The Marvels of Rome

Henry James, From a Roman Notebook:

“Could Rome after all really be a world-city? That queer old rococo garden gateway at the top of the Gregoriana stirred a dormant memory; it awoke into a consciousness of the delicious mildness of the air, and very soon, in a little crimson drawing-room, I was reconciled and re-initiated…. Everything is dear (in the way of lodgings), but it hardly matters, as everything is taken and some one else paying for it. I must make up my mind to a bare perch. But it seems poorly perverse here to aspire to an “interior” or to be conscious of the economic side of life. The æesthetic is so intense that you feel you should live on the taste of it, should extract the nutritive essence of the atmosphere. For positively it’s such an atmosphere! The weather is perfect, the sky as blue as the most exploded tradition fames it, the whole air glowing and throbbing with lovely colour…. The glitter of Paris is now all gaslight. And oh the monotonous miles of rain-washed asphalte!”


“I went yesterday with L. to the Colonna gardens—an adventure that would have reconverted me to Rome if the thing weren’t already done. It’s a rare old place—rising in mouldy bosky terraces and mossy stairways and winding walks from the back of the palace to the top of the Quirinal. It’s the grand style of gardening, and resembles the present natural manner as a chapter of Johnsonian rhetoric resembles a piece of clever contemporary journalism. But it’s a better style in horticulture than in literature; I prefer one of the long-drawn blue-green Colonna vistas, with a maimed and mossy-coated garden goddess at the end, to the finest possible quotation from a last-century classic.”


“Can there be for a while a happier destiny than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these sacred shades? One has fancied Plato’s Academy—his gleaming colonnades, his blooming gardens and Athenian sky; but was it as good as this one, where Monsieur Hebert does the Platonic? The blessing in Rome is not that this or that or the other isolated object is so very unsurpassable; but that the general air so contributes to interest, to impressions that are not as any other impressions anywhere in the world. And from this general air the Villa Medici has distilled an essence of its own—walled it in and made it delightfully private. The great façade on the gardens is like an enormous rococo clock-face all incrusted with images and arabesques and tablets. What mornings and afternoons one might spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented, pensioned, satisfied—either persuading one’s self that one would be “doing something” in consequence or not caring if one shouldn’t be.”

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Giovanni Paolo Panini – A Capriccio View of Roman Ruins (1737)

Italian Hours, Italian Days

It often comes as some surprise to those who learn how much time I have spent studying Latin literature that I have never been to Italy. I can provide no reason for this which would not sound either wistfully romanticized or pathetic, but I leave for Rome tomorrow, and will never again have to content myself with the idle conjuring of my imagination. Earlier this week, I happened (and it was purely fortuitous) on a copy of Henry James’ Italian Hours, a collection of essays from his time spent touring Italy. They are all suitably romantic and backward-looking in tone for one of my ruefully anachronistic temperament, and the luxuriant pace of James’ prose serves to put one in the perfect state simply to experience. 

Venice [1882]:

From the moment, of course, that you go into any Italian church for any purpose but to say your prayers or look at the ladies, you rank yourself among the trooping barbarians I just spoke of; you treat the place as an orifice in the peep-show. Still, it is almost a spiritual function–or, at the worst, an amorous one–to feed one’s eyes on the molten colour that drops from the hollow vaults and thickens the air with its richness. It is all so quiet and sad and faded and yet all so brilliant and living.

It is poor work, however, talking about the colour of things in Venice. The fond spectator is perpetually looking at it from his window, when he is not floating about with that delightful sense of being for the moment a part of it, which any gentleman in a gondola is free to entertain. Venetian windows and balconies are a dreadful lure, and while you rest your elbows on these cushioned ledges the precious hours fly away. But in truth Venice isn’t in fair weather a place for concentration of mind. The effort required for sitting down to a writing-table is heroic, and the brightest page of MS. looks dull beside the brilliancy of your milieu. All nature beckons you forth and murmurs to you sophistically that such hours should be devoted to collecting impressions. Afterwards, in ugly places, at unprivileged times, you can convert your impressions into prose.

But it is hard, as I say, to express all this, and it is painful as well to attempt it–painful because in the memory of vanished hours so filled with beauty the consciousness of present loss oppresses. Exquisite hours, enveloped in light and silence, to have known them once is to have always a terrible standard of enjoyment. Certain lovely mornings of May and June come back with an ineffaceable fairness. Venice isn’t smothered in flowers at this season, in the manner of Florence and Rome; but the sea and sky themselves seem to blossom and rustle.

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Changing Names: Four Intersex Stories from Ancient Greece and Rome

These tales are from Phlegon of Tralles’ On Marvels

6 Also in Antioch near the Maiander river there was an intersex person, when Antipater who was the Athenians and Marcus Vinicius and Titus Statilus Taurus were consuls. The person was called Kourbinus. As a maiden of famous parents when she was thirteen she was suited by many because of her beauty.

After her parents chose the suitor they wanted, they appointed the day for the marriage But the girl shouted out as she was about to leave the house when the most severe amount of pain over took her.

Those near her lifted her up and were taking care of her because she had pains in her guts and twisting within them. This pain remained for three days straight and her suffering made everyone confused, since they could not give her relief from the toils at night or day.

Even though the doctors in the city applied every type of healing to her they found no cause for the suffering. On the fourth day near dawn, the pains greatly increased and, as she shouted out with a terrible groan, suddenly the masculine parts descended from her and a girl became a man.

After some time, he was taken to Rome to be presented to Claudius Caesar. And he, on account of the fame, had an altar erected for Zeus the Defender of Evils on the Capitoline.”

Καὶ ἐν ᾿Αντιοχείᾳ δὲ τῇ πρὸς Μαιάνδρῳ ποταμῷ ἐγένετο ἀνδρόγυνος, ἄρχοντος ᾿Αθήνησιν ᾿Αντιπάτρου, ὑπατευόντων ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ Μάρκου Βινικίου καὶ Τίτου Στατιλίου Ταύρου, τοῦ Κουρβίνου ἐπικληθέντος.

