Page images
PDF
EPUB

had in his possession : but the Greeks, thinking they were derided by them, therefore besieged them until they took their city. When, after they had taken the fortifications, Helen was nowhere found, but they heard the same story as before, then they gave credit to the first account, and sent Menelaus himself to Proteus. When Menelaus reached Egypt, he sailed up to Memphis, and related the real truth: he both met with very hospitable entertainment, and received back Helen unharmed, and in addition all his treasures. Menelaus, however, though he met with this treatment, behaved very iniquitously to the Egyptians: for when he was desirous of sailing away, contrary winds detained him; and when this continued the same for a long time, he had recourse to a nefarious expedient; for having taken two children of the people of the country, he sacrificed them; but afterward, when it was discovered that he had done this deed, he was detested and persecuted by the Egyptians, and fled with his ships to Libya: whither he bent his course from thence, the Egyptians were unable to say; but of the above particulars they said they knew some by inquiry, and others, having taken place among themselves, they were able from their own knowledge to speak of with certainty. These things the priests of the Egyptians related; and I myself agree with the account that is given respecting Helen, from the following considerations : If Helen had been in Ilium, she would have been restored to the Grecians, whether Paris were willing or not. For surely Priam could not have been so infatuated, nor the others his relatives, as to be willing to expose their own persons, their children, and the city to danger, in order that Paris might cohabit with Helen. But even if at first they had taken this resolution, yet seeing that many of the other Trojans perished, whenever they engaged with the Greeks, and that on every occasion when a battle took place, two or three or even more of Priam's own sons fell, if we may speak on the authority of the epic poets—when such things happened, I think, that if Priam himself were cohabiting with Helen, he would have restored her to the Greeks, in order to be delivered from such present evils. Neither would the kingdom devolve upon Paris, so that when Priam was now old, the administration of affairs should fall upon him; but Hector, who was both older and more a man than he was, would succeed to the throne on the death of Priam; nor did it become him to give way to his brother when acting unjustly, and this too when through his means so many evils were falling on himself, and on all the rest of the Trojans. But indeed

they had it not in their power to restore Helen, nor when they spoke the truth, did the Greeks give credit to them: providence ordaining, as I am of opinion, that they, by utterly perishing, should make it clear to all men that for great crimes great punishments at the hands of the gods are in store. Thus these things have been related as they appear to me.

The priests also informed me that Rhampsinitus succeeded Proteus in the kingdom: he left as a monument the portico of the Temple of Vulcan, fronting to the west; and he erected two statues before the portico, twenty-five cubits high. Of these, the one standing to the north the Egyptians call Summer; and that to the south, Winter: and the one that they call Summer, they worship and do honour to; but the one called Winter, they treat in a quite contrary way.

