Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 2 Customs And Animals Of Egypt Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 2, Customs and Animals of Egypt | Summary

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Summary

Herodotus next describes the customs and animals to be found in Egypt. He claims that Egyptian customs tend to be the opposite of Greek customs. For instance, they begin weaving baskets from the bottom upward, and eat outside rather than indoors. Herodotus claims that the Egyptians invented circumcision. He then proceeds to discuss Egyptian religious festivals and temples before describing the different animals of the country and how they are treated. He notes that the Egyptians sacrifice bulls and cows, that certain groups of Egyptians refuse to sacrifice goats, and that they consider pigs to be unclean. He notes the Egyptian reverence for cats and records the practice of mummifying them. Hippopotami and crocodiles are also described, including a method for catching crocodiles.

Analysis

Herodotus's discussion of the customs and religion of the Egyptians is a striking example of ancient ethnography. In the ancient world audiences loved to hear about strange places and foreign customs. Herodotus's account of the Egyptian way of life is as much designed to delight and amuse his audience as it is to record facts about foreign peoples. This is why he describes Egyptian customs as an inversion of those of the Greeks—Histories was written primarily for a Greek audience.

Herodotus records the rituals and animals of Egypt fairly accurately. He likely witnessed these accounts firsthand or interviewed people for details. His description of crocodiles, for instance, is remarkably accurate, and the account of how crocodiles are hunted seems to come from either personal experience or a reliable account from a hunter. This is important, because Herodotus's authority rests on his commitment to either seeing things for himself or finding trustworthy witnesses.

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