Home » Horizons » Classical texts » Phantom continents: Meropis, Panchaea and more


An anthology of various classical sources - Theopompus, Plutarch, Cicero and Euhemerus among them - on various phantom continents and islands.


This description of Meropis, a continent described by Theopompus, who claims it originated in a discourse between the famous King Midas and the sprite Silenus, appears in Claudius Aelianus' Varia Historia [3.18].

Theopompus relates a discourse between Midas the Phrygian and Silenus. This Silenus was son of a Nymph, inferior by nature to the Gods only, superior to men and Death. Amongst other things, Silenus told Midas that Europe, Asia and Africa were Islands surrounded by the Ocean: That there was but one Continent only, which was beyond this world, and that as to magnitude it was infinite: That in it were bred, besides other very great creatures, men twice as big as those here, and they lived double our age: That many great cities are there, and peculiar manners of life; and that they have laws wholly different from those amongst us: That there are two cities far greater then the rest, nothing to like each other; one named Machimus, warlike, the other Eusebes, Pious: That the Pious people live in peace, abounding in wealth, and reap the fruits of the Earth without ploughs or oxen, having no need of tillage or sowing. They live, as he said, free from sickness, and die laughing, and with great pleasure: They are so exactly just, that the Gods many times vouchsafe to converse with them. The inhabitants of the city Machimus are very warlike, continually armed and fighting: They subdue their neighbours, and this one city predominates over many. The inhabitants are not fewer then two hundred myriads: they die sometimes of sickness, but this happens very rarely, for most commonly they are killed in the wars by stones or wood, for they are invulnerable by steel. They have vast plenty of gold and silver, insomuch that gold is of less value with them then iron with us. He said that they once designed a voyage to these our Islands, and sailed upon the Ocean, being in number a thousand myriads of men, till they came to the Hyperboreans; but understanding that they were the happiest men amongst us, they contemned us as persons that led a mean inglorious life, and therefore thought it not worth their going farther. He added what is yet more wonderful, that there are men living amongst them called Meropes, who inhabit many great cities; and that at the farthest end of their country there is a place named Anostus, (from whence there is no return) which resembles a Gulf; it is neither very light nor very dark, the air being dusky intermingled with a kind of red: That there are two rivers in this place, one of pleasure, the other of grief; and that along each river grow trees of the bigness of a plane-tree. Those which grow up by the river of grief bear fruit of this nature; If any one eat of them, he shall spend all the rest of his life in tears and grief, and so die. The other trees which grow by the river of pleasure produce fruit of a contrary nature, for who tasts thereof shall be eased from all his former desires: If he loved any thing, he shall quite forget it; and in a short time shall become younger, and live over again his former years: he shall cast off old age, and return to the prime of his strength, becoming first a young man, then a child, lastly, an infant, and so die. This, if any man think the Chian worthy credit, he may believe. To me he appears an egregious Romancer as well in this as other things.


This description appears in Plutarch's dialogue De facie in orbe lunae and depicts a gulf on a vast continent which is inhabited by Greek settlers. The description is ascribed to Sulla, based on an encounter with a mysterious stranger who had access to ancient Carthaginian parchments.

26.1Almost before I had finished, Sulla broke in. "Hold on, Lamprias," he said, "and put to the wicket of your discourse lest you unwittingly run the myth aground, as it were, and confound my drama, which has a different setting and a different disposition. 941Well, I am but the actor of the piece, but first I shall say that its author began for our sake - if there be no objection - with a quotation from Homer: -

An isle, Ogygia, lies far out at sea,

a run of five days off from Britain as you sail westward; and three other islands equally distant from it and from one another lie out from it in the general direction of the summer sunset. In one of these, according to the tale told by the natives, Cronus is confined by Zeus, and the antique Briareus, holding watch and ward over those islands and the sea that they call the Cronian main, has been settled close beside him. The great mainland, by which the great ocean is encircled, while not so far from the other islands, is about five thousand stades from Ogygia, the voyage being made by oar, for the main is slow to traverse and muddy as a result of the multitude of streams. The streams are discharged by the great land-mass and produce alluvial deposits, thus giving density and earthiness to the sea, which has been thought actually to be congealed. On the coast of the mainland Greeks dwell about a gulf which is not smaller than the Maeotis and the mouth of the Caspian sea. These people consider and call themselves continentals and the inhabitants of this land islanders because the sea flows around it on all sides; and they believe that with the peoples of Cronus there mingled at a later time those who arrived in the train of Heracles and were left behind by him and that these latter so to speak rekindled again to a strong, high flame the Hellenic spark there which was already being quenched and overcome by the tongue, the laws, and the manners of the barbarians. Therefore Heracles has the highest honours and Cronos the second. Now when at intervals of thirty years the star of Cronus, which we call 'Splendent' but they, our author said, call 'Night-watchman,' enters the sign of the Bull, they, having spent a long time in preparation for the sacrifice and the expedition, choose by lot and send forth a sufficient number of envoys in a correspondingly sufficient number of ships, putting aboard a large retinue and the provisions necessary for men who are going to cross so much sea by oar and live such a long time in a foreign land. Now when they have put to sea the several voyagers meet with various fortunes as one might expect; but those who survive the voyage first put in at the outlying islands, which are inhabited by Greeks, and see the sun pass out of sight for less than an hour over a period of thirty days, - and this is night, though it has a darkness that is slight and twilight glimmering from the west. There they spend ninety days regarded with honour and friendliness as holy men and so addressed, and then winds carry them across to their appointed goal. Nor do any others inhabit it but themselves and those who have been dispatched before them, for, while those who have served the god together for the stint of thirty years are allowed to sail off home, most of them usually choose to settle in the spot, some out of habit and others because without toil or trouble they have all things in abundance while they constantly employ their time in sacrifices and celebrations or with various discourse and philosophy, for the nature of the island is marvellous as is the softness of the circumambient air. Some when they intend to sail away are even hindered by the divinity which presents itself to them as to intimates and friends not in dreams only or by means of omens, but many also come upon the visions and the voices of spirits manifest. For Cronus himself sleeps confined in a deep cave of rock that shines like gold - the sleep that Zeus has contrived like a bond for him -, and birds flying in over the summit of the rock bring ambrosia to him, and all the island is suffused with fragrance 942ascattered from the rock as from a fountain; and those spirits mentioned before tend and serve Cronus, having been his comrades what time he ruled as king over gods and men. Many things they do foretell of themselves, for they are oracular; but the prophecies that are greatest and of the greatest matters they come down and report as dreams of Cronus, for all that Zeus premeditates Cronus sees in his dreams and the titanic affections and motions of his soul make him rigidly tense until sleep restores his repose once more and the royal and divine element is all by itself, pure and unalloyed.

