With Herodotus in Ancient Egypt


Reading Herodotus is fun because he traveled all over the ancient world – Persia, Scythia, Egypt, Greece, and Italy. He famously wrote about the Persian Wars from accounts he heard from the men who fought in them and he is known as the father of history.

But as he traveled, he was told the tales that are told to tourists, so it’s just as well to take what he writes with a grain of salt. Besides, he himself was not above slipping in a salty story to boost his Google ranking.

Take for example his story about the Egyptian Pharaoh Pheros. Herodotus tells us that when, one year, the Nile rose to an “excessive” height, and the winds began to blow hard and the river became very rough, Pheros “seized a spear and hurled it into the swirling waters.”

Naturally, he went blind.

“He was blind for ten years,” Herodotus tells us, “after which he received an oracle from the city of Buto to the effect that the time of his punishment being now ended, he would recover his sight, if he washed his eyes with the urine of a woman who had never lain with any man except her husband.”

I don’t know about you, but reading that gives me an inkling that Herodotus is about to make one of his little funnies, which are generally pretty misogynist, since his readers were pretty much all men. It may be that some Egyptian priest was pulling Herodotus’ leg, but I’m pretty sure Herodotus is pulling ours.

“He tried his wife first, but without success – he remained as blind as ever; then he tried other women, a great many, one after another, until at last his sight was restored.” One can only imagine how this process was carried out.

“Then he collected within the walls of a town, now called Red Clod, all the women except the one whose urine had proved efficacious, set the place on fire and burned them to death; afterwards he married the woman who had been the means of curing him.”

Seems like the decent thing to do.