The Argonaut Epos and Bronze Age Economic History
The first part of this essay seeks to “decipher” the mythical component of the Argonaut epos and lay bare its underlying economic meaning. Stanford (1939: 181-82) makes clear that deciphering is required because:
[N]o genre of Greek poetry is entirely free from deliberate ambiguities, whether trivial puns, superstitious or sophisticated etymologies, cryptic oracles, diplomatic evasions, cunning and deceptive equivocations, humorous or cacemphatic doubles entendres, unconscious foreshadowings of catastrophe, allusive phrases, associative meanings and vagueness, or any other of the manifold devices of ambiguity in its wider sense. Simpler lyric poetry had least of it, drama most.
More specifically, as Bacon (1925: 65) aptly notes: “The Greek fantasy did not scorn the quest for riches or despise economic motives; it dissembled them.”
Then, in the second part, attention is given to the question of whether the trade pattern depicted in the epos is consistent with what is known about economic potentialities or, alternatively, is purely fictional. The ultimate objective is to use evidence from literary documents including even mythology to help bridge some of the gaps in our knowledge of commercial life in the second millennium BCE. In brief explanation of this unorthodox, for economists, source of data let me quote the apt remarks of Purcell (1985: 1) in his article about “Wine and Wealth in Ancient Italy”:
The nature of our evidence about economic production in the ancient world is such that we usually know far more about the cultural and intellectual repercussions of changes than we do about the changes themselves. So it is perverse to refuse to use the widest range of ancient cultural material in the attempt to shed light on the evolution of economic and social realities.
A bare-bones summary of the epos should suffice for the present. The action is set at a point in time prior to the Trojan War. Jason and his fellow Argonauts (termed “Minyans”) receive a commission from Pelias, the ruler of Iolkos (current Volos), in Thessaly (northern Greece) and sail off in the Argo to Kolchis in quest of the “Golden Fleece” (Pi. P. 4.69, 165; Hes. Th. 165). The destination, Kolchis (capital city Aia) is a land located at the extreme eastern shore of the Black Sea in the Georgia region (Boardman 1980: 254). After various adventures, Jason returns to Iolkos, with the Golden Fleece and Medea, the daughter of Aietes, the Kolchian ruler.
There are two rather obvious indications that Jason is a trader on a trading mission. First, Pelias speaks openly of Jason’s athlon or (aethlon) whose basic meaning is “activity carried out for a prize” (LSJ s.v.) or, in the language of commerce, a “commission.” Second, is the fact that Jason’s “son” is a trader. In the Iliad (7.470-73) we find Euneos “Ship-man,” the son of Jason and ruler of Lemnos (an island in the northeastern Aegean), selling wine to the Greek army before Troy. Business relationships in the ancient world were often expressed by means of metaphorical extensions of kinship terms. Thus, the word “son” might mean “son” or “servant” or “employee” or “agent” (Silver 1995: 50-3).
I. Analysis of the Epos
A. Nature of the Golden Fleece
We come immediately to the very heart of the myth: What is a Golden Fleece? The main competing answer to the one I propose below is that, as reported by Strabo, Appian, and several modern observers,gold was obtained from the gold-bearing rivers of Colchis by means of sheepskins. Strabo (11.2.19) maintains that the Kolchians collected gold dust by suspending fine-wooled fleeces in the Phasis; see also Ryder (1983: 146-47). Appian, a Roman historian of the second century CE, suggests that “Many streams issue from Caucasus bearing gold dust so fine as to be invisible. The inhabitants put sheepskins with shaggy fleece into the stream and thus collect the floating particles; and perhaps the golden fleece of Aeetes was of this kind” (quoted by Lordkipanidze 2001: 26). Lordkipanidze (2001: 29) adds the important point that
Furthermore, in the mountain regions of Western Georgia the technique of obtaining gold with the help of sheepskins … was preserved until recently. According to ethnographers’ descriptions, in Svaneti (i.e. a mountain region on the south-western slope of the Greater Caucasus from where the gold-bearing river Inguri flows): “gold is obtained by means of sheepskins. A sheepskin, stretched over a board or flattened in some other way was placed in the river, fixing it so as not to be carried away by the stream, with the fleece on the upper side. The soaked fleece trapped the gold particles… In 1984, the well-known traveller-experimentalist Tim Severin, who retraced the way of the Argonauts in a 20-oar boat, witnessed the obtaining of gold in Svaneti with the help of sheepskins…
This may well be the case but I believe that the argument presented below explains more of the available evidence. The reader must judge for herself.
