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were based on the discoveries of Pytheas soon after his
return from the North. It was a time of excitement and
scientific activity. The story of the new world was
received with a general enthusiasm ; and the popularity
of the subject soon led to the publication of geographical
romances tricked out and coloured with the fashionable
learning. They were not, of course, intended to be treated
seriously ; but in time they had the effect of obscuring
and of almost effacing the Greek knowledge of Britain.

Origins of English History. 75

The process will be illustrated in this chapter by extracts
from some of these curious works ; and it will be shown
that they were the real source of many of the legends
and strange traditions which have perplexed historical

It need not be supposed that their publication had at
first any effect in the way of confusing the popular belief.
For a century or more after the termination of the northern
voyage, its real incidents were kept apart from the fictions
of its imitators. A few criticisms by Dicaearchus did not
diminish the general faith in the traveller's accuracy. The
great scholars of Alexandria endorsed the popular opinion,
and the earliest maps laid down "the parallel of Thule" at
that distance from the equator which Pytheas had roughly

But even in the lifetime of Eratosthenes (b.c. 275 to B.C.
195) we can trace the beginnings of the scepticism which
destroyed the credit of the philosopher of Marseilles. The
keeper of the great library of Alexandria had cited Pytheas
for many statements in his " Geographica," of which not
many sentences have survived the destruction of the library
by fire. But he was already pressed with the new argu-
ment, that these old travels could hardly be distinguished
from others which were clearly fictitious.

Euhemerus of Messene, the inventor of the system w^hich
"rationalised" the current mythology, had lately published
an account of the Land of Panchaia, which may still be
examined in the undiscriminating collections of Diodorus.
This Arabian land was described as the home of the
heroes whom the populace worshipped as Zeus and Apollo,
and of all the other beings who were counted among the
gods of Greece. The fable was a useful vehicle for the

76 Origins of English History.

spread of dangerous opinions. The author had merely
anticipated the stratagem of Rabelais ; but some were so
foolish as to take the falsehood for genuine history.

Others used the occasion to attack the new geographical
science. " How," they said, " can these travellers' tales
about the North be distinguished from works of fiction ?
Here are things which one could not believe, if Hermes
himself came down from heaven as a witness ; and why
should thev be of more account than what the Messenian
has told us of his Holy Land?" But Eratosthenes would
only reply, " I trust Pytheas, even where Dicasarchus
doubted ; but I think that Euhemerus lies like the man of

The answer failed to satisfy the later critics. " It would
have been better," said Polybius, " if he had believed the
Messenian ; for he only told falsehoods about one country,
but this Pytheas pretended to have been to the world's
end, and to have peeped into every corner of the north."
And Strabo added, that " Eratosthenes must have been
joking," and used the matter as a warning for other men
of science. We find him saying of some story related by
Posidonius, "This is mere nonsense from Berga, almost as
bad as the falsehoods of Pytheas, and Euhemerus, and
Antiphanes ; we can excuse it in people whose business it
is to tell wonderful stories, but not in a grave philosopher,
one of the champions in the arena of science."

' Eratosthenica (Bernhardy, 1822), no, 22. Compare Strabo, ii. 104, and
iii. 148. The "man of Berga" was Antiphanes, only known for having
pubhshed some fictitious travels. The proverbial phrases, Bepya7oc av^p,
Bepyaii^eiv, and IBepyaioy iu'iyqfxa, preserve his reputation for mendacity.
He is cited by Antonius Diogenes, and by the anonymous author of the
" Periplus of Scymnus," who wrote about a century before the Christian era.
Didot. Geograph. Graec. Minor, i. introd. 66.

Origins of English History. jj

The Greeks had a peculiar skill in the construction of
geographical fiction. Every novelist was ready with a
sham voyage, or a didactic work in the form of news from
Utopia. Lucian's gay burlesque shows the existence of a
whole literature of adventures " among monstrous beasts
and cruel savages, and in strange forms of life," as curious
in their way as his own pictures of travel in the land of
the Hippogriffs.

