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XV.1.26‑38

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography

of
Strabo

published in Vol. VII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,
1932

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!


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XV.2

(Vol. VII) Strabo
Geography

p67 Book XV, Chapter 1

(sections 39‑73)

39 (703) He says, then, that the population of India is divided into seven castes:53 the one first in honour, but the fewest in number, consists of the philosophers; and these philosophers are used, each individually, by the people making sacrifice to the gods or making offerings to the dead, but jointly by the kings at the Great Synod, as it is called, at which, at the beginning of the new year, the philosophers, one and all, come together at the gates of the king; and whatever each man has drawn up in writing or p69observed as useful with reference to the prosperity of either fruits or living beings or concerning the government, he brings forward in public; and he who is thrice found false is required by law to keep silence for life, whereas he who has proved correct 704 is adjudged exempt from tribute and taxes.

40 The second caste, he says, is that of the farmers, who are not only the most numerous, but also the most highly respected, because of their exemption from military service and right of freedom in their farming; and they do not approach a city, either because of a public disturbance or on any other business; at any rate, he says, it often happens that at the same time and place some are in battle array and are in peril of their lives against the enemy, while the farmers are ploughing or digging without peril, the latter having the former as defenders. The whole of the country is of royal ownership; and the farmers cultivate it for a rental in addition to paying a fourth part of the produce.54

41 The third caste is that of the shepherds and hunters, who alone are permitted to hunt, to breed cattle, and to sell or hire out beasts of burden; and in return for freeing the land from wild beasts and seed-picking birds, they receive proportionate allowances of grain from the king, leading, as they do, a wandering and tent-dwelling life. No private person is permitted to keep a horse or elephant. The possession of either is a royal privilege, and there are men to take care of them.

p71 42 The chase of the elephant is conducted as follows: they dig a deep ditch round a treeless tract about four or five stadia in circuit and bridge the entrance with a very narrow bridge; and then, letting loose into the enclosure three or four of their tamest females, they themselves lie in wait under cover in hidden huts. Now the wild elephants do not approach by day, but they make the entrance one by one at night; and when they have entered, the men close the entrance secretly; and then, leading the most courageous of their tame combatants into the enclosure, they fight it out with the wild elephants, at the same time wearing them down also by starvation; and, once the animals are worn out, the boldest of the riders secretly dismount and each creeps under the belly of his own riding-elephant, and then, starting from here, creeps under the wild elephant and binds his feet together; and when this is done, they command the tamed elephants to beat those whose feet have been bound until they fall to the ground; and when they fall, the men fasten their necks to those of the tamed elephants with thongs of raw ox-hide; and in order that the wild elephants, when they shake those who are attempting to mount them, may not shake them off, the men make incisions round their necks and put the thongs round at these incisions, so that through pain they yield to their bonds and keep quiet. Of the elephants captured, they reject those that are too old or too young for service and lead away the rest to the stalls; and then, having tied their feet to one another and their necks to a firmly planted pillar, they subdue them by hunger; 705 and then they restore them with green cane and grass. After this the elephants are p73taught to obey commands, some through words of command and others through being charmed by tunes and drum-beating. Those that are hard to tame are rare; for by nature the elephant is of a mild and gentle disposition, so that it is close to a rational animal; and some elephants have even taken up their riders who had fallen from loss of blood in the fight and carried them safely out of the battle, while others have fought for, and rescued, those who had crept between their fore-legs. And if in anger they have killed one of their feeders or masters, they yearn after him so strongly that through grief they abstain from food and sometimes even starve themselves to death.

43 They copulate and bear young like horses, mostly in the spring. It is breeding-time for the male when he is seized with frenzy and becomes ferocious; at that time he discharges a kind of fatty matter through the breathing-hole which he has beside his temples.55 And it is breeding-time for the females when this same passage is open. They are pregnant eighteen months at the most and sixteen at the least; and the mother nurses her young six years. Most of them live as long as very long-lived human beings, and some continue to live even to two hundred years, although they are subject to many diseases and are hard to cure. A remedy for eye diseases is to bathe the eyes with cow's milk; but for most diseases they are given dark wine to drink; and, in the case of wounds, melted butter p75is applied to them (for it draws out the bits of iron), while ulcers are poulticed with swine's flesh. Onesicritus says that they live as long as three hundred years and in rare cases even as long as five hundred; but that they are most powerful when about two hundred years of age, and that females are pregnant for a period of ten years. And both he and others state that they are larger and strong than the Libyan elephants; at any rate, standing up on their hind feet, they tear down battlements and pull up trees by the roots by means of the proboscis. Nearchus says that in the hunt for them foot-traps also are put at places where tracks meet, and that the wild elephants are driven together into these by the tamed ones, which latter are stronger and guided by riders; and that they are so easy to tame that they learn to throw stones at a mark and to use weapons; and that they are excellent swimmers; and that a chariot drawn by elephants is considered a very great possession, and that they are driven under yoke like camels;56 and that a woman is highly honoured if she receives an elephant as a gift from a lover. But this statement is not in agreement with that of the man who said that horse and elephant were possessed by kings alone.57

44 Nearchus says that the skins of gold-mining ants are like those of leopards. But Megasthenes speaks of these ants as follows: 706 that among the Derdae, a large tribe of Indians living towards the east and in the mountains, there is a plateau approximately three thousand stadia in circuit, and that p77below it are gold mines, of which the miners are ants, animals that are no smaller than foxes, are surpassingly swift, and live on the prey they catch. They dig holes in winter and heap up the earth at the mouths of the holes, like moles;58 and the gold-dust requires but little smelting. The neighbouring peoples go after it on beasts of burden by stealth, for if they go openly the ants fight it out with them and pursue them when they flee, and then, having overtaken them, exterminate both them and their beasts; but to escape being seen by the ants, the people lay out pieces of flesh of wild beasts at different places, and when the ants are drawn away from around the holes, the people take up the gold-dust and, not knowing how to smelt it, dispose of it unwrought to traders at any price it will fetch.

