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Saturday, April 1, 2017

ARIMASPI

ARIMASPI were ancient people in the extreme north-east of Scythia, probably the eastern Altai. All accounts of them go back to a poem by Aristeas of Proconnesus, from whom Herodotus (iii. 116, iv. 27) drew his information. According to Herodotos their name was derived from the Skythian words arima "one" and spou "eye". They were supposed to be one-eyed (hence their Scythian name), and to steal gold from the griffins that guarded it. In art they are usually represented as richly dressed Asiatics, picturesquely grouped with their griffin foes; the subject is often described by poets from Aeschylus to Milton. They are so nearly mythical that it is impossible to insist on the usual identification with the ancestors of the Huns. Their gold was probably real, as gold still comes from the Altai.

Greek and Roman accounts
Arimaspian fighting Griffin (Museum of Fine Arts Boston)
Arimaspian fighting Griffin (Museum of Fine Arts Boston)


Here is the account of Herodotus:

"Of these too, then, we have knowledge; but as for what is north of them, it is from the Issedones that the tale comes of the one-eyed men [Arimaspoi (Arimaspians)] and the Grypes (Griffins) that guard gold; this is told by the Skythians (Scythians), who have heard it from them; and we have taken it as true from the Skythians, and call these people by the Skythian name, Arimaspoi; for in the Skythian tongue arima is one, and spou is the eye."

The account of Pliny the Elder (Natural History 7. 10):


"Also a tribe is reported next to these [i.e. the tribes of Scythia], towards the North, not far from the actual quarter where Aquilo (the North Wind) [Boreas] rises and the cave that bears its name, the place called the Earth's Door-Bolt (Ges Clithron)--the Arimaspi (Arimpaspians) whom we have spoke of already, people remarkable for having one yes in the centre of their forehead. Many authorities, the most distinguished being Herodotus [Greek historian C5th B.C.] and Aristeas of Proconnesus [Greek poet C7th B.C.], write that these people wage continual war with the Grypes (Griffins), a kind of wild beast with wings, as commonly reported, that digs gold out of mines, which the creatures guard and the Arimaspi try to take from them, both with remarkable covetousness."