translated by Shlomo Felberbaum

lovers in Athens
photographs by Shane Solow

Text and photographs Copyright © 1999—2003 Lost Trails
all rights reserved

Installment 8

That, then, is their equipment round their body and their established laws are these: the wisest in our judgement’s this, which I have learned by inquiry the Enetians among the Illyrians observed too; in each of the villages once each year was done this: whenever the maidens became ripe for marriage, at whichever time they brought them all together, to one place they brought them gathered and round them stood a crowd of men. Then, making each stand up, one by one, a herald sold them, first the best looking of all and afterward, whenever she fetched much gold and was sold, another he heralded for sale who after her was the best looking, and they were sold for cohabitation. All the happiest of the Babylonians, then, who were marriageable, trying to outbid one another, bought up those who were most the beautiful, while all of the common people who were marriageable, those for their part wanted good looks not at all, but they would take money and uglier maidens. For, right when the herald by selling went through the best looking of the maidens, he would make the most misshapen stand up or any of them who was crippled, and her he heralded for sale to whoever wished to take the least gold and cohabit with her, until she fell to him who offered to receive the least, and the gold would come from the good looking maidens and thus the shapely would give in marriage the misshapen and crippled. So to give in marriage his own daughter to whomever each wanted was not permitted nor without a surety for the buyer to bring away the maiden, but he had to establish sureties to swear that yea verily he would cohabit with her and thus bring her away, but if they could not agree, a law was laid down to bring back the gold. However it was permitted to whoever wanted, even if he came from another village, to strike a bargain. Now, that was their most beautiful law, but it continued not to be now and they have invented recently something else to be done, in that, when after their being captured they had been distressed and ruined economically, everyone of the people, since they lacked livelihood, prostituted their female offspring.

Second in wisdom has been established this other law of theirs: their sick they carry out into the public square, because in fact they do not use physicians. And so they go to the sick one and give advice about his illness, any of them who suffered whatsoever kind of illness that the sick one has or saw another suffer; that, when they go to him, they advise and recommend whichever one oneself did and fled from a similar illness or saw another do and flee. So silently to pass by is not permitted to them, before one should ask what illness he has. Their burials are in honey and threnodies pretty near to those in Egypt.

As many times as a Babylonian man has intercourse with his wife, he sits round burning incense and on the other side his wife does that same thing and, at dawn’s coming, both bathe, since they will touch no vessel before they should bathe. The Arabians too do that same thing.

Quite the most shameful of the Babylonians’ laws is this: every native woman must sit in the shrine of Aphrodite once in her life and have intercourse with a foreign man. Many, thinking unbefitting themselves to be mixed with all the others, inasmuch as they are high minded because of wealth, on chariots in covered carriages drive to the shrine and stand and a large retinue follows them behind, while the greater number act this way: in Aphrodite’s precinct many women sit down with a wreath of string round their heads; some go forward and some go back. And straight as a line ways that go through to the women extend every direction along the roads, through which the foreigners go and make their selection. Whenever a woman sits there, she departs to her house not before one of the foreigners should throw silver onto her knees and have intercourse with her outside the shrine. And with this throwing it on her he has to say this much: “I invoke over you the goddess Mylitta.” (The Assyrians call Aphrodite Mylitta.) The silver in amount is ever so little, because she will not thrust it away, since it is not right for her, in that that silver becomes sacred. So the first to throw it on her she follows and will reject none. But, whenever she has intercourse, after acquitting herself of her holy obligation to the goddess, she departs to her house and from then on nothing so great you will offer her that of her you will take hold. Now, all who have attained looks and height quickly depart, while all of them who are misshapen a long time wait unable to fulfil the law; for in fact several wait three years or four years time. In some places on Cyprus too is a law pretty near to that.

Those, then, are established as laws for the Babylonians and there are among them three clans that eat nothing else except fish alone, to which, whenever they catch and dry them in the sun, they do this: they put into a mortar and, after grinding with pestles, squeeze them through linen cloth and whoever of them wants kneads as if barley-cake and eats them, whereas another bakes them like wheat bread.

