December 31, 2015

All old Chester can say this week is, “Wow!” And dive right in:

Chester: I thought nothing could top Ramsey’s No Longer on the Map, but Aristeas really expands on the Other World!

M: The odd thing is that all these fantasy place names are incidental. J. D. P. Bolton merely liked gryphons and tried to ferret out information about them in ancient texts and fragments. I’ve described his efforts elsewhere as being the re-discovery of some entire lost mythology.

C: Good for him, better for us. Dude, we have got to start drawing maps now!

M: Funny you should bring that up. Recently I took out a lot of old maps I drew years ago and spread them out on the table on the porch. Then a storm blew in and rained on them!

C: Aaagh!

M: My thoughts exactly. On closer inspection, however, the stack consisted of mostly blank sheets of paper I intended to draw on some day. It was like a wake-up call, though. Maybe it’s time to draw again. In the meantime, let us finish with Mr. Bolton and old Aristeas.


The obvious place to start "Creatures" is with the gryphons. Years ago I gave them their own newsletter! Let us take the lion-birds for granted for the moment and see what other life-forms share their world.


Pages 8-10: A fragment of The Arimaspea was preserved in the works of Longinus, "On the Sublime," written in the First Century AD. That fragment reads:

This too we remark in great wonder: men dwell in the water, far from land in the midst of the sea. Unlucky wights they are, for they suffer grievously, with their eyes on the stars but their life amidst the waves. Assuredly, lifting their hands to the gods, many are the prayers which they must make, with entrails sorely tossed.

Some have interpreted the above to mean sailors far at sea, as seen by the poem's Issedonians, who could hardly imagine an ocean, let alone imagine spending one's life at sea (thus the "unlucky wights"). Others believe that Mermen are meant.

Mermen who watch the stars longingly? That brings to mind Robert Temple's theory (an idea also developed by Carl Sagan) that Oannes of ancient Mesopotamia, the fish-man who came out of the sea and taught many things to the ancients, was an extraterrestrial. If a colony of mer-beings were left on earth, they might well grow homesick and stare up at the sky from their home in the water . . .

See The Sirius Mystery by Robert Temple and Intelligent Life in the Universe by Carl Sagan and I. S. Shklovskii.


Page. 61: In Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, Io is warned that in the plain of Cisthene there dwell "Gorgons with snaky hair, bane of men;" also the Graea (the foreseeing women with one eye and one tooth amongst them); as well as the Phorcys ("aged swan-shaped maids").

Page 101: Central Asian stories "tell of swan-maidens, ugly -- they have leaden eyes, hempen plaits, and yellow nails -- and murderous, who live in darkness." They must be Aristeas' "Phorcys".


Page 66: Not only are there gold-guarding gryphons, there are giant, gold-digging ants! Herodotus writes: "There is found in this desert a kind of ant of great size -- bigger than a fox, though not so big as a dog. Some specimens which were caught are kept in the palace of the Persian king. As they burrow underground these animals throw up the sand in heaps, just as our own ants throw up the earth, and are very like ours in shape. The sand has a rich content of gold." Men who try to gather this gold-sand are attacked by the ants. Lucan placed the ants near the Arimaspi; Aelian, near the Issedonians.

Page 81: The ants were known not only to the Persians and Greeks, but to the Indians, "for the Mahabharata calls gold paid as tribute 'ant-gold'." (The Mongolian word for ant is shirgol, and I may use this as a fancy name for these critters.)

Remember the Chinese poem Chao Hun?

"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."

We see the ants from the other end of Asia, so to speak, and see yet another new creature: giant wasps! Another poem, Hai Nei Pei Ching comes from The Classic of Mountains and Seas, which was written down in the 1st century BC but probably older. It runs:

The land of Ch’uan Feng is also called the land of the Dog Jung. The appearance of these people is like dogs . . . The land of the Kuei is to the north of the body of Erh Fu. These people have the faces of men but only one eye. . . The Ch’iung-ch’i is like a tiger with wings. . . . To the east of the Ch’iung-ch’i are the giant wasps which look like wasps and the giant ants which look like ants. [p. 82]

So the Chinese placed cynocephali (see below), one-eyes, giant ants and wasps close together -- and the "tiger with wings" is close to a gryphon . . .