Hoffman (1994: 36) suggests that “In economic terms ‘Golden Fleece’ joins wealth in metals (gold) with wealth in flocks (fleece), and these two commodities together constitute the basis of the pre-monetary economy.” But the Athenian orator Isocrates (436-338) was struck by the fascination with which men viewed porphyra “purple dye” and gold (Panath. 12.39; cited by Crane 1993: 131). Jenkins (1985: 123-24) adds that
There is, perhaps, no more concrete demonstration of the affinity between the finest textiles and objects of precious metal than in Homer, where time and time again the two commodities are coupled as the status trappings of aristocratic wealth. … The textile counterpart of gold was purple-dyed cloth. (Emphasis added)
The answer proposed here goes beyond mere commonalities or linkages in arguing that “golden fleece” (chryseion kôas) signifies wool or cloth or woolen garments that are dyed with murex-purple and then exchanged for gold.1 Before defending this proposition, it should be explained that purple dye was obtained from the hypobranchial gland in the mantle cavity of Murex and Thais (or related Purpura andNucella) marine snails (see Reese 1979-1980: 79). There were, of course, regional differences in the distribution of the different species and, hence, in the local availability of their characteristic dyes. (Reese 1979-1980: 81).
The defense of our interpretation of “golden fleece” begins with the report of the first century BCE Roman writer Varro (On Agriculture, II, i, 6) stating that flocks with valuable fleeces “like [those] of Atreus in Argos” were said to have “golden fleeces” (cited by Ryder 1983: 14). Euripides had earlier made this point in more dramatic fashion. When, in the Electra (700-10), Pan brought forth from the flocks of Atreus to the marketplace (agora) “a lamb bright-fleeced with the splendor of gold” the “herald” (keryx), here arguably meaning “auctioneer,” cried for all to behold the “awesome portent” (Way 1912; LSJ s.v. keryx).2 Thus, reading between the lines, a portent of wealth was to determine whether Atreus or Thyestes should become king (compare Lordkipanidze 2001: 3-4).3 “The one who holds the golden lamb must hold the kingship,” according to a scholia to Il. 2.105 (cited by Faraone 1992: n. 18, 30). Apollodorus (Ep. 2.10-12) adds that Atreus choked the lamb and deposited it in a larnax “coffer, box chest”; the larnax found its way into the hands of Thyestes who produced the golden lamb and was made king (Frazer 1921). One may observe that a larnax was a suitable place for depositing gold!
Handle of mid-6th century Greek bronze amphora. It is suggestive that the Gorgon, a symbol and protector of the treasury, is flanked by two reclining rams with prominent fleeces.
In the Agamemnon of Aeschylus a purple-dyed carpet is considered much too good to walk on for it is argyro_ne_tos (949), meaning “bought with silver” or, better, “worth silver.” Reference is also made in the same drama to “juice of purple, worth its weight in silver … for the dyeing” (959-60; Deniston and Page 1957: 154). Similarly, the fourth century BCE historian Theopompus reported that “purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon [in Asia Minor]” (cited by Athenaeus [12.526] in c. 200 BCE; Gulick 1941).