45 But since, in my account of the hunters and of the wild beasts, I have mentioned what both Megasthenes and others have said, I must go one to add the following. Nearchus wonders at the number of the reptiles and their viciousness, for he says that at the time of the inundations they flee up from the plains into the settlements that escape the inundations, and fill the houses; and that on this account, accordingly, the inhabitants not only make their beds high, but sometimes even move out of their houses when infested by too many of them; and that if the greater part of the multitude of reptiles were not destroyed by the waters, the country would be depopulated; and that the smallness of some of them is troublesome because it is difficult to guard against them, and the huge ones because of their strength, p79inasmuch as vipers even sixteen cubits long are to be seen; and that charmers go around who are believed to cure the wounds; and that this is almost the only art of medicine, for the people do not have many diseases on account of the simplicity of their diet and their abstinence from wine; but that if diseases arise, they are cured by the Wise Men. But Aristobulus says that he saw none of the animals of the huge size that are everywhere talked about, except a viper nine cubits and one span long. And I myself saw one of about the same size in Aegypt that had been brought from India. He says that you have many much smaller vipers, and asps, and large scorpions, but that none of these is so troublesome as the slender little snakes that are no more than a span long, for they are found hidden in tents, in vessels,59 and in hedges;60 and that persons bitten by them bleed from every pore with anguish, and then die unless they receive aid immediately; but that aid is easy because of the virtue of the Indian roots and drugs. 707 He says further that crocodiles, neither numerous nor harmful to man, are to be found in the Indus, and also that most of the other animals are the same as those which are found in the Nile except the hippopotamus. Onesicritus, however, says that this animal too is found in India. And Aristobulus says that on account of the crocodiles no sea-fish swim up into the Nile except the thrissa,61 the cestreus,62 and the dolphin,63 but that there is a p81large number of different fish in the Indus. Of the carides,64 the small ones swim up the Indus only as far as a mountain,65 but the large ones as far as the confluence of the Indus and the Acesines. So much, then, is reported about the wild animals. Let me now return to Megasthenes and continue his account from the point where I left off.

46 After the hunters and the shepherds, he says, follows the fourth caste — the artisans, the tradesmen, and the day-labourers; and of these, some pay tribute to the state, whereas the armour-makers and ship-builders receive wages and provisions, at a published scale, from the king, for they work for him alone; and arms are furnished the soldiers by the commander-in‑chief, whereas the ships are let out for hire to sailors and merchants by the admiral.

47 The fifth caste is that of the warriors, who, when they are not in service, spend their lives in idleness and at drinking-bouts, being maintained at the expense of the royal treasury; so that they make their expeditions quickly when need arises, since they bring nothing else of their own but their bodies.

48 The sixth is that of the inspectors,66 to whom it is given to inspect what is being done and report secretly to the king, using the courtesans as colleagues, the city inspectors using the city courtesans and the camp inspectors the camp courtesans; but the best and most trustworthy men are appointed to this office.

p83 49 The seventh is that of the advisers and councillors of the king, who hold the chief offices of state, the judgeships, and the administration of everything. It is not legal for a man either to marry a wife from another caste or to change one's pursuit of work from one to another; nor yet for the same man to engage in several, except in case he should be one of the philosophers, for, Megasthenes says, the philosopher is permitted to do so on account of his superiority.

50 Of the officials, some are market commissioners, others are city commissioners,67 and others are in charge of the soldiers. Among these, the first68 keep the rivers improved and the land remeasured,69 as in Aegypt, and inspect the closed canals from which the water is distributed into the conduits, in order that all may have an equal use of it. 708 The same men also have charge of the hunters and are authorized to reward or punish those who deserve either. They also collect the taxes70 and superintend the crafts connected with the land — those of wood-cutters, carpenters, workers in brass, and miners. And they make roads, and at every ten stadia place pillars showing the by-roads and the distances.

51 The city commissioners are divided into six groups of five each. One group looks after the arts of the handicraftsmen. Another group entertains strangers, for they assign them lodgings, follow closely their behaviour, giving them attendants,71 and either escort them forth or forward the property72 of those who die; and they take care of p85them when they are sick and bury them when they die. The third group is that of those who scrutinize births and deaths, when and how they take place, both for the sake of taxes and in order that births and deaths, whether better or worse, may not be unknown. The fourth group is that which has to do with sales and barter; and these look after measures and the fruits of the season, that the latter may be sold by stamp.73 But the same man cannot barter more than one thing without paying double taxes. The fifth group is that of those who have charge of the works made by artisans and sell these by stamp, the new apart from the old; and the man who mixes them is fined. The sixth and last group is that of those who collect a tenth part of the price of the things sold; and death is the penalty for the man who steals.74 These are the special duties performed by each group, but they all take care jointly of matters both private and public, and of the repairs of public works, of prices,75 market-places, harbours, and temples.

52 After the city commissioners there is a third joint administration, in charge of military affairs, which is also divided into six groups of five each. Of these groups, one is stationed with the admiral; another with the man in charge of the ox-teams, by which are transported instruments of war and food for both man and beast and all other requisites of the army. These also furnish the menials, I mean p87drum-beaters, gong-carriers, as also grooms and machinists and their assistants; and they send forth the foragers to the sound of bells, and effect speed and safety by means of reward and punishment. The third group consists of those in charge of the infantry; the fourth, of those in charge of the horses; the fifth, of those in charge of the chariots; and the sixth, of those in charge of the elephants. The stalls for both horses and beasts76 are royal,77 and the armoury is also royal; 709 for the soldier returns the equipment to the armoury, the horse to the royal horse-stable, and likewise the beast; and they use them without bridles. The chariots are drawn on the march by oxen; but the horses are led by halter, in order that their legs may not be chafed by harness, and also that the spirit they have when drawing chariots may not be dulled.78 There are two combatants in each chariot in addition to the charioteer; but the elephant carries four persons, the driver and three bowmen, and these three shoot arrows from the elephant's back.

