The Histories by Herodotus – Book II, “Euterpe”

Rather than summarizing every passage (all 182 of them!), I’ll just put a few interesting stories & facts Herodotus gives in the 2nd book of the Histories. If you want every damned detail, I suppose you can read the entire text yourself (go here!)

The Histories by Herodotus – Book II, “Euterpe”

  • Egyptian Geography
    • boundaries – Arabian hills to the east, Libyan hills to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the north & to the south, the Nile becomes impassable due to a series of cataracts as it approaches the Ethiopian hills
    • Arabian hills had quarries which supplied most of the stone used to build the pyramids
      • Arabian gulf separates Egypt from Arabian & goes out to the Erythaean Sea – now considered the Arabian Sea & Indian Ocean
    • Nile River – overflows every year, flooding the surrounding lands as far as 2 days of travel from the banks. The Egyptians never could explain it. Greek possible explanations:
      • Winds block water from flowing to the sea & it spills over the banks
      • Nile flows from ocean to ocean & delays cause backups which spill over
      • Melting snows in Ethiopia. Herodotus doesn’t believe this because Ethiopia’s too hot
        • MODERN EXPLANATION: Actually Ethiopian rain causes an immense amount of water that flows downhill, going North & floods over the banks once the river becomes level.
    • Egyptians have no concept of European style of rain
      • The only water comes from the Nile & its tributaries
        • They don’t know how long it is.
      • It goes south, bends a couple of times & goes to up to Ethiopia
        • Not many people have made the trip
        • Details on how far or high it goes are hazy

Phoenix

 

  • Egyptian Animals
    • not very many wild animals in Egypt
      • most are domesticated, often considered sacred
    • animals have designated guardsmen whose jobs run in the family from father to son – sacred jobs
    • Killing animals for food is quite an ordeal
      • people shave their kids’ heads, weigh the hair & take the same weight in silver to buy food from fishmonger, who cuts it up in a special manner
      • If you kill an animal in anger – punishment is death
      • If you kill an animal by accident – punishment is a decent fine
        • Killing hawks or ibises either on purpose or by accident – punishment is death
    • Cats are everywhere
      • When one dies, the family who tends to it shaves each member’s eyebrows
      • They are embalmed in Bubastis
    • Dog are popular too
      • When one dies, family shaves their heads
      • Dogs are buried in their own town in a special graveyard
    • Ibises are buried in Hermopolis
    • Hawks & shrews are buried in Buto
    • Crocodiles
      • Herodotus describes a crocodile – Most Greeks probably had never seen one or heard one described before
      • They can either be seen as holy or evil
      • They were kept as pets near Lake Moeris & often wore jewelry
      • They had special crocodile graveyards
      • Eaten in Elephantine
    • Hippopotamus
      • Herodotus describes a hippopotamus – Most Greeks probably had never seen one or heard one described before
    • Phoenix
      • Sacred & very rare bird – only known of in Heliopolis
        • Once every 500 years, old one dies
        • It had red feathers w/ gold edges & was about the size of an eagle
        • Its child flies to Arabia, takes the dead parent & covers it in myrrh, flies it back to Heliopolis to the Temple of the Sun & buries it there
    • Other sacred animals: snakes w/ horns, flying snakes, eels, otters & foxgeese

 

  • Egyptian customs
    • very different to the Greeks
    • Women went to the market while the men stayed at home & loomed
      • even the weave of the looms there are backwards compared to Europe
    • Women stand to pee while the men sit
    • They eat outside & only go inside to do private things
    • Very religious people
    • In many places, not allowed to eat fish.
      • Beans often frowned upon
      • No goats b/c they are symbolized in Pan – very high god
    • Pigs are seen as dirty
      • You must clean yourself even if you’ve gone near one
    • 3 days a month, they take enemas & emetics to clean themselves out
      • they bathe four times a day
    • Will eat just about anything so long as it isn’t sacred or unclean
    • Not open to foreign customs
      • But have similar poems/songs to the Greeks
        • There may have been some transfer of these from one to another
          • Probably from Egypt to Greece & not the other way around
    • Young men must prostrate themselves to older men walking by
    • They wear a linen tunic & woolen robe over it
      • But must take off woolen robe if going into a temple, as wool is not allowed inside
    • Doctors only treat one type of disorder or one part of the body, i.e. one doctor for the eyes, one doctor for the stomach, etc.
    • When a man dies, the women of the family cover their heads w/ mud or plaster & walk around outside with their tits out, beating them in unison
      • The men have to do the same but they do so separately from the women
      • The body is taken away to be embalmed…

