Monday, July 11, 2016


John Dillery, Clio's Other Sons: Berossus and Manetho, with an afterword on Demetrius. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015. Pp. xxxviii, 494. ISBN 9780472052271. $50.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Branscome, Florida State University (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's preview

It 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.1 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.2 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.3

In Chapter 1 ("Introduction"), Dillery stresses the novelty of Berossus' and Manetho's adapting Greek historiography to native traditions, which were maintained by elite priests like Berossus and Manetho themselves. Chapter 2 ("Time: Berossus, Manetho, and the Construction of King Lists") explores how Berossus used Babylonian king lists to "historicize" his accounts of Creation and Flood (84) and how Manetho demonstrated the superior chronological reach of Egyptian history by synchronizing Greek events such as the Trojan War with the reigns of Egyptian kings. In Chapter 3 ("Regional Perspective and Authentication in Berossus and Manetho") Dillery connects the spaces of Babylon and of Egypt with the authors' historical visions: Berossus associates Babylonia (and the postdiluvian city Babylon) with the events of Creation and Flood, and Manetho inserts into a historical framework stories about Egyptian kings that were stored in Houses of Life, centers of priestly learning. The remaining chapters (Chapters 4-7) analyze Berossus' and Manetho's narratives (or at least what little we have of them). Chapter 4 ("The Great Narratives") focuses on the uses to which Josephus, our primary source, puts the narrative fragments of Berossus and Manetho. After the in-depth analyses of Chapters 5 ("Berossus' Narratives") and 6 ("Manetho's Narratives"), Dillery concludes in Chapter 7 ("Conclusion to Narratives") not only that Berossus and Manetho innovated by combining chronographically-based (Greek) historical narrative with their own native Babylonian and Egyptian historical traditions, but also that they did so in an attempt to preserve "the integrity of both civilizations in the face of foreign domination" (352). In an epilogue ("Ending with Demetrius: Demetrius the Chronographer"), Dillery looks at Demetrius, a late third-century BCE Alexandrian Jew who wrote in Greek a chronographically-focused retelling of the events in the Hebrew Bible; unlike Berossus and Manetho, Demetrius could draw upon a strong native (Hebrew) background in historical narrative.

While his overall reading of Berossus and Manetho is persuasive, some of Dillery's interpretations of individual points are less so. A key figure in Berossus' creation myth (BNJ 680 F 1b) is Oannes, the hybrid fish–man creature that emerges from the sea "in the first year" to tell human beings all the knowledge that will ever be discovered for the building of civilization (founding cities, establishing laws, practicing agriculture, etc.). Dillery rightly stresses the Mesopotamian pedigree of such a fish-man sage (known as apkallu in Akkadian). He then considers how Berossus' Greek readers would have viewed Oannes:

"While it is true that the Greeks also possessed man-animal hybrids, even wise ones such as Chiron the centaur who educates heroes, they . . . are moreover mixtures of land creatures and humans. Instead, as in Hesiod's Theogony, when we do encounter entities that are part reptile/fish and anthropomorphic, they are awful monsters of chaos (notably Typhaon/Typhoeus), not culture heroes." (234)

". . . it is one thing to have a sage centaur teach particular heroes, and quite another to have a merman responsible for the instruction of all humanity for all time—a true culture hero. That such a responsibility would have been given to what was in effect a sea monster seems to me to be not very Hellenic in conception." (xxi n. 44)

On the one hand, Dillery is too sweeping in his generalizations about hybrid beings in Greek mythology. The Greek god Triton is "part reptile/fish and anthropomorphic," but he is no chaos monster. Rather, like the merman Oannes, the merman Triton can be associated with wisdom, such as when Triton offers advice and prophecy to Jason and the Argonauts (Hdt. 4.178-80, 188, 191).4 On the other hand, the Greek god Prometheus, while no sea monster, is almost as comprehensive a culture hero as Oannes is: Prometheus touts all the many cultural benefits humans have received thanks to his gift of fire (Aesch. PV 436-506). Despite his Mesopotamian origins, therefore, the wise, part-fish culture hero Oannes would actually not have been all that alien to Greek mythic experience.

When he treats Berossus' account of the Flood (BNJ 680 F 4b), Dillery forces the evidence to fit his argument that only one god sends this flood instead of the many gods in the earlier (Sumerian and Babylonian) accounts. Berossus says that the god Kronos "stood over" the flood hero Xisouthros (Sumerian Ziusudra) "in [the latter's] sleep" and told him about the coming Flood. According to Dillery, "one god, not many, decides to bring about the Flood" (255) in Berossus' myth. Although Berossus only mentions the one god (Kronos) here, nowhere does Berossus say that it is specifically Kronos who sends the Flood. Instead, the Berossian Kronos seems simply to play the role of the warner god Enki/Ea from the earlier texts.5 By contrast with Berossus' version of the Flood, Dillery argues that "in the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is even clearer that the Flood is the work of many gods." Dillery does not take into consideration the truncated nature of the Flood myth that Utnapishtim narrates in Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh: in his rush to get to the events that directly resulted in his gift of immortality, Utnapishtim skips over the preliminaries to the Flood, which presumably would have included one god—who in Atrahasis (even with the fragmentary state of the text: OBV appears to be Ellil—proposing to the other gods the sending of a Flood. That this is the case for the Epic of Gilgamesh, no less than for Atrahasis, is suggested by Ellil's angry reaction to the sight of both Utnapisthim's and Atrahasis' boats after the Flood (Gilgamesh SBV XI.iv; Atrahasis OBV

