Herodotus Tells Tales From Egypt’s Hoary Past! Today’s installment: the Misogynistic Blindness Cure Story!
Rameses II’s heir was, according to Herodotus, the unimaginatively-named Pharaoh. Seriously! Pharaoh was overall a pretty nebbishy king, neither an effective administrator nor a captain of war. His big claim to fame was the time he got cursed by the gods.
Once upon a time, there was a massive flood in Egypt. The Nile floods regularly, but this was something special: twenty-seven feet above its usual level. Pharaoh was called upon to take some kind of action. Rather than evacuate the people or dig more canals or anything else useful, he decided to go do battle with the flood.
Pharaoh took a spear and attacked the floodwaters, hurling the spear like an idiot. Naturally the gods struck him blind.
Ten years went by. Maybe the floodwaters eventually receded, Herodotus doesn’t say. Pharaoh was still blind, but also still pharaoh. Year eleven of his blindness was marked by the arrival of a holy man, who told him that the gods were ready to forgive him for being such an idiot.
“Anoint your eyes with the urine of a woman,” the oracle told him.
“Ew,” said Pharaoh.
“I know, right? Nasty. Still, it’s one last humiliation the gods demand before they declare you’ve sufficiently demeaned yourself.”
“Okay, I’ll do it,” said Pharaoh. He obtained some urine from a handy woman and splashed it in his face.
“What gives?” he demanded of the oracle.
“Oh, didn’t I say? The woman has to be someone who has never cheated on her husband,” said the oracle.
So Pharaoh got some of his own wife’s urine. Nothing! And then he systemically collected urine from every woman in his court and splashed it in his face.
Eventually he regained his sight. Herodotus is not specific as to whether this was because he found a woman who had never been unfaithful to her husband, or for another reason. Either way, once he could see, the first thing Pharaoh did was gather up all the women whose urine hadn’t magically cured him, and had them mass-executed in a town called Bloody Ground.
Bloody Ground has never existed and this story is pretty clearly a fairy tale about how awful women are. But for what it’s worth urine was sometimes used in Egyptian medicine. Urine is high in ammonia and sterile; it might have been useful for something at some point.
NEXT: HELEN OF TROY WHY NOT!