[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Click here for the text in ancient Greek.]

[image ALT: Нажмите здесь для перевода на русский язык.]
на русском

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

This webpage reproduces a portion of
The Library of History

Diodorus Siculus

published in Vol. II
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1935

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]

(Vol. II) Diodorus Siculus
Library of History

(Book III, continued)

 p179  35   [link to original Greek text] 1 And now that we have discussed the principal facts concerning the nations and the manners of life which men consider astonishing, we shall speak in turn of the wild animals of the countries which we are considering. 2 There is an animal, for instance, which is called, from its characteristic, rhinoceros;1 in courage and strength it is similar to the elephant but not so high, and it has the toughest hide known and a colour like box-wood.2 At the tip of its nostrils  p181 it carries a horn which may be described as snub3 and in hardness is like iron. 3 Since it is ever contesting with the elephant about pasturage it sharpens its horn on stones, and when it opens the fight with this animal it slips under its belly and rips open the flesh with its horn as with a sword. By adopting this kind of fighting it drains the blood of the beasts and kills many of them. But if the elephant has avoided the attempt of the rhinoceros to get under his belly and has seized it beforehand with his trunk, he easily overcomes it by goring it with its tusks and making use of its superior strength.

4 Thereº are also sphinxes4 in both the Trogodyte country and Ethiopia, and in shape they are not unlike those depicted in art save that they are more shaggy of hair, and since they have dispositions that are gentle and rather inclined towards cunning they yield also to systematic training.

5 The animals which bear the name cynocephali5 are in body like misshapen men, and they make a sound like the whimpering of human beings. These animals are very wild and quite untamable, and their eyebrows give them a rather surly expression. A most peculiar characteristic of the female is that it carries the womb on the outside of its body during its entire existence.

6 The animal called the cepus6 has received its  p183 name from the beautiful and pleasing grace which characterizes its entire body, and it has a head like that of a lion, but the rest of its body is like that of a panther, save in respect to its size, in which it resembles a gazelle.

7 But of all the animals named the carnivorous bull is the wildest and altogether the hardest to overcome. For in bulk he is larger than the domestic bulls, in swiftness of foot he is not inferior to a horse, and his mouth open clear back to the ears. His colour is a fiery red, his eyes are more piercing than those of a lion and shine at night, and his horns enjoy a distinctive property; for at all other times he moves them like his ears, but when fighting he holds them rigid. The direction of growth of his hair is contrary to that of all other animals. 8 He is, again, a remarkable beast in both boldness and strength, since he attacks the boldest animals and finds his food in devouring the flesh of his victims. He also destroys the flocks of the inhabitants and engages in terrible combats with whole bands of the shepherds and packs of dogs. 9 Rumour has it that their skin cannot be pierced; at any rate, though many men have tried to capture them, no man has ever brought one under subjection. If he has fallen into a pit or been captured by some other ruse he becomes choked with rage, and in no case does he ever exchange his freedom for the care which men would accord to him in domestication. It is with reason, therefore, that the Trogodytes hold this wild beast to be the strongest of all, since Nature has endowed it with the  p185 prowess of a lion, the speed of a horse, and the might of a bull, and since it is not subdued by the native strength of iron which is the greatest known.

10 The animal which the Ethiopians call the crocottas7 has a nature which is a mixture of that of a dog and that of a wolf, but in ferocity it is more to be feared than either of them, and with respect to its teeth it surpasses all animals; for every bone, no matter how huge in size, it easily crushes, and whatever it has gulped down its stomach digests in an astonishing manner. And among those who recount marvellous lies about this beast there are some who relate that it imitates the speech of men, but for our part they do not win our credence.

36   [link to original Greek text] 1 As for snakes, those peoples which dwell near the country which is desert and infested by beasts say that there is every kind of them, of a magnitude surpassing belief. For when certain writers state that they have seen some one hundred cubits long, it may justly be assumed, not only by us but by everybody else, that they are telling a falsehood; indeed they add to this tale, which is utterly distrusted, things far more astonishing, when they say that, since the country is flat like a plain, whenever the largest of these beasts coil themselves up, they make, by the coils which have been wound in circles and rest one upon another, elevations which seen from a distance resemble a hill. 2 Now a man may not readily agree as to the magnitude of the beasts of which we have just spoken; but we shall describe the largest beasts which have actually been seen and were brought to Alexandria in certain well-made receptacles, and shall add a detailed description of the manner in which they were captured.