Plato himself, in two of his Dialogues, had used the
Carthaginian voyages as material for didactic fiction.
The unfinished story of Atlantis shows his knowledge of
the oceanic weed-beds and the nature of the minerals to be
found in Spain. " The island disappeared, and was sunk
beneath the sea ; and that is the reason why the sea in
those parts is impassable and impenetrable ; because there
is such a quantity of shallow mud in the way, caused by
the subsidence of the island." And he thus described the
splendours of the palace of Atlas before the occurrence of
the legendary catastrophe : " The entire circuit of the wall
they covered with a coating of brass, and the circuit of the
next wall they coated with tin, and the third, which
encompassed the citadel, flashed with the red light of

The curious subject of these romances of travel will be
found to have some bearing on the history of northern
Europe. They help to show the level of the knowledge
which was current at the date of their publication, and they
afford some evidence as to the habits of our barbarian
ancestors before the dawn of history. They indicate the
real origin of the fables, which amused the Greeks, and

^ The extracts are from " Timaeus " and " Critias," in Prof. Jowett's
translation. Plato, Dial. ii. 521, 599, 607.

7 8 Origins of English History.

were afterwards accepted as history by compilers who had
lost all sense of historical perspective and were ready to
record anything which bore the shape of a tradition.
Hence came the travellers' tales of one-footed men, of
Germans with monstrous feet and ears, of fantastic kings
in Thule, and Irish tribes who thought it right to devour
their parents,

" The cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders."^

The book called "Wonders beyond Thule" was written
by one Antonius Diogenes, who probably Hved in Syria
in the 2nd century before Christ, though it was the
opinion of Photius that the work was written soon after
the death of Alexander the Great." It was current as
late as the 9th century, when its twenty-four volumes
were summarised by the Patriarch Photius, who com-
pressed the works of nearly three hundred authors into
one volume to beguile the tedium of a residence in

^ Phny's monsters continually reappear in the mediaeval records of
travel, their locality being shifted, to suit the circumstances of the case, to
all parts of Africa, India, and the northern countries. AVe may study their
habits in the pages of the painstaking Mandeville. " In an yle towards the
southe dwellen folk of foule stature and of cursed kynde, than han no heds
and here eyen be in here scholdres ; and in another yle ben folk of foule
fasceon and schapp, that han the lippe above the mouthe so gret, that whan
thei slepen in the sonne thei keveren alle the face with that lippe : and in
another yle ben folk, that han hors' feet, and thei ben strong and mighty."
We find the same stories in the old Icelandic Sagas. The Norsemen in
Labrador, according to an early Saga, met " a onefoot-man of glittering
appearance," who shot one of the Greenland captains, and fled swiftly over
the sea.

- For the epitome of this work, see Photius. Myriob. 3/55, the Melanges of
Chardon de la Rochelle, Dunlop, Hist. Fiction, i. 9, Chassang, Hist, dii
Roman, 375.

Origins of English History. 79

Bagdad. Our knowledge of the novel is gained partly
from this epitome, and partly from the fragments which
can be gathered from the later classical writings/

The plot turns on the loves and adventures of a Syrian
maiden and Dinias, a traveller from Arcadia, the story of
whose lives Avas recorded in a manuscript which Alexander
the Great was supposed to find in their tomb. After a
surprising series of events, with which we are not now
concerned to deal, the principal personages in the story
were assembled in the polar circle with leisure to verify
all the astronomical wonders which had been announced
to the world by Pytheas. They make friends with the
simple inhabitants of Thule : and some of the company
pass above that country to the shores of the Encrusted
Sea. Here they find themselves in the neighbourhood of
the moon, and we owe the preservation of several frag-
ments of the novel to the curiosity excited by their lunar
discoveries." The story appears to have contained fanciful
descriptions of the whole of the north of Europe. Here
was probably the first account of the blue-eyed Germans
who could not see by day, and were guided at night

^ Notices of the work will be found in Porphyrins' Life of Pythagoras,
c. 13, in the Scholia on Virgil's Georgics and Lucian's Vera Historia, and
in the Letters of Synesius, Bishop of Cyrene, who in the 5th century
A..D. wondered "what kind of place that Thule might be, which privi-
leged all its visitors to tell such shameless lies." Synesius, Epist. 148.
Chassang thinks that these legends were based on fact. " Dinias repete des
traditions confuses des Lapons, lorsqiiil dit avoir vu au dela de Thule des
peuples qui ont des nuits d'u?i inois, de six mois, et meme d'un r/w." Hist, du
Roman, 381.