53 All Indians live a simple life, and especially when they are on expeditions; and neither do they enjoy useless disturbances; and on this account they behave in an orderly manner. But their greatest self-restraint pertains to theft; at any rate, Megasthenes says that when he was in the camp of Sandrocottus, although the number in camp was forty thousand, he on no day saw reports of stolen articles that were worth more than two hundred drachmae; and that too among a people who use unwritten laws only. For, he continues, they have no knowledge of written letters,79 and regulate every p89single thing from memory; but still they fare happily, because of their simplicity and their frugality; and indeed they do not drink wine, except at sacrifices, but drink a beverage which they make from rice instead of barley;80 and also that their food consists for the most part of rice porridge; and their simplicity is also proven in their laws and contracts, which arises from the fact that they are not litigious; for they do not have lawsuits over either pledges or deposits, or have need of witnesses or seals, but trust persons with whom they stake their interests; and further, they generally leave unguarded what they have at their homes. Now these things tend to sobriety; but no man could approve those other habits of theirs — of always eating alone and of not having one common hour for all for dinner and breakfast instead of eating as each one likes; for eating in the other way is more conducive to a social and civic life.

54 For exercise they approve most of all of rubbing;a and among other ways, they smooth out their bodies through means of smooth sticks of ebony. Their funerals are simple and their mounds small. But, contrary to their simplicity in general, they like to adorn themselves; for they wear apparel embroidered with gold, and use ornaments set with precious stones, and wear gay-coloured linen garments, and are accompanied with sun-shades; for, since they esteem beauty, they practise everything that can beautify their appearance. Further, they respect alike virtue and truth; and therefore they give no precedence even to the age of old men, unless these are also superior in wisdom. They p91marry many wives, whom they purchase from their parents, and they get them in exchange for a yoke of oxen, marrying some of them for the sake of prompt obedience and the others for the sake of pleasure and numerous offspring; but if the husband does not force them to be chaste, they are permitted to prostitute themselves. 710 No one wears a garland when he makes sacrifice or burns incense or pours out a libation; neither do they cut the throat of the victim, but strangle it, in order that it may be given to the god in its entirety and not mutilated. Anyone caught guilty of false-witness has his hands and feet cut off, and anyone who maims a person not only suffers in return the same thing, but also has his hands cut off; and if he causes the loss of a hand or an eye of a craftsman, he is put to death. But although Megasthenes says that no Indian uses slaves, Onesicritus declares that slavery is peculiar to the Indians in the country of Musicanus, and tells what a success it is there, just as he mentions many other successes of this country, speaking of it as a country excellently governed.

55 Now the care of the king's person is committed to women, who also are purchased from their fathers; and the body-guards and the rest of the military force are stationed outside the gates. And a woman who kills a king when he is drunk receives as her reward the privilege of consorting with his successor; and their children succeed to the throne. Again, the king does not sleep in daytime; and even at night he is forced to change his bed from time to time because of the plots against him. Among the non-military departures he makes from his palace, one is that to the courts, where he spends p93the whole day hearing cases to the end, none the less even if the hour comes for the care of his person. This care of his person consists of his being rubbed with sticks of wood, for while he is hearing the cases through, he is also rubbed by four men who stand around him and rub him. A second departure is that to the sacrifices. A third is that to a kind of Bacchic chase wherein he is surrounded by women, and, outside them, by the spear-bearers. The road is lined with ropes; and death is the penalty for anyone who passes inside the ropes to the women; and they are preceded by drum-beaters and gong-carriers. The king hunts in the fenced enclosures, shooting arrows from a platform in his chariot (two or three armed women stand beside him), and also in the unfenced hunting-grounds from an elephant; and the women ride partly in chariots, partly on horses, and partly on elephants, and they are equipped with all kinds of weapons, as they are when they go on military expeditions with the men.

56 Now these customs are very novel as compared with our own, but the following are still more so. For example, Megasthenes says that the men who inhabit the Caucasus have intercourse with the women in the open and that they eat the bodies of their kinsmen; and that the monkeys are stone-rollers, and, haunting precipices, roll stones down upon their pursuers; and that most of the animals which are tame in our country are wild in theirs. And he mentions horses with one horn and the head of a deer; and reeds, some straight up thirty fathoms in length, 711 and others lying flat on the ground fifty fathoms, and so large that some are three cubits and others six in diameter.

