Western peoples beyond the pillars of Herakles (and up): Lucian’s A True Story and ethnographic fiction (late second century CE)

Ancient author: Lucian of Samosata, A True Story, full work (link Greek text and full translation).

Comments: Lucian of Samosata was a Syrian- or Assyrian-born person with a thorough education in Greek culture and a penchant for irony and satire. Lucian’s work entitled A True Story, or True Histories, is particularly important to a website on ethnographic culture as it is filled with tales of travel and descriptions of unusual peoples encountered (on an expressly untrue voyage) to the west beyond the pillars of Herakles (and up in the air too).

Lucian’s main focus is, in fact, spoofing or making fun of precisely the sort of Greek ethnographic or paradoxographic materials that you find rampant on this website: First, Lucian lampoons historical writing with digressions on wonders and the unusual practices of foreign peoples, and he most clearly has in mind people like Ktesias of Knidos and Herodotos of Halikarnassos. Second, Lucian’s artificial travelogue rings of the many more serious-sounding circumnavigation (periploi) narratives, such as those of Pseudo-Skymnos, Pseudo-Skylax, and Hanno the Carthaginian (link). Third, Lucian’s fictional account aligns closely with the travel elements in other openly fictional or novelistic writings, such as Homer’s Odyssey and Antonios Diogenes’ Wonders Beyond Thule (link). When describing peoples on the journey, the narrative gives considerable attention to their customs and the focus is on how unusual or bizarre they are, and so things like unusual sexual practices and eating practices (e.g. cannibalism) are highlighted.

Source of the translation: A.M. Harmon, Lucian (LCL; Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1913), volume 1, public domain, adapted and modernized by Harland.


Book 1

[Introduction and context of spoofing ethnographic writing and travelogues]

(1) Men interested in athletics and in taking care of their bodies do not only think about condition and exercise but also about relaxation at the right time. In fact, they consider this the principal part of training. In a similar way, I think that students may profitably relax their minds and put them in better trim for future labour after much reading of serious works. It would be appropriate recreation for them if they were to take up the sort of reading that, instead of affording just pure amusement based on wit and humour, also provides a little food for thought that the Muses would not altogether reject. I think they will consider the present work something of the kind. They will find it enticing not only for the novelty of its subject, for the humour of its plan and because I tell all kinds of lies in a plausible and specious way, but also because everything in my story is a more or less comical parody of one or another of the poets, historians and philosophers of the old days, who have written a lot that smacks of the marvellous and fables.

I would cite them by name, were it not that you yourself will recognize them from your reading. One of them is Ktesias son of Ktesiochos of Knidos [Tekir, Turkey], who wrote a great deal about India and its characteristics that he had never seen himself nor heard from anyone else with a reputation for truthfulness [link (coming soon) to Ktesias’ Indian Matters]. Iamboulos also wrote much that was strange about the countries in the great sea: he made up a falsehood that is obvious to everybody, but wrote a story that is not uninteresting nonetheless [link to Iamboulous’ story via Diodoros]. Many others, with the same intent, have written about imaginary travels and journeys of theirs, telling of huge beasts, cruel men and strange ways of living. Their guide and instructor in this sort of ridiculously humorous story telling is Homer‘s Odysseus, who tells Alkinous and his court about winds in bondage, one-eyed men, cannibals and savages, as well as telling about animals with many heads and transformations of his companions after taking drugs. This stuff, and much more like it, is what our friend amazed the illiterate Phaiakians with! Well, on reading all these authors, I did not find much fault with them for their lying, as I saw that this was already a common practice even among men who profess philosophy. I did wonder, though, why they thought they could write untruths and not get caught doing it.

Therefore, since I am conceited, I myself was eager to hand something down to posterity so that I might not be the only one excluded from the privileges of poetic licence. Since I had nothing true to tell because I had not had any adventures of significance, I turned to lying. But my lying is far more honest than theirs becaus even though I tell lies all the way through I will at least be truthful in saying that I am a liar. I think I can escape the condemnation of the world by my own admission that I am not telling a word of truth. Be it understood, then, that I am writing about things which I have neither seen nor had to do with nor learned from others, things which, in fact, do not exist at all and, in the nature of things, cannot exist. So my readers should by no means believe in them.

[Journey narrative begins]

(5) Once upon a time, setting out from the Pillars of Herakles [near Spain] and heading for the western ocean [Atlantic Ocean] with a fair wind, I went voyaging. The motive and purpose of my journey lay in my intellectual activity and desire for adventure, and in my wish to find out what the end of the ocean was, and who the people were that lived on the other side. For this reason, I loaded plenty of provisions on board, stowed enough water, enlisted for the task fifty of my acquaintances who were like-minded with myself, got together a great quantity of weapons, shipped the best sailing-master to be had at a large price, and put my boat (it was a small one) in for a long and difficult voyage.

Well, for a day and a night we sailed before the wind without going very far, as land was still barely in sight. But at sunrise on the second day the wind freshened, the sea rose, darkness came on, and before we knew it we could no longer even get our sail in. Committing ourselves to the gale and giving up, we drove for seventy-nine days. On the eightieth day, however, the sun came out suddenly and at no great distance we saw a high, wooded island ringed around by sounding surf, which, however, was not rough, as already the worst of the storm was abating [perhaps drawing on Iamboulos’ tale specifically, available at this link].

Landing and going ashore, we rested on the ground for some time because of our long misery. But finally we arose and told thirty of our passengers to stay and guard the ship and twenty to go inland with me and look over the island. When we had gone forward through the woods about three stadia [about 480 metres] from the sea, we saw a slab of bronze inscribed with Greek letters that were faint and damaged, which said: “Herakles and Dionysos came this far.” There were also two footprints in the rock close by, one of which was a hundred feet long, the other less. In my view, the smaller one was left by Dionysos, the other by Herakles. We bowed down to them and went on. But we had not gone far before when we came to a river of wine, which was just like Chian [a reference to a person in Ktesias’ narrative]. The stream was large and full, so that in places it was actually navigable. So we could not help having much greater faith in the inscription on the slab, seeing the evidence of Dionysos’ visit.

I resolved to find out where the river began, and went up along the stream. What I found was not a source, but a number of large grapevines, full of clusters. Beside the root of each flowed a spring of clear wine, and the springs gave rise to the river. There were many fish to be seen in it, very similar to wine in colour and in taste. In fact, on catching and eating some of them, we became drunk, and when we cut into them we found them full of the sediment from wine, of course. Later on, we thought to mix with them the other kind of fish, those from the water, and so temper the strength of our edible wine.

[Grapevine-people who speak Lydian or Indian but also Greek]

Next, after crossing the river at a place where it was fordable, we found something wonderful in grapevines. The part which came out of the ground, the trunk itself, was stout and well-grown, but the upper part was in each case a woman, entirely perfect from the waist up. They were like our pictures of Daphne turning into a tree when Apollo is just catching her. Out of their finger-tips grew the branches, and they were full of grapes. Actually, the hair of their heads was tendrils and leaves and clusters! When we came up, they welcomed and greeted us, some of them speaking Lydian, some Indian, but mostly Greek. They even kissed us on the lips, and everyone that was kissed at once became reeling drunk. However, they did not allow us to gather any of the fruit, but cried out in pain when it was plucked. Some of them actually wanted us to embrace them, and two of my comrades complied, but could not get away again. They were held tight by the part which had touched them, for it had grown in and struck root. Already branches had grown from their fingers, tendrils entwined them, and they were on the point of bearing fruit like the others any minute. Leaving them in the lurch, we made off to the boat. On arriving there, we told the men we had left behind about everything, including the affair of our comrades with the vines. Then, taking jars, we supplied ourselves not only with water but with wine from the river, encamped for the night on the beach close by, and at daybreak put to sea with a moderate breeze.

[View of Earth from the sky]

About noon, when the island was no longer in sight, a whirlwind suddenly arose, spun the boat around, raised it into the air about three hundred stadia [about 48 km] about and did not let the boat down into the sea again. Instead, while the boat was hung up in the air a wind struck its sails and drove it ahead with a full sail. (10) For seven days and seven nights we sailed in the air, and on the eighth day we saw a great country in it, resembling an island, bright and round and shining with a great light. Running in there and anchoring, we went ashore, and on investigating found that the land was inhabited and cultivated. By day nothing was in sight from the place, but as night came on we began to see many other islands close by, some larger, some smaller, and they were like fire in colour. We also saw another country below, with cities in it and rivers, seas, forests and mountains. This we inferred to be our own world.

