translated by Shlomo Felberbaum

photographs by Shane Solow

Text and photographs Copyright © 1999—2003 Lost Trails
all rights reserved

Installment 12

Concerning that very Egyptian, Sesostris, as he was coming back and bringing back many human beings of the nations whose countries he had subjected, the priests said that, when he came to be, in his being conveyed back, in Pelousian Daphnae, that brother of his, to whom Sesostris had entrusted Egypt, called him to a friendly meal and in addition to him his sons and made a heap outside round his home with wood and, having made the heap, set it on fire and that, when he had learned of it, he at once took counsel with his wife, as in fact he had taken together with him his wife as well, and she advised him that he should have two of his sons who were six stretch over the pyre and bridge what was burning and they by walking on them should be brought to safety; that Sesostris did that and so two of his sons were consumed by fire in a manner like that and the remaining got brought away to safety together with their father.

Then Sesostris, having returned to Egypt and punished his brother, of that crowd that he had brought with him, whose countries he had subjected, made this use: the stones that had been conveyed for him in the time of his being king to Hephaestus’ shrine, which were very long in size, they were those who had dragged and all the trenches that now exist in Egypt they, compelled, dug; in short, unwillingly they made Egypt, which had been previously entirely suitable for horse and traversed by wagons, in need of those things. For from that time Egypt, which had been level, has become entirely horseless and wagonless and the trenches have become the cause of that, since they are many and have all kinds of turns. But the king cut up the country because of this: all those of the Egyptians who possessed their cities not on the river, but inland, whenever the river departed back, lacking water made use of drinks that were more brackish, as they made use of those from wells. Because of that, then, Egypt was cut up.

Then they said that king had distributed the country to all Egyptians by giving an equal square lot to each and from that he got his revenues by commanding them to pay a tax annually. But if the river took away any of anyone’s lot, he came to the king himself and indicated what had happened and he sent those who would inspect and measure out how much smaller the place had become, that in the future he might pay proportionally to the imposed tax. So geometry seems to me thence to have been discovered and have gone over into Greece. For the Greeks learned of the sundial, its pointer and the twelve parts of the day from the Babylonians.

Now the above mentioned was the only Egyptian king to rule Ethiopia and he left as memorials before the temple of Hephaestus stone statues, two of thirty cubits, of himself and his wife, and of his sons, who were four, each of twenty cubits. It was before them where the priests of Hephaestus a long time thereafter did not allow Darius the Persian to set up a statue and asserted no actions had been performed by him like the very that had by Sesostris the Egyptian, in that Sesostris had subjected no fewer other nations than he and, in particular, the Scythians, whereas Darius was not capable of taking the Scythians; accordingly it was not just for him to set anything up before that man’s offerings, as he had not excelled him in his actions. Now, Darius, they say, thereupon, gave a pardon.

When Sesostris had met with his end, they said his son, Pherus, succeeded to the kingdom, who showed forth no expedition, while it happened to him to become blind on account of a matter like this: when the river had gone down quite the most then, over eighteen cubits, after it had overflowed the fields, a breeze rushing in, the river became billowy. Then they say that king, with presumption, got hold of a spear and threw it into the midst of the river’s eddies and at once afterward he became sick and blind in his eyes, that ten years, then, he was blind and the eleventh year a prophecy came for him from the city of Bouto that the time of his punishment had run out and he would regain his sight by washing his eyes in the urine of any woman who had gone into her own husband alone and was without experience of other men, that he made trial first of his own wife and afterward, when he was not regaining his sight, made trial of all women consecutively and that, after regaining his sight, he brought together the women that he had made trial of, except her in whose urine he had washed and regained sight, into one city, which is now called Red Clod, and, having gathered them together into that city, set fire to all the women together with the city itself. So, having washed in that woman’s urine, he regained his sight and got himself her as a wife. As to offerings, because he had escaped the suffering of his eyes, he dedicated others to speak of throughout all the shrines and, what is most worth giving an account of, he dedicated works worth beholding in the Sun’s shrine, two stone obelisks, each being of one stone, each one hundred cubits in length and eight cubits in breadth.

bust of Paris

To that man’s kingdom succeeded, they said, a man of Memphis, whose name in the Greek’s tongue was Proteus. His now is the precinct in Memphis, very beautiful and well adorned, situated in the direction of the south wind in relation to the temple of Hephaestus. Tyrian Phoenicians are settled round that precinct and the whole of that place is called The Tyrians’ Camp. And there is in the precinct of Proteus a shrine that is called foreign Aphrodite’s and I have concluded that shrine is Helen the daughter of Tyndareus’, both since I have heard the account how Helen dwelt in Proteus’ court and, especially, because it is named after foreign Aphrodite; for all the other shrines that are Aphrodite’s are in no way called after the foreign.