bHere then the stranger was conveyed, as he said, and while he served the god became at his leisure acquainted with astronomy, in which he made as much progress as one can by practising geometry, and with the rest of philosophy by dealing with so much of it as is possible for the natural philosopher. Since he had a strange desire and longing to observe the Great Island (for so, it seems, they call our part of the world), when the thirty years had elapsed, the relief-party having arrived from home, he saluted his friends and sailed away, lightly equipped for the rest but carrying a large viaticum in golden beakers. Well, all his experiences and all the men whom he visited, encountering sacred writings and being initiated in all rites - to recount all this as he reported it to us, relating it thoroughly and in detail, is not a task for a single day; but listen to so much as is pertinent to the present discussion. He spent a great deal of time in Carthage inasmuch as Cronus receives great honour in our country, cand he discovered certain sacred parchments that had been secretly spirited off to safety when the earlier city was being destroyed and had lain unnoticed in the ground for a long time. Among the visible gods he said that one should especially honour the moon, and so he kept exhorting me to do, inasmuch as she is sovereign over life and death, bordering as she does upon the meads of Hades.

27.1When I expressed surprise at this and asked for a clearer account, dhe said: "Many assertions about the gods, Sulla, are current among the Greeks, but not all of them are right. So, for example, although they give the right names to Demeter and Cora, they are wrong in believing that both are together in the same region. The fact is that the former is in the region of earth and is sovereign over terrestrial things, and the latter is in the moon and mistress of lunar things. She has been called both Cora and Phersephonê, the latter as being a bearer of light and Cora because that is what we call the part of the eye in which is reflected the likeness of him who looks into it as the light of the sun is seen in the moon. The tales told of the wandering and the quest of these goddesses econtain the truth, for they long for each other when they are apart and they often embrace in the shadow. The statement concerning Cora that now she is in the light of heaven and now in darkness and night is not false but has given rise to error in the computation of the time, for not throughout six months but every six months we see her being wrapped in shadow by the earth as it were by her mother, and infrequently we see this happen to her at intervals of five months, ffor she cannot abandon Hades since she is the boundary of Hades, as Homer too has rather well put it in veiled terms: -

But to Elysium's plain, the bourne of earth.

"Where the range of the earth's shadow ends, this he set as the term and boundary of the earth. To this point rises no one who is evil or unclean, but the good are conveyed thither after death and there continue to lead a life most easy to be sure though not blesséd or divine until their second death."


Panchaea, an island in the Indian Ocean described by Euhemerus, is detailed in Diodorus Siculus' Library of History [5.41.4 ff.].

5.41.4On the farthest bounds of Arabia the Blest, where the ocean washes it, there lie opposite it a number of islands, of which there are three which merit a mention in history, one of them bearing the name Hiera or Sacred, on which it is not allowed to bury the dead, and another lying near it, seven stades distant, to which they take the bodies of the dead whom they see fit to inter. Now Hiera has no share in any other fruit, but it produces frankincense in such abundance as to suffice for the honours paid to the gods throughout the entire inhabited world; and it possesses also an exceptional quantity of myrrh and every variety of all the other kinds of incense of highly fragrant odour. 5The nature of frankincense and the preparing of it is like this: In size it is a small tree, and in appearance it resembles the white Egyptian Acacia, its leaves are like those of the willow, as it is called, the bloom it bears is in colour like gold, and the frankincense which comes from it oozes forth in drops like tears. But the myrrh-tree is like the mastich-tree, although its leaves are more slender and grow thicker. 6It oozes myrrh when the earth is dug away from the roots, and if it is planted in fertile soil this takes place twice a year, in spring and in summer; the myrrh of the spring is red, because of the dew, but that of the summer is white. They also gather the fruit of the Christ's thorn,6 which they use both for meat and for drink and as a drug for the cure of dysentery.

42.1The land of Hiera is divided among its inhabitants, and the king takes for himself the best land and likewise a tithe of the fruits which the island produces. The width of the island is reputed to be about two hundred stades. 2And the inhabitants of the island are known as Panchaeans, and these men take the frankincense and myrrh across to the mainland and sell it to Arab merchants, from whom others in turn purchase wares of this kind and convey them to Phoenician and Coelesyria and Egypt, and in the end merchants convey them from these countries throughout all the inhabited world. 3And there is yet another large island, thirty stades distant from the one we have mentioned, lying out in the ocean to the east and many stades in length; for men say that from its promontory which extends toward the east one can descry India, misty because of its great distance.

