🧿 Aristeas of Proconnesus (poet and mystic, 7th century BC) had a fine flare for theatrics.
As described in my previous post, he began by dropping down dead in a fuller shop (which is something like a laundry), then disappeared for six years; reappeared with dramatic claims of having been traveling while possessed by Apollo, then wrote the epic poem Arimaspea about the possession and his odyssey to the mysterious North.
Voilà! Performance complete. Aristeas took his bows, then vanished once more.
Though Aristeas’ ambitious poem Arimaspea was composed in three books, just six lines of it remain. The rest disappeared more than twenty-five hundred years ago.
Nevertheless, later authors, historians, and playwrights have referenced his poetic account.
For example, Herodotus, “the Father of History” (5th century BC), having gathered the most information about Aristeas of Proconnesus, passed it down to us in his nine-volume prose history of the Western world, The History.
Pausanias, author of Descriptions of Greece (c. 150 AD), also provided us with a remarkable look at that ancient world. He referenced the Arimaspea directly in this selection:
“Aristeas of Proconnesus says in his poem that these griffins fight for the gold with the Arimaspians who dwell beyond the Issedonians, and that the gold which the griffins guard is produced by the earth. He says, too, that the Arimaspians are all one-eyed men from birth, and that the griffiins are beasts like lions, but with the wings and head of an eagle. So much for the griffins.” (trans. Sir James George Frazer)
All in all, there is much to suggest that both the Arimaspea and its eccentric author existed. That leads to the intriguing question that sparked my novel Quest for Gryphon Gold:
What if the odyssey described was true?
And now, for the rest of Aristeas’ story: The author had a dramatic encore up his sleeve.
Having finished the Arimaspea, then disappearing from the stage again, the poet stayed away long enough to be presumed dead. Then according to historian Herodotus, two hundred and forty years after this second vanishing act, Aristeas returned to take another bow.
He showed up in Metapontum in southern Italy claiming that he had been traveling with Apollo as a sacred raven. He commanded that a statue of himself be set up and a new altar dedicated to Apollo. Then, having made his demands, he disappeared a final time.
The flabbergasted town officials consulted with the Pythoness at Delphi and were advised to comply. So at the time of Herodotus, statues of both Aristeas and Apollo stood in the marketplace of Metapontum.
This mysterious vanishing poet plays a pivotal role in Quest for Gryphon Gold. We know just enough about him to be tantalized, leaving the rest up to imagination.
Come back soon. I want to tell you how I rebuilt Babylon, where the story begins.
Visit all of my Pinterest “Ancient Journeys” boards to visually explore the roads and realms in Quest for Gryphon Gold.
“The reputation of the old wizard of Proconnesus lingered on in nearby Byzantium until the fourteenth century; it may still linger somewhere today, connected as ever with strange things, for the ship which in 1938 fished up a living coelacanth, as it were from the Mesozoic era, was called Aristea.”
(Bolton, J.D.P. Aristeas of Proconnesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962. Print.)
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