Amazons, Tibarenians, and Mossynoikians: Apollonios of Rhodes on a voyage to the Kolchians (third century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Amazons, Tibarenians, and Mossynoikians: Apollonios of Rhodes on a voyage to the Kolchians (third century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 28, 2024,

Ancient author: Apollonios of Rhodes, Voyage of the Argo / Argonautika 2.985-1036 (link to Greek).

Comments: In his third century BCE epic poem, Apollonios of Rhodes sometimes embellishes the story with ethnographic details about the peoples as the crew of the Argo make their way to Kolchis (on the eastern shores of the Black Sea) for the golden fleece. Among the more notable examples is the crew’s encounter with Amazons as well as other nearby peoples in the area of the Black Sea, and then with the supposedly upside-down society of the Mossynoikians where public is private and private is public. The Mossynoikians (sometimes placed in the vicinity of Pontos in northeastern Turkey) drew the attention of a good number of Greek ethnographic writers, including Ephoros (ca. 350 BCE) who may well be the source of Apollonios’ information (link),


[Amazons, Themiskyreans and Chalybians]

(2.985-1036) The men might well have lingered for a time there [at the Amazonian Heights mountain range], making war upon the Amazons, and they would surely have suffered losses if they had because the Amazons in the Doian plain were not at all docile and civilized. Savage aggression and the works of Ares were all their care. In fact, they claimed descent from Ares and the nymph Harmonia. She bedded down beside him in a dale in the Akmonian woods and bore him daughters that are fond of war. But, under Zeus’ sway, the northwest wind returned and pushed the heroes beyond a cape where other Amazons, Themiskyreans, wrapped their loins for battle. The Amazons, you see, did not inhabit one city but were settled separately in three tribes scattered all throughout the land: those called Themiskyreans lived in one part under the warrior queen Hippolyta, the Lykastians settled in another, and the spear-mad Chadesians a third. During the next day and the following night the heroes skirted Chalybian country. Pushing teams of oxen through the fields and sowing thought-sweetening plants and trees hold no appeal for the Chalybians. They cleave dense, iron-bearing soil instead and barter what they find for wares and produce. Dawn never rises for them without toil, more toil, unending toil in soot and smoke. After the Chalybians, the heroes rounded the Cape of Zeus god of the Genes River and passed the country of the Tibarenians.

[Tibarenians and Mossynoikians]

Here, when a women is with child, her husband wraps his own head in towels, lies in bed, and howls, and his woman brings him food and draws and boils a childbirth bath for him. After the Tibarenians they passed a sacred mountain and the country where the Mossynoikians live along the slopes in towers or the “mossynes” they take their name from. Odd laws and customs mark their way of life. Everything that we do out in the open either in council or the marketplace, they find some way to do inside their homes, and all the things we do inside our homes, they do out in the middle of the street without the least compunction. Public sex is not shameful there. Like boars in heat, they feel not even slight embarrassment with others present but engage their women in open copulation on the ground. Their ruler sits inside the highest tower, rendering personal verdicts to his subjects – poor wretch, since, if his rulings seem unfair, they lock him up in prison for a day without a meal. After the Mossynoikians, they pushed straight ahead toward Ares’ Island, hacking their course with oars all day because the gentle breeze had left them in the night. . . [remainder omitted].


Source of translation: A. Poochigian, Apollonius of Rhodes: Jason and the Argonauts (London: Penguin, 2014), short passage used under fair use or fair dealing provisions for educational purposes, adapted by Harland.

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