παρθένος γὰρ γονέων ἐπισήμων τρισκαιδεκαέτις ὑπάρχουσα ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἐμνηστεύετο, οὖσα εὐπρεπής. ὡς δ’ ἐνεγυήθη ᾧ οἱ γονεῖς ἐβούλοντο, ἐνστάσης τῆς ἡμέρας τοῦ γάμου προϊέναι τοῦ οἴκου μέλλουσα αἰφνιδίως πόνου ἐμπεσόντος αὐτῇ σφοδροτάτου ἐξεβόησεν.

ἀναλαβόντες δ’ αὐτὴν οἱ προσήκοντες ἐθεράπευον ὡς ἀλγήματα ἔχουσαν κοιλίας καὶ στρόφους τῶν ἐντός· τῆς δὲ ἀλγηδόνος ἐπιμενούσης τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἑξῆς ἀπορίαν τε πᾶσι τοῦ πάθους ποιοῦντος, τῶν πόνων οὔτε νυκτὸς οὔτε ἡμέρας ἔνδοσιν λαμβανόντων, καίτοι πᾶσαν μὲν θεραπείαν αὐτῇ προσφερόντων <τῶν> ἐν τῇ πόλει ἰατρῶν, μηδεμίαν δὲ τοῦ πάθους δυναμένων αἰτίαν εὑρεῖν, τῇ τετάρτῃ τῶν ἡμερῶν περὶ τὸν ὄρθρον μείζονα τῶν πόνων ἐπίδοσιν λαμβανόντων, σὺν μεγάλῃ οἰμωγῇ ἀνακραγούσης, ἄφνω αὐτῇ ἀρσενικὰ μόρια προέπεσεν, καὶ ἡ κόρη ἀνὴρ ἐγένετο.

μετὰ δὲ χρόνον εἰς ῾Ρώμην ἀνηνέχθη πρὸς Κλαύδιον Καίσαρα· ὁ δὲ τούτου ἕνεκα τοῦ σημείου ἐν Καπετωλίῳ Διὶ ᾿Αλεξικάκῳ ἱδρύσατο βωμόν.


7 “There was also in Mêouania, an Italian city, in the home of Agrippina Augusta, an intersex person when Dionysodorus was archon in Athens and in Rome Decimus Junius Silanos Torquatos and Quintus Aterius Atonius were consuls.

The girl’s name was Philôtis and she was Smyrnaian in origin. When the time of her marriage came and she had been promised by her parents to a man, male genitals appeared on her and she became a man.”

᾿Εγένετο καὶ ἐν Μηουανίᾳ, πόλει τῆς ᾿Ιταλίας, ἐν ᾿Αγριππίνης τῆς Σεβαστῆς ἐπαύλει ἀνδρόγυνος, ἄρχοντος ᾿Αθήνησιν Διονυσοδώρου, ὑπατευόντων ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ Δέκμου ᾿Ιουνίου Σιλανοῦ Τορκουάτου καὶ Κοΐντου ῾Ατερίου ᾿Αντωνίνου.

Φιλωτὶς γάρ τις ὀνόματι παρθένος, Σμυρναία τὸ γένος, ὡραία πρὸς γάμον ὑπὸ τῶν γονέων κατεγγεγυημένη ἀνδρί, μορίων αὐτῇ προφανέντων ἀρρενικῶν ἀνὴρ ἐγένετο.


8 “There was also another intersex person in the same time period in Epidaurus, a child of poor parents who was called Sumpherousa first but was named Sumpherôn when he became a man. He spent his life gardening.”

Καὶ ἄλλος δέ τις ἀνδρόγυνος κατὰ τοὺς αὐτοὺς χρόνους ἐγένετο ἐν ᾿Επιδαύρῳ, γονέων ἀπόρων παῖς, ὃς ἐκαλεῖτο πρότερον Συμφέρουσα, ἀνὴρ δὲ γενόμενος ὠνομάζετο Συμφέρων, κηπουρῶν δὲ τὸν βίον διῆγεν.


9 “In Laodikeia there was also a Syrian women named Aitêtê who changed her form when she was already living with her husband and then changed her name to Aitêtos once she became a man. This was when Makrinos was archon in Athens and Lucius Lamia Aelianos and Sextus Carminius Veterus were consuls. I even saw him myself.”

Καὶ ἐς Λαοδίκειαν δὲ τῆς Συρίας γυνή, ὀνόματι Αἰτητή, συνοικοῦσα τῷ ἀνδρὶ ἔτι μετέβαλε τὴν μορφὴν καὶ μετωνομάσθη Αἰτητὸς ἀνὴρ γενόμενος, ἄρχοντος ᾿Αθήνησιν Μακρίνου, ὑπατευόντων ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ Λουκίου Λαμία Αἰλιανοῦ καὶ <Σέξτου Καρμινίου> Οὐέτερος. τοῦτον καὶ αὐτὸς ἐθεασάμην.

A note on translation. I was a bit dissatisfied with the translations available from the LSJ for ἀνδρόγυνος so I chose the modern “intersex”.


Werewolf Week, Ritual Edition: Pausanias on Human Sacrifice and Lycanthropy

In the second century CE, Pausanias composed ten books on the sights and wonders of ancient Greece. His text provides some of the only accounts of architecture, art and culture that have been lost in intervening centuries.  In his eighth book, he turns to Arcadia and starts by discussing the rituals performed in honor of Lykian Zeus.

The story, mentioned by Plato too, is one of those ‘original sin’ tales from Greek myth–like the story of Tantalos and Pelops, it hearkens back to a golden age when gods and men hung out together. Its details about werewolves are similar to those offered by Pliny (especially the 9-10 year period as a wolf).

It turns out that recent archaeological studies may support human sacrifice at the site!

