According to a legend recorded by Herodotus, the Nile River flooded nearly thirty feet higher than usual during the reign of King Pheros of Egypt, a monarch believed to be fictitious by most historians. Apparently, Pheros was so enraged by the Nile River’s destruction that he took a spear or javelin and launched the weapon at the water. The Egyptian gods, however, loathed the king because of this emotional reaction to the river. Soon after King Pheros threw the spear, his eyes became diseased, eventually leading to blindness. For ten years, his blindness persisted without hope, but on the eleventh year, an oracle arrived with knowledge of a cure.
The oracle prescribed for the king a very, very unorthodox cure. The oracle claimed that the king’s blindness would be cured if Pheros could wash his eyes with the urine of a woman who had only slept with her husband. Thinking the cure would be easy to obtain, Pheros went to his wife and collected her urine. He then splashed the foul liquid on his eyes—but to the king’s horror—his wife’s urine did not fulfill the oracle’s requirements.
After his wife’s urine did not do the trick, King Pheros systematically gathered the urine of his female subjects. Finally, after countless failures, the king found a woman who was able to cure his eyesight. Unfortunately, for all the previous women who had failed to meet the criteria, the king held a bitter grudge. According to the legend, King Pheros rounded up all the women whose urine had failed to cure him and locked them in a city called Red Clod by Herodotus. When all of these unfortunate women were locked inside the city, King Pheros burned Red Clod to the ground, killing everyone inside, including his wife.
After massacring the people locked in the city, the king married the woman whose urine had cured his eyesight, and they supposedly lived happily ever after. With that, this bizarre and awkward story about a blind king regaining his eyesight by bathing his eyes in urine comes to a close. Again, King Pheros is not believed to be a real historical figure, and Herodotus’ history is riddled with falsehoods—so think of this story more as folklore and legend. Nevertheless, this bizarre story filled with gallons of urine and mass slaughter is quite an entertaining tale.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.