Although this is a matter of dispute among linguists and regarded as not proven,4 it does seem possible that in Ugarit the same word argamannu (alphabetic argmn or irgmn) meant both “purple” and “tribute”. (van Soldt [1990: 344] maintains that argmn means only “tribute” in the Ugaritic texts.) It is clear, however, that in the first millennium, in areas of Hittite background, the Akkadian word argamannu means both “red purple wool” and “tribute” (CAD s.v. argamannu). In any event an identification of purple-dyed cloth with precious metal or means of payment generally is not drastically out of line with the “moneyness”, to use a term coined by economists, of this commodity. Not only was purple easily transformed into gold via the market, but also, like gold, it was an excellent store of value when embodied in cloth. This is well illustrated in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (36.1) by the report that the Persian ruler Darius’ treasury at Susa housed 5,000 talents by weight of purple-dyed cloth, which had lost none of its freshness of color during almost two centuries of storage.5 Purple was (almost) as good as gold!
Medea rejuvenates a ram as Pelias ruler of Iolkos observes, c. 470
With respect to the “golden fleece” of the Argonaut myth, the scholarly commentary on the words “fleece all golden” in Euripides’ Medea (5) suggests that while some interpreters described the fleece itself to be of gold, Simonides (sixth to fifth century BCE) said in his Hymn to Poseidon (fr. 21) that “it was dyed with sea-purple” (Edmonds 1924: 2: 273). Apparently the same view was expressed by another writer of the fifth century, Acusilaus as reported in a scholia on Apollonius Rhodius (4.117) (Braund 1994: 23-4; Bacon 1925: 21; cf. Str. 1.2.40). On the other hand, against my interpretation, a fragment of Mimnermus (sixth century BCE) seems to speak of Jason bearing “the fleece away from Aia home”. Yet, in another fragment of the same early writer, the description of Aia’s treasured asset seems to fit gold better than fleece:
Aietes’ city where the swift sun’s flame [rays] lies stored within its golden treasury [thalamos]. By Ocean’s marge where godlike Jason came. (Both Mimnermus fragments cited by Bacon 1921: 21).
However, another version has the Golden Fleece draped over an oak tree (Ap.R. 4.122-25). (Is this perhaps a recollection of a Hittite festival practice in which the kurša, a container made from the skin of a sheep, is suspended from an eyan-tree [see II.C]?)
Jason disgorged by serpent in front of hanging Golden Fleece (c. 480). In myth the serpent, like the griffin, was a guardian of treasure.
According to Apollonius Rhodius, Phrixos had journeyed to Aia “bestriding a ram which Hermes had made all of gold” (2.1143-45; Seaton 1912, emphasis added).
Hermes Kriophoros “Bearing a Ram” (Pa. 9.22.1). Bronze c. 530 BCE
Also Apollonius Rhodius (3.586-90) explains that Phrixos would never have been welcomed in Aia had not “Zeus himself sent Hermes his messenger down from heaven, so that he might meet a friendly host” (Seaton 1912: emphasis added). We must keep in mind in interpreting these references to Hermes that he was a god of trade.
In view of this evidence it is possible to entertain the hypothesis that the underlying meaning of the Argonaut myth is that the Argo arrived in Kolchis with a cargo of purple-dyed cloth and returned to Iolkos with their price in gold.6 In this sense, the ship carried the “Golden Fleece” to the Black Sea and returned to Greece with the “Golden Fleece”.
Jason himself is directly associated with purple by Pindar. After his father had been deposed as king, Jason was spirited away “swathed in purple” and handed over to the centaur Cheiro_n for rearing (Pi.Pi. 4.113-15; see Appendix 2.d). Jason’s royal birth and his claims to kingship at Iolkos might explain the purple. Yet Pindar (N. 4.54) and other early sources including Pherekydes and a Hesiod fragment say that, Akastos, son of Pelias, became the king at Iolcos. Matthew (1977: 205-6) notes this discrepancy and surmises that it is possible that in the early versions Jason had no claim to the throne at all, but was a mere adventurer or the instrument of an oracle … Certainly, no source earlier than Pindar (P. 109ff) states explicitly that Jason had a legitimate claim. … Such a situation would be in keeping with the tradition that Jason did not remain there.
If Pelias was not a usurper and if Jason had no claim to the throne, then Jason “swathed in purple” may well be a clue to the nature of his commission.