4As for Panchaea itself, the island possesses many things which are deserving to be recorded by history. It is inhabited by men who were sprung from the soil itself, called Panchaeans, and the foreigners there are Oceanites and Indians and Scythians and Cretans. 5There is also a notable city on the island, called Panara, which enjoys unusual felicity; its citizens are called "suppliants of Zeus Triphylius," and they are the only inhabitants of the land of Panchaea who live under laws of their own making and have no king over them. Each year they elect three chief magistrates; these men have no authority over capital crimes, but render judgment in all any other matters; and the weightiest affairs they refer of their own accord to the priests.

6Some sixty stades distant from the city of Panara is the temple of Zeus Triphylius, which lies out on a level plain and is especially admired for its antiquity, the costliness of its construction, and its favourable situation. 43.1Thus, the plain lying around the temple is thickly covered with trees of every kind, not only such as bear fruit, but those also which possess the power of pleasing the eye; for the plain abounds with cypresses of enormous size and plane-trees and sweet-bay and myrtle, since the region is full of springs of water. 2Indeed, close to the sacred precinct there bursts forth from the earth a spring of sweet water of such size that it gives rise to a river on which boats may sail. And since the water is led off from the river to many parts of the plain and irrigates them, throughout the entire area of the plain there grow continuous forests of lofty trees, wherein a multitude of men pass their time in the summer season and a multitude of birds make their nests, birds of every kind and of various hues, which greatly delight the ear by their song; therein also is every kind of garden and many meadows with varied plants and flowers, so that there is a divine majesty in the prospect which makes the place appear worthy of the gods of the country. 3And there were palm trees there with mighty trunks, conspicuous for the fruits they bore, and many varieties of nut-bearing trees, which provide the natives of the place with the most abundant subsistence. And in addition to what we have mentioned, grape-vines were found there in great number and of every variety, which were trained to climb high and were variously intertwined so that they presented a pleasing sight and provided an enjoyment of the season without further ado.

44.1The temple was a striking structure of white marble, two plethra in length and the width proportionate to the length; it was supported by large thick columns and decorated at intervals with reliefs of ingenious design; and there were also remarkable statues of the gods, exceptional in skill of execution and admired by men for their massiveness. 2Around about the temple the priests who served the gods had their dwellings, and the management of everything pertaining to the sacred precinct was in their hands. Leading from the temple an avenue had been constructed, four stades in length and a plethrum in width. 3On each side of the avenue are great bronze vessels which rest upon square bases, and at the end of the avenue the river we mentioned above has its sources, which pour forth in a turbulent stream. The water of the stream is exceedingly clear and sweet and the use of it is most conducive to the health of the body; and the river bears the name "Water of the Sun." 4The entire spring is surrounded by an expensive stone quay, which extends along each side of it four stades, and no man except the priests may set foot upon the place up to the edge of the quay. 5The plain lying below the temple has been made sacred to the gods, for a distance of two hundred stades, and the revenues which are derived from it are used to support the sacrifices.

Beyond the above-mentioned plain there is a lofty mountain which has been made sacred to the gods and is called the "Throne of Uranus" and also "Triphylian Olympus." 6For the myth relates that in ancient times, when Uranus was king of the inhabited earth, he took pleasure in tarrying in that place and in surveying from its lofty top both the heavens and the stars therein, and that at a later time it came to be called Triphylian Olympus because the men who dwelt about it were composed of three peoples; these, namely, were known as Panchaeans, Oceanites, and Doians, who were expelled at a later time by Ammon. 7For Ammon, men say, not only drove this nation into exile but also totally destroyed their cities, razing to the ground both Doia and Asterusia. And once a year, we are told, the priests hold a sacrifice in this mountain with great solemnity.

45.1Beyond this mountain and throughout the rest of the land of Panchaeitis, the account continues, there is found a multitude of beasts of every description; for the land possesses many elephants and lions and leopards and gazelles and an unusual number of other wild animals which differ in their aspect and are of marvellous ferocity. 2This island also contains three notable cities, Hyracia, Dalis, and Oceanis. The whole country, moreover, is fruitful and possesses in particular a multitude of vines of every variety. 3The men are warlike and use chariots in battle after the ancient manner.

The entire body politic of the Panchaeans is divided into three castes: The first caste among them is that of the priests, to whom are assigned the artisans, the second consists of the farmers, and the third is that of the soldiers, to whom are added the herdsmen. 4The priests served as the leaders in all things, rendering the decisions in legal disputes and possessing the final authority in all other affairs which concerned the community; and the farmers, who are engaged in the tilling of the soil, bring the fruits into the common store, and the man among them who is thought to have practised the best farming receives a special reward when the fruits are portioned out, the priests deciding who had been first, who second, and so in order to the tenth, this being done in order to spur on the rest. 5In the same manner the herdsmen also turn both the sacrificial animals and all others into the treasury of the state with all precision, some by number and some by weight. For, speaking generally, there is not a thing except a home and a garden which a man may possess for his own, but all the products and the revenues are taken over by the priests, who portion out with justice to each man his share, and to the priests alone is given two-fold.

6The clothing of the Panchaeans is soft, because the wool of the sheep of the land is distinguished above all other for its softness; and they wear ornaments of gold, not only the women but the men as well, with collars of twisted gold about their necks, bracelets on their wrists, and rings hanging from their ears after the manner of the Persians. The same kind of shoes are worn by both sexes, and they are worked in more varied colours than is usual.