Hendrik Goltzius' 1589 engraving of Lycaon

Hendrik Goltzius’ 1589 engraving of Lycaon

Pausanias, 8.2.3-7

“Cecrops was the first to declare Zeus the Highest god and he thought it wrong to sacrifice anything that breathed, so he burned on the altar the local cakes which the Athenians call pelanoi even today. But Lykaon brought a human infant to the altar of Lykaian Zeus, sacrificed it, spread its blood on the altar, and then, according to the tale, turned immediately from a man into a wolf.

This tale convinces me for the following reasons: it has circulated among the Arcadians since antiquity and it also seems probable. For in those days men were guests and tablemates of the gods because of their just behavior and reverence. Those who were good received honor openly from the gods; divine rage fell upon the unjust—then, truly, gods were created from men, gods who have rites even today such as Aristaios, Britomartis the Cretan, Herakles the son of Alkmene, Amphiaros the son of Oicles and, finally, Kastor and Polydeukes.

For this reason we should entertain that Lykaon was turned into a beast and that Niobe became a stone. In our time, when wickedness has swelled to its greatest size and looms over every land and city, no god can come from men, except in the blandishment offered to rulers. Today, divine rage lies in wait for the wicked when they leave for the lower world.

In every age many ancient events—and even those that are current—end up disbelieved because of those who create lies by using the truth. Men report that since the time of Lykaon a man always transforms from a human into a wolf at the sacrifice of Lykaian Zeus, but that he doesn’t remain a wolf his whole life.  Whenever someone turns into a wolf, if he refrains from human flesh, people say he can become a man again ten years later. But if he does taste it, he will always remain a beast.”

ὁ μὲν γὰρ Δία τε ὠνόμασεν ῞Υπατον πρῶτος, καὶ ὁπόσα ἔχει ψυχήν, τούτων μὲν ἠξίωσεν οὐδὲν θῦσαι, πέμματα δὲ ἐπιχώρια ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ καθήγισεν, ἃ πελάνους καλοῦσιν ἔτι καὶ ἐς  ἡμᾶς ᾿Αθηναῖοι· Λυκάων δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν βωμὸν τοῦ Λυκαίου Διὸς βρέφος ἤνεγκεν ἀνθρώπου καὶ ἔθυσε τὸ βρέφος καὶ ἔσπεισεν ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ τὸ αἷμα, καὶ αὐτὸν αὐτίκα ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ γενέσθαι λύκον φασὶν ἀντὶ ἀνθρώπου.

καὶ ἐμέ γε ὁ λόγος οὗτος πείθει, λέγεται δὲ ὑπὸ ᾿Αρκάδων ἐκ παλαιοῦ, καὶ τὸ εἰκὸς αὐτῷ πρόσεστιν. οἱ γὰρ δὴ τότε ἄνθρωποι ξένοι καὶ ὁμοτράπεζοι θεοῖς ἦσαν ὑπὸ δικαιοσύνης καὶ εὐσεβείας, καί σφισιν ἐναργῶς ἀπήντα παρὰ τῶν θεῶν τιμή τε οὖσιν ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἀδικήσασιν ὡσαύτως ἡ ὀργή, ἐπεί τοι καὶ θεοὶ τότε ἐγίνοντο ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, οἳ γέρα καὶ ἐς τόδε ἔτι ἔχουσιν ὡς ᾿Αρισταῖος καὶ Βριτόμαρτις ἡ Κρητικὴ καὶ ῾Ηρακλῆς ὁ ᾿Αλκμήνης καὶ ᾿Αμφιάραος ὁ ᾿Οικλέους, ἐπὶ δὲ αὐτοῖς Πολυδεύκης τε καὶ Κάστωρ.

οὕτω πείθοιτο ἄν τις καὶ Λυκάονα θηρίον καὶ τὴν Ταντάλου Νιόβην γενέσθαι λίθον. ἐπ’ ἐμοῦ δὲ—κακία γὰρ δὴ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ηὔξετο καὶ γῆν τε ἐπενέμετο πᾶσαν καὶ πόλεις πάσας—οὔτε θεὸς ἐγίνετο οὐδεὶς ἔτι ἐξ ἀνθρώπου, πλὴν ὅσον λόγῳ καὶ κολακείᾳ πρὸς τὸ ὑπερέχον, καὶ ἀδίκοις τὸ μήνιμα τὸ ἐκ τῶν θεῶν ὀψέ τε καὶ ἀπελθοῦσιν ἐνθένδε ἀπόκειται. ἐν δὲ τῷ παντὶ αἰῶνι πολλὰ μὲν πάλαι συμβάντα, <τὰ> δὲ καὶ ἔτι γινόμενα ἄπιστα εἶναι πεποιήκασιν ἐς τοὺς πολλοὺς οἱ τοῖς ἀληθέσιν ἐποικοδομοῦντες ἐψευσμένα. λέγουσι γὰρ δὴ ὡς Λυκάονος ὕστερον ἀεί τις ἐξ ἀνθρώπου λύκος γίνοιτο ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ τοῦ Λυκαίου Διός, γίνοιτο δὲ οὐκ ἐς ἅπαντα τὸν βίον· ὁπότε δὲ εἴη λύκος, εἰ μὲν κρεῶν ἀπόσχοιτο ἀνθρωπίνων, ὕστερον ἔτει δεκάτῳ  φασὶν αὐτὸν αὖθις ἄνθρωπον ἐκ λύκου γίνεσθαι, γευσάμενον δὲ ἐς ἀεὶ μένειν θηρίον.

Two Weeks of Posts on India

For the past two weeks I have been traveling in India for a family wedding. It has been busy, but jetlag and odd hours didn’t keep me from reading about India in Greek sources. There is a surprising amount of material–most of it positioning India as ‘exotic’ and ‘mystic’ the way many Western stereotypes do. I barely touched the fragments of Megasthenes; I didn’t cite much from Strabo; and I didn’t even begin to introduce Roman sources (Pliny the Elder has a lot to say).

