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Herodotus on Egypt
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2004 3:42 pm    Post subject: Herodotus on Egypt Reply with quote

There's a copy of Herodotus's Book 2 here:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/GreekScience/hdtbk2.html

It's interesting to read through. Some of it seems to come from what the Egyptians themselves know about their history.
Some of it just seems wrong. I wonder if some of the priests were "pulling H's leg"?

There are some interesting anecdotes:
Helen (from Troy) visiting Egypt
Stories about the worhip of Bulls


One thing confusing to me is reading about all their gods with their Greek names:

Zeus = Amon
Hephaestus = Ptah
Leto = Snake goddess Buto

Herodotus mentions Leto quite a bit, and even mentions her temple as an oracle. I have never heard of Buto plying such a big role.
She was of course, with the vulture goddess Nekhbet, a protectress of Egypt.

Other things "jump out' at any of you from the reading?
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2004 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmm. Is it true that a lot of H's writing about Egypt has been disproved? or was that someone else? I read somewhere that he got a lot of things wrong.

Never knew about the Hepheastus-Ptah and Leto-Buto connections though. Or the Dionysus-Osiris one he mentions.
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2004 5:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As for things that stand out, there's quite a lot of stuff I've never heard of, like all the different customs of the Egyptians.
I never knew about the Helen of troy bit. They did mention that in the 'Ramses' novels by Jacq, but I thought that was fictional.
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2004 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

isisinacrisis wrote:
Hmm. Is it true that a lot of H's writing about Egypt has been disproved? or was that someone else? I read somewhere that he got a lot of things wrong.

I think his writings are thought to include many mistakes and misunderstandings but in large give an interesting impression of Egypt. It sounds like some of the festivals are described from his own observations.
He did travel in Egypt for several months (ca 450BC) and wrote down his observations.
He did not speak egyptian, nor could he read hieroglyphics. He relied heavily on translators. I saw it mentioned as well that he may have mistaken temple underlings for priests, and so he may not have actually spoken to the most knowledgeable people.

isisinacrisis wrote:
Never knew about the Hepheastus-Ptah and Leto-Buto connections though. Or the Dionysus-Osiris one he mentions.

Very Happy I didn't know that either. I found it hard to read about the temples, sometimes not knowing what the equivalent egyptian god would be.

We had discussed (somewhere on the board) the equivalence between some of the Egyptian Gods with some of the Greek Gods. I found it rather neat to see that here again.
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Styler78
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 24, 2009 2:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the link Anneke- I am very interested to know more of what Herodotus had to say. Does "book2" mean there is a book1?

Its a shame that the original documents have long since disappeared and so we rely on quotes from later writers to know what Herodotus saw and wrote.

Interesting stuff though... even if partly wrong
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 6:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Styler78 wrote:
Thank you for the link Anneke- I am very interested to know more of what Herodotus had to say. Does "book2" mean there is a book1?

Its a shame that the original documents have long since disappeared and so we rely on quotes from later writers to know what Herodotus saw and wrote.

Interesting stuff though... even if partly wrong


Herodotus' The Histories is actually a collection of books, of which the section he wrote on Egypt is just one. He visited Egypt around 450 BCE as he traveled through the Near East, and spent a long time interviewing native inhabitants to learn about their cultures and histories.

The Histories is a wonderful read. Copies are cheap and widely available, such as at Borders or Amazon.

Although a number of learned Greek logographers preceded him, such as Hecataeus, Herodotus was the first writer who truly tried to examine both cause and effect in the recent past. This is why he's been dubbed the "Father of History." He was chiefly exploring the great wars of 490 and 480 BCE between the Greeks and the Persians, and the events that caused the conflicts, so his travels brought him to many of the areas where the Persian empire held sway. The Persians were ruling Egypt when he visited there.

One mistake I've seen people make is trying to use The Histories as primary source material for research. A lot of fringe and alternative writers do this, apparently without knowing better. The Histories contains plenty of factual errors and incorrect assumptions on Herodotus' part. It's still a wonderful and illuminating read, but the student needs an understanding of ancient Egyptian history from current research sources before turning to Herodotus for the facts. Razz
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Osiris II
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 6:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I noticed in reading "The Histories" Herodotus usually will say that the following "was told to me by the priests", or "it was generally believed", always warning the careful reader that what he was about to say was not especially his own opinion, but what he had been told by those supposedly "in the know".
I was heard that reading of his travels was seeing the first travel-log! He certainly expressed some wild and far-out descriptions of places and things... Laughing
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 6:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Osiris II wrote:
I noticed in reading "The Histories" Herodotus usually will say that the following
"was told to me by the priests", or "it was generally believed", always warning the
careful reader that what he was about to say was not especially his own opinion,
but what he had been told by those supposedly "in the know".

I'm pretty sure that modern day Egyptian guides are direct descendants of those priests.
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Styler78
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 9:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kmt_Sesh wrote:

Quote:
One mistake I've seen people make is trying to use The Histories as primary source material for research


I have read a lot of the Book2 and have already seen inconsistencies, which threw me a bit. At this early stage of research, i will certainly read Herodotus with a pinch of salt so this doesn't happen too often...