[Moonite and Sunite peoples]

We determined to go still further inland, but we met what they call the vulture-riders (hippogypoi), and were arrested. These are men riding on large vultures and using the birds for horses. The vultures are large and for the most part have three heads: you can judge their size from the fact that the mast of a large merchant is not as long or thick as the smallest of the quills they have. The vulture-riders are commissioned to fly around the country and bring before the king any stranger they may find, so of course they arrested us and brought us before him. When he had looked us over and drawn his conclusions from our clothes, he said: “So you are Greeks, are you, strangers?” When we assented he said: “Well, how did you get here and cross so much of the sky?” We told him everything and he began to tell us about himself: that he too was a human being, Endymion by name, who had once been carried away from our country in his sleep, and on coming to this place had been made king of the land. Endymion said that his country was the moon that shines down on us.

Endymion urged us to take heart, however, and suspect no danger, for we should have everything that we required. He said: “If I succeed in the war which I am now making on the people of the sun, you will lead the happiest of lives with me.” We asked who the enemy were, and what the quarrel was about. “Phaithon,” he said, “the king of the inhabitants of the sun. For the sun is inhabited, you know, as well as the moon. The sun has been at war with us for a long time now.

[Moon people’s attempted colonization of the sun]

The war began in this way: Once upon a time I gathered together the poorest people in my kingdom and tried to plant a colony on the Morning Star, which was empty and uninhabited. Phaithon out of jealousy foiled the colonization, meeting us half-way leading his ant-riders (hippomyrmēkoi). At that time we were beaten, for we were not a match for them in strength, and we retreated. However, at this point I desire to make war again and plant the colony. If you wish, then, you may take part with me in the expedition and I will give each of you one of my royal vultures and a complete outfit. We will take engage the enemy tomorrow.” “Alright,” I said, “since you think it’s best.”

That night we stopped there as his guests, but at daybreak we arose and took our posts, for the scouts signalled that the enemy was near. The number of our army was a hundred thousand, apart from the porters, the engineers, the infantry and the foreign allies. Among these were eighty thousand vulture-riders and twenty thousand vegetable-wings. The vegetable-wing is also a very large bird, which instead of feathers is covered in grass and has wings like lettuce-leaves. Next to these were posted the millet-shooters and the garlic-fighters. Endymion also had allies who came from the Great Bear [constellation]: thirty thousand flea-archers and fifty thousand wind-runners. The flea-archers ride on giant fleas, from which they get their name. The fleas are as large as twelve elephants. The wind-runners are infantry, to be sure, but they fly in the air without wings. As to the manner of their flight, they pull their long tunics up through their underwear and let the baggy folds fill with wind as if they were sails, and they are carried along like boats. For the most part they serve as light infantry in battle. It was also said that the stars over Kappadocia (or: Cappadocia) would send seventy thousand sparrow-acorns and five thousand crane-riders. I did not get a look at them, as they did not come [a joke about claims of autopsy in ethnographic and paradoxographic writing]. So I have not ventured to write about their characteristics, for the stories about them were wonderful and unbelievable.

These were the forces of Endymion. They all had the same equipment: helmets of beans (their beans are large and tough); scale armour made of lupine flowers (they sew together the skins of flowers to make the armour, and in that country the skin of the lupine flower is unbreakable, like horn); shields and swords in a Greek design. (15) When the time came, they took position like this: on the right wing, the vulture-riders and the king, with the bravest around him (we were among them); on the left, the begetable-wings; in the centre, the allies, in whatever formation they liked. The infantry came to about sixty million, and was deployed as follows: Spiders in that country are numerous and large, all of them far larger than the Kyklades islands [southern Greek islands in the Aegean]. They were commissioned by the king to span the air between the Moon and the Morning Star with a web, and as soon as they had finished and had made a plain with the webs, he deployed his infantry on it. Their leaders were Owlett son of Fairweather, and two others.

As to the enemy, on the left were the ant-riders, with whom was Phaithon. They are very large beasts with wings, like the ants that we have, except that the largest one was two hundred feet long in size [cf. Herodotos, Inquiries 3.102]. They themselves fought, as well as their riders, and made especially good use of their feelers. They were said to number about fifty thousand. On their right were posted the sky-mosquitoes, numbering also about fifty thousand, all archers riding on large mosquitoes. Next to them were the sky-dancers, a sort of light infantry but a formidable one like all the rest, for they slung radishes at long range and any man that they hit could not hold out a moment but died and his wound was stinky. They were said to anoint their missiles with mallow poison. Beside them were posted the stalk-mushrooms, heavy infantry employed at close quarters, ten thousand in number. They had the name stalk-mushrooms because they used mushrooms for shields and stalks of asparagus for spears. Near them stood the puppy-acorns, who were sent him by the inhabitants of the Dog-star, five thousand dog-faced men who fight on the back of winged acorns.

It was said that there were tardy allies in Phaithon’s case, too: the slingers whom he had summoned from the Milky Way, and the Cloud-centaurs. The latter to be sure, arrived just after the battle was over (if only they had not!). But the slingers did not put in an appearance at all. On account of this, they say, Phaithon was furious with them and afterwards ravaged their country with fire.

This, then, was the array with which Phaithon came on. Joining battle when the flags had been flown and the donkeys on both sides had brayed (for they had donkeys for trumpeters), they fought. The left wing of the Sunites fled at once, without even receiving the charge of the vulture-horse, and we pursued, cutting them down. But their right wing got the better of the left on our side, and the sky-mosquitoes advanced in pursuit right up to the infantry. Then, when the infantry came to the rescue, they broke and fled, especially as they saw that the forces on their left had been defeated. It was a glorious victory, in which many were taken alive and many were slain. So much blood flowed on the clouds that they were dyed and looked red, as they do in our country when the sun is setting. So much also dripped down on the earth that I wonder whether something of the sort did not take place in the sky long ago, when Homer [Iliad 16, 459] supposed that Zeus had sent a rain of blood because of the death of Sarpedon.

When we had returned from the pursuit we set up two trophies, one on the spider-webs for the infantry battle and the other, for the sky battle, on the clouds. We were just doing this when the scouts reported that the cloud-centaurs, who should have come to Phaithon’s aid before the battle, were advancing on us. Before we knew it, they were coming on in plain sight, a most unparalleled spectacle, being a combination of winged horses and men. In size the men were as large as the Colossus of Rhodes [statue of Helios / the Sun] from the waist up, and the horses were as large as a great merchantman. Their number, however, I leave unrecorded for fear that someone may think it is unbelievable, it was so great. Their leader was the Archer from the Zodiac. When they saw that their friends had been defeated, they sent word to Phaithon to advance again and then, on their own account, they attacked the disorganized Moonites, who had broken ranks and scattered to pursue and to plunder. They put them all to flight, pursued the king himself to the city and killed most of his birds. They grabbed the trophies and overran the whole plain woven by the spiders, and they captured me with two of my comrades. By this time Phaithon was also present, and other trophies were being set up by their side.

As for us, we were taken off to the sun that day, our hands tied behind our backs with a section of spider-web. The enemy decided not to lay siege to the city, but on their way back they built a wall through the air, so that the rays of the sun should no longer reach the moon. The wall was double, made of cloud, so that a genuine eclipse of the moon took place, and the moon was completely enshrouded in unbroken night. Hard pressed by this, Endymion sent and begged them to pull down the construction and not let them lead their lives in darkness. He promised to pay tribute, to be an ally and not to make war again, and volunteered to give hostages for all this. Phaithon and his people held two assemblies. (20) On the first day they did not lay aside a particle of their anger, but on the second day they softened, and the peace was made on these terms:

“On the following conditions the Sunites and their allies make peace with the Moonites and their allies: that the Sunites tear down the dividing-wall and do not invade the moon again, and that they hand over the prisoners of war, each at a set ransom; that the Moonites permit the stars to be autonomous, and do not make war on the Sunites; that each country aid the other if it is attacked; that in yearly tribute the king of the Moonites will pay the king of the Sunites ten thousand gallons of dew, and that he will give ten thousand of his people as hostages; that the colony on the Morning Star will be planted in common, and that anyone else who wants to may take part in it; that the treaty be inscribed on a slab of electrum and set up in mid-air, on the common confines. Attested under hand and seal. (Signed for the Sunites): Firebrace, Darkling, Parcher. (Signed for the Moonites): Moony, Burns, All-bright.”

