Concerning the Hyperborean people, neither the Scythians nor any other inhabitants of these lands tell us anything, except perhaps the Issedones. And, I think, even they say nothing; for if they did, then the Scythians, too, would have told, just as they tell of the one-eyed men. But Hesiod speaks of Hyperboreans, and Homer too in his poem The Heroes' Sons, if that is truly the work of Homer.
But the Delians say much more about them than any others do. They say that offerings wrapped in straw are brought from the Hyperboreans to Scythia; when these have passed Scythia, each nation in turn receives them from its neighbors until they are carried to the Adriatic sea, which is the most westerly limit of their journey; from there, they are brought on to the south, the people of Dodona being the first Greeks to receive them. From Dodona they come down to the Melian gulf, and are carried across to Euboea, and one city sends them on to another until they come to Carystus; after this, Andros is left out of their journey, for Carystians carry them to Tenos, and Tenians to Delos.
I know that they do this. The Delian girls and boys cut their hair in honor of these Hyperborean maidens, who died at Delos; the girls before their marriage cut off a tress and lay it on the tomb, wound around a spindle (this tomb is at the foot of an olive-tree, on the left hand of the entrance of the temple of Artemis); the Delian boys twine some of their hair around a green stalk, and lay it on the tomb likewise.
In this way, then, these maidens are honored by the inhabitants of Delos. These same Delians relate that two virgins, Arge and Opis, came from the Hyperboreans by way of the aforesaid peoples to Delos earlier than Hyperoche and Laodice; these latter came to bring to Eileithyia the tribute which they had agreed to pay for easing child-bearing; but Arge and Opis, they say, came with the gods themselves, and received honors of their own from the Delians. For the women collected gifts for them, calling upon their names in the hymn made for them by Olen of Lycia; it was from Delos that the islanders and Ionians learned to sing hymns to Opis and Arge, calling upon their names and collecting gifts (this Olen, after coming from Lycia, also made the other and ancient hymns that are sung at Delos). Furthermore, they say that when the thighbones are burnt in sacrifice on the altar, the ashes are all cast on the burial-place of Opis and Arge, behind the temple of Artemis, looking east, nearest the refectory of the people of Ceos.
I have said this much of the Hyperboreans, and let it suffice; for I do not tell the story of that Abaris, alleged to be a Hyperborean, who carried the arrow over the whole world, fasting all the while. But if there are men beyond the north wind, then there are others beyond the south. And I laugh to see how many have before now drawn maps of the world, not one of them reasonably; for they draw the world as round as if fashioned by compasses, encircled by the Ocean river, and Asia and Europe of a like extent. For myself, I will in a few words indicate the extent of the two, and how each should be drawn.
This extract is from: Herodotus. The Histories (ed. A. D. Godley, 1920), Cambridge. Harvard University Press. Cited Feb 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
- Perseus: Herodotus, The Histories (ed. A. D. Godley, 1920)