c. 570 CE
translated by Jason Colavito
The Chronicle of the historian John Malalas (c. 491-578 CE) of Antioch is the oldest surviving Byzantine world chronicle. It draws on the earlier world chronicles of Julius Africanus, Eusebius, Panodorus, and Annianus, and served as a source for later chronicles, particularly in the Slavic lands. It is, however, an idiosyncratic chronicle that differs from those that appeared both before and after it. Unlike Annianus and Panodorus (but like Eusebius), John rejects the existence of ancient kingdoms before Noah's Flood and therefore has relocated stories of primeval Egypt to the period after the Flood, reorganizing Manetho's list of kings to place the first post-diluvian monarchs before those originally ascribed to the time of the gods. John also follows an older Christian tradition of rationalizing pagan mythology as the deeds of human kings. He, however, offers idiosyncratic and at times unique material that he has interpolated into an older account that is the underlying source for both his chronicle of Egypt and that of the Excerpta Latina Barbari, a lost Greek chronicle that had been translated poorly into Latin for the Merovingian kings in the eighth century. The sections on the dawn of Egyptian history from both texts run in parallel below in my translation, except for folio 38a of the Excerpta, which has been adapted from the translation of I. P. Cory. The story begins with the death of Picus Zeus, a composite king merging the first Latin king Picus with the Greco-Roman deity Zeus (Jupiter), both sons of Saturn (i.e. Cronus), and rendering the composite into a human monarch.
THE CHRONICLE of John Malalas
14. After the death of Picus Zeus, his son Faunus Hermes  reigned in Italy for a period of thirty-five years. He was a clever man, willing to learn, and the first to undertake the mining of gold  in the West and the art of smelting. […]  When Hermes learned that his brothers were plotting against him, he withdrew, taking with him a massive amount of gold, and he went down to Egypt, to the sons of Ham, the son of Noah. They received him with honor, and he remained in that place, but he treated everyone arrogantly and donned a golden robe. He practiced philosophy among the Egyptians and proffered oracles to them. His was a highly rational nature, and the Egyptians worshiped him, calling Hermes a god because he foretold the future, provided them with answers from God about things to come, and provided them with money. Therefore, they named him the Giver of Riches, and they thought of him as a golden god.
15. When Hermes went down into Egypt, Mestrem,  one of the sons of Ham, was ruling over Egypt. When he died, the Egyptians made Hermes king,  and he reigned arrogantly over the Egyptians for thirty-nine years.
After him, Hephaistos reigned over of the Egyptians for 1,680 days, from which emerges the figure of four years and 38 days.  For in those days, the Egyptians knew not how to measure years, but they counted the cycle of the days as years. They called Hephaistos a god, for he was a warrior with knowledge of the mystical arts. When he went into battle, he fell with his horse, and his wound left him with a limp. 
Hephaistos promulgated a law requiring that the women of Egypt be monogamous and observe the rule of chastity, and any who were caught in adultery were to receive punishment. He received grateful thanks for this, for this was the first law about chastity received among them. 
Hephaistos, by a mystical prayer, received tongs  from the air to be used in the manufacture of iron implements. This gave him overwhelming power in war. They raised him up to be a god, since he had promulgated the law on chastity, had acquired food for men by the manufacture of implements, and had provided safety and power in war; for before his time, men fought one another with clubs and stones.
Excerpta Latina Barbari
238.4-19, ed. Frick (= fol. 21a)
1. After his death, his son Faunus reigned in Italy for thirty-five years. This made him into an impious and very busy man. 2. Then he went down into Egypt and remained in that place and assumed the imperial robes. And he was seen to be wise by the Egyptians, and he deceived them through magic and frauds. He confided suspicious things to them and made prophecies. He learned the speech of birds and the messages of the hoopoes, the neighing of horses, as well as the divination of the dead, and many other evils. 3. And then the wise men among the Egyptians perceived him to be a mathematician and very loquacious, so they glorified him as Hermes the Three-Times-Most-Blessed, because he knew all languages so well everywhere, and they admired him as a wealthy and rich man, and as a servant of the gods. 4. He reigned there for thirty-five years. There are from Adam to the beginning of the reign of Picus, who is understood to be Serapis, and who was the son of Cronus, 4,100 years.
1. After the death of Hephaestus, his son Helios reigned in Egypt for a period of 4,407 days, from which emerges the figure of twelve years and 97 days. For in those days, neither the Egyptians nor any other people knew how to calculate (correctly), but some counted the revolutions of the moon and others the number of days as years. The method of counting by the twelve months came about subsequently, when men were made to render taxes to kings.