 p187  3 The second Ptolemy,8 who was passionately fond of the hunting of elephants and gave great rewards to those who succeeded in capturing against odds the most valiant of these beasts, expending on this hobby great sums of money, not only collected great herds of war-elephants, but also brought to the knowledge of the Greeks other kinds of animals which had never before been seen and were objects of amazement. 4 Consequently certain of the hunters, observing the princely generosity of the king in the matter of the rewards he gave, rounding up a considerable number decided to hazard their lives and to capture one of the huge snakes and bring it alive to Ptolemy at Alexandria. 5 Great and astonishing as was the undertaking, fortune aided their designs and crowned their attempt with the success which it deserved. For they spied one of the snakes, thirty cubits long, as it loitered near the pools in which the water collects; here it maintained for most of the time its coiled body motionless, but at the appearance of an animal which came down to the spot to quench its thirst it would suddenly uncoil itself, seize the animal in its jaws, and so entwine in its coil the body of the creature which had come into view that it could in no wise escape its doom. And so, since the beast was long and slender and sluggish in nature, hoping that they could master it with nooses and ropes, they approached it with confidence the first time, having ready to hand everything which  p189 they might need; 6 but as they drew near it they constantly grew more and more terrified as they gazed upon its fiery eye and its tongue darting out in every direction, caught the hideous sound made by the roughness of its scales as it made its way through the trees and brushed against them, and noted the extraordinary size of its teeth, and the astonishing height of its heap of coils. 7 Consequently, after they had driven the colour from their cheeks through fear, with cowardly trembling they cast the nooses about its tail; but the beast, the moment the rope touched its body, whirled around with so mighty a hissing as to frighten them out of their wits, and raising itself into the air above the head of the foremost man it seized him in its mouth and ate his flesh while he still lived, and the second it caught from a distance with a coil as it fled, drew him to itself, and winding itself about him began squeezing his belly with its tightening bond; and as for all the rest, stricken with terror they sought their safety in flight.

37   [link to original Greek text] 1 Nevertheless, the hunters did not give up their attempt to capture the beast, the favour expected of the king and his reward outweighing the dangers which they had come to know full well as the result of their experiment, and by ingenuity and craft they did subdue that which was by force well-nigh invincible, devising a kind of contrivance like the following:— They fashioned a circular thing woven of reeds closely set together, in general shape resembling a fisherman's creel and in size and capacity capable of holding the bulk of the beast. 2 Then, when they had reconnoitred its hole and observed the time when it went forth to feed and  p191 returned again, so soon as it had set out to prey upon the other animals, as was its custom, they stopped the opening of its old hole with large stones and earth, and digging an underground cavity near its lair they set the woven net in it and placed the mouth of the net opposite the opening, so that it was in this way all ready for the beast to enter. 3 Against the return of the animal they had made ready archers and slingers and many horsemen, as well as trumpeters and all the other apparatus needed, and as the beast drew near it raised its neck in air higher than the horsemen. Now the company of men who had assembled for the hunt did not dare to draw near it, being warned by the mishaps which had befallen them on the former occasion, but shooting at it from afar, and with many hands aiming at a single target, and a large one at that, they kept hitting it, and when the horsemen appeared and the multitude of bold fighting-dogs, and then again when the trumpets blared, they got the animal terrified. Consequently, when it retreated to its accustomed lair, they closed in upon it, but only so far as not to arouse it still more. 4 And when it came near the opening which had been stopped up, the whole throng, acting together, raised a mighty din with their arms and thus increased its confusion and fear because of the crowds which put in their appearance and of the trumpets. But the beast could not find the opening and so, terrified at the advance of the hunters, fled for refuge into the mouth of the net which had been prepared near by. 5 And when the woven net began to be filled up as the snake uncoiled itself, some of the hunters anticipated its movements by leaping forward, and before the snake  p193 could turn about to face the entrance they closed and fastened with ropes the mouth, which was long and had been shrewdly devised with such swiftness of operation in mind; then they hauled out the woven net and putting rollers under it drew it up into the air. 6 But the beast, enclosed as it was in a straitened place, kept sending forth an unnatural and terrible hissing and tried to pull down with its teeth the reeds which enveloped it, and by twisting itself in every direction created the expectation in the minds of the men who were carrying it that it would leap out of the contrivance which enveloped it. Consequently, in terror, they set the snake down on the ground, and by jabbing it about tail they diverted the attention of the beast from its work of tearing with its teeth to its sensation of pain in the parts which hurt.

7 When they had brought the snake to Alexandria they presented it to the king, an astonishing sight which those cannot credit who have merely heard the tale. And by depriving the beast of its food they wore down its spirit and little by little tamed it, so that the domestication of it became a thing of wonder. 8 As for Ptolemy, he distributed among the hunters the merited rewards, and kept and fed the snake, which had now been tamed and afforded the greatest and most astonishing sight for the strangers who visited his kingdom. 9 Consequently, in view of the fact that a snake of so great a size has been exposed to the public gaze, it is not fair to doubt the word of the Ethiopians or to assume that the report which they circulated far and wide was a mere fiction. For they state that there are to be seen in their country snakes so great in size that they not only eat both  p195 oxen and bulls and other animals of equal bulk, but even join issue in battle with the elephants, and by intertwining their coil about the elephants' legs they prevent the natural movement of them and by rearing their necks above their trunks they put their heads directly opposite the eyes of the elephants, and sending forth, by reason of the fiery nature of their eyes, brilliant flashes like lightning, they first blind their sight and then throw them to the ground and devour of the flesh of their conquered foes.

