Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Hyperboreans - in the New York Public Library

Hyperborea. A region beyond the North Wind, or the place where Boreas blew. The legend is associated with that of Apollo. For 19 years he returned to this land, each time at the moment when the stars had completed another revolution in the sky and had returned to their original positions. Each night between the vernal equinox and the rising of the Pleiades he could be heard singing appropriate hymns and accompanying himself on the lyre.

After Apollo had massacred the Cyclopes, who had manufactured the thunderbolt used by Zeus to kill Apollo's son, Asclepius, Apollo hid the arrow he had reserved for revenge in the great round temple dedicated to him which had been built in the center of the principal Hyporean city. Some said that this arrow, which was enormous, had flown there of its own accord before forming the constellation of Sagittarius in the sky. A Hyperborean named Abasis traveled throughout the entire world borne by this arrow; he did not need to eat as this wondrous arrow provided all the nourishment which he needed.

Legend relates back to the founders of the Hyperborean race a certain number of practices connected with the cult of Apollo. Leto was supposedly born in this land and then returned to Delos to bear her own children. The sacred objects pertaining to Apollo which were venerated at Delos were said to have come from the Hyperborean land. On this subject we defer to Herodotus who wrote that these sacred objects had been entrusted by the Hyperboreans to their neighbours the Scythians who travelled towards the west until they reached the shores of the Adriatic, and then journeyed to the south, passing from town to town. They travelled to Dodona and then to Carystos in Euboea, and eventually reached Delos via Tenos.

Their country was represented – particularly after the Classical period – as an ideal one with a mild climate, inhabited by people with happy temperaments – a Utopian land. There, apparently, the sun produced two crops each year; the inhabitants had civilized customs and lived in the fields and sacred groves to great ages. When the old people considered that they had had a good life they threw themselves joyously into the sea from a high cliff with the heads garlanded with flowers and found a happy end in the waves. The Hyperboreans had a knowledge of magic; they were said to be able to travel in the air and find hidden treasure. Pythagoras was said to be an incarnation of Hyperborean Apollo.

From: "Hyperboreans" in The Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Pablo Grivale. Translated by T.B. Hopkins-Nunsmouth. 1919.

(As of the evening of the 25th, Thelonius and Henri have access to this piece.

Text excerpted from "Hyperboreans" in The Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Pierre Grimal. Translated by A.R. Maxwell-Hyslop. Blackwell Publishing, 1996. Adapted by da solomon.)

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