2. Helios, the son of Hephaistos, was powerful and gloriously generous. He was informed by someone that some Egyptian woman, one abounding in wealth and merit, had fallen in love with someone and had begun committing adultery with him. When he (Helios) heard, he wanted to catch her, so that the law of his father should stand unbroken. Having made certain that the time of their congress was drawing nigh, he took soldiers. Her coupling took place at night. He burst in on her when her husband was absent, found her with her lover, and removed her. He ordered her to be paraded around the whole of Egypt, after having pronounced severe judgment on her. He punished the adulterer with death, and he received grateful thanks for it, and all of Egypt adopted chastity.  Of this, the poet Homer, in his (poetic) manner, tells this story when he says Helios condemned Aphrodite for coupling with Ares at night.  By “Aphrodite” the libidinal force is to be understood, which King Helios had condemned. The truth, as it has been explained to us, was recorded by the most learned chronicler Palaiphatos. 
3. After the death of Helios, son of Hephaestus, Sosis  ruled over the Egyptians. After him reigned Osiris; Horus followed Osiris, and Thoulis  followed Horus. This last one subjugated the whole of the surrounding land, as far as the Ocean, under his power with a large force. In returning, he made a journey through Africa and arrogantly approached an oracle. Having made a sacrifice, he beseeched the oracle in these words: “Tell me, Lord of Fire, Truth-Teller, Blessed One, you who bend your ethereal course: Who, prior to my reign, had the power to subject all to him? And who shall have the power to do so after me?” The oracle responded: “First God, and then the Word, and with them the Spirit. All things were generated together, and they go toward the One, whose power is eternal. Make haste to depart from here, Mortal, and complete your worthless life.” He at once left the temple, and he was killed by his own men, who had plotted against him.
Manetho recorded these accounts of the most ancient and archaic kings of Egypt, and from his writings it appears that the five planets once had other names. For the other name of Kronos, they once called it the Shining One; Zeus was the Torch (Phaethon); Ares was the Fiery; Aphrodite the Fairest; and Hermes the Brilliant.  The most learned Sotates  explicated these names in later times.
4. After this time, Sostris  reigned over the Egyptians, the first of the sons of Ham to do so. He prepared an expedition against Assyria, which he subjugated under his power, along with the Chaldeans and Persians, all the way to Babylon, as well as Asia, all of Europe, and even Scythia and Moesia. When returning from Scythia to Egypt, he selected fifteen thousand men in the flower of their youth whom he relocated to Persia and ordered them to settle there, giving them whatsoever land they selected. From that time to this, these Scythians have remained in Persia. They are called Parthians by the Persians because in the Persian language it means “Scythians.” The Parthians retain the clothing, language, and laws of the Scythians, and they are very formidable in battle, as is recorded in the writings of the very learned Herodotus. 
5. In the days of the aforementioned king Sostris, there lived Hermes Trismegistus,  the Egyptian, a man of stupendous wisdom, who pronounced the ineffable name of the God of Creation to be that of three most excellent persons, but in truth one God. And so he was called Hermes Trismegistus, that is, the thrice-greatest, by the Egyptians. For in various of his writings to Asclepius he is found making mention of the nature of God in this manner: “If the Providence of Divine Will had not been given governance over all, through which this thing was revealed to me, you would not have been seized with such passion to ask me about it. For it is not possible for these Mysteries to be proffered to the profane, but give it your intellect’s attention. There is only one intelligent Light, before there was intelligent light; and there was always Intellect, the light of the intellect. There was nothing else, other than this unity, existing always in itself, and likewise comprehending everything with its intellect, light, and spirit. Outside of this, there is neither god, nor angel, nor demon, nor any other being. For it is the Lord and God of all, and all things exist beneath and within it. For its Word, which came forth from it, was entirely perfect, and worked itself on fecund nature, and fell on the fecund water, and it made the water fertile.” Having said this, in these words he prayed: “I swear by you, O Heaven, the great work of the wise Divinity, may you be propitious. I swear by you, O Voice of the Father, which was the first that He uttered when He established the entire world with His counsel, Voice of the Father, which He first uttered, His only-begotten Word.” These things were reported by the most holy Cyril, in his book Against the Emperor Julian: namely, that while Hermes Trismegistus was ignorant of the future, he nevertheless professed the consubstantiality of the Trinity. 
6. Further, the king Sostris, after achieving victory, returned to Egypt, where by fate he died. After him, a Pharaoh, who was Maracho,  obtained the throne; from him are descended the succeeding kings of the Egyptians. 
284.26-28, 286.1-15, ed. Frick (= fol. 38a)
Of all kingdoms, we find that of the Egyptians to be the most ancient; of whose beginning we purpose to write, according to the relation of Manetho.