38   [link to original Greek text] 1 But now that we have examined with sufficient care Ethiopia and the Trogodyte country and the territory adjoining them, as far as the region which is uninhabited because of the excessive heat, and, beside these, the coast of the Red Sea9 and the Atlantic deep10 which stretches towards the south, we shall give an account of the part which still remains — and I refer to the Arabian Gulf11 — drawing in part upon the royal records preserved in Alexandria, and in part upon what we have learned from men who have seen it with their own eyes. 2 For this section of the inhabited world and that about the British Isles and the far north have by no means come to be included in the common knowledge of men. But as for the parts of the inhabited world which lie to the far north and border on the area which is uninhabited because of the cold, we shall discuss them when we record the  p197 deeds of Gaius Caesar; 3 for he it was who extended the Roman Empire the farthest into those parts and brought it about that all the area which had formerly been unknown came to be included in a narrative of history;12 4 but the Arabian Gulf, as it is called, opens into the ocean which lies to the south,13 and its innermost recess, which stretches over a distance of very many stades in length, is enclosed by the farthermost borders of Arabia and the Trogodyte country. Its width at the mouth and at the innermost recess is about sixteen14 stades, but from the harbour of Panormus to the opposite mainland is a day's run for a warship. And its greatest width is at the Tyrcaeus15 mountain and Macaria, an island out at sea, the mainlands there being out of sight of each other. But from this point the width steadily decreases more and more and continually tapers as far as the entrance. 5 And as a man sails along the coast he comes in many places upon long islands with narrow passages between them, where the current rises full and strong. Such, then, is the setting, in general terms, of this gulf. But for our part, we shall make our beginning with the farthest regions of the innermost recess and then sail along its two sides past the mainlands, in connection with which we shall describe what is peculiar to them and most deserving of discussion; and first of all we shall take the right side,16 the coast of which is inhabited by tribes of the Trogodytes as far inland as the desert.

 p199  39   [link to original Greek text] 1 In the course of the journey,17 then, from the city of Arsinoê along the right mainland, in many places numerous streams, which have a bitter salty taste, drop from the cliffs into the sea. And after a man has passed these waters, above a great plain there towers a mountain whose colour is like ruddle and blinds the sight of any who gaze steadfastly upon it for some time. Moreover, at the edge of the skirts of the mountain there lies a harbour, known as Aphroditê's Harbour, which has a winding entrance. 2 Above18 this harbour are situated three islands, two of which abound in olive trees and are thickly shaded, while one falls short of the other two in respect of the number of these trees but contains a multitude of the birds called meleagrides.19 3 Next there is a very large gulf which is called Acathartus,20 and by it is an exceedingly long peninsula, over the narrow neck of which men transport their ships to the opposite sea. 4 And as a man coasts along these regions he comes to an island which lies at a distance out in the open sea and stretches for a length of eighty stades; the name of it is Ophiodes21 and it was formerly full of fearful serpents of every variety, which was in fact the reason why it received this name, but in later times the kings at Alexandria have laboured so diligently on the reclaiming of it that not one of the animals which were formerly there is any longer to be seen on the island.

 p201  5 However, we should not pass over the reason why the kings showed diligence in the reclamation of the island. For there is found on it the topaz, as it is called, which is a pleasing transparent stone, similar to glass, and of a marvellous golden hue. 6 Consequently no unauthorized person may set foot upon the island and it is closely guarded, every man who has approached it being put to death by the guards who are stationed there. And the latter are few in number and lead a miserable existence. For in order to prevent any stone being stolen, not a single boat is left on the island; furthermore, any who sail by pass along it at a distance because of their fear of the king; and the provisions which are brought to it are quickly exhausted and there are absolutely no other provisions in the land. 7 Consequently, whenever only a little food is left, all the inhabitants of the village sit down and await the arrival of the ship of those who are bringing the provisions, and when these are delayed they are reduced to their last hopes. 8 And the stone we have mentioned, being found in the rock, is not discernible during the day because of the stifling heat, since it is overcome by the brilliance of the sun, but when night falls it shines in the dark and is visible from afar, in whatever place it may be. 9 The guards on the island divide these places by lot among themselves and stand watch over them, and when the stone shines they put around it, to mark the place, a vessel corresponding in size to the chunk of stone which gives out the light; and when day comes and they go their rounds they cut out the area which has been so marked and turn it over to men who are able by reason of their craftsmanship to polish it properly.

 p203  40   [link to original Greek text] 1 After sailing past these regions one finds that the coast is inhabited by many nations of Ichthyophagi and many nomadic Trogodytes. Then there appear mountains of all manner of peculiarities until one comes to the Harbour of Soteria,22 as it is called, which gained this name from the first Greek sailors who found safety there. 2 From this region onwards the gulf begins to become contracted and to curve toward Arabia. And here it is found that the nature of the country and of the sea has altered by reason of the peculiar characteristic of the region; 3 for the mainland appears to be low as seen from the sea, no elevation rising above it, and the sea, which runs to shoals, is found to have a depth of no more than three fathoms, while in colour it is altogether green. The reason for this is, they say, not because the water is naturally of that colour, but because of the mass of seaweed and tangle which shows from under water. 4 For ships, then, which are equipped with oars the place is suitable enough, since it rolls along no wave from a great distance and affords, furthermore, fishing in the greatest abundance; but the ships which carry the elephants,23 being of deep draft because of their weight and heavy by reason of their equipment, bring upon their crews great and terrible dangers. 5 For running as they do under full sail and often times being driven during the night before the force of the winds, sometimes they will strike against rocks and be wrecked or sometimes run aground on slightly submerged spits. The sailors are unable to go over the sides of the ship because the water is  p205 deeper than a man's height, and when in their efforts to rescue their vessel by means of their punting-poles they accomplish nothing, they jettison everything except their provisions; but if even by this course they do not succeed in effecting an escape, they fall into great perplexity by reason of the fact that they can make out neither an island nor a promontory nor another ship near at hand; — for the region is altogether inhospitable and only at rare intervals do men cross it in ships. 6 And to add to these evils the waves within a moment's time cast up such a mass of sand against the body of the ship and heap it up in so incredible a fashion that it soon piles up a mound round about the place and binds the vessel, as if of set purpose, to the solid land.