^ As to the supposed nearness of the moon to the northern islands, see
Diod. ii. c. 3. Allusions to the same legend will be found in the tract
" De facie in orhe Luntc," in Plutarch's Moralia. Plutarch (Wyttcnbach),
iv. 729, 808.

8o Origins of English History.

through the Hercynian gloom by the light of strange
luminous birds. Some of the natives of the fens had
horses' hooves for feet, and others had flapping and mon-
strous ears/ The northern seas were thought to be full
of monsters, which appear in many a subsequent chapter
of history, as when the soldiers of Germanicus brought
home tales of "fabulous birds, and monsters of the deep,
and strange shapes, half-human, half-beast-hke," which
they had seen off the German shores. Tacitus seems to
refer to the same stories when he mentions the animals
found in the " Outer Ocean " and the unknown sea
beyond.^ There are several other legends, which, from
their context, must be attributed to the same romance.
Thus we read of " an isle Ogygian lying far out at sea,"
five davs' sail to the west of Britain, with others lying
beyond it, " a little nearer to the rising of the summer
sun." The western island is shown by its astronomical
description to be one of the islands mentioned by Pytheas :

1 Mela places these tribes in the islands opposite Sarmatia, which are
" peninsulas at low water." Among them were the Oaeones, living on birds'
eggs, whom Cssar placed among the wild tribes at the mouth of the Rhine
(De Bell. Gall. iv. c. lo.), the Hippopodes, and the flapping-eared tribe who
more properly belonged to Indian and African legends. Mela. iii. c. 6.
Tac. Germ. c. 46.

^ Tac, Annal. ii. c. 24. Germ. c. 17. See also the quotation from Pedo
Albinovanus in Seneca, Suas. i. 14, relating to the same expedition of Ger-
manicus :

'• Jam pridem post terga diem solemque relinquunt.
Jam pridem notis extorres finibus Orbis
Per non concessas audaces ire per umbras.
Ad rerum metas, extremaque litora mundi :
Nunc ilium, pigris immania monstra sub undis
Qui ferat, Oceanum, qui snpvas undique pristes
yEquoreosque canes, ratibus consurgere prensis."

Origins of English History.

" the sun sets for less than one hour for thirty days in
succession, and this short night is attended with slight
darkness, and a twilight glimmering out of the west."^
Here, we are told, " Saturn was charmed to sleep by
Briareus ; he was laid in a golden-coloured cave of pumice-
stone ; birds brought him ambrosia, and genii waited
for his commands." We have also descriptions of the
men of Thule, feeding in the spring on the herbage with
their cattle, on milk in summer, and in the long winter on
the store of fruits which they have laid up. We recognise
exaggerated versions of stories from Homer and Herodo-
tus, dressed up to suit the Polar latitudes, in the stories of
the men who sleep for six months on end, and live at ease
like the Lotos-eaters, and of the Pygmies or Lilliputians,
opposite to Thule and near Britain, who were a span
long, "very short-lived, and armed with spears like

We may here add a legend preserved by Procopius,
" a tradition," to use his own words, " very nearly allied to
fable, and one which has never appeared to me to be true
in all respects." The origin of the fable is unknown, and
perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is the continu-
ance of the belief among the fishermen of Holland and
Brittany, which has been attested by trustworthy visitors.
" In the northern ocean," so ran the tale, " lies the island
Brittia, opposite to the mouths of the Rhine, between
Britannia and the Isle of Thule." Then follow descrip-
tions of the Roman wall and of other circumstances which
show that Procopius took Brittia to be the country which

1 Plutarch (Wy ttenbach) , iv. 808, in the essay " Dc facie in Orlc Lunasy
^ See Eustathius, in Iliad, iii. 6, p. 281. Stephan. Byzant. s.v. " Gennara."


