In which Herodotus explains farming
Maybe the Egyptians will be able to figure out some way to combat climate change, though: they’re really sharp guys. In particular Herodotus wants to call out the humble Egyptian subsistence farmer as a secret genius, because of this one weird trick that can save you inches off your farming budget.
In the rest of the world, when it’s time to plant seeds, farmers go through all this elaborate and time-consuming work: ploughing fields, planting crops, it just goes on and on. There’s got to be a better way! And there is! Do like the Egyptians do: strew your seeds around in your field randomly, let the Nile flood your farm, and then send pigs out to wallow in the resulting mud! The pigs will roll around and spread the seeds out, and then they’ll roll around and drive the seeds down into the mud. Then all you have to do is round your pigs up: easy!
The pigs can also harvest for you. You just wait until your wheat is ready to harvest, and then you send the pigs in again. They root around and break the stalks and thresh the grain! You only need to go through and pick the loose grain up off the ground. It’s brilliant!
Herodotus doesn’t explain where he found out about this one weird trick an Egyptian housewife discovered, but my guess is the answer is “over wine, lots of wine.”
Speaking of drunken rambling, there’s a particular topic Herodotus wants to clear up. He feels he has to answer a question often posed by pre-Socratic Hellenic geographers: is Upper Egypt part of Egypt? The answer is yes and frankly Herodotus is ashamed to have to address the point. This was apparently a major issue among Herodotus’s circle. Before Aristotle or whoever straightened it all out, Greek natural philosophers asserted that the world was made of three equally vast continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Because of how they defined the borders of these continents, Lower Egypt didn’t fit into any of them and Upper Egypt was half in Asia and half in Africa. Some jackass asserted that Upper Egypt wasn’t a real place because of that, that it was an amalgam of two separate regions. The Egyptians who live there disagree, and Herodotus agrees with them, and let’s all just move on.
No? You need more evidence? Herodotus suspects someone out there needs more evidence, so listen. Herodotus talked to some guys, and they told him about the Oracle of Ammon. There are these two border-town type Egyptian cities, Marea and Apis, the inhabitants of which were of course forbidden from eating beef, as all Egyptians are…
…Did Herodotus not mention that already? He meant to. Egyptians don’t eat beef, for religious reasons. Anyway. The people in those cities wanted to eat beef, and they figured if they could get their cities declared to be part of Africa, not part of Egypt, then they wouldn’t have to abide by the strictures. So they contacted the Oracle of Ammon about it, hoping to get confirmation that they were Africans, not Egyptians. But instead the Oracle declared that all of the land that is watered by the Nile is part of Egypt. This includes Marea, it included Apis, and it definitely includes Upper Egypt.
Frankly, it even includes some parts of what everybody considers to be Libya and Arabia, on either side of Egypt, but nobody’s much into dwelling on that.