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Seeing Double


General Editors: Anthony W. Bulloch, Erich S. Gruen, A. A. Long, and Andrew F. Stewart

Seeing Double

Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria

Susan A. Stephens




Los Angeles



University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

University of California Press, Ltd. London, England

© 2003 by the Regents of the University of California

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Stephens, Susan A., 1945–

Seeing double : intercultural poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria / Susan A. Stephens.

p. cm. — (Hellenistic culture and society ; 37)

Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 0-520-22973-8 (alk. paper). 1. Greek poetry, Hellenistic—Egypt—Alexandria— History and criticism. 2. Egyptian poetry—Egypt— Alexandria—History and criticism. 3. Literature, Comparative—Greek and Egyptian. 4. Literature, Comparative—Egyptian and Greek. 5. Language and culture—Egypt—Alexandria. 6. Alexandria

(Egypt)—Intellectual life. 7. Ptolemaic dynasty, 305–30 b.c. 8. Poetics I. Title. II. Series. pa3081 .s74 2003 881'.09932—dc21 2002007570

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The paper used in this publication is both acid-free and totally chlorine-free (TCF). It meets the mini- mum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper).

To the memory of Jack Winkler


List of Illustrations




List of Abbreviations




1. Conceptualizing Egypt


2. Callimachean Theogonies


3. Theocritean Regencies


4. Apollonian Cosmologies


5. The Two Lands


Select Bibliography


Passages Cited





(Illustrations follow p. 146)

1. Cartouche of Ptolemy I (Tuna el-Gebel), with sedge and bee

2. Cartouche of Ptolemy V Epiphanes (Rosettana), with sedge and bee

3. Horus throttling snakes

4. Nakht spearing a snake and a pig (The Book of the Dead)

5. The solar boat being towed through a snake (The Amduat)

6. The Sun emerging from a hill at dawn (The Amduat)


I began to think about the relationship of Alexandrian writers to their contemporary Greco-Egyptian milieu at least twenty years ago, but I was unable to provide answers that satisfied myself or colleagues and students. In the interim I learned a great deal about Egypt and the con- struction of pharaonic kingship. Some of this material provided intrigu- ing parallels and overlaps with what I understood of Hellenistic poetic practice. The question of whether there was a relationship between the two—which a few scholars had already articulated and others had de- nied, with varying degrees of vehemence or disdain—gradually evolved into conviction that one did exist, but this in turn led to other ques- tions. Why was there a connection? How important was it? Could par- allels with Egyptian culture tell us anything about the poetry that we did not already know? This study sketches an answer, in the belief that grounding a selection of poems of Callimachus and Theocritus and the epic of Apollonius in their contemporary social and political context opens up the poetry in a number of ways, not the least of which is to re- move it from the ivory tower and locate it more centrally within con- temporary intellectual debates and within the political life of the city. I have characterized my reading as “seeing double.” This capitalizes on what has become a standard formulation for the twin aspects of Ptole- maic culture: in 1987, for example, W. Peremans wrote about the “bi- cephalous” nature of Ptolemaic administration, and in 1993 L. Koenen wrote of “The Janus Head of Ptolemaic Kingship.” This is more than a



convenient metaphor: it describes the reality of existence in a world that was essentially different from that of the classical polis. It was a world both Greek and Egyptian, in which the cultural codes of each were important and recognizable. I have been encouraged by a number of people in this endeavor, and it is a pleasure to be able to thank them. The Groningen Hellenistic workshops provided an invaluable venue for testing my ideas. I am in- debted to the other participants and especially to Annette Harder, who organizes the workshops, for her support. Similarly, a series of seminars on the interaction of Greece and Egypt held at Stanford and the Uni- versity of Chicago offered an opportunity to discuss various parts of my argument with an audience of classicists and Egyptologists, many of whose observations are acknowledged in my notes. A number of schol- ars—Mary Depew, Marco Fantuzzi, Richard Jasnow, Csaba La’da, Scott Noegel, Jay Reed, Ian Rutherford, Phiroze Vasunia, and Stephen White—have allowed me to see their work in advance of publication, and this has enabled me both to refine my own arguments and to cor- rect errors. My colleague, Joe Manning, helped me in numerous ways with Hellenistic history, and just by being there to exchange ideas. Lud- wig Koenen generously provided copious commentary and bibliogra- phy that I would otherwise have missed. Phiroze Vasunia’s advice about my opening chapter proved extremely helpful. I am indebted to Peter Bing for his thorough and insightful comments. Richard Hunter’s knowledge and occasional scepticism were equally valuable. I thank both for their willingness to read an earlier version of this manuscript. Benjamin Acosta-Hughes kindly read several versions of my manu- script and helped me structure my arguments for classical readers. Dan Selden provided endless hours of discussion and debate on the potential relationships of Egyptian and Greek material as well as his insights on poetry. While I have not agreed with each person’s comments and ad- vice in every particular, I have unquestionably profited from their will- ingness to engage with these questions and to stimulate me constantly to refine my arguments. For the form in which these ideas now appear, they are not to be held responsible. I would also like to express my thanks to Erich Gruen, who solicited the manuscript, and to Kate Toll for her help in easing it through the editorial process as well as for her sensible advice on technical problems. Finally, a word about my editorial decisions. I have used Latinized Greek spellings throughout when they are in common use. For Egypt- ian names I have preferred the Hellenized spelling (if it exists) over con-



ventional Egyptian transliterations (e.g., Sesostris vs. Senwosret or Sn- ws-rt), on the principle that the former will be more familiar to most readers. I include Greek text only in cases where the exact meaning of the Greek could affect the argument. In other cases, where I focus on the contour of a narrative or event, I provide translations only. Transla- tions are my own unless otherwise noted. In footnoting Egyptian ideas I have adopted the following practice: whenever possible I provide re- cent, scholarly treatments easily accessible to those without a back- ground in Egyptology. In many cases these include handbooks and gen- eral discussions, which also serve to reinforce a basic point: the ideas I discuss are pervasive in Egyptian culture. I have tried consistently to limit my Egyptian evidence to material contemporary with the produc- tion of Hellenistic poetry or the centuries immediately before. I cite later sources such as Plutarch, or earlier pharaonic material only to cre- ate a continuum of ideas from the pharaonic period to the contempo- rary world of the Ptolemies and beyond.

Parts of chapters 2 and 4 of the present work appeared earlier in “Cal- limachus at Court,” Hellenistica Groningana 3 (1998) 167–85, and “Writing Epic in the Ptolemaic Court,” Hellenistica Groningana 4 (2000) 195–215, and are used here with kind permission of the series editors, M.A. Harder, R.F. Regtuit, and G.C. Wakker.

Stanford University July 2001



Palatine Anthology.


Alexander Romance.


J.U. Powell, ed. Collectanea Alexandrina. Oxford,



J. Gwyn Griffiths, ed. Plutarch: De Iside et Osiride, Edited with an Introduction, Translation and Com- mentary. Cardiff, 1970.


H. Diels and W. Kranz, eds. Die Fragmente der Vor- sokratiker. 3 vols. 6th ed. Berlin, 1951–52.


M. Davies, ed. Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Göttingen, 1988.


F. Jacoby, ed. Die Fragmente der griechischen His- toriker. Berlin and Leiden, 1923–58.


A.S.F. Gow, ed. Theocritus. 2 vols. 2d ed. Cam- bridge, 1952.


A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page, eds. The Greek Anthol- ogy: Hellenistic Epigrams. 2 vols. Cambridge,


W. Helck, E. Otto, and W. Westendorf, eds. Lexikon für Ägyptologie. 7 vols. Wiesbaden, 1975–92.




F. Lasserre, ed. Die Fragmente des Eudoxos von Knidos. Berlin, 1966.


Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. Zurich and Munich, 1981–97.


E. Livrea, ed. Apollonii Rhodii Argonauticon, Liber quartus. Florence, 1973.


H.G. Liddell, R. Scott, and H.S. Jones, eds. A Greek-English Lexicon, with a Revised Supple- ment. 9th rev. ed. Oxford, 1996.


R. Merkelbach and M.L. West, eds. Hesiodi frag- menta selecta. 3d ed. Oxford, 1990.


R. Pfeiffer, ed. Callimachus. 2 vols. Oxford, 1949–51.


K. Preisendanz, ed. Papyri Graecae magicae. Vols. 1–2. 2d ed. Stuttgart, 1973–74.


D. Page, ed. Poetae melici Graeci. Oxford, 1962.


A. Pauly, G. Wissowa, and W. Kroll, eds. Real-En- cyclopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft. Stuttgart, 1893–1978.


H. Lloyd-Jones and P. Parsons, eds. Supplementum Hellenisticum. Berlin and New York, 1983.


B. Snell and H. Maehler, eds. Pindari carmina cum fragmentis. Parts 1–2. Leipzig, 1971–75.


C. Wendel, ed. Scholia in Apollonium Rhodium vet- era. Berlin, 1935.


On returning from Egypt in 1799 Napoleon introduced a sweeping heraldic reform: he replaced the enduring symbol of the old monarchy, the fleur-de-lis, with the device of a bee. The bee was ubiquitous in its use by the royal house, appearing on the coronation robes, state furniture, and occasionally even on Napoleon’s coat of arms. But Napoleon’s rea- son for making this change was by no means obvious, even to his con- temporaries. The explanation of his choice lies outside of a symbolic repertory familiar from French culture or traditional western iconogra- phy. Napoleon borrowed his new royal insignia from Egypt. For over two thousand years, the bee had been used in hieroglyphic writing to in- dicate the king of Lower Egypt or the Delta region, and a bee, often elab- orately carved and painted, always preceded the cartouche of the pharaoh’s name, with the result that the Egyptian word for bee (bit) came by metonymy also to mean “king” (see plates 1 and 2). Napoleon must have been aware of this, because Edmé Jomard, who was the secretary of the editorial committee for the Déscription de l’Égypte, the comprehen- sive survey of Egyptian monuments and natural history commissioned as part of Napoleon’s military expedition, was an ardent student of hiero- glyphics, and on the title page of the first volume of the Déscription he made creative use of the bee as a marker of imperial power. 1

1. In the lower left and right corners, Jomard placed the traditional Egyptian motifs of a vulture and an atef crown to flank a cartouche enclosing a star ( = divine) and a bee ( = king).



Although the decipherment of hieroglyphics was several years in the future, European interest in a writing system that was thought to en- code philosophical and theological secrets was intense, 2 and at least two ancient sources, Ammianus Marcellinus and Horapollo, in which the meaning of the bee hieroglyphic was explained, were widely consulted by Jomard and others. Napoleon’s adaptation via Jomard followed Ammianus Marcellinus (17.4.11), for whom “bee” illustrated the larger principle that in hieroglyphic writing one character often stood for whole words or concepts: Ammianus says that “through the figure of a bee making honey [Egyptians] indicate a king, showing that for a ruler the sting should be tempered with benevolence.” 3 Napoleon could have chosen the Egyptian royal device for its antiquity and for the metaphysical cachet that Egyptian hieroglyphs held at the beginning of the nineteenth century. But because the monarchic associations of the bee would not have been apparent to all of Napoleon’s contemporaries, a modern scholar suggests that he had a more subtle political motive for the choice of the bee symbol and its elaboration in the frontispiece to the Déscription de l’Égypte:

The enigma of the two cartouches [the star and the bee] is therefore solved, and the correct interpretation of their inscriptions is ‘divus rex’ or ‘divine king’. It was therefore very wise, probably, only to intimate the meaning vaguely in the commentary [to the Déscription]. The rather ful- some flattery probably pleased the emperor, who never outgrew a legiti- macy-complex, and it may have amused the Imperial augurs; but as a re- lapse into the terminology of the ‘Roy-Soleil’ it would probably have jarred on Jacobine ears. For the same reason the true meaning of the new heraldic emblem was never publicly disclosed, but it was obvious that Napoleon was fully aware of its significance and introduced it deliber- ately as a venerable monarchical symbol. 4

Napoleon’s ploy was successful. Today, consulting a standard encyclo- pedia of French culture about the meaning of the bee device, we are

2. See Volkmann 1957.

3. “perque speciem apis mella conficientis, indicant regem, moderatori cum iucundi-

ostendentes” (17.4.11). For a similar linking of

the king with the image of a bee, see Seneca De clementia 1.19.1 and Dio Chrysostom

4.62. The ancient writers were not consistent on the sex of bees. In his History of Ani- mals, Aristotle, for example, records the theory that the bees had a queen (553a21–33), but in a later passage describes the hive as led by a king (623b7–627b22).

tate aculeos quoque innasci debere



told that it is “because the bee is the symbol of industry that Napoleon I adopted it for his emblem.” 5 Napoleon was not the first French monarch to use the bee hiero- glyphic to symbolize kingship, though in his case we can be sure that contact with Egypt and its monuments provided the direct stimulus. In the Renaissance, Louis XII was said to have worn a gold-spangled robe adorned with a king bee surrounded by ordinary bees, combined with the motto “The king does not use the sting.” 6 Louis XII found justifica- tion for his version of this monarchic emblem not in Ammianus, but in the Greek Horapollo, who explains the bee hieroglyph as

illustrating a people obedient to their king. For alone of all other crea- tures the bee has a king whom the rest of the bees follow, just as men obey a king. They allegorize from the pleasure of honey and from the power of the creature’s sting that the king is both kindly and forceful in rendering judgment and in governance. 7

Pope Urban VIII also entered this game of heraldic one-upmanship by displaying bees on his arms accompanied with the Latin verses Gallis mella dabunt, Hispanis spicula figent ([The bees] will provide honey for the French, they will sting the Spanish). To which the Spaniards replied:

spicula si figent, emorientur apes (If they sting, the bees will die). 8 These two historical anecdotes provide relatively transparent models for the Greek receptions of Egypt that are set out in this book: Louis

5. Grand dictionnaire encyclopédique Larousse (1982) s.v. abeille. Vergil’s Georgics

and the figure of Aristaeus stand behind this interpretation. See below on Childéric, and note 12.

6. “Rex non utitur aculo.” Volkmann 1957, 42; Iversen 1993, 167 n. 29.

7. The Hieroglyphica is usually attributed to Horapollo the Younger, who was a

member of a prominent Greco-Egyptian intellectual family of the fifth century c.e. See G. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind (Prince- ton, 1986) 183–86; G. Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity (Ann Arbor, 1990) 55–61. Only the Greek version survives. The work contains a curious blend of accurate information and allegorizing speculation characteristic of later European writing on the subject. La bn prbß basilAa peiu anion dhloPnteß, mAlissan zvgrafo Psi. kaB g br manon t mn gllvn zAvn basilAa Gxei, Q t b loipbn t pn melissmn Epetai plpuoß, kaub kaB oC gn- urvpoi pe Auontai basile M¢ a Dn Attontai dB Dk t pß toP mAlitoß <xrhst athß ka B> Dk toß to M kAntroy toM z Aoy dyn amevß < t bn basil Aa> xrhst bn e Rnai ema ka B eGtonon pr bß < dikaiathta> kaB dio Akhsin (1.62 Sbordone). Neither Ammianus nor Horapollo is en- tirely correct in his explanation of why the Egyptians used the bee to mean king. The bee was chosen not because of its behavior but most likely because Lower Egypt or the Delta

region was particularly rich in apiculture. The bee seems initially to have been a regional designation for Lower Egypt and, in combination with a reed plant that designated Upper Egypt, served in the royal titulature to indicate that the pharaoh was king of a unified Upper and Lower Egypt. See Schneider 1993, 175–81.



XII’s cloak, like fifth- and fourth-century Greek writers, exhibits con- sciousness of the Egyptian origins of the material it appropriates, but that appropriation remains at some distance; Napoleon, like the Hel- lenistic poets, reflects an immediate experience of a contemporary Egypt, though without overt acknowledgment of the context of appro- priation. In each case, what survives and is considered significant is re- fracted through western sensibilities, but each layer also refracts at some moment a real encounter with Egyptian behaviors and cultural artifacts. The following anecdote offers a much more complicated dynamic, however. In 1653 the tomb of Childéric, a Merovingian king who died in 481, was opened in Tournai. The burial deposit included a bull’s head adorned with a solar disk and more than three hundred gold bees that had been used to decorate his equipage. 9 Subsequent excavation re- vealed a statuette of Isis in the same villa, 10 confirming what the original publishers of the find had already surmised: Childéric was among the last devotees of Isis in early medieval Europe, and his burial objects must be understood in light of her cult, though an Isis cult that had as- similated western ideas. The bull’s head with the solar disk is Apis. But the bees are a different matter. In this context they are not obviously markers of kingship, but symbols of rebirth linked to the Apis bull through an etymology of Apis/apis. The bees reflect a belief in the spon- taneous creation of bees from the carcass of a dead bull, the so-called bougonia. Whether or not bougonia stems from an authentically Egypt- ian tradition, it is not elsewhere attested for Isis worship, though it is very prominent in Latin sources and treated at length in Vergil’s Geor- gics. 11 Thus it may be specific to the Roman development of Isis wor- ship. When they were found, however, Childéric’s bees were also in- vested with dynastic significance: Jean-Jacques Chiflet, who published the Childéric treasure in 1655, included an illustrated account of how the royal emblem of France, the fleur-de-lis, was originally derived from the bee. 12 Hence Napoleon’s bee could enjoy a double reception. The re-

9. Baltruˇsaitis 1985, 89–94. The treasure was stolen in 1831.

10. Baltruˇsaitis 1985, 93.

11. Antigonus of Carystus Paradoxa 19 (23) for evidence of the bougonia in Egypt;

see also Vergil Georgics 4.281–314; Varro De re rustica 2.5.5; Ovid Metamorphoses

15.364–67. See A.B. Cook, “Bees in Greek Mythology,” JHS 15 (1895) 19, on Childéric’s bees.

12. Baltruˇsaitis 1985, 91–92 (with illustration). The claim is unlikely to be histori-

cally accurate, but rather an attempt to connect early local kings with the later French monarchy. I am indebted to my colleague Philippe Buc for this observation.



placement of the fleur-de-lis with the bee in the early nineteenth century could be understood not as an innovation but as a restoration of the true origins of the royal insignia, 13 and could be read, in terms of a western, and primarily Vergilian, tradition of bees as signifiers of indus- triousness and rejuvenation, as well as an Egyptian symbol of kingship. Childéric’s worship of Isis and the resulting funerary deposit indicate a thoroughly assimilated stratum of Egyptian ideas as well as ideas that may only appear Egyptian, so intricately joined it is difficult if not im- possible to separate the constituent parts. Taken together, these anecdotes illustrate (1) the context-dependent nature of interpretation, (2) the intricate dynamics of cultural borrow- ing, (3) the significance of the visual and monumental in cultural ex- change, and (4) the peculiar fascination that Egypt and its symbolic realm hold in the western imagination. Childéric, Louis XII, and Napoleon use the same signifier at different historical periods though for markedly different purposes. To the observer unfamiliar with the complicated set of historical and political circumstances behind each French monarch’s symbolic deployment of the bee, it no doubt seems whimsical or idiosyncratic. But when the context is presented, the de- vice not only becomes explicable but assumes a broader significance within the continuum of French imperial history. To educated members of the court the emblem would have conveyed a subtle signal of monar- chic ambitions or of imperial desires; to the rest the bee was no more than an artistic experiment. Without its symbolic baggage, it could not function as a dangerous reminder of the “Roy-Soleil” or as a behavioral template for the proper disposition of the monarch to his subjects. Rather it became the signifier of an anodyne “industriousness.”

