previous next


TEMPE (τὰ Τέμπη, contr. of Τέμπεα), a celebrated valley in the NE. of Thessaly, is a gorge between Mounts Olympus and Ossa, through which the waters of the Peneius force their way into the sea. The beauties of Tempe were a favourite subject with the ancient poets, and have been described at great length in a well-known passage of Aelian, and more briefly by Pliny: but none of these writers appear to have drawn their pictures from actual observation; and the scenery is distinguished rather by savage grandeur than by the sylvan beauty which Aelian and others attribute to it. (Catull. 64.285; Ov. Met. 1.568; Verg. G. 2.469; Aelian, Ael. VH 3.1; Plin. Nat. 4.8. s. 15.) The account of Livy, who copies from Polybius, an eye-witness, is more in accordance with reality. This writer says, “Tempe is a defile, difficult of access, even though not guarded by an enemy; for besides the narrowness of the pass for 5 miles, where there is scarcely room for a beast of burden, the rocks on both sides are so perpendicular as to cause giddiness both in the mind and eyes of those who look down from the precipice. Their terror is also increased by the depth and roar of the Peneus rushing through the midst of the valley.” (Liv. 44.6.) He adds that this pass, so inaccessible by nature, was defended by four fortresses, one at the western entrance at Gonnus, a second at Condylon, a third at Charax, and a fourth in the road itself, in the middle and narrowest part of the valley, which could be easily defended by ten men. The pass is now called Lykóstomo, or the Wolf's Mouth. Col. Leake gives about four miles and a half as the distance of the road through the valley. In this space the width of the gorge is in some parts less than 100 yards, comprehending in fact no more than the breadth of the road in addition to that of the river. The modern road follows in the track of the ancient military road made by the Romans, which ran along the right bank of the river. Leake remarks that even Livy in his description of Tempe seems to have added embellishments to the authority from which he borrowed; for, instead of the Peneius flowing rapidly and with a loud noise, nothing can be more tranquil and steady than its ordinary course. The remains of the fourth castle mentioned by Livy are noticed by Leake as standing on one side of an immense fissure in the precipices of Ossa, which afford an extremely rocky, though not impracticable descent from the heights into the vale; while between the castle and the river space only was left for the road. About half a mile beyond this fort there still remains an inscription engraved upon the rock, on the right-hand side of the road, where it ascends the hill: “L. Cassius Longinus Pro Cos. Tempe munivit.” It is probable from the position of this inscription that it relates to the making of the road, though some refer it to defensive works erected [p. 2.1125]by Longinus in Tempe. This Longinus appears to have been the L. Cassius Longinus who was sent by Caesar from Illyria into Thessaly. (Caes. B.C. 3.34.) When Xerxes invaded Greece, B.C. 480, the Greeks sent a force of 10,000 men to Tempe, with the intention of defending the pass against the Persians; but having learnt from Alexander, the king of Macedonia, that there was another pass across Mt. Olympus, which entered Thessaly near Gonnus, where the gorge of Tempe commenced, the Greeks withdrew to Thermopylae. (Hdt. 7.173.)

It was believed by the ancient historians and geographers that the gorge of Tempe had been produced by an earthquake, which rent asunder the mountains, and afforded the waters of the Peneius an egress to the sea. (Hdt. 7.129; Strab. ix. p.430.) But the Thessalians maintained that it was the god Poseidon who had split the mountains (Herod. l.c.); while others supposed that this had been the work of Hercules. (Diod. 4.58; Lucan 6.345.)

The pass of Tempe was connected with the worship of Apollo. This god was believed to have gone thither to receive expiation after the slaughter of the serpent Pytho, and afterwards to have returned to Delphi, bearing in his hand a branch of laurel plucked in the valley. Every ninth year the Delphians sent a procession to Tempe consisting of wellborn youths, of which the chief youth plucked a branch of laurel and brought it back to Delphi. On this occasion a solemn festival, in which the inhabitants of the neighbouring regions took part, was celebrated at Tempe in honour of Apollo Tempeites. The procession was accompanied by a flute-player. (Aelian, Ael. VH 3.1; Plut. Quaest. Graec. 100.11. p. 292, de Musica, 100.14. p. 1136; Böckh, Inscr. No. 1767, quoted by Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 365.)

The name of Tempe was applied to other beautiful valleys. Thus the valley, through which the Helorus flows in Sicily, is called “Heloria Tempe” (Ov. Fast. 4.477); and Cicero gives the name of Tempe to the valley of the Velinus, near Reate (ad Att. 4.15). In the same way Ovid speaks of the “Heliconia Tempe” (Am. 1.1. 15).

(Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iii. p. 390, seq.; Dodwell, vol. ii. p. 109, seq.; Hawkins, in Walpole's Collection, vol. i. p. 517, seq.; Kriegk, Das Thessalische Tempe, Leipzig, 1835.)

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: