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This webpage reproduces a section of
published in Vol. II
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

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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(Vol. II) Herodotus

 p3  Book III: chapters 1‑38

The flags in the text are links to the Greek as printed on facing pages in the Loeb edition.
In the left margin, links to Rawlinson's translation (Vol. II, with valuable notes),
and to the running commentary by How and Wells.
Cartouches are links to in‑depth articles at Livius.Org or LacusCurtius.

[link to original Greek text] 1 Rawlinson p401 H & W It was against this Amasis that Cambyses led an army of his subjects, Ionian and Aeolian Greeks among them.​1 This was his reason: Cambyses sent a herald to Egypt asking Amasis for his daughter; and this he did by the counsel of a certain Egyptian, who devised it by reason of a grudge that he bore against Amasis, because when Cyrus sent to Amasis asking for the best eye‑doctor in Egypt the king had chosen this man out of all the Egyptian physicians and sent him perforce to Persia away from his wife and children. With this grudge in mind he moved Cambyses by his counsel to ask Amasis for his daughter, that Amasis might be grieved if he gave her, or Cambyses' enemy if he refused her. So Amasis was sorely afraid of the power of Persia, and could neither give his daughter nor deny her; for he knew well that Cambyses would make her not his queen but his mistress. Reasoning thus he bethought him of a very tall and fair damsel called Nitetis, daughter of the former king Apries, and all that was left of that  p5 family; Amasis decked her out with raiment and golden ornaments and sent her to the Persians as if she were his own daughter. But after a while, the king greeting her as the daughter of Amasis, the damsel said, "King, you know not how Amasis has deceived you: he decked me out with ornaments and sent me to you to pass for his own daughter; but I am in truth the daughter of his master Apries, whom he and other Egyptians rebelled against and slew." It was these words and this reason that prevailed with Cambyses to lead him in great anger against Egypt.

[link to original Greek text] 2 Rawlinson p403 This is the Persian story. But the Egyptians claim Cambyses for their own; they say that he was the son of this daughter of Apries, and that it was Cyrus, not Cambyses, who sent to Amasis for his daughter. But this tale is false. Nay, they are well aware (for the Egyptians have a truer knowledge than any men of the Persian law) firstly, that no bastard may be king of Persia if there be a son born in lawful wedlock; and secondly, that Cambyses was born not of the Egyptian woman but of Cassandane, daughter of Pharnaspes, an Achaemenid. But they so twist the story because they would claim kinship with the house of Cyrus.

[link to original Greek text] 3 So much for this matter. There is another tale too, which I do not believe: that a certain Persian lady came to visit Cyrus' wives, and greatly praised and admired the fair and tall children who stood by Cassandane. Then Cassandane, Cyrus' wife, said, "Ay, yet though I be the mother of such children  p7 Cyrus dishonours me and honours this newcomer from Egypt." So she spoke in her bitterness against Nitetis; and Cambyses, the eldest of her sons, said, "Then, mother, when I am grown a man, I will turn all Egypt upside down." When he said this he was about ten years old, and the women marvelled at him; but he kept it in mind, and it was thus that when he grew up and became king, he made the expedition against Egypt.

[link to original Greek text] 4 It chanced also that another thing befell tending to this expedition. There was among Amasis' foreign soldiers one Phanes, a Halicarnassian by birth, a man of sufficient judgment and valiant in war. This Phanes had some grudge against Amasis, and fled from Egypt on shipboard that he might have an audience of Cambyses. Seeing that he was a man much esteemed among the foreign soldiery and had an exact knowledge of all Egyptian matters, Amasis was zealous to take him, and sent a trireme with the trustiest of his eunuchs to pursue him. This eunuch caught him in Lycia but never brought him back to Egypt; for Phanes was too clever for him, and made his guards drunk and so escaped to Persia. There he found Cambyses prepared to set forth against Egypt, but in doubt as to his march, how he should cross the waterless desert; so Phanes showed him what was Amasis' condition and how he should march; as to this, he counselled Cambyses to send and ask the king of the Arabians for a safe passage.α

[link to original Greek text] 5 Rawlinson p404 Now the only manifest way of entry into Egypt  p9 is this. The road runs from Phoenice as far as the city of Cadytis,​2 which belongs to the Syrians of Palestine, as it is called. From Cadytis (which, as I judge, is a city not much smaller than Sardis) to the city of Ienysus the seaports belong to the Arabians; then they are Syrian again from Ienysus as far as the Serbonian marsh, beside which the Casian promontory stretches seawards; from this Serbonian marsh, where Typho,​3 it is said, was hidden, the country is Egypt. Now between Ienysus and the Casian mountain and the Serbonian marsh there lies a wide territory for as much as three days' journey, wondrous waterless.

