The legendary race of the Hyperboreans, though mentioned neither in the Iliad nor Odyssey, are spoken of in the poem of the Epigoni and in Hesiod (Hdt. 4.32
), and occur in the traditions connected with the temples of Tempe, Delphi, and Delos. (Comp. Müller, Dor.
vol. i. p. 284, trans.)
The situation assigned to this sacred nation was, as the name indicates, in the remote regions of the North. They were said to dwell beyond Boreas (Βορέας
), the mountain wind, which came from the Rhipaean mountains, the name of which was derived from hurricanes (pStral), issuing from a cavern, which they warded off from the Hyperboreans, and sent to more southern nations; so that they never felt the cold north wind, but had their lot fixed in some happy climate, where, like an Alpine summit rising above the storms, they were surrounded by an atmosphere of calm and undisturbed serenity. “Here,” says Von Humboldt (Asie Centrale,
vol. i. p. 403), “are the first views of a natural science which explains the distribution of heat and the difference of climates by local causes,--by the direction of the winds,--the proximity of the sun, and the action of a moist or saline principle.” And thus the “meteorological myth,” which placed the Hyperboreans in the North at the sources of the Ister, as conceived by Pindar (Pind. O. 3.14
5.22), and Aeschylus in the Prometheus Unbound (ap. Schol. ad Apoll. Rhod. 4.284), was, when the Ister was supposed to be a river running through all Europe from its western extremity, transferred to the regions of the West.
In consequence of this we find, in later writers, a confusion of this happy land with that of Italy and other western countries, as well as of the Rhipaeans with the Alps and Pyrenees.
But whatever arbitrary license was assumed by the poets and geographers who wished to mould these creations of the fancy into the form of a real people, as to their local habitation, the religious idea always remained the same. They were represented as a pious nation, abstaining from the flesh of animals, and living in perpetual serenity in the service of their God for a thousand years. (Hellanic. ap. Clem. Alex. Strom. vol. i. p. 305; Simonides, Pindar. ap. Strab. xv. p.711
.) “The muse is no stranger to their manners.
The dances of girls, and the sweet melody of the lyre and pipe, resound on every side, and twining their hair with the glittering bay they feast joyously.
There is no doom of sickness or disease for this sacred race; but they live apart from toil and battles, undisturbed by exacting Nemesis.” (Pind. P. 10.56
But at length, tired out with this easy life, betwixt the sun and shade, they leapt, crowned with garlands, from a rock into the sea. (Plin. Nat. 4.26
; Pomp. Mela, 3.1.5.) We are conducted almost involuntarily to the ARGIPPAEI, ISSEDONES, and the “ancient kingdom of the Griffin,” to which Aristeas of Proconessus, and, two hundred years after him, Herodotus, have given such celebrity.
East of the Kalmuck Argippaei were the Issedones, but to the N. of both, nothing was known (Hdt. 4.25
), since high mountains presented an impassable barrier.
In descending the chain of Ural
to the E., towards the steppes of Obol
another lofty range of mountains, forming the W. extremity of the Altaï,
does in fact appear.
The commercial route crossed the first chain (Ural
) from W. to E., which indicates a “meridian” chain with its main axis running from S. to N.
In marking off the second chain, Herodotus clearly distinguishes that which is to the E. of the Argippaei (the country of the Issedones) from that which lies beyond the huge mountains towards the N.,--where the men sleep half the year, and the air is filled with feathers,--where the Arimaspi live who steal the gold from the “Griffins.” This distinction seems to establish the existence of a chain running from W. to E.
The region of the “Griffins” and the Hyperboreans commences beyond the N. slope of the “chain of the Aegipodes” (the Altaï
The position of the Issedones to the N. of the Jaxartes (Araxes) appears justified by the account of the campaign of Cyrus against the Massagetae, who occupied the plain to the S. of the Issedones.
The most precious mineral riches are stored up in the extremities of the earth, and it is in the N. of Europe that the greatest abundance of gold is found. (Hdt. 3.116
.) Now the N. of Europe, in the geography of Herodotus, comprehends the N. of Asia, and we are irresistibly reminded of the gold-washings to the S. of the Ural,
among the mountains of Kousnetsk,
and the ravines of the Lowlands of S. Siberia.
The locality of the gold trade of NW. Asia may be placed between the 53rd and 55th degrees of latitude.
An ingenious hypothesis has been started (Erman, Reise,
vol. i. p. 712), which refers the mythus of the “Griffins,” guardians of the gold of the Arimaspi, to the phenomenon of the frequent occurrence of the fossil bones of the great pachydermatous animals found in the alluvium of N. Siberia;--bones which to this day the native tribes of wild hunters believe to be the claws, beak, and head of some gigantic bird. Von Humboldt (Asie Centrale,
vol. i. pp. 389--411), to whose interesting discussion on this subject reference has been made, justly enough condemns this confusion between ancient and modern fable; and shows that the symbolic image of the “Griffins,” as a poetic fiction and representation in the arts, did precede, among the Greeks, the time when relations were formed among the colonists of Pontus and the Arimaspi. The “Griffin” was known to the Samians, who figured it upon the vase which commemorated the good fortune of their first expedition to Tartessus. (Hdt. 4.152
This mysterious symbol of an animal acting as guardian over gold, seems to have been the growth of India and of Persia (Aelian, Ael. NA 4.26
; Ctesias, Ind.
§ 12; comp. Bähr, Excurs. V. ad Herod.
3.116); and the commerce of Miletus contributed to spread it in Greece along with the tapestries of Babylon.
The region of auriferous sand, of which the Daradas (Dardars, or Derders, mentioned in the Mahábhárata,
and in the fragments of Megasthenes) gave intelligence to travellers, and with which the often-repeated fable of the ants became connected, owing [p. 1.1105]
to the accidental double meaning of a name, belongs to a more S. latitude, 35° or 37°. (Cosmos,
vol. ii. p. 142, trans.)