Mediterranean sea cliffs

When that nation too had been conquered by Cyrus, he conceived a desire to put the Massagetians under him. That nation is said to be both large and valorous and is settled toward the east and the sun’s risings, on the other side of the Araxes river and opposite the Issedonian men. There are some who even say that nation is Scythian.

The Araxes is said to be both larger and smaller than the Ister. Regarding the islands in it they say that numerous are pretty near to Lesbos in size and on them are human beings who dig up and eat roots of all kinds in the summer and lay up for food tree-fruits in their season found out by them and eat them in the winter time; that moreover other trees have been found out by them with fruits of a kind which, whenever they come together to the same place in bands and kindle a fire, sitting round in a circle, they throw on the fire and, smelling the thrown on fruit as it burns, they grow drunk on the odor just as Greeks on wine and, as more fruit is thrown on, they grow drunker, until they stand up for dancing and come to singing. That is said to be their way of life. The Araxes river flows from the Matienians, from the very spot whence the Gyndes does that Cyrus had split into three hundred and sixty trenches, and empties itself through forty mouths, all of which except one discharge into marshes and shallows, among which they say human beings are settled down who eat fish raw and as clothing are accustomed to use seal’s skins, while that one of the Araxes’ mouths flows cleanly into the Caspian sea.

The Caspian sea is by itself, since it mixes not with the other sea. For the whole of that sea on which the Greeks voyage, the sea outside of the Pillars of Heracles called Atlantic and the Red are in fact one, but the Caspian is another by itself, which is in length fifteen days’ sailing for one who rows and in breadth, where it is its broadest, itself eight days’. And by the parts of that sea that lie toward the west the Caucasus extends, being of mountains both greatest in extent and tallest in height. The Caucasus has in it many nations of human beings of all kinds, all the many living off wild forest. Among them, it is said that trees exist that furnish leaves of this kind of a sort with which, after pounding and admixing water, they paint figures for themselves on their clothing, and the figures cannot be washed out, but grow old together with the rest of the wool just as had they been woven in to begin with and that the intercourse of those human beings is in the open just as it is in the case of the cattle.

The parts of that sea called the Caspian toward the west, then, the Causasus skirts, while those toward the east and the sun’s rising a plain follows after boundless in breadth for as far as eye can see. So of that great plain then not the smallest portion the Massagetians have as their share, against whom Cyrus had a desire to advance with an army; for many and great were the things that stirred up and urged him on, first his birth, its seeming to be something more than a human being’s, and second the good fortune that had come about in the wars, in that, whither Cyrus aimed to advance with an army, that nation was unable to contrive a way of escaping.

Her husband having died, a woman was queen of the Massagetians; Tomyris was her name. That woman Cyrus, sending men, wooed in speech, since he wished to have her as wife and Tomyris, understanding he wooed not her but the kingdom of the Massagetians, rejected his advance. Cyrus after that, when success could not be his by treachery, drove to the Araxes and out in the open made an expedition against the Massagetians by joining shores with bridges over the river as a means of crossing for his army and building towers on the boats that ferried over the river.

To him who had that toil, Tomyris sent a herald and said this: “O king of the Medes, stop hastening what you are hastening; for you cannot know whether it will be brought to an end in season for you. So stop and be king of your own men and endure seeing us rule the very men we rule. Then you will refuse to observe what presently suggests itself, but rather at all events prefer to be at rest. However, if you are greatly eager to make trial of the Massagetians, come, leave you off the labor that you have in bridging the river and, at our falling back from the river three days journey, cross you over to our land or, if you prefer to receive us into yours, do you that same.” On hearing that, Cyrus called together the first of the Persians and, after his having them gathered together, put forward the matter in their midst and asked their advice on which action he should take.

