Since we have spoken
of these gods, we should not omit to mention both the antiquity and the incredible nature of
the shrine, and, in a word, the peculiar phenomenon of The Craters,1
as they are called.
The myth relates that this sacred area surpasses all others in antiquity and the reverence paid
to it, and many marvels there are reported by tradition.
first of all there are craters which are not at all large in size, but they throw up
extraordinary streams of water from a depth beyond telling and have very much the nature of
cauldrons which are heated by a strong fire and throw up boiling water.
Now the water that is thrown up gives the impression of being boiling
hot, but this is not known for certain because of the fact that no man dares touch it; for the
amazement caused by the spout of water is so great that men believe the phenomenon to be due to
some divine power.
For not only does the water give out a
strongly sulphurous smell but the yawning mouth emits a mighty and terrifying roar; and what is
still more astonishing than this, the water neither pours over nor recedes, but has a motion
and force in its current that lifts it to a marvellous height.
Since so divine a majesty pervades the sacred area, the most sacred oaths are taken there and
men who swear falsely are immediately overtaken by the punishment of heaven; thus certain men
have lost their sight when they depart from the sacred precinct.
And so great is the awe of the deities of this shrine, that men who are pressing
claims, when, for instance, they are being overborne by a person of superior dignity, have
their claims adjudicated on the strength of the preliminary examination of the witnesses
supported by oaths taken in the name of these deities. This sacred area has also been
recognized for some time as a place of sanctuary and has been a source of great aid to luckless
slaves who have fallen into the hands of brutal masters;
if they have fled there for refuge, their masters have no power to remove them by force, and
they remain there protected from harm until their masters, having gained their consent upon
conditions of humane treatment and having given pledges, supported by such oaths, to fulfil
their agreements, lead them away.
And history records no case,
out of all who have given slaves such a pledge as this, of a violation; so faithful to their
slaves does the awe in which these gods are held make those who have taken the oath. And the
sacred area, which lies on a plain meet for a god, has been appropriately embellished with
colonnades and every other kind of lounging-place.—But let what we have said suffice
for this subject, and we shall return to the narrative at the point where our history broke