46.1The soldiers receive a pay which is apportioned to them and in return protect the land by means of forts and posts fixed at intervals; for there is one section of the country which is infested with robber bands, composed of bold and lawless men who lie in wait for the farmer and war upon them. 2And as for the priests, they far excel the rest in luxury and in every other refinement and elegance of their manner of life; so, for instance, their robes are of linen and exceptionally sheer and soft, and at times they wear garments woven of the softest wool; furthermore, their headdress is interwoven with gold, their footgear consists of sandals which are of varied colours and ingeniously worked, and they wear the same gold ornaments as do the women, with the exception of the earrings. The first duties of the priests concerned with the services paid to the gods and with the hymns and praises which are accorded them, and in them they recite in song the achievements of the gods one after another and the benefactions they have bestowed upon mankind. 3According to the myth which the priests give, the gods had their origin in Crete, and were led by Zeus to Panchaea at the time when he sojourned among men and was king of the inhabited earth. In proof of this they cite their language, pointing out that most of the things they have about them still retain their Cretan names; and they add that the kinship which they have with the Cretans and the kindly regard they feel toward them are traditions they received from their ancestors, since this report is ever handed down from one generation to another. And it has been their practice, in corroboration of these claims, to point to inscriptions which, they said, were made by Zeus during the time he still sojourned among men and founded the temple.

4The land possesses rich mines of gold, silver, copper, tin, and iron, but none of these metals is allowed to be taken from the island; nor may the priests for any reason whatsoever set foot outside of the hallowed land, and if one of them does so, whoever meets him is authorized to slay him. 5There are many great dedications of gold and of silver which have been made to the gods, since time has amassed the multitude of such offerings. 6The doorways of the temple are objects of wonder in their construction, being worked in silver and gold and ivory and citrus-wood. And there is the couch of the god, which is six cubits long and four wide and is entirely of gold and skillfully constructed in every detail of its workmanship. 7Similar to it both in size and in costliness in general is the table of the god which stands near the couch. And on the centre of the couch stands a large gold stele which carries letters which the Egyptians call sacred, and the inscription recounts the deeds both of Uranus and of Zeus; and to them there were added by Hermes the deeds also of Artemis and of Apollo.

As regards the islands, then, which lie in the ocean opposite Arabia, we shall rest content with what has been said.


This tale, concerning a certain Iambulus and detailing his adventures in the Islands of the Sun, also appears in Diodorus Siculus' Library of History [2.55.1 ff.].

2.55.1But with regard to the island which has been discovered in the ocean to the south and the marvellous tales told concerning it, we shall now endeavour to give a brief account, after we have first set forth accurately the causes which led to its discovery. 2There was a certain Iambulus who from his boyhood up had been devoted to the pursuit of education, and after the death of his father, who had been a merchant, he also gave himself to that calling; and while journeying inland to the spice-bearing region of Arabia he and his companions on the trip were taken captive by some robbers. Now at first he and one of his fellow-captives were appointed to be herdsmen, but later he and his companion were made captive by certain Ethiopians and led off to the coast of Ethiopia. 3They were kidnapped in order that, being of an alien people, they might effect the purification of the land. For among the Ethiopians who lived in that place there was a custom, which had been handed down from ancient times, and had been ratified by oracles of the gods, over a period of twenty generations or six hundred years, the generation being reckoned at thirty years; and at the time when the purification by means of the two men was to take place, a boat had been built for them sufficient in size and strong enough to withstand the storms at sea, one which could easily be manned by two men; and then loading it with food enough to maintain two men for six months and putting them on board they commanded them to set out to sea as the oracle had ordered. 4Furthermore, they commanded them to steer towards the south; for, they were told, they would come to a happy island and to men of honourable character, and among them they would lead a blessed existence. And in like manner, they stated, their own people, in case the men whom they sent forth should arrive safely at the island, would enjoy peace and a happy life in every respect throughout six hundred years; but if, dismayed at the extent of the sea, they should turn back on their course they would, as impious men and destroyers of the entire nation, suffer the severest penalties. 5Accordingly, the Ethiopians, they say, held a great festal assembly by the sea, and after offering costly sacrifices they crowned with flowers the men who were to seek out the island and effect the purification of the nation and then sent them forth. 6And these men, after having sailed over a vast sea and been tossed about four months by storms, were carried to the island p69 about which they had been informed beforehand; it was round in shape and had a circumference of about five thousand stades.

56.1But when they were now drawing near to the island, the account proceeds, some of the natives met them and drew their boat to land; and the inhabitants of the island, thronging together, were astonished at the arrival of the strangers, but they treated them honourably and shared with them the necessities of life which their country afforded. 2The dwellers upon this island differ greatly both in the characteristics of their bodies and in their manners from the men in our part of the inhabited world; for they are all nearly alike in the shape of their bodies and are over four cubits in height, but the bones of the body have the ability to bend to a certain extent and then straighten out again, like the sinewy parts. 3They are also exceedingly tender in respect to their bodies and yet more vigorous than is the case among us; for when they have seized any object in their hands no man can extract it from the grasp of their fingers. There is absolutely no hair on any part of their bodies except on the head, eyebrows and eyelids, and on the chin, but the other parts of the body are so smooth that not even the least down can be seen on them. 4They are also remarkably beautiful and well-proportioned in the outline of the body. The openings of their ears are much more spacious than ours and growths have developed that serve as valves, so to speak, to close them. 5And they have a peculiarity in regard to the tongue, partly the work of nature and congenital with them and partly intentionally brought about by artifice; among them, namely, the tongue is double for a certain distance, but they divide the inner portions still further, with the result that it becomes a double tongue as far as the base. 6Consequently they are very versatile as to the sounds they can utter, since they imitate not only every articulate language used by man but also the varied chatterings of the birds, and, in general, they reproduce any peculiarity of sounds. And the most remarkable thing of all is that at one and the same time they can converse perfectly with two persons who fall in with them, both answering questions and discoursing pertinently on the circumstances of the moment; for with one division of the tongue they can converse with the one person, and likewise with the other talk with the second.