The first dynasty was that of the Gods, who are classed by themselves; and I reckon their reigns thus:
I. Some say the God Ifestus reigned in Egypt 680 years.
II. After him, the Sun, the son of Ifestus, 77 years.
III. After him, Osinosiris, 420 years.
IIII. After him, Oros Stoliarchus, 28 years.
V. After him, Typhon, 45 years.
The sum of the reigns of the Gods amounts to 1550 years.
Then succeeds the kingdom of the Demi-gods, thus:
I. First reigned Anubes Amusira, who composed the writings of the Egyptians, 83 years.
II. After him, Apion Grammaticus, who reigned 77 years. In his reign commenced the kingdom of Argos, under Inachus.
I. Afterwards, the kings of the Encynii, by whom must be understood the Demi-gods. They reigned 2100 years.
II. Mineus and seven of his descendants reigned 253 years.
III. Bochus and eight others reigned 302 years.
IIII. Necherocheus and eight others reigned 214 years.
- This story is first told in fragment 5 of the lost sixth book of Diodorus Siculus, without mention of Egypt. The underlying Christian source has sought to merge Faunus Hermes with Hermes Trismegistus, following a Hellenistic or Roman myth that the Hermes identified as the Egyptian god Thoth had fled from his original home in Europe to Egypt (Cicero, De natura deorum 3.22). Since this passage is the source for the restoration of the parallel section (fragment 5) of the lost sixth book of Diodorus (via a fragment of John of Antioch, who identifies the passage as treating material also found in Diodorus when he concludes his quotation of Malalas with the words "That most learned of chronographers, Diodorus, has written an account of this Picus."), it is not possible to say whether Malalas or Diodorus first linked Faunus to the planet Mercury.
- This reference is unique to John and appears to reflect his interest in mining and perhaps also reflects the association of Hermes Trismegistus with alchemy, although the identification of Faunus Hermes with Hermes Trismegistus is only implied. The Excerpta makes it explicit, and presumably so too did the underlying source text.
- I have omitted a long digression about Herakles that appears subsequent to the section on Hermes in the Excerpta but is here interpolated into the narrative of Hermes.
- In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Mestrem (Mizraim) was the first king of Egypt after the Flood, his name being that of Egypt in Hebrew. Early chronologists, starting with the Christian forger of the Book of Sothis of Pseudo-Manetho, equated Mestrem with Menes, the first human king of Egypt in the genuine work of Manetho. Malalas, however, does not accept the existence of pre-Flood dynasties and has moved Mestrem / Menes from his traditional position to appear before the first divine kings of Manetho, Hephaistos and Helios.
- The word used here is βασιλεύς (basileus), which meant “king” but was also used informally from the third century as the Greek title of the Roman emperors. It only came into formal use as the official imperial title with the meaning of “emperor” in the 600s, several decades after John wrote.
- Malalas is following the Christian tradition of reducing the impossibly long reigns given by Manetho through the expedient of declaring his years to be either months, weeks, or days, whichever happened to fit the chronology he hoped to achieve. The specific calculations appear unique to him.
- Malalas adds details from the Greek myth of Hephaistos to attempt to better assimilate him with the Egyptian god-king of Manetho.
- Chastity was a particular obsession of Malalas, and he has interpolated references to chastity laws throughout his chronicle where they do not appear in parallel authors.
- Greek myths about Hephaistos as blacksmith of the gods have here been interpolated into the Egyptian narrative of Manetho, though the identity of the tongs is unclear. The word used for it is unattested outside of the this passage until the Middle Ages, where it is used for medical instruments. Gerald Verbrugghe reads it to mean that Hephaistos received "a brilliant idea" rather than a physical implement. The story may have alchemical allusions.
- Although this account of the origins of chastity appears unique to Malalas, it may have an antecedent in the lost text of Manetho, likely via the rationalizing Egyptian history of Palaephatus (see below), since a similar story appears in the Arabic Akhbar al-zaman (2.3) four hundred years later, but different enough not to be dependent on Malalas. The story refers to the fifth king of Egypt after the Flood: "‘Adīm invented the punishment of the gibbet. A woman was found guilty of adultery with a craftsman, so the king had them both crucified, back to back, and wrote above them their name and crime, with the date of their execution. This punishment frightened men and turned them away from adultery." The parallel passage in al-Maqrizi's Al-Khitat (1.10), attributed to Ibrahim bin Wasif Shah al-Ustad, identifies the woman as a member of the king's court. The two tales are quite similar, particularly if the censorious Malalas omitted the crucifixion out of respect for Christ.
- Homer, Iliad 8.256-366.
