Scythians: Lucian on a competition between Toxaris and Mnesippos about ethnic superiority (mid-second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Scythians: Lucian on a competition between Toxaris and Mnesippos about ethnic superiority (mid-second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 11, 2024,

Ancient author: Lucian of Samosata (mid-second century CE), Toxaris, or Friendship (link to Greek; link to full translation).

Comments: In another speech called The Scythian set in the sixth century BCE (link), Lucian presents the characters Anacharsis and Toxaris as two Scythians with different levels of acculturation to Greek customs, with the Greek Solon brought in as conversation partner. In this dialogue set in Roman times, Lucian continues to show his high interest in using Scythian, “barbarian” characters to make his points. But Toxaris is here pictured in conversation with the Greek Mnesippos in some Greek town. Ultimately this is a contest between Scythian and Greek peoples over which group engages in customs and behaviours most in keeping with friendship. Each character chooses five stories of extreme loyalty from either ostensibly Scythian or Greek accounts.

Of course, this dialogue plays on the common Greek assumption that Scythians were not only inferior to other peoples, but in fact the worst “barbarians” imaginable. So, for instance, they were prone to sacrificing Greeks as in Euripides Iphigeneia among the Taurians (link coming soon), which is in fact the starting point of the entire dialogue. So Scythians would not be ones to look to for models of friendship from that angle. The Greek Mnesippos is surprised to learn otherwise from Toxaris, for instance: The Scythians “are such a foreigner-hating (axenoi) and uncivilized (agrioi) people. I would have said they had more to do with anger, hatred and enmity than with friendship, even for their nearest relations, judging from what one is told. It is said, for instance, that they devour their fathers’ corpses.”

Lucian’s twist with a polite conversational competition could be seen to align with other Greeks who play on that assumption and instead speak of Scythians as a source of wisdom or as intelligent contributors to the advancement of civilization (see Scythian posts in category four, particularly the so-called Letters of Anacharsis [link], or see Trogus’ tale of the superior Scythians [link]). So Lucian turns expectations around in a humorous way.  It is important to remember that Lucian himself not infrequently plays on his own supposed “barbarian” status as a Syrian immigrant enculturated into Greek learning, satirically addressing the fact that Syrians would be low on hegemonic ethnic hierarches. Overall, the dialogue’s focus on what people is superior to another echoes precisely struggles to climb the ethnic ladder which we find throughout ethnographic discourses that reflect a variety of social settings.

This writing is also interesting for how it imagines intercultural interactions at a local level. Although fictional and certainly meant to be humorous, it nonetheless depends on some level of verisimilitude in putting a Greek in conversation with an immigrant, as though this were realistic. Moreover, the content of the conversation is built on the premise that peoples from various parts of the Mediterranean might encounter one another and might be inclined to retell – and therefore transmit – stories from their own homeland. From other evidence we know well that stories and customs did travel across cultures and times, but this dialogue brings the scenario to life in a way.

Finally, it is noteworthy that Lucian regularly has Toxaris incorporate ethnographic digressions about the customs of Scythians or other northern, Pontic peoples.  Also, there is a battle scene description involving numerous such peoples: Scythians, Bosporans, Alanians, Machlyans, and Sindians. Sarmations, Sauromatians, and Maiotians are also mentioned at other points. So we have another case here of what you could call ethnographic fiction (link).


[Orestes and Pylades as models of close friendship even among Taurians / Scythians, with the tales related in Euripides’ Iphigeneia among the Taurians in the background]

  • Mnesippos [Greek]: Now, Toxaris, do you mean to tell me that you people actually sacrifice to Orestes and Pylades [close Greek cousins who in myth assisted Iphigeneia to escape from the Taurians, here pictured as worshipped by Scythians]? Do you consider them gods?
  • Toxaris [Scythian]: Sacrifice to them? Of course we do. It does not follow that we think they are gods. They were good men.
  • M.: And in Scythia “good men” receive sacrifice just the same as gods?
  • T.: Not only that, but we honour them with feasts and public gatherings.
  • M.: But what do you expect from them? They are shades [deceased, in the underworld] now, so their favour can’t be a reason to honour them.
  • T.: Why, as to that matter, I think it may be a good idea to have a good relationship even with shades. But that is not all: in honouring the dead we consider that we are also doing the best we can for the living. Our idea is that by preserving the memory of the most noble among humankind, we inspire many people to follow their example.
  • M.: Ah, there you are right. But what could you find to admire in Orestes and Pylades, that you should raise them to be equals with the gods? They were strangers (epēlydai) to you – strangers, did I say? – they were enemies! Why, when they were shipwrecked on your coast, and your ancestors seized them and took them off to be sacrificed to Artemis, they assaulted the jailers, overpowered the garrison, killed the king, carried off the priestess, laid impious hands on the goddess herself [i.e. they stole the Taurian Artemis’ statue], and sailed off while mocking the Scythian community. If you honour men for this kind of thing, there will be plenty of people to follow their example, and you will have your hands full. You may judge for yourselves, from ancient precedent, whether it will suit you to have so many Oresteses and Pyladeses putting into your ports. It seems to me that it will soon end in your being impious and godless. God after god will be carried out of the land in the same manner, and then, in place of quite every god, I suppose you will make gods out of those men, who came for the purpose of carrying off the gods. You will end up making sacrifices to temple-robbers as though gods.
    If this is not your motive in honouring Orestes and Pylades, I will be glad to know what other service they have rendered you that you should change your minds about them and admit them to be honoured as gods. Your ancestors did their best to offer them [Orestes and Pylade] up to Artemis: you offer up sacrificial victims to them. It seems an absurd inconsistency.
  • T.: Now, in the first place, the incident you refer to is very much to their credit. Think of those two [i.e. Orestes and Pylades] entering on that vast undertaking by themselves: sailing away from their land [in Greece] to the distant Pontos [Black Sea] – that sea unknown in those days to the Greeks, or known only to the Argonauts on their way to Kolchis [Voyage of the Argo – link] – unmoved by the stories they heard of it, undeterred by the “inhospitable” (axenos) [playing on the etymology of what came to be known as the Euxine, hospitable sea] name it then bore, which I suppose referred to the savage (agrioi) peoples that lived upon its shores. Think of their courageous bearing after they were captured; how escape alone would not serve them, but they must avenge their wrong upon the king and carry the goddess Artemis away over the seas. Are not these admirable actions, and will not the doers be counted as gods by all who respect prowess? However, this is not our motive in giving them divine honours.
  • M.: Proceed. What else in their conduct was godlike and sublime in nature? Because from the seafaring point of view, there are any number of merchants whose deity I will hold up against theirs – the Phoenicians, in particular, have sailed to every port in Greek and foreign waters, let alone the Pontos, lake Maiotis [Sea of Azov] and the Bosporos. Year after year they explore every coast, only returning home at the approach of winter. In accordance with your own rule, you must consider these Phoenicians to be gods, even if it happens that the majority of them are peddlers of trade-goods and fish-sellers.
  • T.: (5) Now, now, Mnesippos, listen to me, and you will see how much more candid we barbarians are in evaluating good men than you Greeks. In Argos and Mykenai there is not so much as a respectable tomb raised to Orestes and Pylades [who were from there]. In Scythia, they have their temple, which is very appropriately dedicated to the two friends in common, and they receive sacrifices and every honour. The fact that they were not Scythians but foreigners (xenoi) is no hindrance to their having been considered good men and their being honoured by the foremost Scythians. This is because we do not inquire what country proper men come from, nor do we bear a grudge if men who are not friendly have done noble actions. We praise them for what they have accomplished and count them our own because of their achievements. What particularly excites our reverent admiration in the present case is the unparalleled loyalty of the two friends. In them, we have a model from which every man may learn how he must share good and evil fortune with his friends, if he would enjoy the respect of all good Scythians.
    Our ancestors recorded the sufferings that Orestes and Pylades endured together and on behalf of each other on a bronze pillar in the temple of Orestes (Oresteion), and they made it law that the education of their children should begin with committing to memory all that is inscribed on the monument. More easily will a child forget his own father’s name than misremember the achievements of Orestes and Pylades. Furthermore, in the temple corridor are pictures by the artists of the old days, illustrating the story presented on the pillar. Orestes is first shown on shipboard, with his friend at his side. Next, the ship has been broken to pieces on the rocks, and Orestes is captured and bound. Already Iphigenia [priestess of Artemis] prepares the two sacrificial victims for sacrifice [without knowing it’s them]. But on the opposite wall we see that Orestes has broken free. He kills Thoas and many Scythians, and the last scene shows them sailing away with Iphigenia and the goddess. The Scythians try in vain to overpower the vessel as it is already setting sail, some clinging to the rudder and others attempting to climb on board. Finally, utterly thwarted in their attempt, the Scythians swim back to the shore either wounded or terrified. It is at this point in their conflict with the Scythians that the devotion of the friends [Orestes and Pylades] is best illustrated. The painter makes each of them disregard his own enemies and ward off his friend’s assailants, seeking to intercept the arrows before they can reach him and thinking little of death, if he can save his friend and receive himself the wounds that are meant for the other.
    Such devotion, such loyal and loving partnership in danger, such true and steadfast affection, we held to be more than human. It indicated a spirit not to be found in common men. . . I must tell you that in Scythia no quality is more highly regarded than friendship. There is nothing on which a Scythian prides himself so much as on sharing the toils and dangers of his friend, just as nothing is a greater reproach among us than treachery towards a friend. So then, we honour Orestes and Pylades because they excelled in the Scythian virtue of loyalty, which we place above all others, and it is for this that we have granted them the name of “Korakoi”, which in our language means “spirits of friendship.”
  • M.: Ah, Toxaris, so archery is not the only accomplishment of the Scythians [an allusion to the stereotype of the Scythian archer from art, for instance – link]. I find they excel in rhetorical and military skill. You have persuaded me already that you were right in deifying Orestes and Pylades, though I thought differently just now. I had no conception, either, what a painter you were. Your description of the pictures was very vivid: that battle-scene, and the way in which the two men intercepted one another’s wounds. Only I should never have thought that the Scythians would set such a high value on friendship. They are such a foreigner-hating (axenoi) and uncivilized (agrioi) people. I would have said they had more to do with anger, hatred and enmity than with friendship, even for their nearest relations, judging from what one is told. It is said, for instance, that they devour their fathers’ corpses.

