Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 2 The Geography Of Egypt Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 2, The Geography of Egypt | Summary

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Summary

Cyrus is succeeded as king of Persia by his son, Cambyses. Herodotus notes quickly that Cambyses had ambitions to conquer Egypt. Herodotus uses this as an excuse to spend Book 2 describing Egypt at length, as he is fascinated by the country. He begins with an analysis of Egypt's geography. He attempts to calculate the dimensions of the country, then describes the River Nile. Herodotus notes that the Nile floods seasonally, making the land on its banks fertile and supplying the Egyptians with food and wealth. He considers a number of local stories for why this tidal flow came into being, and he dismisses them all.

Analysis

Herodotus is at his most enthusiastic when discussing Egypt. It is clear he has spent time in the country and is fascinated by it. His intention is to provide background for Cambyses's conquest of Egypt, but given that Egypt does not play a major role in the events of the Greco-Persian Wars, this seems a fairly flimsy excuse for Herodotus to describe it. To Herodotus's credit, it is indeed a captivating place. Herodotus's discussion of Egypt's geography, and especially the River Nile, is admirably sophisticated. Although he cannot explain why the Nile floods, he judiciously considers competing stories, even though he states he does not accept any of them. Herodotus's recognition that the Nile's fertile floodplains are the factor that defines "Egypt" is one that modern historians share.

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