On those terms peace was made, and then the wall was torn down at once and we prisoners were restored. When we reached the moon we were met and tearfully welcomed by our comrades and by Endymion himself. He wanted me to stay with him and join the colony, promising to give me his own son in marriage – there are no women in their country. But I was not going to be persuaded. I asked him to let me go down to the sea. When he perceived that he could not convince me, he let us go after entertaining us for seven days.

[Moonites’ customs and other marvels]

In the mean time, while I was living on the moon, I observed some strange and wonderful things that I want to explain. In the first place there is the fact that they are not born of women but of men: they marry men and do not even know the word woman at all! Up to the age of twenty-five each is a wife, and after that a husband. They carry their children in the calf of the leg instead of the belly. When conception takes place the calf begins to swell. In course of time they cut it open and deliver the child dead, and then they bring it to life by putting it in the wind with its mouth open. It seems to me that the term “belly [i.e. calf] of the leg” came to us Greeks from that, since the leg performs the function of a belly with them.

But I will tell you something else, still more wonderful. They have a kind of men whom they call the Dendrites [Tree-men], who are brought into the world as follows: Cutting out a man’s right testicle, they plant it in the ground. From it grows a very large tree of flesh, resembling a phallus: it has branches and leaves, and its fruit is acorns a cubit thick. When these ripen, they harvest them and shell out the men. Another thing is that they have artificial parts that are sometimes of ivory and sometimes, with the poor, of wood, and make use of them in their intercourse.

When a man grows old, he does not die, but is dissolved like smoke and turns into air. They all eat the same food: they light a fire and cook frogs on the coals (they have lots of frogs that fly around in the air). While they are cooking, they sit around them as if at table, breathe in the rising smoke and gorge themselves [cf. Herodotos, Inquiries 1.202; 4.75; Strabo, Geography 15.1.57]. This is the food they eat, and their drink is air, which is squeezed into a cup and yields a liquid like dew. They do not urinate or defecate like we do. In fact, they do not have orifices where we have them: in their intercourse with the young they use orifices behind the knee.

A man is thought beautiful in that country if he is bald and hairless, and they quite detest long-haired people. It is different on the hairy-stars (komētai; i.e. our comets), where they think long-haired people are beautiful. There were visitors in the moon who told us about them. Another point is that they have beards that grow a little above the knee, and they have no toe-nails, but are all single-toed. Over each man’s rear-end grows a long cabbage-leaf, like a tail, which is always green and does not break if he falls on his back. When their noses run, it is honey of great pungency, and when they work or exercise, they sweat milk all over their bodies. The quality of the milk is good enough to make cheese by dripping in a little of the honey. They make oil from onions, and it is very clear and sweet-smelling, like myrrh. They have many water-vines, the grapes of which are like hailstones. In my view, the hail that falls down on us is due to the bursting of the bunches when a wind strikes and shakes those vines. They use their bellies for pockets, putting into them anything they need, as they can open and shut them. These parts do not seem to have any intestines in them or anything else, except that they are all shaggy and hairy inside, so that the children enter them when it is cold.

(25) The clothing of the rich is malleable glass [cf. Herodotos, Inquiries 7.65] and that of the poor, spun bronze because that region is rich in bronze, which they work like wool by wetting it with water. I am reluctant to tell you what sort of eyes they have, for fear that you may think I am lying on account of the unbelievability of the story, but I will tell you nonetheless. The eyes that they have are removable, and whenever they want they take them out and put them away until they want to see: then they put them in and look. Many, on losing their own, borrow other people’s to see with, and the rich folk keep a quantity stored up. For ears they have plane-leaves, except only the acorn-men, who have wooden ones.

In the royal areas I saw another marvel. A large looking-glass is fixed above a well, which is not very deep. If a man goes down into the well, he hears everything that is said among us on earth. If he looks into the looking-glass, he sees all cities and all peoples (ethnē) just as if he were standing over it. When I tried it I saw my family and my whole homeland, but I cannot go further and say for certain whether they also saw me. Anyone who does not believe this is the case will find that I am telling the truth – if he ever gets there himself.

[Journey continues]

To go back to my story, we embraced the king and his friends, went aboard, and sailed off. Endymion even gave me presents: two of the glass tunics, five of bronze, and a suit of lupine flower armour. But I left them all behind in the whale. He also sent a thousand vulture-riders with us to escort us for sixty miles. On our way we passed many countries and put in at the Morning Star, which was just being colonized. We landed there and procured water. Going aboard and heading toward the zodiac, we passed the sun to port, staying close to shore. We did not land, though many of my comrades wanted to; for the wind was unfavourable. But we saw that the country was green and fertile and well-watered, and full of untold good things. On seeing us, the cloud-centaurs, who had entered the service of Phaithon, flew up to the ship and then went away again when they found out that the treaty protected us. The vulture-riders had already left us.

[Inhabitants of Lamp-town]

Sailing the next night and day we reached Lamp-town toward evening, already being on our downward way. This city lies in the air midway between the Pleiades and the Hyades [constellations], though much lower than the Zodiac. On landing, we did not find any men at all, but a lot of lamps running about and loitering in the public square and at the harbour. Some of them were small and poor, so to speak. A few, being great and powerful, were very splendid and conspicuous. Each of them has his own house, or sconce, they have names like men and we heard them talking. They did not try to harm us but invited us to be their guests. We were afraid, however, and none of us ventured to eat a mouthful or close an eye. They have a public building in the centre of the city, where their magistrate sits all night and calls each of them by name. Whoever does not answer is sentenced to death for deserting. They are executed by being put out. We were at court, saw what went on, and heard the lamps defend themselves and tell why they came late. There I recognized our own lamp: I spoke to him and inquired how things were at home, and he told me all about them.

[Inhabitants of Cloud-cuckoo-town]

That night we stopped there, but on the next day we set sail and continued our voyage. By this time we were near the clouds. There we saw the city of Cloudcuckooland [cf. Aristophanes, The Birds], and wondered at it. But we did not visit it, as the wind did not permit. The king, however, was said to be Koronos (Hooked) son of Kottyphion (Blackbird). It made me think of Aristophanes the poet, a wise and truthful man whose writings are distrusted without reason. On the next day but one, the ocean was already in plain sight, but no land anywhere except the countries in the air, and they began to appear fiery and bright. Toward noon on the fourth day the wind fell gently and gave out, and we were set down on the sea. (30) When we touched the water we were marvellously pleased and happy, made as merry as we could in every way, and went over the side for a swim, for by good luck it was calm and the sea was smooth.

[Inhabitants in the whale]

It would seem, however, that a change for the better often proves a prelude to worse things. We had sailed just two days in fair weather and the third day was breaking when toward sunrise we suddenly saw a number of sea-monsters, whales. One among them, the largest of all, was fully one hundred and fifty miles long. He came at us with open mouth, dashing up the sea far in advance, foam-washed, showing teeth much larger than the emblems of Dionysos in our country [Lucian’s Syrian Goddess, 23], and all sharp as calthrops and white as ivory. We said goodbye to one another, embraced, and waited. The whale was there in an instant, and with a gulp swallowed us down, ship and all. He just missed crushing us with his teeth, but the boat slipped through the gaps between them into the interior. When we were inside, it was dark at first, and we could not see anything. Later, when he opened his mouth, we saw a great cavity, flat all over and high, and large enough for the housing of a great city. In it there were fish, large and small, and many other creatures all mangled, ships’ rigging and anchors, human bones, and merchandise. In the middle there was land with hills on it, which to my thinking was formed of the mud that he had swallowed. Indeed, a forest of all kinds of trees had grown on it, a garden had grown, and everything appeared to be under cultivation. The coast of the island was twenty-seven miles long. Sea-birds were to be seen nesting on the trees, gulls and kingfishers. At first we shed tears for a long time, and then I roused my comrades and we provided for the ship by shoring it up and for ourselves by rubbing sticks together, lighting a fire and getting dinner as best we could. We had plenty of fish of all kinds at hand, and we still had the water from the Morning Star. On rising the next day, whenever the whale opened his mouth we saw mountains one moment, nothing but sky the next, and islands frequently, and we perceived by this that he was rushing swiftly to all parts of the sea. When at length we became used to our abiding-place, I took seven of my comrades and went into the forest, wishing to have a look at everything. I had not yet gone quite five stadia [about 800 metres] when I found a temple of Poseidon, as the inscription indicated, and not far from it a number of graves with stones on them. Near by was a spring of clear water. We also heard the barking of a dog, smoke appeared in the distance, and we made out something like a farmhouse, too.