The usual rationalization is that the "ants" are marmots, those unscientific ancients being unable to tell a digging rodent from a big bug. Peter Costello is intrigued by the Chinese poems, however: "Are these monsters merely fabulous, or can there in fact be 'giant ants' or similar insects in the Mongolian region?" [Magic Zoo, p. 93]


Page 68: A fragment known as the Apollo of Simias (early 3rd century BC) contains an interesting statement:

And passing through the rich land of the far-off Hyperboreans . . . I approached the wondrous stream of ever-flowing Campasus, which rolls its waters to the divine immortal sea. And my way lay by islands dark with green firs, overgrown with lofty reeds; and I remarked the monstrous race of men who are half dog, upon whose supple necks is set a canine head armed with powerful jaws. Like dogs too they bark, yet comprehend the articulate speech of other men.

Due to the unnamed narrator's friendship with Apollo and the fact that only one Greek for several centuries claimed to explore anywhere near the Hyperboreans, it is possible this fragment is part of Aristeas' tale. If so, it brings in the Dog-Heads, or Cynocephali.

Marco Polo, Sir John Mandeville, and numerous ancient and medieval writers mentioned cynocephali. They appear in Chinese and Greenland Eskimo tales. The Sirius Mystery touches upon Anubis, the Dog-Star, werewolves and cynocephali so much, one wonders if the suggested alien visitors are fishlike "Oanneans" or some anthropomorphic canine beings.

In recent years sightings of wolf- or dog-headed humanoids have proliferated amazingly, as documented by journalist Linda Godfrey in The Beast of Bray Road and other books. Are they pure fantasy or not?


Page 84: Adolph Erman, in Travels in Siberia, writes that the Samoyeds, upon finding Mammoth and woolly rhino bones, "have got so distinct a notion of a colossal bird, that the compressed and sword-shaped horns, for example, of the Rhinoceros teichorinus, are never called, among the Russian promuishleniks and merchants, by any other name than that of 'birds' claws.'" Erman believes the idea of the gryphon came from the finding of these fossil bones. However: "they plainly state that their forefathers saw it and fought wondrous battles with it: just as the mountain Samoyedes preserve to this day the tradition, that the mammoth still haunts the sea-shore, dwelling in the recesses of the mountain and feeding on the dead."

In the ancient land of the gryphons, close to the Arctic-like areas of Pteropheros, the Cronian Sea, and the Rhipaeans themselves, why shouldn't prehistoric pachyderms still wander?


Page 86: Bolton mentions that in ancient times, in the Middle East, there were "snake-gryphons" and "lion-gryphons" as well as the run-of-the-mill eagle-gryphon. The snake-gryphon is better known as the Sirrush, or the Dragon of the Ishtar Gate; Willy Ley has written of this in Exotic Zoology and other books. The lion-gryphon, as well as many permutations of gargoyle-like and djinn-like gryphons -- to say nothing about much information on the regular beast -- can be found in Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green.

January 6, 2015

Chester: Well, more months have whirled by, but at last our schedule looks clear. Now, seriously, we’ve got to start on maps!

M: All right! But we should back up one more level and look at the book that preserved at least a bit of Aristeas’ tale for the ages, Herodotus’ Histories.

C: Why?

M: I’ve mentioned that some place names may be applied to areas on earth and the Other World simultaneously, because in ancient times people passed from one to the other without realizing it.

C: Yes, you’ve listed a Lake Ala Kul on the gryphons’ world, when there’s an earthly Ala Kul – where the rodents that carried the Black Death originated! Ha! Thought I’d forget, didn’t you?

M: Good catch! Old Herodotus did his best to give an overview of the whole world, but as he described western and central Asia, he had to rely on Aristeas and Scythean legends. In the George Rawlinson translation of The Histories, a footnote (page 310) tells us that “Here the description of Herodotus, which has been hitherto excellent, begins to fail.” His Scythean lands fade into the Other World. I believe this happens as we pass east and north beyond a river called the Araxes. (Herodotus seems to map the world by rivers.)

East of the Araxes, running north-to-south, is the Hypanis River, which runs into a sea called Maeotis at Cape Hippolaus. The river itself originates in a lake called, logically enough, the “Mother of Hypanis,” where wild white horses graze. (p. 298 in the de Selincourt translation, which is an easier read) On the west side of this river dwell a tribe or nation called the Agathyrsi, who “live in luxury and wear gold on their persons.” (p. 305)

Herodotus seems to consider the next river to the east, the Borysthenes, to be more important, because the next few physical features are named in relation to it. The Borysthenes runs south but meets the Hypanis before reaching Cape Hippolaus. Just north of this confluence live the Callipides (to the east) and the Alizones (to the west). Both tribes grow vegetables as well as hunt, but actual farmers live north of the Alizones. The Neuri live north of all these. The members of this infamous nation turn into wolves for a few days once a year. (p. 306) Despite these werewolfish traits, they were driven south by monstrous snakes which invaded their lands “from the uninhabited region to the north.” (p. 305)

The River Tyras, and the lake from which it emerges, mark the Neuri’s southern boundaries. A little south of this, near the farmlands, lies a salt marsh which drains into the Hypanis, so salty that the water south of the Tyras is undrinkable. The marsh area is called Exampaeus.