Their judgements concurred to the same, as they bade receive Tomyris and her army into their country, but, being present and finding fault with that judgement, Croesus the Lydian showed forth an opposite to the proposed judgement by saying this: “O king, I said even before to you that, since Zeus has given me to you, whatever stumbling-block I see is your house’s, according to my ability I will avert. My sufferings have proven to be unagreeable lessons. If you think you are immortal and rule a host like that, it would be no trouble for me to declare my judgements to you, but if you have come to know that both you are a human being and rule others like this, first learn that lesson how there is a cycle in human affairs and, as it goes round, it allows on each and every occasion not the same to be of good fortune. Therefore by now I have a judgement the contrary of what those do. For, if you will wish to receive the enemy into your country, here’s your danger in that: worsted, you lose besides your whole rule, because it’s quite clear that, if they prevail, the Massagetians will not flee back, but will drive against what you rule. Moreover, if you prevail, you prevail not so much as you would if, after crossing over into their land you should prevail over the Massagetians and pursue them as they flee; for I will offset the same outcome against that former, that, if you prevail over your opponents, you will drive straight to the rule of Tomyris. Finally, apart from what has been related, it’s shameful and unendurable for Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, to yield to a woman and retreat from his country. Accordingly it now seems good to me that you should cross over and go forth howsoever much they withdraw and thereafter, on doing this, try to overcome them since, as I know by inquiry, the Massagetians are without knowledge of Persian goods and without experience of great beauties, for those men then, after chopping up and dressing many of the cattle unsparingly, you should put them forth in our camp as a banquet and, in addition, unsparingly both bowls of unmixed wine and food of all sorts; you should do that and, leaving behind the meanest of your host, you who are the rest again should go back out to the river, because, if I miss not the mark in my judgement, they at the sight of many goods will turn to them and for us thereafter is left the showing forth of great actions.”

Those were the judgements at issue and Cyrus, after letting go the first judgement and choosing that of Croesus, proclaimed to Tomyris that she should go back on the ground that he for his part would cross over to her. She then went back just as she had promised first and Cyrus put Croesus in the hands of his own son, Cambyses, the very one to whom he gave his kingdom, and often enjoined on him to honor and treat him well, if the crossing over to the Massagetians succeeded not; he enjoined that and dispatched them to the Persians; then he himself crossed over the river and his army as well.

After he had passed over the Araxes, at night’s advancing he saw a vision, while he slept, in the Massagetians’ country like this: Cyrus dreamt in his sleep that he saw the oldest of the sons of Hystaspes with wings on his shoulders and with one of them he overshadowed Asia and with the other Europe. Of Hystaspes, the son of Arsames, who was an Achaemenid, the oldest of the sons was Darius, being then in age somewhere near to twenty years, and he was left behind among the Persians, because he was not yet of the age to advance with an army. So then after he had awakened, he deliberated with himself about the vision and, as the vision seemed to him to be significant, on calling Hystaspes and catching him alone, he said, “Hystaspes, your son has been caught plotting against me and my rule and I will indicate how I know that exactly. The gods care for me and foreshow me everything that impends; by now in the past night, while I slept, I saw the oldest of your sons with wings on his shoulders and with one of them he overshadowed Asia and with the other Europe. Accordingly there is no way to contrive on the basis of that vision that he plots not against me. You then make your quickest way back to the Persians and bring about that, whenever I subject these parts here and come to there, thus you will establish your son for examination.”

Cyrus, thinking Darius plotted against him, said this, but for him the divinity brought to light beforehand that he himself was to meet with his end right there and his kingdom would fall to Darius. Then indeed Hystaspes replied with this: “O king, would that no Persian might be born who plots against you, but if he is, would that he might perish as quickly as possible; it’s you who caused the Persians to be free men instead of slaves and to rule everyone instead of being ruled by others. If then a vision announces back to you my son plots revolution against you, I hand you him over to make that use of him which you want.” Hystaspes, after replying with that and crossing over the Araxes, went to the Persians to guard his son Darius for Cyrus and Cyrus went forth from the Araxes a day’s journey and did what Croesus had suggested.