Advancing eagerly, we came upon an old man and a boy very busily at work in a garden which they were irrigating with water from the spring. Joyful and fearful at the same instant, we stopped still, and they too, probably feeling the same as we, stood there without a word. In course of time the old man said: “Who are you, strangers? Are you sea-gods, or only unlucky men like us? As for ourselves, though we are men and were bred on land, we have become sea-creatures and swim around with this beast which encompasses us, not even knowing for certain what our condition is. We suppose that we are dead, but trust that we are alive.” To this I replied: “We too are men, my good sir. We are newcomers who were swallowed up yesterday, ship and all. We set out just now with the notion of finding out how things were in the forest, for it appeared to be very large and thick. But some divinity, it seems, brought us to see you and to discover that we are not the only people shut up in this animal. Do tell us your adventures. Who are you and how didi you get in here?” But he said he would neither tell us nor question us before giving us what entertainment he could command, and he took us with him to the house. It was a commodious structure, had bunks built in it and was fully supplied in other ways. He set before us vegetables, fruit and fish and poured us out wine as well. When we had had enough, he asked us what had happened to us. I told him about everything from first to last: the storm, the island, the cruise in the air, the war, and all the rest of it up to our descent into the whale.

He expressed huge wonder, and then told us his own story, saying: “By birth, strangers, I am Kyprian (or: Cyprian). Setting out from my homeland on a trading venture with my boy whom you see and with many servants besides, I began a voyage to Italy, bringing various goods on a great ship, which you no doubt saw wrecked in the mouth of the whale. As far as Sicily we had a fortunate voyage, but there we were caught by a violent wind and driven out into the ocean for three days, where we fell in with the whale, were swallowed up crew and all, and only we two survived, the others being killed. We buried our comrades, built a temple to Poseidon and live this sort of life, raising vegetables and eating fish and nuts. As you see, the forest is extensive and it also contains many grape-vines, which yield the sweetest wine. No doubt you noticed the spring of beautiful cold water, too. We make our bed of leaves, burn all the wood we want, snare the birds that fly in, and catch fresh fish by going into the gills of the animal. We also bathe there when we want to. Another thing, there is a lake not far off, twenty stadia [about 3,200 metres] in circumference, with all kinds of fish in it, where we swim and sail in a little skiff that I made. It is now twenty-seven years since we were swallowed.

[Description of the savage peoples in the whale, and the war with them]

(35) Everything else is perhaps endurable, but our neighbours and fellow-inhabitants are extremely quarrelsome and unpleasant, being unsocial people and savages (agrioi).” “What!” I said, “are there other people in the whale, too?” “Why, yes, lots of them,” he said. “They are unfriendly and are oddly built. In the western part of the forest, the tail part, live the Tarichanians (Salt-fish people), an eel-eyed, lobster-faced people that are warlike, bold, and carnivorous. On one side, by the starboard wall, live the Tritonomendetians (Sea-satyrs), like men above and catfish below: they are not so wicked as the others. To port there are the Karkinocheirians (Crabclaws) and the Thynnokephalians (Tunafishheads), who are friends and allies with each other. The interior is inhabited by Pagouridians (Shellbacks) and the Psettopodians (Solefeets), good fighters and swift runners. The eastern part, that near the mouth, is mostly uninhabited, as it is subject to inundations of the sea. I live in it, however, paying the Psettopodians a tribute of five hundred oysters a year. Such being the nature of the country, it is for you to see how we can fight with all these peoples and how we are to get a living.” “How many are there of them in all?” I said. “More than a thousand,” he said. “What sort of weapons do they have?” “Nothing but fishbones,” he said. “Then our best plan,”I said, “would be to meet them in battle, as they are unarmed and we have arms. If we defeat them, we will live here in peace the rest of our days.”

We decided to do this and we went to the boat and got ready. The cause of war was to be the withholding of the tribute, since the date for it had already arrived. They sent and demanded the tax, and he gave the messengers a contemptuous answer and drove them off. First the Psettopodians and Pagouridians, incensed at Skintharos – for that was his name – came on with a great uproar. Anticipating their attack, we were waiting under arms, having previously posted in our front a squad of twenty-five men in ambush, who had been directed to fall on the enemy when they saw that they had gone by, and this they did. Falling on them in the rear, they cut them down, while we ourselves, twenty-five in number (for Skintharos and his son were in our ranks), met them face to face and, engaging them, ran our hazard with strength and spirit. Finally we defeated them and pursued them clear to their dens. The slain on the side of the enemy were one hundred and seventy. On our side, one died: the sailing-master, who was run through the midriff with a mullet-rib.

That day and night we camped uncovered in the field and made a trophy by setting up the dry spine of a dolphin. On the following day the others, who had heard of it, appeared, with the Tarichanians, led by Pelamos, on the right wing, the Thynnokephalians on the, left, and the Karkinocheirians in the centre. The Tritonomendetians did not take the field, choosing not to ally themselves with either party. Going out to meet them, we engaged them by the temple of Poseidon with loud shouting, and the hollow re-echoed like a cave. Defeating them (since they were armed lightly) and pursuing them into the forest, we were masters of the land from then on. Not long afterwards they sent heralds and were attempting to recover their dead and confer about an alliance, but we did not think it best to make terms with them. Indeed, on the following day we marched against them and utterly exterminated them, all but the Tritonomendetians. When they saw what was happening, they ran off through the gills and threw themselves into the sea. Occupying the country, which was now clear of the enemy, we lived there in peace from that time on, constantly engaging in sports, hunting, tending vines and gathering the fruit of the trees. In short, we resembled men leading a life of luxury and roaming at large in a great prison that they cannot break out of.

[Inhabitants of other islands seen through the mouth of the whale]

(40) For a year and eight months we lived in this way, but on the fifth day of the ninth month, about the second mouth-opening – for the whale did it once an hour, so that we told time by the openings. About the second opening, as I said, we suddenly heard a lot of shouting and commotion and what seemed to be commands and oar-beats. Excitedly we crept up to the very mouth of the whale and standing inside the teeth we saw the most unparallelled of all the sights that ever I saw: huge men, half a stadium [about 80 metres] tall, sailing on huge islands as on galleys. Though I know that what I am going to recount savours of the unbelievable, I will say it nevertheless. There were islands, long but not very high, and fully a hundred stadia [about 16 km] in circumference, on each of which about a hundred and twenty of those men were cruising. Some of the men were sitting along each side of the island one behind the other and were rowing with huge cypress trees for oars, branches, leaves and all! At the stern, as I suppose you would call it, stood the master on a high hill, holding a bronze tiller five stadia [about 800 metres] in length. At the bow, about forty of them under arms were fighting. They were like men in every respect except their hair, which was fire and blazed up, so that they had no need of plumes. In lieu of sails, the wind struck the forest, which was dense on each of the islands, filled this and carried the island wherever the helmsman would. There were commanders on deck to keep the oarsmen in time, and the islands moved swiftly under the rowing, like war-galleys.

