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The Orders of Gods in Greece and Egypt (According to Herodotus)

  • J. Gwyn Griffiths (a1)

Herodotus has several references to the orders or companies of gods in Greece and Egypt, and they involve a comparison and a contrast.

They may be arranged, in translation, as follows:

(1) II, 4, 2. ‘They say that the Egyptians first used the names of the twelve gods, and that the Greeks adopted them from them.’

(2) II, 7, 2 mentions ‘the altar of the twelve gods at Athens’.

(3) II, 43, 2. ‘Concerning Heracles I heard this account, that he was one of the twelve gods.’

(4) II, 43, 4. ‘But to the Egyptians Heracles is an ancient god; and as they say themselves, there were seventeen thousand years to the reign of Amasis since the eight gods produced the twelve, of whom they consider Heracles to be one.’

(5) II, 46, 2. ‘The Mendesians hold Pan to be one of the eight gods, and they say that these eight gods came into existence before the twelve.’

(6) II, 145, 1. ‘Among the Greeks Heracles and Dionysus and Pan are considered to be the youngest of the gods, but among the Egyptians Pan is considered very ancient and one of the eight gods said to be the earliest, while Heracles is one of the second group, and Dionysus one of the third group, who were produced by the twelve.’

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1 C.I.G. (ed. Boeckh) i. 525 (quoted Waddell, W. G., Herodotus Book II (London, 1939), 134). [Cf. IG I2 761—Ed.]

2 Pindar, fr. 63; Xenophon, , Hipparch., iii, 2 advises this route.

3 Olymp. X, 49.

4 Guthrie, W. K. C., The Greeks and their Gods (London, 1950), 110.

5 In Roscher's Lexikon der Gr. u. Röm. Mythologie s.v. Zwölfgötter.

6 Griechische Alterthümer 4, II (Berlin, 1902), 142, n. 1 (end).

7 Laws 828. Cf. Phaedrus 246e.

8 H. G. Woods, G. Rawlinson, A. H. Sayce, F. LI. Griffith, E. H. Blakeney, and W. G. Waddell either deny or do not mention the existence of an Egyptian group of eight. Wiedemann mentions cycles of eight or nine. How and Wells refer to Brugsch's explanation of the ‘eight’ as corresponding to the eight original cosmogonie deities, but without further elucidation. Godley talks of ‘eight (or nine) gods’ as forming the first order of the Egyptian pantheon.

9 The Ancient Empire of the East (London, 1883), 150, n. 6, and 151, n. 9.

10 Cf. also his Urgeschichte und älteste Religion der Ägypter (Leipzig, 1930), 133–4 and Vandier, J., La Religion Égyptienne 2 (Paris, 1949), 33–4.H., and Frankfort, H. A. in Before Philosophy (Pelican Books, 1949), 18, consider the Ogdoad an example of ‘speculative thought in mythological guise’.

11 For a representation in Ptolemaic times (from Philae) of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad see Maspero, G., The Dawn of Civilization: Egypt and Chaldaea 5 (London, 1910), 148.

12 Blakeney, E. H., The Egypt of Herodotus, 111; How, and Wells, , A Commentary on Herodotus, I, 239; W. G. Waddell, 121.

13 See further the writer's forthcoming article on ‘The Egyptian Enneads’ in the Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Egypte.

14 Herodots Zweites Buch (Leipzig, 1890), 216–19.

15 Op. cit. 218. Cf. the god's role in The Contendings of Horus and Sēth.

16 Egypt in the Classical Geographers (Cairo, 1942), 26.

17 Sourdille, , Hérodote et la Religion de l'Egypte (Paris, 1910), 166, following Meyer, makes the very unlikely suggestion that the Egyptian monuments erroneously show a ram instead of a goat. Cf. How and Wells, 189, ‘Perhaps the monuments are wrong …’ If this is so, how can we explain the fact that the Egyptian texts invariably refer to the animal as a ram, as in the name Ba-neb-Djedet? Lawrence, A. W., by the way, The History of Herodotus (London, 1935), 169, wrongly gives the city-name as ‘Banebṭet’. He apparently takes over this error, and others, from Sourdille. There is an Assyrian form Binṭeṭi see Ranke, , Keilschriftliches Material (Berlin, 1910), 49.

18 Op. cit. 219.

19 Wilkinson in Rawlinson ad II, 42 (pp. 76–7, n. 7); Sayce, op. cit. 153; Baumgartel, E. J., ‘Herodotus on Min’, Antiquity XXI (1947), 146. How and Wells, 189, wrongly state that ‘Min of Chemmis … is goat-headed’. So, too, Lawrence, p. 169.

20 See J. G. Milne (in an essay on Graeco-Egyptian Religion) in Hastings', Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, VI, 382b.

21 See Sourdille, op. cit. 173.

22 Erman-Blackman, , The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians (London, 1927), 47.Cf. Wilkinson, , Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (2nd Series, London, 1841), II, 1618.

23 Vandier, op. cit. 66.

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