The Founding of Cyrene

 

Strabo, Geographia

Cyrene was founded by the inhabitants of Thera, a Lacedaemonian island which was formerly called Calliste, as Callimachus says: Calliste once its name, but Thera in later times, the mother of my home, famed for its steeds. The harbor of Cyrene is situated opposite to Criu-Metopon, the western cape of Crete, distant 2000 stadia. The passage is made with a south-southwest wind. Cyrene is said to have been founded by Battus, whom Callimachus claims to have been his ancestor. The city flourished from the excellence of the soil, which is peculiarly adapted for breeding horses, and the growth of fine crops.

 

 

Herodotus, The History, IV 145-159

            About this very time another great expedition was undertaken against Libya, on a pretext which I will relate when I have premised certain particulars. The descendants of the Argonauts in the third generation, driven out of Lemnos by the Pelasgi who carried off the Athenian women from Brauron, took ship and went to Lacedaemon, where, seating themselves on Mount Taygetum, they proceeded to kindle their fires. The Lacedaemonians, seeing this, sent a herald to inquire of them "who they were, and from what region they had come"; whereupon they made answer, "that they were Minyae, sons of the heroes by whom the ship Argo was manned; for these persons had stayed awhile in Lemnos, and had there become their progenitors." On hearing this account of their descent, the Lacedaemonians sent to them a second time, and asked "what was their object in coming to Lacedaemon, and there kindling their fires?" They answered, "that, driven from their own land by the Pelasgi, they had come, as was most reasonable, to their fathers; and their wish was to dwell with them in their country, partake their privileges, and obtain allotments of land. It seemed good to the Lacedaemonians to receive the Minyae among them on their own terms; to assign them lands, and enrol them in their tribes. What chiefly moved them to this was the consideration that the sons of Tyndarus had sailed on board the Argo. The Minyae, on their part, forthwith married Spartan wives, and gave the wives, whom they had married in Lemnos, to Spartan husbands.

            However, before much time had elapsed, the Minyae began to wax wanton, demanded to share the throne, and committed other impieties: whereupon the Lacedaemonians passed on them sentence of death, and, seizing them, cast them into prison. Now the Lacedaemonians never put criminals to death in the daytime, but always at night. When the Minyae, accordingly, were about to suffer, their wives, who were not only citizens, but daughters of the chief men among the Spartans, entreated to be allowed to enter the prison, and have some talk with their lords; and the Spartans, not expecting any fraud from such a quarter, granted their request. The women entered the prison, gave their own clothes to their husbands, and received theirs in exchange: after which the Minyae, dressed in their wives' garments, and thus passing for women, went forth. Having effected their escape in this manner, they seated themselves once more upon Taygetum.own land

            It happened that at this very time Theras, son of Autesion (whose father Tisamenus was the son of Thersander, and grandson of Polynices), was about to lead out a colony from Lacedaemon This Theras, by birth a Cadmeian, was uncle on the mother's side to the two sons of Aristodemus, Procles and Eurysthenes, and, during their infancy, administered in their right the royal power. When his nephews, however, on attaining to man's estate, took the government, Theras, who could not bear to be under the authority of others after he had wielded authority so long himself, resolved to leave Sparta and cross the sea to join his kindred. There were in the island now called Thera, but at that time Calliste, certain descendants of Membliarus, the son of Poeciles, a Phoenician. (For Cadmus, the son of Agenor, when he was sailing in search of Europe, made a landing on this island; and, either because the country pleased him, or because he had a purpose in so doing, left there a number of Phoenicians, and with them his own kinsman Membliarus. Calliste had been inhabited by this race for eight generations of men, before the arrival of Theras from Lacedaemon.)

