Home | Texts by category | | Quick Search:   
Works by Herodotus
Pages of Euterpe

Previous | Next


ears with ear-rings of molten stone or gold, and put bracelets on
his fore-paws, giving him daily a set portion of bread, with a certain
number of victims; and, after having thus treated him with the
greatest possible attention while alive, they embalm him when he
dies and bury him in a sacred repository. The people of Elephantine on
the other hand, are so far from considering these animals as sacred
that they even eat their flesh. In the Egyptian language they are
not called crocodiles, but Champsae. The name of crocodiles was
given them by the Ionians, who remarked their resemblance to the
lizards, which in Ionia live in the walls and are called crocodiles.
The modes of catching the crocodile are many and various. I
shall only describe the one which seems to me most worthy of
mention. They bait a hook with a chine of pork and let the meat be
carried out into the middle of the stream, while the hunter upon the
bank holds a living pig, which he belabours. The crocodile hears its
cries, and making for the sound, encounters the pork, which he
instantly swallows down. The men on the shore haul, and when they have
got him to land, the first thing the hunter does is to plaster his
eyes with mud. This once accomplished, the animal is despatched with
ease, otherwise he gives great trouble.
The hippopotamus, in the canton of Papremis, is a sacred animal,
but not in any other part of Egypt. It may be thus described:- It is a
quadruped, cloven-footed, with hoofs like an ox, and a flat nose. It
has the mane and tail of a horse, huge tusks which are very
conspicuous, and a voice like a horse's neigh. In size it equals the
biggest oxen, and its skin is so tough that when dried it is made into
Otters also are found in the Nile, and are considered sacred. Only
two sorts of fish are venerated, that called the lepidotus and the
eel. These are regarded as sacred to the Nile, as likewise among birds
is the vulpanser, or fox-goose.
They have also another sacred bird called the phoenix which I
myself have never seen, except in pictures. Indeed it is a great
rarity, even in Egypt, only coming there (according to the accounts of
the people of Heliopolis) once in five hundred years, when the old
phoenix dies. Its size and appearance, if it is like the pictures, are
as follow:- The plumage is partly red, partly golden, while the
general make and size are almost exactly that of the eagle. They
tell a story of what this bird does, which does not seem to me to be
credible: that he comes all the way from Arabia, and brings the parent
bird, all plastered over with myrrh, to the temple of the Sun, and
there buries the body. In order to bring him, they say, he first forms
a ball of myrrh as big as he finds that he can carry; then he
hollows out the ball, and puts his parent inside, after which he
covers over the opening with fresh myrrh, and the ball is then of
exactly the same weight as at first; so he brings it to Egypt,
plastered over as I have said, and deposits it in the temple of the
Sun. Such is the story they tell of the doings of this bird.
In the neighbourhood of Thebes there are some sacred serpents
which are perfectly harmless. They are of small size, and have two
horns growing out of the top of the head. These snakes, when they die,
are buried in the temple of Jupiter, the god to whom they are sacred.
I went once to a certain place in Arabia, almost exactly
opposite the city of Buto, to make inquiries concerning the winged
serpents. On my arrival I saw the back-bones and ribs of serpents in
such numbers as it is impossible to describe: of the ribs there were a
multitude of heaps, some great, some small, some middle-sized. The
place where the bones lie is at the entrance of a narrow gorge between
steep mountains, which there open upon a spacious plain
communicating with the great plain of Egypt. The story goes that
with the spring the winged snakes come flying from Arabia towards
Egypt, but are met in this gorge by the birds called ibises, who
forbid their entrance and destroy them all. The Arabians assert, and
the Egyptians also admit, that it is on account of the service thus

Previous | Next
Site Search