B. Centrality of fleece and woolen garments
It is quite clear that wool and woolen garments play a featured role in the version of the Argonaut epos presented by Apollonius Rhodius in the Argonautica:
1. Jason brought with him on the journey a purple cloak of double-width that Pallas Athena had made for him when she was laying down the props for the Argo’s keel and showing him how to measure timber for the cross-beams (1.721ff). We may note in this connection that coins of Thessaly depict a riding Jason wearing a petasos, the broad-brimmed hat favored by travelers, and a chalmys, a short fine woolen cloak (Moustaka cited by Metcalf [1985′; LSJ s.vv.).
2. Later on, Jason wore a “dark mantle” given to him by Hypsipyle of Lemnos (3.1205-6).
3. Aboard the Argo on the way to Kolchis, Jason “lay comfortably in fleeces” (1.1089f).
4. Polydeukes, one of the twin sons of Zeus, wore a “light [leptaleon] and closely woven [or well fulled] [eustipton] cloak [theto]” which had been the “friendship gift” [xeine_ion] of a Lemnian woman (2.30-31; Mooney 1912; LSJ s.v. xeine_ion). Note here that in the ancient and preindustrial world generally, “friendship” had the nuance of long-term cooperative exchanges. (See the discussion of “business friendship” in Silver 1995: 49-50.)
5. Medea of Kolchis wore a purple robe (4.1659-63).
6. A purple robe made by the Graces for Dionysus was passed on to Hypsipyle (4.421ff).
It is with good reason that Levin (1971: 69) is struck by the “disproportion between the amount of description assigned to Jason’s weapon (almost nil) and to his outerwear (more than forty-five verses).”
Much more can be said about the woolen outerwear motif in the Argonaut myth. Farnell (1932: 147) calls attention to the report in scholia on Pindar that Simonides in some connection that we cannot guess … gave an account of the games held in Lemnos by Queen Hupsipule for the Argonauts. And he mentioned the fact that the prize offered was raiment … (just as a cloak was the prize at Pellene in historical times). (See Pi. O. 9.98; emphasis added)
(Interestingly, prizes of raiment were given to the winners of foot races held in connection with the Old Kingdom Hittite KI.LAM “market” festival [Singer 1983: 103-4; cf II.C below].)
Farnell (1932: 147) continues as follows:
This detail does not seem one that would interest a great lyric poet; but for some reason it interests Pindar and he carefully repeats it [Pi. P. 4.253]. This trifling must be set down as a defect in an almost flawless ode.
But what is “trifling” to a literary scholar only interested in abstract beauty is the heart of the matter for a historical economist and, apparently, for the ancient literati themselves. It is, moreover, of interest that the port of Pellene in Achaia mentioned by Farnell as offering prizes of raiment was called “Aristonautai” (best sailors) because it was said that “the men who sailed on the Argo anchored at their harbor” (Pa. 7.26.7; Levi 1971).
The Argonaut myth even hints at the origin of at least some of the wool and cloth, which so preoccupied the Argonauts and our sources. Pindar (P. 4.80ff) reports that when Jason first appeared at Iolkos’ marketplace he was wearing “native Magnesian cloth” (Swanson 1974). Magnetes is the name of a “tribe” that lived near Mount Pelion in eastern Thessaly below which the Argo was built (Hdt. 4.179). (There will be more to say about Magnesia in Part II.) A Hesiod fragment adds the interesting note that Jason’s mother was Polymede or Polymele, meaning “with many sheep, rich in sheep” (Matthews 1977: 203; LSJ s.v. polyme_los). Homer (Od.11.256-57) offers the strong testimony that “Pelias lived, rich in sheepflocks, in the wide spaces of Iolkos” (Lattimore 1965).
