Gold-Digging Ants! Herodotus on India, Part 2

(Herodotus’ account of India starts a bit earlier)

Herodotus, 3. 102-105

“Other Indians live near the city Kaspatyrus and the Paktyic country, north of the rest of Indian, and these Indians live most like the Bactrians and are most bellicose. These are the Indians sent for gold in the area made desolate by the sands.

In that desert there are ants who are not quite as large as dogs but are larger than foxes. There are even some of these who have been caught and taken to the Persian king. These ants make their home underground, digging sand the way ants do in Greece—and they are similar in shape—but the sand they carry up is mostly gold.

Indians are sent into the desert for this sand. They yoke three camels together each, tying a female in between two males—the rider sits atop her, and she was harnessed as soon as possible after giving birth. Their camels are no less speedy than horses, but they are better at carrying burdens. I won’t describe what a camel looks like, because the Greeks know these things; but they don’t know this: the rear-legs of a camel have four thighbones and four knees; their genitals are turned back near the tail between their rear-legs.

The Indians use these camel teams and drive toward collecting the gold when the weather is hottest, because this is when the ants are out of sight under the ground. In this part of India, the sun is hottest in the morning and near noon like other places, but right from sunrise until dusk. During this time it burns hotter than in Greece at noon,  so the story is that men drip water on themselves during this time. At noon, the sun’s heat is almost the same for the Indians as it is for other people. After noon, the sun has the power it has in the morning in other lands. It cools as it sets, making it very cold at sunset.

When the Indians come to this land with their sacks, they fill them with sand as fast as possible and drive back again. For as soon as the ants smell them, as the Persians report, they chase them. They claim that there is nothing equal to their speed with the result that if the Indians do not start well ahead, none of them will escape. They cut the male camels out because they are slower once they begin to hold back. The females never get tired, because they remember the offspring they have let behind. This is the story. The Persians claim that the Indians gather most of their gold this way. The do get some from their own lands, but rather less.”

Them
Herodotus’ Ants Make B-Movie Gold (from Them!, 1954)

. ῎Αλλοι δὲ τῶν ᾿Ινδῶν Κασπατύρῳ τε πόλι καὶ τῇ Πακτυϊκῇ χώρῃ εἰσὶ πρόσοικοι, πρὸς ἄρκτου τε καὶ βορέω ἀνέμου κατοικημένοι τῶν ἄλλων ᾿Ινδῶν, οἳ Βακτρίοισι παραπλησίην ἔχουσι δίαιταν. Οὗτοι καὶ μαχιμώτατοί εἰσι ᾿Ινδῶν καὶ οἱ ἐπὶ τὸν χρυσὸν στελλόμενοί εἰσι οὗτοι· κατὰ γὰρ τοῦτό ἐστιἐρημίη διὰ τὴν ψάμμον.

