Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.6.11


Gerald P. Verbrugghe and John M. Wickersham (trans.), Berossos and Manetho, Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Ann Arbor: University of Michgan Press, 1997. Pp. x + 239. $39.50. ISBN 0-472-10722-4.


Reviewed by Christopher T.H.R. Ehrhardt, Dunedin, New Zealand, chris.ehrhardt.classics@stonebow.ac.nz.

The winners write the history books; perhaps even more important, the winners read them. So even if an author from among the losers writes his people's history, it is very unlikely that his work will survive. This sad truth is exemplified by the two authors whose fragments Verbrugghe and Wickersham (V/W) have translated and annotated.

Both Berossos and Manetho wrote quite early in the Hellenistic age; both came from regions of high culture and ancient civilization, Berossos from Babylonia and Manetho from Egypt; both were priests and had access to the records and traditions of their countries; both wrote in Greek, to inform the members of the new ruling class and dominant culture about the history of their lands, which stretched back far further than any Greek tradition; and the remnants of both works have reached us only in scanty quotations and allusions, often at third or fourth hand, almost always garbled and usually distorted for polemical purposes.

V/W have provided an excellent translation of the 'fragments', but it is essential that their readers first read the introductions to each of the two authors, where the editors explain with exemplary clarity the complicated routes by which the surviving scraps of the works have reached us. These introductions should be required reading for everyone who has to handle fragments of lost authors, and particularly authors whose works were often read not for their own sake but to supply material for historical, philosophical or religious controversy. It is sobering to realise that what is printed in Jacoby's Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker as 'fragments' of Berossos is scarcely ever directly from Berossos' work, but may come from an author who drew on Eusebius who drew on Abydenus who drew on Alexander Polyhistor, who actually read Berossos (unless he only read Poseidonios, who read Berossos (V/W 28-30)). Similarly, most of what we read as 'fragments of Manetho' derives either from Josephus quoting versions of Manetho's work which had been re-written for the purposes of pro- or anti-Jewish polemic, or, again, from quotations from Eusebius, who in turn had drawn on an epitome made from one or more of these distorted re-writings (V/W 115-118). Probably not a single fragment of either author is directly quoted from the original works, and a very large proportion of the fragments comes from George Syncellus, who in the early ninth century A.D. (i.e. more than a thousand years after Berossos and Manetho wrote) adapted material from Eusebius' Chronicon for his own Chronological Extracts.

It is no wonder, then, that what survives of the two authors often is very different from the histories of Mesopotamia and Egypt which the archaeological discoveries of the past two centuries have made it possible to reconstruct. Berossos' fragments are almost useless for the actual history of his country; Manetho, however, provided the basic chronological framework for Egyptian history by his arrangement of Egyptian kings in 'Dynasties' (V/W, 98, bring out the interesting fact that this particular meaning of 'dynasty' seems to have been Manetho's invention); and many of his names and even some of his dates have historical value.

Besides introduction and translation, V/W provide notes to the fragments of both authors. What they give is good, but one would have wished for more. Often, cross-references would be useful; even elementary points, such as explaining why 'the Red Sea' means 'the Persian Gulf' (p. 48), could help students; it would be reassuring to be told that there are often mistakes in the arithmetic of both authors, in the form in which they have reached us (e.g. p. 49, '430,000 years' should in fact have been '432,000'; many of the additions in Fragment 2a of Manetho, on pp. 130-136, are wrong); obvious extraneous material should be marked, for example the allusion to Herodotus II 102 in Manetho F2a, p. 138, or the Christian, trinitarian, phraseology in Malalas' quotation, Manetho F3a, p. 153, 'First was god, then reason, and spirit with them; all were born together and converge in one, which has eternal power'; the abbreviation 'lac.' is nowhere explained, and some students will not know it means 'lacuna', nor even know what a lacuna is. However, the notes are pertinent, accurate and useful.

A critic is expected to criticise, so first there follows a list of apparent oversights and of suggested improvements, and secondly, a list of the (very few) real mistakes which I have noticed. The misprints are so few and so trivial that they are not listed.