[Competition over what people is superior in friendship, with five stories each]

  • T.: Well, right now we won’t discuss whether the Greek or the Scythian is the more dutiful towards our parents in general [implying that Scythians would win that too]. But that we Scythians are more loyal friends than you Greeks, and that we treat friendship more seriously, is easily shown. Now please do not be angry with me, in the name of all your gods, I am going to mention a few points I have observed during my long stay among your people. I can see that you are all admirably well qualified to talk about friendship. However, when it comes to putting your words into practice, there is a considerable failure. It is enough for you to have demonstrated what an excellent thing friendship is, and somehow or other, at the critical moment, you take off and leave your fine words to look after themselves. Similarly, when your tragedians represent this subject on the stage, you are loud in your applause. The spectacle of one friend risking his life for another generally brings tears to your eyes, but you are quite incapable of performing any such things yourselves. Once you let your friends get into difficulties and all those tragic reminiscences take off like so many dreams, you are then the very image of the silent mask which the actor has thrown aside. Its mouth is open to its fullest extent, but not a syllable does it utter.
    It is the opposite with us. We are as much superior to you in the practice of friendship, as we are inferior in expounding the theory of it. (10) Now, what do you say to this proposal? Let’s leave out of the question all the cases of ancient friendship that either of us might enumerate. In that case, you would have an unfair advantage over me because you could produce all the poets on your side, most credible of witnesses, with their Achilles and Patroklos, their Theseus and Pirithous, and others, all celebrated in the most charming verses. Instead, let each of us present a few instances of devotion that have occurred within his own experience, among our respective peoples. These we will relate in detail, and whoever can show the best friendships is the winner and announces his people as victorious. Major issues are at stake. I for my part would rather be defeated in single combat and lose my right hand, as the Scythian custom is, than yield to any man on the question of friendship, above all to a Greek, for am I not a Scythian?
  • M.: I have got my work cut out for me, if I am to engage an old soldier like Toxaris, with a whole arsenal of keen words at his command. Well, I am not such a cowardly man as to decline the challenge, when my people’s honour is at stake. Could those two overcome the host of Scythians represented in the legend and in the ancient pictures you have just described so impressively. Furthermore, will Greece, her peoples (ethnē) and her cities, be condemned because of a lack of someone to plead Greece’s cause? It would certainly be strange if that was the case. If so, I would deserve to lose not my hand like you, but my tongue. Well now, is the number of friendships to be limited, or does wealth of instances itself constitute one claim to superiority?
  • T.: Oh, no, the number counts for nothing – that must be understood. We have the same number, and it is simply a question whether your examples of friendship are better and more pointed than mine. If they are, of course, the wounds you inflict will be the more deadly, and I will be the first to succumb.
  • M.: Very well. Let us fix the number: I say five each.
  • T.:. Let it be five, and you begin. But you must take an oath first: because the subject naturally lends itself to fictitious treatment and there is no way of checking anything. When you have have taken an oath, it would be impious to doubt your word.
  • M.: Very well, if you think it necessary. Have you any preference among our gods? How would the god of Friendship [i.e. Zeus Philios] meet the case?
  • T.: Perfectly. And when my turn comes, I will employ the native oath of the Scythians.

[Greek story 1: Agathokles and Deinias in Ionia]

