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I.1‑29

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Library of History

of
Diodorus Siculus

published in Vol. I
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1933

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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I.42‑68

(Vol. I) Diodorus Siculus
Library of History

(Book I, continued)

p97 30 1 The land of Egypt stretches in a general way from north to south, and in natural strength and beauty of landscape is reputed to excel in no small degree all other regions that have been formed into kingdoms. 2 For on the west it is fortified by the desert of Libya, which is full of wild beasts and extends along its border for a long distance, and by reason of its lack of rain and want of every kind of food makes the passage through it not only toilsome but even highly dangerous; while on the south the same protection is afforded by the cataracts of the Nile and the mountains flanking them, 3 since from p99the country of the Trogodytes1 and the farthest parts of Ethiopia, over a distance of five thousand five hundred stades, it is not easy to sail by the river or to journey by land, unless a man is fitted out like a king or at least on a very great scale. 4 And as for the parts of the country facing the east, some are fortified by the river and some are embraced by a desert and a swampy flat called the Barathra.2 For between Coele-Syria and Egypt there lies a lake, quite narrow, but marvellously deep and some two hundred stades in length, which is called Serbonis3 and offers unexpected perils to those who approach it in ignorance of its nature. 5 For since the body of the water is narrow, like a ribbon, and surrounded on all sides by great dunes, when there are constant south winds great quantities of sand are strewn over it. This sand hides the surface of the water and makes the outline of the lake continuous with the solid land and entirely indistinguishable from it. 6 For this reason many who were unacquainted with the peculiar nature of the place have disappeared together with whole armies,4 when they wandered from the beaten road. 7 For as the sand is walked upon it gives way but gradually, deceiving with a kind of malevolent cunning those p101who advance upon it, until, suspecting some impending mishap, they begin to help one another only when it is no longer possible to turn back or escape. 8 For anyone who has been sucked in by the mire cannot swim, since the slime prevents all movement of the body, nor is he able to wade out, since he has no solid footing; for by reason of the mixing of the sand with the water and the consequent change in the nature of both it comes about that the place cannot be crossed either on foot or by boat. 9 Consequently those who enter upon these regions are born towards the depths and have nothing to grasp to give them help, since the sand along the edge slips in with them. These flats have received a name appropriate to their nature as we have described it, being called Barathra.

31 1 Now that we have set forth the facts about the three regions which fortify Egypt by land we shall add to them the one yet remaining. 2 The fourth side, which is washed over its whole extent by waters which are practically harbourless, has for a defence before it the Egyptian Sea.5 The voyage along the coast of this sea is exceedingly long, and any landing is especially difficult; for from Paraetonium6 in Libya as far as Iopê7 in Coele-Syria, a voyage along the coast of some five thousand stades, there is not to be found a safe harbour except Pharos.8 3 And, apart from these considerations, a sandbank extends along practically the whole length of Egypt, not discernible to any p103who approach without previous experience of these waters. 4 Consequently those who think that they have escaped the peril of the sea, and in their ignorance turn with gladness towards the shore, suffer unexpected shipwreck when their vessels suddenly run aground; 5 and now and then mariners who cannot see land in time because the country lies so low are cast ashore before they realize it, some of them on marshy and swampy places and others on a desert region.

6 The land of Egypt, then, is fortified on all sides by nature in the manner described, and is oblong in shape, having a coast-line of two thousand stades and extending inland about six thousand stades. In density of population it far surpassed of old all known regions of the inhabited world, and even in our own day is thought to be second to none other; 7 for in ancient times it had over eighteen thousand important villages and cities, as can be seen entered in their sacred records, while under Ptolemy son of Lagus9 these were reckoned at over thirty thousand,10 this great number continuing down to our own time. 8 The total population, they say, was of old about seven million and the number p105has remained no less down to our day.11 9 It is for this reason that, according to our historical accounts, the ancient kings Egypt built great and marvellous works with the aid of so many hands and left in them immortal monuments to their glory. But these matters we shall set forth in detail a little later; now we shall tell of the nature of the river and the distinctive features of the country.

32 1 The Nile flows from south to north, having its sources in regions which have never been seen, since they lie in the desert at the extremity of Ethiopia in a country that cannot be approached because of the excessive heat. 2 Being as it is the largest of all rivers as well as the one which traverses the greatest territory, it forms great windings, now turning towards the east and Arabia, now turning towards the west and Libya; for its course from the mountains of Ethiopia to where it empties into the sea is a distance, inclusive of its windings, of some twelve thousand stades. 3 In its lower stretches it is more and more reduced in volume, as the flow is drawn off to the two continents.12 4 Of the streams which thus break off from it, those which turn off into Libya are swallowed up by the p107sand, which lies there to an incredible depth, while those which pour in the opposite direction into Arabia are diverted into immense fens and large marshes13 on whose shores dwell many peoples. 5 But where it enters Egypt it has a width of ten stades, sometimes less, and flows, not in a straight course, but in windings of every sort; for the twists now towards the east, now towards the west, and at times even towards the south, turning entirely back upon itself. 6 For sharp hills extend along both sides of the river, which occupy much of the land bordering upon it and are cut through by precipitous ravines, in which are narrow defiles; and when it comes to these hills the stream rushes rapidly backward through the level country,14 and after being borne southward over an area of considerable extent resumes once more its natural course.