1. The three maps are all without scales, and Map 2, Mesopotamia, does not show the Persian Gulf. V/W should have given the Jacoby numbers of their two authors prominently at the beginning of the relevant discussions (Berossos, in fact, is 680J, Manetho 609J). V/W have created a new system of numbering for the testimonia and fragments; they should at least have given the Jacoby numbers for these in brackets, and running headings would make it easier to find one's place in the longer fragments. Several of the testimonia are common to both authors, and this should have been made plain. Berossos F2, p. 46, on the festival where slaves gave orders to their masters, calls for references to parallels such as the Saturnalia. The clashes between Assyrians, under Sennacherib, and Greeks in Cilicia, and Sennacherib's alleged monument there (Berossos F8b, p. 54), also call for comment, particularly to parallel or similar traditions, (see J. Boardman, The Greeks overseas 2nd ed., Penguin 1973, pp. 45-6; Callisthenes (Jacoby 124) F34 and Jacoby's notes; Aristobulus (Jacoby 139) F9 and the echoes in Strabo, XIV 5. 9; and Arrian, Anabasis II 5. 2-4), as do Nebuchadnezzar's fortification of Babylon and construction of the 'hanging gardens' (F9a, pp. 58-59) (see Diodorus II 10; Strabo XVI 1. 5; Curtius Rufus V 1. 32-35). It is not at first sight clear that Table 4 (pp. 76-83) is a double-page spread. For the introduction of Sarapis from Sinope to Egypt, see also Tacitus, Histories IV 83-84, with its obvious anti-Manetho bias, and Plutarch, De Is. et Os. 28 (cited in V/W as T4, p. 122). The list of Egyptian months, p. 121 n. 3, should give some indication of equivalents in the Julian year, at least at the time of the letter quoted here. In Manetho F2a, p. 130, the translation 'Eusebius, called son of Pamphilus' is wrong: Eusebius was called 'of Pamphilus', since he considered Pamphilus his teacher and mentor, but they were not related. F3a, p. 154, should add the planets' Latin names. There should be more cross-references in the notes on Manetho, for example pointing out that the Plato scholiast, F8, agrees with the Armenian version of Eusebius against Africanus, F2a, p. 139, and that Josephus, F9, pp. 157-158, gives a parallel account to F2a, pp. 139-141, while the next Josephus quotation, F10, gives a king-list for the XVIIIth Dynasty incompatible with any of the versions given in F2a. F16, from Moses of Chorene, referring to the story that Nektanebos, the last Egyptian king, was father of Alexander of Macedon, shows the clear influence of the Alexander-Romance, and this part of the 'fragment' is probably not from Manetho. F17, the single quotation from Manetho's work Against Herodotus (probably an excursus in his History, cf. F1), deals with lions, so should get a reference to Herodotus' strange story about lions (III 108), even though the two do not overlap.

As is well known, Jacoby did not live to write commentaries on these authors, and Fornara's continuation of Jacoby has not yet reached them; however, there is much valuable material in Jacoby's presentation of the texts, and particularly in his apparatus criticus, which V/W have not fully used; nor have they used relevant notes by Jacoby on other fragmentary historians, for example pointing out that Apollodorus (Jacoby 244) F83, quoted in a fragment of Berossus (V/W p. 47), is part of a 'Schwindelzitat'.

It would be very interesting to know if there are Mesopotamian parallels to the story (V/W 44-5) of the fish-man Oannes, who gave an account of the creation of the universe and taught mankind the necessities for civilised living.

Finally, it does seem strange that V/W apparently do not know of A. Mosshammer's excellent Teubner edition of George Syncellus (Leipzig 1984).

2. The translation of Berossos F5, p. 52 (from the Armenian version of Eusebius), says, '... when Hezekiah was king of Judea and when Esau [sic] was prophesying', -- which would be a new Biblical apocryphon. Karst's German translation of the Armenian Eusebius names the prophet 'Esaias', for which the English equivalent is 'Isaiah'! Beside that, the statement (p. 97) that 'either Ptolemy II Philadelphos ... or Ptolemy III Euergetes' was king when the image of Sarapis was brought to Alexandria in the period 286-278 B.C. is a venial mistake, but of course Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphos are meant.

Now that I have done my duty as critic, I must repeat that V/W have produced an excellent and very useful book, which will give good service to everyone interested in the effects of Hellenization on the ancient Near Eastern cultures, and in the materials available to the Hellenistic Greeks, the Romans, and the western world until the nineteenth century for knowledge of Near Eastern history.

The presentation of the book matches the quality of its contents: it is well printed, the pages are well arranged, the binding is strong but the book opens easily, so it should withstand long use, which it deserves to receive. V/W deserve praise for making these important, even if frustrating, documents accessible to monoglot Anglophones, and for providing introductions from which both students and scholars will benefit.