At first we only saw two or three, but later on about six hundred made their appearance. Taking sides, they went to war and had a sea-fight. Many collided with one another bows on, and many were rammed amidships and sunk. Some, grappling one another, put up a stout fight and were slow to cast off, for those stationed at the bows showed all zeal in boarding and slaying: no quarter was given. Instead of iron grapnels they threw aboard one another great squids with lines tied to them, and these gripped the woods and held the island fast. They struck and wounded one another with oysters that would fill a wagon and with hundred-foot sponges. The leader of one side was Aiolocentaur, of the other, Seadrinker. Their battle evidently happened due to an act of plundering: Seadrinker was said to have driven off many herds of dolphins belonging to Aiolocentaur. We knew this because we could hear them abusing one another and calling out the names of their kings. Finally the side of Aiolocentaur won. They sank about a hundred and fifty of the enemy’s islands and took three more, crews and all. The rest backed water and fled. After pursuing them some distance, they turned back to the wrecks at evening, making prizes of most of them and picking up what belonged to themselves. For on their own side not less than eighty islands had gone down. They also made a trophy of the island fight by setting up one of the enemy’s islands on the head of the whale. That night they slept on shipboard around the animal, making their shore lines fast to him and riding at anchor just off him. For they had anchors, large and strong, made of glass. On the following day they performed sacrifice on the whale, buried their friends on him, and sailed off rejoicing and apparently singing hymns of victory. So much for the events of the island fight.


Book 2

[Escape from the whale and voyaging again]

From that time on, as I could no longer endure the life in the whale and was discontented with the delay, I sought a way of escape. First we determined to dig through the right side and make off, and we made a beginning and tried to cut through. But when we had advanced some five stadia [about 800 metres] without getting anywhere, we left off digging and decided to set the forest on fire, thinking that in this way the whale could be killed, and in that case our escape would be easy. So we began at the tail end and set it on fire. For seven days and seven nights he was unaffected by the burning, but on the eighth and ninth we gathered that he was feeling bad. For instance, he yawned less frequently, and whenever he did yawn he closed his mouth quickly. On the tenth and eleventh day he was dying at last and he was stinking. On the twelfth day we perceived just in time that if someone did not shore his jaws open when he yawned, so that he could not close them again, we stood a chance of being shut up in the dead whale and dying there ourselves. At the last moment, then, we propped the mouth open with great beams and made our boat ready, loading all the water we could and the other provisions. Our sailing-master was to be Skintharos.

On the next day the whale was dead at last. We dragged the boat up, took her through the gaps, made her fast to the teeth and lowered her slowly into the sea. Climbing on the back and sacrificing to Poseidon there by the trophy, we camped for three days, as it was calm. On the fourth day we sailed off, and in so doing met and grounded on many of the dead from the sea-fight, and measured their bodies with amazement. For some days we sailed with a moderate breeze, and then a strong northern wind blew up and brought on great cold. The entire sea was frozen by it, not just on the surface but to a depth of fully six fathoms, so that we could leave the boast and run on the ice. The wind held and we could not stand it, so we devised an odd remedy. The proposer of the idea was Skintharos. We dug a very large cave in the water and stopped in it for thirty days, keeping a fire burning and eating the fish that we found in digging. When our provisions at last failed, we came out, hauled up the boat, which had frozen in, spread our canvas and slid, gliding on the ice smoothly and easily, just as if we were sailing. On the fifth day it was warm again, the ice broke up and everything turned to water once more.

After sailing about three hundred stadia [about 48 km] we ran in at a small desert island, where we got water (which had run out by this time) and shot two wild bulls, and then sailed away. These bulls did not have their horns on their head but under their eyes, as Momos wanted. Not long afterwards we entered a sea of milk, not of water, and in it a white island, full of grapevines, came in sight. The island was a great solid cheese, as we afterwards learned by tasting it. It was twenty-five stadia [about 4 km] in circumference. The vines were full of grapes, but the liquid which we squeezed from them and drank was milk instead of wine. A temple had been constructed in the middle of the island in honour of Galatea the Nereid, as its inscription indicated. All the time that we stopped in the island the earth was our bread and meat and the milk from the grapes our drink. The ruler of that region was said to be Tyro, daughter of Salmoneus, who after departure from home received this guerdon from Poseidon.


After stopping five days on the island we started out on the sixth, with a bit of breeze propelling us over a rippling sea. On the eighth day, by which time we were no longer sailing through the milk but in briny blue water, we came in sight of many men running over the sea, like us in every way, both in shape and in size, except only their feet, which were of cork: that is why they were called Phelopodians (Corkfeet), if I am not mistaken. We were amazed to see that they did not go under, but stayed on the top of the waves and went around fearlessly. Some of them came up and greeted us in the Greek language. They said that they were on their way to Phellos (Cork), their homeland. For some distance they travelled with us, running alongside, and then they turned off and went their way, wishing us luck on our voyage. In a little while many islands came in sight. Near us, to port, was Phellos, where the men were going, a city built on a great round cork. At a distance and more to starboard were five islands, very large and high, from which much fire was blazing up.

[People on the Island of the Blessed]

(5) Straight ahead was one that was flat and low-lying, not less than five hundred stadia [about 80 km] away. When at length we were near it, a wonderful breeze blew around us, sweet and fragrant, like the one that, on the word of the historian Herodotus [Inquiries 3.113], breathes perfume from Arabia the blessed. The sweetness that met us was as if it came from roses and narcissus and hyacinth flowers and lilies and violets, from myrrh and laurel and vines in bloom. Delighted with the fragrance and cherishing high hopes after our long toils, we gradually drew near to the island at last. Then we saw many harbours all around it, large and undamaged by beating waves. There were transparent rivers emptying softly into the sea, as well as meads and woods and songbirds, some of them singing on the shore and many in the branches. A rare, pure atmosphere enfolded the place, and sweet breezes with their blowing stirred the woods gently, so that from the moving branches came a whisper of delightful, unbroken music, like the fluting of Pandean pipes in desert places. Moreover, a confused sound could be heard incessantly, which was not noisy but resembled that made at a drinking-party, when some are playing, others singing and others beating time to the flute or the lyre. Enchanted with all this, we put in, anchored our boat and landed, leaving Skintharos and two of my comrades on board.

Advancing through a flowery mead, we came upon the guards and sentinels, who bound us with rosy wreaths (the strongest fetter that they have) and led us inland to their ruler. They told us on the way that the island was the one that is called the Isle of the Blessed, and that the ruler was the Kretan Rhadamanthos. On being brought before him, we were given fourth place among the people awaiting trial. The first case was that of Ajax, son of Telamon, to decide whether he should be allowed to associate with the heroes or not: he was accused of having gone mad and killed himself. At last, when much had been said, Rhadamanthos gave judgment that for the present he should be given in charge of Hippokrates, the physician of Kos, to take the hellebore treatment, and that later on, when he had recovered his mind, he should have a place at the table of the heroes. The second case was a love-affair with Theseus and Menelaus at law over Helen in order to determine which of the two she should live with. Rhadamanthos pronounced that she should live with Menelaus, because he had undergone so much toil and danger on account of his marriage. Then too, Theseus had other wives, the Amazon and the daughters of Minos. The third judgment was given in a matter of precedence between Alexander son of Philip and Hannibal of Carthage, and the decision was that Alexander outranked Hannibal, so his chair was placed next the elder Cyrus of Persia.

(10) We were brought up fourth. Rhadamanthos asked us how it was that we trod on holy ground while still alive, and we told him the whole story. Then he had us removed, pondered for a long time, and consulted with his associates about us. Among many other associates he had Aristides the Just, of Athens. When he had come to a conclusion, sentence was given that for being inquisitive and not staying at home we should be tried after death, but that for the present we might stay a certain amount of time on the island and share the life of the heroes, and then we must go away. They set the length of our stay at not more than seven months.

After that, our garlands fell off on their own, and we were set free and taken into the city and to the table of the blessed. The city itself is all of gold and the wall around it of emerald. It has seven gates, all of single planks of cinnamon. The foundations of the city and the ground within its walls are ivory. There are temples of all the gods, built of beryl, and in them great monolithic altars of amethyst, on which they snake their great burnt-offerings. Around the city runs a river of the finest myrrh, a hundred royal cubits wide and five deep, so that one can swim in it comfortably. For baths they have large houses of glass, warmed by burning cinnamon. Instead of water there is hot dew in the tubs. For clothing they use delicate purple spider-webs.