7 Distinguished as it is in these respects above all other streams, the Nile is also the only river which makes its way without violence or onrushing waves, except at the cataracts, as they are called. 8 This is a place which is only about ten stades in length, but has a steep descent and is shut in by precipices so as to form a narrow cleft, rugged in its entire length and ravine-like, full, moreover, of huge boulders which stand out of the water like peaks. And since the river is split about these boulders with great force and is often turned back so that it rushes in the opposite direction because of the obstacles, remarkable whirlpools are formed; 9 the middle space, moreover, for its entire length is filled with foam p109made by the backward rush of the water, and strikes those who approach it with great terror. And, in fact, the descent of the river is so swift and violent that it appears to the eye like the very rush of an arrow. 10 During the flood-time of the Nile, when the peaked rocks are covered and the entire rapids are hidden by the large volume of the water, some men descend the cataract when they find the winds against them,15 but no man can make his way up it, since the force of the river overcomes every human device. 11 Now there are still other cataracts of this nature, but the largest is the one on the border between Ethiopia and Egypt.

33 1 The Nile also embraces islands within its waters, of which there are many in Ethiopia and one of considerable extent called Meroë, on which there also lies a famous city bearing the same name as the island, which was founded by Cambyses and named by him after his mother Meroë. 2 This island, they say, has the shape of a long shield and in size far surpasses the other islands in these parts; for they state that it is three thousand stades long and a thousand wide. It also contains not a few cities, the most famous of which is Meroë. 3 Extending the entire length of the island where it is washed by the river there are, on the side towards Libya, the dunes containing an infinite amount of sand, and, on the side towards Arabia, rugged cliffs. There are also to be found in it mines of gold, silver, iron, and copper, and it contains in addition much ebony and p111every kind of precious stone. 4 Speaking generally, the river forms so many islands that the report of them can scarcely be credited; for, apart from the regions surrounded by water in what is called the Delta, there are more than seven hundred other islands, of which some are irrigated by the Ethiopians and planted with millet, though others are so overrun by snakes and dog-faced baboons16 and other animals of every kind that human beings cannot set foot upon them.

5 Now where the Nile in its course through Egypt divides into several streams it forms the region which is called from its shape the Delta. 6 The two sides of the Delta are described by the outermost branches, while its base is formed by the sea which receives the discharge from the several outlets of the river. 7 It empties into the sea in seven mouths, of which the first, beginning at the east, is called the Pelusiac, the second the Tanitic, then the Mendesian, Phatnitic, and Sebennytic, then the Bolbitine, and finally the Canopic, which is called by some the Heracleotic. 8 There are also other mouths, built by the hand of man, about which there is no special need to write. At each mouth is a walled city, which is divided into two parts by the river and provided on each side of the mouth with pontoon bridges and guard-houses at suitable points. From the Pelusiac mouth there is an artificial canal to the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. 9 The first to undertake the construction of this was Necho the son of Psammetichus, and after him Darius the Persian made progress with the work for p113a time but finally left it unfinished;17 10 for he was informed by certain persons that if he dug through the neck of land he would be responsible for the submergence of Egypt, for they pointed out to him that the Red Sea was higher than Egypt.18 11 At a later time the second Ptolemy completed it and in the most suitable spot constructed an ingenious kind of a lock. This he opened, whenever he wished to pass through, and quickly closed again, a contrivance which usage proved to be highly successful. 12 The river which flows through this canal is named Ptolemy, after the builder of it, and has at its mouth the city called Arsinoë.

34 1 The Delta is much like Sicily in shape, and its sides are each seven hundred and fifty stades long and its base, where it is washed by the sea, thirteen hundred stades. 2 This island is intersected by many artificial canals and includes the fairest land in Egypt. For since it is alluvial soil and well watered, it produces many crops of every kind, inasmuch as the river by its annual rise regularly deposits on it fresh slime, and the inhabitants easily irrigate its whole area by means of a contrivance p115which was invented by Archimedes of Syracuse and is called, after its shape, a screw.19