p95 57 But Megasthenes, going beyond all bounds to the realm of myth, speaks of people five spans long and three spans81 long, some without nostrils, having instead merely two breathing orifices above their mouths; and he says that it is the people three spans long that carry on war with the cranes (the war to which Homer82 refers) and with the partridges, which are as large as geese; and that these people pick out and destroy the eggs of the cranes, which, he adds, lay eggs there; and that it is on this account that neither eggs nor, of course, young cranes are anywhere to be found; and that very often a crane escapes from the fights there with a bronze arrow-point in its body. Like this, also, are the stories of the people that sleep in their ears,83 and the wild people, and other monstrosities. Now the wild people, he continues, could not be brought to Sandrocottus, for they would starve themselves to death; and they have their heels in front, with toes and flat of the foot behind; but certain mouthless people were brought to him, a gentle folk; and they live round the sources of the Ganges; and they sustain themselves by means of vapours from roasted meats and odours from fruits and flowers, since instead of mouths they have only breathing orifices; and they suffer pain when they breathe bad odours, and on this account can hardly survive, particularly in a camp. He says that the other peoples were described to him by the philosophers, who reported the Ocypodes,84 a people who run away faster than horses; and Enotocoetae,85 who have ears that extend to their feet, so that they can sleep in them, and are strong enough to pluck up trees and to break bowstrings; and another people, p97Monommati,86 with dog's ears, with the eye in the middle of the forehead, with hair standing erect, and with shaggy breasts; and that the Amycteres87 eat everything, including raw meat, and live but a short time, dying before old age; and the upper lip protrudes much more than the lower. Concerning the Hyperboreans who live a thousand years he says the same things as Simonides and Pindar and other myth-tellers. The statement of Timagenes is also a myth, that brass rained down from the sky in brazen drops and was swept down.88 But Megasthenes is nearer the truth when he says that the rivers carry down gold-dust and that part of it is paid as a tax to the king; for this is also the case in Iberia.89

58 Speaking of the philosophers, Megasthenes says that those who inhabit the mountains hymn the praises of Dionysus and point out as evidences90 the wild grape-vine, which grows in their country alone, and the ivy, laurel, myrtle, box-tree, and other evergreens, no one of which is found on the far side of the Euphrates except a few in parks, which can be kept alive only with great care; 712 and that the custom of wearing linen garments, mitres, and gay-coloured garments, and for the king to be attended by gong-carriers and drum-beaters on his departures from the palace, are also Dionysiac; but the philosophers in the plains worship Heracles. Now these statements of Megasthenes are mythical and refuted by many writers, and particularly those about the vine and wine; for much of Armenia, and the whole of Mesopotamia, and the part of Media p99next thereafter, extending as far as Persis and Carmania, are on the far side of the Euphrates; and a large part of the country of each of these tribes is said to have good vines and good wine.

59 Megasthenes makes another division in his discussion of the philosophers, asserting that there are two kinds of them, one kind called Brachmanes91 and the other Garmanes;92 that the Brachmanes, however, enjoy fairer repute, for they are more in agreement in their dogmas; and that from conception, while in the womb, the children are under the care of learned men, who are reputed to go to the mother and the unborn child, and, ostensibly, to enchant them to a happy birth, but in truth to give prudent suggestions and advice; and that the women who hear them with the greatest pleasure are believed to be the most fortunate in their offspring; and that after the birth of children different persons, one after another, succeed to the care of them, the children always getting more accomplished teachers as they advance in years; and that the philosophers tarry in a grove in front of the city in an enclosure merely commensurate with their needs, leading a frugal life, lying on straw mattresses and skins, abstaining from animal food and the delights of love, and hearkening only to earnest words, and communicating also with anyone who wishes to hear them; and that the hearer is forbidden either to talk or to cough or even to spit; and if he does, he is banished from association with them for that day as a man who has no control over himself; and that, after having lived in this way for thirty-seven years, they retire, each man to his own possessions, where they live more freely and under less restraint, p101wearing linen garments, ornaments of gold in moderation in their ears and on their hands, and partake of meats of animals that are of no help to man in his work, but abstain from pungent and seasoned food; and that they marry as many wives as possible, in order to have numerous children, for from many wives the number of earnest children93 would be greater; and, since they have no servants, it is necessary for them to provide for more service from children — the service that is nearest at hand; but that the Brachmanes do not share their philosophy with their wedded wives, for fear, in the first place, that they might tell some forbidden secret to the profane if they become corrupt, and, secondly, that they might desert them if they became earnest, for no person who has contempt for pleasure and toil, and likewise for life and death, is willing to be subject to another; and that the earnest man and the earnest woman are such persons; 713 and that they converse more about death than anything else, for they believe that the life here is, as it were, that of a babe still in the womb, and that death, to those who have devoted themselves to philosophy, is birth into the true life, that is, the happy life; and that they therefore discipline themselves most of all to be ready for death; and that they believe that nothing that happens to mankind is good or bad, for otherwise some would not be grieved and others delighted by the same things, both having dream-like notions, and that the same persons cannot at one time be grieved and then in turn change and be delighted by the same things. As for the opinions of the Brachmanes about the natural world, Megasthenes says that some of their opinions indicate mental p103simplicity, for the Brachmanes are better in deeds than in words, since they confirm most of their beliefs through the use of myths; and that they are of the same opinion as the Greeks about many things; for example, their opinion that the universe was created94 and is destructible, as also the Greeks assert, and that it is spherical in shape,95 and that the god96 who made it and regulates it pervades the whole of it; and that the primal elements of all things else are different, but that water was the primal element of all creation; and that, in addition to the four elements, there is a fifth natural element of which the heavens and the heavenly bodies are composed; and that the earth is situated in the centre of the universe. And writers mention similar opinions of the Brachmanes about the seed97 and the soul, as also several other opinions of theirs. And they also weave in myths, like Plato, about the immortality of the soul and the judgments in Hades and other things of this kind. So much for his account of the Brachmanes.

60 As for the Garmanes, he says that the most honourable of them are named Hylobii98 and that they live in forests, subsisting on leaves and wild fruits, clothed with the bark of trees, and abstaining from wine and the delights of love; and that they communicate with the kings, who through messengers inquire about the causes of things and through the Hylobii worship and supplicate the Divinity; and that, after the Hylobii, the physicians are second in p105honour, and that they are, as it were, humanitarian philosophers, men who are of frugal habits but do not live out of doors, and subsist upon rice and barley-groats, which are given to them by everyone of whom they beg or who offers them hospitality; and that through sorceryb they can cause people to have numerous offspring, and to have either male or female children; and that they cure diseases mostly through means of cereals, and not through means of medicaments; and that, among their medicaments, their ointments and their poultices are most esteemed, but that the rest of their remedies have much in them that is bad; and that both this class and the other practise such endurance, both in toils and in perseverance, that they stay in one posture all day long without moving;99 and that there are also diviners and enchanters, 714 who are skilled both in the rites and in the customs pertaining to the deceased, and go about begging alms from village to village and from city to city; and that there are others more accomplished and refined than these, but that even these themselves do not abstain from the common talk about Hades, insofar as it is thought to be conducive to piety and holiness; and that women, as well as men, study philosophy with some of them, and that the women likewise abstain from the delights of love.

