Proteus: Sethnakhte (1200-1197)?
Herodotus on Proteus
Proteus was a man from Memphis. Does this mean that his origin was different from that of his predecessor, Sesostris?
This might mean that they belonged to different dynasties. If Sesostris was a pharaoh of the 18th or 19th dynasty and Proteus
the founder of the 20th, Sethnakhte, Herodotus' account fits historical facts, at least as far as succession is concerned.
According to Manetho he was Toueris, the last ruler of the 19th dynasty. Nowadays it is accepted that this was one of the few female pharaohs, Queen Twosret (c.2002-2000).
According to the Odyssey 4.382 there is an old immortal who lives under the sea hereabouts and whose name is Proteus. He is an Egyptian, and people say he is my [Eidothea's] father; he is Poseidon's head man and knows every inch of ground all over the bottom of the sea.
Homer names Polybus as the king of Egyptian Thebes at the time of the Trojan War.
While he pondered thus in mind and heart, forth then from her fragrant high-roofed chamber came Helen, like Artemis of the golden arrows; and with her came Adraste, and placed for her a chair, beautifully wrought, and Alcippe brought a rug of soft wool and Phylo a silver basket, which Alcandre had given her, the wife of Polybus, who dwelt in Thebes of Egypt, where greatest store of wealth is laid up in men's houses. He gave to Menelaus two silver baths and two tripods and ten talents of gold.
An Egyptian connection of the participants in the Trojan tragedy, of which the Egyptian priests had
sure and certain knowledge, remains as unproven as the very existence of Helen herself.
Homer, Odyssey 4.120
After him, they said, there succeeded to the throne a man of Memphis,
whose name in the tongue of the Hellenes was Proteus; for whom there
is now a sacred enclosure at Memphis, very fair and well ordered,
lying on that side of the temple of Hephaistos which faces the North
Wind. Round about this enclosure dwell Phenicians of Tyre, and this
whole region is called the Camp of the Tyrians. Within the enclosure
of Proteus there is a temple called the temple of the "foreign
Aphrodite," which temple I conjecture to be one of Helen the daughter
of Tyndareus, not only because I have heard the tale how Helen dwelt
with Proteus, but also especially because it is called by the name of
the "foreign Aphrodite," for the other temples of Aphrodite which
there are have none of them the addition of the word "foreign" to the
And the priests told me, when I inquired, that the things concerning
Helen happened thus:
Alexander having carried off Helen was sailing
away from Sparta to his own land, and when he had come to the Egean
Sea contrary winds drove him from his course to the Sea of Egypt; and
after that, since the blasts did not cease to blow, he came to Egypt
itself, and in Egypt to that which is now named the Canobic mouth of
the Nile and to Taricheiai.
Now there was upon the shore, as still
there is now, a temple of Heracles, in which if any man's slave take
refuge and have the sacred marks set upon him, giving himself over to
the god, it is not lawful to lay hands upon him; but this custom has
continued still unchanged from the beginning down to my own time.
Accordingly the attendants of Alexander, having heard of the custom
which existed about the temple, ran away from him, and sitting down as
suppliants of the god, accused Alexander, because they desired to do
him hurt, telling the whole tale how things were about Helen and about
the wrong done to Menalaos; and this accusation they made not only to
the priests but also to the warden of this river-mouth, whose name was
Thonis then having heard their tale sent forthwith a message
to Proteus at Memphis, which said as follows: "There hath come a
stranger, a Teucrian by race, who hath done in Hellas an unholy deed;
for he hath deceived the wife of his own host, and is come hither
bringing with him this woman herself and very much wealth, having been
carried out of his way by winds to thy land. Shall we then allow him
to sail out unharmed, or shall we first take away from him that which
he brought with him?"
In reply to this Proteus sent back a messenger
who said thus: "Seize this man, whosoever he may be, who has done
impiety to his own host, and bring him away into my presence that I
may know what he will find to say."
Hearing this, Thonis seized
Alexander and detained his ships, and after that he brought the man
himself up to Memphis and with him Helen and the wealth he had, and
also in addition to them the suppliants. So when all had been conveyed
up thither, Proteus began to ask Alexander who he was and from whence
he was voyaging; and he both recounted to him his descent and told him
the name of his native land, and moreover related of his voyage, from
whence he was sailing.
After this Proteus asked him whence he had
taken Helen; and when Alexander went astray in his account and did not
speak the truth, those who had become suppliants convicted him of
falsehood, relating in full the whole tale of the wrong done.