            Theras now, having with him a certain number of men from each of the tribes, was setting forth on his expedition hitherward. Far from intending to drive out the former inhabitants, he regarded them as his near kin, and meant to settle among them. It happened that just at this time the Minyae, having escaped from their prison, had taken up their station upon Mount Taygetum; and the Lacedaemonians, wishing to destroy them, were considering what was best to be done, when Theras begged their lives, undertaking to remove them from the territory. His prayer being granted, he took ship, and sailed, with three triaconters, to join the descendants of Membliarus. He was not, however, accompanied by all the Minyae, but only by some few of them. The greater number fled to the land of the Paroreats and Caucons, whom they drove out, themselves occupying the region in six bodies, by which were afterwards built the towns of Lepreum, Macistus, Phryxae, Pyrgus, Epium, and Nudium; whereof the greater part were in my day demolished by the Eleans.

            The island was called Thera after the name of its founder. This same Theras had a son, who refused to cross the sea with him; Theras therefore left him behind, "a sheep," as he said, "among wolves." From this speech his son came to be called Oeolycus, a name which afterwards grew to be the only one by which he was known. This Oeolycus was the father of Aegeus, from whom sprang the Aegidae, a great tribe in Sparta. The men of this tribe lost at one time all their children, whereupon they were bidden by an oracle to build a temple to the furies of Laius and Oedipus; they complied, and the mortality ceased. The same thing happened in Thera to the descendants of these men.

            Thus far the history is delivered without variation both by the Theraeans and the Lacedaemonians; but from this point we have only the Theraean narrative. Grinus (they say), the son of Aesanius, a descendant of Theras, and king of the island of Thera, went to Delphi to offer a hecatomb on behalf of his native city. He was accompanied by a large number of the citizens, and among the rest by Battus, the son of Polymnestus, who belonged to the Minyan family of the Euphemidae. On Grinus consulting the oracle about sundry matters, the Pythoness gave him for answer, "that he should found a city in Libya." Grinus replied to this: "I, O king! am too far advanced in years, and too inactive, for such a work. Bid one of these youngsters undertake it." As he spoke, he pointed towards Battus; and thus the matter rested for that time. When the embassy returned to Thera, small account was taken of the oracle by the Theraeans, as they were quite ignorant where Libya was, and were not so venturesome as to send out a colony in the dark.

            Seven years passed from the utterance of the oracle, and not a drop of rain fell in Thera: all the trees in the island, except one, were killed with the drought. The Theraeans upon this sent to Delphi, and were reminded reproachfully that they had never colonised Libya. So, as there was no help for it, they sent messengers to Crete, to inquire whether any of the Cretans, or of the strangers sojourning among them, had ever travelled as far as Libya: and these messengers of theirs, in their wanderings about the island, among other places visited Itanus, where they fell in with a man, whose name was Corobius, a dealer in purple. In answer to their inquiries, he told them that contrary winds had once carried him to Libya, where he had gone ashore on a certain island which was named Platea. So they hired this man's services, and took him back with them to Thera. A few persons then sailed from Thera to reconnoitre. Guided by Corobius to the island of Platea, they left him there with provisions for a certain number of months, and returned home with all speed to give their countrymen an account of the island.

            During their absence, which was prolonged beyond the time that had been agreed upon, Corobius provisions failed him. He was relieved, however, after a while by a Samian vessel, under the command of a man named Colaeus, which, on its way to Egypt, was forced to put in at Platea. The crew, informed by Corobius of all the circumstances, left him sufficient food for a year. They themselves quitted the island; and, anxious to reach Egypt, made sail in that direction, but were carried out of their course by a gale of wind from the east. The storm not abating, they were driven past the Pillars of Hercules, and at last, by some special guiding providence, reached Tartessus. This trading town was in those days a virgin port, unfrequented by the merchants. The Samians, in consequence, made by the return voyage a profit greater than any Greeks before their day, excepting Sostratus, son of Laodamas, an Eginetan, with whom no one else can compare. From the tenth part of their gains, amounting to six talents, the Samians made a brazen vessel, in shape like an Argive wine-bowl, adorned with the heads of griffins standing out in high relief. This bowl, supported by three kneeling colossal figures in bronze, of the height of seven cubits, was placed as an offering in the temple of Juno at Samos. The aid given to Corobius was the original cause of that close friendship which afterwards united the Cyrenaeans and Theraeans with the Samians.

