Thomas Stanley, translator (1665) Claudius Aelianus His Various History. Book VII (pages 144-155)


Various History.

The Seventh Book.


Of Semiramis, and how she obtained the Assyrian Empire.

Of Semiramis the Assyrian several things are related.1 She was the fairest of Women, yet neglected her Beauty. When she came to the King of Assyria,2 whether she was summoned through the renown of her Beauty, as soon as he saw her, he fell in love with her. She requested of the King that he would grant her a Royal Robe, and that she might have the command of Asia five daies, and the ordering of all things during that time. She failed not of her request. But as soon as the King had seated her upon the Throne, and that she knew all things were at her power and disposal, she commanded the Guard to kill the King, and so possessed herself of the Assyrian Empire. Dinon3 relates this.

Chap. II.

Of the Luxury of Strato and Nicocles.

Strato the Sidonian is said to have studied to exceed all men in Luxury and Magnificence. Theopompus the Chian compares his life to the Feasting of the Phæacians, to which Homer according to his great wit, as he useth to doe, highly magnified.4 This man had not a single Musician at his Feast to delight him,5 but there waited many Women-Musicians, and players on the Flute, and beautiful Curtezans, and Women-dancers. He emulated exceedingly Nicocles the Cyprian, and Nicocles him. This emulation was about nothing serious, but concerning the things we spoke of. For each of them hearing from those who came from the other what was done there, emulated and endeavoured to exceed the other. But this lasted not alwaies, for both died violent deaths.

Chap. III.

A Consolatory Saying of Aristippus.

Aristippus, to some of his friends being exceedingly afflicted, besides many other Consolatory speeches, said thus at first to them ; "I come to you not as to condole with you, but to suppress your grief."6

Chap. IV.

Of the praise of a Mill.

Pittacus exceedingly commended a Mill, making an Encomium upon it, for that many persons may exercise themselves in a little compass. There was a common Song hence called the Mill-Song.7

Chap. V.

Of the hand-labour of Ulysses and Achilles in many things.

Even Laertes was by his Son surprized labouring with his hands, and pruning a Tree when he was very old. Ulysses likewise confesseth that he knew many things and how to doe them with his own hands.

There is not any man alive so good At making fires, & cleaving out the wood.

He also quickly made a little Ship by his own labour, without any Ship-wright. And Achilles himself, who was the third from Jupiter, did cut the meat and dress the Supper for the Embassdours that came from the Achæans.

Chap. VI.

The answer of a Scythian concerning Cold.

On a time there falling a great Snow, the King of the Scythians8 asked one whom he saw walk naked, whether he were not frozen. He again asked the King whether his Forehead were not frozen. To which he answering, No; the other replied, "Neither am I, for I am Forehead all over."

Chap. VII.

Of Demosthenes his Watchfulneß.

Pytheas scoffed at Demosthenes son of Demosthenes, saying that his Arguments smelt of the Lamp, because he sat up all the night, meditating and considering what he should say when he was to come before the Athenians.9

Chap. VIII.

Of Alexander's grief at Hephæstion's Death.

When Hephaestion died, Alexander cast into the Pyre his Arms, and Gold and Silver, to be burnt with the dead body ; as also a Vest of great esteem amongst the Persians. He likewise caused all the chief Souldiers to be shaved, himself acting an Homerical passion, and imitating his Achilles. But he did more eagerly and fiercely, laying waste the Castle of the City Ecbatana, and throwing down the Wall. As to the shaving of his Hair, he did in my opinion like a Greek : but in throwing down the Walls, he exprest his mourning like a Barbarian. He also changed his Vest, giving all over to grief, love and tears.

Hephæstion died at Ecbatana. It is reported that these things were intended for the Burial of Hephæstion, but that Alexander used them dying, before the mourning was over for the young man.

Chap. IX.

Of a Modest Woman.