Moreover, the priests said to me, when I inquired about what concerned Helen that it happened this way: that Alexander, having seized Helen from Sparta, sailed off to his own land. Him then, after he had come to be in the Aegaean, driving winds tossed astray into the Egyptian sea and thence, since the breezes would not let up, he came to Egypt and in Egypt to the mouth of the Nile that is now called Canobian and to Taricheiae. And there was on the shore Heracles’ shrine, which exists even now, at which, if a household slave of any among human beings whatsoever takes refuge and impresses on himself sacred brands, while he gives himself to the god, it is not permitted to touch him. That law has continued to exist similarly up to my time from the beginning. So then from Alexander his servants rebelled, after learning by inquiry the law that pertained to the shrine, and, sitting as suppliants of the god, accused Alexander, because they wanted to harm him, by describing the whole account, how it was concerning Helen and the injustice committed against Menelaus; they made those accusations to the priests and the guard of that mouth, whose name was Thonis.

Then, having heard that, Thonis sent the quickest way into Memphis to Proteus a message that said this: “A foreigner has come, a Teucrian by race and one who has worked out an unholy action; for, having utterly deceived his own foreign friend’s wife, with that woman herself and very much property he has come, since he has been carried by winds to your land. Are we then to let him sail away unhurt or take away that with which he went?” Proteus thereupon sent a reply and said this: “That man, whosoever is the one who worked out unholy deeds against his own foreign friend, arrest and bring away to me, that I may know whatever he will actually say.”

Then, having heard that, Thonis arrested Alexander and detained his ships and afterward brought that man himself up to Memphis as well as Helen and the property and besides the suppliants too. Everything having been conveyed up, Proteus asked Alexander who he was and whence he sailed. And he both recounted to him his descent and spoke the name of his fatherland and, what’s more, related his sailing, whence he sailed. Afterward Proteus asked him whence he had gotten hold of Helen and, when Alexander wandered in his account and refused to speak the truth, they who had become suppliants refuted him by describing the whole account of the injustice. Indeed finally Proteus brought to light for them the following speech and said, “If I for my part were not believing worth much to kill none among all the foreigners that have by now been taken off by winds and come to my country, I would have punished you on the Greek’s behalf, you who, o worst of men, although you had obtained gifts of friendship, worked a most unholy action: to your own foreign friend’s wife you went in. And also that was not sufficient for you, but you gave wings to and were gone with her. And not even that alone was sufficient for you, but you also plundered the house of your foreign friend and have come. Therefore now, since I am of the belief not killing foreigners is worth much, although I will not give up that woman there and the property to you to bring away with yourself, but will guard them for the Greek stranger, until he himself should wish to come and bring them away with himself, yet you yourself and your fellow-sailors I proclaim within three days should change your anchorage from my land to some other and, if you do not, I will treat you as if you are enemies.”

Concerning Helen that, the priests said, proved her coming to Proteus and Homer too seems to me to have learned by inquiry that account, but, since it was not similarly becoming for composing epic as the very other that he used, he laid it aside, after making clear that he knew that account as well. For it’s clear, according as he added an episode in the Iliad—and no place else backed himself off—of the wandering of Alexander, how he was driven out of his course as he was bringing away Helen and that he wandered quite everywhere else and came to Sidon in Phoenicia. He has mentioned it in the passage on Diomedes’ excellence and gives his account in epic verse this way:

There were richly embroidered robes, works of women
Of Sidon, that godlike Alexander himself
Had brought from Sidon, by sailing on the broad sea,
A journey on which he’d brought back well-sired Helen.