            The Theraeans who had left Corobius at Platea, when they reached Thera, told their countrymen that they had colonised an island on the coast of Libya. They of Thera, upon this, resolved that men should be sent to join the colony from each of their seven districts, and that the brothers in every family should draw lots to determine who were to go. Battus was chosen to be king and leader of the colony. So these men departed for Platea on board of two penteconters.

            Such is the account which the Theraeans give. In the sequel of the history their accounts tally with those of the people of Cyrene; but in what they relate of Battus these two nations differ most widely. The following is the Cyrenaic story. There was once a king named Etearchus, who ruled over Axus, a city in Crete, and had a daughter named Phronima. This girl's mother having died, Etearchus married a second wife; who no sooner took up her abode in his house than she proved a true step-mother to poor Phronima, always vexing her, and contriving against her every sort of mischief. At last she taxed her with light conduct; and Etearchus, persuaded by his wife that the charge was true, bethought himself of a most barbarous mode of punishment. There was a certain Theraean, named Themison, a merchant, living at Axus. This man Etearchus invited to be his friend and guest, and then induced him to swear that he would do him any service he might require. No sooner had he given the promise, than the king fetched Phronima, and, delivering her into his hands, told him to carry her away and throw her into the sea. Hereupon Themison, full of indignation at the fraud whereby his oath had been procured, dissolved forthwith the friendship, and, taking the girl with him, sailed away from Crete. Having reached the open main, to acquit himself of the obligation under which he was laid by his oath to Etearchus, he fastened ropes about the damsel, and, letting her down into the sea, drew her up again, and so made sail for Thera.

            At Thera, Polymnestus, one of the chief citizens of the place, took Phronima to be his concubine. The fruit of this union was a son, who stammered and had a lisp in his speech. According to the Cyrenaeans and Theraeans the name given to the boy was Battus: in my opinion, however, he was called at the first something else, and only got the name of Battus after his arrival in Libya, assuming it either in consequence of the words addressed to him by the Delphian oracle, or on account of the office which he held. For, in the Libyan tongue, the word "Battus" means "a king." And this, I think, was the reason the Pythoness addressed him as she did: she he was to be a king in Libya, and so she used the Libyan word in speaking to him. For after he had grown to man's estate, he made a journey to Delphi, to consult the oracle about his voice; when, upon his putting his question, the Pythoness thus replied to him:-

            Battus, thou camest to ask of thy voice; but Phoebus Apollo

            Bids thee establish a city in Libya, abounding in fleeces; 

which was as if she had said in her own tongue, "King, thou camest to ask of thy voice." Then he replied, "Mighty lord, I did indeed come hither to consult thee about my voice, but thou speakest to me of quite other matters, bidding me colonise Libya- an impossible thing! what power have I? what followers?" Thus he spake, but he did not persuade the Pythoness to give him any other response; so, when he found that she persisted in her former answer, he left her speaking, and set out on his return to Thera.

            After a while, everything began to go wrong both with Battus and with the rest of the Theraeans, whereupon these last, ignorant of the cause of their sufferings, sent to Delphi to inquire for what reason they were afflicted. The Pythoness in reply told them "that if they and Battus would make a settlement at Cyrene in Libya, things would go better with them." Upon this the Theraeans sent out Battus with two penteconters, and with these he proceeded to Libya, but within a little time, not knowing what else to do, the men returned and arrived off Thera. The Theraeans, when they saw the vessels approaching, received them with showers of missiles, would not allow them to come near the shore, and ordered the men to sail back from whence they came. Thus compelled to return, they settled on an island near the Libyan coast, which (as I have already said) was called Platea. In size it is reported to have been about equal to the city of Cyrene, as it now stands.