7 Now the men who have suffered this mishap, at the outset bewail their lot with moderation in the face of a deaf wilderness, having as yet not entirely abandoned hope of ultimate salvation; for oftentimes the swell of the flood-tide has intervened for men in such a plight and raised the ship aloft, and suddenly appearing, as might a deus ex machina, has brought succour to men in the extremity of peril.24 But when such god-sent aid has not been vouchsafed to them and their food fails, then the strong cast the weaker into the sea in order that for the few left the remaining necessities of life may last a greater number of days. But finally, when they have blotted out of their minds all their hopes, these perish by a more miserable fate than those who had died before; for whereas the latter in a moment's time returned to Nature  p207 the spirit which she had given them, these parcelled out their death into many separate hardships before they finally, suffering long-protracted tortures, were granted the end of life. 8 As for the ships which have been stripped of their crews in this pitiable fashion, there they remain for many years, like a group of cenotaphs, embedded on every side in a heap of sand, their masts and yard-arms si standing aloft, and they move those who behold them from afar to pity and sympathy for the men who have perished. For it is the king's command to leave in place such evidences of disasters that they may give notice to sailors of the region which works to their destruction. 9 And among the Ichthyophagi who dwell near by has been handed down a tale which has preserved the account received from their forefathers, that once, when there was a great receding of the sea, the entire area of the gulf which has what may be roughly described as the green appearance became land, and that, after the sea had receded to the opposite parts and the solid ground in the depths of it had emerged to view, a mighty flood came back upon it again and returned the body of water to its former place.25

41   [link to original Greek text] 1 The voyage along the coast, as one leaves these regions, from Ptolemaïs as far as the Promontories of the Tauri we have already mentioned, when we told of Ptolemy's hunting of the elephants;26 and from the Tauri the coast swings to the east, and at the time of the summer solstice the shadows fall to the south, opposite to what is true with us, at about the second  p209 hour of the day.27 2 The country also has rivers, which flow from the Psebaean mountains, as they are called. Moreover, it is checkered by great plains as well, which bear mallows, cress, and palms, all of unbelievable size; and it also brings forth fruits of every description, which have an insipid taste and are unknown among us. 3 That part which stretches towards the interior is full of elephants and wild bulls and lions and many other powerful wild beasts of every description. The passage by sea is broken up by islands which, though they bear no cultivated fruit, support varieties of birds which are peculiar to them and marvellous to look upon. 4 After this place the sea is quite deep and produces all kinds of sea-monsters of astonishing size, which, however, offer no harm to men unless one by accident falls upon their back-fins; for they are unable to pursue the sailors, since when they rise from the sea their eyes are blinded by the brilliance of the sun. These, then, are the farthest known parts of the Trogodyte country, and are circumscribed by the ranges which go by the name of Psebaean.

42   [link to original Greek text] 1 But we shall now take up the other side, namely, the opposite shore which forms the coast of Arabia, and shall describe it, beginning with the innermost recess. This bears the name Poseideion,28 since an altar was erected here to Poseidon Pelagius29 by that Ariston who was dispatched by Ptolemy to investigate the coast of Arabia as far as the ocean.  p211 2 Directly after the innermost recess is a region along the sea which is especially honoured by the natives because of the advantage which accrues from it to them. It is called the Palm-grove and contains a multitude of trees of this30 kind which are exceedingly fruitful and contribute in an unusual degree to enjoyment and luxury. 3 But all the country round about is lacking in springs of water and is fiery hot because it slopes to the south; accordingly, it was a natural thing that the barbarians made sacred the place which was full of trees and, lying as it did in the midst of a region utterly desolate, supplied their food. And indeed not a few springs and streams of water gush forth there, which do not yield to snow in coldness; and these make the land on both sides of them green and altogether pleasing. 4 Moreover, an altar is there built of hard stone and very old in years, bearing an inscription in ancient letters of an unknown tongue. The oversight of the sacred precinct is in the care of a man and a woman who hold the sacred office for life. The inhabitants of the place are long-lived and have their beds in the trees because of their fear of the wild beasts.

5 After sailing past the Palm-grove one comes to an island off a promontory of the mainland which bears the name Island of Phocae31 from the animals which make their home there; for so great a multitude of these beasts spend their time in these regions as to astonish those who behold them. And the promontory which stretches out in front of the island lies over against Petra, as it is called, and Palestine; for to  p213 this country, as it is reported, both the Gerrhaeans and Minaeans convey from Upper Arabia, as it is called, both the frankincense and the other aromatic wares.

43   [link to original Greek text] 1 The coast which comes next was originally inhabited by the Maranitae, and then by the Garindanes who were their neighbours. The latter secured the country somewhat in this fashion: In the above-mentioned Palm-grove a festival was celebrated every four years, to which the neighbouring peoples thronged from all sides, both to sacrifice to the gods of the sacred precinct hecatombs of well-fed camels and also to carry back to their native lands some of the water of this place, since the tradition prevailed that this drink gave health to such as partook of it. 2 When for these reasons, then, the Maranitae gathered to the festival, the Garindanes, putting to the sword those who had been left behind in the country, and lying in ambush for those who were returning from the festival, utterly destroyed the tribe, and after stripping the country of its inhabitants they divided among themselves the plains, which were fruitful and supplied abundant pasture for their herds and flocks. 3 This coast has few harbours and is divided by many large mountains, by reason of which it shows every shade of colour and affords a marvellous spectacle to those who sail past it.

