HYPERBOREA & THE RHIPAEAN MOUNTAINS
1 February 2001
NOTE : These are "traditional" descriptions of Hyperborea and related matters, by 19th-century professors who were attempting to determine from various "myths" actual planetary geographical locations for these mystical lands, rather than place Hyperborea in a celestial position above the North Pole as a Cosmic Tree. This information is provided here, as it were, for the record. The reader can draw his or her own conclusions as to how it might relate to the true circumstances discussed in this series of essays and documents.
From A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, Volume 1, Pages 1104-1106, by Professor William Smith & Others, London, 1873.
HYPERBOREI: The legendary race of the Hyperboreans, though mentioned neither in the Iliad nor Odyssey, are spoken of in the poem of the Epigoni and in Hesiod and occur in traditions connected with the temples of Tempe, Delphi, and Delos.
The situation assigned to this sacred nation, as the name indicates, is the remote regions of the North. They were said to dwell beyond Boreas, the mountain wind, which came from the Rhipaean Mountains [See Below], the name of which was derived from hurricanes, issuing from a cavern, which they warded off from the Hyperboreans, and sent to more southern nations; so that they never felt the cold north wind, but had their lot fixed in some happy climate, where, like an Alpine summit rising above the storms, they were surrounded by an atmosphere of calm and undisturbed serenity.
"Here," says Alexander Von Humboldt, "are the first views of a natural science which explains the distribution of heat and the difference of climates by local causes, by the direction of the winds, the proximity of the sun, and the action of a moist or saline principle." And thus the "meteorological myth," which placed the Hyperboreans in the North at the sources of the Ister, as conceived by Pindar, and Aeschylus in the Prometheus Unbound, was, when the Ister was supposed to be a river running through all Europe from its western extremity, transferred to the regions of the West.
In consequence of this we find, in later writers, a confusion of this happy land with that of Italy and other western countries, as well as of the Rhipaeans with the Alps and Pyrenees. But whatever arbitrary license was assumed by the poets and geographers who wished to mold these creations of the fancy into the form of a real people, as to their local habitation, the religious idea always remained the same. They were represented as a pious nation, abstaining from the flesh of animals, and living in perpetual serenity in the service of their God for a thousand years.
But at length, tired out with this easy life, betwixt the sun and shade, they leapt, crowned with garlands, from a rock into the sea.
We are conducted almost involuntarily to the Argippaei, Issedones, and the "ancient kingdom of the Griffin," to which Aristeas of Proconessus, and, two hundred years after him, Herodotus, have given such celebrity.
East of the Kalmuck Argippaei were the Issedones, but to the North of both, nothing was known, since high mountains presented an impassable barrier. In descending the chain of Ural to the East, towards the steppes of Obol and Ichim, another lofty range of mountains, forming the West extremity of the Altai, does in fact appear. The commercial route crossed the first chain from West to East, which indicates a "meridian" chain with its main axis running from South to North.
In marking off the second chain, Herodotus clearly distinguishes that which is to the East of the Argippaei (the country of the Issedones) [See Below] from that which lies beyond the huge mountains towards the North, where the men sleep half the year, and the air is filled with feathers, where the Arimaspi live who steal the gold from the "Griffins".
This distinction seems to establish the existence of a chain running from West to East. The region of the "Griffins" and the Hyperboreans commences beyond the North slope of the "chain of the Aegipodes" (the Altai). The position of the Issedones to the North of the Jaxartes (Araxes) appears justified by the account of the campaign of Cyrus against the Massagetae, who occupied the plain to the South of the Issedones.
The most precious mineral riches are stored up in the extremities of the earth, and it is in the North of Europe that the greatest abundance of gold is found. Now the North of Europe, in the geography of Herodotus, comprehends the North of Asia, and we are irresistibly reminded of the gold-washings to the South of the Ural, among the mountains of Kousnetsk, and the ravines of the Lowlands of South Siberia. The locality of the gold trade of Northwest Asia may be placed between the 53rd and 55th degrees of latitude.
An ingenious hypothesis has been started by Erman, which refers the mythus of the "Griffins", guardians of the gold of the Arimaspi, to the phenomenon of the frequent occurrence of the fossil bones of the great pachydermatous animals found in the alluvium of North Siberia: bones which to this day the native tribes of wild hunters believe to be the claws, beak, and head of some gigantic bird.
Von Humboldt, to whose interesting discussion on this subject reference has been made, justly enough condemns this confusion between ancient and modern fable; and shows that the symbolic image of the "Griffins", as a poetic fiction and representation in the arts, did precede, among the Greeks, the time when relations were formed among the colonists of Pontus and the Arimaspi.
The "Griffin" was known to the Samians, who figured it upon the vase which commemorated the good fortune of their first expedition to Tartessus, according to Herodotus. This mysterious symbol of an animal acting as guardian over gold, seems to have been the growth of India and of Persia; and the commerce of Miletus contributed to spread it in Greece along with the tapestries of Babylon.
The region of auriferous sand, of which the Daradas (Dardars, or Derders, mentioned in The Mahabharata, and in the fragments of Megasthenes) gave intelligence to travellers, and with which the often-repeated fable of the ants became connected, owing to the accidental double meaning of a name, belongs to a more Southern Latitude, 35° or 37°.
From A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography
Volume 2, Page 710, by Professor William Smith & Others, London, 1873
RHIPAEI MONTES, a name applied by Grecian fancy to a mountain chain whose peaks rose to the North of the known world. It is probably connected with the word "ripai" or the chill rushing blasts of "Boreas", the mountain wind or "tramontana" of the Greek Archipelago, which was conceived to issue from the caverns of this mountain range. Hence arose the notion of the happiness of those living beyond these mountains -- the only place exempt from the northern blasts.