  • M.: Zeus, the God of Friendship (Zeus Philos), be my witness that everything I am going to recount to you is derived either from my own experience or from the experiences of others, which I have predicated on the most careful inquiry possible and have kept free from any imaginative additions of my own. I will begin with the friendship of Agathokles and Deinias. The story is well known in Ionia [i.e. western Turkey]. This Agathokles was a native of the island of Samos [south-eastern Aegean], and he lived not many years ago. Though his conduct showed him to be the best of friends, he came from no better family and from no better circumstances than the average Samian. From boyhood he had been the friend of Deinias, the son of Lyson, from Ephesos [in Ionia]. Deinias, as it seems, was very affluent, and given that his wealth was newly acquired, we need not be surprised that he had a multitude of acquaintances. They made for adequate drinking buddies and good companions, but they were the furthest thing from friends. For some time Agathokles scrutinized his own involvement with these acquaintances, while he associated with them and drank with them – though he cared little for such a life – and Deinias made no distinction between him and the flatterers. Finally, however, Agathokles started to criticize Deinias’ conduct and he gave him great offence by continually reminding him of his ancestry and persistently warning him to protect the fortune, which his father amassed for himself through strenuous labour to leave as his legacy. Subsequently, Deinias stopped asking Agathokles to join his drinking bouts, and instead he contented himself with the company of his flatterers, as he sought to elude his friend’s sight. And indeed some time later the pitiful Deinias was persuaded by those flatterers that Charikleia, the wife of Demonax, who was an eminent Ephesian holding the highest office in that city, was in love with him. He was kept well supplied with letters from her, half-faded flowers, bitten apples, and quite every other thing that pimps devise against young men as they scheme to fan an artificial passion that vanity has inspired. There is no more seductive bait to young men who base their value on their own good looks than the belief that they have made an impression [on a woman]. They are sure to fall into the trap. Charikleia was in some way a city woman, but she was sadly lacking in self-control. Anyone might enjoy her sexual favours and on the easiest of terms. The most casual glance was sure to meet with her encouragement, and there was never any fear of refjection by her. With more than professional skill, she could draw in a hesitating lover until his submission to her was complete. Then, when she was sure of him, she had a variety of devices for inflaming his passion: she could rage, and she could flatter – and flattery would be succeeded by contempt or by her feigning to desire some other man. In short, her resources were limitless, and she was armed against her lovers at every point. This was the woman whom Deinias’ flatterers now associated with against the boy. The flatterers played up every aspect of the whole affair, while forcing him into a passionate yearning for Charikleia. Charikleia had already taken up and then dumped many young fellows, having played the role of lover to countless impassioned men and having brought their affluent estates to ruin in her capacity as an adaptable woman and one throughly ensconced in evil doing. Meanwhile Charikleia struck her talons into Deinias on every side, and secured her prey so effectually, that she was involved in his destruction, to say nothing of the miseries of the hapless victim. She got to work at once with the love letters. Her maid was forever coming with news of tears and sleepless nights: “her poor mistress was ready to hang herself for love.” The ingenuous youth was at length driven to conclude that his attractions were too much for the ladies of Ephesos, and he yielded to the girl’s entreaties and waited upon her mistress. (15) The rest, of course, was easy. How was he to resist this pretty woman, with her captivating manners, her well-timed tears, her incidental sighs? Lingering farewells, joyful welcomes, judicious airs and graces, song and lyre: everything was used on him. Deinias was soon a lost man, overcome with love, and Charikleia prepared to deliver the finishing blow. She informed him that he was about to become a father, which was enough in itself to inflame the amorous simpleton, and she discontinued her visits to him. Her husband, she said, had discovered her passion, and was watching her. This was altogether too much for Deinias. He was inconsolable: he wept, sent her messages via his flatterers, flung his arms around her statue (a marble one which he had had made), screamed out her name in loud lamentation, and finally threw himself down upon the ground and rolled about in a complete frenzy. The gifts which Deinias gave in return for her apples and her flowers drew forth presents which were on quite another scale of munificence: he gave her houses and farms, servants, exquisite fabrics, and gold to any extent. To make a long story short, the house of Lyson [i.e. Deinias’ family], which had the reputation of being the wealthiest in Ionia, was quite cleared out. Then, as soon as Deinias hit broke, Charikleia abandoned him and went off in pursuit of a certain golden youth of Crete, one as irresistible as Deinias and no less gullible. Abandoned simultaneously by Charikleia and his flatterers (who followed her in pursuit of the fortunate Cretan), Deinias presented himself before Agathokles, who had long been aware of his friend’s situation. He swallowed his first feelings of embarrassment and explained all of it: his love, his ruin, his mistress’s disdain, his Cretan rival, and he ended by protesting that without Charikleia he could not live. At that time, Agathokles did not think it necessary to remind Deinias of how he alone had been excluded from his friendship, and how Deinias had preferred his flatterers to him. Instead, he went off and sold his family residence in Samos — the only property he possessed — and brought him the proceeds, three talents. Dinias had no sooner received the money, than it became evident that he had somehow recovered his good looks, in the opinion of Charikleia. Once more [she sent] the maid-servant and the love letters, with reproaches for his long neglect, and the gang of flatterers hastened to him when they saw that there were still pickings to be had. By agreement, Deinias arrived at her house at about bedtime and was already inside, when Demonax [Charikleia’s lawful husband] — whether he had an understanding with his wife in the matter, as some say, or had got his information independently — sprang out from hiding, gave orders to his servants to make the door fast and to secure Deinias. He then drew his sword, breathing fire and thrashing out against the adulterer. Deinias, realizing his danger, grabbed a heavy bar that lay near, and dispatched Demonax with a blow on the temple. Then, turning to Charikleia, he dealt blow after blow with the same weapon, and finally plunged her husband’s sword into her body. The domestic servants stood by, dumbfounded with amazement and terror, and when they finally attempted to seize him, he rushed at them with the sword, put them to flight, and then slipped away from the fatal scene. The rest of that night he and Agathokles spent at the latter’s house, reflecting on the deed and its probable consequences. The news soon spread, and in the morning officers came to arrest Deinias. He made no attempt to deny the murder, and he was conducted into the presence of the then Prefect of Asia, who sent him up to the Emperor. He presently returned, under sentence of perpetual banishment to Gyaros, one of the Cyclades islands. All this time, Agathokles had never left his side, and with unfaltering devotion, he accompanied him to Italy, and was the only friend who stood by him in his trial. And now even in his banishment he would not desert him, but condemned himself to share the sentence, and when they ran out of the essentials for life, Agothakles hired himself out as a diver in the purple-fishery, and with the proceeds of his work he supported Deinias and tended him in his sickness till the end. Even when all was over, he would not return to his own home, but remained on the island, thinking it shame even in death to desert his friend. There you have the history of a Greek friendship, and one of recent date; I think it can scarcely be as much as five years ago that Agathokles died on Gyaros.
  • T: I wish I were at liberty to doubt the truth of your story. . . but alas! You speak under oath. Your Agathokles is a truly Scythian friend. I only hope there are no more of the same kind to come.

[Greek story 2: Euthydikos and Damon from Chalkis on the island of Euboia]

  • M.: See what you think of the next: Euthydikos of Chalkis. I heard his story from Simylos, a shipmaster of Megara, who vowed that he had been an eyewitness of what he related. He set sail from Italy at about the time when the Pleiades were setting [i.e. early spring], bound for Athens, with a miscellaneous shipload of passengers, among whom were Euthydikos and his comrade Damon, also of Chalkis. They were of about the same age. Euthydikos was a powerful man, robust in health, while Damon was pale and weak, and looked as if he were just recovering from a long illness. They had a good voyage as far as Sicily, but they had no sooner passed through the straits into the Ionian sea than a tremendous storm overtook them. I need not detain you with descriptions of mountainous waves, whirlwinds, hail and the other wicked aspects of a storm. Suffice it to say, they were compelled to draw in the sails and trail cables, which followed after them to break the force of the waves, and in this manner they made it Zakynthos by about midnight. At this point Damon, being seasick, as was natural in such a heavy sea, was leaning over the side, when, as I suppose, in an unusually violent fashion the vessel lurched in his direction, combined with a rush of water across the deck, and hurled him headlong into the sea. The poor wretch was not even naked, or he might have had a chance of swimming: all he could do was keep himself above water and cry out for help. (20) Euthydikos was lying in his bed without any clothes on. He heard the cry, flung himself into the sea, and succeeded in overtaking the exhausted Damon, and a powerful moonlight enabled those on deck to see him swimming at his side for a considerable distance and supporting him. ‘We all felt for them,’ said Simylos, ‘and longed to give them some assistance, but the gale was too much for us. We did, however, throw out a number of corks and spars on the chance of their getting hold of some of them, and being carried to shore, and finally we threw over the gangway, which was of some size.’ Now just think: could any man give a surer proof of affection, than by throwing himself into a furious sea like that to share the death of his friend? Picture to yourself the surging billows, the roar of crashing waters, the hissing foam, the darkness, the hopeless prospect: look at Damon — he is at his last gasp, he barely keeps himself up, he holds out his hands imploringly to his friend; and lastly look at Euthydikos, as he leaps into the water, and swims by his side, with only one thought in his mind: Damon must not be the first to perish. In this way, you can recognize that Euthydikos too was no bad friend.
  • T.: I tremble for their fate! Were they drowned, or did some means of preservation from an unexpected source come about for them?
  • M.: Oh, they were saved all right, and they are in Athens to this day, both of them studying philosophy. Simylos’ story closes with the events of the night: Damon has fallen overboard, Euthydikos has jumped into his rescue, and the pair are left swimming around until they are lost in the darkness. Euthydikos himself tells the rest. It seems that first they came across some pieces of cork, which helped to support them, and they managed with great effort to keep afloat till about dawn they saw the gangway. They swam up to it, clambered on, and were carried to Zakynthos without further trouble.