4 After one has sailed past this country the Laeanites Gulf32 comes next, about which are many inhabited villages of Arabs who are known as Nabataeans. This tribe occupies a large part of the coast and not a  p215 little of the country which stretches inland, and it has a people numerous beyond telling and flocks and herds in multitude beyond belief. 5 Now in ancient times these men observed justice and were content with the food which they received from their flocks, but later, after the kings in Alexandria had made the ways of the sea navigable for the merchants, these Arabs not only attacked the shipwrecked, but fitting out pirate ships preyed upon the voyagers, imitating in their practices the savage and lawless ways of the Tauri of the Pontus;33 some time afterward, however, they were caught on the high seas by some quadriremes and punished as they deserved.

6 Beyond these regions there is a level and well-watered stretch of land which produces, by reason of springs which flow through its whole extent, dog's-tooth grass, lucerne, and lotus as tall as a man. And because of the abundance and excellent quality of the pasturage, not only does it support every manner of flocks and herds in multitude beyond telling, but also wild camels, deer, and gazelles. 7 And against the multitude of animals which are nourished in that place there gather in from the desert bands of lions and wolves and leopards, against which the herdsmen must perforce battle both day and night to protect their charges; and in this way the land's good fortune becomes a cause of misfortune for its inhabitants, seeing that it is generally Nature's way to dispense to men along with good things what is hurtful as well.

44   [link to original Greek text] 1 Next after these plains as one skirts the coast comes a gulf of extraordinary nature. It runs, namely, to a point deep into the land, extends in length a distance of some five hundred stades, and  p217 shut in as it is by crags which are of wondrous size, its mouth is winding and hard to get out of; for a rock which extends into the sea obstructs its entrance and so it is impossible for a ship either to sail into or out of the gulf. 2 Furthermore, at times when the current rushes in and there are frequent shiftings of the winds, the surf, beating upon the rocky beach, roars and rages all about the projecting rock. The inhabitants of the land about the gulf, who are known as Banizomenes, find their food by hunting the land animals and eating their meat. And a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians.

3 Next there are three islands which lie off the coast just described and provide numerous harbours. The first of these, history relates, is sacred to Isis and is uninhabited, and on it are stone foundations of ancient dwellings and stelae which are inscribed with letters in a barbarian tongue; the other two islands are likewise uninhabited and all three are covered thick with olive trees which differ from those we have. 4 Beyond these islands there extends for about a thousand stades a coast which is precipitous and difficult for ships to sail past; for there is neither harbour beneath the cliffs nor roadstead where sailors may anchor, and no natural breakwater which affords shelter in emergency for mariners in distress. And parallel to the coast here runs a mountain range at whose summit are rocks which are sheer and of a terrifying height, and at its base are sharp undersea ledges in many places and behind them are ravines which are eaten away underneath and turn this way  p219 and that. 5 And since these ravines are connected by passages with one another and the sea is deep, the surf, as it at one time rushes in and at another time retreats, gives forth a sound resembling a mighty crash of thunder. At one place the surf, as it breaks upon huge rocks, rocks leaps on high and causes an astonishing mass of foam, at another it is swallowed up within the caverns and creates such a terrifying agitation of the waters that men who unwittingly draw near these places are so frightened that they die, as it were, a first death.

6 This coast, then, is inhabited by Arabs who are called Thamudeni; but the coast next to it is bounded by a very large gulf, off which lie scattered islands which are in appearance very much like the islands called the Echinades.34 After this coast there come sand dunes, of infinite extent in both length and width and black in colour. 7 Beyond them a neck of land is to be seen and a harbour, the fairest of any which have come to be included in history, called Charmuthas. For behind an extraordinary natural breakwater which slants towards the west there lies a gulf which not only is marvellous in its form but far surpasses all others in the advantages it offers; for a thickly wooded mountain stretches along it, enclosing it on all sides in a ring one hundred stades long; its entrance is two plethra wide, and it provides a harbour undisturbed by the waves sufficient for two thousand vessels. 8 Furthermore, it is exceptionally well supplied with water, since a river, larger than ordinary, empties into it, and it contains in its centre an island which is abundantly watered and capable of supporting gardens. In general, it resembles most closely the  p221 harbour of Carthage, which is known as Cothon, of the advantages of which we shall endeavour to give a detailed discussion in connection with the appropriate time.35 And a multitude of fish gather from the open sea into the harbour both because of the calm which prevails there and because of the sweetness of the waters which flow into it.