82 Origins of English History.

others call Britain. On the eastern side of the wall all is
civilised : but " on the western side it would be impossible
for a man to live half an hour." Omitting many of the
less important details we will come to the main legend,
which the learned Senator could hardly bring himself to
believe. " I have frequently heard it," he said, " from men
of that country, who related it most seriously, though I
would rather ascribe their asseverations to a certain dreamy
faculty which possesses them. On the coast opposite to
Brittia are many villages inhabited by fishermen and
labourers, who in the course of trade go across to the
island. They declare that the conducting of souls
devolves upon them in turns. At night they perceive
that the door is shaken, and they hear a certain indistinct
voice summoning them to their work. They proceed
to the shore not understanding the necessity which
thus constrains them, yet nevertheless compelled by
its influence. Here they perceive vessels in readiness,
wholly void of men, not however their own but strange
vessels ; embarking in these they lay hold on their oars,
and feel their burden made heavier by a multitude of
passengers, the boats being sunk to the gunwale and
rowlocks and floating scarce a finger from the water's edge.
They see not a single person : but having rowed for one
hour only, they arrive at Brittia : whereas, when they
navigate their own vessels they arrive there with difiiculty
even in a night and a day. They say that they hear a
certain voice there, which seems to announce to such as
receive them the names of all who have crossed over with
them, describing the dignities which they formerly possessed
and calling them over by their hereditary titles : and
if women happen to cross over with them, they call

Origins of English History. 83

over the names of the husbands with whom they lived.
These then are the things which men of that district declare
to take place : but I return to my former narrative."^

There is another curious subject, of greater historical
importance than the legend which perplexed Procopius,
which seems to have a close connection with the old
romance of Thule. The inhabitants of Britain were
from the most ancient times accused of an ignorance of
marriage, and the institutions by which the family is main-
tained among civilised people. Whether from the old
stories of the Arcadian customs of Thule, or from their
levity in matters of marriage and divorce, they were said
to live in a state of communism that prevailed in Plato's
republic and was found by More in Utopia. In the work
of Solinus we find a picture of the life of a northern island,
which connects this accusation with a great number of
fanciful stories, which long passed current as genuine

'''' Es war ein Konig in Thiihy The king was taught
justice by poverty, and equity by the generosity of his
subjects. He had nothing of his own, but his subjects
gave him their all, and maintained him at the public
expense. The people took it in turn to entertain him at
a gratuitous feast. But though he had free-quarters in all
his islands, it was feared that he might become avaricious
or selfish if he had anything which he could call his own ;
and he was therefore forbidden to have a wife or family,
though he was provided with temporary companions.^

^ Procop. De Bell. Goth. iv. c. 20. The translation is taken from the
Monumenta Historica Britannica. For a modern version of the fable, see
Souvestre, Dernier s Bretons, i. 37.

2 SolinuSj c. 22. See also Rhys, Celtic Britain. ^^, 56.

6 *

84 Origins of English History.

Such is the picture of life in the Hebrides, and in Thule
a little to the north, which was long accepted as true. The
story next appears in a legal form, familiar to the student
of Blackstone. In this shape it recounts the oppressions
of " Evenus," or "King Evan the Third," or " Evan the
Sixteenth," according to various versions, who at some
time before the Christian era made a law appropriating
the wives of his subjects to himself; but after a quarrel,
which lasted for about 1,100 years, the barbarous tribute
was, at the request of King Malcolm's Queen, commuted
for a money payment. It has been discovered after much
research that the ancient king, his law and its repeal, are
all equally mythical. But the story remained down to
recent times the stock example of the horrors of the feudal
system. Every payment made at a marriage was explained
as a redemption of some such primitive claim. It might be
only a fee to the clergy for their licences and dispensations,
or a fine to the lord of the manor to compensate him
for the marriage of a vassal or a serf ; or the landlord
and neighbours might claim a supper, "a fowl and a bottle
of w^ne ;" but the payment was continually regarded, and
often described in manorial records, as being given in
exchange for some right which was thought to have
existed "in the heathen times," or before the beginning
of the memory of man.^

^ The principal authorities on the subject, besides the appropriate titles in
" Ducange," are Grimm, Deutsch. Alterth. 384, 444; Grupen, De Uxore
Theotisca; Keysler, Antiqii. Septent.; Fischer, Hochzeite ; Boyer, Decis'wnes;
'S\^c\nQV, Les grands Jours d'Auvergne ; De Gubernatis, Usi Matrimojiiali ;
local customs collected in the appendix to M. Martin's Histoire de France,
vol. v., and Bouthors, Coutumes locales du Bailliage d' Amiens; Essays by
M. J. J. Raepsaet, M. Louis Veuillot, and M. Delpit, Rcponse d'lm