3 Since the Nile has a gentle current, carries down a great quantity of all kinds of earth, and, furthermore, gathers in stagnant pools in low places, marshes are formed which abound in every kind of plant. 4 For tubers of every flavour grow in them and fruits and vegetables which grow on stalks, of a nature peculiar to the country, supplying an abundance sufficient to render the poor and the sick among the inhabitants self-sustaining. 5 For not only do they afford a varied diet, ready at hand and abundant for all who need it, but they also furnish not a few of the other things which contribute to the necessities of life; 6 the lotus, for instance, grows in great profusion, and from it the Egyptians make a bread which is able to satisfy the physical needs of the body, and the ciborium, which is found in great abundance, bears what is called the "Egyptian" bean.20 7 There are also many kinds of trees, of which that called persea,21 which was introduced from Ethiopia by the Persians when Cambyses conquered those regions, has an unusually sweet fruit, 8 while of the fig-mulberry22 trees one kind bears the black mulberry and another a fruit resembling the fig; and since the latter produces throughout almost the whole year, the result is that the poor have a ready source to turn to in their need. 9 The fruit called the blackberry is picked at the time the river is p117receding and by reason of its natural sweetness is eaten as a dessert. 10 The Egyptians also make a drink out of barley which they call zythos, the bouquet of which is not much inferior to that of wine. 11 Into their lamps they pour for lighting purposes, not the oil of the olive, but a kind which is extracted from a plant and called kiki.23 Many other plants, capable of supplying men with the necessities of life, grow in Egypt in great abundance, but it would be a long task to tell about them.

35 1 As for animals, the Nile breeds many of peculiar form, and two which surpass the others, the crocodile and what is called the "horse."24 2 Of these animals the crocodile grows to be the largest from the smallest beginning, since this animal lays eggs about the size of those of a goose, but after the young is hatched it grows to be as long as sixteen cubits. It is as long-lived as man, and has no tongue. 3 The body of the animal is wondrously protected by nature; for its skin is covered all over with scales and is remarkably hard, and there are many teeth in both jaws, two being tusks, much larger than the rest. 4 It devours the flesh not only of men but also of any land animal which approaches the river. The bites which it makes are huge and severe and it lacerates terribly with its claws, and whatever part of the flesh it tears it renders altogether difficult to heal. 5 In early times the Egyptians used to catch these beasts with hooks baited with p119the flesh of pigs, but since then they have hunted them sometimes with heavy nets, as they catch some kinds of fish, and sometimes from their boats with iron spears which they strike repeatedly into the head. 6 The multitude of them in the river and the adjacent marshes is beyond telling, since they are prolific and are seldom slain by the inhabitants; for it is the custom of most of the natives of Egypt to worship the crocodile as a god, while for foreigners there is no profit whatsoever in the hunting of them since their flesh is not edible. 7 But against this multitude's increasing and menacing the inhabitants nature has devised a great help; for the animal called the ichneumon, which is about the size of a small dog, goes about breaking the eggs of the crocodiles, since the animal lays them on the banks of the river, and — what is most astonishing of all — without eating them or profiting in any way it continually performs a service which, in a sense, has been prescribed by nature and forced upon the animal for the benefit of men.

8 The animal called the "horse" is not less than five cubits high, and is four-footed and cloven-hoofed like the ox; it has tusks larger than those of the wild boar, three on each side, and ears and tail and a cry somewhat like those of the horse; but the trunk of its body, as a whole, is not unlike that of the elephant, and its skin is the toughest of almost any beast's. 9 Being a river and land animal, it spends the day in the streams exercising in the deep water, while at night it forages about the countryside on the grain and hay, so that, if this animal were p121prolific and reproduced each year, it would entirely destroy the farms of Egypt. 10 But even it is caught by the united work of many men who strike it with iron spears; for whenever it appears they converge their boats upon it, and gathering about it wound it repeatedly with a kind of chisel fitted with iron barbs,25 and then, fastening the end of a rope of tow to one of them which has become imbedded in the animal, they let it go until it dies from loss of blood. 11 Its meat is tough and hard to digest and none of its inward parts is edible, neither the viscera26 nor the intestines.

36 1 Beside the beasts above mentioned the Nile contains every variety of fish and in numbers beyond belief; for it supplies the natives not only with abundant subsistence from the fish freshly caught, but it also yields an unfailing multitude for salting. 2 Speaking generally, we may say that the Nile surpasses all the rivers of the inhabited world in its benefactions to mankind. For, beginning to rise at the summer solstice, it increases in volume until the autumnal equinox, and, since it is bringing down fresh mud all the time, it soaks both the fallow land and the seed land as well as the orchard land for so long a time as the farmers may wish. 3 For since the water comes with a gentle flow, they easily divert the river from their fields by small dams of earth, and then, by cutting these, as easily let the river in again upon the land whenever they think this to be advantageous. 4 And in general the Nile contributes so greatly to the lightening of labour as well as to the profit of the inhabitants, that the majority of the farmers, as they p123begin work upon the areas of the land which are becoming dry, merely scatter their seed, turn their herds and flocks in on the fields, and after they have used these for trampling the seed in return after four or five months to harvest it;27 while some, applying light ploughs to the land, turn over no more than the surface of the soil after its wetting and then gather great heaps of grain without much expense or exertion. 5 For, generally speaking, every kind of field labour among other peoples entails great expense and toil, but among the Egyptians alone is the harvest gathered in with very slight outlay of money and labour. Also the land planted with the vine, being irrigated as are the other fields, yields an abundant supply of wine to the natives. 6 And those who allow the land, after it has been inundated, to lie uncultivated and give it over to the flocks to graze upon, are rewarded with flocks which, because of the rich pasturage, lamb twice and are twice shorn every year.28