45   [link to original Greek text] 1 After these places, as a man skirts the coast, five mountains rise on high separated one from another, and their peaks taper into breast-shaped tips of stone which give them an appearance like that of the pyramids of Egypt. 2 Then comes a circular gulf guarded on every side by great promontories, and midway on a line drawn across it rises a trapezium-shaped hill on which three temples, remarkable for their height, have been erected to gods, which indeed are unknown to the Greeks, but are accorded unusual honour by the natives. 3 After this there is a stretch of dank coast, traversed at intervals by streams of sweet water from springs; on it there is a mountain which bears the name Chabinus and is heavily covered with thickets of every kind of tree. The land which adjoins the mountainous country is inhabited by the Arabs known as Debae. 4 They are breeders of camels and make use of the services of this animal in connection with the most important needs of their life; for instance, they fight against their enemies from their backs, employ them for the conveyance of their wares and thus easily accomplish all their business, drink their milk and in this way get their food from them, and traverse their entire country riding upon their racing camels. 5 And down the centre of their country runs a river which carries  p223 down such an amount of what is gold dust to all appearance that the mud glitters all over as it is carried out at its mouth. The natives of the region are entirely without experience in the working of the gold, but they are hospitable to strangers, not, however, to everyone who arrives among them, but only to Boeotians and Peloponnesians, the reason for this being the ancient friendship shown by Heracles for the tribe, a friendship which, they relate, has come down to them in the form of a myth as a heritage from their ancestors.

6 The land which comes next is inhabited by Alilaei and Gasandi, Arab peoples, and is not fiery hot, like the neighbouring territories, but is often overspread by mild36 and thick clouds, from which come heavy showers and timely storms that make the summer season temperate. The land produces everything and is exceptionally fertile, but it does not receive the cultivation of which it would admit because of the lack of experience of the folk. 7 Gold they discover in underground galleries which have been formed by nature and gather in abundance not that which has been fused into a mass out of gold-dust,37 but the virgin gold, which is called, from its condition when found, "unfired" gold. And as for size the smallest nugget found is about as large as the stone offruit,38 and the largest not much smaller than a royal nut. 8 This gold they wear about both their wrists and necks,  p225 perforating it and alternating it with transparent stones. And since this precious metal abounds in their land, whereas there is a scarcity of copper and iron, they exchange it with merchants for equal parts of the latter wares.39

46   [link to original Greek text] 1 Beyond this people are the Carbae, as they are called, and beyond these the Sabaeans, who are the most numerous of the tribes of the Arabians. They inhabit that part of the country known as Arabia the Blest,40 which produces most of the things which are held dear among us and nurtures flocks and herds of every kind in multitude beyond telling. And a natural sweet odour pervades the entire land because practically all the things which excel in fragrance grow there unceasingly. 2 Along the coast, for instance, grow balsam, as called, and cassia and a certain other herb possessing a nature peculiar to itself; for when fresh it is most pleasing and delightful to the eye, but when kept for a time it suddenly fades to nothing. 3 And throughout the interior of land there are thick forests, in which are great trees which yield frankincense and myrrh, as well as palms and reeds, cinnamon trees and every other kind which possesses a sweet odour as these have; for it is impossible to enumerate both the peculiar properties and natures of each one severally because of the great volume and the exceptional richness of the fragrance as it is gathered from each and all. 4 For a divine thing and beyond the power of words to describe seems the fragrance which greets  p227 the nostrils and stirs the senses of everyone. Indeed, even though those who sail along this coast may be far from the land, that does not deprive them of a portion of the enjoyment which this fragrance affords; for in the summer season, when the wind is blowing off shore, one finds that the sweet odours exhaled by the myrrh-bearing and other aromatic trees penetrate to the near-by parts of the sea; and the reason is that the essence of the sweet-smelling herbs is not, as with us, kept laid away until it has become old and stale, but its potency is in the full bloom of its strength and fresh, and penetrates to the most delicate parts of the sense of smell. 5 And since the breeze carries the emanation of the most fragrant plants, to the voyagers who approach the coast there is wafted a blending of perfumes, delightful and potent, and healthful withal and exotic, composed as it is of the best of them, seeing that the product of the trees has not been minced into bits and so has exhaled its own special strength, nor yet lies stored away in vessels made of a different substance, but taken at the very prime of its freshness and while its divine nature keeps the shoot pure and undefiled. Consequently those who partake of the unique fragrance feel that they are enjoying the ambrosia of which the myths relate, being unable, because of the superlative sweetness of the perfume, to find any other name that would be fitting and worthy of it.

47   [link to original Greek text] 1 Nevertheless, fortune has not invested the inhabitants of this land with a felicity which is perfect and leaves no room for envy, but with such great gifts she has coupled what is harmful and may serve as a warning to such men as are wont to despise the gods because of the unbroken succession of their  p229 blessings. 2 For in the most fragrant forests is a multitude of snakes, the colour of which is dark-red, their length a span,41 and their bites altogether incurable; they bite by leaping upon their victim, and as they spring on high they leave a stain of blood upon his skin. 3 And there is also something peculiar to the natives which happens in the case of those whose bodies have become weakened by a protracted illness. For when the body has become permeated by an undiluted and pungent substance and the combination of foreign bodies settles in a porous area, an enfeebled condition ensues which is difficult to cure: consequently at the side of men afflicted in this way they burn asphalt and the beard of a goat,42 combatting the excessively sweet odour by that from substances of the opposite nature. Indeed the good, when it is measured out in respect of quantity and order, is for human beings an aid and delight, but when it fails of due proportion and proper time the gift which it bestows is unprofitable.