[link to original Greek text] 6 I will now tell of a thing that but few of those who sail to Egypt have perceived. Earthen jars full of wine are brought into Egypt twice a year from all Greece and Phoenice besides: yet there is not to be seen, so to say, one single wine jar lying anywhere in the country. What then (one may ask) becomes of them? This too I will tell. Each governor of a district must gather in all the earthen pots from his own township and take them to Memphis, and the people of Memphis must fill them with water and carry them to those waterless lands of Syria; so the earthen pottery that is brought to Egypt and sold there is carried to Syria to join the stock whence it came.

[link to original Greek text] 7 Rawlinson p406 H & W Now as soon as the Persians took possession of Egypt, it was they who thus provided for the entry  p11 into that country, filling pots with water as I have said. But at this time there was as yet no ready supply of water; wherefore Cambyses, hearing what was said by the stranger from Halicarnassus, sent messengers to the Arabian and asked and obtained safe conduct, giving and receiving from him pledges.

[link to original Greek text] 8 There are no men who respect pledges more than the Arabians. This is the manner of their giving them: a man stands between the two parties that would give security, and cuts with a sharp stone the palms of the hands of the parties, by the second finger; then he takes a piece of wool from the cloak of each and smears with the blood seven stones that lie between them, calling the while on Dionysus and the Heavenly Aphrodite; and when he has fully done this, he that gives the security commends to his friends the stranger (or his countryman if the party be such), and his friends hold themselves bound to honour the pledge. They deem none other to be gods save Dionysus and the Heavenly Aphrodite; and they say that the cropping of their hair is like the cropping of the hair of Dionysus, cutting it round the head and shaving the temples. They call Dionysus, Orotalt; and Aphrodite, Alilat.4

[link to original Greek text] 9 Rawlinson p408 Having then pledged himself to the messengers who had come from Cambyses, the Arabian planned and did as I shall show: he filled camel-skins with water and loaded live camels with these; which done, he drove them into the waterless land and there awaited Cambyses' army. This is the most credible of the stories told; but I must relate the  p13 less credible tale also, since they tell it. There is a great river in Arabia called Corys, issuing into the sea called Red. From this river (it is said) the king of the Arabians carried water by a duct of sewn ox‑hides and other hides of a length sufficient to reach to the dry country; and he had great tanks dug in that country to receive and keep the water. It is a twelve days' journey from the river to that desert. By three ducts (they say) he led the water to three several places.

[link to original Greek text] 10 Psammenitus, son of Amasis, was encamped by the mouth of Nile called Pelusian, awaiting Cambyses. For when Cambyses marched against Egypt he found Amasis no longer alive; he had died after reigning forty-four years, in which no great misfortune had befallen him; and being dead he was embalmed and laid in the burial-place built for himself in the temple. While his son Psammenitus was king of Egypt, the people saw a most wondrous sight, namely, rain at Thebes of Egypt, where, as the Thebans themselves say, there had never been rain before, nor since to my lifetime; for indeed there is no rain at all in the upper parts of Egypt; but at that time a drizzle of rain fell at Thebes.5

[link to original Greek text] 11 Now the Persians having crossed the waterless country and encamped near the Egyptians with intent to give battle, the foreign soldiery of the Egyptian, Greeks and Carians, devised a plan to punish Phanes,  p15 being wroth with him for leading a stranger army into Egypt. Phanes had left sons in Egypt; these they brought to the camp, into their father's sight, and set a great bowl between the two armies; then they brought the sons one by one and cut their throats over the bowl. When all the sons were killed, they poured into the bowl wine and water, and the foreign soldiery drank of this and thereafter gave battle. The fight waxed hard, and many of both armies fell; but at length the Egyptians were routed.

[link to original Greek text] 12 Rawlinson p410 I saw there a strange thing, of which the people of the country had told me. The bones of those slain on either side in this fight lying scattered separately (for the Persian bones lay in one place and the Egyptian in another, where the armies had first separately stood), the skulls of the Persians are so brittle that if you throw no more than a pebble it will pierce them, but the Egyptian skulls are so strong that a blow of a stone will hardly break them. And this, the people said (which for my own part I readily believed), is the reason of it: the Egyptians shave their heads from childhood, and the bone thickens by exposure to the sun. This also is the reason why they do not grow bald; for nowhere can one see so few bald heads as in Egypt. Their skulls then are strong for this reason; and the cause of the Persian skulls being weak is that they shelter their heads through their lives with the felt hats (called tiaras) which they wear. Such is the truth of this matter. I saw  p17 too the skulls of those Persians at Papremis who were slain with Darius' son Achaemenes by Inaros the Libyan, and they were like the others.

