THE FANTASY WORLD PROJECT

continues

THE ARISTEAS FACTOR

Gryphon with scroll

December 17, 2015: Hi, there! Chester Monday here. High time for more of the Fantasy World Project! We saw how a childhood fascination with Browning’s poem, “The Pied-Piper of Hamelin,” led to an interest in the Black Death, the Children’s Crusade, Bishop Hatto, and other historical legends and anecdotes. The image of the Piper’s “country” beyond the opening in the mountain led us to investigate “lands beyond,” beginning a fantastic atlas of sorts. What next? Let’s hear what “M” has to say:

M: Now we reach a book that gives us many strange lands, names, creatures, and events. The odd thing is, none of the above-mentioned subjects brought me to this scholarly volume in the Oklahoma State University library. I was carried to this title – Aristeas of Proconnesus – by gryphons.

C: Gryphons?

M: I found gryphons beautiful and fascinating from an early age, but they really had no impact on my thinking or imagination. This was probably due to the fact that there was no mythological background for them, unlike, say, vampires and werewolves, which are the subject of many folk tales. But that changed when I stumbled across a book called The Magic Zoo by Peter Costello. Magic Zoo explores the histories and legends of the Phoenix, the Roc, the Dragon, the Unicorn, and other mythical creatures, so we will come back to it later. To me, though, the most important section was the chapter on Gryphons.

Costello starts us off with Alice in Wonderland, then he slips into the "real" gryphon, found in Minoan friezes and Scythean shields. It's not long before we hear of Aristeas, a poet from the island of Proconnesus in the Sea of Marmora near the mouth of the Black Sea. Aristeas' epic poem, The Arimaspea, is lost to history --unfortunately, because it truly was a gateway to a world of fantastic places, names, and creatures. Aristeas himself was a mysterious, shadowy, legendary figure, deserving of his own study: Aristeas the Wanderer.

Costello's gryphon chapter points one to other works, such as Pliny, Milton's Paradise Lost, Sir John Mandeville, Peter Lum's Fabulous Beasts, Herodotus, Sir Arthur Evans' The Palace of Minos, Dante, Aeschylus' "Prometheus Bound," and books on eagles, hawks, and falcons. The most important source for this part of The Magic Zoo, however, was J. D. P. Bolton's Aristeas of Proconnesus (1962).


In Chapter One of Aristeas of Proconnesus, we learn of the ancient poet from Herodotus' account. Herodotus delivers up several intriguing names: the Issedonians, the Arimaspi, the griffins, the Hyperboreans, the Scyths, and the Cimmerians. When we expand upon these, we begin to see the peoples, places, and creatures of a whole secondary world. Let’s start with peoples:

PEOPLE

Pages 1-3: Aristeas reports meeting the Issedonians somewhere in central Asia. The one-eyed Arimaspians live north of them, then come the griffins, then the Hyperboreans. The Arimaspi forced the Issedonians to migrate; they displaced the Scyths, who displaced the Cimmerians. The Scyths and the Cimmerians were real enough, and there were certainly horse-riding peoples who might be the equivalent of the Issedi. The Issedonian-Arimaspi-griffin-Hyperborea sequence takes us into fantasyland, however.

ISSEDONIANS

Page 76: Herodotus' information on the Issedi apparently comes from Aristeas, the only Greek who ever claimed to have reached them. And his description of "migratory pressures of the nomads" is historically correct.

HYPERBOREANS

Pages 22-23: The Greek poet Pherenicus says the Hyperboreans "inhabit the edge of the world." They had "sprung from the blood of the Titans of old [and] settled beyond the limpid course of Boreas, [?begging] their acres of King Arimaspus." Do the Arimaspi (below) have some sort of hold over them?

Page 24: Hecataeus of Adbera reports a sub-class of Hyperboreans called Carambycae, and another called the Tarkinia. (See Places)

Page 71: Pindar had a lot to say about the Hyperboreans: "Theirs is an idyllic life . . . passed in song and dance, feasting and worship of their god Apollo. They know not disease or old age, though their span of life is a thousand years." They truly sound like a race of demigods or wizards.

ARIMASPI

Page 32: The classical writer Strabo suggests that Homer may have taken the idea for his Cyclops from Aristeas' one-eyed Arimaspi. That makes the legend-cycle of the Arimaspi-vs.-gryphons older than The Odyssey.