I will be briefer with my criticisms on Dillery's treatment of Manetho. If Manetho really did include as part of Dynasty 27 "the Magi" (i.e., the pretender Gaumata/Smerdis) among the Persian kings who ruled Egypt (as Eusebius apparently reported: BNJ 609 F 3a-b), I do not see why this must represent an "anti-Persian" (Dillery 89) gesture on Manetho's part; instead, it may have been out of a striving for completeness that Manetho included in his king list even "illegitimate" rulers like the Hyksos (as Dillery himself argues: 96, cf. 88) or the Magi. Although he claims (214) that Josephus engages with historians on Egypt as far back as Hecataeus of Abdera and Manetho, Dillery has already noted (202) that Josephus actually goes all the way back to Herodotus. According to Dillery, Berossus and Manetho were both "hellenophone non-Greeks writing priestly history" (287); it is curious, then, to have Dillery call Manetho "a Greek writing on Egypt" (209). This last error is compounded by the large number of typographical errors spread throughout the book. 6

Overall, though, Clio's Other Sons is excellent. It is an immensely stimulating book that will foster much future research on Berossus and Manetho.


1.   Entries (with texts and English translations) for both Berossus and Manetho are now available in Brill's New Jacoby: "Berossos of Babylon," BNJ 680 (G. De Breucker 2010); "Manetho," BNJ 609 (P. Lang 2014). There is a collection of articles on Berossus: J. Haubold, G. B. Lanfranchi, R. Rollinger, and J. Steele, eds., The World of Berossos [Wiesbaden 2013]. Other recent studies include articles in The Romance between Greece and the East (T. Whitmarsh and S. Thomson, eds. [Cambridge 2013])—one on Berossus by J. Haubold (105-16) and one on Manetho by J. Dillery (38-58)—and an article by De Breucker ("Berossos between Tradition and Innovation," in K. Radner and E. Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture [Oxford 2011], 637-57).
2.   P. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (Berkeley 1990), 326; I. S. Moyer, Egypt and the Limits of Hellenism (Cambridge 2011), esp. 140-41.
3.   For antecedents of this argument, see P. M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria (Oxford 1972), vol. I, 505; O. Murray, "Herodotus and Hellenistic Culture," CQ 22 (1972), 200-13 (at 208-10); A. Momigliano, The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography (Berkeley 1990), 98. More recently, see the studies of D. Mendels ("The Polemical Character of Manetho's Aegyptiaca, in H. Verdin, G. Schepens, and E. De Keyser, eds., Purposes of History: Studies in Greek Historiography from the 4th to the 2nd Centuries B.C. [Louvain 1990], 91-110) and of G. E. Sterling (Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography [Leiden 1992], esp. 103-36 [on Berossus and Manetho]).
4.   Similarly objecting to Dillery's negative view of Greek mythic hybrids, C. Tuplin ("Berossos and Greek Historiography," in Haubold, Lanfranchi, Rollinger, and Steele 2013 [op. cit., n. 1], 177-97) references (186) the Athenian founder, the earth-born, "half-man, half-snake Cecrops."
5.   Berossus apparently substitutes Kronos for Enki/Ea because they were the fathers of the storm gods/kings of the gods Zeus and Bel-Marduk, respectively; see Dillery 254. Contra E. G. Kraeling ("Xisouthros, Deucalion and the Flood Traditions," JAOS 67.3 [1947] 177-83), who sees (178) Kronos here as Ellil (i.e., the actual sender of the Flood). Kraeling agrees with Dillery, however, that Kronos was the only god sending the Flood in Berossus.
6.   Missing elements in brackets: xx: "with a compatriot [in Greek]"; xxxi: "a couple [of]"; 24: "particular[ly] important"; 49: "offer[ed] him"; 81: "detailed [than] the"; 86: "chronology [of] Egypt"; 106: "who[m] Manetho's list"; 159: "[a] few lines later"; 189: "dated to [the] priesthood"; 192: "with [a] deer"; 221: "Polyhistor[']s"; 234: "a bit [of] detail"; 235: "Oannes['] identification"; 270: "as [on] large ones"; 277: "Chaldeans['] kings"; 304: "sacred books["]"; 359: "foundation [of] the"; 365: "posses[s]". Extra elements in brackets: xxii = "a much [a] wider"; 19 n. 66: "as [the] 'the"; 39: "further[ed] argued"; 210: "Nabo[l]polassar"; 322: "[the] 'the kingdom"; 369: "of supplying [of]". Greek words lacking accents: 7: συγγενομενοι; 58 n. 15: του Πολυιστορος; 70: ἀνθρωποις; 186 n. 294: και; 295: και; 296: και. Wrong accent: 290: κρεμαστός; 377: δὲ. Erroneous addition in brackets: 10 n. 29: παραπραγ[ε]μάτευται ; 324: ἐστι[ν].

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