- Palaephatus was a rationalizing author who wrote euhemeristic accounts of mythology in the decades after Aristotle, whose student he was said to be. A book of Egyptian history was attributed to him, from which the accounts must come, since they bear no resemblance to the accounts of Greek mythology in his surviving works.
- Sosis does not appear in the extant king lists of Manetho, where his place is occupied by Agathodaemon. The Excerpta give this king as Sosinosiris, likely a corruption of Sosis and Osiris, since Osiris reigns next according to Manetho and John of Antioch gives the same as Sos and Apis, the latter identified with Osiris. Malalas and the Excerpta have omitted Cronus from his accustomed place in the list of Manetho for the obvious reason that they identified him as the father of Picus Zeus and long dead in Italy.
- A corruption of Typhonis, or Typhon, the Greek name for Set. The order of Set and Horus has been inverted from the Egyptian original. John of Antioch (fr. 6 FHG [4.543]) and the Chronicon Paschale (p. 83, ed. Dindorf) repeat the story of Thoulis at the oracle, presumably from Malalas. The Suda (s.v. Thoulis) gives the same story but adds that the oracle belonged to Serapis and that the island of Thule was named for him. The references to the Trinity mark this as a Christian forgery, perhaps originating in the Book of Sothis or some similar source.
- The names of the planets parallel those found in Pseudo-Aristotle's De Mundo 2 (= Aristotle 392a32-392b4), c. 250 BCE, speaking of the sphere of fixed stars: "The position nearest to this sphere is occupied by the so-called circle of the Shining star, or Saturn; next is that of the Beaming star, which also bears the name of Jupiter; then follows the circle of the Fiery star, called by the names both of Heracles and of Mars; next comes the Glistening star, which some call sacred to Mercury, others sacred to Apollo; after that is the circle of the Light-bearing star, which some call the star of Venus, others the star of Hera" (trans. E. S. Forster). However, the list differs from the Egyptian planetary names given by the third century writer Achilles Taitus in the surviving fragment of his commentary on Aratos (Isagoge, in Petavius, Uranologion p. 136), where the Greek terms are presented alongside Egyptian names. "It is by euphemism that the Egyptians call Saturn Phainon, apparent, seeing it is the most obscure of the planets; the Egyptians also call it Nemesis. The second planet is Jupiter, which the Greeks call Phaethon, and the Egyptians Osiris. The third is Mars, which among the Greeks is Puroeis, and among the Egyptians the star of Hercules. The fourth is Mercury, Stilbon among the Greeks, and the star of Apollo among the Egyptians. The fifth is the planet Venus, which the Greeks call Heosphorus" (trans. Frances Rolleston). Consequently, it appears that the list given by Malalas is from a Greek source claiming to be Egyptian, likely the Book of Sothis.
- An unidentified figure, perhaps a corruption of the Book of Sothis, and possibly conflated with the Alexandrian poet Sotates executed by Ptolemy II.
- Given in the Chronicon Paschale as the better-known Sesostris, whose world-conquering exploits were recorded by Herodotus and Diodorus. Manetho, however, places Sesostris in the twelfth dynasty. Malalas has re-positioned him, or, rather, in writing thematically rather than as a strict chronologist, he felt free to skip to the important figures.
- Herodotus, Histories 2.102-109.
- Identified with Faunus Hermes in the Excerpta but apparently divided into a separate figure in Malalas, where the original underlying chronology, derived from the Alexandrian chroniclers, has been interrupted and upended.
- The quotation apparently comes from the now-lost so-called Third Sermon of the Hermetic writings addressed to Asclepius, a key figure in Hermeticism. John Malalas attributes his knowledge of the quotation to St. Cyril, and the fragment appears in Contra Julianum 2.35, ed. Migne, col. 556 A. It is translated as Fragments XVI-XVIII in Mead's Thrice-Greatest Hermes.
- Other manuscripts give this as Naracho, an uncertain figure not attested elsewhere before Malalas. Some have connected him to Pharaoh Necho of 2 Kings 23: 29-30, while others suggest Necherocheus from Manetho's third dynasty, who also appears by name in the Excerpta as the first of his dynasty. Later, Malalas says that his information about Naracho comes from a chronology of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, because (and here Malalas is wrong) Manetho only wrote of the period before Naracho. Manetho covered the period to the end of the thirtieth dynasty, while Malalas makes Naracho a contemporary of Abraham, long before the Exodus.
- Cedrenus (Chronicle 1, p. 20 = ed. Niebuhr, p. 37), who follows Malalas almost verbatim on Egyptian history, gives this final statement more clearly this way: "After him (Sesostris), there was a king Pharaoh, who is said to be Naracho. He reigned for many years--fifty in fact, as they say. The kings who descend from his lineage are called Pharaohs after him" (my trans.).