Napoleon’s bees provide a cautionary tale for our standard approach to Alexandrian poetry. We strive to acquaint ourselves with as much as possible of the ancient world in order to recreate a reception that we hope is similar to that of an ancient reader. Inevitably we fall short—we always know too little—and inevitably we differ, since each of us, like each ancient reader, experiences a poem or a play uniquely. Within that unique experience, however, there must be certain shared parameters or overlapping areas of understanding that allow us to agree about the meaning of texts. But what happens when elements relevant to our un-



derstanding of a text or historical circumstance are absent? Texts may still be legible, but some dimension will be lost. Historically in our re- ception of Alexandrian poetry we have read only through the filter of ancient Greek literature, occasionally adjusted by recourse to a subse- quent Latin reading. What we unconsciously exclude from our ap- proach is the possibility that the writers of Alexandria might have been fascinated by the Egyptian culture that surrounded them; that they, like Napoleon, might have deliberately incorporated Egyptian motifs and allusions into their own work. If they were to do so in a random or ca- sual way, the noting of such occasions would perhaps be interesting, but of minimal importance for an adequate understanding of the po- etry. My claim is broader. I argue in this book that the Alexandrians systematically incorporated Egyptian ideas and narrative motifs in a set of poems constructed to explore the dimensions of Ptolemaic kingship. Our inability to see an Egyptian allusion in their works results not from their failure to make such allusions, but from our own lack of fa- miliarity with their frames of reference. To a modern classical scholar educated in the northern European tradition of Germany or England, information about Egypt contained within Greek writing is irrelevant to the study of Greek culture and Greek literature proper and has either been dismissed or categorized as generically oriental. Rarely is it stud- ied in terms of its own, non-Greek, origins. But this is not to say that such material did not exist or that it would not have formed part of the conceptual world of Greeks themselves, particularly those Greeks who had immigrated to Egypt. From Herodotus, for example, it is obvious that Greeks living in Egypt were familiar with local versions of Egypt- ian stories, and to imagine that the Alexandrian poets and their edu- cated audience were not equally so informed is illogical if we simulta- neously insist upon their acquaintance with every detail of a Greek world that is both geographically and temporally remote. It is my con- tention in what follows that Egypt and Egyptian motifs enter the poems on various levels, as casual allusions, linguistic play, and, more perva- sively, as subtexts that underlie or complement the Greek. I wish to ex- plore the possibilty that the Alexandrians deliberately composed poems to match Egyptian narratives in their general contours by highlighting certain details, often marginal in the Greek stories, but significant in the Egyptian, and that their Alexandrian audience would have been able to appreciate this aspect of their poetry. It is possible to object to my thesis on the grounds that in their work these poets only rarely refer to Egypt, that their poems are entirely ex-



plicable within Greek terms, and, therefore, to seek an Egyptian expla- nation for events or details is unnecessary or overly imaginative. 14 But what does explicable in Greek terms really mean? Often it means no more than pointing to a string of verbal allusions to Homer or Hesiod without providing an integrated account of the dynamics of the text as a whole; hence a poetics is sometimes reduced to arbitrariness or, on oc- casion, banality. Even within a wholly Greek framework, much in these poets remains obscure. For example, to whom (if anyone) does Calli- machus refer with his attack on the Telchines? Critics have assumed a priori that the obscurity of the reference is a result of lost context that would have been clear to his contemporaries, though perhaps not to subsequent Roman readers. Within the parameters of Greek poetry we are prepared to accept the limits of our knowledge. Why then should it be so difficult to imagine that we might also be lacking an Egyptian frame of reference? As contemporary scholars surely we have moved beyond the Hellenocentrism of our own scholarly past. Rather, it is the profound lack of familiarity with Egyptian culture that impedes us. This is not meant to deny that the Alexandrians were writing for Greeks, not Egyptians. These poets and their audience were operating within the mimetic framework of Greek generic structures, and al- though they experimented with the boundaries of the inherited genres, they could not have abandoned them even if they had wished to and still have expected to be understood by a Greek audience. However, the fact that they do not specifically name Egypt when, as I will argue, they are selecting a Greek myth that in its contours resembles an Egyptian story is both a function of their own reception of Egypt from previous Greek writings and a means of exerting a measure of control over an alien space. Previous cultural assimilation meant that for an Alexan- drian Greek Horus was Apollo (and vice versa), just as Osiris was Dionysus and Isis was Demeter. Divinities that in other parts of the Mediterranean had distinct and separable mythologies, in Egypt were

14. See, for example, Weber (1993, 371–88, esp. 381) for criticisms of the work of Merkelbach, Koenen, and Bing. Zanker voices slightly different criticisms. He is con- cerned with the evidentiary habits of these scholars, who read behaviors of the later Ptolemies onto the earlier (1989, 91–99). Zanker’s own reading of the world of Alexan- dria, particularly the “culture shock” for immigrating Greeks (p. 91), seems to me to be largely correct. Where I differ from him is in assessing the degree of separation of Greeks from Egyptians. Recent work, particularly that of Thompson, Clarysse, and Quaegebeur, undermines much of the evidence on which the case for such a separation has been built. To identify an Egyptian stratum within Alexandrian poetry is not to argue for wholesale interpretatio graeca, as Zanker seems to think.



already part of the same discursive field, so that a narrative about the one was predisposed to converge with the other. The evidence I present in the next chapter demonstrates the persistence with which writers like Herodotus insist on these identifications, even when (to us) they might seem forced. Greek names dominate or displace the native so thor- oughly that at times it is difficult to identify authentic Egyptian patterns that lie beneath. Thus what we may regard as necessary clues for our- selves will not have been the same for an Alexandrian Greek audience in the third century b.c.e. This habit of renaming is symptomatic of a wider phenomenon for those who were immigrating to Egypt. As the extreme case of the bar- barian, or the total inversion of all that is Greek (articulated as a binary opposition in Herodotus), Egypt presented a peculiar challenge. Its alien physical, and even more importantly its alien mental, landscape needed to be rendered explicable by and for its new occupants—in some sense to be made Greek. The Alexander Romance provides an illuminating example of the process of ideological repositioning—the author of this disingenuous text explains the ethnic mixture of the city of Alexandria as the inevitable result of its foundation by Alexander, but an Alexander who is provided with a new paternity; he is no longer the son of Philip, but of Nectanebo, the last native pharaoh, and Olympias—hence in her- itage both Egyptian and Greek. 15 On a more sophisticated level, the Alexandrian poets engage in similarly creative gestures that serve to do- mesticate or rather Hellenize Egypt. Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius experiment with templates to incorporate Egyptian myths and pharaonic behavior into Greek. What begins as alien or outré, by being matched with Greek myths of a similar contour, can become fa- miliar, acceptable, even normative. Just as Egyptian gods are renamed and syncretistic cults try to absorb the native into the religion of the new natives, these Greek poets absorb Egyptian culture in such a way as to make it barely visible and then invisible, a process that simultaneously familiarizes the viewer with the unfamiliar and makes it look Greek. An example: at the opening of Callimachus’s poem on the victory of Berenice at the Nemean games, Callimachus identifies Argos as the land of “cow-born Danaus,” 16 alluding to the Greek myth of Io, who mi- grated to Egypt in the form of a cow and gave birth to Epaphus ( = Egyptian Apis). One of her descendants, Danaus, then returned to

15. For discussion of the AR, see below, chapter 2.



Greece and gave his name to the whole people—Danaans. This unex- ceptionably Greek epithet is by no means value neutral—it links Greeks to Egyptians in hereditary terms. A few lines later, Callimachus de- scribes Egyptian women as “knowing how to mourn the bull with the white marking.” 17 Now the reference is to the thoroughly Egyptian cult of the Apis bull, but since we have just been reminded of the descen- dants of Io, Apis too begins to lose his otherness and to be incorporated into the allusive matrix of what has become an extended Greco-Egypt- ian mythological family. The habit of syncretism and allusion to an Egypt already embedded in Greek texts are two means by which poets create a discursive field that can serve to accommodate two different cultural logics. Within this framework a poem that nowhere explicitly names Egypt or an Egyptian idea nonetheless frequently presents a set of incidents that are entirely legible within the framework of Egyptian myth. Further, a narrative that in its selection of Greek mythological de- tail may appear whimsical or obscure, when read in the context of Egyptian ideas often yields not simply a coherent pattern, but a pattern complicit in the ideological construction of pharaonic kingship. 18 The degree of recognition, resistance, or acceptance of these patterns that a contemporary reader would have experienced, to be sure, will have var- ied. Nor do these three poets themselves exhibit the same degree of in- terest in Egypt or construct their discursive matrices to represent Egypt or Ptolemaic kingship in the same way. Still, the cumulative effect of this poetry would have been to allow the reader to discern Egyptian cultural formations, but contained within or domesticated by its frame- work of Greekness. The effect is one of an optical illusion—looked at from one angle discrete elements in the narrative are Greek, from an- other Egyptian; both are complete and distinct without the other, yet in- terdependent in their final patterning. These remarks are not intended to gloss over the difficulties inherent in discussing what amounts to a series of cross-cultural readings in which one set of cultural references does not operate as a traditional lit- erary field and, in addition to text-based lore, will necessarily include a

17. SH fr. 254.16 (30): eDdy Pai falibn taPron DhlemAsai.

18. Selden (1998, 353) in discussing the Lock of Berenice puts it as follows: “The

Hellenic reader, compelled to make sense of the diverse data of the poem yet unable to fall back on a figurative negation, finds himself drawn more and more into an Egyptian order of ideas. To comprehend the piece in full, he can no longer remain securely within the horizons of Hellenic culture, but must make the transposition from one discursive system to the other.”



visual and dramatic component. 19 But just as generic traditions within which an individual text was produced function as background white noise that inevitably leaves traces within that text, so too does the con- temporary environment—the physical environment as well as the polit- ical and social milieu—in which that text is produced. Despite the con- structed literariness of the Alexandrians, their often one-to-one specificity of allusion that simulates annotation or commentary on po- etic predecessors, these poets devote considerable textual energy to the object, and they display a sense of the pictorial in their poetic formula- tion that seems to set them apart from their predecessors. 20 Given their stated interests in cult formation, statutes of the gods, and attendant ac- tivities, the expectation that visual uniqueness of Egyptian artistic rep- resentation would also have come to their notice is not unwarranted. There is enough specific information in Callimachus, for example, to justify this assumption: the dedicatory epigram to Sarapis (37 Pf. = AP 13.7); another to Isis, identified as the daughter of Inachus ( = Io; 57 Pf.

= AP 6.150); and, most interestingly, a one-line fragment quoted in

Strabo (17.1.28 = fr. 715 Pf.) that mentions “the dromos of Anubis.” Though the context of Callimachus’s poem is missing, the fact that he knows the temple at all confirms the familiarity with Egyptian monu- ments that I am presupposing. 21 Further, it is my assumption that coordinates of similarity or differ- ence may operate one way within an inherited textual tradition in one political and social environment, but quite differently in another set- ting. Thus it is important to consider what lies behind an accretion of

intertexts: often it is the topos or literary cliché that is our best source of information about commonly held ideas; however, these common- places may be thrown into relief or take on new meanings when relo- cated in a cross-cultural milieu. For example, does the familiar expres- sion of doubt about how to hymn the god operate in the same way in the world of Zeus Ammon as it does in fifth-century Athens? 22 As a fur- ther strategy of reading, a marked difference from predecessors within

a traditional Greek milieu requires some account in narrative terms

19. See the next chapter for a discussion of how the Alexandrian poets and their au-

dience would have had access to Egyptian ideas.

20. This a significant feature of their so-called realism. See Zanker 1987, 55–112.

21. The precise location of the temple is not known. Strabo may be describing the

ruins at Heliopolis, but he is more likely to be describing the generic plan of the Egyptian temple. See Fraser 1972, 2: 414–15 n. 582.



within a text. Rather than dismissing as playful or subversive what has to critics often seemed strange or eccentric, it is worthwhile to read these moments with some care. Within a different cultural formation (namely Egypt) it is now similarity that becomes significant. However, incidents, events, or narratives from two different cultures that appear to be structurally similar may be in fact folkloric; they may possess a pancultural kinship that results from the fundamental desire to organ- ize human experience, and not necessarily be indicative of a specific se- lection of circumstances that invites the reader to think of Egypt. 23 A unique set of circumstances in the Greek tradition that yields a narra- tive logic that operates more fundamentally in Egyptian culture than Greek then is what is significant. An example: within Greek poetry the rise of an island from the watery void at the moment of sunrise is an event without obvious parallel or mythological baggage. Yet in Egypt- ian thought it is heavily freighted: emerging islands and sunrise signal the moment of creation—new beginnings—as well as the ascension of the new pharaoh to the throne. Yet one incident of (apparently) marked similarity between the two cultural logics hardly constitutes proof. This is not the end of the argument, but the beginning. It is rather the sum of such elements throughout the course of a poem, elements that cannot be accounted for in more straightforward ways, through recourse to Greek models, by folk tradition, or even sheer chance. Even at this point, however, unless the two cultural logics add up to more than the sum of their parts, unless an Egyptian order of ideas allows a more complete comprehension and a more consistent reading, the argument cannot be persuasive. Because the purpose of this book is not merely to demonstrate the presence of allusions to Egyptian myth or to excavate an Egyptian stra- tum in Alexandrian poetry, I focus on Egyptian material within selected poems that not only locates them within but defines the parameters of a wider dialogue about kingship. For the Ptolemaic court to rule effec- tively it could not construct itself entirely in the mode of a traditional Greek kingship, but as a Macedonian Greek line occupying and ruling over pharaonic Egypt it strove necessarily to position itself in both cul- tures. 24 The poets are similarly situated: Callimachus and Apollonius

23. For example, Fontenrose (1980) contextualizes the myth of Apollo and Python in

terms of similar Near Eastern tales that include Typhon in Hesiod and the Egyptian Seth. His study demonstrates their common folkloric dimensions not their allusive interde- pendence.



are natives of North Africa, of Cyrene and Alexandria respectively, and

a third, Theocritus, was probably resident in Alexandria for some

years. Most scholars date the earliest poems of Callimachus and The- ocritus to the beginning of Philadelphus’s reign, around 284 b.c.e., or within a generation of the foundation of the city. Callimachus and Apollonius, certainly, were men with a stake in the establishment and were prominent scholars in the newly created Museum. It is my con- tention that far from being ivory-towered intellectuals indulging in ob- scurantist aesthetics as a reaction to or withdrawal from unsympathetic imperial practices, these poets were the image makers for the Ptolemaic court. 25 Moreover, their poems were political in the broadest sense,

serving neither to support nor to subvert the status quo, but to open up

a space in which social and political values could be imaginatively

recreated, examined, and critiqued. Within this space these three poets experiment by selectively adapting previous Greek mythological and

historical models to articulate a novel kind of kingship, and it is within this context that their generic experiments should be understood. The inherited genres of Greek poetry came encrusted with meanings not al- ways applicable or relevant to the new world of the Ptolemies. Refash- ioning these past thought worlds to signify in the present was central to their role in court—and it is essential to remember that this court was

in Egypt.

At the time that Ptolemy I assumed control of Egypt, he would have been dependent upon an Egyptian administrative and scribal hierarchy firmly entrenched in native priesthoods. The temples they controlled, thanks to a century of a weakened central government, owned as much as a third of the arable land and supported an elaborate ideology of kingship to enhance the status not only of a particular ruler but their own as well. Egyptian kingship, in marked contrast to Greek, was a complex theocracy in which the king symbolically linked the human and divine spheres and regularly appeared in the company of the native gods in ceremony to guarantee the continued well-being of Egypt. To neglect the rituals, to eliminate or ignore the priesthoods, to undermine native belief, would have been to court social and economic fragmenta- tion, since the smooth operation of the country depended on these na- tive administrative and priestly elites continuing to acquiesce in the ap-



paratus of state. Hence the new rulers needed to accommodate them- selves to the native ceremonials of kingship, while (presumably) resist- ing the temptation of complete assimilation. This was not an abstract problem. Soter began his rule in Memphis, the religious center of old Egypt, and only moved to Alexandria some years after taking power. 26 The received wisdom that Alexandria was never conceived as part of Egypt proper but was always, in the words of Tacitus, considered “ad Aegyptum” is not correct. This was a Roman not a Ptolemaic formula- tion. 27 The Egyptians themselves called the city Rhacotis. The country was initially administered in Demotic Egyptian, and only when a suit- able administrative cadre of bilingual native Egyptians had been cre- ated did the transformation into a fully Greek bureaucracy take place, and this could not have happened much before the reign of Ptolemy II. 28 Inscriptions from the early part of Ptolemaic rule, like the Satrap decree (311 b.c.e.), were written only in hieroglyphics—in contrast to the later bi-or trilingual decrees, like the Rosetta stone (196 b.c.e.). 29 The former stele provides valuable insight into Ptolemaic practice vis-à-vis native protocols. It records that Soter, in the name of the “pharaoh” Alexan- der IV, restored the Egyptian temples to their former state and reversed the depredations of the previous invaders, the Persians. This statement inserts Soter into pharaonic tradition, and similar claims made by sub- sequent Ptolemies testify to an active collaboration with their Egyptian priesthoods in constructing a civic ideology that positioned them as continuers of the true pharaonic practice, in contrast to their predeces- sors, the Persians, whom they portray as little more than thieves. 30 It is significant that Soter began to so position himself in Egyptian ideology even before he assumed the role of king to a Greek population. 31 Simi-

26. Information in the Satrap decree indicates that the move was either in 320/19

b.c.e. or, based on the standard reading of the formulae, in 312/11. See Fraser 1972, 2:

11–12 n. 28. Egyptologists usually prefer the later date.

27. Reymond and Barns 1977, 1–33 (particularly 28 n. 24).

28. Thompson (1994, 67–87) sketches the trajectory of linguistic change from Egypt-

ian to Greek in Ptolemaic administration.

29. The decree was found in Cairo. Bevan (1968, 28–32) provides the only transla-

tion available in English, though it is not very accurate. For the original German edition, see Sethe 1904–16, 2: 11–23. There is an excellent photograph of the stele in G. Grimm, “Verbrannte Pharaonen? Die Feuerbestattung Ptolemaios’ IV Philopator und ein gescheit- erter Staatsstreich in Alexandria,” Antike Welt 28 (1997) 238.

30. Claiming to restore the temples was standard operating procedure for the new

pharaoh: e.g., the claims made for Amasis and Nectanebo I (Lichtheim 1980, 35, 89). In

turn, the Persians and Alexander made similar claims. For a discussion of the reality be- hind these claims, see Winnicki 1994.



lar claims of returning the gods to Egypt were made for Ptolemy II in the Pithom stele (again only in hieroglyphics) of 264, though by the time of this later text, Ptolemy’s political interests in Syria will have dovetailed nicely with pharaonic ideology. 32 Whether or not Soter and his immediate successors were actually crowned as pharaoh in Memphis, 33 they certainly allowed themselves to appear as pharaoh in Egyptian inscriptions and temple reliefs and to be seen behaving no differently than their Egyptian predecessors. Soter may even initially have taken an Egyptian wife. 34 Playing prominent roles during the formative period of Soter’s reign were native Egyptians like the general, Nectanebo, a member of the royal house of the last na- tive pharaoh (Nectanebo II), the royal scribe, Wennefer, and, most im- portant, Manetho, the Sebennytic priest, who was the first Egyptian to write a history of Egypt in Greek and for Greeks. 35 Additionally, Soter availed himself of Greeks like Hecataeus of Abdera to provide him with information about Egypt. Hecataeus would have been a better inform- ant about the country than Herodotus—his description of the Rames- seum in Thebes is notable for its accuracy 36 —and may well have read hieroglyphics. 37 By all accounts Hecataeus’s views on Egypt were not only positive, but utopian: he seems to have projected his idealized vi- sion of the proper education and practice of kingship onto the Egyptian pharaohs, no doubt in order to provide a paradigm for the rule of the Ptolemies themselves. 38 Indeed, there is some evidence that Alexander

32. Sethe 1904–16, 2: 81–105. See Hölbl 1994, 73–83, with illustrations of the

Pithom and Mendes stelae.

33. This is much debated. For the arguments against, see Burstein 1991. For argu-

ments in favor of coronation, see Koenen 1993, 49–81. The real issue in these discussions is the degree to which Macedonian Greek rulers assimilated to native practices and how pervasive such practices would have been for their rule. Whether or not the earlier Ptolemies were crowned in the Egyptian manner, Epiphanes was crowned by Egyptian priests in Memphis and identified on the Rosetta stone (196 b.c.e.) as playing the role of Horus in the New Year’s festival.

34. On the basis of the survival of a presumably legitimate daughter named “Ptole-

mais, daughter of Ptolemy Kheper-ka-Re,” Tarn (“Queen Ptolemais and Apama,” CQ 23 [1929] 138–41) argues that Soter may have consolidated power at the beginning of his rule by marrying into the line of Nectanebo, the last Egyptian monarch. Given the evi- dence of the Alexander Romance, which seeks to position Alexander as the son of

Nectanebo II, such a marriage would have made excellent political sense as part of a con- solidation of power.

35. Thompson 1992b, 324. For the stele of Wennefer, see Lichtheim 1980, 54–58; for

Manetho, see Dillery 1999.

36. Burstein 1992, 45–50; Peremans 1987, 327–43.

37. Fraser 1972, 1: 497.



and Soter, following him, were aiming to create a monarchy in which the traditional barriers between Greek and non-Greek might be soft- ened or even eliminated. Eratosthenes, for example, is said to have praised Alexander for ignoring the advice of those who counseled him to treat Greeks alone as friends, but barbarians as enemies, rather pre- ferring to accept men on the basis of their good or bad qualities (Strabo 1.4.9). 39 An obvious example of Soter’s attempt to bridge the gap between Egyptian and Greek is the introduction of the cult of Sarapis. The Apis bull was mummified and worshipped in death as Osiris-Apis, or Oso- rapis by Egyptians. The Ptolemies humanized this cult by introducing statues to represent the god in human form, but they did not uncouple it from the original animal worship of the Egyptian cult. The choice of Os- orapis was not random: for the Greeks, Osiris was the equivalent of Dionysus, and the sculptures that lined the dromos of the Memphite Sarapeum offer a clear-cut example of the use of dual Greek and Egypt- ian symbolism: they included two peacocks, each ridden by a young Dionysus as well as a falcon with the head of a bearded man and a sphinx. 40 Certainly, the temple to Sarapis erected in Alexandria, while hu- manizing the form of the god, also included Egyptian architectural ele- ments as well as freestanding pieces like obelisks, sphinxes, and cult stat- ues executed in the Egyptian style and inscribed in hieroglyphics. Here, too, the thoroughly Egyptian deity, Isis, was worshipped as Sarapis’s con- sort, 41 and, by the fourth Ptolemy, her son, Horus-the-Child, whom the Greeks called Harpocrates, joined them in cult. 42 From inscriptions and archaeological evidence, it is clear that the royal family associated them- selves with the Egyptian gods in cult from a very early period. 43 The Mendes stele of 264, for example, commemorates the visit of Ptolemy II

39. See also Arrian’s anecdote (7.11) on the inclusion of Persians in Alexander’s army,

and Tarn 1933. For a different evaluation, see E. Badian, “Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind,” Historia 7.4 (1958) 425–44.

40. Fraser 1972, 1: 255; Thompson 1988, 116. The most recent and thorough dis-

cussion is Borgeaud and Volukhine 2000, 37–76.

41. For a discussion of the spread of the Isis cult under the early Ptolemies, see

Dunand 1973, 1: 109–61.

