After reading Susan Stephens book Seeing Double, I believe that have understood the need that new arrivals into a millenarian society thought to do to integrate themselves, to be accepted as leaders and to control the area where they were foreigners. Egypt was a unique region, which had many peculiarities such as the Nile River with the yearly flooding, a water flow going north, a land divided in two parts (Upper and lower Egypt), deep and peculiar religious beliefs, including a divine Pharaoh. These circumstances reflected on a polytheist society with a big bureaucracy, strong sacerdotal presence, powerful local deities and important yearly festivals. Pharaohs were just the edge of the iceberg of this unique civilisation inhabiting north east Africa.

Susan’s interpretation of the works made by Callimachus, Theocritus and Apollonius provides us with a picture of the efforts that the Ptolemy dynasty might have made to transmit a divine air around the Ptolemy dynasty. This seemed to have helped connecting two worlds, which might have been in contact since before the archaic period, but that had very different cultures, traditions and beliefs.

Thanks to the works of authors like the ones mentioned above, the arrival of Alexander first, and the Ptolemies after, was pictured as a continuation of the Pharaohs dynasties. This was intended at obtaining the acceptance by the millenarian communities that inhabited Egypt and its surroundings.

The story of the last Pharaoh, at the Persian’s arrival to Egypt, his departure from Egypt and arrival to Macedon, where he seemed to have copulated with Alexander’s mother, engendering the future king of the Hellenistic world. The written literature from this period seems to have aimed at making Alexander divine. His mother being copulated by a God / Pharaoh. All of this seems to build a divine relationship between the Macedonians and the Egyptians.

The Callimachean theogonies pictured Zeus as Horus. Born in Arcadia, a Greek sacred land, that according to these writings was a land very similar to Egypt itself. A land where water flowed as in Egypt did. Zeus born at the primeval hill, just like the story of Egyptian creation. Zeus born and then died at Crete, which is an island between Greece and Egypt, a place where Zeus became human. This new myth of emergence of the Ptolemies borne in Greece, in an area that looks like Egypt. Then Zeus is humanised in Crete, and from there, arrives to Egypt as the Ptolemy king. Zeus, as Horus the living God, who turns into each Pharaoh that reigns Egypt.

Then the Delos hymn, which connects Apollo, another Greek God, with the Ptolemies. All these connections between Greek mythology and Egyptian myths connects these two worlds and proclaims the Ptolemy dynasty as the leader group that reigns over all.

Theocritus writings and the story of Heracles gives a picture of a King half divine half human. A king who is the new pharaoh reigning Greeks and Egyptians. Heracles is son of Zeus (father), of a divine nature as the Pharaoh and of a human mother, as the Greek kings. Heracles is borne, as the Odysseus from the Homeric story, departing from the Calypso’s Island.

There writings are connecting stories such as Homer or the Hesiod, with Egyptian religious myths. The snake or Seth, which is throttled by the King, a sign of victory over the chaos, or the continuation of Maat, the order on earth. Apollonius and the Argonautica story, in which the arrival of the Greeks into Egypt is explained. These events transmit the destiny of Alexander’s arrival and conquer of Egypt.

These are just some examples of the double picture that offered the literary works of those three authors, which seemed to aim at merging two very different cultures into one. It seems to me that all these writers, whom were part of the literary, scientific and cultural movement that started with the Ptolemies, were part of a holistic movement, encouraged by the dynasty that aimed at merging Egypt and Greece in one culture.

Alexandria, which was essential on the development of these movements helped in creating a cultural atmosphere which was supported by the Ptolemies. Cultural events such as festivities, supporting writers such as the ones mentioned or the creation of the museum and the library, helped the Ptolemies to settle their government. The final aim of the dynasty was to have control over Egypt and its citizens.

Oswyn Murray stated that these writings should be “functionally embedded in the religious ritual of the worship of the royal house” (Murray, O. Page 19). He continues saying that the works should be seeing as Ptolemy poetry, a court poetry. A court poetry created by the court and provably aimed not just for the elite classes that inhabit Egypt, but also for all citizenship.

The building of Alexandria, a port connecting Egypt to the Greek world, the mixture of different cultures, including not just the Egyptian and the Greek, but also others such as the Jew, the wealth that the Ptolemies enjoyed at the time, the keenness that the Ptolemies had towards research in various fields, and the need to obtain the acceptance by the Egyptians, resulted in pieces of work like the writings of Callimachus, Theocritus and Apollonius.

Image taken from:


Hunter, R. 2003. “Literature and its Context” in Erskine, A. A Blackwell Companion to the Hellenistic World. Blackwell.

Gutzwiller, Kathryn J. 2007. A Guide to Hellenistic Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Murray, Oswyn. 2008. “Ptolemaic Royal Patronage.” Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World:. Eds. Paul Mckechnie and Philippe Guillaume. Brill.Lite

Stephens, S. A.. (2003). Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria (1st ed.). University of California Press. Retrieved from