[Appearance of the inhabitants]

As for themselves, they have no bodies, but are intangible and fleshless, with only shape and figure. Incorporeal as they are, they nevertheless live, move, think, and talk. In other words, it would appear that their naked souls go around in the semblance of their bodies. Really, if one did not touch them, he could not tell that what he saw was not a body, for they are like upright shadows, only not black. Nobody grows old, but stays the same age as on coming there. Again, it is neither night among them nor yet very bright day, but the light which is on the country is like the gray morning toward dawn, when the sun has not yet risen. Moreover, they are acquainted with only one season of the year, for it is always spring there and the only wind that blows there is Zephyr. The country abounds in flowers and plants of all kinds, cultivated and otherwise. The grape-vines yield twelve vintages a year, bearing every month. The pomegranates, apples and other fruit-trees were said to bear thirteen times a year, for in one month, their Minoan, they bear twice. Instead of wheat-ears, loaves of bread all baked grow on the tops of the stems, so that they look like mushrooms. In the neighbourhood of the city there are three hundred and sixty-five springs of water, as many of honey, five hundred of myrrh (much smaller, however), seven rivers of milk and eight of wine.

[Banqueting customs]

Their table is spread outside the city in the Elysian Fields, a very beautiful mead with thick woods of all sorts round about it, overshadowing those feasting. The couches they lie on are made of flowers, and they are attended and served by the winds, who do not pour out their wine, for they do not need anyone to do this. There are great trees of the clearest glass around the table, and instead of fruit they bear cups of all shapes and sizes. When anyone comes to table he picks one or two of the cups and puts them at his place. These fill with wine at once, and that is the way they get their drink. Instead of garlands, the nightingales and the other song-birds gather flowers in their bills from the fields nearby and drop them down like snow, flying overhead and singing. Furthermore, the way they are scented is that thick clouds draw up myrrh from the springs and the river, stand over the table and under the gentle manipulation of the winds rain down a delicate dew. At the board they pass their time with poetry and song. (15) For the most part they sing the epics of Homer, who is there himself and shares the revelry, lying at table in the place above Odysseus. Their choruses are of boys and girls, led and accompanied by Eunomos of Lokris, Anion of Lesbos, Anakreon and Stesichoros. There can be no doubt about the latter, for I saw him there (by that time Helen had forgiven him). When they stop singing another chorus appears, composed of swans, swallows and nightingales, and as they sing the whole wood provides the accompaniment, with the winds leading. But the greatest thing that they have for ensuring a good time is that two springs are by the table, one of laughter and the other of enjoyment. They all drink from each of these when the revels begin, and from then on enjoy themselves and laugh all the time.

[Specific Greek and barbarian inhabitants]

But I want to mention the famous men whom I saw there. There were all the demigods and the veterans of Troy except Lokrian Ajax, the only one, they said, who was being punished in the place of the wicked. Among the barbarians there were both Cyruses, the Scythian Anacharsis, the Thracian Zamolxis and Numa the Italian. In addition, there were Lycurgus of Sparta, Phokion and Tellos of Athens and the wise men, all but Periander. I also saw Socrates, the son of Sophroniskos, chopping logic with Nestor and Palamedes. Around him were Hyakinthos of Sparta, Narkissos of Thespiae, Hylas and other handsome youths. It seemed to me that Hyakinthos was his special favourite, for at any rate he refuted him most.


It was said that Rhadamanthos was angry at Socrates and had often threatened to banish him from the island if he kept up his nonsense and would not quit his irony and be merry. Plato alone was not there: it was said that he was living in his imaginary city under the constitution and the laws that he himself wrote. The followers of Aristippos and Epicurus were in the highest favour among the heroes because they are pleasant and agreeable and jolly good fellows. Aesop the Phrygian was also there: they have him for a jester. Diogenes the Cynic had so changed his ways that he not only married Lais the courtesan, but often got up and danced and indulged in silliness when he had had too much. None of the Stoics was there: they were said to be still on the way up the steep hill of virtue. With regard to Chrysippos, we heard that he is not permitted to set foot on the island until he submits himself to the hellebore treatment for the fourth time. They said that the Academicians wanted to come but were still holding off and debating, for they could not arrive at a conclusion even on the question whether such an island existed. Then too I suppose they feared to have Rhadamanthos judge them, as they themselves had abolished standards of judgment. It was said, however, that many of them had started to follow people coming there but fell behind through their slowness, being constitutionally unable to arrive at anything, and so turned back half-way. These were the most conspicuous of those present. They render special honours to Achilles and after him to Theseus.

[Sexual customs]

About love-making their attitude is such that they have sex with both men and women openly in the sight of everyone without any shame. Socrates, the only exception, used to protest that he was above suspicion in his relations with young persons, but everyone held him guilty of perjury. In fact, Hyakinthos and Narkissos often said that they knew better, but he persisted in his denial. They all have their wives in common and nobody is jealous of his neighbour. They are very Platonic in this way. Boys give in to anyone who wants them without resisting.

[Interview with Homer, the Babylonian]

(20) Hardly two or three days had passed before I went up to Homer the poet when we were both at leisure, and questioned him about everything. I said to him: “Most importantly, where do you come from? This point in particular is being investigated even yet at home.” “I am not unaware,” he said, “that some think I am from Chios, some from Smyrna and many from Kolophon. As a matter of fact, I am a Babylonian and among my fellow-citizens my name was not Homer but Tigranes. Later on, when I was a hostage (homeros) among the Greeks, I changed my name.” I went on to ask whether the bracketed lines had been written by him, and he asserted that they were all his own: consequently I considered the grammarians Zenodotos and Aristarchos guilty of pedantry in the highest degree. Since he had answered satisfactorily on these points, I next asked him why he began with the wrath of Achilles. He said that it just came into his head that way, without any study. Moreover, I wanted to know whether he wrote the Odyssey before the Iliad, as most people say: he said no. I could immediately see that he was not blind, as they say: I saw it, and so had no need to ask. Often again at other times I would do this when I saw him at leisure. I would go and make inquiries of him and he would give me a cordial answer to everything, particularly after the lawsuit that he won. For a charge of libel had been brought against him by Thersites because of the way he had ridiculed him in the poem and the case was won by Homer, with Odysseus for his lawyer.

At about this time arrived Pythagoras of Samos who had undergone seven transformations, had lived in seven bodies, and had now ended the migrations of his soul. All his right side was of gold. Judgment was pronounced that he should become a member of their community, but when I left the point was still at issue whether he ought to be called Pythagoras or Euphorbos. Empedokles came too, all burned and his body completely cooked, but he was not received in spite of his many entreaties.

[Festivals and competitions]

As time went on their contest came round, the Thanatousia (Games of the Dead). The referees were Achilles, serving for the fifth time, and Theseus for the seventh. The full details would make a long story, but I will tell the principal things that they did. In wrestling the winner was Karanos, the descendant of Herakles, who defeated Odysseus for the championship. The boxing was a draw between Areios the Egyptian, who is buried at Corinth, and Epeios. For combined boxing and wrestling they offer no prizes. In the foot-race I do not remember who won and in poetry, Homer was really far the best man, but Hesiod won. The prize in each case was a crown that was made from peacock feathers.

[War with the wicked]

Soon after the games concluded word came that those who were under punishment in the place of the wicked had burst their bonds, bad overpowered their guard, and were advancing on the island: that they were under the leadership of Phalaris of Akragas, Busiris the Egyptian, Diomed of Thrace, and Skiron and Pityokamptes. When Rhadamanthos heard of this he mustered the heroes on the shore. They were led by Theseus, Achilles and Ajax, the son of Telamon, who by this time had recovered his mind. They engaged and fought, and the heroes won. Achilles contributed most to their success, but Socrates, who was stationed on the right wing, was brave, too: far more so than when he fought at Delium in his lifetime [Plato, Symposium 220-221]. When four of the enemy came at him, he did not run away or change countenance. For this they afterwards gave him a special reward, a beautiful great park in the suburbs where he used to gather his comrades and dispute: he named the place the Academy of the Dead. Arresting the losers and putting them in irons, they sent them off to be punished still more severely than before. An account of this battle was written by Homer, and as I was leaving he gave me the book to take to the people at home, but later I lost it along with everything else. The poem began: “This time sing me, O Muse, of the shades of the heroes in battle.” Then they cooked beans, as is their custom when they are successful at war. They also had a feast in honour of the victory and made a great holiday. Pythagoras was the only one who did not take part in it. He sat by himself and went without dinner because he detested beans.