At length Proteus declared to them this sentence, saying, "Were it not
that I count it a matter of great moment not to slay any of those
strangers who being driven from their course by winds have come to my
land hitherto, I should have taken vengeance on thee on behalf of the
man of Hellas, seeing that thou, most base of men, having received
from him hospitality, didst work against him a most impious deed. For
thou didst go in to the wife of thine own host; and even this was not
enough for thee, but thou didst stir her up with desire and hast gone
away with her like a thief. Moreover not even this by itself was
enough for thee, but thou art come hither with plunder taken from the
house of thy host.
Now therefore depart, seeing that I have counted it
of great moment not to be a slayer of strangers. This woman indeed and
the wealth which thou hast I will not allow thee to carry away, but I
shall keep them safe for the Hellene who was thy host, until he come
himself and desire to carry them off to his home; to thyself however
and thy fellow-voyagers I proclaim that ye depart from your anchoring
within three days and go from my land to some other; and if not, that
ye will be dealt with as enemies."
This the priests said was the manner of Helen's coming to Proteus; and
I suppose that Homer also had heard this story, but since it was not
so suitable to the composition of his poem as the other which he
followed, he dismissed it finally, making it clear at the same time
that he was acquainted with that story also: and according to the
manner in which he described the wanderings of Alexander in the Iliad
(nor did he elsewhere retract that which he had said) of his course,
wandering to various lands, and that he came among other places to
Sidon in Phenicia. Of this the poet has made mention in the "prowess
of Diomede," and the verses run thus:
"There she had robes many-coloured, the works of women of Sidon,
Those whom her son himself the god-like of form Alexander
Carried from Sidon, what time the broad sea-path he sailed over
Bringing back Helene home, of a noble father begotten."
And in the Odyssey also he has made mention of it in these verses:
"Such had the daughter of Zeus, such drugs of exquisite cunning,
Good, which to her the wife of Thon, Polydamna, had given,
Dwelling in Egypt, the land where the bountiful meadow produces
Drugs more than all lands else, many good being mixed, many evil."
And thus too Menelaos says to Telemachos:
In these lines he makes it clear that he knew of the wanderings of
Alexander to Egypt, for Syria borders upon Egypt and the Phenicians,
of whom is Sidon, dwell in Syria. By these lines and by this passage
it is also most clearly shown that the "Cyprian Epic" was not written
by Homer but by some other man: for in this it is said that on the
third day after leaving Sparta Alexander came to Ilion bringing with
him Helen, having had a "gently-blowing wind and a smooth sea,"
whereas in the Iliad it says that he wandered from his course when he
"Still the gods stayed me in Egypt, to come back hither desiring,
Stayed me from voyaging home, since sacrifice due I performed not."
Let us now leave Homer and the "Cyprian Epic"; but this I will say,
namely that I asked the priests whether it is but an idle tale which
the Hellenes tell of that which they say happened about Ilion; and
they answered me thus, saying that they had their knowledge by
inquiries from Menelaos himself. After the rape of Helen there came
indeed, they said, to the Teucrian land a large army of Hellenes to
help Menelaos; and when the army had come out of the ships to land and
had pitched its camp there, they sent messengers to Ilion, with whom
went also Menelaos himself; and when these entered within the wall
they demanded back Helen and the wealth which Alexander had stolen
from Menelaos and had taken away; and moreover they demanded
satisfaction for the wrongs done: and the Teucrians told the same tale
then and afterwards, both with oath and without oath, namely that in
deed and in truth they had not Helen nor the wealth for which demand
was made, but that both were in Egypt; and that they could not justly
be compelled to give satisfaction for that which Proteus the king of
The Hellenes however thought that they were being mocked by
them and besieged the city, until at last they took it; and when they
had taken the wall and did not find Helen, but heard the same tale as
before, then they believed the former tale and sent Menelaos himself
to Proteus. And Menelaos having come to Egypt and having sailed up to
Memphis, told the truth of these matters, and not only found great
entertainment, but also received Helen unhurt, and all his own wealth
Then, however, after he had been thus dealt with, Menelaos
showed himself ungrateful to the Egyptians; for when he set forth to
sail away, contrary winds detained him, and as this condition of
things lasted long, he devised an impious deed; for he took two
children of natives and made sacrifice of them. After this, when it
was known that he had done so, he became abhorred, and being pursued
he escaped and got away in his ships to Libya; but whither he went
besides after this, the Egyptians were not able to tell.
things they said that they found out part by inquiries, and the rest,
namely that which happened in their own land, they related from sure
and certain knowledge.
Herodotus Histories II, 112.1 ff