4 The chief city of this tribe is called by them Sabae and is built upon a mountain. The kings of this city succeed to the throne by descent and the people accord to them honours mingled with good and ill. For though they have the appearance of leading a happy life, in that they impose commands upon all and are not accountable for their deeds, yet they are considered unfortunate, inasmuch as it is unlawful for them ever to leave the palace, and if they do so they are stoned to death, in accordance with a certain ancient oracle, by the common crowd. 5 This tribe  p231 surpasses not only the neighbouring Arabs but also all other men in wealth and in their several extravagancies besides. For in the exchange and sale of their wares they, of all men who carry on trade for the sake of the silver they receive in exchange, obtain the highest price in return for things of the smallest weight. 6 Consequently, since they have never for ages suffered the ravages of war because of their secluded position, and since an abundance of both gold and silver abounds in the country, especially in Sabae, where the royal palace is situated, they have embossed goblets of every description, made of silver and gold, couches and tripods with silver feet, and every other furnishing of incredible costliness, and halls encircled by large columns, some of them gilded, and others having silver figures on the capitals. 7 Their ceilings and doors they have partitioned by means of panels and coffers43 made of gold, set with precious stones and placed close together, and have thus made the structure of their houses in every part marvellous for its costliness; for some parts they have constructed of silver and gold, others of ivory and that most showy precious stones or of whatever else men esteem most highly. 8 For the fact is that these people have enjoyed their felicity unshaken since ages past because they have been entire strangers to those whose own covetousness leads them to feel that another man's wealth is their own godsend.44 The sea in these parts looks to be white in colour, so that the beholder marvels at the surprising phenomenon and at the same time seeks for its cause. 9 And there  p233 are prosperous45 islands near by, containing unwalled cities, all the herds of which are white in colour, while no female has any horn whatsoever. These islands are visited by sailors from every part and especially from Potana, the city which Alexander founded on the Indus river, when he wished to have a naval station on the shore of the ocean.

Now as regards Arabia the Blest and its inhabitants we shall be satisfied with what has been said.

48   [link to original Greek text] 1 But we must not omit to mention the strange phenomena which are seen in the heavens in these regions. The most marvellous is that which, according to accounts we have, has to do with the constellation of the Great Bear and occasions the greatest perplexity among navigators. What they relate is that, beginning with the month which the Athenians call Maemacterion,46 not one of the seven stars of the Great Bear is seen until the first watch, in Poseideon47 none until second, and in the following months they gradually drop out of the sight of navigators.48 2 As for the other heavenly bodies, the planets, as they are called, are, in the case of some, larger than they appear with us, and in the case of others their risings and settings are also not the same; and the sun does  p235 not, as with us, send forth its light shortly in advance of its actual rising, but while the darkness of night still continues, it suddenly and contrary to all expectation appears and sends forth its light.49 3 Because of this there is no daylight in those regions before the sun has become visible, and when out of the midst of the sea, as they say, it comes into view, it resembles a fiery red ball of charcoal which discharges huge sparks, and its shape does not look like a cone,50 as is the impression we have of it, but it has the shape of a column which has the appearance of being slightly thicker at the top; and furthermore it does not shine or send out rays before the first hour, appearing as a fire that gives forth no light in the darkness; but at the beginning of the second hour it takes on the form of a round shield and sends forth a light which is exceptionally bright and fiery. 4 But at its setting the opposite manifestations take place with respect to it; for it seems to observers to be lighting up the whole universe with a strange kind of ray51 for not less than two or, as Agatharchides of Cnidus has recorded, for three hours. And in the opinion of the natives this is the most pleasant period, when the heat is steadily lessening because of the setting of the sun.

5 As regards the winds, the west, the south-west, also the north-west and the east blow as in the other parts of the world; but in Ethiopia the south winds  p237 neither blow nor are known at all, although in the Trogodyte country and Arabia they so exceptionally hot that they set the forests on fire and cause the bodies of those who take refuge in the shade of their huts to collapse through weakness. The north wind, however, may justly be considered the most favourable of all, since it reaches into every region of the inhabited earth and is ever cool.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Nose-horn.

2 i.e. pale yellow.

3 i.e. bent backward. Diodorus uses a term familiar to the Greeks but not used of a back-pointing horn.

4 The large baboon (Papio sphinx).

5 Dog-heads, the sacred dog-faced baboon (Papio hamadryas).

6 A long-tailed monkey. The more common form of the word was "cebus," but the explanation of the name shows that Diodorus used the spelling of the text (kepos, "garden," was used metaphorically in the sense of "pleasure" or "grace").

7 Probably a kind of hyena.

8 Ptolemy Philadelphus, 285‑246 B.C. Ptolemy's interest in wild animals has long been known from this passage and Theocritus 2.67‑8. That he was as deeply interested in introducing new breeds of domesticated animals into Egypt is attested by a papyrus (P. Cairo Zenon I.59,075), written in 257 B.C., in which an Ammonite chief from east of the Jordan river says that he is sending the king a gift of horses, dogs, asses and several specimens of cross-breeding with the wild ass.

Thayer's Note: For the life and reign of this king, see Bevan, The House of Ptolemy, chapter 3, where his zoöphily is touched on a couple of times, and the papyrus directly quoted.

9 The Persian Gulf and contiguous shores must be meant.

10 Apparently Diodorus uses the term "Atlantic," although it is derived from the word "Atlas," and regularly designated the western ocean, in the sense employed by the geographer Eratosthenes, who, about 200 B.C., applied it to the entire expanse of water which surrounded the "inhabited world" (cp. H. Berger, Geschichte der wissenschaftlichen Erdkunde der Griechen2, pp323, 377, 396.