And also has mentioned it in the Odyssey in these epic verses:

Of this kind the daughter of Zeus had cunning drugs
Good ones, that Thon’s wife Polydamna’d given her,
She of Egypt, where spelt-giving fields brings forth most
Drugs, many mixed for a good, many for a bane.

And Menelaus gives the following other account to Telemachus:

In Egypt me, eager to come hither, gods still
Held, since I offered them no perfect hecatombs.

In those epic verses it is clear that he knew of the wandering of Alexander to Egypt; for Syria borders Egypt and the Phoenicians, whose Sidon is, are settled in Syria.

Moreover, in accordance with those epic verses and this passage, not least but most, it is clear that the Cyprian epics are not Homer’s, but someone else’s, because in the Cyprian it is said that on the third day Alexander came from Sparta to Ilium in his bringing away Helen and experienced a fair-blowing breeze and a smooth sea, but in the Iliad it says that he wandered in bringing her away. Now, let Homer and the Cyprian epics go their way.

When I had asked the priests whether the Greeks in a foolish account said the affairs concerning Ilium happened not, they asserted thereupon the following and asserted they knew it by inquiries from Menelaus himself: that there went after Helen’s seizure to the Teucrian land a large host of Greeks that came to Menelaus’ rescue and, after going out onto land and being encamped, the host sent messengers to Ilium and with them went also Menelaus himself and that they, after they had entered the wall, demanded back Helen and the property that Alexander had stolen from him and was gone with, and demanded justice for the injustices, while the Teucrian gave the same account then and thereafter, both with oaths and without oaths, that they had not Helen nor the property that was imputed to them, but all that was in Egypt and they themselves would undergo punishments not justly in respect to what Proteus the Egyptian had. The Greeks, however, thinking they were being derided by them, just then made a siege, until they removed them, and when to them, after taking the wall, Helen did not appear, but they learned by inquiry the same account as the first, just then the Greeks put their faith in the first account and dispatched Menelaus himself to Proteus.

And Menelaus, on coming to Egypt and sailing up to Memphis, once he had spoken the truth about his affairs, both received numerous gifts of friendship and took back Helen without her having experienced evils and all his property besides. However, having obtained that, Menelaus proved an unjust man to the Egyptians; for contrary winds restrained him, as he was minded to sail off, and when it had been like that for a long time, he devised no holy matter, in that he took hold of two young children of native men and had them cut in pieces and afterward, once he had been detected in having performed that action, hated and pursued, he went fleeing with his ships straight to Libya. Thereafter where he still turned his steps, the Egyptians could not say, but they asserted something of that they knew by inquiries, while the other deeds, those that had been done among them, they knew and spoke of exactly.

The priests of the Egyptians said that and I myself assent to the account given about Helen, when I think on this, that if Helen had been in Ilium, she would have been given back to the Greeks whether Alexander was willing or unwilling. For indeed Priam was not of such damaged understanding nor all his other relatives that they wanted to endanger their own bodies, their offspring and their city, that Alexander might cohabit with Helen. And, let me tell you, if even in the early period of time they had decided that issue, when many of all the other Trojans, whenever they had joined battle with the Greeks, had been killed and for Priam himself there had been no point when two or three or even still more of his sons, while a battle had been waged, had not died, if we must make some use of the epic poets and speak, then, all that having turned out like the above described, I on my part suppose that even if Priam himself had cohabited with Helen, he would have given her back to the Achaeans, since then at least he would have likely been set free from the evils that were at hand. And further the kingdom would not devolve to Alexander so as, Priam being aged, for affairs to be in his power, but Hector, since he was older and more a man than he, was, at Priam’s death, to inherit it, for whom it was not fitting to permit his brother to keep committing injustice, and that when great evils occurred on account of him, privately for himself and for all the other Trojans. But in fact they could not give back Helen nor, although they spoke the truth, would the Greeks put their faith in them, because, as I on my part declare for my judgement, the divine arranged that, by perishing in utter ruin, they should make it evident for human beings that of great injustices great are also the revenges from the gods. And the preceding account has been said as it seems to me.

