Greek Mythology

Battle of Arimaspi with the griffins

The Arimaspi (Ἀριμασποί) of northern Scythia, perhaps in the foothills of the Carpathians, were so utterly legendary to Greek writers that it was said they had a single eye in the center of their foreheads. They were said to steal gold from the griffins, causing battles between the two groups. All tales of their struggles with the gold-guarding griffins in the Hyperborean lands near the cave of Boreas, the North Wind (Geskleithron), had their origin in Arimaspea, the lost archaic poem of Aristeas of Proconnesus. Proconnesus is a small island in the Sea of Marmora near the mouth of the Black Sea, well situated for hearing travellers' tales of regions far north of the Black Sea. Battles between griffons and warriors in Scythian tunics and leggings were a theme for Greek vase-painters, and the few Arimaspian details were eagerly reported by Herodotus and Strabo and in Pliny's Natural History. Spiritual descendents of the one-eyed Arimaspi of Central Asia may be found in the decorative borderlands of medieval maps and in the montrous imagery of Hieronymus Bosch. Herodotus recorded a detail recalled from Arimaspea that may have a core in fact: "the Issedones were pushed from their lands by the Arimaspoi, and the Scythians by the Issedones" (iv.13.1). But Herodotus also admitted the fantastic allure of the edges of the known world: "The most outlying lands, though, as they enclose and wholly surround all the rest of the world, are likely to have those things which we think the finest and the rarest." (Histories iii.116.1) Only the gold may be said to have been real, the Encyclopaedia Britannica observed, but the "sp" in the name—"the Scythian name, Arimaspoi; for in the Skythian tongue 'arima' is one, and 'spou' is the eye."— suggests that it was mediated through Iranian sources to Greek (compare Hytaspes). The Arimaspians were the Huns, most likely.

Aristeas says in the course of his poem he was 'wrapt in Bacchic fury' when he travelled to and saw the Arimaspians: "There is also a story related in a poem by Aristeas son of Kaüstrobios, a man of Prokonnesos. This Aristeas, possessed by Phoibos [Apollon], visited the Issedones; beyond these (he said) live the one-eyed Arimaspoi, beyond whom are the Grypes (Griffins) that guard gold, and beyond these again the Hyperboreoi, whose territory reaches to the sea. Except for the Hyperboreoi, all these nations (and first the Arimaspoi) are always at war with their neighbors..." Herodotus 4.13.1


Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911: "Arismaspi"

Michael D. Winkle, Built Up Logically: An Attempt to Map (Literally and Metaphorically) The Secondary World of the Gryphons: an eccentric reading of Bolton

Further reading

J.D.P. Bolton, 1962. Aristeas of Proconnesus (reprinted 1992).

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