 

  • Egyptian Embalming – The embalmer has 3 different methods
    • Expensive way
      • Take an iron hook up through the nose & remove the brain
      • Head is rinsed out
      • Cut out abdomen & remove organs
      • Rinse out the body w/ palm wine & aromatics
      • Dump mound of salt on the body & leave for 70 days
      • Wrap up the body in bandages held together w/ glue or tar
      • Put body in a wooden box & place it in a burial chamber up right
    • Cheaper way
      • take syringes w/ cedar tree oil & inject it into the abdomen
      • cover the body w/ salt for 70 days
      • organs dry up & only the flesh remains
      • body is returned to the family for burial
    • Cheapest way
      • give the body an enema
      • cover in salt for 70 days
      • return body to family for burial
    • Rich men usually are delayed in embalming for about 4 days after death
    • If you died from a crocodile attack, only Nile priests could embalm you & bury you

 

  • Egyptian Religion
    • Claim to be the first to discover the solar calendar
      • Gave it 12 months from observations from the stars
        • 30 days x 12 months w/ 5 extra days to round the year out completely
        • 12 months represented by 12 gods, similar to the Greeks’ gods
    • Priests shave their heads to avoid lce
      • the examine flocks for signs of uncleanliness
        • if unclean, marked accordingly
          • unclean animals may not be sacrificed
        • if clean, marked accordingly
      • Sacrifices – victim is marked, led to an altar
        • wood is burned & a libation poured over it
        • a god is invoked
        • the animal is killed, decapitated, chanted upon
        • the body & meat are sold
          • if not sold, it’s thrown into the river
      • Disemboweling
        • skinned the animal
        • abdomen removed
        • legs, shoulders cut off
        • body filled with bread & honey & cooked
          • during the cooking, people beat themselves, then eat
      • Only male bovine are used in sacrifices
        • cows are too holy/sacred
          • when they die, they are thrown into the river
    • Minor differences between Greek & Egyptian Gods
      • Names
        • Ammun = Zeus
        • Isis = Bacchus
      • Heracles was 1 of the 2nd set of 12 gods
        • First set gods had 8 gods, then 2nd had 12
        • Egyptian Heracles was older than the Greek Heracles
          • Temple in Tyre is proof of that
          • Greek one is a hero, not a god
            • The Greeks said that he went down to Egypt & the locals tried to sacrifice him to Zeus but instead he killed them all
            • Herodotus doesn’t believe that story
              • Egyptians don’t even sacrifice cows, never mind people
      • Estimated 17000 years between beginning of time to Herodotus’s time (5th century BC)
    • Greeks must have learned about Pan from Egyptian
      • Pigs sacrificed for Dionysius’s festival
        • no phalluses strapped on
        • only on 18 inch figures paraded around with the cocks as big as the body
    • Most Greek gods come from Egypt
      • Except Neptune, Juno, Vesta
      • Egyptians don’t worship heroes
    • The pre-cursors to the Greeks, Pelasgi, had similar rituals for the gods as the Egyptians but w/o names
      • They called the gods “Theoi” which means disposers
      • Oracles encouraged worship of the gods
      • Only by the time of Homer & Hesiod did the Greeks have names & powers for individual gods
    • Oracles may have actually been Egyptian women kidnapped & enslaved
      • One taken to Greece in Delphi
      • One taken to Libya in Cyrene
    • Egyptians may have started congregations, processions, litanies which the Greeks learned & used
      • Bubastis, Busiris, Sais, Buto – all had different rituals
        • Bubastis – the Festival of Diana
          • women & men sailed in boats up the Nile
          • some women played castanets & some men played pipes
            • others clapped & sang
          • Once ashore, they’d abused each other, dance around, eat & drink tons of wine
            • Est’d 700000 attendees

 