After that, Cyrus and the sound part of the Persians’ army having driven back to the Araxes and the useless part having been left, a third portion of the Massagetians’ army in going out in opposition killed those left of Cyrus’ host when they resisted and, when they had seen the banquet put forth, after they had mastered those opposed, they reclined and feasted and filled with food and wine slept. Then the Persians in their going out in opposition killed many of them and still far more took alive, both others and the queen Tomyris’ son, who was general of the Massagetians, whose name was Spargapises. She, when she had learned by inquiry what had happened to her host and what to her son, sent a herald to Cyrus and said this: “Insatiate of blood, Cyrus, be not at all elated at the matter that has come about, if by the very vine’s fruit, by which you yourselves are filled up and go so mad that, as the wine goes down into the body, evil words float up to the surface, by a drug like that with treacherous dealing you got mastery of my son, but not by battle with force. Therefore, since I am recommending well, now take up my speech; give back to me my son and go away from this my country unpunished, although you treated a third portion of the Massagetians’ army with utter insolence, but, if you will not do that, by the sun, the Massagetians’ master, I swear to you that yea verily, even though you are insatiate of blood, I will glut you with it.”

Cyrus, when those words were brought back, considered them of no account, and the son of the queen Tomyris, Spargapises, after the wine had let him go and he had learned in what misfortune he was, in fact asked of Cyrus to be released from bonds and, as soon as he had been released and gotten mastery over his hands, did himself to death.

And so he in a manner like that met with his end and Tomyris, since Cyrus had not listened to her, collected her whole force and engaged in an encounter with Cyrus. That battle of quite all the battles among barbarian men that were fought I judge proved the most violent and, what’s more, I know by inquiry it was fought thus: first, it is said, they themselves stood apart and shot at one another with bows and afterward, when their missiles had been shot out, fell together and were locked together with their spears and their daggers; for much time indeed they stood together fighting and each side refused to flee. Finally the Massagetians overcame and the greater part of the Persian host indeed right there was destroyed and Cyrus himself met his end who had been king the whole of thirty years but one. Then, after filling a skin with human blood, Tomyris searched among the Persians’ dead for the corpse of Cyrus and, when she had found it, let his head fall into the skin; maltreating the dead body she said over it this: “As you destroyed me, while I lived and had prevailed over you in battle, by taking my son by treachery, so I, just as I threatened, will glut you with blood.” As to the events of the end of Cyrus’ life, then, although many speeches are spoken, here has been spoken the most persuasive to me.

The Massagetians wear clothing and have a way of life similar to the Scythian and are horsemen and non-horsemen—for they have a share of both—and bowmen as well as spear-bearers with the custom of carrying battleaxes. They have all kinds of uses for gold and bronze, in that in all that’s for spearheads, arrow points and battleaxes, they use bronze while in all that’s round the head, belts and chest-bands they adorn themselves with gold. In the same way round the chest area of their horses they put bronze breastplates and the areas of the bridles, bits and cheek-pieces are of gold. Iron and silver, however, they use not at all, because in fact they are not even in their country, whereas gold and bronze are abundant.

The laws they observe are like this: each marries a wife, but they use them in common. For, of what the Greeks assert the Scythians do, not the Scythians are the doers but the Massagetians; with the woman that a Massagetian man conceives a desire for, after hanging up his quiver in front of her wagon, he has intercourse without fear. No other boundary of their life is assigned to them, but, whenever one becomes very old, all his relatives come together and sacrifice him and other cattle with him; then they boil the meat and feast on it. That is considered by them the most prosperous thing, and him who meets with his end through illness they do not devour, but cover with earth, and they think misfortune that he comes not to be sacrificed. They sow nothing, but live off herds and fish—the latter grow ungrudgedly in the Araxes river—and they are milk drinkers. They reverence the sun alone of gods, to whom they sacrifice horses. And that is the meaning of the sacrifice; for the quickest of the gods the quickest of all things mortal they divide off.

end of Book 1

(to be continued)

mask of Comedy

Text and photographs Copyright © 1999—2003 Lost Trails
all rights reserved