42. Fraser 1972, 1: 263–65.

43. Quaegebeur 1988, 41–53. Yves Empereur’s discoveries from the underwater site

of the Alexandrian harbor have revealed colossal statues in the pharaonic style. In his tel- evision documentary (though not in the written publication) Empereur suggested that the statues belong to the reign of Philadelphus and are of Philadelphus as pharaoh and and his queen as Isis.



to the shrine of the newly enthroned ram of Mendes (Banebdjed) to ven- erate the god and oversee the progress of work on his temples. 44 Scholarly consensus holds that in the later part of his reign, Soter, followed by Philadelphus and Euergetes, retreated from a position that tended to engage with or include elements of both Egyptian and Greek cultures to one of isolationism and of relative cultural purity for Greeks. 45 It is wise to be cautious here, since a now fully bilingual bu- reaucracy would serve to mask the degree of participation by assimi- lated Egyptians. However, even if the early Ptolemies did retreat from attempts at cultural integration, their rule continued to be dual— basileus to the Greek population, pharaoh to the Egyptian. And even if the necessary pharaonic practices were performed by royal surrogates at the periphery of an Alexandrian Greek’s consciousness, the dynamic interplay of the two competing styles of kingship could not have been ignored, especially in light of the fact that over time the Egyptianization of the Ptolemies certainly continued. Brother-sister marriage, after all, appears as early as Philadelphus, and these early monarchs carried on major building programs of Egyptian monuments, many of which were erected in Alexandria itself, and within which certain deities, particu- larly Horus and Isis, and their attendant iconographies were especially favored. 46 Over time, the Greek population of both Alexandria and the rest of Egypt grew more assimiliated, coming to resemble the Hel- lenomemphites of an earlier period, with frequent intermarriage, dual Greek-Egyptian names, and burial practices that included mummifica- tion and use of the distinctively Egyptian iconography. In this environ- ment, total assimilation to or complete rejection of Egypt would have been extreme responses. For most of Mediterranean Greek heritage who lived in Ptolemaic Alexandria daily accommodation in some form to the reality of Egypt—climate, monuments, religious practices, lan- guage and writing systems, court ceremonies—was inevitable. It is not within the context of a Greek culture, separate from and ignorant of Egyptian culture, that Alexandrian poetry should be positioned, but as part of the cultural dynamic in which these two distinct and at times di- ametrically opposed modes of cultural behavior were bound to interact and out of which a successful political style needed to evolve.

44. Sethe 1904–16, 2: 28–54. This too was written only in hieroglyphics; see Hölbl

1994, 77, for an illustration, and 94–95 for its cultic significance.

45. See, for example, Murray 1970, 142; Bing 1988, 134–35 n. 82.



The primary focus of this book is poetry, and specifically poetry that, I will argue, operates to imagine a new form of kingship, operating in two worlds, Greek and Egyptian. In order to see it in its contemporary context, I have begun with a chapter that sets out earlier Greek writings on Egypt and what we can learn about the various Egypts that Greeks constructed for themselves. In particular I consider the fourth-century writers in prose who were near contemporaries of the Alexandrian poets, Hecataeus of Abdera, Euhemerus, and (somewhat later) Diony- sus Scytobrachion, all of whom were familiar with Egypt. Although their writings have not survived intact, the epitomes to be found in Diodorus Siculus and other sources provide enough detail that it is pos- sible to draw useful conclusions about the general intellectual trends of such works. The second part of the chapter provides a summary of the ideological underpinnings of pharaonic theocracy and the central myths that encode it. The final section offers a reading of the Alexander Romance as an example of the way in which one of the principal legiti- mating myths of pharaonic kingship, that of divine paternity, was re- fashioned in Alexandrian Greek writing. The next three chapters treat Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollo- nius, respectively. In treating Callimachus and Theocritus, I have se- lected four poems—Callimachus’s Hymn to Zeus and the Hymn to Delos and Theocritus’s Heracliscus (Idyll 24) and the Encomium on Ptolemy (Idyll 17)—because of the interconnectedness of their themes and the likelihood of their being written within the first decades of Ptolemy II’s reign and within a few years of each other. The Zeus hymn and the Heracliscus date in all probability from the opening of his reign, the Delos hymn and the Encomium from the 270s. The first two poems experiment with finding appropriate models for Ptolemaic king- ship by focusing on childhood: Callimachus on the divine birth of Zeus, Theocritus on an early incident in the mythology of Heracles. The sec- ond pair of poems continues to play out ideas of kingship in divine (Apollo) or human terms (Ptolemy), the birth of Apollo on Delos in Callimachus seeming to find its logical fulfillment in Ptolemy’s birth on Cos. Regardless of their compositional order, these latter poems main- tain the fiction of order and both operate within the same discursive field. The cosmic disorder that is transformed at the birth of Apollo into harmony in Callimachus is continued in the Encomium, as if the promise of Ptolemy in the one is fulfilled in the other. While Calli- machus remains within the framework of archaic Greek poetry to con- struct (or imagine) an ideal of kingship, Theocritus moves to the con-



temporary world of “real” political and philosophical debate as evi- denced in Hecataeus of Abdera. The approachs of these two chapters differ: in the first I provide a rather long and detailed reading of the Zeus hymn to demonstrate as clearly as possible the ways in which the reader is led from an ostensibly Greek mythological milieu into a con- flated Greco-Egyptian universe that converges in the person of the human king, Ptolemy. This is followed by a shorter, thematic discussion of the Delos hymn. Theocritus’s two poems are read in more general terms, against Callimachus and against each other. In both of these chapters I try to extend the allusive matrix of Greek material that would have been available to an Alexandrian audience beyond the canonical texts of Greek poetry. Because of its length the treatment of Apollonius’s epic is commensurately different. I first situate the poem in its Ptolemaic context on the basis of Greek material, then I adapt a model from postcolonial discourse to establish the narrative framework for a series of Egyptian themes. The final section of the chapter reads Apollonius’s fourth book as a journey though the Egyptian under- world. In the last chapter I contextualize the various readings of the earlier chapters in terms of the political and social redefinition of Egypt as “Two Lands,” no longer the lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, but of Greek and Egyptian culture, locating aetiology as a necessary habit of the poetic mind in redefining Egypt as Greek. Fundamentally, this book is about reading—my own, that of other scholars, and that of ancient poets themselves, though not necessarily in that order. As a scholar trained within the western classical tradition I bring to my reading of Alexandrian poetry the same familiarity with the standard works of archaic and classical Greece that critics of this mate- rial normally possess. But to my act of reading in this book I bring a specific type of knowledge that classical critics only rarely have access to—that of the Egyptian literary and cultural environment contempo- rary with the poets whom I am discussing. To know these things is to read differently—to see double. Inevitably as I read this poetry, I read it through dual lenses—Greek and Egyptian. 47 I cannot do otherwise; my particular construction of the ancient world will not allow it. Initially my way of reading will seem alien to readers familar with only Greek literature; therefore, I conceive it my task to present my audience with

47. My perspective is not entirely solipsistic: R. Merkelbach, L. Koenen, P. Bing, and most recently (and extensively) D. Selden have all read Alexandrian poetry through dual lenses, and in what follows I am much indebted to their earlier observations.



the kind of material that allows them to repeat my experience as a reader, and to come closer to what I believe would have been the expe- rience of the original audiences of these poets. The ultimate goal is to remove Alexandrian poetry from the ivory tower and locate it more centrally in the social and political life of the city.

chapter 1

Conceptualizing Egypt

Greek immigration to Ptolemaic Egypt entailed not only physical relo- cation to a foreign landscape, but encounter with a culture produced by alien habits of mind. However, immigration was preceded by a process of domestication of this alien world that had begun at least as early as the sixth century b.c.e., 1 with Greek writers alternately demonizing or romanticizing Egypt and its cultural institutions, inventorying, and fi- nally appropriating them. Therefore, before turning to a consideration of what the poets of Alexandria could have known about purely Egypt- ian systems of thought in the third century b.c.e., we need to take cog- nizance not only of the contents of previous Greek writings on Egypt but also of the intellectual Tendenz of earlier writers like Herodotus who interpret or refract Egyptian culture for Greeks, because much that is central to this study is already visible in earlier Greek writers, though considerably altered in form. The significance of this earlier material should not be underestimated. For Greek scholars the identification of Apollo with Egyptian Horus is of no particular importance in under- standing the role of Apollo in Greek religion during the archaic and classical periods, nor is it relevant for Egyptologists in understanding the role of Horus in Egyptian cult. But for Greeks newly imported into

1. Contact between Greece and Egypt certainly took place from the Mycenean pe- riod, but what residue it left in archaic and classical Greece is disputed and unimportant for this argument. I am concerned only with material that could have directly shaped the Hellenistic experience.

Conceptualizing Egypt


Egypt, the fact that many Egyptian divinities could already be imagined as virtually equivalent to Greek gods would have served to make the pantheon and other aspects of Egyptian religion progressively more fa- miliar than they in fact were by authorizing a thought process that fo- cused on similarities rather than differences. Although this will neces- sarily have led to misunderstandings of purely native Egyptian religious beliefs, it will also have functioned as a very potent tool that aided in mapping an otherwise unfamiliar mental landscape. Although Greek writing about Egypt frequently had very little to do with actual Egypt- ian beliefs and practices, belonging rather to the construction of a Greek intellectual and political reality, within this general construct ele- ments of genuine Egyptian culture are often visible. Consideration of the various available materials and how they were appropriated, then, will allow us to reconstruct the outlines of the Egypt imagined by Greeks before and during the early Ptolemaic period, as well as the cat- egories of discourse in which Egypt will have figured. What follows is not a systematic review of all previous Greek writ- ers’ views of Egypt. Christian Froidefond’s 1971 study, Le mirage égyp- tien dans la littérature grecque d’ Homère à Aristote, already provides this. Rather, I wish to focus on specific themes found in earlier writing on Egypt that are central, through frequently ignored, in reconstructing the intellectual milieu of Alexandria. I omit Homer and Hesiod because Egypt receives no sustained treatment in their poetry and is embedded in the myths of certain families, which I do discuss. Or one finds noth- ing more than a residue of story patterns—not even identified as Egypt- ian—doubtless filtered through other Near Eastern cultures, like the contest of Zeus and Typhon in Hesiod’s Theogony. 2 The portrait of Egyptians found in two surviving Greek tragedies, Aeschylus’s Suppli- ants and Euripides’ Helen, has been recently examined by Phiroze Va- sunia in The Gift of the Nile, a sustained study of how Greek writers of the fifth and fourth centuries imagined Egypt. Rather than repeat his arguments here, I have included references to his study, where relevant, in footnotes. I do, however, expand on his formulation of Helen. Vasu- nia also has substantial chapters on Herodotus, Plato, and Isocrates. I treat Herodotus here in several ways: as part of the discussion of Ten- denz, as a litmus with which to test how Greek immigrants to Egypt would have encountered Egyptian ideas, and through occasional analy-

2. E.g., Fontenrose 1980, 249–51, 391–93; West 1966, 379–83, esp. notes on lines 820–80. This incident will be discussed in more detail in chapter 2.


Conceptualizing Egypt

sis of specific passages. I discuss Plato and Isocrates more briefly, and in a restricted context. 3 What emerges from all of these studies is that there is not one simple model of Egypt that all Greek writers adhered to, but that Egypt served as a catalyst for the expression of often con- flicting ideas about what it meant to be Greek. This is a useful frame of reference for what follows, but it is also limited, since as Greeks took up residence in Egypt itself, what could be contained as separate social and cultural spaces began to collapse. Vasunia’s insight that Alexan- der’s views of Egypt must have been determined by this earlier Greek reception of Egypt is surely correct, but my arguments necessarily begin from the point where reception cushioned by temporal and spatial re- moteness ends and interaction begins. Therefore, the trajectory of this chapter is to move from fourth- and third-century Greek constructs of Egypt through native ideologies to end with a consideration of how these two worlds intersect in the Alexander Romance.

greek views of egypt

Greeks had a long connection with Egypt from at least the Bronze Age, though it was the continuous contact with the Delta region of Lower Egypt from the archaic period that conditioned Greek writing on the subject, in part because the long-term stability of the Saite government during this period will have provided a more favorable climate for eco- nomic and political exchange as well as for tourists such as Hecataeus of Miletus and Herodotus. 4 Certainly, there is ample evidence for Egyptian influence on archaic Greek art, from the kouros to vase paint- ing. 5 Greek mercenaries served in Psammetichus I’s armies in the sev- enth century b.c.e., and, even earlier, a trading colony that housed a population of Greek merchants was founded at Naucratis. 6 Greeks had settled in other parts of Egypt as well, and our information about these

3. Plato’s construction of Egypt, especially in terms of writing and the stability of its

institutions, has been treated recently by a number of scholars: see, for example, M. Deti- enne, L’écriture d’ Orphée (Paris, 1989) 167–86; D. Steiner, The Tyrant’s Writ: Myths and Images of Writing in Ancient Greece (Princeton, 1994); Vasunia 2001, 136–76.

4. Lloyd (1976, 13–60) provides an extensive discussion of the categories of ex-

change. For travelers, see Y. Volokhine, “Les déplacements pieux en Égypte pharonique,” in Frankfurter 1998, 83.

5. Braun (1982) provides a very useful survey with a number of illustrations. See also

J. Boardman, The Greeks Overseas (London, 1980) 111–45, with illustrations.

6. On the site of Naucratis, see W.D.E. Coulson and A. Leonard, Jr., eds., Ancient

Naukratis: Excavations at a Greek Emporium in Egypt, vols. 1–2.1, American Schools of Oriental Research (Cambridge, Mass., 1997).

Conceptualizing Egypt


pre-Ptolemaic populations continues to grow. For example, in 575 b.c.e. a petition written in Demotic mentions a local official named Ariston, who prima facie would have been bilingual. Also, a typically Egyptian form of dedicatory art, the block statue, which was found in Priene in Turkey, commemorates one Pedon, the son of Amphinoos, who claims to have served Psammetichus I. 7 These circumstances sug- gest a certain amount of mobility among the military and administra- tive classes that would have created opportunities for cross-cultural ex- change. In Egypt itself, from at least the fifth century the so-called Hellenomemphites were identifiable as an assimilated Greek population resident in Memphis. 8 Herodotus explicitly mentions at least one group of Greco-Egyptians, the Chemmitae of Upper Egypt. 9 Several other re- gions like Buto in the Delta must have had similarly intermixed popula- tions. 10 A visual example of assimilation is provided by the tomb of Sia- mun from the Siwah oasis dating from the late Saite period. A painting within the tomb features a seated man in an Egyptian pose and in Egyptian costume, but with a Greek hairstyle and beard. Facing him is a child wearing a chlamys and looking no different from any Attic rep- resentation of a Greek boy. 11 Whether or not Greeks in Egypt assimi- lated, the population in some areas even in Herodotus’s day was large enough to constitute a visible economic group. Herodotus remarks, for example, that Egyptians did not eat the heads of sacrificial animals, but when they could, sold them to the local Greek traders (2.39.1–2). Sustained expressions of interest in Egypt culture began to appear in Greek literature as early as the Ionian logographer Hecataeus of Mile- tus, an interest that is familiar to us in the fifth century from Herodotus’s Histories and probably reached its peak in the fourth with writers like Eudoxus of Cnidus (who actually lived among Egyptian priests), Plato, and Isocrates. Two general trends shape their writings—

7. On the former, see El Hussein Omar M. Zaghloul, Frühdemotische Urkunden aus

Hermupolis, Bulletin of the Center for Papyrological Studies 2 (Cairo, 1985) 23–31. On the latter, see O. Masson and J. Yoyotte, “Une inscription ionienne mentionnant Psam-

métique Ier,” Epigraphica Anatolica 11 (1988) 171–79. I am indebted to Stanley Burstein for these references.

8. Thompson 1988, 83–84, 95–97; Borgeaud and Volokhine 2000, 65–69.

9. There are two Egyptian towns known to the Greeks as Chemmis, both of which I

discuss in this chapter. One is this city of Achmim in Upper Egypt (Herodotus 2.91); the other is in the Delta (Herodotus 2.156).

10. See, for example, D. Redford, “Notes on the History of Ancient Buto,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 5 (1983) 67–101; Lloyd 1976, 114–20.


Conceptualizing Egypt

the question of priority or who came first, the Egyptians or the Greeks, and matters of polity or good government, where Egyptian state orga- nization and particularly its forms of kingship are contrasted, either positively or negatively, with a Greek, usually democratic, practice. Greek writing on origins in general tended to organize the various cul- tures of the Mediterranean world into tidy lines of descent from the he- roes of Greek saga. That is to say, the family trees of various figures of Greek mythology—the Inachids, the Argonauts, Heracles—were pressed into the service of constructing the history of prehistoric Hel- lenic and non-Hellenic peoples. 12 With respect to Egypt, Hecataeus of Miletus may have begun the process: for him Egyptian cultural attain- ments were the result of an infusion of Greek talent via the descendants of Argive Io. He also may have begun the process of identifying Greek divinities with Egyptian. In contrast, Herodotus asserted the temporal priority of Egyptian over Greek culture, particularly in matters of reli- gion, claiming that Greeks derived certain religious practices, like the worship of Dionysus, from Egypt. Even so, Herodotus’s Egypt appears as a readily detachable ethnographic study eccentric to the historical trajectory of his work as a whole. 13 Plato, too, connects the two cultures in hereditary terms, but reverses the direction of the influence 14 —it is the Saite priest in the Timaeus who informs Greeks about their ances- tors—and he firmly maintained that it was the Athenian Greeks them- selves in their now unremembered past who established the Egyptian city of Sais. In other words, the ostensibly older Egyptian culture was always already Greek. Whatever we may think of these claims, and al- lowing for the ever-present irony of the Platonic text, it is significant that virtually all of the Greek writers whom we know to have dealt with Egypt in some detail found it necessary to express their own cultural achievements as having a familial and generational relationship with Egypt, either as originary or dependent. At the very least this signals the importance of Egypt in Greek minds and allows the possibility (though it does not guarantee) that Greeks knew more about the specific details of Egyptian culture than they are normally credited with. At any rate,

12. E. Bickerman, “Origines Gentium,” CP 47 (1952) 65–82; see also the summary in

Lloyd 1975, 120–40. Hall (1996, 40–41) notes that one of the most common character- istics of ethnic groups is a “common myth of descent.”

13. Burstein 1996, 591–97; Vasunia 2001, 112–21.

14. Herodotus’s chronology was reversed also in Eudoxus of Cnidus, who was a con-

temporary of Plato. For the extent to which Plato may have been influenced by Eudoxus’s work, see Froidefond 1971, 316, 318–22.

Conceptualizing Egypt


the habit of mind that connects Greece and Egypt does not disappear in Alexandrian writing; rather, as we should expect, it is intensified. And not only in the prose writers. Among our extant sources, the generational relationship of the two cultures lies at the heart of the Greek myth of the family of Danaus, which is best known from Aeschy- lus’s extant plays, The Suppliants and Prometheus Bound, but seems to have figured earlier in Hesiod’s now fragmentary Catalogue of Women. The kernel of the tale is a double migration: the Greek Io wanders to Egypt where she becomes the ancestor of Libya, Danaus, Aegyptus, and Phoenix. In a later generation Danaus, with his daughters, returns to Argos. To this a third migration could sometimes be attached: Danaus’s great granddaughter was Danae, who, like her ancester Io, attracted Zeus’s attention and, impregnated by a shower of gold, bore Perseus, who eventually returned to Egypt and Ethiopia. The Danaid family tree

is conveniently multivalent; it may function as an organizational tem-

plate for the origins of various Mediterranean peoples—Io’s descen- dants are the eponymous ancestors of Libya, Greece, Egypt, and Phoenicia. Greek Io may be figured as the ancestor of Egypt, and in turn, her descendant Danaus may be figured as Egyptian as he returns to Greece with his daughters. However it plays out, the family geneal- ogy was inextricably intertwined with Egypt. 15 Io herself, who is both woman and cow, bears a sufficiently strong resemblance to Hathor and Isis that she was easily identified with both as early as Herodotus, if not before. 16 For Hesiod Danaus or his daugh-

ters are the bringers of water to a thirsty Argos (dAcion 6 rgo %). 17 There

is more than one version of how the water is discovered, but the fact

that immigrants from Egypt are responsible for alleviating the aridity of

a dry land looks like a pointed attempt to link Argive irrigation with the behavior of the Nile. Somewhat further along in the family tree, Herodotus claims that one of Danaus’s descendants, Perseus, was wor-

15. Vasunia 2001, 33–58.

16. 2.41.2: “For the image of Isis is female with cow’s horns, as indeed the Greeks

represent Io (kat a per ·Ellhne % t bn \Io Pn gr afoysi.” According to the Suda, Calli- machus wrote a poem called The Arrival of Io, and in Epigrammata 57.1 Pf. ( = AP 6.150) he identifies Isis as the daughter of Inachus ( = Io).

17. Fr. 128 M-W. The drought resulted from an earlier contretemps between Hera

and Poseidon. When Inachus, the son of Ocean and Tethys, the earliest king of Argos and its eponymous river, decided in favor of Hera as the local deity, Poseidon retaliated by drying up the rivers in the region (Apollodorus 2.1.4). A common epithet of Argos seems to have been “thirsty,” presumably an allusion to this story; cf. Davies, EGF Thebais, fr. 1 = Kinkel fr. 1. Herodotus (2.171) increases Greek indebtedness to this line by claiming that it was the Danaids who brought the Eleusinian mysteries from Egypt.