To Proteus’ kingdom Rhampsinitus succeeded, they said, who left as memorials the foregates turned to the west of the temple of Hephaestus and set up two statues opposite the foregates, being in their height twenty five cubits, of which the one standing toward the north the Egyptians call summer and the one toward the south winter. And that one that they call summer, they bow down to and treat well, while the one called winter they do the contrary of that. They said that great wealth of silver accrued to that king, whom none of the kings who were brought up later was able to surpass or come near and that he, wanting to store the riches in safety, built himself a stone building, one of whose walls extended to the outer side of his house, but his worker plotted and contrived the following: he prepared one of the stones to be removable from the wall easily either by two men or one. When the building had been brought to completion, the king stored his riches in it and, time going round, the builder, who was at the end of his life, called for his sons—for two were his—and related to those that in providing for them, that they might have unbegrudged livelihood, he had used art in building the king’s treasury, and when he had expounded everything to them distinctly about the removal of the stone, he gave its precise location and said that, by guarding it carefully, they would be paymasters of the king’s riches. Then they said that he came to the end of his life and his sons after no long space set to work and, on coming to the palace at night and finding out the stone in the structure, easily took it in hand and carried out for themselves much of the riches. Then when in fact the king had opened the building, he marvelled at seeing the vessels were wanting in their riches and knew not whom he should blame, as the seals were sound and the building shut. And, when for him, after he had opened it not only twice, but thrice, his riches manifestly were less on each and every occasion, because the thieves would not leave off plundering, he did this: he gave a command to work up snares and set them round the vessels in which his riches were. Then, the robbers came, just as in the time before, and one of them slipped inside and, when he had approached the jar, immediately was held in the snare and, after he had realized in what sort of evil he was, immediately called his brother, made clear to him what was at hand and bade him the quickest way slip inside and cut off his head, that he himself, seen and recognized for who he was, might not destroy besides him also. And the one seemed to the other to speak well and so the latter, persuaded, performed the above and, having fitted the stone in place, went off toward home with the head of his brother. When day had come, the king, on entering the building, was astonished at seeing the robber’s body was in the snare without its head, while the building was unharmed and had neither any place of entrance nor exit. Being at a loss, he did this: the robber’s corpse he hanged down from the wall and established guards over it and enjoined them that, whomever they saw weeping aloud or uttering lamentations, they should arrest and bring to him. Now, when the corpse was hanged up, the mother bore it terribly and, speaking to her surviving son, commanded him, in whatever manner he was able, to contrive that he would loose down and convey the body of his brother and, if he would have no care for that, she threatened that she would go to the king and disclose he had the riches. So, when the mother abused her surviving son harshly and, although he said many words to her, he could not persuade her, he devised something like this: having equipped asses and filled skins with wine, he put them on top of the asses and thereafter drove them and, when he was by those who guarded the hanging corpse, after drawing to himself two or three legs of the skins that were tied up, he loosened them and, as the wine was flowing, he struck himself on the head and let out loud shouts, as if he knew not to which of the asses he should turn first. Then the guards, when they had seen the wine was flowing in large quantities, ran together into the way with vessels and carried together what had poured out, as they thought it profit. But he abused them all furiously in a feigning of anger and, the guards consoling him, in time he feigned to grow mild and abated his anger and finally he drove his asses out of the way and equipped them. When more words arose and someone even had joked with him and brought him on to laughter, he gave them in addition one of the skins and they there, just as they were, having reclined back, intended to drink and took him along and bade him stay and drink with them. And when they were greeting him kindly on the occasion of their drinking, he gave them in addition another of the skins too and the guards, having imbibed lavishly, got very drunk and, overcome by sleep, went to bed on that very spot where they drank. Then he, when it was far into the night, loosed down his brother’s body and shaved all the guards’ right cheeks for an insult and, having put the corpse on top of the asses, drove toward home with the bringing to completion for his mother of what had been commanded. But the king, when the robber’s stealing away the corpse had been announced back to him, took it terribly and, wanting at all events to be found whoever he was who contrived that, they say he did the following, although it’s not credible to me: he had his own daughter sit in a brothel and enjoined her to welcome all men alike and, before she had intercourse, to make it necessary for each to tell her just what was the wisest action and the unholiest action that had been performed by him in his life and to arrest and not let go out him whoever related what had happened in the robber’s case. But, while the child was carrying out what had been commanded by her father, the robber, having learned by inquiry for what purpose those deeds were done, wanted to prove superior to the king by cunning and did this: he cut off the arm of a fresh dead body at the shoulder and he went with it under his cloak; on coming to the king’s daughter and being asked the same questions as all the others, he related that he had performed his unholiest action when he had cut off his brother’s head, after he had been caught by a snare in the king’s treasury, and his wisest where he had gotten the guards drunk and loosed down his brother’s corpse, when it was hanging; so, after she had heard, she laid hands on him, and the robber in the darkness stretched forth the corpse’s arm to her and she caught hold of and held it in the belief she grasped the arm of that man himself; then the robber surrendered it to her and was gone in flight through the doors. And when that news had been brought to the king, he was astonished at the cleverness and daring of the human being and finally sent round men to all his cities and had announced an offer of amnesty and a promise of great things for him, if he came into his sight. So the robber put his faith in and went to him and Rhampsinitus marvelled greatly and gave him that daughter to cohabit with, on the ground that he knew the most of human beings, in that the Egyptians had been judged to be first among all the others and he among the Egyptians.