61 Aristobulus says that he saw two of the sophists at Taxila, both Brachmanes; and that the elder had had his head shaved but that the younger had long hair, and that both were followed by disciples; and that when not otherwise engaged they spent their time in the market-place, being honoured as counsellors and being authorized to take as a gift any merchandise they wished; and p107that anyone whom they accosted poured over them sesame oil, in such profusion that it flowed down over their eyes; and that since quantities of honey and sesame were put out for sale, they made cakes of it and subsisted free of charge; and that they came up to the table of Alexander, ate dinner standing, and taught him a lesson in endurance by retiring to a place near by, where the elder fell to the ground on his back and endured the sun's rays and the rains (for it was now raining, since the spring of the year had begun); and that the younger stood on one leg holding aloft in both hands a log about three cubits in length, and when one leg tired he changed the support to the other and kept this up all day long; and that the younger showed a far greater self-mastery than the elder; for although the younger followed the king a short distance, he soon turned back again towards home, and when the king went after him, the man bade him to come himself if he wanted anything of him; but that the elder accompanied the king to the end, and when he was with him changed his dress and mode of life; and that he said, when reproached by some, that he had completed the forty years of discipline which he had promised to observe; and that Alexander gave his children a present.

62 Aristobulus mentions some novel and unusual customs at Taxila: those who by reason of poverty are unable to marry off their daughters, lead them forth to the market-place in the flower of their age to the sound of both trumpets and drums (precisely the instruments used to signal the call to battle), thus assembling a crowd; and to any man who comes forward they first expose her rear parts up p109to the shoulders and then her front parts, and if she pleases him, and at the same time allows herself to be persuaded, on approved terms, he marries her; and the dead are thrown out to be devoured by vultures; and to have several wives is a custom common also to others.100 And he further says that he heard that among certain tribes wives were glad to be burned up along with their deceased husbands, and that those who would not submit to it were held in disgrace; and this custom is also mentioned by other writers.101

63 Onesicritus says that he himself was sent to converse with these sophists; 715 for Alexander had heard that the people always went naked and devoted themselves to endurance, and that they were held in very great honour, and that they did not visit other people when invited, but bade them to visit them if they wished to participate in anything they did or said; and that therefore, such being the case, since to Alexander it did not seem fitting either to visit them or to force them against their will to do anything contrary to their ancestral customs, he himself was sent; and that he found fifteen men at a distance of twenty stadia from the city, who were in different postures, standing or sitting or lying naked and motionless till evening, and that they then returned to the city; and that it was very hard to endure the sun, which was so hot that at midday no one else could easily endure walking on the ground with bare feet.

64 Onesicritus says that he conversed with one of these sophists, Calanus, who accompanied the king as far as Persis and died in accordance with the p111ancestral custom, being placed upon a pyre and burned up.102 He says that Calanus happened to be lying on stones when he first saw him; that he therefore approached him and greeted him; and told him that he had been sent by the king to learn the wisdom of the sophists and report it to him, and that if there was no objection he was ready to hear his teachings; and that when Calanus saw the mantle and broad-brimmed hat and boots he wore, he laughed at him and said: "In olden times the world was full of barley-meal and wheaten-meal, as now of dust; and fountains then flowed, some with water, others with milk and likewise with honey, and others with wine, and some with olive oil; but, by reason of his gluttony and luxury, man fell into arrogance beyond bounds. But Zeus, hating this state of things, destroyed everything and appointed for man a life of toil. And when self-control and the other virtues in general reappeared, there came again an abundance of blessings. But the condition of man is already close to satiety and arrogance, and there is danger of destruction of everything in existence." And Onesicritus adds that Calanus, after saying this, bade him, if he wished to learn, to take off his clothes, to lie down naked on the same stones, and thus to hear his teachings; and that while he was hesitating what to do, Mandanis,103 who was the oldest and wisest of the sophists, rebuked Calanus as a man of arrogance, and that too after censuring arrogance himself; and that Mandanis called him104 and said that he commended the king because, although busied with the government of so great an p113empire, he was desirous of wisdom; for the king was the only philosopher in arms that he ever saw, and that it was the most useful thing in the world if those men were wise 716 who have the power of persuading the willing, and forcing the unwilling, to learn self-control; but that he might be pardoned if, conversing through three interpreters, who, with the exception of language, knew no more than the masses, he should be unable to set forth anything in his philosophy that would be useful; for that, he added, would be like expecting water to flow pure through mud!c