Page 83: The Buriats near Lake Baykal say that the Ruler of the Dead has a single eye in the middle of his forehead. Bolton also mentions "the wealthy one-eyed Forest man of the Votiaks." A Russian folklorist, A. N. Athanasiev, writes:

The Ukranians to this day preserve memories of that race; according to their stories the edinookie dwell somewhere far away over the seas; the Tatars when campaigning used to sack town and villages, slay the old people and children, but carry off the young men and women and sell the plumper ones to the one-eyed people who drove them off like sheep to their territory, fattened them up, killed them and ate them.

The Ural people also have this tradition, and cyclopean races were known in India and Mongolia. I see phrases like "far away over the seas" as a metaphor for traveling to the Other World, because the Edinookie/Arimaspi were not that far from the Urals.

AMAZONS

Page 37: A vase of the 4th Century BC shows Amazons fighting gryphons. The archeologist Tischbein suggested this scene came from some tradition that the Amazons made an expedition against the griffins.

OTHER PEOPLES

Page 42: A number of races were placed in the Rhipaean Mountains by Herodotus, including the Argippaei, the Goat-Footed Men, and people who slept six months out of the year. We'll refer more to these when we reach Herodotus.

Page 103: Also from Herodotus are "the Neuri, who became wolves once a year and were driven out of their country by an incursion of snakes." The Neuri are an early example of werewolves, then.

Next: Places


December 24, 2015:

Chester: Well! We’re starting to see some of the inhabitants of the Other World.

M: We’ll really see some strange lands today as well, Chester! This may be the longest section yet!

C: One thing: ancient peoples had plenty of legends and gods and monsters, but they didn’t have concepts of “other dimensions” and “parallel worlds”. They didn’t see their fantasy lands (which were not fantasies to them) as being in some “dimension”.

M: If you tried hard enough, you could probably assign the place names of mythology and ancient history to actual sites on earth. My back story, however, is that parallel worlds occasionally overlap. People, creatures, and paranormal forces pass from one to the other via dimensional gates or openings. Sometimes travelers who pass from Earth to the Other World and back are unaware of their trip, so they describe scenery and peoples that do not exist -- here.

PLACES

Pages 1-3: Aristeas wanders off the map upon reaching Central Asia. (My thinking is that there are many Gates there. Creatures, explorers and entire tribes have wandered from this world to others through them without even knowing.) We have decided that “Sakria” will be the equivalent of Eurasia, including the gryphon’s domain. Anyway, we can describe this section of the Fantasy World starting with the Issedonians. We might call the area they hold Issedon. North of the Issedonians is Arimaspea, then a place of Gryphons, then Hyperborea, which means "Beyond the North Wind," very far north -- the polar region itself, perhaps?

Page 24: Mention is made of Atlantis and Meropis. More has been written on Atlantis than on any other fantastic realm; we'll save the subject for another day. L. Sprague de Camp and Willy Ley write in Lands Beyond: "Plato, you remember, had fleetingly spoken about a continent on the other side of the ocean." This is Theopompus's Meropis. De Camp and Ley continue: "Theopompus enlarged on the thought of 'the other bank' and told that it was inhabited by people called Meropes, twice as big and twice as long-lived as we are. Once, he wrote, ten million Meropes set out to invade the oikoumene inside the ocean. But, arriving among the Hyperboreans of the Far North they found nothing worth stealing and returned home in disgust." [p. 217] This must have been a "'cross the pole" attack, reaching Hyperborea before hitting the main continent.

Good enough for me. Across the western ocean from Sakria lies Meropis, a continent approximately equivalent to the Americas.

Meantime, back in Bolton, we learn that Hecataeus of Abdera wrote a long treatise on the Hyperboreans in the 4th Century BC. There is a city called Cimmeris there; a river called Parapanisus flows into the northern sea; presumably this is the "frozen Sea of Amalcius." In the sea is an island called Elixoea, where live a sub-class of Hyperboreans called Carambycae after another river. There is a sub-class called the Tarkinia as well, implying a place (city?) called Tarkin or Tarkini.

