Herodotus on the Hyperboreans
(c. 450 BC)
THE FOURTH BOOK OF THE HISTORIES, CALLED MELPOMENE
32. About a Hyperborean people the Scythians report nothing, nor do any of those who dwell in this region, unless it be the Issedonians: but in my opinion neither do these report anything; for if they did the Scythians also would report it, as they do about the one-eyed people. Hesiod however has spoken of Hyperboreans, and so also has Homer in the poem of the “Epigonoi,” at least if Homer was really the composer of that Epic.
33. But much more about them is reported by the people of Delos than by any others. For these say that sacred offerings bound up in wheat straw are carried from the land of the Hyperboreans and come to the Scythians, and then from the Scythians the neighbouring nations in succession receive them and convey them Westwards, finally as far as the Adriatic: thence they are sent forward towards the South, and the people of Dodona receive them; first of all the Hellenes, and from these they come down to the Malian gulf and are passed over to Eubœa, where city sends them on to city till they come to Carystos.
After this Andros is left out, for the Carystians are those who bring them to Tenos, and the Tenians to Delos. Thus they say that these sacred offerings come to Delos; but at first, they say, the Hyperboreans sent two maidens bearing the sacred offerings, whose names, say the Delians, were Hyperoche and Laodike, and with them for their protection the Hyperboreans sent five men of their nation to attend them, those namely who are now called Perphereës and have great honours paid to them in Delos. Since however the Hyperboreans found that those who were sent away did not return back, they were troubled to think that it would always befall them to send out and not to receive back; and so they bore the offerings to the borders of their land bound up in wheat straw, and laid a charge upon their neighbours, bidding them send these forward from themselves to another nation. These things then, they say, come to Delos being thus sent forward; and I know of my own knowledge that a thing is done which has resemblance to these offerings, namely that the women of Thrace and Paionia, when they sacrifice to Artemis “the Queen,” do not make their offerings without wheat straw.
34. These I know do as I have said; and for those maidens from the Hyperboreans, who died in Delos, both the girls and the boys of the Delians cut off their hair: the former before marriage cut off a lock and having wound it round a spindle lay it upon the tomb (now the tomb is on the left hand as one goes into the temple of Artemis, and over it grows an olive-tree), and all the boys of the Delians wind some of their hair about a green shoot of some tree, and they also place it upon the tomb.
35. The maidens, I say, have this honour paid them by the dwellers in Delos: and the same people say thatArge and Opis also, being maidens, came to Delos, passing from the Hyperboreans by the same nations which have been mentioned, even before Hyperoche and Laodike. These last, they say, came bearing for Eileithuia the tribute which they had laid upon themselves for the speedy birth, but Arge and Opis camewith the divinities themselves, and other honours have been assigned to them by the people of Delos: for the women, they say, collect for them, naming them by their names in the hymn which Olen a man of Lykia composed in their honour; and both the natives of the other islands and the Ionians have learnt from them to sing hymns naming Opis and Arge and collecting: — now this Olen came from Lykia and composed also the other ancient hymns which are sung in Delos: — and moreover they say that when the thighs of the victim are consumed upon the altar, the ashes of them are used to cast upon the grave of Opis and Arge. Now their grave is behind the temple of Artemis, turned towards the East, close to the banqueting hall of the Keïeans.
36. Let this suffice which has been said of the Hyperboreans; for the tale of Abaris, who is reported to have been a Hyperborean, I do not tell, namely how he carried the arrow about all over the earth, eating no food. If however there are any Hyperboreans, it follows that there are also Hypernotians; and I laugh when I see that, though many before this have drawn maps of the Earth, yet no one has set the matter forth in an intelligent way; seeing that they draw Ocean flowing round the Earth, which is circular exactly as if drawn with compasses, and they make Asia equal in size to Europe. In a few words I shall declare the size of each division and of what nature it is as regards outline.
End of passage from Herodotus.
