Herodotus Aigyptiophrōn: Conversing With the Learned Egyptians

Abstract

It is acknowledged that Herodotus foregrounds methodological concerns in book two of his Histories, but I challenge the notion that his frequent claims to have heard a thing from Egyptian priests are mere source citations. I argue that Herodotus emphasizes how he listened to the Egyptians in order to differentiate his method of inquiry from the competitive verbal displays of his contemporaries and predecessor Hecataeus. Herodotus replaces the feigned authority of the latter with a demonstration that listening to other intellectuals is crucial to learning. I suggest further that the portrayal of the Egyptian priests is no misrepresentation by Herodotus but is indicative of their acquaintance. Egyptian literature attests the remarkable emphasis placed on listening as a requirement in the pursuit of wisdom. The Book of Thoth may reveal how the education of literate priests involved oral inquiry and listening. Egyptian priests were thus suitable intellectual peers for an inquiring Herodotus.

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Anderson, A. S., (2015) “Herodotus Aigyptiophrōn: Conversing With the Learned Egyptians”, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 7(3), p.8-17. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/azu_jaei_v07i3_anderson

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A. Sebastian Anderson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

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