            In this place they continued two years, but at the end of that time, as their ill luck still followed them, they left the island to the care of one of their number, and went in a body to Delphi, where they made complaint at the shrine to the effect that, notwithstanding they had colonised Libya, they prospered as poorly as before. Hereon the Pythoness made them the following answer:-

            Knowest thou better than I, fair Libya abounding in fleeces?

            Better the stranger than he who has trod it? Oh! clever

              Theraeans! 

Battus and his friends, when they heard this, sailed back to Platea: it was plain the god would not hold them acquitted of the colony till they were absolutely in Libya. So, taking with them the man whom they had left upon the island, they made a settlement on the mainland directly opposite Platea, fixing themselves at a place called Aziris, which is closed in on both sides by the most beautiful hills, and on one side is washed by a river.

            Here they remained six years, at the end of which time the Libyans induced them to move, promising that they would lead them to a better situation. So the Greeks left Aziris and were conducted by the Libyans towards the west, their journey being so arranged, by the calculation of their guides, that they passed in the night the most beautiful district of that whole country, which is the region called Irasa. The Libyans brought them to a spring, which goes by the name of Apollo's fountain, and told them- "Here, Grecians, is the proper place for you to settle; for here the sky leaks."

            During the lifetime of Battus, the founder of the colony, who reigned forty years, and during that of his son Arcesilaus, who reigned sixteen, the Cyrenaeans continued at the same level, neither more nor fewer in number than they were at the first. But in the reign of the third king, Battus, surnamed the Happy, the advice of the Pythoness brought Greeks from every quarter into Libya, to join the settlement. The Cyrenaeans had offered to all comers a share in their lands; and the oracle had spoken as follows:-

            He that is backward to share in the pleasant Libyan acres,

            Sooner or later, I warn him, will feel regret at his folly. 

Thus a great multitude were collected together to Cyrene, and the Libyans of the neighbourhood found themselves stripped of large portions of their lands. So they, and their king Adicran, being robbed and insulted by the Cyrenaeans, sent messengers to Egypt, and put themselves under the rule of Apries, the Egyptian monarch; who, upon this, levied a vast army of Egyptians, and sent them against Cyrene. The inhabitants of that place left their walls and marched out in force to the district of Irasa, where, near the spring called Theste, they engaged the Egyptian host, and defeated it. The Egyptians, who had never before made trial of the prowess of the Greeks, and so thought but meanly of them, were routed with such slaughter that but a very few of them ever got back home. For this reason, the subjects of Apries, who laid the blame of the defeat on him, revolted from his authority.   

 

 

Pausanias X.15.6-7

The Cyrenaeans have dedicated at Delphi a figure of Battus in a chariot; he it was who brought them in ships from Thera to Libya. The reins are held by Cyrene, and in the chariot is Battus, who is being crowned by Libya. The artist was a Cnossian, Amphion the son of Acestor.  It is said that, after Battus had founded Cyrene, he was cured of his stammering in the following way. As he was passing through the territory of the Cyrenaeans, in the extreme parts of it, as yet desert, he saw a lion, and the terror of the sight compelled him to cry out in a clear and loud voice.

 

 

Diodorus Siculus VIII.29

Aristotle, who was also called Battus, wishing to found the city of Cyrene, received an oracle to the following effect:

 

O Battus, thou did'st come about a voice;

But Phoebus, even Lord Apollo, sends

Thee forth to fair-crowned Libya, there to rule

O'er broad Cyrene and enjoy the place

Reserved to kings.  Barbarian warriors there,

Clad in the skins of beasts, will rush against

Thee, when thou settest foot on Libyan soil.

But pray to Cronus' son, to Pallas who

Stirs up the fight, of flashing eye, withal

To Phoebus, ever-young, the son of Zeus,

And in thy hand shall lie the victory.

And over fair-crowned Libya shalt thou rule

Blessed, thou and thy house:  Thy guide thereto is Phoebus Apollo.

