Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Herodotus Relates Egyptian Role In The Trojan War

I’ve been listening to Herodotus on my commute. I found his “Egyptian digress” quite interesting. One thing he mentioned that was not discussed in my formal lectures about the work was the practice of delaying the embalming of female corpses to avoid having them violated. I wonder if Dr. Brier has ever noticed a difference in the quality of preservation observed in male and female mummies that would tend to support this statement.

I was also particularly intrigued by his discussion of the Egyptian participation in the story of the Trojan War. He describes a Pharaoh named Proteus (in Greek) that sounds very much like Seti I. He relates how Alexander (Paris) and Helen were blown off course and landed in Egypt on their way to Troy. Alexander was called before Proteus and asked to explain the circumstances of his situation and, when he attempted to lie about how he acquired Helen and the Spartan treasure, his slaves blurted out the truth to the pharaoh. Proteus became angry and said Alexander had but three days to depart his kingdom. Herodotus mentions that there were several versions being told to him and that in one version, Proteus kept Helen and the treasure, since it was ill-begotten and sent Paris back to Troy empty handed. When Menelaus and the Achaens arrived at Troy, they demanded the return of Helen and the treasure then wouldn’t believe the Trojans when the Trojans reported they did not possess them. When the Greeks had finally defeated the Trojans and sacked Troy discovering that indeed Helen and the treasure were not there, Menelaus traveled to Egypt where Proteus welcomed him and restored Helen and the Spartan treasure to him.

Some of my reasons for thinking that Proteus was Seti I was that Herodotus named Proteus’ successor as Ramsenitas (sp?) and described Proteus’ burial shrine as a pyramid built within a great lake that had been created by diverting the Nile into a canal. Seti’s temple known as the Osireion built behind the temple at Abydos featured a central mound surrounded by canal water, symbolic of the origins of life from the primeval waters. It was here that Seti rested after his death before his mummy was moved to the Valley of the Kings. The timing of Seti’s reign is also relatively close to the time of the Trojan War as well. Seti ruled until about 1278 B.C. The confusing part is that Herodotus then mentions the reign of Cheops after Proteus. This does not fit in the Egyptian chronology that indicates Cheops ruled over 1000 years before Seti. But perhaps, Herodotus got his notes a little mixed up.

I was also intrigued by a description of the trading and colonization policies of Sesostris. Herodotus claims that the Egyptians ventured as far into EurAsia as Thrace. I don’t remember reading about Egyptian exploits that far north but upon researching Sesostris, I did find this reference that mentions his son Amenemhat II continued his policies.
“The foreign policy of Amenemhat II appear to have been a continuation of his father's. There is evidence of extensive trade with parts of the Near East, Mesopotamia and even Crete. Several Egyptian objects, among them small statues and scarabs, were found at several Near Eastern sites. Among them a sphinx of princess Ita, that was probably sent to Syria as a trading gift. Especially favored were the Syrian port of Byblos, where the native ruling elite even made short inscriptions in hieroglyphic, referring to Egyptian gods. The foundation deposits of the temple of Tod, dated to the reign of Amenemhat, contained objects of Mesopotamian and Cretan origin. Not all contacts with Asia were as peaceful, however, as is shown by raids of Bedouin, probably in the Sinai and some Egyptian military activity against two unnamed Asian cities.”