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Formerly, in all their sacrifices, the Pelasgians called upon gods without giving name or appellation to any (I know this, because I was told at Dodona); for as yet they had not heard of such. They called them godsOn the supposition that qeo/s meant “a disposer,” connected with qesmo/s, ti/qhmi, etc. from the fact that, besides setting everything in order, they maintained all the dispositions. Then, after a long while, first they learned the names of the rest of the gods, which came to them from Egypt, and, much later, the name of Dionysus; and presently they asked the oracle at Dodona about the names; for this place of divination, held to be the most ancient in Hellas, was at that time the only one. When the Pelasgians, then, asked at Dodona whether they should adopt the names that had come from foreign parts, the oracle told them to use the names. From that time onwards they used the names of the gods in their sacrifices; and the Greeks received these later from the Pelasgian
That, then, I heard from the Theban priests; and what follows, the prophetesses of Dodona say: that two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and one to Dodona; the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there; the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine. The dove which came to Libya told the Libyans (they say) to make an oracle of Ammon; this also is sacred to Zeus. Such was the story told by the Dodonaean priestesses, the eldest of whom was Promeneia and the next Timarete and the youngest Nicandra; and the rest of the servants of the temple at Dodona similarly held it true.
This is what they do there; I have already described how they keep the feast of Isis at Busiris. There, after the sacrifice, all the men and women lament, in countless numbers; but it is not pious for me to say who it is for whom they lament. Carians who live in Egypt do even more than this, inasmuch as they cut their foreheads with knives; and by this they show that they are foreigners and not Egyptians.
When they assemble at Saïs on the night of the sacrifice, they keep lamps burning outside around their houses. These lamps are saucers full of salt and oil on which the wick floats, and they burn all night. This is called the Feast of Lamps. Egyptians who do not come to this are mindful on the night of sacrifice to keep their own lamps burning, and so they are alight not only at Saïs but throughout Egypt. A sacred tale is told showing why this night is lit up thus and honored.
but the Egyptians in this and in all other matters are exceedingly strict against desecration of their temples. Although Egypt has Libya on its borders, it is not a country of many animals. All of them are held sacred; some of these are part of men's households and some not; but if I were to say why they are left alone as sacred, I should end up talking of matters of divinity, which I am especially averse to treating; I have never touched upon such except where necessity has compelled me. But I will indicate how it is customary to deal with the animals. Men and women are appointed guardians to provide nourishment for each kind respectively; a son inherits this office from his father. Townsfolk in each place, when they pay their vows, pray to the god to whom the animal is dedicated, shaving all or one half or one third of their children's heads, and weighing the hair in a balance against a sum of silver; then the weight in silver of the hair is given to the female guardian of the cre
There are many household animals; and there would be many more, were it not for what happens among the cats. When the females have a litter, they are no longer receptive to the males; those that seek to have intercourse with them cannot; so their recourse is to steal and carry off and kill the kittens (but they do not eat what they have killed). The mothers, deprived of their young and desiring to have more, will then approach the males; for they are creatures that love offspring. And when a fire breaks out, very strange things happen among the cats. The Egyptians stand around in a broken line, thinking more of the cats than of quenching the burning; but the cats slip through or leap over the men and spring into the fire. When this happens, there is great mourning in Egypt. The occupants of a house where a cat has died a natural death shave their eyebrows and no more; where a dog has died, the head and the whole body are shaven.
Hippopotamuses are sacred in the district of Papremis, but not elsewhere in Egypt. They present the following appearance: four-footed, with cloven hooves like cattle; blunt-nosed; with a horse's mane, visible tusks, a horse's tail and voice; big as the biggest bull. Their hide is so thick that, when it is dried, spearshafts are made of it.
There is another sacred bird, too, whose name is phoenix. I myself have never seen it, only pictures of it; for the bird seldom comes into Egypt: once in five hundred years, as the people of Heliopolis say. It is said that the phoenix comes when his father dies. If the picture truly shows his size and appearance, his plumage is partly golden and partly red. He is most like an eagle in shape and size. What they say this bird manages to do is incredible to me. Flying from Arabia to the temple of
r encased in myrrh and buries him at the temple of the Sun.
This is how he conveys him: he first molds an egg of myrrh as heavy as he can carry, then tries lifting it, and when he has tried it, he then hollows out the egg and puts his father into it, and plasters over with more myrrh the hollow of the egg into which he has put his father, which is the same in weight with his father lying in it, and he conveys him encased to the temple of the Sun in Egypt. This is what they say this bird does.