And there are even more Greek sources! The Byzantine author Photius summarizes the work of Megasthenes and Ctesias on India. This leaves us with records of three Indica: Arrian’s, Megasthenes’, and Ctesias, whose account would be the oldest (it is allegedly based on accounts he heard from the Persians when he traveled with the expedition of Cyrus, c. 401 BCE).

To be honest, there is a lot more material on India from the ancient world than I expected even without Roman accounts and the fantastic Alexander romance.  I am surprised that there isn’t a monograph already published on the subject! But I suspect that other than being chock-full of titillating details, a monograph couldn’t say much more than India is the exotic other in the Greco-Roman mind: a binary, rather than polar, opposite, occupying a space between the fantasy and reality, between history and fiction. In a way, ‘India’ in the Greco-Roman mind might not be qualitatively different from ‘India’ in Western pop-culture today.

Here’s another dose:

Photius, Bilbiotheca, 72. 46b (=Ctesias of Cnidos)

“[Ctesias says that] in the middle of India there are black men who are called Pygmies and have the same language as other Indians, but they are really small. The tallest of them are only two cubits, but most of them only one and a half. They have extremely long hair, down to their knees and lower, and the largest beards of all men. When they grow their beards long, they don’t wear clothing anymore, but they wrap their hair around them from their head and fasten it below their knees and arrange their beard in the front down near their feet, essentially using their hair to cover their bodies instead of clothing.”

῞Οτι μέσῃ τῇ ᾿Ινδικῇ ἄνθρωποί εἰσι μέλανες (καλοῦνται Πυγμαῖοι) ὁμόγλωσσοι τοῖς ἄλλοις ᾿Ινδοῖς. Μικροὶ δέ εἰσι λίαν· οἱ μακρότατοι αὐτῶν πηχέων δύο, οἱ δὲ πλεῖστοι, ἑνὸς ἡμίσεος πήχεος. Κόμην δὲ ἔχουσι μακροτάτην μέχρις ἐπὶ τὰ γόνατα καὶ ἔτι κατώτερον, καὶ πώγωνα μέγιστον πάντων ἀνθρώπων. ᾿Επειδὰν οὖν τὸν πώγονα μέγα φύσωσιν, οὐκέτι ἀμφιέννυνται οὐδὲν ἱμάτιον, ἀλλὰ τὰς τρίχας, τὰς μὲν ἐκ τῆς κεφαλῆς ὄπισθεν καθίενται πολὺ κάτω τῶν γονάτων, τὰς δὲ ἐκ τοῦ πώγωνος ἔμπροσθεν μέχρι ποδῶν ἑλκομένας, ἔπειτα περιπυκασάμενοι τὰς τρίχας περὶ ἅπαν τὸ σῶμα, ζώννυνται χρώμενοι αὐταῖς ἀντὶ ἱματίου.

Here’s a list of the posts.

The Curious Case of Herodotus’ India (Gold-digging ants)

Alexander and the Gymno-Sophists 1 (Herodotus)

Alexander the Great, Philosopher (King?)

Alexander and the Talking Trees (The Alexander Romance)

Alexander Elephant

Indian Cotton from a Greek Perspective (Arrian)

The Suda’s Somewhat Offensive Comments on India

Dionysus and Indian Cities/Agriculture (Arrian)

Herakles and Indian Pearls (Arrian)

Herakles and Indian Marriage Rites (Arrian)

Indian Rivers and Cities (Arrian)

Gymno-sophists, Part 2 (Arrian)

Laws Against Inter-caste Marriage (Arrian)

Indian Elephants and Soothing Music (Aelian)

A Greek Account of Indian Rice (Athenaeus)

The dog-headed people of India (Ctesias)

Truth -Serum and Magic Cheese

Thank you, India?

Truth-Serum in Ancient India

More crazy stuff from Ctesias on India:


Photius, Bibliotheca: Codex 72 50a4

“Ctesias records these details and tells these stories and claims that he is writing the truest accounts, insisting that he saw some of the things himself and learned some of the them from others who witnessed them. He says that he left out many other more amazing details because those who had not witnessed them might consider the rest of what wrote incredible.”

Ταῦτα γράφων καὶ μυθολογῶν Κτησίας λέγει τἀληθέστατα γράφειν, ἐπάγων ὡς τὰ μὲν αὐτὸς ἰδὼν γράφει, τὰ δὲ παρ’ αὐτῶν μαθὼν τῶν ἰδόντων, πολλὰ δὲ τούτων καὶ ἄλλα θαυμασιώτερα παραλιπεῖν διὰ τὸ μὴ δόξαι τοῖς μὴ τεθεαμένοις ἄπιστα συγγράφειν. ᾿Εν οἷς καὶ ταῦτα.


“[Ctesias] spends much time on the justice of the Indians, their dedication to their king, and their contempt for death. He also says that there is a spring and when someone draws water from it, it becomes thick like cheese. If an amount of this ‘cheese’ as thick as three obols is crushed and mixed for drinking with water, whoever drinks it will announce everything he has ever done—for he will be out of his mind and crazy for an entire day. The king uses this mixture whenever he wishes to uncover the truth from accused men. If a man admits it, he is ordered to starve to death. If he reveals nothing, he is released.

He also says that no Indian has headaches, eye-disease, toothaches or ulcers in the mouth or anywhere on his body. Indians live 120, 130, 150 and even two hundred years.”

Πολλὰ δὲ λέγει περὶ τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτῶν καὶ τῆς περὶ τὸν σφῶν βασιλέα εὐνοίας καὶ τῆς τοῦ θανάτου καταφρονήσεως. Λέγει δὲ ὅτι πηγή ἐστι, καὶ ἐπειδάν τις ἀρύσῃ τὸ ὕδωρ αὐτῆς, πήγνυται ὥσπερ τυρός. Τούτου οὖν τοῦ πηκτοῦ ὅσον τρεῖς ὀβολοὺς ἐὰν τρίψας δῷς ἐν ὕδατι πιεῖν, ἐξαγγέλλει πάντα ὅσα ἔπραξε· παραφρονεῖ γὰρ καὶ μαίνεται ταύτην τὴν ἡμέραν. Χρᾶται δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐφ’ ὧν κατηγορουμένων τἀληθὲς εὑρεῖν ἐθελήσει· κἂν μὲν ἐξείπῃ, προστάσσεται ἀποκαρτερῆσαι, ἂν δὲ μηδὲν ἐλεγχθῇ, ἀφίεται.