7Their climate is most temperate, we are told, considering that they live at the equator, and they suffer neither from heat nor from cold. Moreover, the fruits in their island ripen throughout the entire year, even as the poet writes,

Here pear on pear grows old, and apple close
On apple, yea, and clustered grapes on grapes,
And fig on fig.
And with them the day is always the same length as the night, and at midday no shadow is cast of any object because the sun is in the zenith.

57.1These islanders, they go on to say, live in groups which are based on kinship and on political organizations, no more than four hundred kinsmen being gathered together in this way; and the members spend their time in the meadows, the land supplying them with many things for sustenance; for by reason of the fertility of the island and the mildness of the climate, food-stuffs are produced of themselves in greater quantity than is sufficient for their needs. 2For instance, a reed grows there in abundance, and bears a fruit in great plenty that is very similar to the white vetch. Now when they have gathered this they steep it in warm water until it has become the size of a pigeon's egg; then after they have crushed it and rubbed it skilfully with their hands, they mould it into loaves, which are baked and eaten, and they are of surprising sweetness. 3There are also in the island, they say, abundant springs of water, the warm springs serving well for bathing and the relief of fatigue, the cold excelling in sweetness and possessing the power to contribute to good health. Moreover, the inhabitants give attention to every branch of learning and especially to astrology; 4and they use letters which, according to the value of the sounds they represent, are twenty-eight in number, but the characters are only seven, each one of which can be formed in four different ways. Nor do they write their lines horizontally, as we do, but from the top to the bottom perpendicularly. And the inhabitants, they tell us, are extremely long-lived, living even to the age of one hundred and fifty years, and experiencing for the most part no illness. 5Anyone also among them who has become crippled or suffers, in general, from any physical infirmity is forced by them, in accordance with an inexorable law, to remove himself from life. And there is also a law among them that they should live only for a stipulated number of years, and that at the completion of this period they should make away with themselves of their own accord, by a strange manner of death; for there grows among them a plant of a peculiar nature, and whenever a man lies down upon it, imperceptibly and gently he falls asleep and dies.

58.1They do not marry, we are told, but possess their children in common, and maintaining the children who are born as if they belonged to all, they love them equally; and while the children are infants those who suckle the babes often change them around in order that not even the mothers may know their own offspring. Consequently, since there is no rivalry among them, they never experience civil disorders and they never cease placing the highest value upon internal harmony.

2There are also animals among them, we are told, which are small in size but the object of wonder by reason of the nature of their bodies and the potency of their blood; for they are round in form and very similar to tortoises, but they are marked on the surface by two diagonal yellow stripes, at each end of which they have an eye and a mouth; 3consequently, though seeing with four eyes and using as many mouths, yet it gathers its food into one gullet, and down this its nourishment is swallowed and all flows together into one stomach; and in like manner its other organs and all its inner parts are single. It also has beneath it all around its body many feet, by means of which it can move in whatever direction it pleases. 4And the blood of this animal, they say, has a marvellous potency; for it immediately glues on to its place any living member that has been severed; even if a hand or the like should happen to have been cut off, by the use of this blood it is glued on again, provided that the cut is fresh, and the same thing is true of such other parts of the body as are not connected with the regions which are vital and sustain the person's life. 5Each group of the inhabitants also keeps a bird of great size and of a nature peculiar to itself, by means of which a test is made of the infant children to learn what their spiritual disposition is; for they place them upon the birds, and such of them as are able to endure the flight through the air as the birds take wing they rear, but such as become nauseated and filled with consternation they cast out, as not likely either to live many years and being, besides, of no account because of their dispositions.

6In each group the oldest man regularly exercises the leadership, just as if he were a kind of king, and is obeyed by all the members; and when the first such ruler makes an end of his life in accordance with the law upon the completion of his one hundred and fiftieth year, the next oldest succeeds to the leadership. 7The sea about the island has strong currents and is subject to great flooding and ebbing of the tides and is sweet in taste. And as for the stars of our heavens, the Bears and many more, we are informed, are not visible at all. The number of these islands was seven, and they are very much the same in size and at about equal distances from one another, and all follow the same customs and laws.

59.1Although all the inhabitants enjoy an abundant provision of everything from what grows of itself in these islands, yet they do not indulge in the enjoyment of this abundance without restraint, but they practise simplicity and take for their food only what suffices for their needs. Meat and whatever else is roasted or boiled in water are prepared by them, but all the other dishes ingeniously concocted by professional cooks, such as sauces and the various kinds of seasonings, they have no notion whatsoever. 2And they worship as gods that which encompasses all things and the sun, and, in general, all the heavenly bodies. Fishes of every kind in great numbers are caught by them by sundry devices and not a few birds. 3There is also found among them an abundance of fruit trees growing wild, and olive trees and vines grow there, from which they make both olive oil and wine in abundance. Snakes also, we are told, which are of immense size and yet do no harm to the inhabitants, have a meat which is edible and exceedingly sweet. 4And their clothing they make themselves from a certain reed which contains in the centre a downy substance78 that is bright to the eye and soft, which they gather and mingle with crushed sea-shells and thus make remarkable garments of a purple hue. As for the animals of the islands, their natures are peculiar and so amazing as to defy credence.