[Greek story 3: Eudamidas, Aretaios and Charixenos at Corinth]

  • M.: I think these are passable instances of friendship and my third story is in no way inferior to these as you will hear. Eudamidas of Corinth had two friends, Aretaios, his fellow townsman, and Charixenos of Sikyon, who were both wealthy, although he was himself rather poor. When Eudamidas died, he left a will behind him which I dare say would excite most people’s ridicule. But what you, generous Toxaris, may think of the matter is another question, given your respect for friendship and your ambition to secure its highest honours for your land. The terms of the will were as follows. . . but first I should explain that Eudamidas left behind him an aged mother and a daughter of marriageable years: “To Aretaios I leave behind my mother to tend and to cherish in her old age, and to Charixenos I leave behind my daughter to give in marriage with as large a dowry as his circumstances will permit, and should anything befall either of these men, then let his portion pass to surviving man.” The reading of this will was met with amusement among the listeners, who knew of Eudamidas’ poverty but did not know anything of the friendship existing between him and his heirs. They went off laughing and saying “what a fine fortune Aretaios and Charixenos have received, the ‘lucky guys’, especially if they are the ones making payments to Eudamidas and will themselves, while still alive, be succeeded in inheritance by a dead man [i.e. joking that Eudamidas is inheriting from them, not the other way around]. ”However, Aretaios and Charixenos had no sooner heard the will read than they proceeded to execute Eudamidas’ intentions as testator. Charixenos died only five days after Eudamidas, but Aretaios, the most generous of heirs, accepted his double bequest, and to this very day he is supporting Eudamidas’ aged mother and has only recently given his daughter’s hand in marriage, granting portions of two talents out of his whole five-talent estate to both Eudamidas’ daughter and his own daughter. The two marriages were arranged to take place on the same day. What do you think of Charixenos, Toxaris? This is something like friendship is it not? To accept such a bequest as this and to show such respect for a friend’s last wishes? May we pass this as one of my five?
  • T:. Excellent as was the behaviour of Aretaios. Still, I admire Eudamidas’ confidence in his friends more. It shows that he would have done just as much for them, even if nothing had been said about it in their wills. He would have been the first to come forward and claim the inheritance as natural heir.

[Greek story 4: Zenothemis and Menekrates at Massalia in Celtic territory]

  • M.: Very true. And now I come to tale four: Zenothemis son of Charmolaos of Massalia [Marseille, France]. When I was on public business in Italy, Zenothemis pointed out to me a fine, handsome man, who appeared well-off. But by this man’s side, as he passed setting out on a journey, sat his wife, a woman of the most repulsive appearance. All of her right side was withered, and she had lost one eye; in short, she was frightening. I expressed my surprise that a man in the prime of manly beauty should endure to have such a woman seated by him. My informant, who was a Massalian himself, and who knew how the marriage had come about, gave me all the details. “The father of this unsightly woman,” he said, “was Menekrates. He and Zenothemis were friends in days when both were men of wealth and rank. The property of Menekrates, however, was confiscated afterwards by the Six Hundred, and he himself lost his citizenship on the grounds that he had proposed an unconstitutional measure. This was the regular penalty in Massalia for such offences. The sentence was in itself a heavy blow to Menekrates, and it was aggravated by the sudden change from wealth to poverty and from honour to dishonour. But most of all he was troubled about this daughter: she was now eighteen years old, and it was time that he found her a husband. Yet, with her unfortunate appearance it was not probable that any one, however poor or obscure, would have taken her, even with all the wealth her father had possessed prior to his sentence. It was also said that she was subject to fits at every waxing of the moon.” (25) He was bewailing his hard lot to Zenothemis, when the latter interrupted him: “Menekrates,” he said, “be sure that you will want for nothing and that your daughter will find a match suitable to her rank.” So saying, he took his friend by the hand, brought him into his house, assigned him a share of his great wealth, and ordered a banquet to be prepared, at which he entertained Menekrates and his friends, giving the former to understand that he had prevailed upon one of his acquaintances to marry the girl. When dinner was over and libations had been poured to the gods, Zenothemis filled a goblet and passed it to Menekrates: “Accept,” he cried, “from your son-in-law the cup of friendship. This day I wed your daughter Kydimache. Her dowry I have received long ago, twenty-five talents was the sum.” “Desist!”, exclaimed Menekrates, “Not you, at any rate, my dear Zenothemis. Should I ever be so mad as to cause you, in the pride of your youth, to be yoked to this unfortunate girl!” But even while he spoke, Zenothemis was conducting his bride to the marriage-chamber, and presently returned to announce that she was his wedded wife. Since that day, he has lived with her on the most affectionate terms, and you see for yourself that he takes her about with him wherever he goes.””As to his being ashamed of his wife, one would rather suppose that he was proud of her, and his conduct in this respect shows how lightly he esteems beauty, wealth and reputation in comparison with friendship and his friend. For Menekrates is not less his friend because the Six Hundred have condemned him. To be sure, Fortune (Tyche) has already given him one compensation: his ugly wife has borne him a most beautiful child. Only a few days ago, he carried his child into the meeting-place of the civic Council, crowned with an olive-wreath and dressed in black to excite the pity of the senators on his grandfather’s behalf. The baby smiled upon them and clapped his little hands together, which so moved the councillors that they repealed the sentence against Menekrates, who is now reinstated in his rights, thanks to the pleadings of his tiny advocate.” Such was the Massalian’s story. As you see, it was no slight service that Zenothemis rendered to his friend. I think there are not many Scythians who would do the same. They are said to be very nice even in their selection of concubines.