East of the Borysthenes River, nearest the sea, is a country called Hylaea, “The Woodland”. (p. 277) North of this lie the lands of a tribe called the Olbiopolites. The Olbiopolites are bounded on the east by yet another river, the Panticapes, “the distance of a three days’ journey.” We are told later (p. 289) that the Panticapes curves around to join the Borysthenes. North of the Olbiopolites lies a desert, and north of that dwell the Anthropophagi, the Man-Eaters, and north of them another waste stretches into unknown territories, “utter desert without trace of human life.”

East of the Panticapes is a land of nomads who know nothing of agriculture. “All this region with the exception of Hylaea is treeless.” Their territory stretches eastward for a “fourteen days’ journey” to the River Gerrhus, but their lands are split down the middle by another river, the Hypacyris. (p. 289) The Gerrhus joins the Hypacyris before it reaches the sea. Across the Gerrhus lies “the Country of the Kings,” the warlike Paralatae, or Royal Scyths, “who are the most warlike and numerous section of their race, and [who] look upon the others as their slaves.” (p. 277) Their land runs down as far as a country called Taurica and east to a port city, Cremni, and “the trench which was dug by the sons of the blind slaves.”

North of the Royal Scyths lies the land of the mysterious Melanchlaeni, or Black-Cloaks, and north of them stretches a country of many lakes, Limnos.

The tribe known as the Gerrhi proved to be a bit of a puzzle. They predictably live near the source of the Gerrhus River, but they are also supposed to be “forty days’ voyage” up the Borysthenes. Indeed, Herodotus tells us the two rivers split “far to the north at a spot which goes by the same name [Gerrhus].” Rivers flow together, they don’t split apart. I got around this by having the Borysthenes curve sharply to the east, its head being near the head of the Gerrhus, with the tribe in between. This sent the Borysthenes through the Anthropophagi country, which might explain their oasis between two deserts.

East of the Country of the Kings lies the Tanais River, which leads down to the Maeotis and the port city of Cremni. Another river, the Hyrgis, joins it from the east. The land east of the Tanais belongs to the Sauromatae and stretches east for “fifteen days’ journey.” It is another grassland, but the next region, which belongs to the Budini, is a thick tract of forest.

Close by the Budini forest lies a huge lake, Kelonis, with a city of the same name on its shore. Kelonis is a city built entirely out of wood, from its temples to its coping walls. I have the Hyrgis join the lake and the Tanais. The lake is home to many beaver and a strange animal with a “square face.”

Oeorpata, better known as Amazons, dwell somewhere to the east of the Budini. A shipload of them landed by accident at Cremni. Sauromatae youths tried to woo them but realized they could never accept the traditional roles of women. The young men and Amazons finally began a new tribe somewhere northeast of the Budini.

North a seven days’ journey from the Budini lies the land of the Thyssagetae and the Ircae, who live by hunting. Northeast of these tribes lies a land of stony hills, the foothills of a great mountain range. Here live the Argippaei, a race of “bald men” with “snub noses and long chins.” (p. 278) They sound a bit like Dwarves to me.

Northeast of the bald men rises an impenetrable range of mountains, where live “a goat-footed race, beyond which, still further north, are men who sleep six months of the year,” a strange tribe of hibernators.

But wait! These tribes are all Scytheans, or located near the Scyths. And Aristeas said the Issedons were the Scytheans’ neighbors. We have run here into the Aristean geography given some time back. The lofty mountains of the Argippaei certainly represent the tail end of the Rhipaean Mountains, where the gryphons reign.

Chester: Wow! We sure stretch a long way across this Fantasy World of ours!

M: Yes, it’s a belt of lands and tribes running east-west, with a slight favor to the northeast, plus a general idea of farther countries like Hyperborea.

C: Now can we get to maps?

M: Let’s rest a bit and absorb it all, Chester, then we’ll tackle mapping.


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And don't forget The Wandering Monster!