In fact they appear in the form of "Ripai", in Alcman, a lyric poet of the 7th century B.C., who is the first to mention them. The contemporary writers Damastes of Sigeum and Hellanicus of Lesbos agree in their statements in placing beyond the fabled tribes of the North the Rhipaean Mountains from which the north wind blows, and on the other side of these, on the seacoast, the Hyperboreans.
The legends connected with this imagined range of mountains lingered for a long period in Grecian literature, as may be seen from the statements of Hecataeus of Abdera and Aristotle. Herodotus knows nothing of the Rhipaean Mountains or the Alps, though the positive geography of the North begins with him. It would be an idle inquiry to identify the Rhipaean range with any actual chain.
As the knowledge of the Greeks advanced, the geographical "mythus" was moved further and further to the North till it reached the 48th degree of latitude North of the Maeotic Lake and the Caspian, between the Don, the Volga, and the Jaik, where Europe and Asia melt as it were into each other in wide plains or steppes. These "mountains of the winds" followed in the train of the meteorological "mythus" of the Hyperboreans which wandered with Heracles far to the West.
Geographical discovery embodied the picture which the imagination had formed. Poseidonius seems to have considered this range to be the Alps. The Roman poets, borrowing from the Greeks, made the Rhipaean chain the extreme limit to the North; and Lucan places the sources of the Tanais in this chain.
In the earlier writers the form is Ripaei, but with Pliny and those who followed him the P becomes aspirated. In the geography of Ptolemy and the Rhipaean chain appears to be that gently rising ground which divides the rivers which flow into the Baltic from those which run to the Euxine.
From A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography
Volume 2, Pages 68-69, by Professor William Smith & Others, London, 1873
ISSEDONES: In the Roman writers the usual form is "Essedones," a people living to the East of the Argippaei, and the most remote of the tribes of Central Asia with whom the Hellenic colonies on the Euxine had any communication.
The name is found as early as the Spartan Alcman, B.C. 671-631, who calls them "Assedones", and Hecataeus. A great movement among the nomad tribes of the North had taken place in very remote times, following a direction from Northeast to Southwest; the Arimaspi had driven out the Issedones from the steppes over which they wandered, and they in turn drove out the Scythians, and the Scythians the Cimmerians.
Traces of these migrations were indicated in the poem of Aristeas of Proconnesus, a semi-mythical personage, whose pilgrimage to the land of the Issedones was strangely disfigured after his death by the fables of the Milesian colonists.
The Issedones, according to Herodotus, have a custom, when any one loses his father, for the kinsfolk to kill a certain number of sheep, whose flesh they hash up together with that of the dead man, and make merry over it. This done, they peel and clean out his skull, which after it has been gilded becomes a kind of idol to which yearly sacrifices are offered. In all other respects they are a righteous people, submitting to the rule of women equally with that of men; in other words, a civilized people.
Heeren, upon Dr. Leyden's authority, illustrates this way of carrying out the duties of filial piety by the practice of the Battas of Sumatra. It may be remarked that a similar story is told of the Indian Padaei. Pomponius Mela simply copies the statement of Herodotus, though he alters it so far as to assert that the Issedones used the skull as a drinking cup. The name occurs more than once in Pliny; and Ptolemy, who has a town Issedon in Serica, mentions in another place the Scythian Issedon.
Alexander Von Humboldt has shown that, if the relief of the countries between the Don and the Irtysh be compared with the itinerary traced by Herodotus from the Thyssagetae to the Issedones, it will be seen that the Father of History was acquainted with the existence of vast plains separating the Ural and Altai, chains which modern geographers have been in the habit of uniting by an imaginary range passing through the steppe of the Kirghiz.
This route recognises the passage of the Ural from West to East, and indicates another chain more to the East and more elevated -- that of the Altai. These claims, it is true, are not designated by any special names, but Herodotus was not acquainted even in Europe with the names of the Alps and Rhipaean Mountains; and a comparison of the order in which the peoples are arranged, as well as the relief and description of the country, shows that much definite information had been already attained.
Advancing from the Palus Maeotis, which was supposed to be of far larger dimensions than it really is, in a central direction towards the Northeast, the first people found occupying the plains are the "Black-Clothed" Melanchlaeni, then the Budini, Thyssagetae, the Iurcae (who have falsely identified with the Turks), and finally, towards the East, a colony of Scythians, who had separated themselves from the "Royal Scythians" (perhaps to barter gold and skins).
Here the plains end, and the ground becomes broken, rising into mountains, at the foot of which are the Argippaei, who have been identified from their long chins and flat noses with the Kalmucks or Mongolians by Niebuhr, Böckh, and others, to whom reference is made by Mr. Grote. This identification has been disputed by Humboldt, who refers these tribes to the Finnish stock, assuming as a certain fact, on evidence which it is difficult to make out, that the Mongolians who lived around Lake Baikal did not move into Central Asia till the thirteenth century.
Where the data are so few, for the language (the principle upon which the families of the human race are marked off) may be said to be unknown, ethnographic analogies become very hazardous, and the more so in the case of nomad tribes, the same under such wide differences of time and climate. But if there be considerable difficulty in making out the analogy of race, the local bearings of these tribes may be laid down with tolerable certainty.
The country up to the Argippaei was well known to the traders; a barrier of impassable mountains blocked up the way beyond. The position of the Issedones, according to the indications of the route, must be assigned to the East of Ichim in the steppe of the central horde of the Kirghiz, and that of the Arimaspi on the North declivity of the Altai.
The communication between the two peoples for the purpose of carrying on the gold trade was probably made through the plains at the Northwest extremity of the Altai, where the range juts out in the form of a huge promontory.