Herodotus


Herodotus
Historian c.484-t30 BC.
    Herodotus is regarded as the 'Father of History'. The writings of Herodotus were the first attempt to separate fantasy from firsthand observation and factual evidence made available to the author.
    Born at Halicarnassus between 490 and 480 BC, Herodotus travelled extensively and visited Egypt in c.450 BC, when the country was under *Persian domination. He eventually retired to Thurii, in Italy, where he expanded his Histories which provided an account of the events which led to the conflict between Greece and Persia. Book Two, called 'Euterpe', is a digression in which he concentrates on Egypt and includes much information from his own experience there as a tourist with a lively and enquiring mind. His travels in Egypt probably took him as far as the First Cataract, although his emphasis on the Delta region and the absence of any detailed account of the Theban monuments have led to speculation that his travels may not have been as widespread as he claimed. Also, although he was a clever reporter and wrote in a lively and informative manner, he obtained some of his facts from conversations with less than accurate informants, whom he met en route. Nevertheless, this provides the first comprehensive account of Egypt composed by a foreigner which has survived intact, and his example was followed, less successfully, by later writers such as *Diodorus Siculus and *Strabo.
    Although some of the popular traditions that he quotes were not accurate and other statements cannot be checked against confirmed evidence, modern investigations have supported other claims that he makes and, for the later period of Egypt's history, he remains one of the major and most important sources.
    The book is primarily a historical and geographical treatise; it deals with the geographical formations and the features of the landscape, including the source and inundation of the Nile, and the plants and animals, dealing particularly with the strange characteristics of the hippopotamus, ibis, phoenix and crocodile. The latter were adorned with gold earrings and bracelets and were fed with human victims; after death they were mummified.
    Herodotus' account of the history of Egypt is based on information given to him by the priests, and it contains many inaccuracies, although he correctly named Menes as the first king who built the first town. The characters and actions of *Cheops, *Chephren and *Mycerinus are also described, and he includes personal details such as *Amasis' frequent drunkenness. Herodotus also comments on the hieroglyphic system as well as the monuments he visited; these included the pyramids (which he correctly identified as royal burial-places), the Labyrinth and Lake Moeris in the Fayoum, temples at Sais and Bubastis, and the great city of Memphis.
    He was the first foreign observer to describe the Egyptian religious beliefs and customs: festivals, magical rites, interpretation of dreams, and animal cults. He claimed that the Egyptians were the most religious of people and he tried to identify the forerunners of the Greek gods amongst the Egyptian pantheon. His description of the process of mummification remains one of the basic sources of knowledge of these techniques, and modern scientific investigations have shown that his account is mainly accurate. However, the reason he gives for the development of this custom—to preserve the body so that the soul (having passed through various animal incarnations) could return to it on a future occasion—was not correct, because the Egyptians did not believe in the transmigration of souls.
    Despite its shortcomings, Herodotus' account of Egypt nevertheless provides a stimulating and entertaining view seen through the eyes of an early traveller.
BIBL. Herodotus, The Histories Book II. London: 1939; Africa, T.W. Herodotus and Diodorus on Egypt. JNES 22 (1963) pp. 254 ff.; Engelbach, R. and Derry, D.E. Introduction: Herodotus with notes on his Text. Ann. Serv. 41 (1942) pp. 235-69; Herodotus. The Histories. Harmondsworth: 1972.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David
* * *
(c. 484–420 BC)
   Greek author from Halicarnassus. He visited Egypt during the course of his travels, and his The Histories (c. 440 BC) contains valuable information about Egyptian history and customs. Much of this information would have been supplied by Egyptian priests and is uneven in content.
   See also Manetho.
Historical Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt by Morris L. Bierbrier

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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