[Other incidents on the Island of the Blessed]

(25) Six months had passed and it was about the middle of the seventh when sedition arose. Kinyras, the son of Skintharos, a tall and handsome lad, had long been in love with Helen, and it was no secret that she herself was madly in love with the boy. For instance, they often winked to one another at table, drank to each other and got up together and wandered about the wood. Well, one fine day through love and despair Kinyras determined to rape Helen – she agreed to it – and go to one of the islands in the offing, either Cork or Cheesie island. As accomplices they had long ago taken on three of the most reckless of my comrades. But Kinyras did not inform his father, for he knew that he would not let him do it. When they had come to a decision, they carried out their plan. It was at nightfall, and I was not on hand, as I chanced to be taking a nap under the table. Without the knowledge of the rest they carried Helen off and put to sea in haste. About midnight, when Menelaus woke up, and found that his wife was not in bed, he made a great stir and took his brother and went to king Rhadamanthos. But as day began to break the lookouts said that they saw the ship far out at sea. Then Rhadamanthos put fifty of the heroes aboard a ship made of a single log of asphodel and ordered them to give chase. Rowing with a will, they overtook them about noon, just as they were entering the milky place in the ocean near Cheesie island – that is all they lacked of escaping! Securing the ship with a hawser of roses, they sailed home. Helen cried and hid her head for shame. As to Kinyras and the rest, first Rhadamanthos asked them if they had any other accomplices, and they said no. Then he had them secured by the offending member and sent them away to the place of the wicked, after they had been first scourged with mallow. The heroes voted, too, that we be dismissed from the island before our time was up, remaining only until the next day.

[Conclusion of time on the Island of the Blessed]

Thereupon I began to cry aloud and weep because I had to leave such blessings behind me and resume my wanderings. But they cheered me up, saying that before many years I should come back to them again. They even pointed out to me my future chair and couch, close to the best people. I went to Rhadamanthos and earnestly asked him to tell me what would happen and indicate my course. He said that I should reach my homeland in spite of many wanderings and dangers, but refused to tell the time of my return. However, pointing out the islands near by (there were five in sight and a sixth in the distance), he said: “These are the Islands of the Wicked, here close at hand, from which you see all the smoke arising: the sixth beyond that is the City of Dreams. Next comes the island of Calypso, but you cannot see it yet. When you have sailed by these, you will finally come to the great continent opposite the one which your people inhabit. Then at last, after you have had many adventures and have travelled through all sorts of countries and lived among unfriendly men, in course of time you will reach the other continent.”

With these words he plucked a root of mallow from the ground and handed it to me, telling me to pray to it in my greatest dangers. He advised me if I ever reached this country, neither to stir the fire with a sword-blade nor to eat lupines nor to make love to anyone over eighteen, saying that if I bore these points in mind I might have good hopes of getting back to the island. Well, I made preparations for the voyage, and when the time came, joined them at the feast. On the next day, I went to the poet Homer and begged him to compose me a couplet to carve up, and when he had done so, I set up a slab of beryl near the harbour and had the couplet carved on it. It was: “One Lucian, whom the blessed gods befriend, / Beheld what’s here, and home again did wend.” I stayed that day, too, and put to sea on the next, escorted by the heroes. At that juncture, Odysseus came to me without the knowledge of Penelope and gave me a letter to carry to Ogygia Island, to Calypso. Rhadamanthos sent the pilot Nauplios with me, so that if we touched at the islands no one might arrest us, thinking we were putting in on another errand.

[Island of punishment]

Forging ahead, we had passed out of the fragrant atmosphere when suddenly we smelled something terrible that smelled like asphalt, sulphur, and pitch burning together, as well as a vile, unbearable stench like roasting human flesh. The atmosphere was murky and foggy, and a pitchy dew distilled from it. Likewise we heard the sound of scourging and the wailing of many men. (30) We did not go to the other islands but the one on which we landed was precipitous and sheer on all sides; it was roughened with rocks and stony places, and there wasn’t trees or water on it. We crawled up the cliffs, however, and went ahead in a path full of thorns and calthrops, finding the country very ugly.

On coming to the enclosure and the place of punishment, first of all we wondered at the nature of the region. The ground itself was all sown with sword blades and calthrops, and around it flowed three rivers, one of mud, the second of blood and the inmost one of fire. The latter river was very large, and impossible to cross: it ran like water and undulated like the sea, and it contained many fish, some similar to torches, and some, a smaller variety, to live coals. They called them candlefish. There was a single narrow way leading in, past all the rivers, and the warder set there was Timon of Athens.

We got through, however, and with Nauplios for our conductor we saw many kings undergoing punishment, and many commoners too. Some of them we even recognized. We saw Kinyras tied up in the smoke of a slow fire. The guides told the life of each, and the crimes for which they were being punished. The most severe punishment was given to those who told lies while in life and those who had written what was not true, among whom were Ktesias of Knidos, Herodotos and many more. On seeing them, I had good hopes for the future, for I have never told a lie as far as I know. Well, I turned back to the ship quickly, for I could not endure the sight, said goodbye to Nauplios, and sailed away.

[Island of dreams]

After a short time the Island of Dreams came in sight close by, faint and uncertain to the eye. It had itself some likeness to a dream, for as we approached it receded and retired and retreated to a greater distance. Overtaking it at length and sailing into the harbour called Sleep, we landed near the ivory gates, where the sanctuary of the cock is, about dusk, and on entering the city, we saw many dreams of all sorts.

But first I desire to speak of the city itself, since no one else has written about it, and Homer, the only one to mention it at all, was not quite accurate in what he said. On all sides of it is a wood, in which the trees are tall poppies and mandragoras, and they have a great number of bats in them; for there is no other winged thing in the island. A river called Sleepwalker is nearby, and there are two springs by the gates, named Soundly and Eight-hours. The wall of the city is high and multi-coloured, very like a rainbow in tint. The gates in it are not two, as Homer says, but four. Two face Slowcoach Plain, one of which is of iron and the other of earthenware; through these, it is said, the fearful, murderous, revolting dreams go out. The other two face the harbour and the sea, one of which is mad of horn and the other, through which we came in, made of ivory.

As one enters the city, on the right is the temple of Night, for the gods they worship most are Night and the Cock, whose sanctuary is built near the harbour. On the left is the palace of Sleep, who rules among them and has appointed two satraps or lieutenants, Nightmare, son of Causeless, and Rich, son of Fancy. In the centre of the square is a spring which they call Drowsimere, and close to it are two temples, that of Falsehood and that of Truth. There too is their holy of holies and their oracle, which Antiphon, the interpreter of dreams, presided over as prophet, having had this office from Sleep.

As to the dreams themselves, they differ from one another both in nature and in looks. Some were tall, handsome and well-proportioned, while others were small and ugly. Some were rich, I thought, while others were humble and beggarly. There were winged and portentous dreams among them, and there were others dressed up as if for a carnival, being clothed to represent kings and gods and different characters of the sort. We actually recognized many of them, whom we had seen long ago at home. These came up to us and greeted us like old acquaintances, took us with them, put us to sleep and entertained us very splendidly and hospitably. They treated us like lords in every way, and even promised to make us kings and governors. A few of them actually took us home, gave us a sight of our friends and families and brought us back the same day. (35) For thirty days and thirty nights we stopped with them and had a fine time – sleeping! Then suddenly there was a loud thunder-clap. We woke up, sprang out of bed and put to sea as soon as we had laid in supplies.

[Island of Ogygia]

On the third day out from there we touched at the island of Ogygia and landed. But first I opened the letter and read what was in it. It was:

“Odysseus to Calypso, greetings. Soon after I built the raft and sailed away from you I was shipwrecked, and with the help of Leukothea managed to reach the land of the Phaiakians in safety. They sent me home, and there I found that my wife had a number of suitors who were living luxuriously at our house. I killed them all, and was afterwards slain by Telegonos, my son by Kirke. Now I am on the Isle of the Blessed, thoroughly sorry to have given up my life with you and the immortality which you offered me. Therefore, if I get a chance, I will run away and come to you.”

In addition to this, the letter said that she was to entertain us. On going a short way from the sea I found the cave, which was as Homer described it, and found Calypso herself working wool. When she had taken the letter and read it, she wept a long time at first, and then she asked us in to enjoy her hospitality, she gave us a splendid feast and inquired about Odysseus and Penelope, about how Penelope looked and whether she was prudent, as Odysseus used to boast in old times. We made her such answers as we thought would please her.