῞Οτι φησὶν ὡς ᾿Ινδῶν οὐδεὶς κεφαλαλγεῖ, οὐδὲ ὀφθαλμιᾷ οὐδὲ ὀδονταλγεῖ, οὐδὲ ἑλκοῦται τὸ στόμα, οὐδὲ σηπεδόνα οὐδεμίαν ἴσχει· ἡ δὲ ζωὴ αὐτῶν ρκ′ καὶ λ′ καὶ ν′ καὶ ς′ οἱ τὰ πλεῖστα βιοῦντες.


india relief

The Fantastic Dog-headed People of India

There are remnants of three Indika (‘History of India’) from ancient Greece. The oldest is attributed to a Kteisias of Knidos (Ctesias of Cnidus) who is said to have traveled with the failed rebellion of Cyrus (the same trip as Xenophon). He gathered his account from stories the Persians told.  The following is taken from the summary made by the Byzantine scholar Photius in his Bibliotheca.

(There is a translation available free here. It leaves out anything about menstruation and sex.)


Ctesias, Indica (fragments From Photius’ Bibliotheca, Codex 72 47b-48b)

Appearance, Language, and Population

“On these mountains he says there are men who have a dog’s head. They wear clothing from wild animals. They do not speak with a voice, but they bark like dogs and thus understand one another. They have larger teeth than a dog and have claws similar to them but they are larger and rounder as well. They live in the mountains near the river Indus. They are dark-skinned and are completely just, just like the rest of the Indians they encounter. They know the language of the other Indians but they cannot speak it—instead they just make signs by barking or with their hands and digits like the deaf. They are called Kalustrioi by the Indians, which equates to Kunokephaloi among the Greeks [“Dog-heads”]. There tribe is almost 120,000 strong.”

᾿Εν τοῖσδε τοῖς ὄρεσί φασιν ἀνθρώπους βιοτεύειν κυνὸς ἔχοντας κεφαλήν· ἐσθῆτας δὲ φοροῦσιν ἐκ τῶν ἀγρίων θηρίων, φωνὴν δὲ διαλέγονται οὐδεμίαν, ἀλλ’ὠρύονται, ὥσπερ κύνες, καὶ οὕτω συνιᾶσιν αὑτῶν τὴν φωνήν. ᾿Οδόντας δὲ μείζους ἔχουσι κυνός, καὶ τοὺς ὄνυχας ὁμοίους κυνός, μακροτέρους δὲ καὶ στρογγυλωτέρους. Οἰκοῦσι δὲ ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσι μέχρι τοῦ ᾿Ινδοῦ ποταμοῦ, μέλανες δέ εἰσι καὶ δίκαιοι πάνυ, ὥσπερ καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι  ᾿Ινδοί, οἷς καὶ ἐπιμίγνυνται καὶ συνιᾶσι μὲν τὰ παρ’ ἐκείνων λεγόμενα, αὐτοὶ δὲ οὐ δύνανται διαλέγεσθαι, ἀλλὰ τῇ ὠρυγῇ καὶ ταῖς χερσὶ καὶ τοῖς δακτύλοις σημαίνουσιν, ὥσπερ οἱ κωφοί· καλοῦνται δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν᾿Ινδῶν Καλύστριοι, ὅπερ ἑλληνιστὶ Κυνοκέφαλοι· τὸ δὲ ἔθνος ἐστὶν ἕως δώδεκα μυριάδων.


Economics (Codex, 48b)

[Ctesias] says that the Kunokephalai who live in the mountains do not work the land but instead live by hunting. When they kill their prey, they cook it in the sun. They do tend many sheep, goats, and donkeys. They drink milk and milk-whey from sheep, and they eat the fruit of the Siptakhora which yields sweet amber. They dry this as well and store it in baskets in the way the Greeks store raisins. The Kunokephaloi build rafts, load them and send them as tribute which includes the amber, prepared purple flowers with 260 talents of amber annually and as much purple die and they send 1000 more talents as annual tribute for the king. The rest of the amber they sell to Indians for bread, grain, cotton. They also buy swords which they use in hunting for their quarry along with bows and javelins. For they are extremely talented at throwing javelins and shooting arrows. They are invincible in war because they inhabit mountains that are unreachable and high. The king gives them gifts every five years: 300,000 bows, the same number of spears, 120,000 shields, and 50,000 swords.”