[Greek story 5: Demetrios and Antiphilos at Sounion, including negative characterizations of a Syrian slave]

  • During Demetrios absence, Antiphilos, who had remained behind (not liking the idea of the heat and the long journey), became involved in troubles which required all the assistance that faithful friendship could have rendered. He had a Syrian slave, whose name was also Syros. This man, who had made common cause with a number of temple-robbers, had forced his way into the temple of Anubis with them and robbed the god of a pair of golden cups, a staff of the god made of gold, some silver images of the “Dog-heads” (Kynokephaloi) and other treasures. The others entrusted all these things to Syros’ protection. Later on they were caught trying to dispose of some of their stolen goods and were seized. Being tortured, they immediately confessed the whole truth. They were accordingly conducted to Antiphilos’ house, where they produced the stolen treasures from a dark corner under a bed. Syros was immediately arrested, and his master Antiphilos with him. The latter was dragged away from the very presence of his teacher during lecture-time. There was no one to help him. His former acquaintances turned their backs on the desecrator of Anubis’s temple and made it a matter of conscience that they had ever sat at the same table with him. As to his other two slaves, they got together all his belongings and ran off. Antiphilos had now been long in captivity. He was looked at as the worst criminal of all in the prison, and the native [Egyptian] jailer, a superstitious man, considered that he was avenging the god’s [Anubis’] wrongs and securing his favour by harsh treatment of Antiphilos. Demetrios and Antiphilos, however, remained in the prison [during the jailbreak] and even secured Syros, when he was about to escape. The next morning the prefect, hearing what had happened, sent men in pursuit of the other prisoners, and Demetrios and Antiphilos, being summoned to his presence, were released from their shackles and commended for not having run away like the rest of the prisoners. The friends, however, declined to accept their dismissal on such terms: Demetrios protested loudly against the injustice which would be done to them if they were to pass for criminals, who owed their discharge to mercy, or to their discretion in not having run away. They insisted that the judge should examine carefully into the facts of their case. He at length did so and was convinced of their innocence. He did justice to their characters and, with a warm commendation of Demetrios’ conduct [i.e. getting himself incarcerated to be with his friend], dismissed them. But this did not happen before he had expressed his regret at the unjust sentence under which they had suffered, and made each of them a present from his own funds: ten thousand drachmas to Antiphilos, and twice that sum to Demetrios. Antiphilos is still in Egypt at the present time, but Demetrios went off to India to visit the Brahmans, leaving his twenty thousand drachmas with Antiphilos. He could now, he said, leave his friend with a clear conscience. His own wants were simple, and as long as they continued so, he had no need of money. On the other hand, Antiphilos, in his present easy circumstances, had as little need of a friend. See, Toxaris, what a Greek friend can do! You were so hard just now about our [Greek] rhetorical pride, that I refrain from giving you the admirable pleadings of Demetrios in court. Not one word did he say in his own behalf. Everything was for Antiphilos: he wept and implored, and sought to take all the guilt upon himself until, at last, the confession of Syros under torture cleared them both. (35) These loyal friends whose stories I have related were the first that occurred to my memory; where I have given five instances, I might have given fifty. And now I am silent: it is your turn to speak. I need not tell you to make the most of your Scythians, and bring them out triumphant if you can: you will do that for your own sake, if you set any value on that right hand of yours. Quit you, then, like a man. You would look foolish if, after your truly professional panegyric of Orestes and Pylades, your art were to fail you in your country’s need.
  • M.: I have still one friend to present, and I think none is more worthy of remembrance than Demetrios of Sounion. He and Antiphilos of the subdivision of Alopeke had been playmates in their childhood and had grown up side by side. They subsequently took a ship for Egypt, and together they carried on their studies there, with Demetrios practising Cynic philosophy under the famous sophist of Rhodes, while Antiphilos, it seems, was studying to be a physician. Well, on one occasion Demetrios had travelled to see the pyramids and the statue of Memnon. He had heard it said that the pyramids in spite of their great height cast no shadow, and that a sound proceeded from the statue [of Memnon] at sunrise. He wished to see and hear all of this for himself, and by then he had been away up the Nile for six months.

[Toxaris’ introduction, including references to Scythian customs]

  • T.: I honour you for your disinterested encouragement. Apparently you are not worried about losing your tongue in the event of my winning. Well, I will begin. You won’t get any flowery language from me. That is not our Scythian way, especially when our achievements are beyond description. Be prepared for something very different from the subjects of your own eulogy. Here there will be no marriages of ugly woman without a dowry, no two-talent portions of friends’ daughters, nor even, by Zeus, imprisonments to jailers with the certain prospect of a speedy release. Your stories are very insignificant and there is nothing great or heroic in them. I have to speak of blood, war and death for friendship’s sake. You will learn that all you have related is child’s play when compared with the actions of Scythians. After all, that is natural enough, because what should you do but admire these insignificant things, since you live in the midst of peace? You [Greeks] have no scope for the exhibition of an exalted friendship, just as in a calm water we [Scythians] cannot tell a good ship’s pilot from a bad one. We must wait till a storm comes, then we know. We, on the contrary, live in a state of perpetual warfare, first invading, next receding, and then contending for pasturage or plunder. There is the true sphere of friendship, and there is the reason that its ties among us are drawn so close. Friendship, we [Scythians] hold to be the one invincible, irresistible weapon.

    [Scythian oaths]
  • But before I begin, I would like to describe to you our manner of making friends. Friendships are not formed with us, as with you, over the wine-cups, nor are they determined by considerations of age or neighbourhood. We wait until we see a brave man, capable of valiant deeds, and to him we all turn our attention. Friendship with us is like courtship with you: rather than fail in our objective and endure the disgrace of a rejection, we are content to urge our case patiently and to give our constant attention. Eventually, a friend is accepted and the engagement is concluded with our most solemn oath: “to live together and, if need be, to die for one another.” That vow is faithfully kept after the friends draw blood from their fingers into a cup, dip the points of their swords into the cup, and drink of that draught together. From that moment, nothing can take them apart. Such a treaty of friendship may include three persons, but no more.  We consider a man with many friends to be no better than a woman who is at the service of every lover. We feel no further security in a friendship that is divided between so many objects. I will commence with the recent story of Dandamis. In our conflict with the Sauromataians (Sauromatai), Dandamis’s friend, Amizokes, had been taken captive . . . Oh, but first I must take the Scythian oath, as we agreed at the start. “I swear by Wind (anemos) and Scimitar (akinakes) that I will speak nothing but truth about Scythian friendships.”
  • M.: You need not have troubled to swear, as far as I am concerned. However, you showed judgement in not swearing by a god.
  • T.: What are you saying? That for you “Wind” and “Scimitar” do not qualify as gods? Are you only now learning that life and death are the penultimate considerations among humankind? When we swear by “Wind” and “Scimitar”, we do so because “Wind” is the cause of life and “Scimitar” the cause of death.
  • M.: On that principle, you get a good many other gods besides “Scimitar,” and they are just as good as him: there is “Arrow”, “Spear”, “Hemlock”, “Halter”, and so on. “Death” (Thanatos) is a god who assumes many shapes. Countless are the roads that lead into his presence.
  • T.: Now you are just trying to spoil my story with these quibbling objections. I gave you a fair hearing.
  • M.: You are quite right, Toxaris, it will not happen again. Take it easy on me. I’ll be so quiet you would never know I was here at all.

