Heracleides Criticus, Bios Ellados

Heracleides Criticus, Bios Ellados (formerly attributed to Dicaearchus, a student of Aristotle), in summary translation by Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941), from Pausanias and Other Greek Sketches (Macmillan 1900), a work in the public domain made available by the Internet Archive. Minor supplements by JBK in brackets. This text has 69 tagged references to 37 ancient places.
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§ 1  The road to Athens is a pleasant one, running between cultivated fields the whole way. The city itself is dry and ill supplied with water. The streets are nothing but miserable old lanes, the houses mean, with a few better ones among them. On his first arrival a stranger could hardly believe that this is the Athens of which he has heard so much. Yet he will soon come to believe that it is Athens indeed. A music hall, the most beautiful in the world, a large and stately theatre, a costly, remarkable, and far-seen sanctuary of Athena called the Parthenon rising above the theatre, strike the beholder with admiration. A temple of Olympian Zeus, unfinished but planned on an astonishing scale; three gymnasiums, the Academy, the Lyceum and Cynosarges, shaded with trees that spring from greensward; verdant gardens of philosophers; amusements and recreations; many holidays and a constant succession of spectacles; — all these the visitor will find in Athens.

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§ 2  The products of the country are priceless in quality but not too plentiful. However, the frequency of the spectacles and holidays makes up for the scarcity to the poorer sort, who forget the pangs of hunger in gazing at the shows and pageants. ... And indeed the neighboring cities are suburbs of Athens.

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§ 3  Every artist is sure of being welcomed with applause and of making a name; hence the city is crowded with stone statues.

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§ 4  Of the inhabitants some are Attic and some are Athenian. The former are gossiping, slanderous, given to prying into the business of strangers, fair and false. The Athenians are high-minded, straightforward, and staunch in friendship. The city is infested by a set of scribblers who worry visitors and rich strangers. When the people catches the rascals, it makes an example of them. The true-born Athenians are keen and critical auditors, constant in their attendance at plays and spectacles.

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§ 5  In short, Athens as far surpasses all other cities in the pleasures and conveniences of life as they surpass the country. But a man must beware of the courtesans, lest they lure him to ruin. The verses of Lysippus run thus:
"If you have not seen Athens, you're a stock;
If you have seen it and are not taken with it, you're an ass;
If you are glad to leave it, you're a pack-ass."

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§ 6  Thence to Oropus by Psaphis (more likely, Aphidna — "Daphnis" in ms is corrupt) and the sanctuary of Zeus Amphiaraus is a day's journey for a good walker. It is all up-hill, but the abundance and good cheer of the inns prevent the traveller from feeling the fatigue.

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§ 7  Oropus is a nest of hucksters. The greed of the custom-house officers here is unsurpassed, their roguery inveterate and bred in the bone. Most of the people are coarse and truculent in their manners, for they have knocked the decent members of the community on the head. They deny they are Boeotians, standing out for it that they are Athenians living in Boiotia. To quote the poet Xeno:
"All are custom-house officers, all are robbers. A plague on the Oropians!"

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§ 8  Thence to Tanagra is a hundred and thirty furlongs. The road runs through olive groves and woodlands: fear of highwaymen there is none at all. The city stands on high and rugged ground. Its aspect is white and chalky; but the houses with their porches and encaustic paintings give it a very pretty appearance The corn of the district is not very plentiful, but the wine is the best in Boeotia.

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§ 9  The people are well-to-do, but simple in their way of life. All are farmers, not artisans. They practise justice, good faith, and hospitality. To needy fellow-townsmen and to vagabonds they give freely of their substance, for meanness and covetousness are unknown to them. It is the safest city in all Boeotia for strangers to stay in; for the independent and industrious habits of the people have bred a sturdy downright hatred of knavery.

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§ 10  In this city I observed as little as might be of those unbridled impulses which are commonly the source of the greatest crimes. For where people have enough to live on, they do not hanker after lucre, so roguery can hardly show face among them.