῞Οτι οἱ Κυνοκέφαλοι οἰκοῦντες ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν οὐκ ἐργάζονται, ἀπὸ θήρας δὲ ζῶσιν· ὅταν δ’ ἀποκτείνωσιν αὐτά, ὀπτῶσι πρὸς τὸν ἥλιον. Τρέφουσι δὲ καὶπρόβατα πολλὰ καὶ αἶγας καὶ ὄνους. Πίνουσι δὲ γάλα καὶ ὀξύγαλα τῶν προβάτων, ἐσθίουσι δὲ καὶ τὸν καρπὸν τοῦ σιπταχόρου, ἀφ’ οὗ τὸ ἤλεκτρον (γλυκὺς γάρ), καὶ ξηραίνοντες αὐτούς, σπυρίδας συσσάσσουσιν ὥσπερ ἐν τοῖς ῞Ελλησι τὴν ἀσταφίδα. Οἱ δὲ Κυνοκέφαλοι, σχεδίαν ποιησάμενοι καὶ ἐπιθέντες, ἀπάγουσι  φόρτον τούτου, καὶ τῆς πορφύρας τὸ ἄνθος καθαρὸν ποιήσαντες, καὶ τοῦ ἠλέκτρου ξ′ καὶ ς′ τάλαντα τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ, καὶ ὅτῳ τὸ φοινίκιον βάπτεται τοῦ φαρμάκου ἕτερα τοσαῦτα, καὶ ἠλέκτρου χίλια τάλαντα, ἀπάγουσι κατ’ ἐνιαυτὸν τῷ ᾿Ινδῶν βασιλεῖ. Καὶ ἕτερα δὲ κατάγοντες πωλοῦσι τοῖς ᾿Ινδοῖς πρὸς ἄρτους καὶ ἄλφιτα καὶ ξύλινα ἱμάτια· πωλοῦσι δὲ καὶ ξίφη οἷς χρῶνται πρὸς τὴν τῶν θηρίων ἄγραν, καὶ τόξα καὶἀκόντια· πάνυ γὰρ καὶ δεινοί εἰσιν ἀκοντίζειν καὶ τοξεύειν· ἀπολέμητοι δ’ εἰσὶ διὰ τὸ οἰκεῖν αὐτοὺς ὄρεα ἄβατα καὶ ὑψηλά. Δίδωσι δὲ αὐτοῖς διὰ πέμπτου ἔτους δῶρα ὁ βασιλεὺς λ′ μὲν μυριάδας τόξων, καὶ ἀκοντίων τοσαύτας, πελτῶν δὲ δώδεκα, καὶ ξίφη δὲ πεντακισμύρια.


Living Arrangements, Wealth, and Sexual Mores

“The Kunokephaloi do not live in houses but inhabit caves. They hunt wild animals with bows, javelins and they overcome some by running. For they run quickly. The women wash themselves once a month whenever they have their periods, but not otherwise. The men do not wash themselves but they do wash their hands. They anoint themselves with oil made from milk and they wipe themselves with skins. They do not have hairy raiment, but the women and the men wear skins that are well-tanned. The wealthiest wear linen, but there are very few. They do not have beds, but they made piles of straw. The man who has the most sheep is considered the wealthiest. The case is similar with their other possessions. All of them have tails which sit above their hips like dogs, but they are longer and harrier. The have sex with the females on four-feet, just like dogs. It is considered shameful to have sex in any other way. They are just and they are the most long-lived of all men: they live 170 and even 200 years.”

Τούτοις τοῖς κυνοκεφάλοις οὐκ εἴσιν οἰκίαι, ἀλλ’ ἐν σπηλαίοις διαιτῶνται. Θηρεύουσι δὲ τὰ θηρία τοξεύοντες, ἀκοντίζοντες, καὶ διώκοντες καταλαμβάνουσι· ταχὺ γὰρ τρέχουσι.Λούονται δὲ αἱ γυναῖκες αὐτῶν ἅπαξ τοῦ μηνός, ὅταν τὰ καταμήνια αὐταῖς ἔλθῃ, ἄλλοτε δ’ οὔ· οἱ δὲ ἄνδρες οὐ λούονται μέν, τὰς δὲ χεῖρας ἀπονίζονται, ἐλαίῳ δὲ χρίονται τρὶς τοῦ μηνὸς τῷ ἀπὸ τοῦ γάλακτος γινομένῳ, καὶ ἐκτρίβονται δέρμασι. Τὴν δὲ ἐσθῆτα ἔχουσιν οὐ δασείαν, ἀλλὰ ψιλῶν τῶν μασθλημάτων ὡς λεπτοτάτων καὶ αὐτοὶ καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες αὐτῶν· οἱ δὲ πλουσιώτατοι αὐτῶν λίνα φοροῦσιν. Οὗτοι δ’ εἰσὶν ὀλίγοι. Κλῖναι δὲ αὐτοῖς οὐκ εἴσιν, ἀλλὰ στιβάδας ποιοῦνται. Οὗτος δ’ αὐτῶν πλουσιώτατος νομίζεται εἶναι ᾧ ἂν πλεῖστα πρόβατα ᾖ· ἡ δὲ ἄλλη οὐσία παραπλησία. Οὐρὰν δὲ ἔχουσι πάντες καὶ ἄνδρες καὶ γυναῖκες ὑπὲρ τῶν ἰσχίων οἵανπερ κύων, μείζονα δὲ καὶ δασυτέραν· καὶ μίσγονται ταῖς γυναιξὶ τετραποδιστί, ὥσπερ οἱ κύνες· ἄλλως δὲ μιγῆναι αὐτοῖς ἐστιν αἰσχρόν. Δίκαιοι δέ εἰσι καὶ μακροβιώτατοι πάντων ἀνθρώπων· ζῶσι γὰρ ἔτη ρ′ καὶ ο′, ἔνιοι δὲ αὐτῶν καὶ διακόσια.

Greeks Imagine an Indian Feast

Athenaeus Deipnosophists 4, 153 (=Megasthenes fr. 38)


“In his second book of Indika, Megasthenes says that during dinnertime among the Indians each person receives a table of his own that is most like a tripod. On this is placed a golden serving-bowl into which thy first place rice, cooked the way someone might boil barley, and to which they add many delicacies prepared in Indian fashion.”

Μεγασθένης ἐν τῇ δευτέρᾳ τῶν ᾿Ινδικῶν τοῖς ᾿Ινδοῖς φησιν ἐν τῷ δείπνῳ παρατίθεσθαι ἑκάστῳ τράπεζαν, ταύτην δ’ εἶναι ὁμοίαν ταῖς ἐγγυθήκαις· καὶ ἐπιτίθεσθαι ἐπ’ αὐτῇ τρυβλίον χρυσοῦν, εἰς ὃ ἐμβαλεῖν αὐτοὺς πρῶτον μὲν τὴν ὄρυζαν ἑφθὴν, ὡς ἄν τις ἑψήσειε χόνδρον, ἔπειτα ὄψα πολλὰ κεχειρουργημένα ταῖς ᾿Ινδικαῖς σκευασίαις.