[link to original Greek text] 13 After their rout in the battle the Egyptians fled in disorder; and they being driven into Memphis, Cambyses sent a Persian herald up the river in a ship of Mytilene to invite them to an agreement. But when they saw the ship coming to Memphis, they sallied out all together from their walls, destroyed the ship, tore the crew asunder (like butchers) and carried them within the walls. So the Egyptians were besieged, and after a good while yielded; but the neighbouring Libyans, affrighted by what had happened in Egypt, surrendered unresisting, laying tribute on themselves and sending gifts; and so too, affrighted like the Libyans, did the people of Cyrene and Barca. Cambyses received in all kindness the gifts of the Libyans; but he seized what came from Cyrene and scattered it with his own hands among the army. This he did, as I think, to mark his displeasure at the littleness of the gift; for the Cyrenaeans had sent five hundred silver minae.

[link to original Greek text] 14 Rawlinson p412 On the tenth day after the surrender of the walled city of Memphis, Cambyses took Psammenitus king of Egypt, who had reigned for six months, and set him down in the outer part of the city with other Egyptians, to do him despite; having so done he made trial of Psammenitus' spirit, as I shall show. He dressed the king's daughter in slave's attire and sent her with a vessel to fetch water, in company with other maidens dressed as she was, chosen from  p19 the families of the chief men. So when the damsels came before their fathers crying and lamenting, all the rest answered with like cries and weeping, seeing their children's evil case; but Psammenitus, having already seen and learnt all, bowed himself to the ground. When the water-carriers had passed by, Cambyses next made Psammenitus' son to pass him with two thousand Egyptians of like age beside, all with ropes bound round their necks and bits in their mouths; who were led forth to make atonement for those Mytilenaeans who had perished with their ship at Memphis; for such was the judgment of the royal judges, that every man's death be paid for by the slaying of ten noble Egyptians. When Psammenitus saw them pass by and perceived that his son was led out to die, and all the Egyptians who sat with him wept and showed their affliction, he did as he had done at the sight of his daughter. When these too had gone by, it chanced that there was one of his boon companions, a man past his prime, that had lost all his possessions, and had but what a poor man might have, and begged of the army; this man now passed before Psammenitus son of Amasis and the Egyptians who sat in the outer part of the city. When Psammenitus saw him, he broke into loud weeping, smiting his head and calling on his companion by name. Now there were two men set to watch Psammenitus, who told Cambyses all that he did when any came into his sight. Marvelling at what the king did, Cambyses made inquiry of him by a messenger: "Psammenitus, Cambyses my master asks of you why, seeing your daughter mishandled and your son going to his death, you neither cried  p21 aloud nor wept, yet did this honour to the poor man, who (as Cambyses learns from others) is none of your kin?" So the messenger inquired. Psammenitus answered: "Son of Cyrus, my private grief was too great for weeping; but the misfortune of my companion called for tears — one that has lost great wealth and now on the threshold of old age is come to beggary. When the messenger so reported, and Cambyses and his court, it is said, found the answer good, then, as the Egyptians tell, Croesus wept (for it chanced that he too had come with Cambyses to Egypt) and so did the Persians that were there; Cambyses himself felt somewhat of pity, and forthwith he bade that Psammenitus' son be saved alive out of those that were to be slain, and that Psammenitus himself be taken from the outer part of the city and brought before him.

[link to original Greek text] 15 H & W As for the son, those that went for him found that he was no longer living, but had been the first to be hewn down; but they brought Psammenitus away and led him to Cambyses; and there he lived, and no violence was done him for the rest of his life. And had he but been wise enough to mind his own business, he would have so far won back Egypt as to be governor of it; for the Persians are wont to honour king's sons; even though kings revolt from them, yet they give back to their sons the sovereign power. There are many instances showing that it is their custom so to do, and notably the giving back of his father's sovereign power to Thannyras son of Inaros, and also to Pausiris son of Amyrtaeus;β yet none ever did the Persians more harm than Inaros  p23 and Amyrtaeus.​6 But as it was, Psammenitus plotted evil and got his reward; for he was caught raising a revolt among the Egyptians; and when this came to Cambyses' ears, Psammenitus drank bulls' blood​7 and forthwith died. Such was his end.