65 At all events, all he said, according to Onesicritus, tended to this, that the best teaching is that which removes pleasure and pain from the soul; and that pain and toil differ, for the former is inimical to man and the latter friendly, since man trains the body for toil in order that his opinions may be strengthened, whereby he may put a stop to dissensions and be ready to give good advice to all, both in public and in private; and that, furthermore, he had now advised Taxiles to receive Alexander, for if he received a man better than himself he would be well treated, but if inferior, he would improve him. Onesicritus says that, after saying this, Mandanis inquired whether such doctrines were taught among the Greeks; and that when he answered that Pythagoras taught such doctrines, and also bade people to abstain from meat, as did also Socrates and Diogenes, and that he himself had been a pupil of Diogenes, Mandanis replied that he regarded the Greeks as sound-minded if, but that they were wrong in one respect, in that they preferred custom to nature; for otherwise, Mandanis said, p115they would not be ashamed to go naked, like himself, and live on frugal fare; for, he added, the best house is that which requires the least repairs. And Onesicritus goes on to say that they inquire into numerous natural phenomena, including prognostics, rains, droughts, and diseases; and that when they depart for the city they scatter to the different market-places; and whatever they chance upon anyone carrying figs or bunches of grapes, they get fruit from that person as a free offering; but that if it is oil, it is poured down over them and they are anointed with it; and that the whole of a wealthy home is open to them, even to the women's apartments, and that they enter and share in meals and conversation; and that they regard disease of the body as a most disgraceful thing; and that he who suspects disease in his own body commits suicide through means of fire, piling a funeral pyre; and that he anoints himself, sits down on the pyre, orders it to be lighted, and burns without a motion.

66 Nearchus speaks of the sophists as follows: That the Brachmanes engaged in affairs of state and attend the kings as counsellors; but that the other sophists investigate natural phenomena; and that Calanus is one of these; and that their wives join them in the study of philosophy; and that the modes of life of all are severe. As for the customs of the rest of the Indians, he declares as follows: That their laws, some public and some private, are unwritten, and that they contain customs that are strange as compared with those of the other tribes; for example, 717 among some tribes the virgins are set before all as a prize for the man who wins the victory in a fist-fight, so that they may marry the victor without dowry; and p117among other tribes different groups cultivate the crops in common on the basis of kinship, and, when they collect the produce, they each carry off a load sufficient for sustenance during the year, but burn the remainder in order to have work to do thereafter and not be idle. Their weapons, he says, consist of bow and arrows, the latter three cubits long, or a javelin, and a small shield and a broad sword three cubits long; and instead of bridles they use nose-bands, which differ but slightly from a muzzle;105 and the lips of their horses have holes pierced through them by spikes.106

67 Nearchus, in explaining the skill of the Indians in handiwork, says that when they saw sponges in use among the Macedonians they made imitations by sewing tufts of wool through and through with hairs and light cords and threads, and that after compressing them into felt they drew out the inserts and dyed the sponge-like felt with colours; and that makers of strigils and of oil-flasks quickly arose in great numbers; and that they write missives on linen cloth that is very closely woven, though the other writers say that they make no use of written characters; and that they use brass that is cast, and not the kind that is forged; and he does not state the reason, although he mentions the strange result that follows the use of the vessels made of cast brass, that when they fall to the ground they break into pieces like pottery. Among the statements made concerning India is also the following, that it is the custom, instead of making obeisance, to offer prayers to the kings and to all who are in authority and of superior rank. The p119country also produces precious stones, I mean crystals and anthraces of all kinds,107 as also pearls.

68 As an example of the lack of agreement among the historians, let us compare their accounts of Calanus. They all agree that he went with Alexander and that he voluntarily died by fire in Alexander's presence; but their accounts of the manner in which he was burned up are not the same, and neither do they ascribe his act to the same cause. Some state it thus: that he went along as a eulogiser of the king, outside the boundaries of India, contrary to the common custom of the philosophers there, for the philosophers attend the kings in India only, guiding them in their relations with the gods, as the Magi attend the Persian kings; but that at Pasargadae he fell ill, the first illness of his life, and despatched himself during his seventy-third year, paying no attention to the entreaties of the king; and that a pyre was made and a golden couch placed on it, and that he laid himself upon it, covered himself up, and was burned to death. But others state it thus: that a wooden house was built, and that it was filled with leaves and that a pyre was built on its roof, and that, being shut in as he had bidden, after the procession which he had accompanied, flung himself upon the pyre and, 718 like a beam of timber, was burned up along with the house. But Megasthenes says that suicide is not a dogma among the philosophers, and that those who commit suicide are judged guilty of the impetuosity of youth; that some who are by nature hardy rush to meet a blow or over precipices; whereas others, who shrink from suffering, plunge into deep waters;108 p121and others, who are much suffering, hang themselves; and others, who have a fiery temperament, fling themselves into fire; and that such was Calanus, a man who was without self-control and a slave to the table of Alexander; and that therefore Calanus is censured, whereas Mandanis is commended; for when Alexander's messengers summoned Mandanis to visit the son of Zeus and promised that he would receive gifts if he obeyed, but punishment if he disobeyed, he replied that, in the first place, Alexander was not the son of Zeus, inasmuch as he was not ruler over even a very small part of the earth, and, secondly, that he had no need of gifts from Alexander, of which there was no satiety,109 and, thirdly, that he had no fear of threats, since India would supply him with food while he was alive, and when he died he would be released from the flesh wasted by old age and be translated to a better and purer life; and that the result was that Alexander commended him and acquiesced.

69 The following statements are also made by the historians: that the Indians worship Zeus and the Ganges River and the local deities. And when the king washes his hair, they celebrate a great festival and bring big presents, each man making rivalry in display of his own wealth. And they say that some of the ants that mine gold110 have wings; and that gold-dust is brought down by the rivers, as by the rivers in Iberia.111 And in the processions at the time of festivals many elephants are paraded, all adorned p123with gold and silver, as also many four-horse chariots and ox-teams; and then follows the army, all in military uniform; and then golden vessels consisting of large basins and bowls a fathom in breadth; and tables, high chairs, drinking-cups, and bath-tubs, all of which are made of Indian copper and most of them are set with precious stones — emeralds, beryls, and Indian anthraces;112 and also variegated garments spangled with gold, and tame bisons,113 leopards, and lions, and numbers of variegated and sweet-voiced birds. And Cleitarchus speaks of four-wheeled carriages on which large-leaved trees are carried, and of different kinds of tamed birds that cling to these trees, and states that of these birds the orion has the sweetest voice, but that the catreus, as it is called, has the most splendid appearance and the most variegated plumage; for its appearance approaches nearest that of the peacock. But one must get the rest of the description from Cleitarchus.