5All the details of their diet, we are told, follow a prescribed arrangement, since they do not all take their food at the same time nor is it always the same; but it has been ordained that on certain fixed days they shall eat at one time fish, at another time fowl, sometimes the flesh of land animals, and sometimes olives and the most simple side-dishes. 6They also take turns in ministering to the needs of one another, some of them fishing, others working at the crafts, others occupying themselves in other useful tasks, and still others, with the exception of those who have come to old age, performing the services of the group in a definite cycle. 7And at the festivals and feasts which are held among them, there are both pronounced and sung in honour of the gods hymns and spoken laudations, and especially in honour of the sun, after whom they name both the islands and themselves.

8They inter their dead at the time when the tide is at the ebb, burying them in the sand along the beach, the result being that at flood-tide the place has fresh sand heaped upon it. The reeds, they say, from which the fruit for their nourishment is derived, being a span in thickness increase at the times of full-moon and again decrease proportionately as it wanes. 9And the water of the warm springs, being sweet and health-giving, maintains its heat and never becomes cold, save when it is mixed with cold water or wine.

60.1After remaining among this people for seven years, the account continues, Iambulus and his companion were ejected against their will, as being malefactors and as having been educated to evil habits. Consequently, after they had again fitted out their little boat they were compelled to take their leave, and when they had stored up provisions in it they continued their voyage for more than four months. Then they were shipwrecked upon a sandy and marshy region of India; 2and his companion lost his life in the surf, but Iambulus, having found his way to a certain village, was then brought by the natives into the presence of the king at Palibothra, a city which was distant a journey of many days from the sea. 3And since the king was friendly to the Greeks and devoted to learning he considered Iambulus worthy of cordial welcome; and at length, upon receiving a permission of safe-conduct, he passed over first of all into Persia and later arrived safe in Greece.

Now Iambulus felt that these matters deserved to be written down, and he added to his account not a few facts about India, facts of which all other men were ignorant at that time. But for our part, since we have fulfilled the promise made at the beginning of this Book, we shall bring it to a conclusion at this point.


This account of a dream of Publius Cornelius Scipio, in which he encounters his illustrious grandfather Scipio Africanus, appears in the sixth book of Cicero's Commonwealth.

6.2 298Here I had the following dream, occasioned, as I verily believe, by our preceding conversation - for it commonly happens that the meditation and discourse which employ us in the day time, produce in our sleep an effect somewhat similar to that which Ennius writes happened to him about Homer, of whom in his waking hours he used frequently to think and speak.

My ancestor Africanus, I thought, appeared to 299me in a shape, with which I was better acquainted from his picture, than from any personal knowledge of him. When I perceived it was he, I confess I trembled with consternation - but he addressed me, saying, take courage, my Scipio, be not afraid, and carefully remember what I shall say to you.

Do you see that city Carthage, which though brought under the Roman yoke by me, is now renewing former wars, and cannot live in peace? He pointed to Carthage, from a lofty region of the firmament, where I conceived myself transported with him into a sphere, all glittering with refulgent constellations.

It is to attack that city (continued he,) that you are this day arrived in a station not much superior to that of a private soldier. Before two years however are elapsed, you shall be consul, and complete its overthrow; whence you shall obtain by your own merit the surname of Africanus, which, as yet, belongs to you no otherwise than as derived from me.

After the destruction of Carthage, you shall receive the honour of a triumph; be advanced to the censorship, and in quality of ambassador, visit Egypt, Syria, Asia, and Greece. You shall be elected second time consul in your absence, and by utterly destroying Numantia, put an end to a most dangerous war.

300But in entering the Capitol in your triumphal car, you shall find the Roman Commonwealth all in a ferment, through the intrigues of my grandson Tiberius Gracchus. 'Tis on this occasion, my dear Africanus, that you must show your country the greatness of your understanding, capacity, and prudence.

The destiny however, of that time appears uncertain, which way it shall turn. For when your age shall have accomplished seven times eight revolutions of the sun, and your fatal hours shall be marked out by the natural product of these two numbers, each of which is esteemed a perfect one, but for different reasons, - then shall the whole city have recourse to you alone, and place its hopes in your auspicious name. On you the senate, all good citizens, the allies, the people of Latium, shall cast their eyes; on you the preservation of the state shall entirely depend. In a word, if you escape the impious machinations of your relatives, you will, in quality of dictator, establish order and tranquillity in the Commonwealth.

Here Lælius wept bitterly, and the rest of the company gave vent to their sorrow by deep groans. On which Scipio, with a gentle smile, said, "Pray, gentleman, don’t wake me out of my dream, have patience, and hear the rest."

Now in order to encourage you, my dear Africanus 301(continued the shade of my ancestor), to defend the state with the greater cheerfulness, - be assured that for all those who have any way conduced to the preservation, defence, and enlargement of their native country, there is a certain place in heaven, where they shall enjoy an eternity of happiness. For nothing on earth is more agreeable to God, the Supreme Governor of the Universe, than the assemblies and societies of men united together by laws, which are called States. It is from heaven their rulers and preservers came, and thither they return.

Though at these words I was extremely troubled, not so much at the fear of death, as at the perfidy of my own relations, - yet I recollected myself enough to enquire, whether he himself, my father Paulus, and others whom are looked upon as dead, really enjoyed life.