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§ 11  Thence to Plataea is two hundred furlongs. The road is somewhat desolate and stony, and it rises up the slopes of Cithaeron, but it is not very unsafe. In the city, to quote the poet Posidippus,
"Two temples there are, a colonnade and old renown,
And the baths, and Sarabus's famous inn.
A desert most of the year, it is peopled at the time of the games."
The inhabitants have nothing to say for themselves except that they are Athenian colonists, and that the battle between the Greeks and the Persians was fought in their country.

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§ 12  Thence to Thebes is eighty furlongs. The road is through a flat the whole way. The city stands in the middle of Boeotia. Its circumference is seventy furlongs, its shape circular. The soil is dark. In spite of its antiquity the streets are new, because, as the histories tell us, the city has been thrice razed to the ground on account of the morose and overbearing character of the inhabitants.

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§ 13  It is excellent for the breeding of horses; it is all well-watered and green, and has more gardens than any other city in Greece. For two rivers flow through it, irrigating the plain below the city; and water is brought from the Cadmea in underground conduits which were made of old, they say, by Cadmus.

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§ 14  So much for the city. The inhabitants are high-spirited and wonderfully sanguine, but rash, insolent, and overbearing, ready to come to blows with any man, be he citizen or stranger. As for justice they set their face against it.

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§ 15  Business disputes are settled not by reason but by fisticuffs, and the methods of the prize-ring are transferred to courts of justice.

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§ 16  Hence lawsuits here last thirty years at the very least For if a man opens his lips in public on the law's delay and does not thereupon take hasty leave of Boeotia, he is waylaid by night and murdered by the persons who have no wish that lawsuits should come to an end. Murders are perpetrated on the most trifling pretexts.

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§ 17  Such are the men as a whole, though some worthy, high-minded, respectable persons are also to be found among them. The women are the tallest, prettiest, and most graceful in all Greece. [Sophocles testifies:
"Thebes, you say, of the seven-mouthed gates, The only place mortals give birth to gods."]

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§ 18  Their faces are so muffled up that only the eyes are seen. All of them dress in white.

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§ 19  Their yellow hair is tied up in a knot on the top of the head [which the locals call a lampadion (torch)]. They wear low purple shoes laced so as to show the bare feet.

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§ 20  In society their manners are Sicyonian rather than Boeotian. They have pleasing voices, while the voices of the men are harsh and deep.

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§ 21  Thebes city is one of the best places to pass the summer in, for it has gardens and plenty of cool water. Besides it is breezy, its aspect is verdant, and fruit and flowers abound. But it lacks timber, and is one of the worst places to winter in by reason of the rivers and the winds; for snow falls and there is much mud.

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§ 22  The poet Laon writes in praise of the Boeotians, but he does not speak the truth, the fact being that he was caught in adultery and let off lightly by the injured husband. He says:
"Love the Boeotian, and fly not Boeotia;
For the man is a good fellow, and the land is delightful."

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§ 23  From there to Anthedon is one hundred and sixty stades. The road, suitable for carriages, runs aslant through fields. The city, which is not large, stands on the shore of the Euboean sea. The market-place is all planted with trees and flanked by twin colonnades. Wine and fish abound, but corn is scarce due to the distressing state of the country.

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§ 24  The inhabitants are almost all seamen, getting their living by hooks and fish, but also by the purple shell, and by sponges, growing old on the beach among the seaweed and in their huts. They are all of a ruddy countenance and thin; the tips of their nails are worn away by reason of working constantly in the sea. Most of them being in addition ferrymen or boat-builders. Far from tilling the ground they do not even own it. They claim to be descendants of the marine Glaucus, who was admittedly a seafarer.

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§ 25  So much for Boeotia. As for Thespiae, it contains zeal for honors and fine statues, nothing else. The Boeotians have a saying about their national faults to the effect that greed lives in Oropus, envy in Tanagra, quarrelsomeness in Thespiae, insolence in Thebes, covetousness in Anthedon, curiosity in Coronea, braggery in Plataea, fever in Onchestus, and stupidity in Haliartus. These are the faults that have drained down into Boeotia as into a sink from the rest of Greece. To quote the verse of Pherecrates:
"If you have any sense, shun Boeotia."
So much for the land of the Boeotians.