7 The rise of the Nile is a phenomenon which appears wonderful enough to those who have witnessed it, but to those who have only heard of it, quite incredible. For while all other rivers begin to fall at the summer solstice and grow steadily lower and lower during the course of the following summer, this one alone begins to rise at that time and increases so greatly in volume day by day that it finally overflows practically all Egypt. 8 And in like manner it afterwards follows precisely the opposite p125course and for an equal length of time gradually falls each day, until it has returned to its former level. And since the land is a level plain, while the cities and villages, as well as the farm-houses, lie on artificial mounds, the scene comes to resemble the Cyclades Islands.29 9 The wild land animals for the larger part are cut off by the river and perish in its waters, but a few escape by fleeing to higher ground; the herds and flocks, however, are maintained at the time of the flood in the villages and farm-houses, where fodder is stored up for them in advance. 10 The masses of the people, being relieved of their labours during the entire time of the inundation, turn to recreation, feasting all the whole and enjoying without hindrance every device of pleasure. 11 And because of the anxiety occasioned by the rise of the river the kings have constructed a Nilometer30 at Memphis, where those who are charged with the administration of it accurately each the rise and despatch messages to the cities, and inform them exactly how many cubits or fingers the river has risen and when it has commenced to fall. 12 In this manner the entire nation, when it has learned that the river has ceased rising and begun to fall, is relieved of its anxiety, while at the same time all immediately know in advance how large the next harvest will be, since the Egyptians have kept an accurate record of their observations of this kind over a long period of terms.

p127 37 1 Since there is great difficulty in explaining the swelling of the river, many philosophers and historians have undertaken to set forth the causes of it; regarding this we shall speak summarily, in order that we may neither make our digression too long nor fail to record that which all men are curious to know. 2 For on the general subject of the rise of the Nile and in this sources, as well as on the manner in which it reaches the sea and the other points in which this, the largest river of the inhabited world, differs from all others, some historians have actually not ventured to say a single word, although wont now and then to expatiate at length on some winter torrent or other, while others have undertaken to speak on these points of inquiry, but have strayed far from the truth. 3 Hellanicus and Cadmus, for instance, as well as Hecataeus and all the writers like them, belonging as they do one and all to the early school,31 turned to the answers offered by the myths; 4 Herodotus, who was a curious inquirer if ever a man was, and widely acquainted with history, undertook, it is true, to give an explanation of the matter, but is now found to have followed contradictory guesses; Xenophon and Thucydides, who are praised for the accuracy of their histories, completely refrained in their writings from any mention of the regions about Egypt; and Ephorus and Theopompus, who of all writers paid most attention to these matters, hit upon the truth the least. The p129error on the part of all these writers was due, not to their negligence, but to the peculiar character of the country. 5 For from earliest times until Ptolemy who was called Philadelphus,32 not only did no Greeks ever cross over into Ethiopia, but none ascended even as far as the boundaries of Egypt — to such an extent were all these regions inhospitable to foreigners and altogether dangerous; but after this king had made an expedition into Ethiopia with an army of Greeks, being the first to do so, the facts about that country from that time forth have been more accurately learned.

6 Such, then, were the reasons for the ignorance of the earlier historians; and as for the sources of the Nile and the region where the stream arises, not a man, down to the time of the writing of this history, has ever affirmed that he has seen them, or reported from hearsay an account received from any who have maintained that they have seen them. 7 The question, therefore, resolves itself into a matter of guesswork and plausible conjecture; and when, for instance, the priests of Egypt assert that the Nile has its origin in the ocean which surrounds the inhabited world, there is nothing sound in what they say, and they are merely solving one perplexity by substituting another, and advancing as proof an explanation which itself stands much in need of proof. p1318 On the other hand, those Trogodytes,33 known as the Bolgii, who migrated from the interior because of the heat, say that there are certain phenomena connected with those regions, from which a man might reason that the body of the Nile is gathered from many sources which converge upon a single place, and that this is the reason for its being the most fertile of all known rivers. 9 But the inhabitants of the country about the island called Meroë, with whom a man would be most likely to agree, since they are far removed from the art of finding reasons in accordance with what is plausible and dwell nearest the regions under discussion, are so far from saying anything accurate about these problems that they even call the river Astapus, which means, when translated into Greek, "Water from Darkness."