11 The Red Sea.

12 Cp. Book 1.4.7.

13 The Indian Ocean.

14 Strabo (16.4.4) and others say the straits at Deirê are sixty stades wide (about seven miles), which is much nearer the present width than the "sixteen" of Diodorus.

Now called the Strait of Bab-el‑Mandeb. From the African coast to the island of Perim the distance today is 21.5 km (13.4 English statute miles, or roughly 100 to 140 stades depending on which stade is meant), and the full distance across to Cape Menheli in Yemen is 28.9 km (18.0 miles, 140 to 185 stades).

[and here's help in using the map, if you need it.]

15 Panormus and this mountain are otherwise unknown.

16 i.e. the western or Egyptian side.

17 Strabo (16.4.5 ff.) follows much the same order in his description of the Gulf.

18 Strabo (16.4.5) says these islands lie "off," Agatharchides (81), that they lie "in" the harbour.

19 Guinea-fowls.

20 i.e. "Foul."

21 i.e. "Snaky."

22 i.e. "Safety."

23 A little south of this region, according to Strabo (16.4.7), lay the city of Ptolemaïs, founded under Ptolemy Philadelphius near the hunting-grounds for elephants.

24 The reference is to the "epiphany" of a god in tragedy, effected by the use of a "machine" which suddenly hoisted him into view, that he might offer to the problems of the tragedy a solution which was beyond the power of mortals to foresee or bring to pass.

25 The older commentators saw in this story a memory of the miraculous passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea.

26 Cp. chap. 18, where, however, there is no mention of either Ptolemaïs or the Promontories of the Tauri.

27 The direction of the shadow to the south at about 7 A.M. on June 21st shows that the place was south of the tropic of Cancer.

No, no, no. Except in antarctic latitudes, the sun does not rise in the north, no matter what. Although at noon shadows may be cast due south (always true when the place is north of the tropic of Cancer, sometimes true when the place is between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn, and never true when south of the tropic of Capricorn), at the tropic of Cancer at 7 A.M. on the other hand even on the very day of the solstice the sun's azimuth will be around 60° E of north, and the direction of the shadows will be roughly WSW. I suspect the problem lies in the translation of πίπτουσι πρὸς μεσημβρίαν; I would render the passage ". . . at the season of the summer solstice shadows swing southward, opposite to what is true with us, starting at about the second hour of the day" — where the second hour of the day is brought up because the near-infinite shadows of sunrise have shortened enough for them to have a clear identity and their movement to be ascertained: cf. "for the purpose of marking the shadow correctly" in Vitruvius, I.6.6, with my note there.

28 The Roman Posidium, the present Ras-Mohammed, at the southern tip of the Peninsula of Sinai (cp. Strabo 16.4.18).

29 i.e. "of the sea."

30 i.e. date-palms.

31 Seals.

32 Diodorus turns north into the modern Gulf of Akaba, the "Aelanites" Gulf of Strabo 16.4.18.

33 The Black Sea.

34 Now called the Kurtzolares, off the Gulf of Corinth.

35 This description was probably in Book 32.

36 The text may be corrupt; "dark and thick" and "mild and dewy" have been suggested (cp. critical note).

The critical note to the Greek text, (μαλακαῖς καὶ δασείαις νεφέλαις), reads:

For μαλακαῖς Bezzel suggests μελαίναις; for δασείαις Capps suggests δροσεραῖς (Arist. Nubes 338).

37 i.e. fused into artificial nuggets.

38 The word puren was used for the stone of any stone-fruit, such as olive, pomegranate, grape, and was, therefore, a very indefinite term of measurement; the "royal nut," mentioned below, however, was the Persian walnut.

39 Here Diodorus departs radically from Agatharchides (96), who says that they exchange one part of gold for three of copper or two of iron; cp. Strabo 16.4.18.

40 The Arabia Felix of the Romans.

41 7½ inches.

42 Strabo (16.4.19) says this was done to overcome the drowsiness caused by the sweet odours; the disease appears to be mentioned by no other ancient writer, and presumably was caused by the continued inhaling of these powerful scents.

43 i.e. certain panels were deeply recessed.

44 Literally "gift of Hermes," as the god of gain and good luck.

45 The adjective is that translated "Blest" in Arabia the Blest.

46 The fifth month of the Attic year, approximately our November.

47 The sixth month, approximately our December.

48 In the second century B.C., the period when Agatharchides, from whom Diodorus has taken this statement, wrote his work entitled On the Red Sea, at latitude 15 north, which is the probable region of this statement, on December 1st the sun set at approximately 5.45 P.M. and the first star (alpha) of the Great Bear rose at approximately 8.45 P.M. Its rising did, therefore, fall within the first watch of the night. However, the statement that on December 1st it did not rise until the second watch is false, since on that date it rose at approximately 6.40 P.M.; indeed the rising of the Great Bear, instead of receding month by month, as Diodorus states, in fact advances.

49 The cause for this statement is the phenomenon of twilight, which is dependent upon atmospheric as well as astronomical conditions. Its duration varies with the depth, clarity, and density of the atmosphere, the latitude and elevation of the place of observation, and the time of year. The Greek navigator found less twilight as he travelled south from Greece towards the equator, at which point, in fact, it has its minimum duration.

50 Agatharchides (105) says "discus-shaped."

51 Agatharchides (105) says that this takes place after the sun has already set.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 5 Mar 17