᾿Εν δὴ ὦν τῇ ἐρημίῃ ταύτῃ καὶ τῇ ψάμμῳ γίνονται μύρμηκες μεγάθεα ἔχοντες κυνῶν μὲν ἐλάσσω, ἀλωπέκων δὲ μέζω· εἰσὶ γὰρ αὐτῶν καὶ παρὰ βασιλέϊ τῷ Περσέων ἐνθεῦτεν θηρευθέντες. Οὗτοι ὦν οἱ μύρμηκες ποιεύμενοι οἴκησιν ὑπὸ γῆν ἀναφέρουσι [τὴν] ψάμμον κατά περ οἱ ἐν τοῖσι ῞Ελλησι μύρμηκες κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον, εἰσὶ δὲ καὶ τὸ εἶδος ὁμοιότατοι· ἡ δὲ ψάμμος ἡ ἀναφερομένη ἐστὶ χρυσῖτις. ᾿Επὶ δὴ ταύτην τὴν ψάμμον στέλλονται ἐς τὴν ἔρημον οἱ ᾿Ινδοί, ζευξάμενος ἕκαστος καμήλους τρεῖς, σειρηφόρον μὲν ἑκατέρωθεν ἔρσενα παρέλκειν, θήλεαν δὲ ἐς μέσον· ἐπὶ ταύτην δὴ αὐτὸς ἀναβαίνει, ἐπιτηδεύσας ὅκως ἀπὸ τέκνων ὡς νεωτάτων ἀποσπάσας ζεύξει· αἱ γάρ σφι κάμηλοι ἵππων οὐκ ἥσσονες ἐς ταχυτῆτά εἰσι· χωρὶς δὲ ἄχθεα δυνατώτεραι πολλὸν φέρειν. Τὸ μὲν δὴ εἶδος ὁκοῖόν τι ἔχει ἡ κάμηλος, ἐπισταμένοισι τοῖσι ῞Ελλησι οὐ συγγράφω· τὸ δὲ μὴ ἐπιστέαται αὐτῆς, τοῦτο φράσω· κάμηλος ἐν τοῖσι ὀπισθίοισι σκέλεσι ἔχει τέσσερας μηροὺς καὶ γού-νατα τέσσερα, τά τε αἰδοῖα διὰ τῶν ὀπισθίων σκελέων πρὸς τὴν οὐρὴν τετραμμένα. Οἱ δὲ δὴ ᾿Ινδοὶ τρόπῳ τοιούτῳ καὶ ζεύξι τοιαύτῃ χρεώμενοι ἐλαύνουσι ἐπὶ τὸν χρυσὸν λελογισμένως ὅκως [ἂν] καυμάτων τῶν θερμοτάτων ἐόντων ἔσον-ται ἐν τῇ ἁρπαγῇ· ὑπὸ γὰρ τοῦ καύματος οἱ μύρμηκες ἀφανέες γίνονται ὑπὸ γῆν. Θερμότατος δέ ἐστι ὁ ἥλιος τούτοισι τοῖσι ἀνθρώποισι τὸ ἑωθινόν, οὐ κατά περ τοῖσι ἄλλοισι μεσαμβρίης, ἀλλ’ ὑπερτείλας μέχρις οὗ ἀγορῆς δια-λύσιος· τοῦτον δὲ τὸν χρόνον καίει πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἢ τῇ μεσαμβρίῃ τὴν ῾Ελλάδα, οὕτω ὥστε ἐν ὕδατι λόγος αὐτούς ἐστι βρέχεσθαι τηνικαῦτα· μεσοῦσα δὲ ἡ ἡμέρη σχεδὸν παραπλησίως καίει τούς <τε> ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους καὶ τοὺς ᾿Ινδούς· ἀποκλινομένης δὲ τῆς μεσαμβρίης γίνεταί σφι ὁ  ἥλιος κατά περ τοῖσι ἄλλοισι ὁ ἑωθινός· καὶ τὸ ἀπὸ τούτου ἀπιὼν ἐπὶ μᾶλλον ψύχει, ἐς ὃ ἐπὶ δυσμῇσι ἐὼν καὶ τὸ κάρτα ψύχει. ᾿Επεὰν δὲ ἔλθωσι ἐς τὸν χῶρον οἱ ᾿Ινδοὶ ἔχοντες θυλάκια, ἐμπλήσαντες ταῦτα τῆς ψάμμου τὴν ταχίστην ἐλαύνουσι ὀπίσω· αὐτίκα γὰρ οἱ μύρμηκες ὀδμῇ, ὡς δὴ λέγεται ὑπὸ Περσέων, μαθόντες διώκουσι. Εἶναι δὲ ταχυτῆτα οὐδενὶ ἑτέρῳ ὅμοιον, οὕτω ὥστε, εἰ μὴ προλαμβάνειν τοὺς ᾿Ινδοὺς τῆς ὁδοῦ ἐν ᾧ τοὺς μύρμηκας συλλέγεσθαι, οὐδένα ἄν σφεων ἀποσῴζεσθαι. Τοὺς μέν νυν ἔρσενας τῶν καμήλων, εἶναι γὰρ ἥσσονας θέειν τῶν θηλέων, παρα-λύεσθαι ἐπελκομένους, οὐκ ὁμοῦ ἀμφοτέρους· τὰς δὲ θηλέας ἀναμιμνησκομένας τῶν ἔλιπον τέκνων ἐνδιδόναι μαλακὸν οὐδέν. Τὸν μὲν δὴ πλέω τοῦ χρυσοῦ οὕτω οἱ ᾿Ινδοὶ κτῶνται, ὡς Πέρσαι φασί· ἄλλος δὲ σπανιώτερός ἐστι ἐν τῇ χώρῃ ὀρυσσόμενος.