Stonehenge & Hyperborea
Stonehenge has to get my vote as the most convincing hub of Hyperborea, which, to Herodotus, meant Farthest North (pace Nansen). Travellers and amber merchants from Greece presumably took the route up north, and then forked left or right when they reached Hamburg. They didn’t need Mercator’s projection. But was Hyperborea in Scandinavia or Britain ?
Wikipedia: Established as a culture centre, Delos had an importance that its natural resources could never have offered. In this vein the Titaness Leto, searching for a birthing-place for Artemis and Apollo, addressed the island:
“Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple — ; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich.”
[Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 51–60]
Investigation of ancient stone huts found on the island indicate that it has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC. Thucydides identifies the original inhabitants as piratical Carians who were eventually expelled by King Minos of Crete. By the time of the Odyssey the island was already famous as the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis (although there seems to be some confusion of Artemis’ birthplace being either Delos or the island of Ortygia). Indeed, between 900 BC and AD 100, sacred Delos was a major cult centre, where Dionysus is also in evidence as well as Leto, mother of the above-mentioned twin deities. Eventually acquiring Panhellenic religious significance, Delos was initially a religious pilgrimage for the Ionians.
The Cyclades comprise about 220 islands, the major ones being Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Eschati, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Syros, Tinos, and Thira or Santoríni. The name “Cyclades” refers to the islands forming a circle (“circular islands”) around the sacred island of Delos. Most of the smaller islands are uninhabited.
A Take on these Matters
Most of the peoples of the ancient world agreed with J.M.W.Turner that “The Sun is God”. Certainly, nothing that we know today would exist without the sun. But the character and disposition of the sun varies according to its geographic situation.
Thus, in the Middle East, and points further towards the equator, the sun is vicious, punitive and jealous. I have spent three days in Kuwait, and know what the sun can be like in those parts. Jealous is the right word, a god intolerant of all rivals. Believers in the sun as god know he rotates around the earth, supervising mankind and punishing wrongdoers. In truth, however, mankind rotates round the sun. Keeps a judicious, observant and critical eye on him.
In latitudes north of the English channel, or la manche, the sun is quirky and changeable, but benign. The natives watched him closely, which is why they built Stonehenge. The sun, in the person of Thor, dressed in his red tunic, is yet welcomed at the winter solstice, although hi-jacked in English-speaking countries as Santa Claus, or Father Christmas. But still not in Scandinavia, where he is recognised as the spirit of Yule, defeating the gigantic forces of darkness and frost with his trusty hammer. Farmers loved him: they called their sons and villages after his name.
Acceptance is the rule, down South. The Egyptians used to feel, confusedly, that their origins and heritage were linked with the animal world, but Moses/Akhenaton forced them to acknowledge the sun, and although the priests rebelled, eventually monotheism took over. Slavery is another word for it. Freedom is polytheistic. In the North there is a spirit of enquiry, observation and investigation. The sun- and moon-gods were Apollo and Artemis, trackers, hunters and archers. Explorers, along with Abaris, Arge and Opis, Hyperoche and Laodike, who brought them down to Greece from Hyperborea. They arrived along with the amber trade, and amber is petrfied sunlight.
Coffin-burial & Amber-trade
“Inhumation in (tree-trunk) coffins was already starting to be practised in Schleswig-Holstein in the beginnings of its Bronze Age … especially in Jutland. … The same rite of boat- or coffin-burial appears simultaneously in Britain in the middle centuries of the second millenium, when the North Sea trade route was flourishing … penetrating the Wessex culture … but more prominent on the east coast, especially in Yorkshire, where the Irish route over the Pennines reached the sea. The … Gristhorpe coffin-burial near Scarborough … the great barrow of Loose Howe on the Cleveland Moors … serve to show how the same rite took hold among the seafarers of both sides of the North Sea between about 1600 and 1400 B.C.”
“The Wessex people were rich in Baltic amber no less than in Irish gold … it becomes clear that they made a strong magnet on one flank of an Irish-Baltic trade whose richest exchange was in gold and amber. … But the more direct routes between Ireland and the Baltic lay across North England and Scotland …”