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Clio's Other Sons: Berossus and Manetho…

Clio's Other Sons: Berossus and Manetho

by John D Dillery

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t is a good time for Berossus of Babylon and for the Egyptian Manetho of Sebennytus. Both of these early Hellenistic native priests—who wrote (now fragmentary) histories of their respective homelands in Greek—have received a lot of scholarly attention recently. In the last decade and a half, Dillery himself has written a series of articles on Berossus and Manetho, which culminates in the book under review. The first monographic study that seeks to elucidate Berossus’ historiographical context, aims, and methods by comparing them with those of Manetho (and vice versa), Clio’s Other Sons represents a major contribution to several fields at once: Greek historiography in general, Hellenistic historiography in particular, and even Babylonian and Egyptian history.

Dillery’s main goal in seven chapters (plus a preface and epilogue) is to examine why Berossus and Manetho wrote the kind of works that they did at precisely the time that they did (i.e., early third century BCE). He sees his study as occupying a middle position between the polarities represented by Green—writing Greek histories at the bidding of their new Seleucid and Ptolemaic masters, Berossus and Manetho were guilty of “sedulous imperial bootlicking”—and by Moyer—Manetho’s work owed little to Greek historiography, but was instead the product of indigenous historical traditions. According to Dillery (Preface, xiv-xv), “there is surely a major point of significance in the fact that the two histories—the Babyloniaca of Berossus and the Aegyptiaca of Manetho—were written at almost exactly the same time, in almost identical circumstances, and with very similar results: national histories composed by hellenophone priest- historians in three books covering the past from the beginning of the world to contemporary times.” If we discount Berossus’ purported priority and influence on Manetho, the evidence for which is slight, their works appearing more or less simultaneously, argues Dillery (xv), can only be explained by the authors “both responding to the same external stimulus,” namely, Macedonian conquest. Berossus and Manetho each sought to promote and communicate (to a Greek audience) their people’s histories by employing the newly-imported tradition of Greek historical writing.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0472072277, Hardcover)

Soon after the death of Alexander the Great, the priest Berossus wrote the first known narrative and comprehensive history of his native Babylon, and the priest Manetho likewise wrote the first such history of his native Egyptian civilization. Nothing like these histories had been produced before in these cultures. Clio’s Other Sons considers why that is: why were these histories written at this point, and for what purposes?

Berossus and Manetho operated at the crossings of several political, social, and intellectual worlds. They were members of native elites under the domination of Macedonian overlords; in their writings we can see suggestions that they collaborated in the foreign rule of their lands, but at the same time we see them advocating for their cultures. Their histories were written in Greek and betray active engagement with Greek historical writing, but at the same time these texts are clearly composed from native records, are organized along lines determined by local systems of time-reckoning, and articulate views that are deeply informed by regional scholarly and wisdom traditions. In this volume John Dillery charts the interactions of all these features of these historians. An afterword considers Demetrius, the approximate contemporary of Berossus and Manetho in time, if not in culture. While his associates wrote new histories, Demetrius’ project was a rewriting of an existing text, the Bible. This historiographical “corrective” approach sheds light on the novel historiography of Manetho and Berossus.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 06 Jul 2015 17:22:23 -0400)

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