Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 2 The History Of Egypt Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 2, The History of Egypt | Summary

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Summary

Herodotus lays out the history of Egypt until the reign of Amasis, the pharaoh that Cambyses will defeat in Histories. Herodotus attempts to relate the whole history of the kings of Egypt, although he does not describe all 350 pharaohs he claims have ruled the country. Many of the stories he relates are folk histories. The pyramids capture Herodotus's imagination, and he insists he has measured them personally. As the story develops, external forces, like Assyria and the Greek city-states, become more prominent in Egypt's history. Amasis is described as a wealthy and powerful ruler who allowed the Greeks a number of privileges, including land grants for Greek traders to build temples to their own gods. He concludes with a mention that Amasis was the first man to conquer Cyprus.

Analysis

Herodotus's account of Egyptian history is thorough, and probably rests on Egyptian records and stories about their rulers. The level of trustworthy detail improves as the account gets closer to the time in which Herodotus lived. This is the main reason why clearly identifiable peoples like the Assyrians gradually enter the account. A major impression Herodotus wishes to get across is that Egypt is very old. As with the earlier mentions of Egypt's cultural and economic bounty, the point is to communicate why the Persians (and others) were so interested in capturing Egypt for themselves, and what they would gain by it. Amasis (r. 570–26 BCE), who is given the greatest detail, is the pharaoh who is defeated by the Persians. Herodotus is keen to stress that Amasis was a friend to the Greeks because he wants to show the Persian upheaval that will follow as more than just the conquest of one kingdom. Egypt was a massive part of the economy and culture of the eastern Mediterranean. The Persian conquest was to overturn the relationship the Greeks had with a major economic region. This is just one more reason why the Greeks and Persians would come to blows.

Herodotus's claim that he has measured the pyramids personally is another attempt to assure his audience that he can be trusted because he has done the work himself. It is also an instance, among several in the work, where he appears a little too pleased with his own cleverness.

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