Note: this is the first time I have encountered the Greek word for rice (oruza). In Strabo, it appears specifically in conjunction with India’s numerous rivers.

Indian Elephants: Taming a Wild Heart With Music

Aelian, N. A. 12.44 (= Megasthenes fr. 37)

“In India, if an adult elephant is caught it is difficult to tame—it gets murderous from longing for freedom. If you bind it in chains too, it gets even more agitated and will not tolerate its master. But Indians try to pacify it with food and to soften it with a variety of pleasing items, making an effort to fill its stomach and delight its heart. But it remains angry with them and ignores them. What then do they devise and do? They encourage it with their native music and sing to a certain instrument they use. It is called a skindapsos. The instrument strikes the ears and enchants the animal—his anger softens and his spirit yields and bit by bit it pays attention to its food. At this point it is released from its chains and it waits, enthralled by the music, and it eats eagerly, like a guest in love with a banquet. The elephant will no longer leave because of his love of music.”


Aelianus N. A. XII, 44: ᾿Εν ᾿Ινδοῖς ἂν ἁλῷ τέλειος ἐλέφας, ἡμερωθῆναι χαλεπός ἐστι, καὶ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν ποθῶν φονᾷ· ἐὰν δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ δεσμοῖς διαλάβῃς, ἔτι καὶ μᾶλλον ἐς τὸν θυμὸν ἐξάπτεται, καὶ δεσπότην οὐχ ὑπονέμει. ᾿Αλλ’ οἱ ᾿Ινδοὶ καὶ ταῖς τροφαῖς κολακεύουσιν αὐτὸν, καὶ ποικίλοις καὶ ἐφολκοῖς δελέασι πραΰνειν πειρῶνται, παρατιθέντες, ὡς πληροῦν τὴν γαστέρα καὶ θέλγειν τὸν θυμόν· ὁ δὲ ἄχθεται αὐτοῖς, καὶ ὑπερορᾷ· Τί οὖν ἐκεῖνοι κατασοφίζονται καὶ δρῶσι; Μοῦσαν αὐτοῖς προσάγουσιν ἐπιχώριον, καὶ κατᾴδουσιν αὐτοὺς ὀργάνῳ τινὶ καὶ τούτῳ συνήθει· καλεῖται δὲ σκινδαψὸς τὸ ὄργανον· ὁ δὲ ὑπέχει τὰ ὦτα καὶ θέλγεται, καὶ ἡ μὲν ὀργὴ πραΰνεται, ὁ δὲ θυμὸς ὑποστέλλεταί τε καὶ θόρνυται, κατὰ μικρὰ δὲ καὶ ἐς τὴν τροφὴν ὁρᾷ· εἶτα ἀφεῖται μὲν τῶν δεσμῶν, μένει δὲ τῇ μούσῃ δεδεμένος, καὶ δειπνεῖ προθύμως ἁβρὸς δαιτυμὼν καταδεδεμένος· πόθῳ γὰρ τοῦ μέλους οὐκ ἂν ἔτι ἀποσταίη.

“Unlawful to Marry Outside Your Class” — Greek History of India

Arrian on Indian Castes, Part II (GO here for Part 1)

Arrian, Historia Indica 11

“The second class after these are farmers who are the most numerous of the Indians. They pay no attention to martial weapons or deeds of war, but instead work the land and pay taxes to the kinds or the cities that are independent. If war should break out among the Indians, it is unlawful for them to touch those who work the land or to ravage the land. While the other Indians are warring against each other and killing each other where they may, the majority of them plow the land at peace, or tend their fines or harvest their crops.

The third class of Indians are herdsmen, shepherds and cowherds. These men do not live in cities or in villages but are nomads living their lives in the hills. They also pay taxes from their possessions. In addition, they hunt birds and wild beasts throughout the country.

The fourth group is made up of craftsmen and shopkeepers. These men do public works and pay tax from their own labors except for the portion that fashions war weapons. These men also receive pay from the common wealth. In this group one also finds shipwrights and the sailors who navigate the rivers.

The warriors form the fifth class of Indians and they are second in number after the farmers although they enjoy special freedom and happiness. These warriors practice only for war. Others make their weapons; others provide their horses; others attend them in the camp to care for their horses, keep their weapons in good order, handle the elephants, tend to the chariots and drive them. When it is necessary, they fight, but they are happy when there is peace. Their pay at the public expense is great enough that they can support others on it with ease.

Men who are called overseers form the sixth class. These men oversee all acts through the country and the city and report on them to the king where there is a king or to the officers where cities are independent. It is unlawful for them to report something false, but no Indian has faced a charge of perjury.

The seventh group are men who deliberate with the kind on the common good or with the leaders in the autonomous cities. This class is small and surpasses all others in wisdom and justice. From the members of the group they select provincial governors, lieutenants, treasurers, generals, admirals, stewards and directors of agriculture.

It is unlawful to marry outside your class. For example, for someone from the artisan class to marry a farmer or the reverse. It is unlawful for one man to pursue two trades or to change classes, as if a herdsman might become a farmer or a craftsman become a herder. It is only permitted for a wise man to come from every class since their jobs is not easy but the most burdensome of all.”