Was this not a singular token of Modesty? To me it seems such. The Wife of Phocion wore Phocion's Vest, and required not a * Crocotum, or ** Tarentine, or Cloak, or Mantle, or Veil, or Hood, or coloured Robes. But she first put on Modesty, and then such things as were at hand.

Chap. X.

Of the Wife of Socrates.

Xanthippe, wife of Socrates, refusing to put on his Vest, so to goe to a publick Spectacle, he said, "Do you not perceive that you goe not to see, but rather to be seen?"10

Chap. XI.

Of the Shoes of the Roman Women.

Of the Roman Women many have used to wear the same Shoes as Men.

Chap. XII.

An Apophthegm of Lysander or Philip concerning Perjury.

Children must be cheated by Dice, Men by Oaths. Some ascribe this Saying to Lysander, others to Philip the Macedonian. But which soever it was, it is not well said, in my opinion. Neither is it perhaps strange that Lysander and I differ in our opinions, for he was a Tyrant : but my mind may be guess'd by this, that I have declared that this Saying pleaseth me not.

Chap. XIII.

Of the Tolerance of Agesilaus.

Agesilaus a Lacedemonian, now an old man, very often went forth without Shoes and Coat, in his Mantle, and that in the Winter mornings. And when a certain person reprehended him, that he did more youthfully then became his age, he answered, "But the young Citizens cast their eyes on me, as Colts on their Sires."

Chap. XIV.

Of Philosophers that went to War, and administered Civil Government.

Were not the Philosophers skilful in Warlike affairs? To me they seem such. For the Tarentines chose Archytas their General six times. Melissus was their Admiral. Socrates fought thrice, and Plato himself at Tanagra, and at Corinth. The Warlike actions and Generalship of Xenophon many celebrate ; and he himself acknowledgeth, in his Discourses concerning Cyrus. Dio son of Hipparinus subverted the Tyranny of Dionysius : and Epaminondas, being made chief Commander of the Bæotians, at Leuctra overcame the Lacedemonians, and was chief among the Romans and Grecians. Zeno much advantaged the Athenian State, whilest he was with Antigonus. For there is no difference if a man benefits others, whether it be by his Wisedome or Arms.

Chap. XV.

How the Mitylenæans revenged themselves upon their revolted Confederates.

The Mitylenæans being absolute Masters of the Sea, imposed as a punishment upon their Confederates which had revolted from them, That they should not teach their children to read, nor suffer them to be instructed in any Learning ; conceiving that to be bred Ignorantly and Illiterately was of all punishments the greatest.

Chap. XVI.

Of Rome, Remus, Romulus, and Servia.

Rome was built by Remus and Romulus, sons of Mars and Servia. She was of the Race of Æneas.11

Chap. XVII.

Of Eudoxus coming to Sicily.

When Eudoxus came to Sicily, Dionysius largely congratulated his arrival. But ne neither flattering nor concealing anything said, "I come as to a good Host with whom Plato liveth." Declaring that he came not for his sake, but for the others.

Chap. XVIII.

That the Ægyptians are courageous in Torments ; and of the Indian Women.

They say that the Ægyptians behave themselves stoutly in Torments. And that an Ægyptian being put to torture, will sooner die then confess the truth. Amongst the Indians, the Wives resolutely goe to the same fire with their dead Husbands. The Wives of the man contest ambitiously about it ; and she to whom the Lot falls is burned with him.

Chap. XIX.

Of Solon's Stratagem against the Megareans, and how afterwards he overcame them by Argument.

Solon was made General in the Warre concerning Salamis. Having taken two Megarean Ships, he manned them with Athenian Souldiers, and caused them to put on the Enemies Armour, and passing undiscovered slew many of the Megareans unarmed.

He also overcame them by Reason ; not by specious words, but weight of Argument. For causing some Monuments of the dead to be opened, he shewed that they were all Athenians, being laid towards the West, according to the manner of their Country ; for the Megareans used to be buried disorderly, and as it happened.12 The Lacedemonians judged the Controversie.

Chap. XX.

Of an old man, a Cean, that Died his Hair.

