On Oannes, from Berosus, via Alexander Polyhistor

by Esteban

“BEROSUS, in his first book concerning the history of Babylonia, informs us that he lived in the time of Alexander, the son of Philip. And he mentions that there were written accounts preserved at Babylon with the greatest care, comprehending a term of fifteen myriads of years. These writings contained a history of the heavens and the sea; of the birth of mankind; also of those who had sovereign rule; and of the actions achieved by them.

And, in the first place, he describes Babylonia as a country which lay between the Tigris and Euphrates. [ … ]

The part of Babylonia which bordered upon Arabia was barren, and without water; but that which lay on the other side had hills, and was fruitful. At Babylon there was (in these times) a great resort of people of various nations, who inhabited Chaldea, and lived without rule and order, like the beasts of the field.

In the first year there made its appearance, from a part of the Erythraean sea which bordered upon Babylonia, an animal endowed with reason, who was called Oannes. (According to the account of Apollodorus) the whole body of the animal was like that of a fish; and had under a fish’s head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, sub-joined to the fish’s tail. His voice, too, and language was articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.

This Being, in the day-time, used to converse with men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters, and sciences, and every kind of art. He taught them to construct houses, to build temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect fruits.

In short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanise mankind. From that time, so universal were his instructions, nothing material has been added by way of improvement.

When the sun set it was the custom of this Being to plunge again into the sea, and abide all night in the deep; for he was amphibious.

After this, there appeared other animals, like Oannes, of which Berosus promises to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings.”

E. Edmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, 3d ed., 1876, pp. 56-8.