Conceptualizing Egypt

shipped as a god in Chemmis (ancient Achmim) in Upper Egypt. Details in Herodotus suggest that the local Greek population, his source for the information, identified Perseus with Horus because of his winged san- dals, 18 but they also cited his lineage as the reason for his importance there. The locals say that

Danaus and Lyncaeus, who were Chemmites, sailed away to

[Subsequently, Perseus] came to Egypt

head from Libya, and they say he came among them and acknowledged

and he knew the name of Chemmis, having learned it

from his mother. He arrived in Egypt, and he instructed them to celebrate games in his honor. (2.91.5–6)

in order to bring the Gorgon

all his kinsmen

The identification of Perseus with Horus may have depended on more than a sandal—Zeus’s impregnation of Danae by miraculous means, when she was locked within her chamber, as well as his impregnation of Io by a touch, are conceptual doublets, and virtually identical to the myth of divine insemination that leads to the birth of the pharaoh. Given the similarities, upon hearing about the Egyptian theogamy Greeks could easily have mistaken it for or assimilated it to their own stories about Io or Danae. This anecdote also reveals the dynamics of cultural interaction that seem to have taken place already by the fifth century. The Chemmitae celebrate games, which are presumably a Greek cultural practice, but the games are held in honor of what must be an Egyptian god. 19 Greeks have Hellenized this god by assimilating him on the basis of iconography and previous association with Egypt to Perseus, a heroic figure from their own mythic past. Significantly, the Danaid legend as early as Aeschylus is bound up with questions of kingship. The arrogant and tyrannical behavior of the sons of Aegyptus is consistently opposed to the democratic monarchy of Pelasgus, who is, not coincidentally, an autochthonous king of Argos. 20 This association of Egypt with tyranny begins with the figure of Busiris, who serves as a foil for Heracles in Greek art from at least the sixth century. Busiris, like Thoas in Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris,

18. See below for the contending between Horus and Seth, and pages 166–67 on

footprints of the gods.

19. So Lloyd 1969, 84–89; 1976, 367–69.

20. Both Vasunia (2001, 40–58) and F.I. Zeitlin (“The Politics of Eros in the Danaid

Trilogy of Aeschylus,” in Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Liter- ature [Chicago, 1996] 123–71) focus on the ways in which Egypt is figured within codes of sexuality and gender. A number of scholars have also identified persistent associations of Egypt with death in these plays; see Vasunia, pp.64–69 and notes.

Conceptualizing Egypt


was reputed to have sacrificed all foreigners who came into his territory to Zeus and, according to some versions, even ate his victims. 21 By the later fifth century, Busiris seems both in vase painting and in Athenian comedy to have occupied a secure place as the stereotypical barbarian tyrant, a king who behaves as an autocrat and whose modus vivendi is antithetical to the benign rule of democratic Athens. 22 Herodotus ex- presses doubt about this construction of Busiris, claiming that it is un- likely that Egyptians sacrificed humans when they had prohibitions against most types of animal sacrifice (2.45), and Isocrates continues this recuperative trend. But the tragedians, whose writings are more self-consciously democratic than the philosophers’, continue to imagine Egypt as a land of despotism. Not surprisingly, these portrayals disap- pear along with the democracy. Both Herodotus and Euripides include portraits of Egyptian kings in their treatment of Helen. The figure of Helen herself, like the Danaid line, provided an early mythological link between Greece and Egypt. In the Iliad she was constructed entirely within Greek terms, as the un- faithful wife of Menelaus who is seduced by Paris and carried off to Troy, thus precipitating the war. From later testimony we learn that Stesichorus wrote another version of Helen’s story. 23 It was not Helen herself, but her image that the gods dispatched to Troy, while the “real” Helen remained in Egypt, at the court of the Egyptian king, Proteus, to be later recovered by her husband on his return from the Trojan War. 24 Herodotus devotes several chapters (2.112–20) of analysis to her story. In his version Thonis is a pious Egyptian priest of the Delta who refuses to allow Alexander (Paris), when blown off course for Troy, to continue his voyage with another man’s wife. He insists on bringing Alexander to Proteus for judgment. Proteus immediately proclaims that (however tempting) it is impious to kill strangers, so he dispatches Alexander un- harmed to Troy but retains Helen until her husband can claim her. Pro- teus’s behavior is the reverse of contemporary portraits of barbarian kings like Busiris. Proteus’s virtue is underscored by the act assigned to Menelaus: after he has reclaimed Helen, finding himself unable to leave Egypt and sail home because of contrary winds, it is Menelaus who be- haves like the barbarian by sacrificing two native children. Elsewhere,

21. Lloyd 1976, 212–13; Vasunia 2001, 185–93; see also the discussion below.

22. Vasunia 2001, 207–15.

23. PMG frr. 192–93.

24. Herodotus 2.116. He detects evidence of Egyptian Helen in Homer’s Iliad


Conceptualizing Egypt

Herodotus does not find unalloyed virtue in Egyptian kings but in his narrative of their succession rather evenly distributes praise and blame. That he should figure Proteus and Menelaus as opposites conforms to his overall strategy of presenting the two cultures as diametrically op- posed, while the pious actions of Thonis and Proteus suit his notions about the deeply religious nature of Egyptian society. Helen’s sojourn in Egypt at the time of the (for Greeks) historically significant Trojan War reinforces the marginality of Egypt to the broader course of Greek his- tory. Proteus seemingly cannot affect the war’s outcome by, for ex- ample, simply sending informants to the Greeks at Troy; he remains the passive guardian of the woman until another unplanned action can bring Menelaus to reclaim her. In contrast to Herodotus, Euripides’ late fifth-century tragedy on Helen dramatized Egyptian kingship in quite negative terms: the two Egyptian characters in the play, Theonoe and Theoclymenos, are chil- dren of Proteus. The prophetess, Theonoe, acts out an excess of reli- gious devotion, while her brother, Theoclymenos, is a typical barbarian despot, who refuses to honor Helen’s faithfulness to her marriage vows and would kill any strangers who were luckless enough to happen upon his shore. Egypt is constructed as a world of darkness and death, a Hades-like place of mythological stasis for Helen, who cannot effect or participate in events until once again the Greeks are blown off course and her husband arrives. Egypt is an accidental encounter, a location that Greeks do not plan to visit, and one filled with the unpredictable or the paradoxical—a Helen who did not go to Troy. Within Euripides’ play, Helen exemplifies the kind of mythological bi- or ambi-valence that often seems to occur in Hellenistic poetry. Her story is legible in two entirely different ways: she is a good wife (in Egypt) or a bad wife (in Troy); she is a figure whose self-indulgence was “a scourge to ships, men, and cities” (as in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon 689–90) or a con- cerned mother and daughter and wife who would sacrifice herself for the good of her kin (in Euripides). Staging his play at the moment when Menelaus returns from Troy to find the wife over whom he fought a war for ten years resident in Egypt, Euripides’ Helen necessarily sets up a context where truths compete. At the heart of the play is the question, Which Helen is real—the Egyptian or the Greek? In the fourth century, both Isocrates and Plato turn to Egypt in their discussions of good government. In his Busiris Isocrates apparently in- verts what had become the popular view of Busiris and sets out deliber- ately to refashion or sanitize his reputation. Isocrates specifically makes

Conceptualizing Egypt


him a nomothete, or lawgiver, and connects his accomplishments with those of Solon in Athens or Lycurgus in Sparta. Busiris, we are told, moved his Egyptians out of the realm of nature and into culture by giv- ing them laws, religious institutions, and an exemplary political sys- tem. 25 A similar valuation of Egyptian political systems was also a com- ponent of Plato’s writing. When discussing the proper musical education in the Laws (656c–657b), the Athenian stranger praises the Egyptians as a society that had, with respect to its musical arts, deter- mined what constituted the “natural correctness” (657b) and had guar- anteed its unity and stability through law in order to prevent degener- ating innovation. Plato’s discussion of Egyptian canonicity in the Laws was not restricted to music in its application. He goes on to claim that “democracy” in musical arts is but a precursor to “refusal to be subject to rulers,” “to be submissive to parents and elders,” and finally to “dis- regard of the city’s laws” (700a–701b). This same argument occurs at Republic 424b2–c6 in a slightly altered form. There Socrates says:

To sum up then: those in charge of the city must cling to this idea and

stay above all alert to keep corruption from creeping in and to prevent in- novation in gymnastics and in poetry, contrary to the established

of song are nowhere disturbed without disturbing the

most fundamental ways of the state.



The solution that Socrates proposes to guarantee order and stability is of course a rigid class system and the philosopher-king, whose own proper understanding of the nature of reality both assures his own moral behavior and makes him the fittest to govern. This same class system appears again in the Timaeus, where it is now that of Egyptian Sais. While the connection between Egypt and kingship is admittedly less direct in Plato than in Isocrates’ Busiris, both would seem to be writing against an earlier identification of Egyptian political forms with tyranny and barbarism and investing them with positive qualities. A re- mark of Isocrates suggests that he and Plato may not be alone in doing so—at Busiris 17–18 he comments: “With respect to political institu- tions in general, the Egyptians have been so successful that philosophers who undertake to discuss such topics and who are highly esteemed pre-

25. Busiris 13–23. See Froidefond 1971, 259–63. In this regard, Sparta and the Spar- tan form of government is often viewed as utopian and linked with Egypt. See, for ex- ample, Isocrates Busiris 18. On the Egyptian ancestry of the Dorians via Perseus, see Herodotus 6.53–55.


Conceptualizing Egypt

fer the Egyptian form of government.” 26 In other words, Egyptian polit- ical forms appear to have become a literary and philosophical topos in the fifth and fourth centuries, which was capable of being enlisted on ei- ther side in the debate about democratic political institutions. 27 The writings of Eudoxus of Cnidus are mostly lost to us, so his posi- tion and influence in the Greek construction of Egypt is not entirely clear, though it was likely to have been substantial. 28 From his brief bi- ography Diogenes Laertius gives us a glimpse of the circumstances in which philosophy, kingship, and Egypt tended to converge within the Greek imagination, if not in reality (8.86–91). Eudoxus was said to have been a geometer, astronomer, doctor, and legislator. He may have been a pupil of Plato, or connected at least tangentially with the Acad- emy. He was said to have traveled to Egypt accompanied by the doctor Chrysippus and armed with letters of introduction from Agesilaus, the Spartan king, to Nectanebo, the last native pharaoh of Egypt. Whether or not the story was literally true, the details convey a world in which intellectual exchange between Greece and Egypt was not only possible, but facilitated by the ruling classes themselves. Eudoxus’s particular in- terests—geometry, astronomy, and medicine—are subjects in which the Egyptians supposedly excelled, hence they serve both as a motive for the journey, and subsequently as a confirmation of his learning, after it had been suitably enhanced by an Egyptian sojourn. 29 The second book of Eudoxus’s geographical work, the Periodos Ges, was entirely de- voted to Egypt, and from its fragments it seems that he reversed Herodotus’s chronological priority of Egypt over Greece. Further, he seems to have been the first to treat Egyptian priests as the repository of

26. The Busiris, which is usually dated to the early fourth century b.c.e., was likely to

have been written before the Republic, and the philosophers to whom Isocrates refers are a matter of speculation. See Froidefond 1971, 237–48; N. Livingstone, A Commentary on Isocrates’ Busiris (Leiden, 2001) 44–56; and Vasunia 2001, 226–36. A. Cameron points out that Plato’s views might have circulated well before the Republic appeared, however (“Crantor and Posidonius on Atlantis,” CQ 33 [1983] 83 n. 10).

27. For more detailed discussions, see Vasunia 2001, 216–47; A. Nightingale,

“Plato’s Law Code in Context: Rule by Written Laws in Athens and Magnesia,” CQ 49 (1999) 100–23.

28. The fragments are collected by Lasserre 1966 with extensive commentary. See

also F. Gisinger, Die Erdbeschreibung des Eudoxos von Knidos (Berlin, 1920), particu- larly 35–58, for discussion of the Egyptian material.

29. For his influence on Plato and Aristotle, see Froidefond 1971, 316, 318–22. Eu-

doxus’s work on astronomy was used by Aratus in his Phaenomena, and two papyrus treatises based on his work and written in the early Ptolemaic period have been found in Egypt. Eudoxus is also cited by Callimachus in the grammatical fragments (frr. 407, 410 Pf.).

Conceptualizing Egypt


philosophical and religious wisdom instead of merely sources for the historical data that they are in Herodotus. 30 It is clear from the way in which Plutarch cites him, for example, that he recounted a version of the myth of Osiris, Isis, and Horus but framed it in terms of Greek nat- ural philosophy. 31 Plato may have taken his cue from Eudoxus in his own location of wisdom within the Saite priesthood. In addition to his other accomplishments, Diogenes Laertius claims that Eudoxus became famous as a legislator throughout Greece, writing on the divine, the cosmos, and heavenly phenomena. Diogenes even provides some evi- dence that Eudoxus knew Egyptian:

says that he [Eudoxus] composed (synue Pnai) the “Dia-

logues of the Dogs” (Kynpn di alogoi); others say that Egyptians wrote them in their own language and that he translated and published them for the Greeks (meuermhneAsanta DkdoPnai to P% ·Ellhsi). (8.89) 32


In other words, Eudoxus is represented as not having restricted his at- tainment of alien wisdom to the natural sciences, but to have then dis- seminated what he learned from the priests in the form of laws for Greeks. Again, whatever evaluation we choose to make of the accuracy of this biography, its significance is the trajectory of Eudoxus’s career as an instrument for the translation of Egyptian wisdom and knowledge into Greek political realities. This particular cluster—theogonic or cosmogonic speculation com- bined with an interest in human conduct—marks virtually all Greek philosophical inquiry from Democritus to Aristotle. Nor is this inquiry confined to the theoretical. Isocrates, Plato, and Aristotle were all ac- tively involved in offering advice—usually in the form of philosophical education—to real kings. 33 Since in the fourth century Plato and Aris- totle were scarcely exempt from intruding their ideas into contempo- rary politics, it should hardly be surprising to find subsequent practi- tioners of the philosophical arts attempting to propose models for Alexander’s successors. After Alexander, philosophers turned even

30. Burstein 1996, 594.

31. Frr. 290–97 F. Lasserre.

32. Fr. 374 Lasserre ( = Diogenes Laertius 8.89). Gwyn Griffiths (“A Translation

from the Egyptian by Eudoxus,” CQ 59 [1965] 75–78) thinks this may have been a text

of Egyptian wisdom literature. Lasserre (1966, 268–69) discusses the other suggestions that have been made.

33. Isocrates’ Evagoras and Nicocles are instructions on how to govern for the young

king of Cypriot Salamis; Plato’s Letter 7 defends his participation in Sicilian politics; and Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander.


Conceptualizing Egypt

greater attention to the question of kingship, and the court of every epigonid housed occasional or permanent guests who had written or were writing on the question. From one perspective court philosophers could be considered royal propagandists, but from another their intel- lectual activities were the logical extension of inquiries begun in earlier periods, though with perhaps more immediate consequence. The Hel- lenistic monarchies were not simply the old Macedonian monarchies in new locations, they were in many respects new experiments in kingship, combining as they did Greek cultural models with elements inherited from their non-Greek resident populations. As the editors of a recent study describe it,

every king and dynasty had to legitimate their claim to monarchy accord- ing to specific local needs and traditions. Therefore, no single formula ex- isted for a Hellenistic king. Basileus had different connotations in the various parts of the ancient world and the clever ruler knew how to ac- commodate himself to the specific traditions of his territory. 34

Hellenistic monarchies must have provided fertile ground for uniting theoretical and practical ideas about kingship, while the habits of na- tive monarchies lent themselves as evidence to confirm Greek practice or to justify innovation.

hecataeus, euhemerus, and dionysius scytobrachion

Since Egyptian kingship had already figured in Greek theorizing about forms of government, it should not be surprising to find writings on this subject within Alexandria itself. For our purposes the most important of them was by Hecataeus of Abdera, who worked within the Skeptic intellectual tradition of Democritus. 35 Hecataeus wrote an Aegyptiaca at the court of Soter that was probably completed by 305 b.c.e. 36 In

34. Bilde 1994, 11.

35. Hecataeus’s fragments are to be found in FGrH 264. Virtually all that remains

comes from book 1 of Diodorus Siculus, though Hecataeus is explicitly mentioned as a source only once (1.47–49). As a consequence, there has been considerable debate about

how much of the book is directly or indirectly dependent on Hecataeus. In general, I am following Jacoby and Murray. Spoerri (1959) takes a very skeptical position, which has failed to convince the majority; while A. Burton in her commentary (1972) follows him, she accepts more material than he as genuinely Hecataean.

36. For a discussion of the chronology see Jacoby, RE 7, 2750–69; Murray 1970;

Fraser 1972, 1: 496–505; and M. Stern and O. Murray, “Hecataeus of Abdera and Theophrastus on Jews and Egyptians,” JEA 59 (1973) 159–68. For a general appraisal of

Conceptualizing Egypt


previous Greek historical writing Egypt was always marginal to the central dynamic of world history, which figured the Greeks as succes- sors to the Persians. Egypt was of interest for its antiquity and its mar- vels, and for its conspicuous religiosity (as in Herodotus). In contrast, Hecataeus made Egypt a central player in world history by claiming that in fact civilization began in Egypt and was subsequently transmit- ted to Greece and other parts of North Africa and the eastern Mediter- ranean through the familiar instruments of military campaigns and col- onization. The Danaid line is pressed into service here. We are told that Egyptian Danaus “settled what is nearly the oldest of Greek cities, Argos”; that Colchis was founded by Egyptian colonists (oDkAsai tinb% crmhuAnta% par› Cayt pn = Egyptians); and that Athenians are colonists from Sais. 37 Hecataeus also made Egypt the educator of Greece by virtue of the sojourns of various Greek wise men. 38 Thus, his writing falls within the earlier discourse on the nature of polities that Plato and Isocrates engage in, though it differs in impor- tant ways: while the basic patterns of thought are obviously Greek, his work is Egyptocentric. The origins of culture and idealized kingship are now presented as authentically Egyptian and connected in a causal way: it is the behavior of the originary king and lawgiver, Osiris, who acts as a model for earthly Egyptian kings, who are held accountable for their unjust acts:

First of all, their kings led a life that was not at all like others who have monarchic powers and the opportunities to do anything that they want with impunity, but everything is regulated by rules of law, not only busi- ness affairs, but also daily behavior and diet. With respect to their atten- dants, for example, none of them was a purchased or a house-born slave, but all were sons of the most distinguished priests, at least twenty years old, best educated of their fellow countrymen, in order that the king, pro- vided with body servants and attendants both day and night, might in- dulge in no bad behavior, since no ruler proceeds very far in wickedness if he does not have those who will pander to his desires. The hours of day and night were arranged, in accordance with which it was absolutely stipulated that the king do what was enjoined upon him, not what he de-

Hecataeus, see Burstein 1992, 45–49; 1996, 597–600. J. Dillery (“Hecataeus of Abdera:

Hyperboreans, Egypt, and the Interpretatio Graeca,” Historia 47.3 [1998] 255–75) ar- gues that even Hecataeus’s work “On the Hyperboreans” was modeled on Egypt.

37. Diodorus Siculus 1.28.2–4 ( = FGrH 264 F 25). See Vasunia 2001, 229–36.

38. Burstein 1996, 599. Vasunia (2001, 230–32) points out that Hecataeus reversed

Plato’s chronology, making Athens a colony of Egypt (Diodorus Siculus 1.28 = FGrH 264



Conceptualizing Egypt

cided for himself. At dawn, for example, it was necessary for him upon

waking to take up first of all the letters that had been sent from every di- rection, so that he might be able to execute and accomplish everything properly, knowing exactly each thing that was accomplished in the king- It was not possible [for Egyptian kings] to make a legal decision or transact any business randomly, nor to punish anyone hubristically or in anger or for some other unjust reason, but only in accordance with the

Because the kings employed such during most of the time for which

kings are recorded in memory, they maintained a functioning polity, and spent their lives most happily, as long as the system of laws that was pre- viously described remained in force, and in addition they conquered more countries and acquired the greatest wealth and adorned their lands with unsurpassed works and monuments and their cities with costly ded- ications of every sort. 39

laws prescribed for each just behavior with their subjects,

This insistence that the ruler govern in accordance with strict laws to which he himself was held accountable, as well as the connection be- tween just royal behavior and the prosperity of Egypt, is not presented as a Platonic ideal, but a historicized reality. This link commences with Osiris, the divine first king, who with his wife, Isis, introduces civilized behavior, the arts and learning, as well as agriculture. Hecataeus also presents his readers with a historical model of the ideal king—Sesoösis. Herodotus treats this same king at considerable length in book 2, where he appears as a world conqueror whose deeds rival the Persian dynasts, Darius and Cyrus. Sesoösis (or Sesostris, as Herodotus calls him) was not one pharaoh but a composite of several. 40 The name is probably a Hellenized form of the Egyptian Senwosret, a throne-name born by several pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty, but there are obvious accretions from the empire-building style of Ramesses II as well. 41 Scholars tend to date the initial synthesis of the Sesostris legend to the time of the Persian conquest of Egypt, although it continued to be em-

39. Diodorus Siculus 1.70.1–4, 1.71.1 and 4–5 = FGrH 264 F25.70.1–4, 71.1,


40. See the discussion in Burton 1972, 163–82; and A.B. Lloyd, “Nationalist Propa-

ganda in Ptolemaic Egypt,” Historia 31 (1982) 37–40. Sesostris (as Sesonchosis) also finds his way into Greek romance; see Martin Braun, History and Romance in Graeco- Oriental Literature (Oxford, 1938) 13–25; and Stephens and Winkler 1995, 246–66.

Two Demotic fragments may indicate the presence of this pharaoh or at least an Egyptian narrative context from which the Sesostris legend grew: M. Chauvaeu, “Montouhotep et les Babyloniens,” BIFAO 91 (1991) 147–53, and an unpublished text in Copenhagen about Amenemhet and his son Sesostris leading a campaign against Arabia. (I am in- debted to R. Jasnow for these references.)