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§ 26  From Anthedon to Chalcis is seventy furlongs. As far as Salganeus the road is level and easy, running between the sea on the one hand and a wooded and well-watered mountain of no great height on the other.

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§ 27  The city of Chalcis measures seventy furlongs in circumference. It is all hilly and shaded with trees. Most of the springs are salt, but there is one called Arethusa of which the water, though brackish, is wholesome, cool, and so abundant that it suffices for the whole city.

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§ 28  With public buildings such as gymnasiums, colonnades, sanctuaries, and theatres, besides paintings and statues, Chalcis is excellently provided, and the situation of the market-place for purposes of commerce is unsurpassed.

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§ 29  For the currents [from Boeotian Salganeus and the Euboean sea] meeting in the Euripus flow past the very walls of the harbour, and here there is a gate which leads straight into the market-place, a spacious area enclosed by colonnades. This proximity of the market-place to the harbour, and the ease with which cargoes can be unloaded, attract many ships to the port. Indeed the Euripus itself, with its double entrance, draws merchants to Chalcis.

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§ 30  The whole district is planted with olives, and the fisheries are productive. The people are Greek in speech as well as by birth. Devoted to learning, with a taste for travel and books, they bear their country's misfortunes with a noble fortitude. A long course of political servitude has not extinguished that inborn freedom of nature which has taught them to submit to the inevitable. To quote a verse of Philiscus: "Chalcis is a city of most worthy Greeks."

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§ 2.1  tr.JBK
The mountain called Pelion is large and wooded, with trees that are as fruitful as those in areas where they are being farmed. The biggest and most densely forested root of the mountain is 8 stadia distant from the city by sea, and 20 by land. The whole mountain is soft, covered with soil, and very fertile.

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§ 2.2  Every sort of thing grows in it, primarily beech and fir and maple, but also cypress and cedar. It has flowers as well including narcissus and corn-cockles.

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§ 2.3  There is also a plant to be found in the most barren parts, and a tree root, which seems to ward off dangerous snake-bites. It drives out some of the snakes from the territory in which it grows by virtue of its smell, while it disables others when they approach, making them fall into a stupor, and those that touch it are done it by its noxious smell. Such power it has,

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§ 2.4  but to humans it seems sweet, like the smell of blooming thyme, and those bitten by any kind of snake get well when it is given to them in wine.

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§ 2.5  The fruit of a thorny plant, similar to white myrtle, also grows on the mountain. Whoever grinds it with oil and rubs on his body, doesn't feel the worst winter, or very nearly, nor the burning heat of summer, because the salve, by thickening, prevents the outside air from penetrating into the body.

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§ 2.6  This fruit is rare and grows in gorges and steep places, so once you find it, if you find it, it won't be easy to get it and you risk falling from the rocks and being killed. Its power lasts up to a year, but over time it loses its effect.

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§ 2.7  Two rivers flow from the mountain, Krausindon and Brychon. The first waters the farmed fields lying beneath Pelion and the second, while it flows past the grove of Pelaia, flows out into the sea.

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§ 2.8  At the very tip of the mountain summit there is a cave, the so-called Cheironion, and a sanctuary of Akraean Zeus. At the rising of Sirius, when the heat is most extreme, the most prominent citizens and those in the prime of life selected by the priest, go up there wrapped in thick, new fleeces. This is how cold it gets on the mountain.

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§ 2.9  One side of the mountain adjoins Magnesia and Thessaly, the part turned toward Zephyr and the sunset; the other faces Athos and the Macedonian gulf, and the part turned toward Thessaly is all sloping and rough.

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§ 3.8  Let this be said in answer to those who do not accept Thessaly as part of Hellas, or the Thessalians, though they are the descendents of Hellen, as speaking Greek. And for those who define the border of Hellas as the outlet of Thessaly and Homolion in Magnesia, having completed the narration we end our speech.

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END
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