[Scythian story 1: Dandamis and Amizokes at war with Sauromatians]

  • T.: Four days after Dandamis and Amizokes had shared the cup of blood, the Sauromatians (Sauromatai) invaded our territory with ten thousand horse-men and with foot-soldiers estimated to be three times the number of their horse-men. The invasion was unexpected, and we were completely defeated. Many of our warriors were killed and the rest were taken captive, with the exception of a few who managed to swim across to the opposite bank of the river. That was where half our army was encamped, with a portion of the wagons. The reason of this arrangement I do not know. But our leaders had thought it was beneficial to divide our camp between the two banks of the Tanais [Don] river. The enemy at once set to work to secure their plunder and collect the captives. They plundered the camp, and took possession of the wagons, most of them with their occupants. We also had the horrifying experience of seeing our wives and concubines mistreated before bur very eyes. (40) Amizokes was among the prisoners, and while he was being dragged along he called out to his friend by name, to witness his captivity and to remember the cup of blood. Dandamis heard him and without a moment’s delay plunged into the river in the sight of everyone, and he swam across to the enemy. The Sauromataians rushed at him, and were about to transfix him with their raised javelins, when he raised the cry of “Zirin!” The man who pronounces that word is safe from their weapons; it indicates that he is the bearer of ransom, and he is received accordingly. Being conducted into the presence of their chief, he demanded the release of Amizokes. In replay he was told that his friend would only be released upon payment of a high ransom. “All that was once mine,” said Dandamis, “has become your plunder, but if one who is stripped of everything can have anything yet left to give, it is at your disposal. Name your terms. Take me in his place, if you want, and use me as seems best to you.” To detain the person of one who comes with the “Zirin” on his lips is out of the question, but you may take back your friend on paying me a part of your possessions. “What will you have?” asked Dandamis. “Your eyes,” was the reply. Dandamis submitted, his eyes were plucked out, and the Sauromataians had their ransom. He returned leaning on his friend, and they swam across together and reached us in safety. There was comfort for all of us in this act of Dandamis. Our defeat, it seemed, was no defeat, after all. Our most precious possessions had escaped the hands of our enemies: loyal friendship and noble resolution were still our own. On the Sauromataians it had the contrary effect: they did not at all like the idea of engaging with such determined adversaries on equal terms and gaining an advantage over them by means of a surprise was quite another matter. The result was that, when night came on, they left behind the greater part of the herd, burnt the wagons, and made a quick retreat. As for Amizokes, he could not endure to see when Dandamis was blind. He blinded himself, and the two now sit at home, supported in all honour at the public expense. Can you match that, friend? I think not, though I should give you ten new chances on the top of your five; ay, and release you from your oath, too, for that matter, leaving you free to exaggerate as much as you choose. Besides, I have given you just the bare facts. Now, if you had been telling Dandamis’s story, what embroidery we should have had! The supplications of Dandamis, the blinding process, his remarks on the occasion, the circumstances of his return, the effusive greetings of the Scythians, and all the ad captandum artifices that you Greeks understand so well.

[Scythian story 2: Belitta and Basthes]

  • T.: Now let me introduce you to another friend, not inferior to Dandamis. This is a cousin of Amizokes named Belitta. Belitta was once hunting with his friend Basthes, when the latter was torn from his horse by a lion. Already the brute had fallen upon him, and was clutching him by the throat and beginning to tear him to pieces. Leaping to the ground, Belitta then rushed at the lion from behind and attempted to drag him off, and to turn the lion’s rage on himself. He was thrusting his hands into the brute’s mouth and doing his best to extricate Basthes from those teeth. Belitta succeeded at last: the lion, abandoning his half dead prey, turned upon Belitta, grappled with him and killed him. But this was not before Belitta had plunged a scimitar into his chest. Thus all three died together. We buried them, the two friends in one grave, the lion in another close by.

[Scythian story 3: Makentes, Lonchates, and Arsakomas, including references to Bosporan and Scythian customs]

  • T.: For my third instance, I will describe to you, my dear Mnesippos, the friendship of Makentes, Lonchates, and Arsakomas. This Arsakomas had been on a visit to Leukanor, king of the Bosporan region, in connection with the tribute annually paid to us by that people. The tribute was then three months overdue. While there, Arsakomas had fallen in love with Mazaia, the king’s daughter. Mazaia was an extremely fine woman. Arsakomas, seeing her at the king’s table, had been caught up in her charms. The question of the tribute was at length settled, Arsakomas had his answer, and the king was now entertaining him prior to his departure.

[Ethnographic digression on Bosporan and Scythian marriage customs]

  • It is the custom for suitors in that land to make their proposals at table, while stating their qualifications at the same time. Now in the present case there were a number of suitors, including kings and sons of kings. Among these were Tigrapates, the prince of the Lazians (Lazoi), and Adyrmachos the chief of the Machlyans. What each suitor has to do is: first to declare his intentions and quietly take his seat at table with the rest of the diners. Then, when dinner is over, he calls for a goblet, pours a libation on the table, and makes his proposal for the woman’s hand, saying on his own behalf whatever he can in the way of birth, wealth, and dominion. (45) Many suitors, then, had already preferred their request in due form, enumerating their realms and possessions, when at last Arsakomas called for a cup. He did not make a libation, because it is not the Scythian custom to do so, for we Scythians consider it an insult to the heavens to pour away good wine. Instead, Arsakomas drank it all up in one drink and then addressed the king: “Sire,” he said, “give me your daughter Mazaia to be my wife. If wealth and possessions count for anything, I am a better husband for her than these other men.” Leukanor [the king] was surprised because he knew that Arsakomas was just a poor commoner among the Scythians. “What herds, what wagons do you have, Arsakomas?” he asked. “Wagons are the wealth of your people.” Arsakomas replied: “I have no wagons or herds. However, I have two excellent friends like you will never find in all Scythia.” His answer only excited ridicule. It was attributed to drunkenness and no further notice was taken of him. Adyrmachos was preferred to the other suitors and was to take his bride away the next morning to his Maiotian home [Maiotians were a people on lake Maiotis, now the Sea of Azov]. Arsakomas on his return informed his friends of the slight that had been put upon him by the king and of the ridicule to which he had been subjected on account of his supposed poverty. “And yet,” Arsakomas added, “I told him about my wealth. I told him that I had the friendship of Lonchates and Makentes, a more precious and more lasting possession than his kingdom of Bosporos. But he made light of it and jeered at us, and he gave his daughter to Adyrmachos the Machlyan, because he had ten golden cups, eighty wagons of four seats, and a number of sheep and oxen. It seems that herds, lumbering wagons, and superfluous drinking-cups are to count for more than brave men. My friends, I am doubly wounded: I love Mazaia, and I cannot forget the humiliation which I have suffered before so many witnesses, and in which you are both equally involved. Ever since we were united in friendship, are we not of one flesh? Do we not share our joys and our sorrows the same? If this is so, each of us has his share in this disgrace.” Lonchates joined in: “Not only that: Each of us endured the collective insult when you were treated in this way.” Makentes asked: “And what is to be our course of action?” Lochates replied: “We will divide the work. I for my part undertake to present Arsakomas with the head of Leukanor, while you must bring him his bride.” “I agree. And you, Arsakomas, can stay at home – as we are likely to need an army before we are finished, you must gather together horses and arms, and raise what men you can. A man like you will have no difficulty in getting plenty of people to join him, and there are all our relations. Besides, you can sit on the ox-hide.”This matter being settled, Lonchates set off for the Bosporos just as he was, and Makentes set off for Machlyene, each of them on horseback, while Arsakomas remained behind, consulting with his acquaintance, raising forces from among the relations of the three men, and, finally, taking his seat on the ox-hide.