C. Previous Greek contacts with the Black Sea Region
When the Argonauts landed in the Propontis Cyzicus, son of Aeneus, the ruler of the Doliones (Ap.R. 1.935-1077) greeted them. This Aeneus, according to the scholiast, was a Thessalian king who had settled on the Hellespont and married a Thracian princess (cited by Mooney 1912: 129). The Doliones themselves may have been Thessalian settlers (scholia cited by Bacon 1925: 69). Thus the Argonauts were not the first Greeks, if we may so classify the “Minyans,” or, indeed, Thessalians to penetrate the Black Sea region. Beyond this, evidence of earlier wool exports can be found in the myth that a Minyan named Phrixos, the son of Athamas, escaped being sacrificed by fleeing to Kolchis on a winged golden-fleeced ram.7 The ram had been made all gold by Hermes, the god of trade (Ap.R. 2.1143-45). A relief of the mid-fifth century BCE depicts Phrixos mounted on a ram with large wool staples (see Ryder 1983: 146).
Phrixos carried over the sea by a ram. Melian terracotta plaque ca. 450
In the marriage of Phrixos to a native woman, Chalkiope (the daughter of Aietes), his eventual death and burial in Kolchis, and the (aborted) return journey of his “sons” to Greece (Orchomenos) to claim the wealth of Athamas we are invited to see the outlines of a permanent Minyan trading post.8
That the Argonauts received divine assistance at every stage of their expedition is not only suggestive of their cultic auspices, but of previous Greek contacts with the Black Sea region. Homer has Circe9 tell Odysseus of the difficult flight of “the doves which carry ambrosia to Zeus” through the Planktai (“Roving Rocks”), and Circe also describes how Hera saw Jason and the Argo through these “Rovers” (Od.12.55-72). (More generally, Circe provides Odysseus with complete instructions for his homeward voyage [Od. 12.39-141]). In Apollonius Rhodius (4.856-60, 922-81), Hera is reinforced by the aid of Athena, Thetis, and the Nereids. “Doves,” however, play a central role in the passage of the Argo through the two Petrai Kyaneai (“Blue-Black Rocks”)10 (Ap.R. 2.317-40) or through the Symplegades (“Clashing Rocks”)(Ap.R. 2.549-61011; Ap. 1.9.22). The safe passage of a dove signaled the Argonauts that they might safely follow. As the dove is well attested as a cult symbol, we may imagine that the Argo’s prow or stern was decorated with a dove representing the patronage of Hera, or Athena, or perhaps Peleia, the Minoan-Mycenaean dove goddess (see Palmer 1963: 20, 103).12 Morgan (1988: 67) notes, for the Bronze Aegean, a bird depicted on the prow of Theran Ship 4, on ships represented on a Mycenaean sherd from Phylakopi and elsewhere. Indeed, according to both Apollonius Rhodius (1.519-30; 4.579-83) and Apollodorus (1.9.16), Athena, in constructing the Argo, had incorporated within it an oracular timber from Dodona13, a sanctuary of Zeus housing a college of priestesses called “Doves”.14
Terracotta jug from Cyprus dated to 750-600. Vessel with mast, sail shown furled, pair of steering oars, and bird’s head ornament on the stern.
The contribution of Hera and Zeus’ “doves” to the success of the Argonauts’ expedition arguably reflects a central function of ancient cults: the gathering and dissemination of economically valuable geographic information (see Silver 1995: 25-27). Athena’s epithet Keleutheia (“of the path”) is suggestive in the present connection (see Pa. 3.12.4).
Athena stands beside Jason as he seizes the fleece. The stern of the Argo is visible at the right. Attic ca. 470-460
More to the geographic and temporal point of the Argonaut myth is Homer’s (Il. 1.69-72) testimony that Kalchas had guided the ships of the Greeks to Troy in Asia Minor, whose gift of seercraft was bestowed by Phoibos Apollo. Elsewhere in Homer (Il. 13.39-45) this Kalchas is the “image” — that is, agent, as I have elsewhere argued (Silver 1992: chap. 3.A) — of Poseidon. The name Kalchas is probably related to kalche_ (Chantraine 1968-1980 s.v.), possibly a loanword, which has such meanings as “murex, purple limpet, rosette (on the capitals of columns), and purple flower” (LSJ s.v.; note also kalchaino_ “make purple, make dark and troublous, ponder deeply” LSJ s.v.). Perhaps, and I do not view this to be improbable, Kalchas’ expert knowledge of the Troad was gathered by means of commissions in the purple trade. In connection with previous contacts with the Black Sea region mention should be made next of the blind Thracian seer Phineus, a “son” of Poseidon (or Agenor) who received his gift of divination from Apollo. This Phineus advised Phrixos how to sail from Kolchis to Greece. He also told the Argonauts in detail the safe route from Thrace to Kolchis.