Interesting Stories from Egyptian History

  • Psammetichus’s Experiment
    • King Psammetichus wanted to know who the oldest race was & came up with an experiment
    • Took 2 newborn children to a shepherd who never spoke to them & rarely had contact with them
    • Listened to what the babies said & both said “becos”, the Phrygian word for “bread”
    • This made him believe that the Phrygians were the oldest race (from South Turkey)
  • Proteus’s role in the Trojan War
    • Alexander (aka Paris) took Helen from Menelaus & tried to go back to Troy
    • A storm brought them to Egypt
    • His servants heard that if they were able to reach the Temple of Hercules, they couldn’t be returned to their owner
      • They told the Egyptians that Alexander had raped Helen & wronged Menelaus
      • The priest/warden of the Nile sent a message to Proteus, the king about the situation
    • Proteus told him to bring them to Memphis to see what the whole story was
      • Alexander tried to lie but his slaves ratted him out
    • Proteus didn’t want to execute him but didn’t want to allow him to go free
      • Decided that he’d have to let Alexander go but w/o Helen or Menelaus’s money
    • Menelaus, after Helen had been kidnapped, took his army to Troy
      • The Argives besieged the city, demanding Helen back, along Menelaus’s money & some sort of penalty
      • Trojans didn’t have her b/c she was in Egypt
      • Menelaus didn’t believe them & took the city & burned it
      • Helen wasn’t there, so Menelaus went to see Proteus after getting word Helen might be in Egypt
    • He got to Egypt, got Helen & his money back
      • Couldn’t leave b/c of bad weather
      • He took 2 local children & sacrificed them to a god for better weather
      • The locals heard about this & chased them out to sea & the last anyone ever heard of them was around Libya
  • Rhampsinitus & the Thief
    • King Rhampsinitus ordered a treasury built for all his money & jewelry
      • One worker made one stone in the room moveable so he could come & go w/o ever getting caught
    • He told his sons about his secret on his deathbed
    • They went into the treasury a few times & helped themselves
      • The king eventually caught on to this & ordered traps to be set out in the treasury
    • The 2 sons went back in to get more money when one of them was caught in a trap
      • The brother caught in the trap told the other to kill him & cut off his head so he couldn’t be ID’d
    • The king had the body displayed outside with strict orders for it not to be buried or even mourned
      • The mother didn’t like that & told her son to get the body back or she’d rat him out
    • The song took a donkey w/ a few wine skins on its back & walked by the guards near the body
      • the skins conveniently leaked & the son bemoaned the fact
      • He decided that the wine would be gone before he could do anything about it & invited the guard to help themselves to as much as they wanted.
      • When the guards passed out, he took the body on the donkey back to his mother
    • The King found out & devised another plan
    • He enlisted his daughter to work at a brothel & asked her before doing any deed to ask each man what the worst thing he’d ever done was
      • Once she heard something she would call for the guard to arrest the thief
      • The thief suspected something & tucked a dead man’s arm under his cloak
      • He told her about the treasury, killing his brother & cutting off his head, as well as getting the guards drunk to steal the body back for his mother
      • The daughter yelled for the guards & tried to grab his arm but she grabbed the dead man’s arm & he got away
    • The king was furious but also really impressed by the thief’s cunning
      • He decided to offer him immunity if he turned himself in
      • The thief did & the king offered him his daughter in marriage

Lake Moeris w/ pyramids

  • The Labyrinth at Lake Moeris
    • Near the City of Crocodile (Crocodilopolis) by Lake Moeris, a giant labyrinth was built
      • Herodotus finds it more impressive than anything he’d ever seen in Greece
    • It had 12 roofed courts facing one another
      • 6 facing north & 6 facing south – all in a line
      • There was a wall enclosing all of them
    • There were double sets of rooms, 3000 total
      • 1500 above ground & 1500 below ground
      • Herdotus was only allowed to see the ones above ground
        • the ones below had sacred burial chambers for kings & others had crocodiles in them
      • The rooms had winding passages in & out of courts, very complicated pillared corridors from room to room, room to court, etc.
      • It was roofed by stone & the walls were engraved & pillars were made of white stone
      • At the end of the labyrinth was a pyramid 240 feet tall with animal engravings
    • Lake Moeris was beside the labyrinth
      • it had a perimeter of 420 miles
      • the deepest point was 300 feet
      • it was completely man-made
      • in the middle were 2 pyramids, 150 feet above water & 150 below water
    • The lake didn’t have any natural inflowing or outflowing channels as most of the country has no water apart from the Nile
      • The channels had to be built underground via an artificial channel connecting it to the Nile
      • 6 months of the year the water flowed in
      • 6 months of the year the water flowed out
    • Herodotus saw no trace of spoil (land/soil, etc. from the hole dug in the ground
      • Locals say they just let the first flow into the Nile which carried it away
      • Herodotus heard something similar happening in Nineveh w/ the Tigris River.

 

 

How Herodotus thinks the pyramids were built. Drawing taken from: http://www.hunkler.com/pyramids/r18_259.gif

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