On the eastern coast of Greece, just north of Thermopylae,
The home of Philoctetes
lies a region which in ancient times was called Malis, ‘the sheep-land.’ This was the country of Philoctetes,—the home to which, in the play of Sophocles, his thoughts are constantly turning1. It will be well to form some idea of its chief features and associations.

Pindus, the spine of northern Greece, terminates at the south in Typhrestus, a great pyramidal height from which two mountain-ranges branch out towards the eastern sea. One of these is Othrys, which skirts the southern border of Thessaly; the other, south of it, is Oeta, which, like Malis, takes its name from its pastures. The deep and broad depression between them is the fertile valley of the Spercheius (the ‘hurrying’ or ‘vehement’) —which rises at the foot of Typhrestus, and flows into the Malian Gulf. A few miles from the sea, the valley opens. While Othrys continues its eastward direction, Oeta recedes southward, and then, with a sudden bend to the south-east, sweeps down upon Thermopylae, where the fir-clad and snowy summit of Callidromus rises above the pass. Precipitous cliffs are thrown forward from this part of the Oetaean range, forming an irregular crescent round the southern and western sides of the plain. These cliffs were called of old ‘the Trachinian Rocks.’ Trachis, the ‘city of the crags,’ stood on a rocky spur beneath them, a little north of the point where they are cleft by the magnificent gorge of the Asopus,—that steep ravine by which Hydarnes led his Persians up through the mountain oak-woods, on the night before he surprised Leonidas. Between the Asopus and the Spercheius are the narrow channels of two lesser streams, anciently known as the Melas and the Dyras2. The name Malis denoted this whole seaboard plain, with the heights around it, from the lower spurs of Othrys on the north to those of Oeta on the south and west. Just opposite the entrance of the Gulf, the bold north-west promontory of Euboea, once called Cape Cenaeum, runs out towards the mainland. There was a peculiar fitness in the phrase of Sophocles, when he described this district, with its varied scenery, as ‘the haunt of Malian Nymphs3,’ those beings of the forest and the river, of the hills and the sea.

It was in this region that legend placed the last deeds of Heracles, and his death, or rather his passage from earth to Olympus. After taking Oechalia in Euboea, he was sacrificing on Cape Cenaeum when the fatal robe did its work. He was carried to his home at Trachis; and then he commanded that he should be borne to the top of Mount Oeta, sacred to Zeus, and burnt alive. He was obeyed; as the flames arose on the mountain, they were answered from heaven by the blaze of lightning and the roll of thunder; and by that sign his companions knew that the spirit of the great warrior had been welcomed to the home of his immortal father. Somewhere in the wilds of those lonely summits tradition showed the sacred spot known as ‘the Pyre’; and once, at least, in later days a Roman Consul, turning aside from a victorious progress, went up to visit the solemn place where the most Roman of Greek heroes had received the supreme reward of fortitude4.

1 The Homeric Catalogue includes this district in Phthia, the realm of Achilles (Il. 2. 682). It assigns Philoctetes to a more northerly part of Thessaly,—viz., the narrow and mountainous strip of coast, N. and E. of the Pagasaean Gulf, which was known in historical times as Magnesia. His four towns were Methonè, Thaumacia, Meliboea and Olizon. ( Il. 2. 716 f.) This agrees with the fact that Poeas, the father of Philoctetes, was called the son of Thaumacus, and was numbered among the Argonauts who sailed from Iolcus ( Apollod. 1. 9. 16). In its original form, the story of Poeas and his son must have belonged, like that of Jason, to the legends of the Minyae who dwelt on the eastern coasts of Thessaly. Cp. Anthol. append. 61 (vol. II. p. 754 ed. Jacobs): “τόξων Ἡρακλέους ταμίην, Ποιάντιον υἱόν, ἥδε Φιλοκτήτην γῆ Μινυὰς κατέχει”. It was when the myth became interwoven with the apotheosis of Heracles that the home of Poeas was transferred to the country around Trachis.

2 The Dyras was said to have first started from the ground in order to relieve the fiery pangs of Heracles ( Her. 7. 198). In a vase-painting noticed below (n. on v. 728, p. 121, 1st col.), the Nymph who seeks to quench the pyre probably symbolises this stream. The ancient mouth of the Spercheius was some miles N. W. of Thermopylae; the present mouths are a little E.N. E. of it, and the line of the coast has been considerably advanced, so that there is no longer a narrow pass. The Asopus, Melas and Dyras formerly had separate courses to the sea. They are now mere affluents of the Spercheius,—the Melas and Dyras uniting before they reach it.

3 v. 725 “αὐλὰν Μαλιάδων νυμφᾶν”.

4 Manius Acilius Glabrio, after taking Heracleia near Trachis, in the war with Antiochus (191 B.C.). Livy 36. 30: ipse Oetam ascendit, Herculique sacrificium fecit in eo loco quem Pyram, quod ibi mortale corpus eius dei sit crematum, appellant. Cp. Silius Italicus 6. 452: Vixdum clara dies summa lustrabat in Oeta | Herculei monimenta rogi.—The name Pyra seems to have been usually associated with a height about eight miles W.N.W. of Trachis.

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