Greek India


δεύτεροι δ’ ἐπὶ τούτοισιν οἱ γεωργοί εἰσιν, οὗτοι πλήθει πλεῖστοι ᾿Ινδῶν ἐόντες. καὶ τούτοισιν οὔτε ὅπλα ἐστὶν ἀρήια οὔτε μέλει τὰ πολεμήια ἔργα, ἀλλὰ τὴν χώρην οὗτοι ἐργάζονται, καὶ τοὺς φόρους τοῖς τε βασιλεῦσι καὶ τῇσι πόλεσιν, ὅσαι αὐτόνομοι, οὗτοι ἀποφέρουσι. καὶ εἰ πόλεμος ἐς ἀλλήλους τοῖσιν ᾿Ινδοῖσι τύχοι,τῶν ἐργαζομένων τὴν γῆν οὐ θέμις σφιν ἅπτεσθαι οὐδὲ αὐτὴν τὴν γῆν τέμνειν, ἀλλὰ οἳ μὲν πολεμοῦσι καὶ κατακαίνουσιν ἀλλήλους ὅπως τύχοιεν, οἳ δὲ πλησίον αὐτῶν κατ’ ἡσυχίαν ἀροῦσιν ἢ τρυγῶσιν ἢ κλαδῶσιν ἢ θερίζουσιν.

τρίτοι δέ εἰσιν ᾿Ινδοῖσιν οἱ νομέες, οἱ ποιμένες τε καὶ βουκόλοι. καὶ οὗτοι οὔτε κατὰ πόληας οὔτε ἐν τῇσι κώμῃσιν οἰκέουσι νομάδες τέ εἰσι καὶ ἀνὰ τὰ ὄρεα βιοτεύουσι. φόρον δὲ καὶ οὗτοι ἀπὸ τῶν κτηνέων ἀποφέρουσι, καὶ θηρεύουσιν οὗτοι ἀνὰ τὴν χώρην ὄρνιθάς τε καὶ ἄγρια θηρία.

τέταρτον δέ ἐστι τὸ δημιουργικόν τε καὶ καπηλικὸν γένος. καὶ οὗτοι λειτουργοί εἰσι καὶ φόρον ἀποφέρουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων τῶν σφετέρων, πλήν γε δὴ ὅσοι τὰ ἀρήια ὅπλα ποιέουσιν· οὗτοι δὲ καὶ μισθὸν ἐκ τοῦ κοινοῦ προσλαμβάνουσιν. ἐν δὲ τούτῳ τῷ γένει οἵ τε ναυπηγοὶ καὶ οἱ ναῦταί εἰσιν, ὅσοι κατὰ τοὺς ποταμοὺς πλώουσι.

πέμπτον δὲ γένος ἐστὶν ᾿Ινδοῖσιν οἱ πολεμισταί, πλήθει μὲν δεύτερον μετὰ τοὺς γεωργούς, πλείστῃ δὲ ἐλευθερίῃ τε καὶ εὐθυμίῃ ἐπιχρεόμενον. καὶ οὗτοι ἀσκηταὶ μόνων τῶν πολεμικῶν ἔργων εἰσίν· τὰ δὲ ὅπλα ἄλλοι αὐτοῖς ποιέουσι καὶ ἵππους ἄλλοι παρέχουσι καὶ διακονοῦσιν ἐπὶ στρατοπέδου ἄλλοι, οἳ τούς τε ἵππους αὐτοῖς θεραπεύουσι καὶ τὰ ὅπλα ἐκκαθαίρουσι καὶ τοὺς ἐλέφαντας ἄγουσι καὶ τὰ ἅρματα κοσμέουσί τε καὶ ἡνιοχεύουσιν. αὐτοὶ δέ, ἔστ’ ἂν μὲν πολεμεῖν δέῃ, πολεμοῦσιν, εἰρήνης δὲ γενομένης εὐθυμέονται· καί σφιν μισθὸς ἐκ τοῦ κοινοῦ τοσόσδε ἔρχεται ὡς καὶ ἄλλους τρέφειν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ εὐμαρέως.

ἕκτοι δέ εἰσιν ᾿Ινδοῖσιν οἱ ἐπίσκοποι καλεόμενοι. οὗτοι ἐφορῶσι τὰ γινόμενα κατά τε τὴν χώρην καὶ κατὰ τὰς πόληας, καὶ ταῦτα ἀναγγέλλουσι τῷ βασιλεῖ, ἵναπερ βασιλεύονται ᾿Ινδοί, ἢ τοῖς τέλεσιν, ἵναπερ αὐτόνομοί εἰσι. καὶ τούτοις οὐ θέμις ψεῦδος ἀγγεῖλαι οὐδέν, οὐδέ τις ᾿Ινδῶν αἰτίην ἔσχε ψεύσασθαι.

ἕβδομοι δέ εἰσιν οἱ ὑπὲρ τῶν κοινῶν βουλευόμενοι ὁμοῦ τῷ βασιλεῖ ἢ κατὰ πόληας ὅσαι αὐτόνομοι σὺν τῇσιν ἀρχῇσι. πλήθει μὲν ὀλίγον τὸ γένος τοῦτό ἐστι, σοφίῃ δὲ καὶ δικαιότητι ἐκ πάντων προκεκριμένον. ἔνθεν οἵ τε ἄρχοντες αὐτοῖσιν ἐπιλέγονται καὶ ὅσοι νομάρχαι καὶ ὕπαρχοι καὶ θησαυροφύλακές τε καὶ στρατοφύλακες, ναύαρχοί τε καὶ ταμίαι καὶ τῶν κατὰ γεωρ-γίην ἔργων ἐπιστάται.

γαμέειν δὲ ἐξ ἑτέρου γένεος οὐ θέμις, οἷον τοῖσι γεωργοῖσιν ἐκ τοῦ δημιουργικοῦ ἢ ἔμπαλιν. οὐδὲ δύο τέχνας ἐπιτηδεύειν τὸν αὐτὸν οὐδὲ τοῦτο θέμις, οὐδὲ ἀμείβειν ἐξ ἑτέρου γένεος εἰς ἕτερον, οἷον γεωργικὸν ἐκ νομέως γενέσθαι ἢ νομέα ἐκ δημιουργικοῦ. μοῦνόν σφισιν ἀνεῖται σοφιστὴν ἐκ παντὸς γένεος γενέσθαι, ὅτι οὐ μαλθακὰ τοῖσι σοφιστῇσίν εἰσι τὰ πρήγματα ἀλλὰ πάντων ταλαιπωρότατα.

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