This king, they said, possessed a great quantity of money, such as no one of the succeeding kings was able to surpass, or even nearly come up to; and he, wishing to treasure up his wealth in safety, built a chamber of stone, of which one of the walls adjoined the outside of the palace. But the builder, forming a plan against it, devised the following contrivance: He fitted one of the stones so that it might be easily taken out by two men, or even one. When the chamber was finished, the king laid up his treasures in it; but in course of time the builder, finding his end approaching, called his sons to him, for he had two, and described to them how (providing for them that they might have abundant sustenance) he had contrived when building the king's treasury; and having clearly explained to them everything relating to the removal of the stone, he gave them its dimensions, and told them, if they would observe his instructions, they would be stewards of the king's riches. He accordingly died, and the sons were not long in applying themselves to the work; and having come by night to the palace, and having found the stone in the building, they easily removed it, and carried off a great quantity of treasure. When the king happened to open the chamber, he was astonished at seeing the vessels deficient in treasure ; but he was not able to accuse any one, as the seals were unbroken, and the chamber well secured. When, therefore, on his opening it two or three times, the treasures were always evidently diminished (for the thieves did not cease plundering), he adopted the following plan: He ordered traps to be made, and placed them round the vessels in which the treasures were. And when the thieves came as before, and one of them had entered, as soon as he went near a vessel he was straightway caught in the trap; perceiving, therefore, in what a predicament he was, he immediately called to his brother, and told him what had happened, and bade him enter as quick as possible, and cut off his head, lest, if he was seen and recognised, he should ruin him also: the other thought that he spoke well, and did as he was advised; then, having fitted in the stone, he returned home, taking with him his brother's head. When day came, the king, having entered the chamber, was astonished at seeing the body of the thief in the trap without the head, but the chamber secure, and without any means of entrance or exit. In this perplexity he contrived the following plan: he hung up the body of the thief from the wall, and having placed sentinels there, he ordered them to seize and bring before him whomsoever they should see weeping or expressing commiseration at the spectacle. The mother was greatly grieved at the body being suspended, and coming to words with her surviving son, commanded him, by any means he could, to contrive how he might take down and bring away the corpse of his brother; but, should he neglect to do so, she threatened to go to the king, and inform him that he had the treasures. When the mother treated her surviving son harshly, and when with many entreaties he was unable to persuade her, he contrived the following plan: Having got some asses, and having filled some skins with wine, he put them on the asses, and then drove them along; but when he came near the sentinels that guarded the suspended corpse, having drawn out two or three of the necks of the skins that hung down, he loosened them; and when the wine ran out, he beat his head, and cried out aloud, as if he knew not to which of the asses he should turn first: and the sentinels, when they saw wine flowing in abundance, ran into the road, with vessels in their hands, caught the wine that was being spilt, thinking it all their own gain; but the man, feigning anger, railed bitterly against them all; however, as the sentinels soothed him, he at length pretended to be pacified, and to forego his anger; at last he drove his asses out of the road, and set them to rights again. When more conversation passed, and one of the sentinels joked with him and moved him to laughter, he gave them another of the skins; and they, just as they were, lay down and set to to drink and joined him to their party, and invited him to stay and drink with them; he was persuaded, forsooth, and remained with them; and as they treated him kindly during the drinking, he gave them another of the skins; and the sentinels, having taken very copious draughts, became exceedingly drunk, and being overpowered by the wine, fell asleep on the spot where they had been drinking. But he, as the night was far advanced, took down the body of his brother, and by way of insult shaved the right cheeks of all the sentinels; then having laid the corpse on the asses, he drove home, having performed his mother's injunctions. The king, when he was informed that the body of the thief had been stolen, was exceedingly indignant, and resolving by any means to find out the contriver of this artifice, had recourse, as it is said, to the following plan, a design which to me seems incredible: He placed his own daughter in a brothel, and ordered her to admit all alike to her embraces, but before they had intercourse with her, to compel each one to tell her what he had done during his life most clever and most wicked, and whosoever should tell her the facts relating to the thief, she was to seize, and not suffer him to escape. When, therefore, the daughter did what her father commanded, the thief, having ascertained for what purpose this contrivance was had recourse to, and being desirous to outdo the king in craftiness, did as follows: Having cut off the arm of a fresh corpse at the shoulder, he took it with him under his cloak, and having gone in to the king's daughter, and being asked the same questions as all the rest were, he related that he had done the most wicked thing when he cut off his brother's head who was caught in a trap in the king's treasury; and the most clever thing when, having made the sentinels drunk, he took away the corpse of his brother that was hung up: she, when she heard this, endeavoured to seize him, but the thief in the dark held out to her the dead man's arm, and she seized it and held it fast, imagining that she had got hold of the man's own arm; then the thief, having let it go, made his escape through the door. When this also was reported to the king, he was astonished at the shrewdness and daring of the man; and at last, sending throughout all the cities, he caused a proclamation to be made, offering a free pardon, and promising great reward to the man, if he would discover himself. The thief, relying on this promise, went to the king's palace; and Rhampsinitus greatly admired him and gave him his daughter in marriage, accounting him the most knowing of all men; for that the Egyptians are superior to all others, but he was superior to the Egyptians.

After this, they said that this king descended alive into the place which the Greeks call Hades, and there played at dice with Ceres, and sometimes won, and other times lost; and that he came up again and brought with him as a present from her a napkin of gold. On account of the descent of Rhampsinitus, since he came back again they said that the Egyptians celebrated a festival: this I know they observed even in my time; but whether they held this feast for some other reason, or for that above mentioned, I am unable to say. However, on that same day, the priests, having woven a cloak, bind the eyes of one of their number with a scarf, and having conducted him with the cloak on him to the way that leads to the Temple of Ceres, they then return: upon which they say, this priest with his eyes bound is led by two wolves to the Temple of Ceres, twenty stades distant from the city, and afterward the wolves lead him back to the same place. Any person to whom such things appear credible may adopt the accounts given by the Egyptians; it is my object, however, throughout the whole history, to write what I hear from each people. The Egyptians say that Ceres and Bacchus hold the chief sway in the infernal regions; and the Egyptians also were the first who asserted the doctrine that the soul of man is immortal, and that when the body perishes it enters into some other animal, constantly springing into existence; and when it has passed through the different kinds of terrestrial, marine, and aërial beings, it again enters into the body of a man that is born; and that this revolution is made in three thousand years. Some of the Greeks have adopted this opinion, some earlier, others later, as if it were their own; but although I knew their names I do not mention them.

Now, they told me that in the reign of Rhampsinitus there was a perfect distribution of justice, and that all Egypt was in a high state of prosperity; but that after him Cheops, coming to reign over them, plunged into every kind of wickedness. For that, having shut up all the temples, he first of all forbade them to offer sacrifice, and afterward he ordered all the Egyptians to work for himself; some, accordingly, were appointed to draw stones from the quarries in the Arabian mountain down to the Nile, others he ordered to receive the stones when transported in vessels across the river, and to drag them to the mountain called the Libyan. And they worked to the number of a hundred thousand men at a time, each party during three months. The time during which the people were thus harassed by toil lasted ten years on the road which they constructed, along which they drew the stones, a work, in my opinion, not much less than the pyramid: for its length is five stades, and its width ten orgyæ, and its height, where it is the highest, eight orgyæ; and it is of polished stone, with figures carved on it: on this road then

« PreviousContinue »