Herodotus on Proteus

Herodotus specifically mentions that Proteus came from Memphis (first nome of Lower Egypt), implying that his predecessors did not. As a result, it is generally thought that he was a pharaoh of a new dynasty, possibly Setnakhte (twentieth dynasty, ┬áNew Kingdom). Homer confirms that the pharaoh at the time of the Trojan war was Polybus, whom Herodotus clearly considered to be Proteus. Manetho gives Polybus the name Thuoris and scholars now generally agree that “he” was in fact a “she” – Tausret, who was the predecessor of Setnakhte.

The tale told by Herodotus is particularly notable because it states that Helen never went to Troy. It is also interesting that the Egyptian Pharaoh comes out of the tale rather better than any of the other characters involved.

Herodotus tells that Helen and Alexander (Paris) were on the run from Menelaus and they were forced to harbour in Egypt due to a storm. The pharaoh decides that he could not condemn a traveller driven to his shores by the weather, and so he agreed not to hand Alexander over to Menelaus.

However, Pharaoh did not condone Alexander’s shameful behaviour, and so he decreed that Helen (and her treasure) must stay in Egypt until her husband can come to collect her. He further alleges that Menelaus and his pals were unaware of this and they descended on Ilion (Troy) to demand the return of Helen and the treasure. When the Trojans claimed they had neither, they launched their attack.

Herodotus argues that Helen must have been in Egypt because if she had been in Troy she would have been handed over to her husband immediately, and he further claims that Proteus built a temple to “the foreign Aphrodite” within his temple enclosure, proving that she lived there.

Herodotus: Pharaohs

Copyright J Hill 2010