Jason places his hand over the eyes of the seer Phineas. Attic 6th century
Again Trioton, the son of Poseidon who had made him “well versed in the sea,”, guided Jason out of the Tritonian Lake.15
D. At Kolchis: Was it trade or war?
Standard translations of verse 212 of Pindar’s Fourth Pythian Ode have the Argonauts rather mysteriously “joined in battle” with the Kolchians. Farnell (1932: 163), who supports this translation, nevertheless remarks that “The scholiasts, evidently in ignorance of any such tradition [of battle] explained it as meaning ‘they in their might [bian] mingled with the Kolchoi; neither Pindar nor any other Greek would use such a phrase.” It is difficult to believe, however, that the scholarly commentators were unaware of the limits of Greek usage.
“Mingle” (meignumi) is the word chosen by Pindar and it is so translated by Segal (1986: 64) and Lindsay (1965: 9). Further, verses 257-59 have the sons of Euphamus “mingling with [the homes? ways?] of the men of Lacedaemon” and going on to colonize the island of Thera (see Segal 1986: 64; Sandys 1937). Earlier, in verse 223, Pindar says that Jason and Medea “mingled” (meixai). Swanson (1974) translates as follows: “They [Jason and Medea] exchanged the vows of matrimonial delight.” Again, verses 250-51 have the Argonauts “mingling” (migen) “with the Red Sea and with the race of man-killing Lemnian women” (Segal 1986:64).16 (Lemnos is a large island in the northeastern Aegean about which much more shortly.) It is important to note that in the epic literature meignumi “mingle” has the nuance “hold intercourse [in guest friendship]” (LSJ s.v. meignumi B). Mixis “mixing, mingling” has the nuance “intercourse (with others), especially sexual intercourse or commerce” (LSJ s.v. mixis II). Thus the range of meanings of “mingling, mixing” would include virtually any form of interaction, including trade relations.17
“Mingling” for the purpose of trade is well illustrated in the Near Eastern sphere. In the Synchronistic History, an Assyrian chronicle dating from the late second to early first millennium BCE, we find in the latter part of the chronicle the phrase “the people of Assyria and the people of Babylonia mingled (ibballu_).” Akkadian ibballu_ is the third plural masculine preterite N-stem [passive] of bala_lu (Gary Beckman personal correspondence dated November 10, 1998; CAD bala_lu 7). Brinkman (1990: 88) explains that though we are as yet unable to appreciate all the connotations of this pregnant expression … No matter where one turns in the text, one is confronted with statements that Assyrians and Babylonians made compacts together, swore oaths together, established comprehensive peace agreements together, and of course mingled together.
The point of “mingling” is made explicit in an inscription of the Assyrian ruler Sargon II (721-705) who boasts that he opened Egypt’s sealed ka_ru “embankment, harbor district, trading station” (CAD s.v. ka_ru A) and adds “Assyrians and Egyptians I mingled together and I made them trade” (Elat 1978: 27).
Returning to Pindar, my impression is that he deliberately chose the ambiguous word “mingle” to encode and enliven relations that were at once intimate and prosaic: a voyage followed by athletic contests (ago_nes), rivalrous negotiations, commercial agreements, and trade with the Kolchians (and Lemniads). It is worth noting that among the Hittites festivals might be accompanied by athletic contests no later than the thirteenth century (C. Carter 1988).