[link to original Greek text] 16 Rawlinson p415 From Memphis Cambyses went to the city Sais, desiring to do that which indeed he did. Entering the house of Amasis, straightway he bade carry Amasis' body out from its place of burial; and when this was accomplished, he gave command to scourge it and pull out the hair and do it despite in all other ways.γ When they were weary of doing this (for the body, being embalmed, remained whole and was not dissolved), Cambyses commanded to burn it, a sacrilegious command; for the Persians hold fire to be a god; therefore neither nation deems it right to burn the dead, the Persians for the reason assigned, as they say it is wrong to give the dead corpse of a man to a god; while the Egyptians believe fire to be a living beast that devours all that it catches, and when sated with its meal dies with the end of that whereon it feeds. Now it is by no means their custom to give the dead to beasts; and this is why they embalm the corpse, that it may not lie and be eaten of worms. Thus Cambyses commanded a thing contrary to the custom of both peoples. Howbeit, as the Egyptians say, it was not Amasis to whom this was done, but another Egyptian of a like age, whom the Persians despitefully used thinking that they so treated Amasis. For their story is that Amasis learnt from an oracle what was to be  p25 done to him after his death, and so to avert this doom buried this man, him that was scourged, at his death by the door within his own vault, and commanded his son that he himself should be laid in the farthest corner of the vault. I think that these commands of Amasis, respecting the burial-place and the man, were never given at all, and that the Egyptians but please themselves with a lying tale.

[link to original Greek text] 17 Rawlinson p417 After this Cambyses planned three expeditions, against the Carchedonians,​8 and against the Ammonians, and against the "long-lived"​9 Ethiopians, who dwelt on the Libyan coast of the southern sea. Taking counsel, he resolved to send his fleet against the Carchedonians and a part of his land army against the Ammonians; to Ethiopia he would send first spies, to see what truth there were in the story of a Table of the Sun in that country, and to spy out all else besides, under the pretext of bearing gifts for the Ethiopian king.

[link to original Greek text] 18 Now this is said to be the fashion of the Table of the Sun.​10 There is a meadow outside the city, filled with the roast flesh of all four-footed things; here during the night the men of authority among the townsmen are careful to set out the meat, and all day he that wishes comes and feasts thereon. These meats, say the people of the country, are ever produced by the earth of itself.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is zzz.]

A funerary table (found in Napata, Sudan) with representations of pieces of meat and other food. The Ethiopians placed sacrificial offerings on stone slabs like these and it is easy to imagine that a description of this ritual lies behind Herodotus' account.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 19 Rawlinson p418 H & W Such is the story of the Sun's Table. When Cambyses was resolved to send the spies, he sent straightway to fetch from the city Elephantine those of the Fish-eaters who understood  p27 the Ethiopian language. While they were seeking these men, he bade his fleet sail against Carchedon. But the Phoenicians would not consent; for they were bound, they said, by a strict treaty, and could not righteously attack their own sons; and the Phoenicians being unwilling, the rest were of no account as fighters. Thus the Carchedonians escaped being enslaved by the Persians; for Cambyses would not use force with the Phoenicians, seeing that they had willingly given their help to the Persians, and the whole fleet drew its strength from them. The Cyprians too had come of their own accord to aid the Persians against Egypt.

[link to original Greek text] 20 When the Fish-eaters came from Elephantine at Cambyses' message, he sent them to Ethiopia, charged with what they should say, and bearing gifts, to wit, a purple cloak and a twisted gold necklace and armlets and an alabaster box of incense and a cask of palm wine. These Ethiopians, to whom Cambyses sent them, are said to be the tallest and fairest of all men. Their way of choosing kings is different from that of all others, as (it is said) are all their laws; they deem worthy to be their king that townsman whom they judge to be tallest and to have strength proportioned to his stature.

[link to original Greek text] 21 Rawlinson p421 These were the men to whom the Fish-eaters came, offering gifts and delivering this message to their king:δ "Cambyses king of Persia, desiring to be your friend and guest, sends us with command to address ourselves to you; and he offers you such  p29 gifts as he himself chiefly delights to use." But the Ethiopian, perceiving that they had come as spies, spoke thus to them: "It is not because he sets great store by my friendship that the Persian King sends you with gifts, nor do you speak the truth (for you have come to spy out my dominions), nor is your king a righteous man; for were he such, he would not have coveted any country other than his own, nor would he now try to enslave men who have done him no wrong. Now, give him this bow, and this message: 'The King of the Ethiopians counsels the King of the Persians, when the Persians can draw a bow of this greatness as easily as I do, then to bring overwhelming odds to attack the long-lived Ethiopians; but till then, to thank the gods who put it not in the minds of the sons of the Ethiopians to win more territory than they have.' "

[link to original Greek text] 22 Rawlinson p422 So speaking he unstrung the bow and gave it to the men who had come. Then, taking the purple cloak, he asked what it was and how it was made; and when the Fish-eaters told him the truth about the purple and the way of dyeing, he said that both the men and their garments were full of guile. Next he inquired about the twisted gold necklace and the bracelets; and when the Fish-eaters told him how they were made, the king smiled, and, thinking them to be fetters, said: "We have stronger chains than these." Thirdly he inquired about the incense; and when they told him of the making and applying of it, he made the same reply as about the cloak. But when he came to the wine and asked about the  p31 making of it, he was vastly pleased with the draught, and asked further what food their king ate, and what was the greatest age to which a Persian lived. They told him their king ate bread, showing him how wheat grew; and said that the full age to which a man might hope to live was eighty years. Then said the Ethiopian, it was no wonder that their lives were so short, if they ate dung;​11 they would never attain even to that age were it not for the strengthening power of the draught, — whereby he signified to the Fish-eaters the wine, — for in this, he said, the Persians excelled the Ethiopians.

