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Title: Sethos  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Taharqa, François Fénelon, 1731 in literature, Black Athena, Ancient Egypt in the Western imagination, Jean Terrasson, Les Aventures de Télémaque
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Sethos was a pharaoh of Egypt described by Herodotus in his Histories (Book II (Euterpe)):

After him there came to the throne the priest of Hephaistos, whose name was Sethos. This man, they said, neglected and held in no regard

the warrior class of the Egyptians, considering that he would have no need of them; and besides other slights which he put upon them, he also took from them the yokes of corn-land 125 which had been given to them as a special gift in the reigns of the former kings, twelve yokes to each man. After this, Sanacharib king of the Arabians and of the Assyrians marched a great host against Egypt. Then the warriors of the Egyptians refused to come to the rescue, and the priest, being driven into a strait, entered into the sanctuary of the temple 126 and bewailed to the image of the god the danger which was impending over him; and as he was thus lamenting, sleep came upon him, and it seemed to him in his vision that the god came and stood by him and encouraged him, saying that he should suffer no evil if he went forth to meet the army of the Arabians; for he himself would send him helpers. Trusting in these things seen in sleep, he took with him, they said, those of the Egyptians who were willing to follow him, and encamped in Pelusion, for by this way the invasion came: and not one of the warrior class followed him, but shop-keepers and artisans and men of the market. Then after they came, there swarmed by night upon their enemies mice of the fields, and ate up their quivers and their bows, and moreover the handles of their shields, so that on the next day they fled, and being without defence of arms great numbers fell. And at the present time this king stands in the temple of Hephaistos in stone, holding upon his hand a mouse, and by letters inscribed he says these words: "Let him who looks upon me learn to fear the gods.".[1]

The Terrasson novel

Sethos became the hero of an improbably influential fantasy novel, Life of Sethos, Taken from Private Memoirs of the Ancient Egyptians, published in 1731 by the French Abbe Jean Terrasson.

The book appeared in Paris in 1731 and in an English translation by Thomas Lediard published in London by J. Walthoe in 1732.[2]

According to the noted classicist Mary Lefkowitz, Sethos:

purports to be a translation of an ancient manuscript found in the library of an unnamed foreign nation that is "extremely jealous of this sort of treasure." The author is said to have been an anonymous Greek in the second century A.D. Here Terrasson is following the conventions of ancient writers of historical fictions, such as the author of the Hermetica, who pretend that their works are translations of ancient writings that no one but themselves has seen. But Terrasson is careful not to deceive his readers completely: he assures them that the work he has "translated" for them is a fiction; .... He assures them that although fictional, the story keeps close to ancient sources, which, for the reader's convenience, he cites throughout the text. But he also says that "it is natural to suppose" that his author had access to original sources (now lost), such as memoirs available in the sacred archives of Egypt, written by unknown priests who accompanied Sethos on his travels. The sophisticated reader would be amused by the notion that the anonymous author had consulted these otherwise unknown documents, but Terrasson gives no warning to less well-educated readers that there is in fact no reason to "suppose" that these documents ever existed.[3]

This eighteenth century work of fiction is a primary source of Afrocentrism and of the kind of black history found in such popular books as Martin Bernal's Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization,[weasel words] and George James's Stolen Legacy: Greek Philosophy Is Stolen Egyptian Philosophy.[4]

It is also a key source of a popular web of conspiracy theories positing a secret pagan subculture or Freemasons, devotees of Satan, and environmentalists dedicated to the overthrow of Christianity.[5]


Although at one time it was believed that Sethos was a source for Masonic rituals and ideas, it is now understood that Terrasson took the rituals of the Freemasons, already popular in the France of his day, and projected them backward into his imaginary Egyptian mystery cult.[6]


External links

  • II of The Life of Sethos (French)
  • in the 1732 English translation
  • 1777 German translation of the Volume I of The Life of Sethos
  • , by Alexandre Tanevot, 1740 tragedy inspired by Terrasson's novel
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