After that they said that king went down alive, down to him who the Greeks usually say is Hades, and there played dice with Demeter; sometimes he prevailed over her and sometimes he was worsted by her; then he came back up with a gold cloth for wiping the hands as a gift from her. And following Rhampsinitus’ going down, when he had come back, then, they asserted, the Egyptians began to celebrate a festival, which I know they have been bringing to completion even to my time; yet whether they observe the festival on account of the foregoing I cannot say. The same day the priests completely weave a mantle and then bind up the eyes of one of them round with a turban; having brought him with the mantle on to a way that leads to Demeter’s, they themselves depart back and that priest, who is bound up round the eyes, they say, is led by two wolves to Demeter’s shrine, twenty stades distant from the city, and from the shrine the wolves lead him back again to the same place.

Now, let anyone make use of the accounts given by the Egyptians for whom their like are persuasive; for me, however, in every account it is laid down as a principle that I write on hearsay the accounts given by each group. The chief leaders of those below, the Egyptians say, are Demeter and Dionysus. Moreover, the Egyptians also are the first who said this account, that a human being’s soul is immortal and, when the body wastes away, it slips into another living being that is being born on each and every occasion; then, whenever it goes the round of all that’s on dry land, that’s in the sea and that has wings, it slips back into a human being’s body that is being born and it goes its round in three thousand years. Of that account there are those of the Greeks who made use, some earlier and some later, as if it were their own private, whose names I know and refuse to write.

Now, until King Rhampsinitus all good laws were in Egypt, they said, and Egypt flourished greatly, but after him Cheops became their king and drove them to all kinds of wickedness; for he first shut down all the shrines and kept them from sacrificings and afterward bade all Egyptians work for him; to some, indeed, it was shown forth that from the stone-quarries in the Arabian mountain, from those places, they should drag stones up to the Nile and, when the stones had been ferried across the river by boats, he appointed others to receive them and to the so-called Libyan mountain, to that place, to drag them—they worked in a group of ten myriads of human beings on each and every occasion, each party three months—and time passed for the population who were being worn down, ten years on the way along which they dragged the stones, which they had built and is a work not a great deal smaller than the pyramid, so far as it seems to me—its length is five stades, its breadth ten fathoms, its height, where it itself is its highest, eight fathoms and its stone is hewn and with carved on figures; both on that very road the ten years went by and on what’s on the crest on which the pyramids stand, the buildings underground, that he had built as burial-places for himself on an island by introducing a channel from the Nile, while, in the pyramid itself’s case, twenty years’ time went by in the making of it, whose each side in every direction is eight plethra, it being quadrangular, and equal in height and which is of stone hewn and fitted together in the highest degree. None of its stones are less than thirty feet.

That pyramid was made this way: like stairs, which several name “courses” and some “steps”; when they had first made it like that, they raised the remaining stones with machines made of short pieces of wood; they raised a stone from the ground onto the first row of the stairs and, whenever the stone went up onto that row, it was put into another machine that stood on the first row and from that was dragged onto the second row on another machine, in that just as many as were the stairs’ rows, so many were the machines too, or maybe they changed the same machine’s place, since it was one and easy to move, to each row, that they might remove the stone; let it have been said in both ways by us, just as it is said. Anyhow, the uppermost parts of that pyramid were completed first and afterward they were completing the parts next to those and last they completed its parts on the ground and the lowest. There is indicated in Egyptian letters on the pyramid how much was used up for purgative, onions and garlic for the workers and, if I remember well what the interpreter, when he read, asserted to me, one thousand six hundred talents of silver was spent. If that, then, is what it was, how much else is it reasonable was consumed for the iron with which they worked and for the food and clothing of the workers, inasmuch as they built during the stated time, and the other time, as I think, in which they cut and carried the stones and worked on the excavation under the ground, was not short.