[link to original Greek text] 23 The Fish-eaters then in turn asking of the Ethiopian length of life and diet, he said that most of them attained to an hundred and twenty years, and some even to more; their food was roast meat and their drink milk. The spies showed wonder at the tale of years; whereon he led them, it is said, to a spring, whereby by washing wherein they grew sleeker, as though it were of oil; and it smelt as it were of violets. So frail, the spies said, was this water, that nothing would float on it, neither wood nor anything lighter than wood, but all sank to the bottom. If this water be truly such as they say, it is likely that their constant use of it makes the people long-lived. When they left the spring, the king led them to a prison where all the men were bound with fetters of gold. Among these Ethiopians there is nothing so scarce and so precious as bronze. Then, having seen the prison, they saw what is called the Table of the Sun.

 p33  [link to original Greek text] 24 Rawlinson p424 Last after this they viewed the Ethiopian coffins; these are said to be made of porcelain,​a as I shall describe: they make the dead body to shrink, either as the Egyptians do or in some other way, then cover it with gypsum and paint it all as far as they may in the likeness of the living man; then they set it within a hollow pillar of porcelain, which they dig in abundance from the ground, and it is easily wrought; the body can be seen in the pillar through the porcelain, no evil stench nor aught unseemly proceeding from it, and showing clearly all its parts, as if it were the dead man himself. The nearest of kin keep the pillar in their house for a year, giving it of the firstfruits and offering it sacrifices; after which they bring the pillars out and set them round about the city.

[link to original Greek text] 25 Having viewed all, the spies departed back again. When they reported all this, Cambyses was angry, and marched forthwith against the Ethiopians, neither giving command for any provision of food nor considering that he was about to lead his army to the ends of the earth; and being not in his right mind but mad, he marched at once on hearing from the Fish-eaters, setting the Greeks who were with him to await him where they were, and taking with him all his land army. When he came in his march to Thebes, he parted about fifty thousand men from his army, and charged them to enslave the Ammonians and burn the oracle of Zeus; and he himself went on towards Ethiopia with the rest of his host. But before his army had accomplished the fifth part of their journey they had come to an end of all there was in the way of provision, and after the food was  p35 gone they ate the beasts of burden till there was none of these left also. Now had Cambyses, when he perceived this, changed his mind and led his army back again, he had been a wise man at least after his first fault; but as it was, he went ever forward, nothing recking. While his soldiers could get anything from the earth, they kept themselves alive by eating grass; but when they came to the sandy desert, certain of them did a terrible deed, taking by lot one man out of ten and eating him. Hearing this, Cambyses feared their becoming cannibals, and so gave up his expedition against the Ethiopians and marched back to Thebes, with the loss of many of his army; from Thebes he came down to Memphis, and sent the Greeks to sail away.

[link to original Greek text] 26 Rawlinson p426 So fared the expedition against Ethiopia. As for those of the host who were sent to march against the Ammonians, they set forth and journeyed from Thebans with guides; and it is known that they came to the city Oasis,​12 where dwell Samians said to be of the Aeschrionian tribe, seven days' march from Thebes across sandy desert; this place is called, in the Greek language, the Island of the Blest. Thus far, it is said, the army came; after that, save the Ammonians themselves and those who heard from them, no man can say aught of them; for they neither reached the Ammonians nor returned back. But this is what the Ammonians themselves say: When the Persians were crossing the sand from the Oasis to attack them, and were about midway between their country and the Oasis, while they were  p37 breakfasting a great and violent south wind arose, which buried them in the masses of sand which it bore; and so they disappeared from sight. Such is the Ammonian tale about this army.ζ

[link to original Greek text] 27 H & W After Cambyses was come to Memphis there appeared in Egypt that Apis13 whom the Greeks call Epaphus; at which revelation straightway the Egyptians donned their fairest garments and kept high festival. Seeing the Egyptians so doing, Cambyses was fully persuaded that these signs of joy were for his misfortunes, and summoned the rulers of Memphis; when they came before him he asked them why the Egyptians acted so at the moment of his coming with so many of his army lost, though they had done nothing like it when he was before at Memphis. The rulers told him that a god, who had been wont to reveal himself at long intervals of time, had now appeared to them; and that all Egypt rejoiced and made holiday whenever he so appeared. At this Cambyses said that they lied, and he punished them with death for their lie.