41. J. Baines, “Kingship, Definition of Culture, and Legitimation,” in O’Connor and

Conceptualizing Egypt


bellished well into the Hellenistic period. Like so much else about Egypt that comes to us through a Greek filter, the figure of a world conqueror was probably the production of the native Egyptian priesthoods, who sought deliberately to promote stories about several historical king- ships in order to create native rivals to the Persian Darius (in the fifth century) and the Greek Alexander (in the fourth), both of whom con- quered and hence humiliated Egypt. Certainly such a figure would have been congenial to Greek writers and in the process of moving into a Greek narrative would have taken on attributes that brought him even closer to models already familiar in Greek minds. Sesoösis, therefore, already had the profile of a world-conquering dynast, which Hecataeus both strengthened by conforming his activities to those of Alexander 42 and modified by providing him with an idealized princely education:

When Sesoösis was born his father did something befitting a great man and a king. To the boys born on the same day from the whole of Egypt he assigned nurses and custodians and prescribed the same training and ed- ucation for them all, thinking that those who had been reared most closely and had experienced the same common freedoms would be the most loyal and the best comrades in war. Providing for their every need he trained the boys in continual exercises and hardships. No one of them was allowed to eat before he first ran 180 stades. Therefore upon reach- ing manhood they were all athletes with robust bodies and in character suited for leadership and endurance by virtue of their training in the most excellent pursuits. 43

Moreover, the reason for this distinctive education was a dream in which Hephaestus (that is, Egyptian Ptah) appeared to Sesoösis’s father and prophesied that his son was destined to rule the world. 44 In this, Hecataeus seems to be adapting a peculiar feature of Egyptian kingship, a prophecy about the greatness of a new king, which was packaged— after the fact—as a dream at the time of conception, birth, or ascension to the throne. 45 Sesoösis lived up to his prenatal billing, going on to con- quer more of the known world than anyone except Alexander, 46 but re- turned to rule wisely and well. On the domestic front, he granted amnesty, enriched the temples, improved the irrigation system, and

42. See, for example, F. Pfister, “Studien zur Alexanderroman,” Würzburger

Jahrbücher für die Altertumswissenschaft 1 (1946) 56–58.

43. Diodorus Siculus 1.53.2–4 = FGrH 264 F25.53.2–4.

44. Diodorus Siculus 1.53.9 = FGrH 264 F25.53.9.

45. See below and chapter 3.


Conceptualizing Egypt

built great monuments. His foreign policy included building a navy, strengthening Egypt’s defenses against her enemies, treating the con- quered with respect, and settling his veterans on plots of land. In the majority of these undertakings as well as in the peculiar mode of edu- cation with a cohort of his peers, Sesoösis is following known Egyptian practice, but a practice, at least in matters of policy, that both Alexan- der and the Ptolemies continue, for example, granting amnesty, enrich- ing the temples, and settling veterans. 47 To so construct the past as an exemplum for the future was very much in keeping with an Egyptian ideal of kingship in which each king—insofar as he was a good king—acted not only to replicate but to exceed the distinguished behavior and moral excellence of his pre- cedessors. Thus, by employing the past as a model for current and fu- ture rulers, Hecataeus may have been following an Egyptian habit of mind rather than writing as an apologist for or in defense of kingship as an institution. 48 By drawing upon an historicized Egypt as a model for ethical and moral behavior, Hecataeus elevates Egyptian culture to equal (or superior) status with Greek and sets it up as a paradigm for aspiring Greek kings. If, in this latter aspect, he hoped to influence the Ptolemies, his paradigms ran counter to prevailing Greek notions of the powers and behavioral limits of kings. As O. Murray points out,

the paradoxical fact that Egyptian kingship does not conform to the usual Greek definition of basileAa as dnypeAuyno% drx a, is made to produce an example for the Greek debate, whether the king is or should be above or below the laws. Here is one point where Hecataeus may have intended his description to be directly relevant to contemporary Ptolemaic Egypt. 49

Hecataeus’s work cannot be dismissed as marginal: it had consid- erable impact, not only on contemporary Greek philosophical writers like Theophrastus and Crantor and other Hellenistic historians like Berossus and Megasthenes, but within the circle of the Alexandrian poets themselves. 50 One writer who seems to have been especially influ- enced by Hecataeus was his contemporary, Euhemerus of Messene, who was famous (or infamous) for generating an alternative explanation to

47. Koenen 1993, 66–69; and W. Clarysse, “The Ptolemaic Apomoira,” Studia Hel-

lenistica 34 (1995) 5–37, for a discussion of revenues for Egyptian temples.

48. So, for example, Fraser 1972, 1: 497: “As seems very likely, he intended these

various elements to serve a further purpose, the glorification of Ptolemy and his king- dom.” See also F. Walbank, CAH, 2d ed., 7.1: 77–78.

49. Murray 1972, 159.

Conceptualizing Egypt


the myths dealing with the origins of the Olympian deities. Indeed, M.L. West describes his work as “the last true Greek theogony, though it is without gods.” 51 Euhemerus wrote the Sacred Register (Hiera Ana- graphe) in which he recorded a series of journeys undertaken, so he claims, in the service of the Macedonian king Cassander, who died in 298 b.c.e. Since this reference to Cassander would have had a decidedly limited value as a fiction after his lifetime, it very likely reflects Euhe- merus’s historical situation, and thus allows him to be located within the last quarter of the fourth century b.c.e. Like Hecataeus’s, his work, in the main, has survived in epitome in Diodorus (5. 41–47, 6.1–5) and in Lactantius’s quotations and paraphrases of Ennius, who translated the Sacred Register into Latin. 52 A consistent picture of Euhemerus’s work emerges from their summaries. In the Sacred Register Euhemerus claims to have traveled to Panchaea, a myrrh-producing island in the In- dian Ocean, which is modeled to some extent on Plato’s imaginary state, but also on contemporary Egypt. The physical layout of temples, in particular, is strikingly Egyptian, as is its central waterway, the “Water of the Sun,” with its magnificent stone quays. The class struc- ture—priests, farmers, military (and herdsmen)—could be intended to recall Egypt, and more or less the same breakdown can be found in Plato as well as Isocrates’ Busiris. The denizens of Panchaea worshipped Zeus as the founder of their culture, but this Zeus was a human being who came from Crete and acceded to divine honors only after his death. In Panchaea he erected a golden stele in the temple, on which he recorded the deeds of his grandfather, Uranus, himself, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes, which were said to have been written in a Cretan language but using Egyptian hieroglyphics. In Euhemerus, the gods were divided into ouranioi, the primal or elemental gods, and epigeioi, originally human beings who were subsequently divinized for their distinguished services to mankind. This division into elemental deities and divinized human rulers is certainly Egyptian and can be found also in Hecataeus of Abdera, but it is by no means unfamilar in earlier Greek thought, 53 though Euhemerus carries his model to extremes by counting the Olympian gods in the ranks of the epigeioi. His Zeus behaves as typical

51. West 1966, 13.

52. His fragments have most recently been collected by Winiarczyk (1991) with ex-

tensive bibliography.

53. For the relationship of Euhemerus to Hecataeus and Democritus, see Cole 1990,

153–63. See also Rusten’s discussion of this division in relationship to Prodicus (1982,


Conceptualizing Egypt

culture hero—one might compare Minos of Plato’s Laws, Isocrates’ Busiris, or Hecataeus’s Osiris—who eventually returns to Crete, where he dies. His tomb is located there according to Lactantius:

Then Jupiter [sc. Zeus], after he had gone around the earth five times and had divided authority among all his friends and relatives and bequeathed laws and customs to men and provided corn and devised many other goods, having attained immortal glory and renown, left everlasting mon- uments to his friends. When he was sunk in old age he departed from life in Crete and went to the gods, and the Curetes, his sons, cared for him and adorned him (in death) and his tomb is said to be in Crete in the

and on his tomb is inscribed in ancient Greek letters

ZAN KRONOU; that is in Latin: Jupiter, son of Saturn. 54

town of Cnossus

It is difficult to gauge the tone of Euhemerus’s work, 55 but the fact that kingship and divinity coalesce in his writing suggests that allusion to or appropriation of Euhemerus by subsequent writers like Calli- machus could not have been value-neutral. Callimachus’s reference to Euhemerus in the opening of the first Iambus, 56 while ostensibly nega- tive, does employ the Aristophanic language used of Socrates in the Clouds, thus conveying an impression, at least implicitly, of a writer both serious and ironic. 57 Peter Fraser supposes that Euhemerus’s rationalization of Olympian religion—reducing gods to culture heros, who were apotheosized at death and worshipped in cult because of their services to mankind—provided a rationale for the introduction of ruler cult by the Ptolemies. 58 Ruler cult, however, is a more complex phenomenon, with antecedents in the treatment of Alexander on the Greek side as well as clear models of divinized kingship in the newly conquered countries like Babylon and Egypt, and Euhemerus is more likely to have been rationalizing Greek myth in the context of such na-

54. 1.11.44–48 = fr. 69A Winiarczyk.

55. It may have been intended ironically or as a parody, or, more likely, it was a

utopian fantasy with serious philosophical intent; in the event, it seems often to have been misunderstood. Strabo, for example, stigmatizes his work as “falsehoods,” placing him in the same category as Pytheas of Marseilles and Antiphanes of Berga and remarking: “But we pardon them just as we do conjurors, since falsehoods are their stock-in-trade” (2.3.5 = C 102).

56. Fr. 191 Pf. Tarn (1933, 165) thinks this refers not to Euhemerus himself but to his

statue. This is unlikely, however, given the context of the allusion within the Iambi; see the discussion below, in chapter 2.

57. C. Meillier, Callimaque et son temps: Recherches sur la carrière et la condition

d’un écrivain à l’époque des primiers Lagides (Lille, 1979) 202–4.

Conceptualizing Egypt


tive traditions than to have been constructing new organizational tem- plates for the Ptolemies. If his work was seriously conceived to address the phenomenon of divinized kingship, its intent was more likely to have been, as was Hecataeus’s work, to identify proper kingly behavior and to construct models of beneficence to which current rulers should aspire if they wished to achieve “divinity.”

An intriguing figure to add to this mix is the mythographer Dionysius of Miletus (so-called Scytobrachion), whose work may now be located with some security in the period between 270 and 220 b.c.e. An allu- sion to the cult of the Theoi adelphoi, which must have been estab- lished about 270, provides a terminus post quem, while the later termi- nus depends upon a papyrus fragment of Dionysius’s work datable from handwriting and from the context of the find to about 250–220 b.c.e. 59 What, if any, relationship Dionysius had with the Alexandrian court is moot, 60 but it is clear that he was a rationalizing mythographer in the tradition of Euhemerus, and his subject matter—Dionysus, the Amazons (both of whom he located in Libya), and the Argonauts—in topic and treatment bears close resemblance to that of the Hellenistic prose writers we have been discussing. Whether these mythological subjects fell into one, two, or three separate works is not important for our purposes, but rather the way in which Dionysius conceptualizes his material. 61 Hence for convenience I have retained Rusten’s division into an Argonautica and Libyan Stories. In his Argonautica, 62 Dionysius consistently rationalizes the inherited tales of myth and magic. For example, the fire-breathing bulls (tauroi) become Taurian guards (Tauroi), and the golden fleece is the skin of an

59. Jeffrey Rusten has reedited the fragments, which come, in the main, from

Diodorus, the scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes, and three papyri. See Rusten 1982,

65–76, for a discussion of Dionysius’s ethnic, and pp.85–92 for the dating. For the estab- lishment of the cult, see Koenen 1993, 51 n. 61.

60. Scytobrachion has been generally regarded as an Alexandrian on the basis of Sue-

tonius De grammaticis 7 ( = T3 Rusten); however, Rusten questions the reliability of this remark on other grounds. See also L. Lehnus (“I due Dionisii [PSI 1219 fr. 1, 3–4],” ZPE 97 [1993] 25–28), who would identify one of the two Dionysii whom the Florentine scholiast on the Aetia claims are Telchines with Scytobrachion.

61. Rusten (1982, 76–84) argues for two—an Argonautica and a separate work that

included the Amazons and Dionysus. Jacoby (see commentary on FGrH 32 F4) thought

that there was only one work and regarded the Dionysus and Amazons material as di- gressions within the framework of the Argonautica.


Conceptualizing Egypt

earlier Greek visitor named Krios ( = Ram) who is flayed and subse- quently gilded. 63 Medea is not a witch but a practicing herbalist who comes to be deeply troubled by her father Aeetes’ barbarian ways and helps the Argonauts because she finds them kindred spirits in their un- failingly civilized behavior. A pervasive theme of Dionysius’s story is that of the civilized Greeks confronting barbarian cruelty: for example, Diodorus describes the area around Colchis as follows: “The Pontus, because at that time it was settled by barbarian and wholly uncivilized (dgr Avn) tribes, was called Axenos ( 6zenon), because the natives were used to killing strangers who sailed to their shores” (Diodorus Siculus 4.40.4 = F14 Rusten). In contrast, the Argonauts are led by Heracles, with Jason apparently playing a supporting role, and Heracles’ behav-

ior, particularly at the end of the expedition, is quite obviously meant to recall the world-conquering exploits of Alexander: “Admired for his courage and military skills he gathered a very powerful army and vis-

t bn oDkoymAnhn) acting as benefactor

(eDergeto Pnta) to the race of men” (Diodorus Siculus 4.53.7 = F37 Rusten). The Argonauts apparently return to Iolcus by their original route (that is, without the detour to Libya, as in Apollonius), and the story continues to include the subsequent death of Pelias at Medea’s hands, though she participates in the plan with some reluctance and achieves Pelias’s destruction not through magic but by playing upon his gullibility and that of his daughters. The exact relationship of Diony- sius’s tale to that of Apollonius is uncertain, but it is difficult to imagine that two completely independent renderings of this story were written within (probably) the first half of the third century. 64 Whatever the ac- tual date of Dionysius’s work, the overt Greek versus barbarian cast of his tale matches well with Apollonius’s narrative, and the fact that Dionysius conformed much of the behavior of the Argonauts to Alexander should serve notice to us that such elements were part of the Greek mental landscape and, even vestigially, are likely to have been present also in Apollonius. 65

ited the whole world (ppsan

63. See Rusten 1982, 94, and addendum, p.182, where he remarks that “the fate of

Krios was perhaps influenced by the story of Pherecydes (Plut. Pelop. 21)—or Epimenides according to Diog. Laert. 1.115 = FGrHist 595 (Sosibius) F15—whose skin was pre-

served by the Spartans.” This is not unlikely, since Epimenides’ peculiar brand of Orphic writings seems to have been popular in Alexandria. Epimenides is “quoted” in Calli- machus Hymn to Zeus 7–8.

64. D. Nelis (“Iphias: Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1.311–16,” CQ 41 [1991]

96–105) argues the priority of Dionysius for this scene in Apollonius (p.104).

Conceptualizing Egypt


Dionysius’s treatment of the Amazons and Dionysus repeats the pat- tern of world conquest and benefaction that we have already seen. There are apparently three layers to his Libyan material as it is epito- mized in Diodorus: the Amazons, whose home is located near Lake Tri- tonis in Libya, first conquer the local regions and then move out to con- quer the known world. Upon reaching Egypt, the Amazon queen signs a treaty with Horus, the son of Isis, who is king of that land, before pressing on to further conquests. The Amazons push as far north as the Taurus region, where they are ultimately held in check, then return to Libya after founding many cities (Diodorus Siculus 3.52–55). (Thus their path of conquest is similar to that of Sesoösis.) When their power wanes, that of their neighbors, the Atlantioi, begins (Diodorus Siculus 3.56–57 = F6 Rusten). These people are ruled by Uranus, who like his counterpart in Euhemerus is both culture hero and lawgiver who re- ceives divine honors after his death. Uranus and his wife, Titaea, pro- duce the Titans, as well as two daughters, Rhea and Basileia. Basileia subsequently marries one of her brothers, Hyperion, and bears two children, Helios (sun) and Selene (moon). However, Hyperion and He- lios are killed by their jealous kin, and in grief the brother-loving (philadelphos) Selene commits suicide. Both—as their names indicate— subsequently become celestial phenomena. Basileia in her grief lapses into madness and wanders throughout the world; she is subsequently worshipped as Cybele or the Great Mother. Rhea, meanwhile, has mar- ried Ammon, a local Libyan king, who was less than faithful. In an in- cident reiminiscent of Apollo’s encounter with the nymph Cyrene, 66 Ammon was smitten by a beautiful girl named Amaltheia, had inter- course with her, and fathered a marvelous child, Dionysus. Ammon hid the child away from Rhea’s jealousy in Nysa, which is located on an is- land in Lake Tritonis, and has him raised by Aristaeus, his daughter, Nysa, and Athena, who was herself born by the waters of the river Tri- ton. Rhea subsequently leaves Ammon to marry her brother, Cronus, who had received the eastern parts of Libya as his kingdom on the death of his father Uranus. Their brothers, the Titans, are stirred up by Rhea to take vengeance on Dionysus. They attack Ammon, who flees to Crete, then mount an attack against Nysa. At this point Dionysus gath- ers an army that includes the Amazons, Sileni (who are a local people), and Athena. He successfully fights off the Titans and then goes on, like


Conceptualizing Egypt

Alexander, to conquer the known world, moving from Egypt to India. Like the exemplary kings in Hecataeus, Dionysus is a model of clemency: he educates Rhea and Cronus’s son, Zeus, and makes him king of Egypt, “while still a youth,” 67 then establishes the shrine at the Siwah oasis in honor of his own father, Ammon. Dionysius’s rationaliz- ing impulse thus served to link Ammon and Horus to traditional Greek myths and Olympian genealogy. In doing so he incorporates North Africa into the old mythology, where Dionysus and the Amazons now find themselves at home in contrast to their former haunts of Thrace and South Russia. While the story is rather convoluted, its Euhemeristic flavor is obvi- ous, and its ideals of kingship conform closely to Hecataean norms. But Dionysius goes even further than these earlier writers. He refigures members of the divine pantheon—Zeus, Dionysus—as originally human and elevated to divinity because they functioned as culture he- roes. For example, because Zeus punished the wicked and supported the masses (eDergesAan dB t pn gxlvn) men “named him Zen¯ because he was the reason for men living well” (dnomasu pnai m Bn Zpna di b t b doke Pn toP kal p% z pn aGtion genAsuai toP% dnurapoisin). 68 Further, he alters this earlier pattern by modeling the activities of his divinities (Dionysus, Zeus) and mythological subjects (Amazons) rather transpar- ently on the human figure of Alexander. 69 Then, to address the double tradition about Zeus he simply postulates two. One was the son of Rhea and Cronus; the other, as in Euhemerus, was a Cretan king who engenders the Curetes; it is this Zeus who is buried in the famous “tomb of Zeus” on Crete. In addition, there are obvious points of con- tact with Egyptian mythology. Rusten in his discussion of the Libyan stories suggests that the names of Basileia’s children, Helios and Selene, might be equated with Horus and Isis, who may “already have been identified with the Ptolemaic royal pair in the third century B.C.” 70 The deaths of Hyperion and Helios as well as the conflict between Dionysus and the Titans bear a close resemblance to the Egyptian succession myth—to the sibling murder (Seth killing Osiris) and later the contest

67. pa Pda tbn clikAan gnta (Diodorus Siculus 3.3.4 = F12 Rusten). The “youth” of

the Egyptian king derived from his identification with Horus-in-Chemmis; see below and chapter 4.

68. Diodorus Siculus 3.61. 5–6 = F13 Rusten.

69. While it is possible, even likely, that Alexander served as a model in part for Eu-

hemerus’s tale, this is by no means as obvious from Diodorus’s epitome as it is for Scyto- brachion. See Fraser 1972, 2: 455 n. 834.

Conceptualizing Egypt


between uncle and nephew (Seth-Horus) for legitimate succession. Dionysus making the youthful Zeus king of Egypt parallels the succes- sion of the young Horus from Osiris. The prominence of the two sis- ters, Rhea and Basileia, recalls the closeness of Isis and her sister, Neph- thys, both of whom rear the Horus child. Finally, the overlap between material in Scytobrachion and two major Alexandrian poets—Callimachus and Apollonius—cannot be fortuitous. Both Scytobrachion and Apollonius treat the adventures of the Argonauts, and much that appears in Scytobrachion is to be found also in Apollonius’s fourth book, where his Argonauts traverse the Libyan desert. While Callimachus probably produced his hymn before Scytobrachion, the hiding and rearing of Dionysus on the island of Nysa coincides is some detail with Callimachus’s Hymn to Zeus. All of this indicates rather more intimacy between themes found in the poets and prose writers than is usually supposed. It also suggests that atti- tudes towards the traditional Olympic pantheon might differ consider- ably from those of the archaic and classical periods. These connections will be explored in subsequent chapters.

To summarize: so far we have been looking at the ways in which Greeks from the fifth to the early third century b.c.e. chose to write about Egypt, and have identified two trends—genealogical and political. Egypt could be figured either as ancestor or descendant of Greece, and usually the dynamic of this genealogy was connected to views about the nature of kingship, with Egypt—as constructed by Greeks—serving as either a good or a bad model. We have also seen how increasingly in the fourth century the ideal king was characterized in the philosophers as a lawgiver and bearer of civilization, a trend that culminated in early Hel- lenistic writers like Hecataeus and Euhemerus who tended to blur or collapse the distinction between divine and human behavior, since in their writing they portray gods as well as human kings similarly acting out this idealized kingship. While certainly these latter writers were Greek and writing for Greek audiences, and their language of benefac- tion (eDergesAa) is inherited from Greek tradition, the views of king- ship they articulate consciously or otherwise come very close to the pharaonic ideal as manifested in Egyptian writing and art. Moreover, they often appear familiar with and even seem to appropriate elements from Egyptian myth, which they recast as or assimilate to Greek. At this point, therefore, I would like to reverse perspectives to sketch out the fundamental elements of this pharaonic ideal and to consider the


Conceptualizing Egypt

ways in which they would have been available to Greeks within Alexandria, either directly or filtered through earlier Greek writing.

what herodotus knew

What earlier Greek observers like Herodotus and Hecataeus of Abdera reported seeing or hearing in Egypt can serve as a useful touchstone to understand how Greeks in the third century would have been able to absorb their new Egyptian environment. Herodotus was able to ob- serve a variety of monuments firsthand, and, significantly for the themes in this book, he saw a number of religious events. He was able to get information from local priests, especially those in Heliopolis, and to find informants among contemporary Greeks and non-Egyptians res- ident in Egypt and elsewhere. As we will see, these four broad cate- gories correspond to sources Greeks actually resident in the country could have availed themselves of without necessarily having access to Egyptian writing. 71

1. Herodotus seems to have visited the Pyramids and the complex in the Fayum, which he identifies as the Labyrinth, as well as a number of temples. To judge from the graffiti, Egyptian monuments were popular sights for Greeks—whether independent travelers like Herodotus or soldiers stationed in the country—for several centuries before as well as throughout the period of Ptolemaic rule. While the inner courts of tem- ple precincts would have been off-limits, André Bernand’s map indicat- ing the distribution of Greek inscriptions at Philae is good evidence that other parts of the temple complex—perimeter walls, forecourts, por- tions of adjunct temples like mammisi, statuary lining the dromos— would have been accessible to the public. 72 Hecataeus of Abdera gives us an account of what he saw when visiting the Ramesseum in Thebes:

he lists reliefs of the king attacking an enemy city, portraits of captives, the king performing sacrifices, and celebrating a victory, the king offer- ing to the gods. 73 These were standards of the iconographic repertory, and similar reliefs could be seen at numerous locations throughout the

71. Herodotus also depended on previous Greek writing on various subjects, but pre-

Herodotean material by the third century had either been absorbed by later writers or would have been marginal to an experience of the country itself.