10 This people, then, have given the Nile a name which accords with the want of any first-hand information about those regions and with their own ignorance of them; but in our opinion the explanation nearest the truth is the one which is farthest from pure assumption. 11 I am not unaware that Herodotus,34 when distinguishing between the Libya which lies to the east and that which lies to the west of this river, attributes to the Libyans known as the Nasamones the exact observation of the stream, and says that the Nile rises in a certain lake and then flows through the land of Ethiopia for a distance beyond telling;a and yet assuredly no hasty assent should be given to the statements either of Libyans, even though they may have spoken truthfully, or of the historian when what he says does not admit of proof.

p133 38 1 Now that we have discussed the sources and course of the Nile we shall endeavour to set forth the causes of its swelling. 2 Thales, who is called one of the seven wise men, says that when the etesian winds35 blow against the mouths of the river they hinder the flow of the water into the sea, and that this is the reason why it rises and overflows Egypt, which is a low and level plain. 3 But this explanation, plausible as it appears, may easily be shown to be false. For if what he said were true, all the rivers whose mouths face the etesian winds would rise in a similar way; but since this is the case nowhere in the inhabited world the true cause of the swelling must be sought elsewhere. 4 Anaxagoras the physical philosopher has declared that the cause of the rising is the melting snow in Ethiopia, and the poet Euripides, a pupil of his, is in agreement with him. At least he writes:36

He quit Nile's waters, fairest that gush from earth,

The Nile which, drawn from Ethiop land the black

Man's home, flows with full flood when melts the snow.

5 But the fact is that this statement also requires but a brief refutation, since it is clear to everyone that the excessive heat makes it impossible that any snow should fall in Ethiopia; 6 for, speaking generally, in those regions there is no frost or cold or any sign whatsoever of winter, and this is especially true at the time of the rising of the Nile. And even p135if a man should admit the existence of great quantities of snow in the regions beyond Ethiopia, the falsity of the statement is still shown by this fact: 7 every river which flows out of the snow gives out cool breezes, as is generally agreed, and thickens the air about it; but the Nile is the only river about which no clouds form, and where no cool breezes rise and the air is not thickened.

8 Herodotus37 says that the size of the Nile at its swelling is its natural one, but that as the sun travels over Libya in the winter it draws up to itself from the Nile a great amount of moisture, and this is the reason why at that season the river becomes smaller than its natural size; 9 but at the beginning of summer, when the sun turns back in its course towards the north, it dries out and thus reduces the level of both the rivers of Greece and those of every other land whose geographical position is like that of Greece.38 10 Consequently there is no occasion for surprise, he says, in the phenomenon of the Nile; for, as a matter of fact, it does not increase in volume in the hot season and then fall in the winter, for the reason just given. 11 Now the answer to be made to this explanation also is that it would follow that, if the sun drew moisture to itself from the Nile in the winter, it would also take some moisture from all the other rivers of Libya and reduce the flow of their waters. 12 But since nowhere in Libya is anything like this to be seen taking place, it is clear that the historian is caught inventing an explanation; for the fact is that the rivers of Greece increase in winter, not p137because the sun is farther away, but by reason of the enormous rainfall.

39 1 Democritus of Abdera39 says that it is not the regions of the south that are covered with snow, but only those of the north, and that this is evident to everyone. 2 The great quantities of heaped-up snow in the northern regions still remain frozen until about the time of the winter solstice, but when in summer its solid masses are broken up by the heat, a great melting sets up, and this brings about the formation of many thick clouds in the higher altitudes, since the vapour rises upwards in large quantities. 3 These clouds are then driven by the etesian winds until they strike the highest mountains in the whole earth, which, he says, are those of Ethiopia; then by their violent impact upon these peaks, lofty as they are, they cause torrential rains which swell the river, to the greatest extent at the season of the etesian winds. 4 But it is easy for anyone to refute this explanation also, if he will but note with precision the time when the increase of the river takes place; for the Nile begins to swell at the summer solstice, when the etesian winds are not yet blowing, and commences to fall after the autumnal equinox, when the same winds have long since ceased. 5 Whenever, therefore, the precise knowledge derived from experience prevails over the plausibility of mere argumentation, while we should recognize the man's ingenuity, yet no credence should be given to his statements. 6 Indeed, I pass over the further fact that the etesian winds can be seen to blow just p139as much from the west as from the north; since Borean and Aparctian40 winds are not the only winds which are called etesian, but also the Argestean, which blow from the direction of the sun's summer setting.41 Also the statement that by general agreement the highest mountains are those of Ethiopia is not only advanced without any proof, but it does not possess, either, the credibility which is accorded to facts established by observation.42