After that, we went back to the ship and slept beside it on the shore, and early in the morning we put to sea in a rising wind. We were storm-tossed for two days, and on the third we fell in with the Pumpkin-pirates. They are savages from the neighbouring islands who prey on passing sailors. They have large boats of pumpkin, sixty cubits long; for after drying a pumpkin they hollow it out, take out the insides and go sailing in it, using reeds for masts and a pumpkin-leaf for a sail. They attacked us with two crews and gave us battle, wounding many of us by hitting us with pumpkin-seeds instead of stones. After fighting for a long time on even terms, about noon we saw the Nut-sailors coming up astern of the Pumpkin-pirates. They were enemies to one another, as they showed by their actions; for when the Pumpkin-sea-bandits noticed them coming up, they neglected us and faced about and fought with them. But in the meantime we hoisted our canvas and fled, leaving them fighting. It was evident that the Nut-sailors would win, as they were in greater numbers (they had five crews) and fought from larger ships. Their boats were the halves of empty nutshells, each of which measured fifteen fathoms in length.

When we had lost them from sight, we attended to the wounded, and afterwards we kept ready with our weapons most of the time, always looking for attacks. And we did not look in vain. In fact, the sun had not yet gone down when from a desert island there came out against us about twenty men riding on huge dolphins, who were bandits like the others. The dolphins carried them securely and plunged and neighed like horses. When they were close by, they separated and threw dry cuttle-fish and crabs’ eyes at us from both sides. But when we threw spears and arrows at them, they could not hold their ground, but fled to the island, most of them wounded.

(40) About midnight, while it was calm, we unexpectedly ran aground on an enormous kingfisher’s nest. Really, it was sixty stadia [about 9.6 km] in circumference! The female was sailing on it, keeping her eggs warm, and she was not much smaller than the nest. In fact, as she started up she almost sunk the ship with the wind of her wings. She flew off, however, uttering a plaintive cry. We landed when day began to break, and observed that the nest was like a great raft, built of huge trees. There were five hundred eggs in it, every one of them bigger than a Chian wine-jar, and the chicks were already visible inside them and were chirping. We cut open one of the eggs with axes and took from the shell a featherless chick fatter than twenty vultures.

When we had sailed a distance of two hundred stadia [about 32 km] from the nest, great and wonderful signs manifested themselves to us. The gooseneck suddenly grew feathers and started cackling, the sailing-master, Skintharos, who was already bald, became the owner of long hair, and what was strangest of all, the ship’s mast budded, branched, and bore fruit at the summit! The fruit consisted of figs and black raisin-grapes, which were not yet ripe. On seeing this, we were disturbed, as expected, and offered a prayer to the gods on account of the strangeness of the manifestation. We had not yet gone five hundred stadia [about 80 km] when we saw a very large, thick forest of pines and cypresses. We thought it was land, but in reality it was a bottomless sea overgrown with rootless trees, in spite of which the trees stood up motionless and straight, as if they were floating. On drawing near and forming an idea of the situation, we were in a quandary what to do, for it was not possible to sail between the trees since they were thick and close together, nor did it seem easy to turn back. Climbing the tallest tree, I looked to see how things were on the other side, and I saw that the forest extended for fifty stadia [about 8 km] or a little more, and that another ocean lay beyond. So we resolved to lift the ship on to the tree-tops, which were thick, and cross over, if we could, to the farther side. And that is what we did. We fastened the ship to a large rope, climbed the trees and pulled the ship up with much difficulty. Setting the ship on the branches and spreading our canvas, we sailed just as if we were at sea, carried along by the force of the wind. At that juncture a line of the poet Antimachos came into my head. Somewhere or other he says: “And unto them their forest cruise pursuing.” We managed the wood in spite of everything and reached the water. Lowering the ship again in the same way we sailed through pure, clear water, until we came to a great crevasse made by the water dividing, like the cracks that one often sees in the earth made by earthquakes. Though we got in the sails, the ship was slow to lose headway and so came near being engulfed. Peering over the edge, we saw a precipice of fully a thousand stadia [about 160 km], most frightful and unnatural. Tthe water stood there as if cut apart! But as we looked around us we saw on the right at no great distance a bridge thrown across, which was of water, joining the surfaces of the two seas and flowing from one to the other. Rowing up, therefore, we ran into the stream and by great effort got across, though we thought we should never do it.

[Island of the Bullheads]

Then we came to a smooth sea and an island of no great size that was easily accessible and was inhabited. It was peopled by savages (agrioi), the Boukephalians (Bullheads), who have horns in the style that the Minotaur is represented at home. Landing, we went up country to get water and food if we could, for we no longer had any. Water we found close by, but there was nothing else to be seen, though we heard a great bellowing not far off. Thinking it was a herd of cattle, we went ahead cautiously and came upon the men of whom I spoke. On seeing us, they gave chase, and captured three of my comrades, but the rest of us made our escape to the sea. Then, however, we all armed ourselves (it did not seem right to let our friends go unavenged) and attacked the Bullheads while they were portioning out the flesh of the men they had slain. We put them all to flight and gave chase, killing about fifty and taking two alive. Then we turned back to the ship with our prisoners. We found no food, though. The rest therefore urged that the captives be killed; I did not approve of this, however, but put them in irons and kept them under guard until ambassadors came from the Boukephalians, asking for them and offering a ransom. We understood them because they made signs and bellowed plaintively as if in entreaty. The ransom was a number of cheeses, dried fish, onions, and four does, each of which had only three feet (for while they had two at the back, the front feet had grown together). In exchange for all this we surrendered the captives, and after stopping there a single day we put to sea.


(45) Already we began to see fish, birds flew by and all the other signs that land was near made their appearance. In a little while we saw men who were following a novel mode of sailing, being at once sailors and ships. Let me tell you how they did it: they lay on their backs on the water, hoisted their jury-masts, which are sizeable, spread sail on them, held the dews in their hands. In this way, they were off and away as soon as the wind struck them. Others came next who sat on corks and had a pair of dolphins hitched up, driving them and guiding them with reins; in moving ahead, the dolphins drew the corks along. They neither offered us harm nor ran away from us, but drove along fearlessly and peacefully, wondering at the shape of our boat and examining her from all sides.

[Island of the Donkey-legged women who are cannibals]

In the evening we touched at another island of no great size. It was inhabited by women (or so we thought) who spoke Greek, and they came up to us, welcomed and embraced us. They were dressed just like courtesans and were all beautiful and young, with tunics that swept on the ground. The island was called Witchcraft, and the city Waterland. Each of the women took one of us home with her and made him her guest. But I excused myself for a moment (I had misgivings). Looking around quite carefully, I saw many human bones and skulls lying there. To make an outcry, call my comrades together and arm ourselves did not seem best to me, but I fetched out my mallow [acquired earlier in the journeys] and prayed to it earnestly that I might escape the bad things that were happening to me. After a little while, as my hostess was waiting on me, I saw that her legs were not a woman’s but those of an ass. Then I drew my sword, caught and bound her, and interogated her about the whole thing. Against her will she told me that they were women of the sea, called Onoskeleans (Asslegs) and that they fed on the strangers that visited them. “After we have made them drunk,” she said, “we go to bed with them and attack them in their sleep.” On hearing this, I left her there tied up, and myself went up to the housetop and cried out and called my comrades together. When they had come, I told them everything, showed them the bones and led them to the woman who was tied up, but she immediately turned to water and disappeared. Nevertheless I thrust my sword into the water as a test, and the water turned to blood.

[Conclusion: Arrival at the opposite world]

Very quickly we went back to the ship and sailed away. When the light of day began to show, we saw land and judged it to be the world opposite the one which we inhabit. After doing homage and offering prayer, we took thought for the future. Some of us proposed just to land and then turn back again, others to leave the boat there, go into the interior and see what the inhabitants were like. While we were debating this, a violent storm struck the boat, dashed it ashore and wrecked it, and we ourselves had much trouble in swimming out with our arms and anything else that we could catch up.

So far I have told you what happened to me until I reached the other world: first at sea, then during my voyage among the islands and in the air, then in the whale, and after we left it, among the heroes and the dreams, and finally among the Boukephalians (Bullheads) and the Onoskeleans (Asslegs). What happened in the other world I will tell you in the succeeding books.

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published.