72. A. Bernand, Les inscriptions grecques de Philae, vol. 1, Époque ptolémaïque

(Paris, 1969) plates on pp.240–46.

Conceptualizing Egypt


country. There was widespread building of Egyptian temples under the early Ptolemies that inserted the Ptolemies into this same iconographic framework. Although the Delta temples, which would have been clos- est to Alexandria, are now almost completely destroyed, Philae in southern Egypt suggests the kind of complex that visitors might have seen. 74 At Philae, the Ptolemies, beginning with Philadelphus, were por- trayed in cult worship along with members of the Egyptian pantheon. Here, the cult of the Theoi adelphoi was introduced by Euergetes, and it was thoroughly Egyptian in its visual representation. Add to this the temples of Isis and of Sarapis in Alexandria as well as the Egyptian monuments that appear to have been moved into the city from else- where, 75 with their consistent representation of kingship, and it is obvi- ous that Greeks resident in Alexandria and the Delta would have had abundant opportunities to become familiar with these ideas.

2. Although Egyptian daily temple rituals were conducted within the sanctuary of the temple and only priests could be present, Egyptians celebrated a wide variety of religious festivals throughout the year that took place in public spaces. Many texts have survived that provide evi- dence of the foundational or cosmogonic myths that underpin the tem- ple’s ritual purpose and activities. The most important of these is from the temple at Edfu, a late Hellenistic construction whose wall friezes contain a detailed dramatic reenactment of the significant events in the mythology of Horus, the divine king of Egypt, events that were crucial in the rituals of kingship. 76 Although later than the period we are con- sidering, this material is scarcely innovative, and it allows us a glimpse of the complex annual ceremonials that a Ptolemy would be expected to participate in either personally or (more likely) through a priestly surrogate. 77 The other important celebrations of kingship, the festivals of Opet and of the Valley, 78 as well as New Year festivals and the Heb Sed, or Jubilee, continued under the Ptolemies. In addition to the enact- ment of the rituals of divine kingship, a large number of festivals staged

74. Arnold (1999, 320–21) lists the monuments built or added to by the first three

Ptolemies. For a map showing the locations of Ptolemaic temples built in the Delta, see


75. Arnold 1999, 157.

76. R.B. Finnestad, Image of the World and Symbol of the Creator: On the Cosmo-

logical and Iconological Values of the Temple of Edfu (Wiesbaden, 1985).

77. Finnestad 1997, 185–237.

78. Finnestad 1997, 220–26. UPZ II, p.85 (second century b.c.e.) mentions an an-

nual festival of Amun in Thebes.


Conceptualizing Egypt

events in the story of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, and dramatic texts like the “Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys” 79 give an indication of what such performances may have been like. 80 The festivals that Herodotus re- ports seeing in Bubastis, Sais, and Papremis would have been of this lat- ter type. 81

3. Herodotus mentions the priests as a source of information. Obvi- ously any such exchange would have involved either bilingual priests or translators, both of whose populations must have increased consider- ably by the third century in Alexandria, because of the demand for a bilingual bureaucracy. The Egyptian priest Manetho, who was active in the court of Ptolemy I, is the best example of such exchange within Alexandrian circles. Although better known for his history of Egypt, in which he corrected Herodotus’s chronology of the pharaohs, 82 Manetho also wrote several books on Egyptian religion. From the few remaining testimonia to these works it is clear that he provided accounts of Isis, Osiris, Apis, Serapis, and other Egyptian gods, including Seth, whom he apparently called by his Greek name, Typhon. Like Hecataeus of Ab- dera, Manetho appears to have made an attempt to align various ele- ments of Egyptian religious thought with a Greek natural philosophy; for example, one fragment links the divine pantheon with the principles of air, earth, fire, and water (fr. 83 Waddell). He also seems to have pro- vided an account of animal worship. Although nothing survives, it is impossible to imagine that Manetho could have written such a work without discussing the central rituals of kingship, such as those that ap- pear at Edfu or in the Philae hymns, and their attendant mythologies, which are outlined below. Manetho’s writings seem very close in con- cept to those of Hecataeus of Abdera and Euhemerus; 83 hence they are

likely to reflect the ethos of the court. For the literate circles of Alexan- dria, Manetho’s writings on religion in tandem with those of Hecataeus

of Abdera would have provided a baseline for understanding, serving as

a Baedeker for Greeks who either wished or needed to explore their

new symbolic environment.

79. Lichtheim 1980, 116–24.

80. Dunand 1973, 207–44.

81. 2.59–63; and see Lloyd 1976, 267–87. F. Perpillou-Thomas ( Fêtes d’ Égypte

ptolémaïque et romaine d’après la documentation papyrologique grecque, Studia Hel- lenistica 31 [Louvain, 1993]) provides an up-to-date list of known festivals.

82. Burstein 1992; Dillery 1999.

Conceptualizing Egypt


4. Much of what Herodotus actually learned in Egypt must have come from Greek populations already resident there. Greek merchants and soldiers had been located in Egypt for centuries, and over time many, like the Hellenomemphites, had adopted Egyptian customs. Herodotus mentions one such group, the Chemmitae, and his source of information on the Buto temple of Artemis is equally likely to have been an assimilated Greek population. Wherever these groups were found, they would have served as sources of general information for newcomers. For example, Herodotus provides a lengthy and more or less accurate description of the process of mummification (2.86–90). The practice was characteristically Egyptian, and although he gives no source for his information, it must have come from the Egyptians them- selves, either priests or local residents. Hecataeus of Abdera included similar information on burial practice but added further details about a judgment of kings, 84 much of which is repeated in a later section on the judgment of the individual after death. 85 Diodorus mentions forty-two judges. These are kin of the dead person who catalogue his just behav- ior during life and call out to the gods of the underworld to receive the dead as justified. Although presented as occurring in real time, the events described are known today only from the Book of the Dead, which was a collection of magic spells designed to facilitate the en- trance of the dead person into the afterlife. Each individual who could afford it could have a standard or customized copy, often lavishly illus- trated, of one or more series of spells prepared to be placed in the tomb. 86 The period we are concerned with, the fourth and third cen- turies b.c.e., not only saw a revival in the use of these funerary papyri, but also considerable standardization in the sequence of incidents and incantations that occurred. 87 Thus the hundreds of such texts that have survived allow scholars to reconstruct the operative mythologies about the afterlife, its geography, and its relationship to the Egyptian pan- theon. The vignette recounted in Diodorus may have confused the tex- tual event with real life, but it is also possible that it reflects elements of

84. Diodorus Siculus 1.72 = FGrH 264 F25.72.

85. Diodorus Siculus 1.91–92 = FGrH 264 F25.91–92.

86. Greeks were certainly familiar with this practice; there has even been speculation

that the occasional burial of Greek papyri along with the dead owner was intended to

replicate Egyptian behavior. See E.G. Turner, Greek Papyri: An Introduction, 2d ed. (Ox- ford, 1980) 76–77. The most famous such text is Timotheus’s Persae, which had been buried in a fourth-century Hellenomemphite tomb.


Conceptualizing Egypt

actual practice. The most important feature of the Book of the Deadspell 125, the so-called negative confession—was a comprehensive de- nial of any wrongdoing, recited at the moment of judgment before Osiris. Elements of it, however, were employed as part of yearly temple rituals for the living king 88 and also occurred in priestly oaths, some of which now exist in both Demotic and Greek. 89 At the very least, the passages in Diodorus indicate familiarity with these very common tomb writings (however they may have been conveyed to our Greek sources).

It is possible to ask to what extent Greeks would have been able to read Egyptian, but the question may not be particularly meaningful in the ancient context. Few Egyptians read hieroglyphics, and even fewer hi- eratic, but that did not mean that Egyptians were ignorant of their own myths or of the ideologies of kingship. Moreover, those trained in the reading of Egyptian texts (like Manetho) were precisely the Egyptians that Greeks connected with the Ptolemaic court were most likely to have encountered. Although the majority of Alexandrian Greeks would not have been able to read Egyptian texts, it is certainly possible that some did learn to read the stylized and formulaic hieroglyphics found

on royal monuments. 90 These texts are visually arresting, and the glyphs themselves stimulate the hermeneutic impulse, as Herodotus’s interest in the stele supposedly erected by Sesostris in Syria demonstrates. It is unclear what Herodotus actually saw, but he was interested enough to learn from some source that on it Sesostris had used signs for female genitalia to humiliate the conquered enemy. 91 Whether or not female genitalia occur on the inscription Herodotus mentions, it seems he may have been correct about the general principle. On the Semna stele of

Sesostris III, “the phallus is mutilated

as a mark of dishonor char-

Zabkar ˇ 1988, 125–26, on the negative confession (Spell 125). See also

Merkelbach 1993, 71–84; he makes the intriguing suggestion that Diodorus is correctly

recording events and that elements that appear in funerary books may have been staged as part of the funeral process.

89. See J.F. Quack, “Das Buch vom Tempel und verwandte Texte—Ein Vorbericht,”

Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 2.1 (2000) 1–20. (I am grateful to L. Koenen for providing me with a copy of this article.)

90. Both Eudoxus of Cnidus and Hecataeus offer the possibility of Greeks who read

some form of Egyptian.

91. Herodotus 2.102 and 106. C. Obsomer (Les campagnes de Sésostris dans

Hérodote [Brussels, 1989] 115–24) discusses the traditional identification of the stele with that of Nahr el-Kelb and suggests a better candidate, a Ramessid stele from Beth- Chan. See 68–79 on the Semna stele of Sesostris III.

88. See

Conceptualizing Egypt


acterizing the Nubians.” 92 One final point: neither ancient Greek nor Egyptian culture was as dependent on literacy as we are today. Even the literate employed scribes who read aloud to them and to whom they would dictate their words. In this milieu, the most likely scenario for

the transmission of Egyptian written texts to interested Greeks was via

a trained, bilingual scribe who would be able to read a text in Egyptian

script and translate it into Greek. Even without the ability to read texts, the consistency of visual representation from region to region as well as from one medium to another combined with the considerable degree of overlap between the written and visual guaranteed that a core of Egypt- ian symbolic material must have been familiar to anyone living in the

country, just as it is for the tourist who visits Egypt today.

the ideology of egyptian kingship

A difficulty for any discussion about the interrelatedness of Greek and Egyptian myths within the Alexandrian context stems from the lack of

systematization of belief systems by the Egyptians themselves. Although

a series of prose narratives (anachronistically labeled “short stories”)

survive, and provide the first extended narratives of Egyptian myths, 93 the Egyptians had no tradition of mythography. There are no hand- books or epitomes to which we can turn, no rationalizing historians and philosophers. Rather, the situation is analogous to that of the ar- chaic or classical period in Greece, where a variety of sources—poems, plays, ceramics, friezes—allow us to reconstruct the story of Heracles or Jason and the Argonauts, but always with inconsistencies and caveats. Commentators remind us that Homer, for example, reflects a “different” tradition about the daughter of Agamemnon (Iphianassa) than Euripides. 94 Even within the same time period, there are alterna- tives: in Euripides’ lost version of an Oedipus play, for example, Oedi- pus continues to rule Thebes after the discovery of his incestuous mar-

92. T. Hare, ReMembering Osiris: Number, Gender, and the Word in Ancient Egypt-

ian Representational Systems (Stanford, 1999) 109–10; and Vasunia 2001, 143.

93. These include “The Contendings of Horus and Seth,” “The Memphite Theology,”

and “The Story of Tefnut,” or “The Myth of the Sun’s Eye.” Much Demotic material is

still unpublished. For the Inaros and Petubastis cycles of stories, see J. Tait’s discussion in Greek Fiction: The Greek Novel in Context, ed. J. Morgan and R. Stoneman (London, 1994) 203–22.


Conceptualizing Egypt

riage, rather than wandering off blind and in exile. 95 The case with Egyptian religious stories is similar. Disparate sources have allowed scholars to reconstruct major themes and motifs, and there is ample ev-

idence in Egypt’s long written tradition for continuity as well as change within these traditions, but no one source provides a clear, chronologi- cal account of any particular tale. 96 Moreover, as Egyptologists are now beginning to realize, Egyptian thinking about the divine does not follow the logical constraints we are familiar with from Greek systemizations of Egyptian myths. Gods and their functions resist neat description and containment: the process is one of pleonasm and combination, of


and rather than either

or. Erik Hornung decribes it thus:

The order established by the creator god is characterized by “two things” and thus by differentiation or diversity; this idea is incorporated in the teaching that Egypt is the “Two Lands” and in a mass of other pairs that can form a totality only if taken together. The greatest totality conceiv- able is “the existent and the non-existent,” and in these dualistic terms the divine is evidently both one and many. Oppositions such as these are real, but the pairs do not cancel each other out; they complement each other. A given x can be both a and not- The Egyptian script, in which individual signs had always been able to be both picture and letter, illustrates how ancient this principle is. I should emphasize that they “were able to be,” because we should not exclude the possibility that the Egyptians had special cases in which a particular given x was always a. For the Egyptians two times two is al- ways four, never anything else. But the sky is a number of things—cow, baldachin, water, woman—it is the goddess Nut and the goddess Hathor, and in syncretism a deity a is at the same time another, not-a. 97

For example, the sun-god, Re, can be linked in cult and iconography with the ram-headed patron deity of Thebes, Amon, and designated Amon-re; simultaneously he can be linked with the crocodile god of the Fayum, Sobek, to produce Sobk-re, or even with the lord of the under- world, Osiris. Ptah, the patron god of Memphis, identified by the Greeks with Hephaestus, may in turn be conflated with either Amon or Re or both. Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris and mother of Horus, is frequently joined with Hathor, the mother of Re, both of whom can be

95. C. Austin, Euripidis Fragmenta Nova (Berlin, 1968) 59–65 = POxy. 27.2455.

96. Manetho may have attempted to do this, since he was writing for a Greek audi-

ence; so Blum 1991, 103.

97. Hornung 1982, 240–41. Hornung’s formulation of this view of Egyptian thinking

seems to have gained wide acceptance among Egyptologists. See especially his chapter “The Problem of Logic,” pp.237–43.

Conceptualizing Egypt


represented with cow’s horns. Neith, whom the Greeks identify with Athena, is easily assimilated to both Isis and Hathor. While at first glance Horus and his archenemy, Seth, may appear to generate a con- sistent set of structural oppositions—Horus-Seth, order-chaos, black land (inundation)-red land (desert), water-destructive heat—these do not hold in every case. Occasionally Horus and Seth, who is sometimes his brother, more often his uncle, unite to destroy a common enemy. Or Seth enacts a positive role in place of Horus. 98 Cosmogonic writing be- haves similarly. The originary moment of creation can be described as an act of divine masturbation or as the product of divine thought and speech—what the creator conceived in his mind he gave substance to by the act of speaking. 99 These are not progressive phases in the develop- ment of Egyptian thought, as earlier Egyptologists claimed them to be, but formulations of two discrete ways of imagining creation—as a physical act/as an intellectual act—which may be deployed simultane- ously in poetry and religious art. If the mythography of the divine has generated a cluster of affective symbols that may be combined—for western readers—in paradoxical and often unpredictable ways, Egyptian iconography surrounding king- ship is much more stable. Temples and stelae regularly incorporate a consistent and repetitive series of pharaonic motifs (such as the “smit- ing of the foe”), motifs that became so familiar that Egyptian decora- tive artists at all periods incorporate or even parody these elements in other media. Royal representation aimed at symbolic sameness—each pharaoh behaving exactly like his predecessor in the performance of a series of ritualized acts that guaranteed maintainance of the cosmic and social order. The explanation for this phenomenon is to be found in Egyptian thinking about the cosmos and the king’s relationship to it. Hornung recently described the central governing principle of Egyptian life, called maat, as follows:

Maat may be interpreted as truth, justice, authenticity, correctness, order, and straightness. It is the norm that should govern all actions, the stan-

dard by which all deeds should be measured or

sense of the term maat has no precise equivalent in any other lan- Contemporary translations have consistently yielded length- ier, more detailed definitions. H. Bonnet, for example, understands maat

The universal

98. Some early kings were even identifed by Seth-names rather than Horus-names.

See, for example, Kemp 1989, 51–52. For an extended discussion of the role of Seth in Egyptian thought, see Te Velde 1967.


Conceptualizing Egypt

as “correctness” in the sense of an immanent lawfulness not only in the

natural and social order, but also in the sacred order, since the

epitomizes all worship

Maat holds this small world together and makes it into a constitutive part of world order. She [maat] is the bringing home of the harvest; she is human integrity in thought, word, and deed; she is the loyal leadership of government; she is the prayer and offering of the king to the god. Maat encompasses all creation, human beings, the king, the god; she permeates the economy, the administration, religious services, the law. All flows to- gether in a single point of convergence: the king. He lives in Maat and passes her on, not only to the sun god above, but also to his subjects below.” 100


R. Anthes writes about maat

Like Plato’s notion of justice in the Republic, maat is an activity that ex- tends from the individual to the social: only through proper behavior and active engagement of the individual can a harmonious cosmic order be achieved. Although learning how to act in accordance with maat was the responsibility of every Egyptian, whatever his or her class, the king, at the top of the social and political hierarchy, bore the heaviest obligation to maintain maat. Gods too participated in this or- dering principle; the universe was constructed according to its guide- lines. The opposite of maat or cosmic order was disorder or chaos, and the two never achieved a harmonious balance but continually vied with each other for dominion. Egyptian religious material—both written and pictorial—consists of the mythological exploration of this central theme of cosmic harmony, and fundamental to the system was the role of the king. The Egyptian state at the time of the Ptolemaic takeover was a theocracy, highly elaborated over two millennia, in which the king as intermediary between the divine and human realms was essential to create, maintain, and advance the elements of order over chaos and as an instantiation of one or more of the gods themselves. Moreover, the role of kingship had come to be reified; it was the office itself not the person who occupied it that art and ceremony commemorated. Thus, while any particular pharaoh was certainly recognized as mortal and the product of human procreation by his attendant court and religious advisors, nevertheless in ceremony and civic ideology he would be por- trayed as the equal of the gods, a product of divine conception, or, more accurately, as one in a line of human instantiations of a specific

Conceptualizing Egypt


divine conception. In earlier dynastic times, the king was identified as the “Son of the Sun, Re,” and continued to mark himself in this way with a specific name, taken at the time of coronation. 101 But by the time of the Ptolemies the pharaoh was also identified with Horus, the divine “first” king of Egypt. Over time his identification with both deities, Re and Horus, in fact led to a conceptual trinity in Egyptian mythmak- ing—Re the god in heaven, Horus the king and the instantiation of the god on earth, and finally Osiris the dead king, now lord of the under- world, or night world. 102 The fact that all three of these deities may be thought of as one yet simultaneously existing in discrete places and with differentiated functions points to an essential difference between Greek and Egyptian modes of religious thought. For Greeks, Zeus, Apollo, and Hades are conceptually separate in identity as well as in function, and kinship lines are clearly drawn—Zeus and Hades are brothers; Apollo is the son of Zeus, never Hades, who is always and only his uncle. The identification of the king with the sun-god, Re, as well as with Horus, the first divine king of Egypt, generated a series of myths that proved fundamental within the religious imaginary—cre- ation, royal succession, and the maintainance of maat, that is, the tri- umph of order over chaos. While each of these three is conceptually dis- tinct and could be treated in this way, more often their iconographic and mythic formulations come to function in all three realms simulta- neously, so that the successful passing of rule from one king to another could be seen also as an act of creation or of order triumphing over the threat of chaos or both. The centrality of the pharaoh’s relationship to the divine order was thus often perceived as one of kinship, a kinship that over time came to be elaborated in a myth of the insemination of the mother of the pharaoh by a god, not by his human father. In the New Kingdom the god in question was Amun-Re, the chief deity and patron of the capital city, Thebes, who generally takes on the appearance of the human fa- ther (though the visual representations are discrete about the actual coupling). The best-preserved example is that of Hatshepsut, a women who chose to rule not as regent, but as pharaoh in the Eighteenth Dy- nasty. In the Hathor chapel of her mortuary temple at Deir-el-Bahari,

101. Beckerath 1999, 21–26.

102. The similarity to the Christian concept of Trinity has not gone unnoticed. See,

for instance, S. Morenz, Egyptian Religion, trans. Ann Keep (1973; reprint, Ithaca, N.Y., 1992) 255–57.