[link to original Greek text] 28 Rawlinson p428 Having put them to death, he next summoned the priests before him. When they gave him the same account, he said that "if a tame god had come to the Egyptians he would know it"; and with no more words he bade the priests bring Apis. So they went to seek and bring him. This Apis, or Epaphus, is a calf born of a cow that can never conceive again. By what the Egyptians say, the cow is made pregnant by a light from heaven, and thereafter gives birth to  p39 Apis. The marks of this calf called Apis are these: he is black, and has on his forehead a three-cornered white spot, and the likeness of an eagle on his back; the hairs of the tail are double, and there is a knot under the tongue.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is the sacred Egyptian bull Apis.]

A figurine of an Apis bull.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 29 When the priests led Apis in, Cambyses — for he was well-nigh mad — drew his dagger and made to stab the calf in the belly, but smote the thigh; then laughing he said to the priests: "Wretched wights, are these your gods, creatures of flesh and blood that can feel weapons of iron? that is a god worthy of the Egyptians. But for you, you shall suffer for making me your laughing-stock." So saying he bade those, whose business it was, to scourge the priests well, and to kill any other Egyptian whom they found holiday-making. So the Egyptian festival was ended, and the priests were punished, and Apis lay in the temple and died of the blow on the thigh. When he was dead of the wound, the priests buried him without Cambyses' knowledge.

[link to original Greek text] 30 Rawlinson p431 By reason of this wrongful deed, as the Egyptians say, Cambyses' former want of sense turned straightway to madness. His first evil act was to make away with his full brother Smerdis, whom he had sent away from Egypt to Persia out of jealousy, because Smerdis alone could draw the bow brought from the Ethiopian by the Fish-eaters as far as two fingerbreadths; but no other Persian could draw it.ε Smerdis having gone to Persia, Cambyses saw in a dream a vision, whereby it seemed to him that a messenger came from Persia  p41 and told him that Smerdis had sat on the royal throne with his head reaching to heaven. Fearing therefore for himself, lest his brother might slay him and so be king, he sent to Persia Prexaspes, the trustiest of his Persians, to kill Smerdis. Prexaspes went up to Susa and so did; some say that he took Smerdis out a‑hunting, others that he brought him to the Red​14 Sea and there drowned him.

[link to original Greek text] 31 Rawlinson p433 This, they say, was the first Cambyses' evil acts; next, he made away with his full sister, who had come with him to Egypt, and whom he had taken to wife.η He married her on this wise (for before this, it had by no means been customary for Persians to marry their sisters): Cambyses was enamoured of one of his sisters and presently desired to take her to wife; but his intention being contrary to usage, he summoned the royal judges​15 and inquired whether there were any law suffering one, that so desired, to marry his sister. These royal judges are men chosen out from the Persians to be so till they die or are detected in some injustice; it is they who decide suits in Persia and interpret the laws of the land; all matters are referred to them. These then replied to Cambyses with an answer which was both just and safe, namely, that they could find no law giving a brother power to marry his sister; but that they had also found a law whereby the King of Persia might do whatever he wished. Thus they broke not the law for fear of Cambyses, and, to save themselves from death from maintaining it, they found  p43 another law to justify one that desired wedlock with sisters. So for the nonce Cambyses married her of whom he was enamoured; yet presently he took another sister to wife. It was the younger of these who had come with him to Egypt, and whom he now killed.

[link to original Greek text] 32 Rawlinson p434 H & W There are two tales of her death, as of the death of Smerdis. The Greeks say that Cambyses had set a puppy to fight a lion's cub, with this woman too looking on; and the puppy being worsted, another puppy, its brother, broke its leash and came to help, whereby the two dogs together got the better of the cub. Cambyses, they say, was pleased with the sight, but the woman wept as she sat by. Cambyses perceived it and asking why she wept, she said she had wept when she saw the puppy help its brother, for thinking of Smerdis and how there was none to avenge him. For saying this, according to the Greek story, Cambyses put her to death. But the Egyptian tale is that as the two sat at table the woman took a lettuce and plucked off the leaves, then asked her husband whether he liked the look of it, with or without leaves; "With the leaves," said he; whereupon she answered: "Yet you have stripped Cyrus' house as bare as this lettuce." Angered at this, they say, he leaped upon her, she being great with child; and she died of the hurt he gave her.

[link to original Greek text] 33 Such were Cambyses' mad acts to his own household, whether they were done because of Apis or grew from some of the many troubles that are wont to beset men; for indeed he is said to have been afflicted from his birth with that grievous disease which some call "sacred."​16 It is no unlikely thing  p45 then that when his body was grievously afflicted his mind too should be diseased.