70 In classifying the philosophers, writers oppose to the Brachmanes the Pramnae, 719 a contentious and disputatious sect; and they say that the Brachmanes study natural philosophy and astronomy, but that they are derided by the Pramnae as quacks and fools; and that, of these, some are called "Mountain" Pramnae, others "Naked" Pramnae, and others "City" Pramnae or "Neighbouring" Pramnae; and that the "Mountain" Pramnae wear deer-skins, p125and carry wallets full of roots and drugs, pretending to cure people with these, along with witchery and enchantments and amulets; and that the "Naked" Pramnae, as their name implies, live naked, for the most part in the open air, practising endurance, as I have said before,114 for thirty-seven years; and that women associate with them but do not have intercourse with them; and that these philosophers are held in exceptional esteem.

71 They say that the "City" Pramnae wear linen garments and live in the city, or else out in the country, and go clad in the skins of fawns or gazelles; but that, in general, the Indians wear white clothing, white linen or cotton garments, contrary to the accounts of those who say that they wear highly coloured garments; and that they all wear long hair and long beards, and that they braid their hair and surround it with a head-band.

72 Artemidorus says that the Ganges River flows down from the Emoda mountains towards the south, and that when it arrives at the city Ganges it turns towards the east to Palibothra and its outlet into the sea. And he calls one of its tributaries Oedanes, saying that it breeds both crocodiles and dolphins. And he goes on to mention certain other things, but in such a confused and careless manner that they are not to be considered. But one might add to the accounts here given that of Nicolaüs Damascenus.

73 He says that at Antioch, near Daphnê, he chanced to meet the Indian ambassadors who had p127been despatched to Caesar Augustus; that the letter plainly indicated more than three ambassadors, but that only three had survived (whom he says he saw), but the rest, mostly by reason of the long journeys, had died; and that the letter was written in Greek on a skin; and that it plainly showed that Porus was the writer, and that, although he was ruler of six hundred kings, still he was anxious to be a friend to Caesar, and was ready, not only to allow him a passage through his country, wherever he wished to go, but also to co-operate with him in anything that was honourable. Nicolaüs says that this was the content of the letter to Caesar, and that the gifts carried to Caesar were presented by eight naked servants, who were clad only in loin-cloths besprinkled with sweet-smelling odours; and that the gifts consisted of the Hermes,115 a man who was born without arms, whom I myself have seen, and large vipers, and a serpent of ten cubits in length, and a river tortoise three cubits in length, and a partridge larger than a vulture; and they were accompanied also, according to him, by the man who burned himself up at Athens; 720 and that whereas some commit suicide when they suffer adversity, seeking release from the ills at hand, others do so when their lot is happy, as was the case with that man; for, he adds, although that man had fared as he wished up to that time, he thought it necessary then to depart this life, lest something untoward might happen to him if he tarried here; and that therefore he leaped upon the pyre with a laugh, his naked body anointed, wearing only a loin-cloth; and that the p129following words were inscribed on his tomb: "Here lies Zarmanochegas,116 an Indian from Bargosa, who immortalised himself in accordance with the ancestral customs of Indians."


The Editor's Notes:

53 On the caste system in India see "Caste" in Encyc. Britannica.

54 Perhaps the more natural interpretation of the Greek would be, "the farmers cultivate it for wages, on condition of receiving a fourth part of the produce," whether "wages" and "fourth part" are appositional, or "on condition of" means, as it might, "in addition to." But Diodorus Siculus (2.40.5) says, "the rentals of the country they pay to the king . . . but apart from the rental they pay a fourth part into the royal treasury"). Hence the translator agrees with Tozer (Selections from Strabo, p317), who quotes Lassen (Indische Alterthumskunde II, p721).

55 The so‑called "must" (frenzied male) elephant discharges an abundance of dark oily matter from two pores in the forehead (see "Elephant" in Encyc. Britannica). "True, on occasion male elephants get into the stage called musth, the symptoms of which, and possibly the cause, are certain head glands. Musth has no connection with sex, although this is commonly thought to be the case" (Major A. W. Smith, Atlantic Monthly, November 1928, p632).

56 On this clause see critical note.

The critical note to the Greek text (ἄγεσθαι δ᾽ ὑπὸ ζυγὸν ὡς καὶ καμήλους) reads:

ὡς, Jones inserts from conj. of Tzschucke and Groskurd; Corais emends καὶ καμήλους to ἀχαλίνους ("without bridles"); Kramer and Meineke merely place an asterisk before the two words.

57 § 41 above.

58 A species of the Spalacidae.

59 Or "baggage."

60 See critical note.

The critical note to the Greek text (ἐν θριγγοῖς) reads:

Instead of θριγγοῖς, CDEFhisw read θρύοις ("rushes"); x reads θριγγίοις, and Corais θριγκοῖς.

61 Apparently of the genus Trichiuridae (cutlass fish), or Engraulidae (small herring-like fish used for pickling and sauces).

62 Apparently of the genus Mugilidae (grey mullets).

63 The dolphin, however, is a mammal, not a fish.

64 Of the genus Caridea (shrimp, prawns, and the like).

65 "A mountain" is unintelligible. The only plausible emendations yield "the mountains" or "the Uri" (a people mentioned by Pliny 6.20, 23).º See critical note.

The critical note to the Greek text (μέχρι ὄρους) reads:

For ὄρους, Groskurd conj. τῶν ὀρῶν, Corais Οὔρων.