[Ethnographic digression on Scythian custom related to the ox-hide oath]

  • Our custom of the hide is as follows: When a man has been injured by another and desires vengeance, but feels that he is no match for his opponent, he sacrifices an ox, cuts up the flesh and cooks it, and then spreads out the hide upon the ground. On this hide he takes his seat, holding his hands behind him, so as to suggest that his arms are tied in that position, this being the natural attitude of a suppliant among us. Meanwhile, the flesh of the ox has been laid out, and the man’s relations and any others who feel so disposed come up and take a portion of the meat. Setting their right foot on the hide, they promise whatever assistance is in their power, one of them saying that he will supply and maintain five horsemen, another ten horsemen, a third some larger number, while others, according to their ability, promising heavy or light-armed infantry, and the poorest, who have nothing else to give, offer their own personal services. The number of persons assembled on the hide is sometimes very considerable, nor could any troops be more reliable or more invincible than those which are collected in this manner, being as they are under a vow, because the act of stepping on to the hide constitutes an oath. By this means, then, Arsakomas raised something like five thousand horse-men and twenty thousand heavy and light armed men. In the mean time, Lonchates arrived incognito in the Bosporos region and presented himself to the king, who was occupied at the moment with the affairs of state. Lonchates said: “I come on public business from Scythia, but I have also a private communication of high importance to make to your majesty.” The king instructed him to proceed. “As to my public errand, it is the old story: we protest against your herdsmen’s crossing ‘the Rocks’ and encroaching on the plains. And with reference to the cattle-robbers of whom you complain, I am instructed to say that our community is not responsible for their incursions. That is the work of private individuals, who are motived merely by the love of plunder. Accordingly, you are at liberty to punish as many of them as you can secure. (50) And now for my own news: You will shortly be invaded by a large army under Arsakomas the son of Mariantas, who was lately at your court as an ambassador. I suppose the cause of his resentment is your refusing him your daughter’s hand. He has now been on the ox-hide for seven days and has gathered a considerable force.” Leukanor exclaimed: “I had heard that an army was being raised on the hide. But who was raising it, and what was its destination, I had no idea.” Lonchates said: “You know now. Arsakomas is a personal enemy of mine, and the high esteem in which I am held and the preference shown to me by our elders are things which he cannot forgive. Now, promise me your other daughter, Barketis, apart from my present services, and I will be an honourable son-in-law. Promise me this, and in no long time I will return bringing you the head of Arsakomas.” The king was upset because he realized the provocation he had given to Arsakomas, and he had always shown his defence to the Scythians. The upset king cried out “I promise.” Lonchates insisted: “Swear that you will not go back from your promise.” The king was already raising up his hand to the heavens, when the other interrupted him. “Wait!” he exclaimed “not here! These people must not know what is the subject of our oath. Let us go into the temple of Ares over there and swear with closed doors, where no one will hear. If Arsakomas should get wind of this, I am likely to be offered up as a preliminary sacrifice; he has a good number of men already.”The king said: “Let’s go to the temple, then.” The king ordered the guards to remain aloof, and forbade any one to approach the temple unless summoned by him. As soon as they were inside, and the guards had withdrawn, Lonchates drew his sword, and – putting his left hand on the king’s mouth to prevent his crying out – plunged it into his chest. Then, cutting off his head, he went out from the temple carrying it under his cloak, while pretending the entire time to be speaking to the king and promising that he would not be long, as if the king had sent him on some errand. He thus succeeded in reaching the place where he had left his horse tethered, leaped on to the horse’s back, and rode off into Scythia. There was no pursuit. The people of Bosporos took some time to discover what had happened, and then they were occupied with disputes as to the king’s succession. So Lonchates fulfilled his promise, and handed the head of Leukanor to Arsakomas. The news of this reached Makentes while he was on his way to Machlyene, and on his arrival there he was the first to announce the king’s death. Makentes added: “You, Adyrmachos, are his son- in-law, and are now summoned to the throne. Ride on in advance, and establish your claim while all is still unsettled. Your bride can follow with the wagons. The presence of Leukanor’s daughter will be of assistance to you in securing the support of the Bosporans. I myself am an Alanian and am related to this lady by the mother’s side. Leukanor’s wife, Mastira, was of my family. I now come to you from Mastira’s brothers in Alania: they would have you make the best of your way to Bosporos at once, or you will find your crown on the head of Eubiotos, Leukanor’s bastard brother, who is a friend to Scythia and detested by the Alanians.” In language and dress, Makentes resembled an Alanian, because in these respects there is no difference between Scythians and Alanians, except that the Alanians do not wear such long hair as we do. Makentes had completed the resemblance by cropping his hair to the right shortness, and was thus enabled to pass for a kinsman of Mastira and Mazaia. Makentes concluded: “Now, Adyrmachos, I am ready to go with you to Bosporos. Or, if you prefer it, I will escort your bride.” Adyrmachos replied: “If you will do the latter, I will be particularly obliged, since you are Mazaia’s kinsman. If you go with us, it is but one horseman more, whereas no one could be such a suitable escort for my wife.” And so it was settled, Adyrmachos rode off and left Mazaia, who was still unmarried, in the care of Makentes. During the day, Makentes accompanied Mazaia in the wagon, but at nightfall he placed her on horseback. He had taken care that there should be a horseman in attendance. Mounting on the horse behind her, he abandoned his former course along the Maiotian lake [i.e. Sea of Azov] and struck off into the interior, keeping the Mitraian mountains on his right. He allowed Mazaia some time for rest and completed the whole journey from Machlyene to Scythia on the third day. His horse stood still for a few moments after arrival, and then dropped down dead. Presenting Mazaia to Arsakomas, Makentes said: “Look, your promised bride.” Arsakomas, amazed at so unexpected a sight, was beginning to express his gratitude, but Makentes ordered him hold his peace. “You speak,” he exclaimed, “as if you and I were different persons, when you thank me for what I have done. It is as if my left hand should say to my right: ‘thank you for tending my wound, and thank you for your generous sympathy with my pain’.” That would be no more absurd than for us — who have long been united and have become of one flesh (so far as such a thing may be) — to make such a big deal when one part of us has done its duty on behalf the whole. The limb is but serving its own interest in promoting the welfare of the body.” And that was how Makentes received his friend’s thanks.

[Battle scene involving various Pontic peoples: Bosporans, Machlyans, Alanians, Sindians, and Scythians]

  • Adyrmachos, on hearing of the trick that had been played on him, did not pursue his journey to Bosporos. Indeed, Eubiotos was already on the throne, having been summoned there from his home in Sarmatia. He therefore returned to his own land, collected a large army, and marched across the mountains into Scythia. He was presently followed by Eubiotos himself, at the head of a miscellaneous army of Greeks, together with twenty thousand each of his Alanian and Sarmatian allies. The two joined forces, and the result was an army of ninety thousand men, one-third of whom were mounted bow-men. We Scythians (I say we, because I myself took part in this enterprise, and was maintaining a hundred horse on the hide)— we Scythians then, numbering in all not much less than thirty thousand men, including horse-men, awaited their attack, under the command of Arsakomas. As soon as we saw them approaching, we too advanced, sending on our horse-men ahead. After a long and obstinate engagement, our lines were broken, and we began to give ground. Finally our whole army was cut clean in two. One half had not suffered a decisive defeat. With these men it was rather a retreat than a flight, nor did the Alanians venture to follow up their advantage for any distance. But the other and smaller division was completely surrounded by the Alanians and Machlyans, and it was being shot down on every side by the copious discharge of arrows and javelins. The position became intolerable, and most of our men were beginning to throw down their arms. In this latter division were Lonchates and Makentes. (55) They had borne the brunt of the attack, and both were wounded: Lonchates had a spear-thrust in his thigh, and Makentes, besides a cut on the head from an axe, had had his shoulder damaged by a pike. Arsakomas, seeing their condition (he was with us in the other division), could not endure the thought of turning his back on his friends: plunging the spurs into his horse and raising a shout, he rode through the midst of the enemy, with his scimitar raised on high. The Machlyans were unable to withstand the fury of his onset; their ranks divided and made way for him to pass. Having rescued his friends from their danger, he rallied the rest of the troops, and charging upon Adyrmachos brought down the scimitar on his neck, and cleft him in two as far as the waist. Once Adyrmachos was killed, the whole army of the Machlyans and Alanians soon scattered, and the Greeks followed their example. In this way, we turned a defeat into victory, and – had not night come to interrupt us – we would have pursued the fugitives for a considerable distance, killing them as we went. The next day, messengers came from the enemy requesting reconciliation, the Bosporans undertaking to double their tribute, and the Machlyans to leave hostages, while the Alanians promised to atone for their guilt by reducing to submission the Sindians, who had revolted against us for some time. We accepted these terms on insistence from Arsakomas and Lonchates, who conducted the negotiations and concluded the peace. Such deeds, my dear Mnesippos, are those that Scythians will do for the sake of friendship.
  • T.: Now, honestly, Mnesippos, doesn’t that doubt look a little like envy? However, doubt if you will. That will not deter me from relating other Scythian exploits of the same kind which have happened within my experience.
  • M.: Keep it short, my friend, is all I ask. Your story is prone to run away with you. Up and down hills you go through Scythia and Machlyene, then off again to Bosporos, and then back to Scythia until my listener’s patience is exhausted.
  • T.: On my talking points adhering to your mandated time constraints, I am both compelled to obey and must speak in brief, so that you, following me about with attuned ear, do not grow weary by this labour.