[link to original Greek text] 34 I will now tell of his mad dealings with the rest of Persia. He said, as they report, to Prexaspes — whom he held in especial honour, who brought him all his messages, whose son held the very honourable office of Cambyses' cup‑bearer — thus, I say, he spoke to Prexaspes: "What manner of man, Prexaspes, do the Persians think me to be, and how speak they of me?" "Sire," said Prexaspes, "for all else they greatly praise you; but they say that you love wine too well." So he reported of the Persians; the king angrily replied: "If the Persians now say that 'tis my fondness for wine that drives me to frenzy and madness, then it would seem that their former saying also was a lie." For it is said that ere this, certain Persians and Croesus sitting with him, Cambyses asked what manner of man they thought him to be in comparison with Cyrus his father; and they answered, "that Cambyses was the better man; for he had all of Cyrus' possessions and had won besides Egypt and the sea." So said the Persians; but Croesus, who was present, and was ill‑satisfied with their judgment, thus spoke to Cambyses: "To my thinking, Cambyses, you are not like your father; for you have as yet no son such as he left after him in you." This pleased Cambyses, and he praised Croesus' judgment.

[link to original Greek text] 35 Rawlinson p436 Remembering this, then, he said to Prexaspes in his anger: "Judge you then if the Persians speak truth, or rather are themselves out of their minds  p47 when they so speak of me. Yonder stands your son in the porch; now if I shoot and pierce his heart, that will prove the Persians to be wrong; if I miss, then say that they are right and I out of my senses." So saying he strung his bow and hit the boy, and bade open the fallen body and examine the wound: and the arrow being found in the heart, Cambyses laughed in great glee and said to the boy's father: "It is plain, Prexaspes, that I am in my right mind and the Persians mad; now tell me: what man in the world saw you ever that shot so true a mark?" Prexaspes, it is said, replied (for he saw that Cambyses was mad, and he feared for his own life), "Master, I think that not even the god himself could shoot so true." Thus did Cambyses then; at another time he took twelve Persians, equal to the noblest in the land, proved them guilty of some petty offence, and buried them head downwards and alive.

[link to original Greek text] 36 For these acts Croesus the Lydian thought fit to take him to task, and thus addressed him: "Sire, do not ever let youth and passion have their way; put some curb and check on yourself; prudence is a good thing, forethought is wisdom. But what of you? you put to death men of your own country proved guilty of but a petty offence; ay, and you kill boys. If you do often so, look to it lest the Persians revolt from you. As for me, your father Cyrus earnestly bade me counsel you and give you such advice as I think to be good." Croesus gave him this counsel out of goodwill; but Cambyses answered: "It is very  p49 well that you should dare to counsel me too; you, who governed your own country right usefully, and gave fine advice to my father — bidding him, when the Massagetae were willing to cross over into our lands, to pass the Araxes and attack them; thus you wrought your own ruin by misgoverning your country, and Cyrus' by overpersuading him. Nay, but you shall rue it; long have I waited for a pretext to deal with you." With that Cambyses took his bow to shoot him dead; but Croesus leapt up and ran out; and Cambyses, being unable to shoot him, charged his attendants to take and kill him. They, knowing Cambyses' mood, hid Croesus; being minded, if Cambyses should repent and seek for Croesus, to reveal him and receive gifts for saving his life; but if he should not repent nor wish Croesus back, then to kill the Lydian. Not long after this Cambyses did wish Croesus back, perceiving which the attendants told him that Croesus was alive. Cambyses said that he too was glad of it; but that they, who had saved Croesus alive, should not go scot free, but be killed; and this was done.

[link to original Greek text] 37 Rawlinson p438 Many such mad deeds did Cambyses to the Persians and his allies; he abode at Memphis, and there opened ancient coffins and examined the dead bodies. Thus too he entered the temple of Hephaestus and made much mockery of the image there. This image of Hephaestus is most like to the Phoenician Pataïci,​17 which the Phoenicians carry on the  p51 prows of their triremes. I will describe it for him who has not seen these figures: it is in the likeness of a dwarf. Also he entered the temple of the Cabeiri, into which none may enter save the priest; the images here he even burnt, with bitter mockery. These also are like the images of Hephaestus, and are said to be his sons.

