into their own legislation. (2) Pythagoras learned from Egyptians his teachings about the gods, his geometrical propositions and theory of numbers, as well as the transmigration of the soul into every living thing. (3) Demokritos also, as they assert, spent five years among them and was instructed in many matters relating to astrology. Oenopides likewise passed some time with the priests and astrologers and learned among other things about the orbit of the sun, that it has an oblique course and moves in a direction opposite to that of the other stars. (4) Like the others, Eudoxos studied astrology with them and acquired a notable fame for the great amount of useful knowledge which he disseminated among the Greeks.
(5) Also of the ancient sculptors the most renowned sojourned among them, namely, Telekles and Theodoros, the sons of Rhoikos, who sculpted for the people of Samos the wooden statue of the Pythian Apollo. (6) For one half of the statue, as the account is given, was worked by Telekles in Samos, and the other half was finished by his brother Theodoros at Ephesos. And when the two parts were brought together they fitted so perfectly that the whole work had the appearance of having been done by one man. This method of working is practised nowhere among the Greeks, but is followed generally among the Egyptians. (7) For with them the symmetrical proportions of the statues are not fixed in accordance with the appearance they present to the artist’s eye, as is done among the Greeks. Instead, as soon as they lay out the stones and, after apportioning them, are ready to work on them, at that stage they take the proportions from the smallest parts to the largest. (8) For, dividing the structure of the entire body into twenty-one parts and one-fourth in addition, they express in this way the complete figure in its symmetrical proportions. Consequently, so soon as the artisans agree as to the size of the statue, they separate and proceed to turn out the various sizes assigned to them, in the same way that they correspond, and they do it so accurately that the peculiarity of their system excites amazement. (9) The wooden statue in Samos, in conformity with the ingenious method of the Egyptians, was cut into two parts from the top of the head down to the private parts and the statue was divided in the middle, each part exactly matching the other at every point. They also say that this statue is for the most part rather similar to those of Egypt, as having the arms stretched stiffly down the sides and the legs separated in a stride.
(10) Now regarding Egypt, the events which history records and the things that deserve to be mentioned, this account is sufficient. As planned at the outset, in the next book we will present in the the events and legendary accounts next in order, beginning with the part played by the Assyrians in Asia.
[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of the Ethiopians, go to this link].