Adventures in Clothing: Ancient Greeks Try to Describe Indian Cotton

Herodotus, 3.106

“The most distant parts of the inhabited world have in some way received the finest things, just as Greece has drawn the lot of the best seasons by far. As I mentioned a bit before, India is at the easternmost part of the inhabited world: in India living creatures, both four-footed and flying, are much greater than in other lands, except for the horses—these are smaller than the Median horses (which are called Nêsaian). In addition, the gold there, both that excavated and that washed up by rivers or acquired as I have described, is abundant. The wild trees there produce as a fruit a beautiful and exceptional wool, better than that of sheep. The Indians use the material from these trees for clothing.”

αἱ δ᾽ ἐσχατιαί κως τῆς οἰκεομένης τὰ κάλλιστα ἔλαχον, κατά περ ἡ Ἑλλὰς τὰς ὥρας πολλόν τι κάλλιστα κεκρημένας ἔλαχε. [2] τοῦτο μὲν γὰρ πρὸς τὴν ἠῶ ἐσχάτη τῶν οἰκεομενέων ἡ Ἰνδική ἐστι, ὥσπερ ὀλίγῳ πρότερον εἴρηκα: ἐν ταύτῃ τοῦτο μὲν τὰ ἔμψυχα, τετράποδά τε καὶ τὰ πετεινά, πολλῷ μέζω ἢ ἐν τοῖσι ἄλλοισι χωρίοισι ἐστί, πάρεξ τῶν ἵππων (οὗτοι δὲ ἑσσοῦνται ὑπὸ τῶν Μηδικῶν, Νησαίων δὲ καλευμένων ἵππων), τοῦτο δὲ χρυσὸς ἄπλετος αὐτόθι ἐστί, ὃ μὲν ὀρυσσόμενος, ὁ δὲ καταφορεύμενος ὑπὸ ποταμῶν, ὁ δὲ ὥσπερ ἐσήμηνα ἁρπαζόμενος. [3] τὰ δὲ δένδρεα τὰ ἄγρια αὐτόθι φέρει καρπὸν εἴρια καλλονῇ τε προφέροντα καὶ ἀρετῇ τῶν ἀπὸ τῶν ὀίων: καὶ ἐσθῆτι Ἰνδοὶ ἀπὸ τούτων τῶν δενδρέων χρέωνται.

tree vasetree vase

Arrian, Historia Indica, 16

“For clothing the Indians use a flax, just as Nearchus describes, a flax from trees about which I have already discussed. This linen is either brighter than any other linen or the dark skin that they have makes it appear brighter. They wear a robe of this fabric down to the middle of their shin and the have a garment which is partly thrown around their shoulders and partly furled around their heads.”

ἐσθῆτι δὲ ᾿Ινδοὶ λινέῃ χρέονται, κατάπερ λέγει Νέαρχος, λίνου τοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν δενδρέων, ὑπὲρ ὅτων μοι ἤδη λέλεκται. τὸ δὲ λίνον τοῦτο ἢ λαμπρότερον τὴν χροιήν ἐστιν ἄλλου λίνου παντός, ἢ μέλανες αὐτοὶ ἐόντες λαμπρότερον τὸ λίνον φαίνεσθαι ποιέουσιν. ἔστι δὲ κιθὼν λίνεος αὐτοῖς ἔστε ἐπὶ μέσην τὴν κνήμην, εἷμα δὲ τὸ μὲν περὶ τοῖσιν ὤμοισι περιβεβλημένον, τὸ δὲ περὶ τῇσι κεφαλῇσιν εἰλιγμένον.