There came to Lacedemon a Cean, an old man, conceited of himself and ashamed of his age : For which reason he endeavoured to conceal the grayness of his hair by Dying it. Coming in this manner before the Lacedemonians in publick, he declared his business. But Archidamus King of the Lacedemonians rising up, "What truth, said he, can this man speak, who doth not onely lie in his Heart, but in his Hair?" So he rejected what he had alledged, from his outward appearance arguing the unsoundness of his Mind.

Chap. XXI.

Of the sedulity and care of Cæsar and Pompey, to learn such things were are requisite to govern rightly.

Cæsar disdained not to frequent the School of Aristo, and Pompey that of Cratippus.13 For their great power did not make them despise those persons that might most advantage them ; and of these they had need notwithstanding their great Dignities. For, as it seems, they desired not so much to command, as to command well.

The End.


Stanley's notes are marked by glyphs (e.g., *); other notes are numbered.

1. Of the origins of Semiramis, there are several stories: that she was the daughter of the goddess Derceto; that she was base-born and working as a prostitute, etc.

2. Ninus.

3. Dinon was a historian of about the period of Philip of Macedon. Nothing remains of his work. Justin, I.1-2, says only that Ninus died (presumably of natural causes) and that Semiramis reigned in place of her son, also Ninus, because of his youth; and that she rigged herself up as a male because she was afraid that the Assyrians would not accept a female ruler. He ascribes to her the adoption of the turban and long robe that are still features of Persian dress; she wore them to conceal her sex, and ordered that her subjects also wear them, so that she would not appear out of place.

4. In the Odysssey, VIII.248 ff. Phaeacians, says their king, Alcinous, aren't good at boxing and games, but "are singularly fleet of foot and are excellent sailors. We are extremely fond of good dinners, music, and dancing; we also like frequent changes of linen, warm baths, and good beds; so now, please, some of you who are the best dancers set about dancing, that our guest on his return home may be able to tell his friends how much we surpass all other nations as sailors, runners, dancers, minstrels...."

5. Again alluding to the Odyssey; Alcinous had one singer, Demodokos, at dinner (though a lot of dancers, too).

6. Although trained by Socrates, Aristippus of Cyrene's philosophy differed considerably. He taught that grief and sadness were to be avoided and pleasure to be sought. See also Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Anyone who has been subjected to this particular form of sympathy can attest to its extraordinary unpleasantness, particularly when inflicted in the early stages of grief.

7. The words of which may be recorded in Plutarch's Banquet of the Seven Sages. In Holland's translation: "Grind mil, Grind; for even Pittacus the king of Great Mitylena, is a miller and grindeth." Pittacus is present at this banquet and utters not a word about this, so that presumably the two Pittacoi are different persons.

8. Aelian just writes "the King", which usually meant "the King of Persia" to the Greeks (much as when a modern English-speaker says "the Queen", he usually means "the Queen of England"). The naked man is "the Scythian". But it could be the King of the Scythians: who more likely to be talking to a naked Scythian?

9. Pytheas was an enemy of Demosthenes. His dubious morals allowed Demosthenes to retort to this charge that it might be so, but that his lamp and Pytheas's lamp lit very different activities.

* A thin Saffron-coloured Gown.

** A thin fringed or laced Gown. Hesych.

10. And then some wonder that Xanthippe was, or became, a notable shrew.

11. Only Aelian gives her name as Servia; she is usually, when named, called Rhea Sylvia.

12. This demonstration was meant to prove that the Megareans had no right to Salamis, because it had belonged to Athenians since ancient days. Diogenes Laertius, Life of Solon, says that the tombs faced east. Cf. V.14, where Aelian says that it was an Attic law that (at least some) bodies be buried facing west.

13. Aristo may be the same as Brutus's Platonic philosopher ("of the old Academy") Aristus; see Plutarch's Life of Brutus. Cratippus of Mitylene, a Peripatetic, also taught Cicero's son (see De officiis, passim).

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