I see Hyperborea as a continent surrounding the North Pole, land where we have ice. The Sea of Amalcius at the Pole (remember the Open Polar Sea?), the island of Elixoea in the sea; a river Carambyca on the island, and a Parapanisus River leading from the outer country (past Cimmeris?) to the sea.

Pages 33-34: A comedy by Maximus Planudes may have been a parody of Aristeas. A fellow named Cleodemus tells of visiting a celebration in "Aethra". A raven-haired magician with a long beard (meant to be Aristeas) throws two apples into the sky, which vanish. He throws a boy into the sky, who vanishes but returns to say that he has had dinner with the Olympians. "Aethra, the town of Zeus, hidden beyond the snow-storms of Boreas, is . . . in the land of the blessed Hyperboreans." [p. 35] Thus we have another city for Hyperborea.

Pages 39-40: Damastes of Sigeum (contemporary to Herodotus) gives us an important place name: "Beyond the Scythians dwell the Issedonians, beyond them the Arimaspi, then there are the Rhipaean mountains, from which Boreas blows and where there is always snow. Beyond these mountains the country of the Hyperboreans reaches down to the other sea." Since the gryphons live between the Arimaspi and the Hyperboreans, they must dwell in these mountains.

Page 41: Hippocrates, in his Airs Waters Places, writes that near the Arimaspi "lie the Rhipaean mountains and the region which, from the likeness to feathers of the snow which is perpetually falling there, is called Pteropheros."

Page 101: In the 10th century BC, according to the Chinese Annals of the Bamboo Books, King Mu explored the lands north of China, "over the country of the moving sands, for 1,000 le, and that of 'Heaps of Feathers', for 1,000 le." Possibly there is a relation between the "Heaps of Feathers" land and Pteropheros. I suggest that Pteropheros lies north of the Rhipaeans, but cold and bleak compared to Hyperborea. The "moving sands" may be the same as the Shifting Sands (see below).

Pages 44-45: Pliny writes in his Natural History Book VII of a strange cavern of winds: ". . . not far from the very starting-point of the north wind and the cavern which is called ‘the North Wind’s Cave’ -- the place named Ges clithron -- are said to be the Arimaspi, remarkable for having a single eye in the middle of the forehead. They are always fighting for precious ore with the griffins." Wherever the Arimaspi and gryphons are, this strange place is as well.

Page 93-94: Homer mentioned an Isle of Winds. Virgil, much later, mentioned a Cave of Winds. The Yakuts and Mongols believe the winds "lived" in the mountains. "The Goldes believe the wind to come from caves in the mountains." Ges Clithron, which means "the earth's windpipe," appears to be a quite bizarre place. John de Plano Carpini, a 13th century explorer, seems to have stumbled upon it while traveling through the Altaic region of Central Asia:

Departing from hence, wee founde a certaine small sea, vpon the shore whereof stands a little mountaine. In which mountaine is reported to be a hole, from whence, in winter time such vehement tempests of winds doe issue, that travellers can scarcely, and with great danger passe by the same way.

"The 'sea' here mentioned appears to be the lake called Ala Kul," adds Bolton.

Page 46 +: We come to Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, one of the most important works having to do with Aristeas. For one thing, Aeschylus borrowed the gryphons and Arimaspi. For another, the placement of countries in the play do not agree with Greek thought, and even the mythological beings are not in their "correct" places -- the Gorgons and Amazons are in the wrong parts of the world as per the myths of Perseus and Theseus. Is this an indication Aeschylus used a non-Greco-Roman myth-cycle?

Page 50-52: Io, the unfortunate woman changed into a calf, leaves Prometheus to head east, then north, following a river called the Hybristes to the "Caucasus". According to Bolton, to judge by Io’s travels, the mountains named Caucasus are not the range known by that name today but fit perfectly the Rhipaean mountains.

Page 53: Eustathius comments that Aeschylus' "Caucasus" is "one of the most northerly sections of the Taurus, reaching down to the neighbourhood of the Cronian sea, of which a part is also the afore-mentioned Rhipaean range." We’ve heard of the Cronian sea before. I suggest that this sea separates the Rhipaeans and Pterophoros from Hyperborea, the latter being a roughly circular area containing the North Pole. Thus it is the equivalent of the Arctic Ocean.