Yes, truly, (replied he), they all enjoy life, who have escaped from the body as from a prison. But as to what you call life on earth, 'tis no more than one form of death. But see, here comes your father Paulus toward you!

As soon as I observed him, my eyes burst out into a flood of tears, but he took me in his arms, embraced me, and bade me not weep. When my first transports subsided, and I regained the liberty of speech, I addressed my father thus: - "Thou best and most venerable of parents, since this, as 302I am informed by Africanus, is the only substantial life, why do I linger on earth, and not rather haste to come hither where you are?

That (replied he) is impossible: for unless the God whose Temple is all that vast expanse you behold, shall free you from the fetters of the body, you can have no admission into this place. Mankind have received their being on this very condition, that they should labour for the preservation of that globe, which is situated as you see, in the midst of this temple, and is called earth.

Men are likewise endowed with a soul, which is a portion of the eternal fires, which you call stars and constellations; and which being round spherical bodies, animated by divine intelligences, perform their revolutions with amazing rapidity. 'Tis therefore your duty, my Publius, and that of all who have any veneration for the gods, to preserve this wonderful union of soul and body; nor without the express command of him who gave you a soul, should the least thought be entertained of quitting human life, lest you seem to desert the post assigned you by God himself.

Follow the examples of your grandfather here, and of me, your father, in paying a strict regard to justice and piety; the influence of which, towards parents and relations is great indeed, but that to our country greatest of all. Such a life as this is the true way to heaven, and to the 303company of those, who, after having lived on earth and escaped from the body, inhabit the place you now behold.

This was the shining circle or zone whose remarkable brightness distinguishes it among the constellations, and which after the Greeks you call the Milky Way.

From thence, as I took a view of the universe, every thing appeared beautiful and admirable, - For there, not only those stars are to be seen that are never visible from our globe; but all of them appear of such magnitude as we could not have imagined. The least of all the stars was that removed farthest from heaven, and situate next to the earth; I mean our moon, which shines with a borrowed light. Now the globes of the stars far surpass the magnitude of our earth, which at that distance, appeared so exceedingly small, that I could not but be sensibly affected on seeing our whole empire no larger than if we touched the earth as it were at a single point.

As I continued to observe the earth with still greater attention, how long, I pray you, (said Africanus) will your mind be fixed on that object - why don’t you rather take a view of the magnificent temples whither you have arrived? The universe is composed of nine circles or rather spheres, one of which is the most elevated, and is exterior to all the rest which it embraces; and 304where the Supreme God resides, who bounds and contains the whole. In it are fixed those stars which revolve with never–varying courses. Below this are seven other spheres, which revolve in a contrary direction to that in the heavens. One of these is occupied by the globe, which on earth they call Saturn. Next to that, is the star of Jupiter, so benign and salutary to mankind. The third in order, is that fiery and terrible planet called Mars. Below this again, almost in the middle region, is the Sun, - the leader, governor, and prince of the other luminaries; the soul of the world, which it regulates and illumines, filling all things with its rays. Then follow Venus and Mercury, which attend as it were on the Sun. Lastly, the Moon, which shines only in the reflected beams of the Sun, moves in the lowest sphere of all. Below this, if we except that gift of the gods, human souls, every thing is mortal, and tends to dissolution, but above it all is eternal. For the Earth, which is the ninth globe, and occupies the centre, is immoveable, and being the lowest, all others gravitate towards it.

When I had recovered myself from the astonishment occasioned by such a wonderful prospect, I thus bespoke Africanus: - Pray what is this sound that strikes my ears in so loud and agreeable a manner? To which he replied - It is that which is called the music of the spheres, being produced 305by their motion and impulse; and being formed by unequal intervals, but such as are divided according to the justest proportion, it produces, by duly tempering acute with grave sounds, various concerts of harmony. For it is impossible that motions so great should be performed without any noise; and it is agreeable to nature that the extremes on one side should produce sharp, and on the other, flat sounds. For which reason the sphere of the fixed stars, being the highest, and carried with a more rapid velocity, moves with a shrill and acute sound; whereas that of the moon, being the lowest, moves with a very flat one. As to the Earth, which makes the ninth sphere, it remains immoveably fixed in the middle or lowest part of the universe. But those eight revolutionary circles, in which both Mercury and Venus are moved with the same celerity, give out sounds that are divided by seven distinct intervals, which is generally the regulating number of all things.

"This celestial harmony has been imitated by learned musicians, both on stringed instruments and with the voice, whereby they have opened to themselves a way to return to the celestial regions, as have likewise many others who have employed their sublime genius while on earth in cultivating the divine sciences.

"By the amazing noise of this sound, the ears of mankind have been in some degree deafened, and 306indeed hearing is the dullest of all the human senses. Thus the people who dwell near the Cataracts of the Nile, are by the excessive roar which that river makes in precipitating itself from those lofty mountains, entirely deprived of the sense of hearing. Now, so inconceivably great is the sound produced by the rapid motion of the whole universe that the human ear is no more capable of receiving it, than the eye is able to look stedfastly and directly on the sun, whose beams easily dazzle the strongest sight.