They also said that Cheops went to that degree of wickedness so that, when he needed money, he had his own daughter sit in a brothel and ordered her to exact such and such an amount of silver (for indeed they could not give an account of that), and she exacted what had been appointed by her father and also alone by herself intended to leave behind a memorial and so of each that went in to her she asked that he present to her one stone. And from those stones, they asserted, the pyramid was built that stands in the middle of the three, before the great pyramid, each front of which is one and a half plethra.

That Cheops was king, the Egyptians said, fifty years and, when he had met with his end, his brother, Chephren, succeeded to the kingdom; then he too constantly used the same manner as the other in all the other respects and in making a pyramid, although it attained not to the dimensions of that man’s; for we in fact measured that of Chephren and neither buildings are under its ground nor does a channel come from the Nile to it by flowing, just as to the other, whereas through a built conduit on the inside one flows round the island, on which they say Cheops himself is buried. Having built beneath the first course of many-colored Ethiopian stone, Chephren had his pyramid descend forty feet below the like size of the other and built it next to the great one. Both stand on the same crest that’s approximately one hundred feet high. Chephren was king, they said, fifty six years.

Those they count the one hundred six years, in which for the Egyptians there were all kinds of wickedness, and the shrines so long a time were shut down and not opened. Those men because of hatred the Egyptians do not very much wish to name, but even their pyramids they call the shepherd Philitis’, who during that time pastured flocks all over those places.

After that last-named Mycerinus became king of Egypt, they said, Cheops’ son, to whom the actions of his father were displeasing and who opened the shrines and let the population that was worn out to the extreme of misfortune go to work and sacrificing as well as decided their lawsuits the most justly of all kings. Now, because of that action of all who by then became kings of the Egyptians they praise him most; for in all the other respects he decided well and, in particular, to him who found fault in consequence of his sentence he offered from himself another and satisfied his desire. They further said for Mycerinus, who was mild to his fellow-citizens and pursued the above the first beginning of evils was the death of his daughter, who was the only offspring in his house. He, then, very pained at the thing that he had fallen on and wanting to bury his daughter somewhat more extravagantly than all the others, had a hollow wooden cow built and thereafter gilded it and buried that very daughter who had died in it inside.

Then that cow was not covered with earth; rather, it was visible still even in my time, where it was in the city of Sais, placed in the palace in an artfully wrought chamber; they burn incense of all kinds by it daily and during each night, all night, a lamp is lit nearby. Near that cow in another chamber the concubines of Mycerinus’ likeness stand, as the priests in the city of Sais said; for wooden colossuses stand there that are somewhere pretty near twenty in number and made naked; however, who they are, I am not able to say except what was said.

Yet some others say about that cow and the colossuses this account, that Mycerinus fell in love with his own daughter and thereafter had intercourse with her against her will; afterward they say that the child hanged herself because of distress, he buried her in that cow, and her mother cut off the arms of handmaids who had given over the daughter to her father, and that now the likenesses of those women have suffered the same as they had suffered alive. That they say and they blather, as I think, in respect to all the other things and, especially, those concerning the colossuses’ arms, because in respect to that then we in fact saw that through time’s agency they had lost their arms, which manifestly were at their feet still even in my time.

The cow everywhere else is covered over with red cloth, but shows its neck and its head made golden with an overlay of very thick gold, and between its horns a representation of the sun’s disc in gold is attached. The cow is not upright but lying on its knees and in size just as big as a large live cow. It is carried out from its chamber annually, whenever the Egyptians beat themselves for the god that is not named by me in the case of a matter like that preceding. At that time, then, they in fact carry out the cow to daylight, since indeed, they assert, she asked of her father, Mycerinus, when she was dying, that once in the year she should observe the sun.

(to be continued)

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