I would also risk interpreting Pindar’s bian (212) “bodily strength, force” in the senses of “force of argument” (see LSJ s.v. bian I.3.b) and/or “athletics”. Perhaps a precedent for this kind of dual interpretation can be found in the Greek word eris “battle, strife” and “contention, rivalry in work or contest” (LSJ s.v).
(to be continued)
City College of New York / 2004 revision
1 Frayn (1984: 153) cites Pliny’s statement (NH. 8.197) that wool was sometimes dyed “on the hoof” and adds that “The Romans usually seem to have dyed the fleece not the woven material.” Pliny (NH. 35.150) describes a special process used by the Egyptians to dye cloth; but this occurs in a section devoted to art, not to trade or farming. The texts from Ugarit (fourteenth-thirteenth century) mention dyed wools of various kinds (Heltzer 1978: 75). According to Melena (1975: 109, 114), the Linear B texts from Knossos, about which much more in Part II, attest to garments made of dyed wool called pa-we-a and to a more numerous class of garments, called pu-ka-ta-ri-ja, that were dyed purple after weaving.
I leave aside the possibility that “golden fleece” represents purple-dyed wool into which gold thread has been woven (see Jenkins 1985: 21).
9Circe, “sister” of Aietes, resides in the extreme east (“where Helios, the sun makes his uprising”) on an island called Aiaie_ (Hom. Od. 10.135-37; 12.1-4; compare Hes. Th. 1011-16). Aiaie_ means, Hunter (1989: 14) explains, something like “‘associated with’ the land of Aia”. Apparently Aia (Kolchis) had its own, possibly commercial, outposts.
12Note also the famous wall painting in Mari’s Ishtar temple in Mari of a dove over a palm, which is the tree of the goddess (cited by Weinfeld 1991: 101). Mari (Tell Hariri) is a north Syrian center of the east-west transit trade on the middle Euphrates.
13Pa. (7.21.15; 10.12.5) and Burkert (1985: 114). The earliest reference to the oracular timber is in a fragment of Aeschylus (Parke 1967: 13). Parke explores the ancient links between Dodona and Thessaly (1967: esp. 36).
14Why a dove? It is well understood that the habits of an animal may explain its role in myth and ritual. Now the Columbidae with their soft cooing calls are with good reason termed “amorous,” but they are monogamous, a trait of which ancient breeders could not help being aware, which hardly qualifies them for their reputation among scholars for “eroticism” or “promiscuity” (compare S. West 1986).
Surely, the characteristic of this family which would have most impressed the ancients is their homing capacity. This capacity is, of course, attested in the story of Noah’s ark (Genesis 8.6-12). However, it is attested in a much earlier Near Eastern text of the middle of the third millennium which relates that after two Sumerian cities, Lagash and Umma, had pledged to uphold the provisions of a border agreement they dispatched doves to the temple of the oath deity (Begg 1987: 79-80, citing J.S. Cooper). For the Greek world we have the word of a scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius that ancient mariners took doves along on their voyages (cited by Lindsay 1965: 34; cf. Detienne and Vernant 1978: 221).
The very frequency of the dove as a cult symbol suggests that the priestesses so designated made circuits form one cult center to another. Delphi’s doves, no doubt, accompanied Apollo during his periodic sojourns in Hyperborea. More concretely, we have the testimony of Herodotus (2.55) concerning what he learned from the priestesses of Dodona:
There were they said, two black doves that flew from Thebes in Egypt, and the one of the them came to Libya and the other to themselves at Dodona, and the latter one settled upon an oak tree and with a human voice proclaimed that there should be there, in that place an oracle of Zeus … The dove that flew to Libya they say, bade the Libyans make them the oracle of Ammon there … The latter is also an oracle of Zeus. (Grene 1987)
17This line of interpretation is reinforced by the nuances of Latin misceo “mingle”: “to unite or attach as allies or associates, to combine (resources etc.) in a single enterprise or common cause, to cement (a relationship), to give and take, exchange” (OLD s.v. 5, 10).