"While I was busied in admiring this scene of wonders, I could not help casting my eyes every now and then on the earth. On which, says Africanus, I perceive you are still employed in contemplating the seat and residence of mankind. Now if it appears to you so small, as in fact it really is, despise its vanities, and fix your attention for ever on these heavenly objects. Is it possible that you should attain any human applause or glory that are worth the contending for? The earth, you see, is peopled but in a very few places, and those too of small extent; and they appear like so many little spots of green, scattered through vast uncultivated deserts. Its inhabitants are not only so remote from each other as to cut off all mutual correspondence; but their situation being in oblique or contrary parts of the globe, or perhaps in those diametrically opposite to yours, all expectations 307of universal fame must fall to the ground. You may likewise observe that the same globe of the earth is girt and surrounded with certain zones, whereof those two that are most remote from each other, and lie under the opposite poles of heaven, are congealed with frost; but that one in the middle, which is far the largest, is scorched with the intense heat of the sun. The other two are habitable, one towards the south, - the inhabitants of which are your Antipodes, with whom you have no connection; - the other, towards the north, is that you inhabit, whereof a very small part, as you may see, falls to your share. For the whole extent of what you see, is as it were but a little island, narrow at both ends and wide towards the middle, which is surrounded by the sea, which on earth you call the great Atlantic Ocean, and which, notwithstanding this magnificent name, you see is very insignificant. And even in these cultivated and well–known countries, has yours, or any of our names, ever past the heights of the Caucasus, or the currents of the Ganges? In what other parts to the north or the south, or where the sun rises and sets, will your names ever be heard? And excluding these, how small a space is there left for your glory to spread itself abroad? and how long will it remain in the memory of those whose minds are now full of it?

"Besides all this, if the progeny of any future 308generation should wish to transmit to their posterity the praises of any one of us which they have heard from their forefathers; yet the deluges and combustions of the earth which must necessarily happenat their destined periods, will prevent our obtaining not only an eternal, but even a durable glory. And after all, what does it signify whether those who shall hereafter be born talk of you, when many of your cotemporaries whose number was not perhaps less, and whose merit certainly greater, were not so much as acquainted with your name?

"And the more, since not one of those who shall hear of us, is able to retain in his memory the transactions of a single year. The bulk of mankind indeed measure their year by the return of the sun, which is only one star. But the Annus Magnus, the true and complete year, is when all the stars shall have returned to the place whence they set out; and after long periods shall again exhibit the same aspect of the whole heavens. Indeed, I scarcely dare attempt to enumerate the vast multitude of ages contained in it. For as the sun was eclipsed and seemed to be extinguished at the time when the soul of Romulus penetrated into these eternal mansions - so when all the constellations and stars shall revert to their primary position, and the sun shall at the same point and time be again eclipsed - the grand year shall be 309completed. Be assured, however, that the twentieth part of it is not yet elapsed.

"Now, had you no hopes of returning to this place, where great and good men enjoy all that their souls can wish for, of what, pray, would be the signification of all human glory, which can hardly endure for a small portion of one year?

"If, then, you wish to elevate your views to the contemplation of this eternal seat of splendour, you will not be satisfied with the praises of your fellow–mortals, nor with any human rewards that your exploits can obtain; but Virtue herself will point out to you the true and only object worthy of your pursuit. Leave to others to speak of you as they may, for speak they will. Their discourses will be confined to the narrow limits of the countries you see, nor will their duration be very extensive, for they will perish like those who utter them, and will be no more remembered by their posterity.

"When he ceased to speak, I said, "Oh, Africanus, if indeed the door of heaven is open to those who have deserved well of their country, whatever progress I may have made since my childhood in following your’s and my father’s steps, I will from henceforth strive to follow them more closely."

"Follow them, then (said he), and consider your body only, not yourself, as mortal. For it 310is not your outward form which constitutes your being, but your mind; not that substance which is palpable to the senses, but your spiritual nature. Know, then, that you are a god - for a god it must be that vivifies, and gives sensation, memory, and foresight to the body to which it is attached, and which it governs and regulates, as the Supreme Ruler does the world which is subject to him. As that Eternal Being moves whatever is mortal in this world, so the immortal mind of man moves the frail body with which it is connected; for what always moves must be eternal, but what derives its motion from a power which is foreign to itself, when that motion ceases, must itself lose its animation.

"That alone, then, which moves itself, can never cease to be moved, because it can never desert itself. It must be the source and origin of motion in all the rest. There can be nothing prior to this origin, for all things must originate from it - itself cannot derive its existence from any other source; for if it did, it would no longer be primary. And if it had no beginning, it can have no end; for a beginning that is put an end to, will neither be renewed by any other cause, nor will it produce any thing else of itself. All things, therefore, must originate from one source. Thus it follows, that motion must have its source in what is moved by itself, and which can neither 311have a beginning nor an end. Otherwise all the heavens and all nature must perish; for it is impossible that they can of themselves acquire any power of producing motion in themselves.

"As, therefore, it is plain that what is moved by itself must be eternal, who will deny that this is the general condition of minds? For, as every thing is inanimate which is moved by an impulse exterior to itself, so what is animated is moved by an interior impulse of its own; for this is the peculiar nature and power of mind. And if that alone has the power of self–motion, it can neither have had a beginning, nor can it have an end.

"Do you, therefore, exercise this mind of yours in the best pursuits, which consist in promoting the good of your country. Such employments will speed the flight of your mind to this its proper abode; and its flight will be still more rapid, if it will look abroad and disengage itself from its bodily dwelling, in the contemplation of things which are external to itself.

"This it should do to the utmost of its power. For the minds of those who have given themselves up to the pleasures of the body, paying as it were a servile obedience to their lustful impulses, have violated the laws of God and man; and therefore when they are separated from their bodies, flutter continually round the earth on which they lived, and are not allowed to return to this celestial 312region, till they have been purified by the revolution of many ages."

Thus saying he vanished, and I awoke from my dream.

Sir Graham