7 Ephorus, who presents the most recent explanation, endeavours to adduce a plausible argument, but, as may be seen, by no means arrives at the truth. For he says that all Egypt, being alluvial soil and spongy,43 and in nature like pumice-stone, is full of large and continuous cracks, through which it takes up a great amount of water; this it retains within itself during the winter season, but in the summer season it pours this out from itself everywhere like sweat, as it were, and by means of this exudation it causes the flood of the river. 8 But this historian, as it appears to us, has not only never personally observed the nature of the country in Egypt, but has not even inquired with any care about it of those who are acquainted with the character of this land. 9 For in the first place, if the Nile derived its increase from Egypt itself, it would then not experience a flood in its upper stretches, where it flows through a stony and solid country; yet, as a matter of fact, it floods while flowing over a course of more than six thousand stades through p141Ethiopia before it ever touches Egypt. 10 Secondly, if the stream of the Nile were, on the one hand, lower than the rifts in the alluvial soil, the cracks would then be on the surface and so great an amount of water could not possibly remain in them; and if, on the other hand, the river occupied a higher level than the rifts, there could not possibly be a flow of water from the lower hollows to the higher surface.

11 In general, can any man think it possible that the exudations from rifts in the ground should produce so great an increase in the waters of the river that practically all Egypt is inundated by it! For I pass over the false statements of Ephorus about the ground being alluvial and water being stored up in the rifts, since the refutation of them is manifest. 12 For instance, the Meander river in Asia has laid down a great amount of alluvial land, yet not a single one of the phenomena attending the flooding of the Nile is to be seen in its case. 13 And like the Meander the river in Acarnania known as the Acheloüs, and the Cephisus in Boeotia, which flows out of Phocis, have built up not a little land, and in the case of both there is clear proof that the historian's statements are erroneous. However, under no circumstances would any man look for strict accuracy in Ephorus, when he sees that in many matters he has paid little regard for the truth.

40 1 Certain of the wise men in Memphis have undertaken to advance an explanation of the flooding, which is incapable of disproof rather than credible, and yet it is accepted by many. 2 They p143divide the earth into three parts, and say that one part is that which forms our inhabited world, that the second is exactly opposed to these regions in its seasons, and that the third lies between these two but is uninhabited by reason of the heat.44 3 Now if the Nile rose in the winter, it would be clear that it was receiving its additional waters from our zone because of the heavy rains which fall with us in that season especially; but since, on the contrary, its flood occurs in the summer, it is probable that in the regions opposite to us the winter storms are being produced and that the surplus waters of those distant regions flow into our inhabited world. 4 And it is for this reason that no man can journey to the sources of the Nile, because the river flows from the opposite zone through the uninhabited one. A further witness to this is the excessive sweetness of the water of the Nile; for in the course of the river through the torrid zone it is tempered by the heat, and that is the reason for its being the sweetest of all rivers, inasmuch as by the law of nature that which is fiery always sweetens45 what is wet.

5 But this explanation admits of an obvious rebuttal, for plainly it is quite impossible for a river to flow uphill into our inhabited world from the inhabited world opposite to ours, especially if one holds to p145the theory that the earth is shaped like a sphere. And indeed, if any man makes bold to do violence, by means of mere words, to facts established by observation, Nature at least will in no wise yield to him. For, in general, such men think that, by introducing a proposition incapable of being disproved and placing the uninhabited region between the two inhabited ones, they will in this way avoid all precise refutations of their argument; 6 but the proper course for such as take a firm position on any matter is either to adduce the observed facts as evidence or to find their proofs in statements which have been agreed upon at the outset. But how can the Nile be the only river which flows from that inhabited world to our parts? For it is reasonable to suppose that other rivers as well are to be found there, just as there are many among us. 7 Moreover, the cause which they advance for the sweetness of the water is altogether absurd. For if the river were sweetened by being tempered by the heat, it would not be so productive as it is of life, nor contain so many kinds of fishes and animals; for all water upon being changed by the fiery element is quite incapable of generating life. 8 Therefore, since by the "tempering" process which they introduce they entirely change the real nature of the Nile, the causes which they advance for its flooding must be considered false.

41 1 Oenopides of Chios46 says that in the summer the waters under the earth are cold, but in the winter, on the contrary, warm; and that this may be clearly observed in deep wells, for in midwinter their water is least cold, while in the hottest weather p147the coldest water is drawn up from them. 2 Consequently it is reasonable that the Nile should be small and should diminish in the winter, since the heat in the earth consumes the larger part of the moisture and there are no rains in Egypt; while in the summer, since there is no longer any consumption of the moisture down in the depths of the earth, the natural flow of the river is increased without hindrance. 3 But the answer to be given to this explanation also is that there are many rivers in Libya, whose mouths are situated like those of the Nile and whose courses are much the same, and yet they do not rise in the same manner as the Nile; on the contrary, flooding as they do in the winter and receding in the summer, they refute the false statement of any man who tries to overcome the truth with specious arguments.