Segereh wrote:


Quote:
I'm pretty sure that modern day Egyptian guides are direct descendants of those priests.


Couldn't agree more... Laughing

I have an example of this. My guide last year told me that the Hieroglyphs at Philae are "just gibberish" and took my concerns to Glyphdoctors and was astonished to hear how badly i had been advised. Now i am familiar with the beautiful Hymns to Isis and the like, which make perfect sense- my guide just couldn't read Ptolemaic Hieroglyphs- but felt it unnecessary to say this......

The Priests sound a bit like "some bloke at the pub told me...."
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Anpu
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 26, 2009 7:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Herodotus' writings are one of the best sources of information that we have on many things in ancient Egypt (especially the process of mummification), however it is widely accepted that while we can used his general ideas as a secondary source, he was a classical Greek writer; very prone to embellishing the facts and liked to write a 'story' more than just straight facts.

Take his writings with a pinch of salt but by no means discard them!
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 27, 2009 6:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anpu wrote:
Herodotus' writings are one of the best sources of information that we have on many things in ancient Egypt (especially the process of mummification), however it is widely accepted that while we can used his general ideas as a secondary source, he was a classical Greek writer; very prone to embellishing the facts and liked to write a 'story' more than just straight facts.

Take his writings with a pinch of salt but by no means discard them!


That sounds like good advice. We must bear in mind that while Herodotus perhaps deserves the title "Father of History," he was not truly an historian as we would think of the term. He was probably the first to examine cause and effect, but as is crystal clear in his writings, he approached subjects from a strictly Hellenistic perspective--as you said, Anpu.

He also clearly filled in the blanks when necessary. His account of the pyramid in Lake Moeris is, for example, clearly more myth than fact. Petrie showed in his excavations of the area in the late nineteenth century that what Herodotus had called a pyramid was actually a pair of large masonry platforms on which colossi of Amenemhet III once stood. His account of the labyrinth at the pyramid complex of the same king is also highly suspect. One wonders if Herodotus himself actually ever visited the site or was just jotting down notes from second-hand sources.

We must also consider that Herodotus' ultimate goal in assembling his accounts was to gain a better understanding of why the Greeks and Persians had gone to war in 490 and 480 BCE. I've written in past posts that what he recorded in Book 2 and others was basically a tourists guide, which of course is not completely true on my part. I was being tongue-in-cheek, which is all too often my nature.

The Histories is one of the greatest writings of Classical times, and it's great fun to read. I maintain, however, that one must be very careful when referring to it for historical veracity. Wink
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Montuhotep88
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 27, 2009 1:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Agreement here as well. I read the Histories in a (I think) rather inferior translation I picked up cheap somewhere and am looking forward to putting The Landmark Herodotus onto my reading cycle... while it's certainly to be read with due caution, it's still far superior to many other ancient works in that it's actually downright fun to read.

Osiris II beat me to the punch, but it bears saying again... Herodotus was pretty explicit in many cases that he was merely passing along stories he heard and in a number of them he comes right out and says, in essence, that he didn't believe it but it was too good not to repeat.

One of these cases, ironically, appears to give credence to the opposite of Herodotus's opinion... in the story of Necho commissioning a circumnavigation of Africa, Herodotus notes that the sailors reported the sun to the north rather than the south, and holds that notion up to criticism. However, while not proving the circumnavigation, it seems reasonable to think that explorers had made it far enough south to actually witness such a bizarre (to Mediterranean-area people) phenomenon.
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Leena
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 07, 2009 12:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Herodotus strives for accuracy and often mentions he cannot verify the information. He states clearly what is his own observation, and what he has only heard.

He doesn't enclose his sources, but often mentions getting information from the priests of the temple of Hephaistos in Memphis. Clearly Herodotus was quite impressed by the temple which was "a great work and most worthy of mention".

I think Herodotus interviewed many people - and probably those people did not have all the information themselves either. They really might have "pulled his leg" on purpose too. (Flying snakes killed by ibises in the Eastern desert as an example).

(I just did a little essay on the subject as part of my studies, and these were some of my observations)

Leena Smile

Herodotus Histories 2 can be downloaded for free from:
http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2131
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 09, 2009 1:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Leena wrote:

...

I think Herodotus interviewed many people - and probably those people did not have all the information themselves either. They really might have "pulled his leg" on purpose too. (Flying snakes killed by ibises in the Eastern desert as an example).

...


That's a very good point, too. Many people are under the very mistaken impression that Egyptians in Herodotus' time (around 450 BCE) possessed a working knowledge of their own ancient history. His account of the pyramids is a good example. It's considerably unrealistic to expect that the Egyptians Herodotus interviewed at Giza truly understood these towering monuments that were erected over 2,000 years before their own time. Most of the Egyptians with whom he spoke, probably including many of the priests, would not have been literate to the most extent--and so we get amusing episodes such as the pyramid temples recording the numbers of onions with which the builders were paid. Laughing
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Hathorhotep
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 5:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Apolodorus wrote in his Bibliotheke that Helen of Troy really visited Egypt and stayed there while her double form - a cloud nymph with the same form and name - was at Troy. You may hear the story.
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