66 i.e. of political and military officials.

67 The "city commissioners" (ἀστύνομοι) at Athens (ten in number) had charge of the police, the streets, and the public works.

68 i.e. the market commissioners.

69 i.e. when the inundations destroyed the landmarks.

70 See § 40 above.

71 i.e. partly as advisers, partly as spies (Tozer, op. cit., p320).

72 i.e. to their relatives.

73 i.e. "the stamp impressed on weights and measures," which were "tested every six months" (Tozer, op. cit., p320, quoting Lassen, op. cit., II p572).

74 i.e. the taxpayer who cheats the government.

75 Meineke emends the Greek word for "prices" to that for "walls" (see critical note), thus making "walls, market-places, harbours, and temples" in apposition with "public works."

The critical note to the Greek text (τῶν δημοσίων ἐπισκευῆς, τιμῶν τε καὶ ἀγορᾶς καὶ λιμένων καὶ ἱερῶν) reads:

τιμῶν, Meineke (following conj. of Kramer), emends to τειχῶν.

76 i.e. the elephants.

77 i.e. of royal ownership.

78 i.e. before they are used in battle.

79 But cf. § 67 (below).

80 "Arrack" is the name of this beverage.

81 About 22½ inches.

82 Iliad 3.6.

83 Cf. 2.1.9.

84 Swift-footed.

85 i.e. men that sleep in their ears.

86 i.e. one-eyed.

87 "People without noses."

88 i.e. by rivers.

89 See 3.2.8.

90 i.e. evidences of his former presence there (see 11.5.5).

91 Brahmans.

92 Sramans.

93 Tozer (Selections, note ad loc.) interprets τὰ σπουδαῖα to mean the number of "their comforts."

94 i.e. therefore, not everlasting (see Aristotle, Cael. 1.11).

95 See 1.1.20 and footnote.

96 Brahma.

97 "They supposed the Creator to have dropped into the water a seed, from which the world-egg sprang" (Tozer, p327, quoting Larsen).

98 Forest-dwellers (in 16.2.39 called Gymno-sophists).

99 Cf. §§ 61, 63 (below).

100 See § 59 (above).

101 See § 30 (above); and cf. Diodorus Siculus 19.33.º

102 See end of this paragraph.

103 By Arrian, Alexander, 7.2, and Plutarch, Alexander 8, 65,º called "Dandamis."

104 Onesicritus.

105 i.e. the horses are controlled by the nose with a halter-like contrivance rather than by the mouth with bridles.

106 i.e. spikes, or raised points, inside the nose-bands.

107 e.g. carbuncles, rubies, garnets.

108 i.e. drown themselves.

109 Or perhaps, "for which he had no longing" (see critical note).

The critical note to the Greek text (ὧν οὐδεὶς κόρος) reads:

ὧν, all MSS. except moz, which read . Kramer conj. πόθος for κόρος, citing Arrian 7.2.3.

110 Cp. §§ 37 and 44 (above).

111 See 3.2.8.

112 See note on "anthraces," § 68 (above).

113 Aurochs.

114 §§ 60 and 61 (above).

115 So‑called from the fact that Hermes was usually represented as a small god, and sometimes without hands or feet (see Herodotus 2.51). At Athens any four-cornered pillar ending in a head or bust was called "a Hermes."

116 The spelling of the name is doubtful. Dio Cassius (54.9) refers to the same man as "Zarmarus" (see critical note).

The critical note to the Greek text (Ζαρμανοχηγὰς) reads:

Ζαρμανοχάνης x, Ζάρμανος χήγαν w and Corais.


Thayer's Notes:

a A form of physical therapy also used by the Greeks and Romans, very commonly prescribed for example by Celsus; for a good overview of the practice, see that author's De Medicina, II.14.

b There seems to be no good reason for translating "sorcery". The Greek text is δύνασθαι δὲ καὶ πολυγόνους ποιεῖν καὶ ἀρρενογόνους καὶ θηλυγόνους διὰ φαρμακευτικῆς. Now φαρμακευτική can sometimes mean herb-sorcery, the line between witchcraft and herbal medicine always being rather blurred: see further on, § 1.70, yet notice there that "drugs" renders φαρμάκων, and "witchery" actually occurs in the Greek text, as γοητεία. Here, in the very next few words, Strabo goes on to use φαρμάκων twice, very unambiguously to mean drugs; and Prof. Jones has translated "medicaments".

c As a former professional interpreter, I couldn't agree more.

"Three interpreters", when you would think after all that one would suffice, clearly indicates that Mandanis and Onesicritus were communicating by what is called "relay interpreting": when no interpreter can be found who speaks both languages, one can work around the problem by finding a chain of interpreters, the shorter the better, who can get the conversation across; in this case, say, one guy who speaks Punjabi and Sanskrit, a second who speaks Sanskrit and Persian, a third Persian and Greek. The quality of the communication is decreased by the sum of each interpreter's approximations and errors: by the time you get thru a three-interpreter relay, yes, it's like talking thru mud.

But more importantly, Mandanis points out that intepreters know their languages — but don't often have a proper understanding of the underlying subject matter they're called to interpret: and this causes horrific errors and ambiguities even when just one interpreter is involved; more mud, in sum. Back in my own professional days, I would often have to point out to prospective clients that to get decent results out of me, they'd be wise, before I ever saw the party they wanted me to interpret for, to give me at least a basic course in the subject matter: after all, they were the experts, and I was not. Some clients understood immediately; others I got to see the light; the third group were fools ("Just translate what's in front of you") and I didn't take them on; no doubt they went out and found someone giving themselves out as an interpreter, blissfully unaware of the problem (or very hungry); on at least one occasion I know they did, because months later I was called on to fix the mess!


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