4 The nearest approach to the truth has been made by Agatharchides of Cnidus.47 His explanation is as follows: Every year continuous rains fall in the mountains of Ethiopia from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox; 5 and so it is entirely reasonable that the Nile should diminish in the winter when it derives its natural supply of water solely from its sources, but should increase its volume in the summer on account of the rains which pour into it. 6 And just because no one up to this time has been able to set forth the causes of the origin of the flood waters, it is not proper, he urges, that his personal explanation be rejected; for nature presents many contradictory phenomena, the exact causes of which are beyond the power of mankind p149to discover. 7 As to his own statement, he adds, testimony to its truth is furnished by what takes place in certain regions of Asia. For on the borders of Scythia which abut upon the Caucasus mountains, annually, after the winter is over, exceptionally heavy snow-storms occur over many consecutive days; in the northern parts of India at certain seasons hailstones come beating down which in size and quantity surpass belief; about the Hydaspes river continuous rains fall at the opening of summer; and in Ethiopia, likewise, the same thing occurs some days later, this climatical condition, in its regular recurrence, always causing storms in the neighbouring regions. 8 And so, he argues, it is nothing surprising if in Ethiopia as well, which lies above Egypt, continuous rains in the mountains, beating down in the summer, swell the river, especially since the plain fact itself is witnessed to by the barbarians who inhabit these regions. 9 And if what has been said is of a nature opposite to what occurs among us, it should not be disbelieved on that score; for the south wind, for example, with us is accompanied by stormy weather, but in Ethiopia by clear skies, and in Europe are the north winds are violent, but in that land they are gentle and light.

10 With regard, then, to the flooding of the Nile, though we are able to answer with more varied arguments all who have offered explanations of it, we shall rest content with what has been said, in order that we may not overstep the principle of brevity which we resolved upon at the beginning. And since we have divided this Book into two parts p151because of its length, inasmuch as we are aiming at due proportion in our account,48 at this point we shall close the first portion of our history, and in the second we shall set forth the facts in the history of Egypt which come next in order, beginning with the account of the former kings of Egypt and of the earliest manner of life among the Egyptians.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The "Cave-dwellers" are located by Diodorus along the Red Sea as far north as the Greek port of Berenicê, and are described at length in Book 3.32 f.

2 The word comes from a root meaning "to devour," which suits the nature of the region, as Diodorus observes below. The famous Barathron, or "Pit," at Athens was a cleft west of the Hill of the Nymphs into which condemned criminals were flung.

3 Cp. Milton, Paradise Lost, 2.592 ff.:

A gulf profound as that Serbonian bog

Betwixt Damiata and Mount Casius old,

Where armies whole have sunk.

4 An instance of the loss of part of an army is given in Book 16.46.

5 That part of the Mediterranean lying off Egypt.

6 The first important city on the coast west of Alexandria.

7 Joppa.

8 The island which lies before Alexandria and gave its name to the harbour.

9 Ptolemy Lagus, general of Alexander the Great, was the founder of the line of the Ptolemies. He obtained the governorship of Egypt shortly after the death of Alexander in 323 B.C., assumed the title of king in 305, and reigned until 283.

10 Herodotus (2.177) gives the number of "inhabited cities" in the time of Amasis (sixth century B.C.) as twenty thousand. The "over thirty thousand" of Diodorus may be approximately correct, when the "villages" are included, although he may be using the figures given by Theocritus (17.82 ff.), who was born about 305 B.C. and performed a feat of metrical juggling of the number 33,333: "The cities builded therein are three hundreds and three thousands and three tens of thousands, and threes twain and nines three, and in them the lord and master of all is proud Ptolemy" (tr. Edmonds, in L. C. L.).

11 U. Wilcken (cp. critical note) feels that this sum for the population of Egypt about the middle of first century B.C. is approximately correct. Josephus (Jewish War, 2.385), writing a little more than a century later, gives the population as 7,500,000, exclusive of Alexandria. In Book 17.52.6 Diodorus says that the "free inhabitants" of that city numbered over 300,000.

The critical note to the Greek text (καὶ καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς δὲ οὐκ ἐλάττους εἶναι τούτων) reads:

All MSS. except M read τριακοσίων, which has been deleted by every editor since Dindorf. But U. Wilcken (Griechische Ostraka aus Ägypten und Nubien, 1, pp489 f.) follows Ed. Meyer in feeling that τριακοσίων is a corruption and makes a strong case for τούτων, which I have adopted.

12 The earlier Greek writers made the Nile the dividing line between the continents of Asia and Africa.

13 Herodotus (2.32) speaks of "large marshes" on the upper course of the Nile.

14 i.e. the valley which lies between the hills.

15 i.e. and so are able to check their speed by using the sails.