[link to original Greek text] 38 Rawlinson p440 I hold it then in every way proved that Cambyses was very mad; else he would never have set himself to deride religion and custom. For if it were proposed to all nations to choose which seemed best of all customs, each, after examination made, would place its own first; so well is each persuaded that its own are by far the best. It is not therefore to be supposed that any, save a madman, would turn such things to ridicule. I will give this one proof among many from which it may be inferred that all men hold this belief about their customs: — When Darius was king, he summoned the Greeks who were with him and asked them what price would persuade them to eat their fathers' dead bodies. They answered that there was no price for which they would do it. Then he summoned those Indians who are called Callatiae,​18 who eat their parents, and asked them (the Greeks being present and understanding by interpretation what was said) what would make them willing to burn their fathers at death. The Indians cried aloud, that he should not speak of so horrid an act. So firmly rooted are these beliefs; and it is, I think, rightly said in Pindar's poem that use and wont is lord of all.19

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The received date is 525 B.C.

2 Probably Gaza.

3 Hot winds and volcanic agency were attributed by Greek mythology to Typhon, cast down from heaven by Zeus and "buried" in hot or volcanic regions. Typhon came to be identified with the Egyptian god Set; and the legend grew that he was buried in the Serbonian marsh.

Thayer's Note: The basic facts on Typhon are given in the article at Livius; and a classic pioneering exploration of the archetypal and iconographical richness of the mythological monster, taking as its canvas a famous bas-relief in the Louvre, is provided by Clermont-Ganneau's Horus et Saint Georges.

4 According to Movers, Orotalt is "the fire of God," ôrath êl, and Alilat the feminine of hêlêl, "morning star"; but a simpler interpretation is Al Ilat = the goddess.

5 In modern times there is sometimes a little rain at Thebes (Luxor); very little and very seldom.

6 The revolt of the Egyptians Inaros and Amyrtaeus against the Persian governor lasted from 460 to 455 B.C.

7 The blood was supposed to coagulate and choke the drinker. (How and Wells, ad loc.)

8 Carthaginians.

9 cp. beginning of ch. 23.

10 This story may be an indication of offerings made to the dead, or of a region of great fertility. In Homer the gods are fabled to feast with the Ethiopians.

11 i.e. grain produced by the manured soil.

12 Oasis means simply a planted place; Herodotus makes it a proper name. What he means here is the "Great oasis" of Khargeh, about seven days' journey from Thebes, as he says.

13 cp.  II.38.

14 Not our Red Sea (Ἀράβιος κόλπος) but the Persian Gulf, probably: but it is to be noted that Herodotus has no definite knowledge of a gulf between Persia and Arabia.

15 A standing body of seven; cp.  Book of Esther, i.14.

16 Epilepsy.

17 The Phoenician Πατάϊκος (as the Greeks called him) was the Ptah or Patah of Egypt whom the Greeks identified with Hephaestus; always in the form of a dwarf.

18 Apparently from Sanskrit Kâla = black.

19 νόμος ὁ πάντων βασιλεὺς θνατῶν τε καὶ ἀθανάτων; quoted in Plato's Gorgias from an otherwise unknown poem of Pindar.

Thayer's Note:

a "Porcelain" is a very odd translation of the Greek ὑέλου, not only because that material is a much later Chinese invention, but because Herodotus clearly states that it is dug out of the ground, is transparent or translucent, and is soft to work. The normal translation of ὑέλος (more commonly ὕαλος) is "transparent stone": sometimes gems, more often crystal, most often alabaster. Alabaster, being the only one of these that is soft to work, fits perfectly. The only difficulty is that in ch. 20 Herodotus uses ἀλάβαστρον for alabaster; so why not here?

See further the discussion in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, s.v. Vitrum.

Lendering's Notes:

α The story of Phanes' betrayal cannot be confirmed. That there were people in Egypt, however, who preferred to help Cambyses, is proven by the story of Wedjahor-Resne, who was admiral of the Egyptian navy but did not offer battle and instead welcomed the conqueror. Cf. note at 3.16.

β Not to be confused with the rebel of the same name who overthrew the Persians in 404 B.C.

γ From the story of Wedjahor-Resne, we know that Cambyses treated the temple of Neith in Sais with great solicitude. Cf. note at 3.4.

δ In 525 B.C., the king of Nubia, residing in Meroe, was Amani-Nataki-Lebte.

ε The motif of the bow was, of course, familiar to Herodotus' Greek readers from the Odyssey (XIX.577‑588, 75‑76); but the Egyptian hieroglyphic sign for "bow" (𓐮) was also the ideographic part of the word "Nubia", 𓐮𓏏𓈙 . The Egyptians expressed kingly strength in terms of the king's ability in archery, as in Amenhotep II's boast that he alone could use his bow.

ζ The destruction of Cambyses' army is one of the great mysteries of ancient Egyptian history. A plausible hypothesis is that the cause was not a violent south wind, but that the army was ambushed by Petubastis III, the ruler of the Dakhla oasis. Olaf Kaper, professor of Egyptology at Leiden University, lays forth his solution in this YouTube video.

η Cambyses' bride must be Atossa.

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Page updated: 16 Dec 18