Io reaches the head of the Hibristes, on the way passing "the blasts of the North Wind's breath." Ges clithron? She heads south to the land of the Amazons, then she heads east again, crossing a continent-splitting strait. "Might this not be the Phasis, famous in Argonautic legend?" [p. 56] Thus somewhere along her path -- east of the Amazons -- lies a strait that divides our fantasy continent in half: The Phasis.

Page 61: "When you cross the current which divides the continents," continues Prometheus Bound, "towards the fiery-faced, sun-trod Levant . . . you reach the plain of Cisthene, home of the Gorgons." As Gorgons, Graia, and Phorcys, the "aged swan-shaped maids," dwell there, Cisthene sounds like a desert or wasteland.

The same passage of Prometheus warns: "And hear of another sight that you will see with woe: beware the sharp-beaked griffins, hounds of Zeus that bark not, and the host of one-eyed Arimaspians, the horsemen who live about the spring of Pluton's stream that flows with gold."

Page 69-70: The Apollo fragment of Simias mentions a river called the Campasus, which flows into Oceanus, which the Greeks thought encircled the Eurasian continent. "I have tentatively shown Aeschylus' Pluton as flowing into the Ocean; the river about whose upper reaches the Arimaspi dwell . . . the river which Aeschylus calls Pluton and some later writers Campylinus or Campasus."

So the Arimaspi live near the beginning of a river that flows in a Hyperboreal direction (north) to the sea. I say, then, that Pluton flows from the Rhipaean Mountains through Pteropheros to the Cronian Sea. The Hybristes, as we have seen, flows south from the Rhipaeans.

Page 80: From Marco Polo: "Still further north . . . there is a region which bears the name of DARKNESS, because neither the sun nor moon nor stars appear, but it is always as dark as with us in the twilight."

This brings to mind the Land of Darkness located somewhere between Persia and China, according to John Mandeville, who bestowed on it the cool name The Vale Perilous:

That country is quite covered by darkness, so that people outside it cannot see anything in it; and no one dares go in for fear of the darkness. Nevertheless men who live in the country round about say that they can sometimes hear the voice of men, and horses neighing, and cocks crowing, and know whereby that some kind of folk live there, but they do not know what kind of folk they are.

(Yes, Sir John Mandeville was the ultimate teller of tall tales, but nearly everything in his book was lifted from earlier works of history and exploration.)

Bolton points out [p. 187] that Homer placed his Laestrygonia in a land of darkness. Was it this same land?

Page 81: In the "Creatures" section, we will find a Chinese poem from the 3rd century BC, Chao Hun:

"Oh soul come back! For the west holds many perils:
The Shifting Sands stretch on for a hundred leagues.
You will be swept into the Thunder's Chasm, and dashed into pieces, unable to help yourself;
And even should you chance to escape from that, beyond is the empty desert,
And red ants as huge as elephants, and wasps as big as gourds."

From the point of view of China, the Shifting Sands, Thunder's Chasm, and another desert lie to the west. Plato writes in Phaedo:

One of the chasms of the earth is greater than the rest, and is bored right through the whole earth; this is the one which Homer . . . and many other poets have called Tartarus.

So there must lie a monstrous chasm or canyon between the central area of Sakria and its equivalent of China. We might call this Tartarus for lack of a better name. On the west side of the chasm is a desert, presumably Cisthene, and on the east the Shifting Sands, which sound like another desert.

Pages 98-99: Bolton compares the high mountain range of the Rhipaeans to the highest mountain called Mount Meru in the mythology of ancient India. According to the Puranas, "To the south and north of this the continent is divided by six parallel mountain chains, the southernmost being the Himalaya. The land mass to the south of the Himalaya is inhabited by the Indians, among others, that to the north of the northernmost range by the Uttarakurus."

The Greeks knew of the Uttarakurus. Pliny called them the Attacori, and Ptolemy, the Ottorokorrai. They also knew of Mount Meru, which they called Meros. The Greeks knew of them besides the lands and peoples of the Arimaspea. "It appears, then, that it would be mistaken to identify the Rhipaean mountains in any way with Mount Meru, or the Hyperboreans of the Arimaspea with the Uttarakurus." [p. 100]

I suggest Mount Meru and Uttarakuru lie to the east of the Rhipaeans, as India lies east of the Caspian Sea.

Next: Creatures

On to Aristeas and Herodotus

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And don't forget The Wandering Monsters!