Conceptualizing Egypt

Hatshepsut’s mother is shown being led into the presence of the god Amun-Re. He delicately extends to her the ankh or symbol of life so that she conceives Hatshepsut, who is thus divinely sanctioned to rule. Subsequently from the temple wall at Luxor comes a narrative of the encounter of Amun-Re and Mutemwia, when she conceives Amen- hotep III, expressed both pictorially and with attendant text. As the god entered her sleeping chamber,

she woke on account of the divine fragrance and turned towards His Majesty. He went straightway to her, he was aroused by her. He allowed her to see him in his divine form, after he had come before her, so that she rejoiced at seeing his perfection. His love, it entered her body. [After this Amun declares] Amenhetep, prince of Thebes, is the name of this child which I have placed in your womb. 103

This narrative of divine insemination was probably used by every pharaoh, though the majority of extant examples are from monarchs whose accession is irregular. 104 For Hatshepsut, obviously, as a woman undertaking the particularly male role of pharaoh, or Amenhotep III, who was the son, not of the pharaoh’s principal wife, but of a concu- bine, the narrative functioned to identify each as the specially chosen (though perhaps not obvious) new leader. Such birth stories could only have been produced with the support of the priesthoods who controlled the apparatus of ceremonial display. For Egyptians, any new ruler, whether the legitimate son of the previous pharaoh or a usurper who succeeded in maintaining power, would as a matter of course appear as the son of Amun-Re in art and ritual, as the divinely conceived product of a union between Amun and the pharaoh’s actual mother. In the cos- mic context in which Egyptian religious and political rituals operate, every pharaoh functioned in symbolic sameness, as a guarantor of the order and stability of the world. On those occasions where a usurper succeeded in retaining power, over time he too would be absorbed into the life of the society and represented with the traditional iconography. If he chose to accept the role and act as pharaoh, as conquerors were in-

103. Kemp 1989, 198–200, with an excellent illustration.

104. For a discussion of the birth myth, see H. Brunner, Die Geburt des Gottkönigs:

Studien zur Überlieferung eines altägyptischen Mythos, Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 10 (Wiesbaden, 1964); and J. Assman, “Die Zeugung des Sohnes: Bild, Erzählung und das Problem des ägyptischen Mythos,” in Funktion und Leistungen des Mythos: Drei al- torientalische Beispiele, ed. J. Assman et al., Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 48 (Göttingen, 1982) 13–61. For a recent discussion, see O’Connor and Silverman 1995, 71–73.

Conceptualizing Egypt


clined to do, he would ultimately become indistinguishable from his predecessors. Barry Kemp describes the process in this way:

The merging of the king with the god Amun and all his pageants had the important consequence of drawing a line between politics and myth. The

royal succession could go badly wrong, some could even plot to kill the

king and replace him with another

immensely weighty edifice of myth, festival, and grand architectural set- ting that could absorb the petty vagaries of history and smooth out the irregularities. It guaranteed the continuity of proper rule that was so im- portant an element in the Egyptians’ thinking. In particular it could con- vert usurpers (or new blood, depending on one’s point of reference) into models of legitimacy and tradition. 105

But behind visible reality lay an

The pharaoh himself, at the time of the Ptolemaic takeover, was linked in cult not only to the sun-god, Re, but to Horus-in-Chemmis (or Horus-the-Child), who is, mythologically speaking, the first king of Egypt, and whose defining act of kingship in mythological time was to unite “the Two Lands,” the term that Egyptians used to designate the north (or Lower Egypt) and the south (or Upper Egypt). Horus also has a dual iconography and conflated mythology. Originally he appears to have been a sky-god and was represented as either a falcon or a winged disk. By the Late Period and especially in the Ptolemaic period, he is merged with a “younger” Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris. One of the few myths that has survived in the form of an extended narrative simi- lar to Greek myth accounts for the struggle between order and chaos in anthropomorphic terms, that is, as a struggle between Horus and Seth. Allusions to this struggle and its cosmic ramifications are as old as the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, but a Ramessid papyrus provides a series of episodes in which the two wound, mutilate, and trick each other until their rivalry is finally settled by the gods who sit in judg- ment. The tone often appears to be satirical; there is one homosexual interlude, for example, which might have lost Horus the kingdom, but his mother Isis intervenes to save the day. 106 The story of Horus is best known to Greek scholars from Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris, which was written some five centuries after the period of our attention and has al- most certainly been shaped into a coherent (in western terms) narrative by Plutarch and his numerous Greek sources (among whom are

105. Kemp 1989, 208.


Conceptualizing Egypt

Hecataeus of Abdera and Eudoxus). The discrete particulars of the tale, however, can be seen in far older Egyptian material, like the “Lamenta- tions of Isis,” 107 the friezes in the Edfu temple, or the hymns from the Philae temple, as well as the “mysteries” celebrated at Papremis that Herodotus mentions so discretely (2.59–63). The story is as follows: Isis and Osiris—like Zeus and Hera—were siblings as well as husband and wife. Their brother, Seth, in jealousy, cut up Osiris’s body into several pieces and hid the parts in separate lo- cations from the Delta to Byblos. Isis sailed through these regions and patiently reassembled the body parts, binding them with linen wrap- pings that produced Osiris’s characteristic mummylike shape. Isis con- ceived Horus after Osiris’s death by means of Osiris’s reanimated male member, gave birth to Horus in secret, hid him in a papyrus thicket in the area of Chemmis, 108 an island in the Delta populated only by poi- sonous snakes and insects, by means of which Seth bites and nearly kills the infant god. Horus is often represented being nursed by the goddess Hathor in the form of a cow. Details of Isis’s birth often stress her “lamentations” when Horus is attacked, attendant goddesses who pro- tect the newborn, and the loud noises that they make to distract anyone intent on harm. In later versions of the myth, Horus is explicitly the son of Osiris, who recognizes him and prepares him to fight his uncle, Seth, to avenge his father’s death. There are many episodes to the struggle— in one, Seth steals Horus’s eye; in another, Horus hunts and kills Seth, who has turned himself into a hippopotamus, and then makes a pair of sandals from his hide. 109 After a number of encounters, Horus is finally recognized as the legitimate heir of his father, and the kingdom is given into his keeping by the Ogdoad, or older cosmic deities. At maturity Horus becomes the first king of Egypt and the avenger of his father. 110 We saw in the New Kingdom that a theogamy of the sun-god (as Amun-Re) with the pharaoh’s queen was sometimes represented on temple walls. By the Late Period, this divine birth story was celebrated in separate shrines built within larger temple complexes, called mam-

107. Lichtheim 1980, 116–24.

108. In some versions Horus is born in Chemmis; in others he is brought there after

birth to be hidden. Elements of the story can be traced as far back as the Old Kingdom. See A.H. Gardiner, “Horus the Beh detite,” JEA 40 (1944) 23–60; Goyon 1988, 29–40,

for its prominence in the Ptolemaic period.

109. This incident takes place near Achmim in Upper Egypt and is probably why san-

dals led the Chemmitae to identify Perseus with Horus. See Lloyd 1976, 368–69; 1969,



Conceptualizing Egypt


misi. Friezes depicting the marriage of the goddess and the birth of the divine child/pharaoh adorned the temple’s walls, and mystery plays were staged that enacted these events of cosmogonic as well as political significance. 111 Birth shrines proliferated in the Ptolemaic period as the focus of a royal cult in which the pharoah (as a young child) was asso- ciated with the divine son of a variety of local divinities, though the Isis- Osiris-Horus myth was the most prominent. These shrines were built well into the Roman period, during which the emperors asssociated themselves with the divine child. The Ptolemies built mammisi at Den- dera, Edfu, and Philae; others were built in the Delta, though they have not survived. 112 One such shrine is known to have been erected in the precincts of the Serapeum in Memphis at least by the time of the fourth Ptolemy, if not earlier. 113 From the number of private inscriptions dedi- cated in the mammisi at Philae, it is possible that these temples were open to the general public. 114 Even if access was restricted, they re- mained a prominent feature of the Ptolemaic religious landscape and a central location for the enactment of the rituals of divine kingship. The birth story of Horus was so well-known that both Hecataeus of Miletus and Herodotus record a version of it. A fragment of Hecataeus mentions that “in Buto by the shrine of Leto is an island, Chembis by name, sacred to Apollo, and the island is afloat and sails around and moves upon the water.” 115 Herodotus provides more detail: he tells us that Chemmis was a floating island located in a lake near an oracular temple dedicated to Leto. On the island was a temple to Apollo. Herodotus did not himself actually see the island float, but provides what he claims is the native explanation:

The Egyptians give this account of how the island came to float: before it began to float Leto, one of the eight primal gods, lived in the city of Buto,

111. See Goyon 1988, 34–36, with a series of illustrations of the divine birth and the

nursing of the child by a series of goddesses. The basic studies are Daumas 1958; E. Chas-

sinat, Les mammisi des temples égyptiens (Paris, 1958); and J. Junker and E. Winter, Das Geburtshaus des Tempels der Isis in Phila (Vienna, 1961). See also A. Badawy, “The Ar- chitectural Symbolism of the Mammisi-Chapels in Egypt,” C d’E 38 (1963) 78–90.

112. Arnold 1999; see pp.6–19 for his plans of temple layouts and for the positions

of mammisi in relation to the central complex, and p.20 for a map of Ptolemaic temples built in the Delta.

113. Arnold 1999, 163.

114. See Rutherford 1998, 250–53.

115. FGrH 1.305: Dn BoAtoi % perB t b Cer bn t p% LhtoP% Gsti npso% XAmbi % gnoma,

Arb to P \Ap allvno%, Gsti d B a n pso % metars Ah ka B peripleP kaB kin Aetai DpD toP Edato %. Chembis is a more accurate rendering of the Egyptian than Herodotus’s Chemmis, but the spelling Chemmis is used in virtually all the scholarly literature, so I have retained it.


Conceptualizing Egypt

where her oracle now is, and having received Apollo, the son of Osiris, as a sacred trust from Isis, she kept him safe by hiding him on the island that at this point was said to float (Dn tu n Pn plvtu legom An u n asi), when Typhon came there searching everywhere for the son of Osiris. Apollo and Artemis, they say, are the children of Isis and Dionysus, and Leto was their nurse and savior. In Egyptian, Apollo is Horus, Demeter is Isis, Artemis is Bubastis. (2.156)

Equally important as the occurrence of a myth central to pharaonic kingship in Greek material is what it reveals about the process of recep- tion, namely, the ways in which Greek and Egyptian myths were under- going a degree of interpenetration. Gwyn Griffiths’s commentary on this passage is instructive: he observes that a floating island specifically associated with the concealing of Horus is unknown in extant Egyptian texts and suspects that what Herodotus reports was really the Egyptian story of the birth of Horus-in-Chemmis contaminated with the Greek legend of Apollo born on the island of Delos. He remarks that Ionian Greek settlers of the fifth century in Naucratis and Daphne, which is near the supposed location of the island, were sure to have been famil- iar with both legends, and in all likelihood they served up this conflated version for Herodotus. 116 Indeed, it is possible that the proliferation of Horus temples in the Delta region under the Ptolemies was the direct result of the Ptolemies capitalizing on the fact that Greeks could easily identify this Egyptian legend with one of their own. For Egyptians creation was imagined in terms of the inundating wa- ters of the Nile as they receded each year to reveal hillocks of mud that quickly teemed with life under a tropical sun. The moment when exis- tence differentiated itself from nonexistence was termed the “first time” and was represented as a mound or hill emerging from the watery void. On this hill the creator first manifested himself—an event that could be represented iconographically as a child emerging from an egg or from an opening bud of a lotus flower, or as a bird perched upon the mound—then he created the world as well as the divine pantheon. The place where creation began was given various names—“primeval hill,” “sacred mound,” “place of coming forth,”—and its symbolism was po- tent and ubiquitous in Egyptian writing as well as in artistic representa-

116. Gwyn Griffiths (1960, 93–96) is dependent on W.A. Heidel (Hecataeus and the Egyptian Priests in Herodotus, Book II, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Mem- oirs 18.2 [Boston, 1935] 100); and Lloyd (1988, 139–46) on them both. S. West (“Herodotus’ Portrait of Hecataeus,” JHS 111 [1991] 158 n. 2) expresses doubt at this explanation, though she gives no reasons.

Conceptualizing Egypt


tion. Every temple was supposedly erected upon a primeval hill, 117 and to that end an artificial lake was often included in the precinct to repli- cate the primeval waters (this is what Herodotus saw in Chemmis). The pyramid was intended to reproduce not only the shape of the primeval hill, but also its ability to rejuvenate. 118 The hill was early fetishized as a conical stone, called bn-bn. It was housed in a precinct known as the “Mansion of the Bn-bn” in one of the oldest cities in Egypt, which the Greeks named Heliopolis (“Sun City”) because it was sacred to the sun-god. Via a series of verbal and iconic similarities the bn-bn could be associated with the sun-god: wbn means “to shine,” and the stone emerging from the waters resembled the sun rising on the eastern hori- zon. 119 The sun-god, too, could be portrayed as emerging from an egg that sat upon this hill, or as the bnw-bird (probably a heron) perched upon the bn-bn. It is this bnw-bird that stands behind the Greek story of the phoenix as related by Herodotus. 120 He tells us that in rare intervals of five hun- dred years or so, upon the death of its parent, the phoenix carries its fa- ther in a hollowed-out ball of myrrh shaped like an egg to the temple of the Sun in Heliopolis (= the Mansion of the Bn-bn). Again this is reve- latory of the process of reception: the bird, the egg, and Heliopolis (or elements from the creation myth) have been combined with the tradi- tional act that precedes succession—the son (the new pharaoh) presid- ing over the mummification of his father (the dead pharaoh). The birth- place of Horus, the first king of Egypt and the prototype for the pharaoh, was also imagined as the primeval hill, hence Horus too was a type of the creator, and his birth the “first time.” This event could be conveyed by the image of Horus as a child or again by the Horus-falcon within a papyrus swamp, and both of these images are deployed in the birth shrines of the Late Period. In Herodotus the two are merged as bird and son. Just as Horus presides over the burial of his father, Osiris, whom he succeeds, so the Horus-falcon is represented with the ball of myrrh in which his dead father/predecessor has been immured. More- over, he conveys the dead parent to Heliopolis where the original bn-bn or primeval hill is located. The hill substitutes for both the tomb and

117. See, for example, Shafer 1997, 1–8.

118. See, for instance, Frankfort 1978, 151–54; Lloyd 1976, 318–19.

119. See Kemp 1989, 85–88, for a discussion of the function of wordplay in the cre-

ation of religious ideology.


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the primeval hill on which rebirth takes place. The powers of resurrec- tion that are often attributed to the phoenix—to rise from his own ashes—stem from this rejuvenative quality of the primeval hill and by association the tomb. 121 As we have seen with other sets of representa- tions, for Egyptians the tomb, the bn-bn, and the primeval hill on the one hand and the Horus child, the falcon, and the bnw-bird on the other are not only symbols of but identical with each other. To enter into the symbolic realm of any one part of the set activates all possible meanings. For a Greek, however, the story of the phoenix demonstrates the need to impose a linear narrative to which distinct and separable meanings may be attached. Just as they were linked with creation myths, Re and Horus are also central in another significant cluster of representations—the theme of order versus chaos. In Egyptian iconography the struggle between the two is linked with both the daily cycle of the sun and the original mo- ment of creation. The sun-god, Re, is often represented as sailing through the night world in a celestial boat, where now, the enemy, imagined as a giant serpent, threatens Re’s destruction, and with the loss of the sun, the end of creation or nonexistence would ensue. Vari- ous gods sail with the sun to ward off destruction, and solar hymns from the New Kingdom and the Books of the Dead from the Late Pe- riod contain ritual spells to be recited to aid Re in defeating his enemy. Daily the sun repeats his struggles, and daily his enemy is defeated by spells, represented iconographically by the serpent bound with ropes or cut into pieces with knives. But,

the victory over Apophis [the serpent] is less a manifestation of strength

The struggle takes on the nature of

a judgement that has been enforced, the confrontation between the sun god and the enemy is like an act of jurisdiction. Re travels through the sky “justified.” Apophis therefore not only embodies cosmic opposition to light and movement, but also the principle of evil. 122

than of law and order, i.e.,

The serpent then, who is called Apep or Apop (Apophis in Greek), comes to represent chaos, darkness, the absence of light, and nonbeing. While defeated daily by the sun and his retinue, he also renews his threats and must continue to be defeated for the natural, social, and

121. For the identification of the deceased with the bnw-bird, see Book of the Dead,


Spells 8 and 84; and Zabkar 1988, 94, for the identification of the phoenix with Osiris

and the pharaoh.

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moral order to continue to exist and flourish. The relationship of chaos to order, of being to nonbeing, is occasionally represented by the ourobouros or a snake with its tail in its mouth surrounding a small child, the symbol of birth or the newness of creation. From this it is an easy step to the story of Horus the child in Chemmis. When Horus is threatened by poisonous serpents, he either throttles or tramples on the snakes. This event becomes, however, not simply the narrative of a childish act, nor even of the triumph over Seth, who is responsible for the attack of the serpents, but another instantiation of the victory of order over chaos, or being over nonbeing. The oldest and most enduring formula for representing the king’s re- lationship to maat in graphic art in Egypt is that known as “smiting the foe.” The pharaoh, always larger than his surrounding attendants or the enemy, strides forward, with one hand grasping the enemy by the hair and with a club raised in the other as if to beat him upon the head. The image is first found in the predynastic period on the so-called Narmer Palette and is ubiquitous throughout the dynastic period: py- lons in Theban temples depict this event on a large scale, while jewelry makers have even adopted the theme in small scale for royal pectorals. The motif is so quintessentially Egyptian that the Nubian kings borrow it and employ it on their own monuments well into the common era. Within the symbolic realm, the iconography, of course, functions as more than a reminder of the pharaoh’s prowess in war or even the dom- inance of Egypt over its enemies. It marks rather the pharaoh as the bringer of cosmic order out of chaos. Each individual pharaoh’s tri- umph over a particular enemy replicates similar ordering acts in the past and prefigures those of the future, and thus the repetitiveness of the iconography throughout history results not from lack of imagina- tion or cultural stasis but is a deliberate attempt to express the belief that each separate event partakes of a cosmic sameness, in a continuing effort to maintain cosmic balance or maat. 123 A more explicit variation of this theme portrays the pharaoh accompanied by tidy ranks of Egyptian soldiers while the enemy ranks are represented as broken and fleeing, often trampled under the feet of the striding king. This order- chaos theme, like the smiting of the foe, achieves the status of a cliché in Egyptian art—hence as early as the Eighteenth Dynasty, a golden fan base adapts the motif to a royal ostrich hunt, where the pharaoh now


Conceptualizing Egypt

strides forth with his faithful hunting dogs against a chaotic band of os- triches, who subsequently end up as feathers in the fan. 124 Greeks were certainly familiar with these standard representations of the pharaoh. In the sixth century a black-figure vase depicting Heracles and Busiris, the Egyptian king who was notorious for sacrificing for- eigners on his altars, took advantage of this stock motif and inverted it. On this vase, Heracles attacks the king and his followers in precisely the manner of royal Egyptian depictions of the pharaoh routing the foe. 125 To replace the pharaoh with Heracles on this vase appears to be not so much parody, but a desire on the part of the vase painter to ap- propriate for Heracles the properties of the pharaoh as the bearer of order and civilized community. 126 Diodorus, in a passage that is very likely from Hecataeus of Abdera, decodes the Busiris story in the fol- lowing way: in ancient times red-haired men were sacrificed at the tomb of Osiris, because red was the color associated with Seth/Typhon, who was the enemy of Osiris. Since very few Egyptians are red-haired, most of those sacrificed were foreigners. Greeks misunderstood the circum- stances and imagined that Busiris was the king who did the sacrificing, when in fact Busiris was not a person but a place-name meaning “tomb of Osiris.” 127 Thus Diodorus (Hecataeus?) understands an event that to Greeks marks barbarian behavior (namely, sacrificing foreigners) as a ritual of conflict between Osiris and Seth, that is, the forces of order and chaos. In this scheme, killing Seth/Typhon surrogates is to be equated with conquering the enemy and restoring order. An earlier passage in Diodorus that has not been regarded as Hecataean also seems to describe the foe-smiting scene:

Moreover, the Egyptians tell the tale that in the time of Isis there had been certain multibodied creatures (polysvm atoy%), who were named

“Giants” by the Greeks, but

by themselves, 128 who were displayed in

124. For an illustration, see, for instance, The Treasures of Tutankhamun (New York,

1976) no. 18.

125. See LIMC 3.1, s.v. Bousiris; and 3.2, pls. 10, 11, 19, 23, and esp. 28. See also J.-

L. Durand and F. Lissarague, “Mourir à l’autel: Remarques sur l’ imagerie du sacrifice hu- main dans la céramique antique,” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 1 (1999) 33–106.

126. Heracles may have been depicted in Egyptian-inspired scenes elsewhere; see

Jourdain-Annequin 1992, 74, pl. XIVa. In both Herodotus and Hecataeus (Diodorus) he had Egyptian affiliations or analogues. See also the discussion below, chapter 3.

127. Diodorus Siculus 1.88.5 ( = FGrH 264 F25.88.5). Much of this information is

also in Manetho (fr. 86 Waddell).

