), an Egyptian priest of the town of Sebennytus, who lived in the reign of Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, and probably also in that of his successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
He had in antiquity the reputation of having attained the highest possible degree of wisdom (Syncellus, Chronogr.
p. 32, ed. Dindorf; Plut. de Is. et Os.
9; Aelian, Ael. NA 10.16
), and it seems to have been this very reputation which induced later impostors to fabricate books, and publish them under his name.
The fables arid mystical fancies which thus became current as the productions of the Egyptian sage, were the reason why Manetho was looked upon even by some of the ancients themselves as a half mythical personage, like Epimienides of Crete, of whose personal existence and history no one was able to form any distinct notion.
The consequence has been, that the fragments of his genuine work did not meet, down to the most recent times, with that degree of attention which they deserved, although the inscriptions on the Egyptian monuments furnish the most satisfactory confirmation of some portions of his work that have come down to us.
It was a further consequence of this mythical uncertainty by which his personal existence became surrounded, that some described him as a native of Diospolis (Thebes), the great centre of priestly learning among the Egyptians, or as a high priest at Heliopolis. (Suid. s. v. Μανέθως
There can be no doubt that Manetho belonged to the class of priests, but whether he was high-priest of Egypt is uncertain, since we read this statement only in some MSS. of Suidas, and in one of the productions of the Pseudo-Manetho. Respecting his personal history scarcely anything is known, beyond the fact that he lived in the reign of the first Ptolemy, with whom he came in contact in consequence of his wisdom and learning. Plutarch (de Is. et Osir.
28) informs us, that the king was led by a dream to order a colossal statue of a god to be fetched from Sinope to Egypt. When the statue arrived, Ptolemy requested his interpreter Timotheus and Manetho of Sebennytus to inquire which god was represented in the statue. Their declaration that the god represented was Serapis, the Osiris of the lower world or Pluto, induced the king to build a temple to him, and establish his worship.
The circumstance to which Manetho owes his great reputation in antiquity as well as in modern times is, that he was the first Egyptian who gave in the Greek language an account of the doctrines, wisdom, history, and chronology of his country, and based his information upon the ancient works of the Egyptians themselves, and more especially upon their sacred books.
The object of his works was thus of a twofold nature, being at once theological and historical. (Euseb. Praep. Ev.
ii. init.; Theodoret. Serm. II. de Therap.
vol. iv. p. 753, ed. Schw.)
The work in which he explained the doctrines of the Egyptians concerning the gods, the laws of morality, the origin of the gods and the world, seems to have borne the title of τῶν φυσικῶν ἐπιτομή
. (Diog. Laert. Prooem.
§§ 10, 11.) Various statements, which were derived either from this same or a similar work, are preserved in Plutarch's treatise De Iside et Osiri
(cc. 8, 9, 49, 62, 73; comp. Procl. ad Hesiod. Op. et D.
767), and in some other writers, who confirm the statements of Plutarch. (Iamblich. de Myster.
8.3; Aelian, Ael. NA 10.16
; Porphyr. de Abstin.
Suidas mentions a work on Cyphi,
or the sacred incense of the Egyptians, its preparation and mixture, as taught in the sacred books of the Egyptians, and the same work is referred to by Plutarch at the end of his above-mentioned treatise.
In all the passages in which statements from Manetho are preserved concerning the religious and moral doctrines of the Egyptians, he appears as a man of a sober and intelligent mind, and of profound knowledge of the religious affairs of his own country; and the presumption therefore must be, that in his historical works, too, his honesty was not inferior to his learning, and that he ought not to be made responsible for the blunders of transcribers and copyists, or the forgeries of later impostors.
The historical productions of Manetho, although lost, are far better known than his theological works. Josephus (J. AJ 1.3.9
) mentions the great work under the title of History of Egypt,
and quotes some passages verbatim from it, which show that it was a pleasing narrative in good Greek (c. Apion.
The same author informs us that Manetho controverted and corrected many of the statements of Herodotus.
But whether this was done in a separate work, as we are told by some writers, who speak of a treatise Πρὸς Ἡρόδοτον
(Eustath. ad Hom. p. 857
; Etym. Magn. s. v. Λεοντοκόμος
), or whether this treatise was merely an extract from the work of Manetho, made by later compilers or critics of Herodotus, is uncertain. The Egyptian history of Manetho was divided into three parts or books; the first contained the history of the country previous to the thirty dynasties, or what may be termed the mythology of Egypt, as it gave the dynasties of the gods, concluding with those of mortal kings, of whom the first eleven dynasties formed the conclusion of the first book.
The second opened with the twelfth and concluded with the nineteenth dynasty, and the third gave the history of the remaining eleven dynasties, and concluded with an account of Nectanebus, the last of the native Egyptian kings. (Syncell. Chronog.
p. 97, &c.)
These dynasties are preserved in Julius Africanus and Eusebius (most correct in the Armenian version), who, however, has introduced various interpolations.
A thirty-first dynasty, which is added under the name of Manetho, and carries the list of kings down to Dareius Codomannus, is undoubtedly a later fabrication.
The duration of the first period described in the work of Manetho was calculated by him to be 24,900 years, and the thirty dynasties, beginning with Menes, filled a period of 3555 years.
The lists of the Egyptian kings and the duration of their several reigns were undoubtedly derived by him from genuine documents, and their correctness, so far as they are not interpolated, is said to be confirmed by the inscribed monuments which it has been the privilege of our time to decipher. (Comp. Schöll, Gesch. der Griech. Lit.
vol. ii. p. 128, &c.; Bunsen, Aegypt. Stelle in der Weltgesch.
vol. i. pp. 88-125.)
There exists an astrological poem, entitled Ἀποτελεσματικά
, in six books, which bears the name of Manetho; but it is now generally acknowledged that this poem, which is mentioned also by Suidas, cannot have been written before the fifth century of our era. Whether this poem was written with a view to deception, under the name of Manetho, or whether it is actually the production of a person of that name, is uncertain.
A good edition of it was published some years ago by C. A. M. Axt and F. A. Rigler, Cologne, 1832, 8vo.
But there is a work which is undoubtedly a forgery, and was made with a view to harmonise the chronology of the Jews and Christians with that of the Egyptians.
This work is often referred to by Syncellus (Chron.
pp. 27, 30), who says that the author lived in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and wrote a work on the Dog Star (ἡ Βίβλος τῆς σώθεος
). which he dedicated to the king, whom he called Σεβαστός
. (Syncell. Chron.
The very introduction to this book, which Syncellus quotes, is so full of extraordinary things and absurdities, that it clearly betrays its late author, who, under the illustrious name of the Egyptian historian, hoped to deceive the world.
The work of the genuine Manetho was gradually superseded: first by epitomisers, by whom the genuine history and chronology were obscured; next by the hasty work of Eusebius, and the interpolations he made, for the purpose of supporting his system; afterwards by the impostor who assumed the name of Manetho of Sebennytus, and mixed truth with falsehood; and lastly by a chronicle, in which the dynasties of Manetho were arbitrarily arranged according to certain cycles. (Syncell. Chron.
p. 95.) For a more minute account of the manner in which the chronology of Manetho was gradually corrupted see the excellent work of Bunsen above referred to, vol. i. p. 256, &c.