Herodotus Tells Tales From Egypt’s Hoary Past! Today’s installment: A Handful of Random Bits and Pieces!
So once upon a time, a couple of generations after Mycerinus, the king of Egypt was a man named Anysis, who was blind. When Ethiopia invaded, Anysis fled into the swamp and hung out for fifty years while the Ethiopians ruled Egypt.
The Ethiopians were even-handed conquerers; they didn’t randomly murder Egyptian peasants. Instead they punished criminals through hard labor, specifically building up the embankments of the many irrigation canals that criss-crossed Egypt.
Fifty years after the conquest, the Ethiopian king, Sabacos, had a mystic vision, i.e., a dream. In the dream he took the advice of a mysterious stranger and gathered together all the priests in Egypt for a big mystical ecumenical conference.
When he woke, Sabacos considered a few facts:
1) The oracles in Ethiopia, back when they’d first invaded Egypt, had predicted a fifty-year reign of peace and plenty over that land, and not a day more.
2) The gods are jerks.
3) Probably the vision was to get him to call all the priests together, and then he’d make a mistake and accidentally blaspheme and the priests would promulgate tales of his unrighteousness and the Egyptians would rise up in a bloody civil war.
“Screw that,” said Sabacos, and left, along with the Ethiopian occupation.
And so the Egyptians went out to the swamp and found Anysis, the blind former king, who had been just straight chilling in the swamp for fifty years. He’d built himself a little hidden island, which Herodotus named Elbo, and claimed had been lost for seven hundred years after Anysis’s reign.
Once upon a time, a massive army of Assyrians and Arabians stood poised to conquer Egypt. The Egyptians were all terrified, and unwilling to fight off these invaders. A priest prayed for deliverance, and Hephaestus sent an army of mice who ate through all the bowstrings of the Assyrian army in a single night, an event recounted somewhat differently in 2 Kings 19:35.
Once upon a time Hecataeus, a Greek historian, was in Thebes and on a whim he stopped by a temple and had the priests divine his family tree. Their methodology was unclear, but a key part of the process was a series of wooden statues, one of each priest, father and son, one statue per generation, going back to the beginning of history three hundred and forty-five generations prior.
Once upon a time there was no king in Egypt, and the Egyptians couldn’t stand this, so twelve of the most prominent aristocrats got together and agreed to carve Egypt up into twelve fiefdoms.
To commemorate this agreement, the twelve kings constructed a great labyrinthine memorial palace, which Herodotus got to take a tour of part of, and which was the single most impressive building he’d ever seen before or since. Herodotus describes a crazy maze of galleries and chambers, and indicates the whole thing was full of gorgeous stonework. There was also this cool lake that Herodotus totally misunderstood the geology of.
Also once upon a time, there was a prophecy that whatever man poured wine from a bronze vessel during the rites of Hephaestus, that man would become king of all of Egypt. Years after the twelve kinds made their agreement, they got together for an annual Hephaestus-related rite. Normally you’d use a glass vessel for this rite, but the priest miscounted and brought the twelve kings only eleven glass vessels.
One of the kings, without thinking, pulled off his bronze helmet and used it for the rite. When the other kings realized what he’d done, boy, they were mad!
That king’s name: Psammetichus! We’ve talked about him a bit already.
NEXT: ALL ABOUT PSAMMETICHUS!