128. F. Vogel conjectured a lacuna in the text where he assumed the Egyptian name

for the multiform creatures would have been written. Burton (1972, 110–11) rejects this, arguing that diakosmoymAnoy % teratvd b% corresponds with dnomazom Anoy %. The mean-

Conceptualizing Egypt


monstrous form (diakosmoymAnoy % teratvd b%) on their temples and were being beaten (typtomAnoy %) by Osiris. Now some say that they were earth-born (ghgene P%) when the genesis of life from the earth was new, while others say that they were superior by virtue of their physical strength and had accomplished many deeds, and from this circumstance legend described them as many-bodied (polysvmatvn). But it is gener- ally agreed that when they made war against Zeus and Osiris they were all destroyed. 129

The phrase “beaten by Osiris” is the key to understanding the pas- sage, as B.G. Gunn saw. In a verbal communication to J. Gwyn Grif-

fiths, 130 Gunn suggested that Diodorus was referring to “delineations of

the King in a form like Osiris smiting a group of enemies

so closely packed together as to appear as monstrous multicorpores.” This has the ring of truth about it. On the great pylons of the Rames- seum in Thebes and at Medinet Habu the enemy are superimposed upon each other in such a way that they appear with only one body, but with multiple arms and legs. At Medinet Habu and other later temples, the king wears the white crown of Upper Egypt, which is also worn by the mummiform Osiris and hence may have led to the identification of the king with Osiris. The Greek writer—whether Diodorus or one of his sources—in a sense reads the monument correctly by ignoring its historical particu- larity and reproducing its underlying meaning, namely, that the act de- picted represents the cosmic struggle of Osiris (and/or Horus) against Seth. Whatever the exact nature of these multiform, earth-born crea- tures, in a process similar to that of Herodotus’s interpretation of the Horus-in-the-Delta myth, Diodorus assimilates the Egyptian motif to a Greek story, and one that occupies an analogous place in Greek art and writing. The defeat of the Giants first appears in a frieze on the temple of Apollo at Delphi 131 and was the required subject for the peplos of

who are

ing would then be “named giants by the Greeks, represented as monsters by the Egyp- tians.” The textual problem does not affect my argument. The point is that for Diodorus or his Greek source there is an equivalence between the Egyptian polys amatoi and Greek “Giants.” See LIMC 4.1.191–93, s.v. Gigantes. Note that the giants are described

as “bicorpores” by Naevius ( W. Strzelecki, Belli Punici carminis quae supersunt [Leipzig, 1964] fr. 4).

129. Diodorus Siculus 1.26.6.

130. Noted in Gwyn Griffiths 1960, 102. His own suggestion that these might be

Sethian creatures in animal form is implausible, since the verb would need to mean “spear” or “trample.” But t Aptv does not mean “spear” and rarely means “trample” without further qualification.


Conceptualizing Egypt

Athena for the festival of the Panathenaea. 132 It became very popular in the Hellenistic period and was a notable element on the Pergamene Altar. The defeat of the Giants, like the defeat of the Amazons, signaled iconographically the civilizing influence of the Greek city-states and their individual or collective defeat of the irrational, uncivilized worlds that preceded them. In myth too, the defeat of the Giants by Zeus and his siblings signaled the coming of the orderly rule of the Ouranids. Thus Greek and Egyptian symbolic realms intersect in this passage of Diodorus, and whether or not it comes originally from Hecataeus or some other Greco-Egyptian source, Diodorus’s reading of the Egyptian monument operates, I believe, in a manner analogous to that of the court poets of the Ptolemies in matching Greek concept to Egyptian within the framework of pharaonic kingship.

the alexander romance

So far we have been considering various ways in which the Egyptian motifs of kingship might have been available to Greeks in Egypt and how Greeks assimilated what they saw or heard. At this juncture, how- ever, I would like to consider the ways in which the Egyptian succession myth was explicitly appropriated and how it functioned within a Greek symbolic system in the Alexander Romance. No author’s name sur- vives. The Alexander Romance seems to have been assembled from a variety of narrative sources ranging from historical biography to a cycle of letters allegedly from (among others) Alexander to Olympias and Ar- istotle, to a series of romantic and marvelous adventures. 133 The Greek text has come down to us in several recensions, the earliest of which is now from the third century c.e. The most important and complete of these are known as A and B. 134 Given its current low literary status the Alexander Romance might seem to be a frail vehicle on which to base a

1132. See Euripides Hecuba 465–74; the scholiast claims ad loc. that the scene was of

either Titans or Giants. See E. Pfuhl, De Atheniensium pompis sacris (Berlin, 1900) 6–14.

133. See Merkelbach 1977 for a discussion of the various components of the AR; see

pp.77–83 for a detailed discussion of the Nectanebo episode, including the Egyptian par- allels (esp. pp.79–81). More recently see Fraser (1996, 205 n. 1), who remarks that Merkelbach and Trumpf “expound a comprehensive, though to my mind only partially successful, explanation of the origin of the whole work.”

134. The AR was extremely popular and survives in a number of other languages as

well. For a discussion of the stemma, see D.J.A. Ross, Alexander Historiatus (Warburg,


Conceptualizing Egypt


serious argument, but it does have one virtue that all scholars acknowl- edge: it provides us with the earliest surviving literary material about the foundation of the city of Alexandria, material that must come from the generation after Alexander himself. 135 For our purposes, it is imma- terial whether this Alexandrian story can be attached with any degree of confidence to the work of a particular Alexander historian, like Cleitarchus, or whether it was cobbled together from a variety of Alexandrian sources. What is significant is the curious nature of Alexander’s paternity, found in both A and B versions of the story, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Alexander’s competing pater- nities. The Alexander Romance opens with Nectanebo II, the last native king of Egypt. When he learns from his magic arts that there is no hope for further Egyptian resistance to the Persians, he considers discretion (not to mention survival) to be the better part of valor and flees from Egypt via Pelusium to find himself at the court of Philip II of Macedon. There he sets up shop as a magician and astrologer and quickly enjoys the patronage of no less a person than Olympias, Philip’s wife. While Philip is away on campaign, Olympias consults the astrologer about her fears that Philip may be intending to divorce her. Nectanebo, who has taken a fancy to the queen, flatters her by telling her that she is destined to be joined to the great god Ammon who will impregnate her with a son. Nectanebo continues his seduction by telling her that she will dream of having intercourse with the god that very night, and he takes measures to insure that indeed she does so. Then when his prediction is fulfilled, Nectanebo advises her that the god wishes to embrace her in the flesh, as it were, not simply via a dream. Placing himself in a nearby chamber in the palace, he assists the queen in her preparations for the god’s epiphany. (These details come now from the B recension). She should expect, he tells her, to see a snake gliding towards her in her chamber. This is the sign for her to dismiss her servants, climb into her

135. See Fraser 1996, 205–26, particularly pp.211–13, for the latest analysis of the various components of the AR and their relative dates. For what follows I am using only the oldest material, the Nectanebo story (1–17), the visit to the Siwah oasis (30), and Alexander in Memphis (34). Fraser would date the details of the description of Alexan- dria to the imperial period (212–14 b.c.e.), but I am interested in the foundation story only in its broadest outlines, and this will have been part of the oldest stratum of the text. See also R. Stoneman’s introduction in The Greek Alexander Romance (London, 1991). He concludes that “the main outlines of the narrative could have been fully formed as early as 50–100 years after Alexander’s death” (p.14).


Conceptualizing Egypt

bed, and cover her face, so as not to look directly at the god. On the night, Nectanebo, garbed in a ram’s fleece and horns and carrying an ebony scepter, enters the chamber and has intercourse with the queen. She, of course, steals a look at the “god” as he enters the chamber, but does not find his form particularly alarming because he looks as he did in her dream. As Nectanebo rises from their bed after the lovemaking he announces that she is pregnant with a male child. On the morrow, when he—as Nectanebo—enters the queen’s chamber, ostensibly to dis- cover what happened, she expresses her delight and asks: “Will the god be returning to me again, seeing as I had such pleasure from him?” In this manner, Nectanebo and Olympias continue a clandestine liaison until Philip’s return. Nectanebo, meanwhile, thoughtfully sends a fal- con as a dream messenger to apprise Philip of Olympias’s impending motherhood and of the divinity of the father. 136 Philip, at first, is not unnaturally annoyed, but after a few more magic tricks by Nectanebo—during a palace gathering, he turns himself into a large serpent 137 that curls up at Olympias’s feet and then flies off as an eagle— Philip is convinced that a god is truly the father of Olympias’s child, or at least that he would be wise to accept the status quo. The narrative includes further incidents from Alexander’s youth, in- cluding his education at the hands of distinguished philosophers and scientists 138 and his military training under Philip. After this he succeeds to his father’s kingdom and quickly subdues the known world. 139 Alexander then proceeds to the Siwah oasis in order to learn the truth of his paternity. At Siwah was located an oracular temple to the Egypt- ian god Amun-Re, regarded by Greeks as among the most prestigious oracles in the ancient world. Here, Ammon acknowledges Alexander as his son and instructs him in a prophecy to establish the city of Alexan- dria. Obediently, Alexander hastens to lay out the perimeters of the new city, before marching on to Memphis where he is proclaimed pharaoh. In Memphis he sees a statue of Nectanebo with an inscription pro-

136. The falcon is not a randomly selected messenger: Nectanebo was worshipped in

Ptolemaic Memphis as a falcon-god, possibly connected with Horus. See H. de Meule- naere, “Les monuments du culte des rois Nectanébo,” C d’E 35 (1960) 92–107.

137. The snake too is probably a manifestation of Amun. His aspect as a creator god

was “Hiddenness,” which could be represented by the serpent; see 1: 237–48.

138. 1.13: Leucippus (music), Melemnus (geometry), Anaximenes of Lampsacus

(rhetoric), and Aristotle (philosophy).

139. 1.27–29 B. The speed with which these events are narrated and the relative lack

of detail tend to confirm the Alexandrian bias of the piece.

Conceptualizing Egypt


claiming: “This king who has fled will come again to Egypt | not in age

but in youth, and our enemy the Persians | He will subject to us” (1.34

A and B). Alexander embraces the statue, proclaims his lineage publicly

to the gathered crowd, and offers this explanation of these events:

Egypt and the peoples not blest with its natural economic advantages were destined to be united, and the money the Egyptians were used to paying to the Persians in tribute they could now give to Alexander, “not

that I may collect it for my own treasury, but rather so that I may spend

it on your city, the Egyptian Alexandria, capital of the world.” Thus

Alexandria is deliberately cast as both Greek and Egyptian, though a cynic might doubt that parity between those contributing the money (Egyptians) and those spending it (Greeks) was ever intended. In this incident, the description of the encounter of Nectanebo with Olympias disguised as the ram-god matches rather closely Egyptian de- scriptions of the sacred encounter of the wife of a pharaoh with the god Amun-Re, discussed above. The Alexander Romance follows in detail the myth of the divine birth of the pharaoh, with one element trans- posed or reversed—the god normally assumes the form of the queen’s human husband, while here the human lover assumes the form of the god. We have what looks like an inversion of a tale that would have been serious in its purpose and quite familiar to Egyptians. The trans- mission of the Alexander Romance is so complex that it is impossible— and probably irrelevant—to determine whether the story in its current form was the work of a native Greek writer or whether it betrays an Egyptian origin. 140 The satirical element certainly fits an Egyptian mi- lieu—Egyptian literature is full of tales like the “Contendings of Horus and Seth” or “Cheops and the Magicians” that seem to mock or under- mine the high seriousness of official ritual and state-oriented myths. 141

140. R. Jasnow (“The Greek Alexander Romance and Demotic Egyptian Literature,”

Journal of Near Eastern Studies 56.2 [1997] 101) suggests that the verb synklon asaß is a mistranslation of Demotic p h r, which can mean “enchant” (the correct meaning for the passage) as well as “jumble up”; Jasnow observes: “It was presumably a Greek or a Hel-

lenized Egyptian who translated the text, since it is improbable, in my opinion, that an educated Demotic scribe well versed in this tradition would have committed such an error.” Interestingly Jasnow’s argument assumes that a Greek might read Demotic Egypt- ian, and that the transmission was written not oral.

141. There are a number of surviving satirical sketches of animals whose activities

ape humans’, the most famous of which is in Turin. A portion of this papyrus also con- tains sexually explicit scenes. See J.A. Omlin (Der Papyrus 55001 und seine satirisch-ero- tischen Zeichnungen und Inschriften [Turin, 1973]), who draws a number of parallels be- tween these scenes and religious rituals.


Conceptualizing Egypt

On the other hand, satire is not unknown in Greek literature. This story has usually been viewed as propaganda deliberately circulated by the Egyptian priesthood to legitimate Alexander’s claim to the throne of Egypt for Egyptians. 142 But this is to misunderstand the birth story, the purpose of which is to locate Alexander within the continuum of Egypt- ian kingship. The connection of Alexander with Nectanebo could only have been made during the formative stages of Macedonian-Greek rule in Egypt, when there was a desire—if not a need—to stress the continuity of the new rule and its integral connection with the past, not several centuries later when memories of Nectanebo (apart from his cult as falcon-god) will necessarily have been dim among both Egyptians and Greeks. 143 The story itself functions not in the mythical realm of the divine birth, nor in that of apocalyptic visions, but in the world of possibility, of po- litical reality. Nectanebo apparently did disappear from Egypt at the time of the second Persian conquest. 144 Presumably he could have fled to Macedon, and he could have fathered Alexander. Which is not to say that he did. The story we now have appears not in Egyptian, but in Greek. While some Egyptians in the early Hellenistic period would have been bilingual, the sheer quantity of Demotic writing that survives from this period suggests that Egyptians were still partaking of a rich tradi- tional literary culture and would not have needed or depended on Greek versions of their own tales. Moreover, Egyptian literary proto- cols, even in the more recently discovered Demotic material, differ con- siderably from the arrangement of detail in a story for a Greek audi- ence. No versions of this story in Demotic Egyptian have been found. The fact that the story circulated so widely in Greek makes it reason- able to assume that a Greek audience found some value in a doubly de- termined fathering of Alexander. That audience would have consisted, in the main, of Greek natives and their descendants but could have in- cluded Egyptian readers of Greek, who were to be found among the

142. See, for example, Fraser 1972, 1: 680–81; and Huss 1994, 129–33, with bibli-

ography, n. 366.

143. There is other evidence for early exchange of stories about Nectanebo between

Greeks and Egyptians. The so-called Dream of Nectanebo, from the Sarapaeum in Mem- phis and dated to the early second century b.c.e., is a Greek version of an obviously

Egyptian tale. See now K. Ryholt’s edition of a Demotic fragment of the story in ZPE 122 (1998) 197–200. For a full-scale treatment of the Greek text, see L. Koenen, BASP 22 (1985) 171–94. See also Huss 1994, 133–37 and n. 397 for bibliography.

Conceptualizing Egypt


upper strata of the bureaucratic elite. 145 The purpose or intent of the Nectanebo story must therefore be bound up with this circumstance. Elements of this story appear also in later Greek sources that are generally taken to be more reputable than the Alexander Romance, which suggests that the Egyptian story was at an early period rather closely linked to Alexander. Plutarch, in his Life of Alexander, mentions that Alexander is descended from Heracles on his father’s side and Aea- cus on his mother’s, but he also slips in the detail that Olympias’s habit of being found in the company of serpents cooled Philip’s ardor to- wards his wife: “Whether he feared her as an enchantress or thought she had commerce with some god, and so looked upon himself as ex- cluded, he was ever after less fond of her company.” 146 Further, Plutarch tells us that when Philip consulted the Delphic oracle about the pater- nity of his child (about whom he had some doubts), he was informed “henceforth to pay particular honor, above all other gods, to Ammon; and was told he should one day lose the eye with which he had pre- sumed to peep through that chink in the door, when he saw the god, under the form of a serpent, sleeping with (syneynaz amenon) his wife.” 147 Although Arrian is more restrained in book 3 of the Anabasis of Alexander, he, too, mentions that Alexander traces his lineage from Perseus and Heracles on the Greek side, and also Ammon. 148 In Greek terms the problem with the fatherhood of Alexander as it is portrayed in the Alexander Romance, unlike the versions found in Plutarch or Arrian, is that it is overdetermined. To have a divine as well as a human father has some precedent—one thinks of the examples of Helen or Heracles; to have a human father who is not your mother’s husband has also been known to occur; but to have a human father who is not your mother’s husband, pretending to be the god who then acknowledges you as truly his son risks undermining the very edifice it seems to be erecting. Certainly it is possible to explain away this plethora of fathers by attributing them to imperfections in the stitching together of the Alexander Romance from its constituent parts, but this

145. The most obvious group would have been the priesthoods, which formed an im-

portant economic class. The priests were also the most likely to have become bilingual. See Thompson 1990; Clarysse 1979.

146. Plutarch Alexander 2.6.

147. Plutarch Alexander 3.1–2.

148. Arrian Anabasis of Alexander 3.3.2. See A.B. Bosworth, Commentary on Ar-

rian’s History of Alexander (Oxford, 1980) 1: 269–73, for Alexander’s divine and heroic ancestors.


Conceptualizing Egypt

begs the question. If Alexander is the son of Ammon, he does not need another human father; Plutarch, after all, delicately suggests that the agency was a snake. But if he has a human father, his claim to divinity is somewhat weakened: the two competing claims, both connecting his paternity with Egypt, would seem to cancel each other out. But in Egyptian terms they fit into the traditional claims for the paternity of the pharaoh. In fact, two separate elements appear to have been delib- erately stitched together, in such a way as to leave their seams quite vis- ible. 149 One element is the myth of the divine birth of the pharaoh, which must be Egyptian in origin and intended not so much to justify but to signal the transition from one invader’s reign (the Persians’) to another’s (Alexander’s); the other is Nectanebo’s fathering of Alexander, an event no doubt suggested by an Egyptian prophecy of Nectanebo’s return. Within the framework of Egyptian thought the doubling makes excellent sense. Egyptians were quite aware that their pharaohs were mortal and had human fathers, but the two fathers serve different purposes—the one conveys legitimacy to Alexander’s conquest in political terms, while the other inserts the foreign pharaoh into the native theology. While for Egyptians the account of Alexander’s birth from Ammon links him to his pharaonic predecessors as yet another manifestation of the god on earth, the living Horus, the account of Alexander’s divine birth functions separately but similarly for the Greek audience, to make him no longer mere mortal, but akin to the heroes of their mythic past. By replacing his human father with the Egyptian god Ammon, Alexan- der is elevated—in a way he cannot have been though the agency of Greek myth—to the stature of Heracles and Perseus, the two heroes from whom he claimed descent, and to an equal footing with Dionysus, whose course through the East Alexander traced in his conquests. The employment of the Egyptian tale provides a neat complement to Alexander’s Greek lineage. Like Perseus and Heracles, Alexander now has a mortal father (Philip) on the books, with a mother who has cap- tured the fancy of a god. This divine parentage accounts, in mythic terms, for Alexander’s uniqueness and for the astonishing nature of his accomplishments. 150 In Perseus and Heracles he also has ancestors who had been previously linked to Egypt via Greek myth.The A recension of

149. Merkelbach (1977, 81) accounts for this in terms of ritual performance and


Conceptualizing Egypt


the Alexander Romance takes this double origin to its logical extremes, informing us that on the night in question Nectanebo tells Olympias:

“This god, when he comes to you, will first become a serpent, crawling along the ground and hissing, then he will change into horned Ammon, then into peerless Heracles, then into thyrsos-bearing Dionysus, then when he has intercourse with you in human form, the god will reveal himself in my image.” 151 Inevitably the question is asked whether stories like this were circu- lated with the serious intent of convincing the denizens of Hellenistic Egypt about Alexander’s ancestry. Recognizing their inherent improba- bility, scholars have been inclined to regard such tales as serious or as propaganda only for naive Egyptians, while relegating them to the realm of fantastical or romantic fiction for Greeks. But to pose the question in terms of believability or seriousness of intent may overlook a more significant point. It is not important whether Greeks would have believed the Nectanebo tale, if by belief we mean that it was accepted as veridically true. What is important is the fact that was told. The act of producing this narrative of Alexander’s double descent carries its own implicit significance beyond the message of Greco-Egyptian cultural in- teraction that it makes explicit. The style and tone of the Alexander Ro- mance may predispose us to regard it as satire or parody, and therefore of little consequence, but even this feature of the story is legible within the two different cultures. There is a salacious quality to the seduction of Olympias that is reminiscent of a Milesian tale, and there are unmis- takably Greek chauvinistic tendencies at work in the portrayal of Nectanebo as a magician. However, the tale also possesses a satirical el- ement not unfamiliar in Egyptian literature and art, where status rever- sal and what appears to be outrageous irreverence abound. 152 It is very possible that the story in its current form accurately reflects the origi- nal; that it deliberately sets out to undercut the pretentiousness of its own message. In other words, that its mocking quality served to miti- gate the extravagance of the claim either of divine birth or of Alexan- der’s Egyptian paternity, while nevertheless reinforcing this very mes- sage. The serious intent comes from the story’s novelty of vision, the

151. eRta synelubn dnurvpoeidb% ue b% DmfanAzetai to B% Dmo B% t Apoy % Gxvn (A


152. O’Connor and Silverman (1995, 57) discuss a sexually explicit graffito from the

Eighteenth Dynasty that depicts Queen Hatshepsut in less than complimentary circum- stances. See their chapter as a whole, pp.49–87, for various attitudes towards kingship; and see above, note 141.


Conceptualizing Egypt

binocularity of which allows readers to see one event simultaneously through two different cultural lenses.

To sum up the significance of Alexander’s overdetermined paternity:

both Nectanebo and Ammon are essential to the story. Separately each father contributes a necessary piece to Alexander’s complex mythol- ogy—by virtue of the one father (Nectanebo) Alexander is really Egypt- ian, or Greco-Egyptian, on the human and political level; by virtue of the other (Ammon), he is really divine on the mythical and ceremonial level. Moreover, the tale of Alexander’s fathers would seem to occupy a central and originary place in the forming of the city of Alexandria it- self. It is as the “son of Nectanebo” that Alexander addresses the Mem- phites, and it is by Ammon, who proclaims him his son, that he is in- structed to found the new city. In fact, the Nectanebo story bears an uncanny resemblance to that staple of Alexandrian literary production, the aition, or foundation myth. A significant aspect of the aition in the conte