[Scythian story 4: Toxaris and Sisinnes in Athens]

  • T.: My next story will be about a service rendered to myself by my friend Sisinnes. Induced by the desire for Greek culture, I had left my home and was on my way to Athens. The ship put in at Amastris [Amasra, Turkey], which comes in the natural route from Scythia, being on the shore of the Euxine [southern coast of the Black Sea], not far from Karambis. Sisinnes, who had been my friend from childhood, gave me company on this voyage. We had transferred all our belongings from the ship to an inn near the harbour. While we were busy in the market, suspecting nothing wrong, some thieves had forced the door of our room and carried off everything, not leaving us even enough to go on with for that day. Well, when we got back and found what had happened, we thought it was no use trying to get legal redress from our landlord, or from the neighbours. There were too many of them, and if we had told our story about how we had been robbed of four hundred coins (darics), our clothes, rugs and everything, most people would only have thought we were making a fuss about a trifle. So we had to think what was to be done: here we were, absolutely destitute, in a foreign land. For my part, I thought I might as well put a sword through my ribs there and then, and have done with it, rather than endure the humiliation that might be forced upon us by hunger and thirst. Sisinnes took a more cheerful view, and implored me to do nothing of the kind: “I will think of something,” he said, “and we may do well yet.” For the moment, he made enough to get us some food by carrying up timber from the harbour. The next morning, he took a walk in the market, where it seems he saw a company of fine likely young fellows, who as it turned out were hired as gladiators, and were to perform two days after. He found out all about them, and then came back to me. “Toxaris,” he exclaimed, “consider your poverty at an end! In two days’ time, I will make a rich man of you.” We got through those two days somehow, and then came the show, in which we took our places as spectators, Sisinnes bidding me prepare myself for all the novel delights of a Greek amphitheatre. The first thing we saw on sitting down was a number of wild beasts: some of them were being assailed by javelins, others hunted by dogs, and others again were let loose upon certain men who were tied hand and foot. We assumed they were criminals (kakourgoi). The gladiators next made their appearance. The announcer led forward a strapping young man and announced that any one who was prepared to stand up against him might step into the arena and take his reward, which would be ten thousand drachmas. Sisinnes rose from his seat, jumped down into the ring, expressed his willingness to fight, and demanded arms. He received the money, and brought it to me. “If I win,” he said, “we will go off together, and are amply provided for: if I fall, you will bury me and return to Scythia.” I was very moved. (60) He now received his weapons and put them on with the exception, however, of the helmet, for he fought bareheaded. He was the first to be wounded, his adversary’s curved sword drawing a stream of blood from his groin. I was half dead with fear. However, Sisinnes was biding his time: the other now assailed him with more confidence, and Sisinnes made a lunge at his chest, and drove the sword clean through, so that his adversary fell lifeless at his feet. He himself, exhausted by the loss of blood, sank down upon the corpse, and life almost left him. But I ran to his assistance, raised him up, and spoke words of comfort. The victory was won, and he was free to depart. I therefore picked him up and carried him home. My efforts were at last successful. He recovered and is living in Scythia to this day, having married my sister. He is still lame, however, from his wound. Observe: this did not take place in Machlyene, nor yet in Alania. There is no lack of witnesses to the truth of the story this time, since many an Amastrian here in Athens would remember the fight of Sisinnes.

[Scythian story 5: Abauchas and Gyndanes]

  • T.: One more story, that of Abauchas, and I am done. Abauchas once arrived in the capital of the Borysthenians, with his wife, of whom he was extremely fond, and two children. One, a boy, was still at the breast, the other was a girl of seven. With him also was his friend Gyndanes, who was still suffering from the effects of a wound he had received on the journey. They had been attacked by some bandits, and Gyndanes in resisting them had been stabbed in the thigh. He was still unable to stand on account of the pain. One night they were all asleep in the upper story, when a tremendous fire broke out. The whole building was wrapped in flames, and every means of exit was blocked. Abauchas started up, and leaving his sobbing children, and shaking off his wife, who clung to him and implored him to save her, he caught up his friend in his arms, and just managed to force his way down without being utterly consumed by the flames. His wife followed, carrying the boy, and called the girl to come after her. However, scorched almost to a cinder, she was forced to drop the child from her arms, and barely succeeded in leaping through the flames. The little girl too only just escaped with her life. Abauchas was afterwards reproached for abandoning his own wife and children to rescue Gyndanes. “I can beget other children easily enough,” Abauchas said “nor was it certain how these would turn out: but it would be long before I got such another friend as Gyndanes – of his affection, I have been abundantly satisfied by experience.’

[Conclusion: Mnesippos and Toxaris become friends and swear the Scythian blood oath]

  • T.: There, Mnesippos, you have my little selection. The next thing is to settle whether my hand or your tongue is to be amputated. Who is the judge?
  • M.: Judge? We don’t have one. We forgot that part. I tell you what: we have wasted our arrows this time, but some other day we will appoint an arbitrator, and submit other friendships to his judgement, and at that time either your hand will come off or my tongue will come out, as the case may be. Perhaps, though, this is rather a primitive way of doing things. As you seem to think a great deal of friendship, and as I consider it to be the highest blessing of humanity, what is there to prevent our vowing eternal friendship on the spot? We will both have the satisfaction of winning then, and we will get a substantial prize into the bargain: two right hands each instead of one, two tongues, four eyes, four feet — everything in duplicate. The union of two friends — or three, let us say — is like Geryon in the pictures: a six-handed, three-headed individual [account of Geryon in Hesiod, Theogony, 980 – link]. My private opinion is that there was not one Geryon, but three Geryons, all acting in concert, as friends should.
  • T.: Well said! Let’s do it that way.
  • M.: And, Toxaris, we will dispense with the blood-and-scimitar ceremony. Our present conversation, and the similarity of our aims, are a much better security than that bloody cup of yours. Friendship, as I take it, should be voluntary, not compulsory.
  • T.: I approve of these things. From this day, I am your friend, and you are mine. I am your guest here in Greece, you are mine if ever you come to Scythia.
  • M.: Scythia! I would go further than Scythia to meet with such friends as Toxaris’s stories have shown him to be.


Source of the translation: H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, The Works of Lucian, 4 volumes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), public domain, adapted and modernized by Daniel Mitchell and Harland.

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