16 These are described in Book 3.35.

17 Necho reigned from 609 to 593 B.C., Darius from 521 to 485 B.C.

18 This canal, not to be confused with the Suez Canal, left the Nile a little above Bubastis, followed the Wadi Tûmilât to the Bitter Lakes, and then turned south, along the course of the present canal, to the Red Sea. Its construction has been placed as far back as the 19th and even the 12th Dynasty. At any rate, it was again put in operation by Darius, as is clear from the inscription on best-preserved of the five stelae discovered: "I am a Persian. From Persia I captured Egypt. I commanded this canal to be built from the Nile, which flows in Egypt, to the Sea which comes from Persia. So was this canal built, as I had commanded, and ships passed from Egypt through this canal to Persia, as was my purpose" (translation in R. W. Rogers, History of Ancient Persia, p120). Remains show that it was about 150 feet wide and 16 to 17 feet deep.

19 According to the description of Vitruvius (10.6) this was a screw with spiral channels, "like those of a snail shell," which turned within a wooden shaft. It was worked by man-power and did not raise the water so high as did the water-wheel.

Thayer's Note: For a comprehensive set of classical sources on Archimedes' screw, depictions of it in ancient art, modern diagrams, explanations, and applications, see Chris Rorres' excellent Archimedes site.

20 The Nelumbium speciosum; cp. Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, 4.8.7 (tr. by Hort in L. C. L.).

21 The Mimusops Schimperi; cp. Theophrastus, ibid. 4.2.5.

22 The Ficus Sycamorus; cp. Theophrastus, ibid. 6.6.4.

23 Castor-oil.

Thayer's Note: See also Strabo, XVII.2.5.

24 Called by the Greeks also hippopotamos, "horse of the river," and "horse of the Nile."

25 i.e. a harpoon.

26 i.e. the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys.

27 A monument of the Old Kingdom represents sheep treading in the seed (the reproduction appears in J. H. Breasted, A History of Egypt, p92).

28 Cp. the Odyssey 4.86.

29 These are small islands, some of which "cluster" (as the name signifies) about the island of Delos.

30 The Nilometer (Diodorus calls it in fact a "Niloscope") is described by Strabo (17.1.48) as a well on the bank of the Nile with lines on the wall to indicate the stage of the river.

31 These early chroniclers belonged to the group whom Thucydides (1.21) called logographoi ("writers of prose") to distinguish them from the writers of epic. The two chief characteristics of the group were interest in mythology and lack of criticism. Hellanicus of Mitylene died soon after 406 B.C.; the historical character of Cadmus of Miletus (fl. sixth century B.C.) is questioned by Schmid-Stählin (Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, I pp691 f.); Hecataeus of Miletus visited Egypt before 526 B.C. and died soon after 494 B.C.

32 The second of the line, who reigned from 285 to 246 B.C. Following the custom of the Egyptian kings (cp. chap. 27) he married his sister Arsinoë, and upon her death (or possibly even before; cp. J. Beloch, Griechische Geschichte, IV.2 p586  n1 and 1 pp370 f.) established a cult of himself as ruler and of his sister-wife and consort as theoi adelphoi ("Brother-Sister Gods"). The epithet philadelphos ("sister-loving") was never borne by Ptolemy II during his lifetime; to his contemporaries he was known as "Ptolemy the son of Ptolemy" (cp. E. R. Bevan, A History of Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty, p56, and Ferguson in Cambridge Ancient History, 7, p17).

33 Cp. p98, n1.

34 Book 2.32.

35 Thales doubtless meant by "etesian" the north-west winds which blow in summer from the Mediterranean, but the term is not a precise one, as Diodorus shows in the following chapter.

36 Frg. 228, Nauck2.

37 Book 2.25.

38 i.e. in the north latitude.

39 Democritus was a contemporary of Socrates and the first Greek who attempted to embrace in his writings all the knowledge of his time.

40 Two names given to north winds.

41 i.e. the north-west.

42 i.e. there is no evidence from witnesses that they appear to be exceedingly high.

43 The words mean literally "poured out by a river" and "gaping."

44 i.e., they postulated a south temperate zone, corresponding to the north temperate, and separated from it by the torrid zone. The Nile, according to them, rose in the south temperate zone. They were not in fact so far astray in the matter, the White Nile rising just a little south of the equator, although the waters of the annual inundation come from the Blue Nile, which has its sources in the table-land of Abyssinia.

45 i.e., water is freshened ("sweetened") by being heated.

46 Practically nothing more is known of Oenopides than that he was an astronomer and mathematician of the fifth century B.C.

47 Agatharchides was a historian and geographer of the second century B.C.

48 Cp. p96, n1.


Thayer's Note:

a Herodotus was essentially right: the Nile, or at least the White Nile the longer of its two main streams, flows out of Lake Victoria, which owes but little of its volume to surface watercourses.


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