 

 

Scholiast to Pindar Pythian 4

About the arrival of Battos at the seat of the oracle, writers are not in agreement.  For some say that he came on account of his voice and they never stop repeating the oracle: "Battos, you came because of your voice, but the King, Phoibos Apollo, is sending you to sheep-feeding Libya as founder."  But some say that he went to the oracle because of civil disruption [in Thera].  At any rate, Menecles says that the motive of disruption seems persuasive while that about his voice seems somewhat mythical. He says that the citizens of Thera fell into civil strife and became estranged from each other, and that Battos was the leader of one of the factions.  When the struggle of the factions ended, the result was that Batos' party was driven from the city and fled the country.  Renouncing the thought of returning to his country, they considered founding a colony.  Battos went to Delphi and asked whether they should carry on the civil struggle or should establish a colony at some different place.  The god responded: "Your first inquiry is bad, but the second is good.  Go, leave the sea-girt land,the mainland is better in the east.  Cast away the prior ruse, yielding to persuasion. … land … piously, which is great, and he hates impiety.  As a man acts, such are his fruits."

 

 

The Foundation Decree of Cyrene

The following inscription was found in Cyrene and dates to the fourth century BCE.  However, in lines 23-40 it allegedly contains the original decree of the Therans passed in the late 7th century BCE, though scholars continue to debate whether these terms are an authentic representation of the original decree.

 

God.  Good Fortune.  Damis son of Bathykles made the motion.  As to what is said by the Therans, Kleudamas son of Euthykles, in order that the city may prosper and the People of Cyrene enjoy good fortune, the Therans shall be given the citizenship according to that ancestral custom which our forefathers established, both those who founded Cyrene from Thera and those at Thera who remained - just as Apollo granted Battos and the Therans who founded good fortune if they abided by the sworn agreement which our ancestors concluded with them when they sent out the colony according to the command of Apollo Archagetes.  With good fortune. 

 

It has been resolved by the people that the Therans shall continue to enjoy equal citizenship in Cyrene in the same way (as of old).  There shall be sworn by all Therans who are domiciled in Cyrene the same oath which the others once swore and they shall be assigned to a tribe and a phratry and nine Hetaireiai.  This decree shall be written on a stele of marble and placed in the ancestral shrine of Apollo Pythios; and that sworn agreement also shall be written on the stele which was made by the colonists when they sailed to Libya with Battos from Thera to Cyrene.  As to the expenditure necessary for the stone or for the engraving, let the Superintendents of the Accounts provide it from Apollo's revenues.

 

[The alleged 7th century decree begins here.]

 

Oath of the Settlers: The assembly decided: since Apollo spontaneously ordered Battos and the Therans to colonize Cyrene, the Therans resolve to send out Battos to Libya as a leader and a king, with Therans to sail as his companions. They are to sail on fair and equal terms, according to households, one son to be chosen [from each family?] of those who are in the prime of life; and of the rest of Therans those free men [who wish?] may sail. If the colonists establish the settlement, any of their fellow citizens who sails later to Libya is to share in citizenship and honor, and to be allotted unoccupied land. But if they do not establish the settlement, and the Therans cannot help them, and they are driven by necessity for five years, let them return from the land without fear to Thera, to their own property and to be citizens. But whoever is unwilling to sail, when he has been sent by the city, shall be liable to the death penalty, and his property shall be made public; and whoever receives or protects another, whether father or son, or brother his brother, shall suffer the same penalty as he who is unwilling to sail.

 

On these conditions they swore a solemn agreement, those who stayed at home and those who sailed to found the colony; and they placed a curse on those who broke the agreement and did not abide by it, either those living in Libya or those staying at home. They molded wax images, and burned them with curses, all of them coming together, men and women, boys and girls: "May he who does not abide by these oaths, but breaks them, melt away and dissolve like the images, himself and his offspring and his property. But for those who abide by these oaths, for those who sail to Libya and those who remain in Thera, may there be abundance and prosperity for themselves and for their offspring.

 

Semiotic Models

 

Calame/Greimas

 

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