Abaris the Hyperborean

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Abaris redirects here. For the Baroque opera see Les Boréades

Abaris the Hyperborean (Greek: Ἄβαρις Ὑπερβόρειος, Abaris Hyperboreios), son of Seuthes, was a legendary sage, healer, and priest of Apollo known to the Ancient Greeks. He was supposed to have learned his skills in his homeland of Hyperborea, near the Caucasus,[1] which he fled during a plague. He was said to be endowed with the gift of prophecy, and by this as well as by his Scythian dress and simplicity and honesty he created great sensation in Greece, and was held in high esteem.[2]

Legend[edit]

According to Herodotus he was said to have traveled around the world with an arrow[3] symbolizing Apollo, eating no food.[4] Heraclides Ponticus wrote that Abaris flew on it. Plato (Charmides 158C) classes him amongst the "Thracian physicians" who practice medicine upon the soul as well as the body by means of "incantations" (epodai). A temple to Persephone at Sparta was attributed to Abaris by Pausanias (9.10). Alan H. Griffiths compares Abaris to Aristeas in terms of being a "shamanistic missionary and savior-figure" and notes Pindar places Abaris during the time of Croesus.[5]

Phalaris[edit]

A particularly rich trove of anecdotes is found in Iamblichus's Vita Pythagorica. Here, Abaris is said to have purified Sparta and Knossos, among other cities, from plagues (VP 92–93). Abaris also appears in a climactic scene alongside Pythagoras at the court of the Sicilian tyrant Phalaris. The two sages discuss divine matters, and urge the obstinate tyrant towards virtue (ibid. 215–221). Iamblicus also attributes to Abaris a special expertise at extispicy, the art of predicting future events through the examination of anomalies in the entrails of animals.[6] The Suda attributes a number of books to Abaris, including a volume of Scythian Oracles in dactylic hexameter, a prose theogony, a poem on the marriage of the river Hebrus, a work on purifications, and an account of Apollo's visit to the Hyperboreans. But such works, if they were really current in ancient times, were no more genuine than his reputed correspondence with Phalaris the tyrant.[7]

A more securely historical Greco-Scythian philosopher, who travelled among the Hellenes in the early sixth century, was Anacharsis.

Modern impact[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses v. 86
  2. ^ Strabo, Geographica 7.3.8.
  3. ^ "Hence the dart of Abaris" (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)
  4. ^ Herodotus, Histories 4.36
  5. ^ Griffiths, Alan H. (2003), "Abaris", in Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Anthony, The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.), Oxford: OxfordUP, p. 1, ISBN 978-0-19-860641-3 
  6. ^ "... and instead of divining by the entrails of beasts, he [Pythagoras] revealed to him the art of prognosticating by numbers conceiving this to be a method purer, more divine and more kindred to the celestial numbers of the Gods." from Iamblichus' Vita Pythagorica (trans. K. S. Guthrie).
  7. ^ Schmitz, Leonhard (1867). "Abaris". In Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 1. p. 1. 

Sources[edit]