Travels in the Wild North: The Fragments of Aristeas

Many authors from the ancient world—including Pausanias, Strabo, Pliny, Longinus and Herodotus–have left testimony of a seventh century BCE epic poet named Aristeas who came from Asia Minor and composed a poem, Arimaspea, of his travels in the wilds of the North. Here are the substantial fragments—I find the last especially haunting.

Fr. 4
‘The Issedoi [Issedones] glory in their long hair”

᾿Ισσηδοὶ χαίτηισιν ἀγαλλόμενοι ταναῆισι.

Fr. 5
“And they say there are neighboring men above them
To the north, many fine men and strong fighters too,
Wealthy in horses, with many lambs and many cattle.

καὶ φάσ<αν> ἀνθρώπους εἶναι καθύπερθεν ὁμούρους
πρὸς Βορέω, πολλούς τε καὶ ἐσθλοὺς κάρτα μαχητάς,
ἀφνειοὺς ἵπποισι, πολύρρηνας, πολυβούτας.

Fr. 6

“Each man has one eye in his charming face,
They are covered with hair, and the strongest of all men.”

ὀφθαλμὸν δ’ ἕν’ ἕκαστος ἔχει χαρίεντι μετώπωι,
χαίτηισι<ν> λάσιοι, πάντων στιβαρώτατοι ἀνδρῶν.

Fr. 11

“This is also a great marvel for our minds:
The men inhabit the water in the sea away from land.
They are dreadful people who do pitiful work.
They keep their eyes in the stars but their soul in the sea.
True, too, I think, when they raise their dear hands often to the gods
They pray with sacrificial victims terribly thrown around.”

θαῦμ’ ἡμῖν καὶ τοῦτο μέγα φρεσὶν ἡμετέρηισιν.
ἄνδρες ὕδωρ ναίουσιν ἀπὸ χθονὸς ἐν πελάγεσσι•
δύστηνοί τινές εἰσιν, ἔχουσι γὰρ ἔργα πονηρά•
ὄμματ’ ἐν ἄστροισι, ψυχὴν δ’ ἐνὶ πόντωι ἔχουσιν.
ἦ που πολλὰ θεοῖσι φίλας ἀνὰ χεῖρας ἔχοντες
εὔχονται σπλάγχνοισι κακῶς ἀναβαλλομένοισι.

The last line (σπλάγχνοισι κακῶς ἀναβαλλομένοισι) is translated by W. Rhys Roberts as “And with hearts in misery”. The verb anaballo can have this metaphorical meaning, but in combination with prayer and the noun splangkhnon (which typically means innards or sacrificial victim) the scene seems more to me to describe a strange or sacrilegious sacrifice (from the Greek point of view), especially with the adverb κακῶς. I am probably wrong about this…