Origins of English History. 85

The celebrated novel of " The Hyperboreans,"^ was as
remarkable as the romance of Thule for its humourous
exaggeration of the contemporary discoveries of Pytheas.
It contains a description of Britain which must always
be interesting, though its importance is sometimes exag-
gerated. It has been said that the work of the later
Hecataeus is on the subject of ancient Britain " the one
voice that breaks the ominous silence of antiquity." But
a more accurate estimate of its value may be found in the
following extract from the works of an eminent Polish
scholar r —

" Hecatee a public un fameux ouvrage dont le titre
decele une vieille idee poetique rajeunie sous sa plume.
Elle devait s'allier aux nouvelles decouvertes et y prendre
une place eminente au detriment de la science et du bon
sens. Hecatee, enumerant tons les etres mysterieux de la
geographic septentrionale, enrichit leur nomenclature d'une
riviere scythique recemment trouvee en Orient par le con-
querant, qu'il a appelee Paropamisos ; et plus encore des
promontoires et des iles Celtiques, qu'il a probablement
puisees dans les relations veridiques de Pytheas pour les
entrelacer dans les plages superboreennes."

We will not discuss the details of the imaginary geo-

Campagnard a un Parisien ; and Schmidt's ^iis primce noctis. A list of
the light literature of the subject^ from a play by Beaumont and Fletcher
to the Folle yournee and the novels of Collin de Plancjy, may be found in
an Essay on Manorial Rights by Labessade (Paris, 1878).

^ The work, 'Tnip twp "Tirep(iopEi(i)y, is supposed to have been written
not long after the death of Alexander the Great by Hecataeus of Abdera.
He must be carefully distinguished from the much older Hecataeus of
Miletus, who first collected the Hyperborean legends.

^ Lelewel. Pytheas, 45.

86 Origins of English History.

graphy, except to notice that the Polar Sea was called
"Amalcium," a name which was afterwards adopted by
science, as may be seen in the map of ancient Scandinavia
in the Appendix. The traveller's route from the Indian
Paropamisus to the Baltic and the German Ocean may be
studied in the collections of Diodorus.

Britain appears in this book as "Elixoia," an island about
as large as Sicily, lying in the Celtic Ocean in front of the
mouths of a mighty river. The climate was so soft that
the crops ripened twice in the year. There are several
allusions to the insular worship of the sun, the phenomena
of the arctic climate, and the habits of the northern
savages, which are all deserving of attention, as will be
seen from the following extracts from Diodorus and

We will first deal with the temple, so often connected
with Stonehenge, and with " the Boreads," in whose name
has been traced an allusion to the power of the Bards.

" There is in that island a magnificent temple of Apollo,
and a circular shrine, adorned with votive offerings and
tablets with Greek inscriptions suspended by travellers
upon the walls. The kings of that city and rulers of the
temple are the Boreads, who take up the government from
each other according to the order of their tribes. The
citizens are given up to music, harping, and chaunting in
honour of the Sun." Every 19th year, w^e are told (with
incidents which remind us of the folk-lore about the
dancing of the Easter sun), the god himself appeared to
his worshippers about the vernal equinox, and during a
long epiphany " would harp and dance in the sky until the
rising of the Pleiades."^

^ Diod. ii. c. 3.

Origins of English History. 87

Our next extract relates to the " happy suicides," and
incidentally to certain barbarous customs which are stated
to have prevailed at one time in the Baltic regions.

" Behind the Rhiphoean hills, and beyond the North
Wind, there is a blessed and happie people, if we may
believe it, whom they call Hyperboreans, who live exceed-
ing long, and many fables and strange wonders are reported
of them. In this tract are supposed to be the two points
or poles about which the world turneth about, and the
verie ends of the heaven's revolution. For six months
together they have one entire day, and night as longe,
when the sun is cleane turned from them. Once in the
year, namely at our midsummer, when the Sun entereth
Cancer, the Sun riseth with them, and once likewise it
setteth, even in midwinter with us, when the Sun entereth
Capricorn. The countrie is open upon the Sun, of a
blissful and pleasant temperature, void of all noisome wind
and hurtful aire. Their habitations be in woods and
groves, where they worship the gods both by themselves
and in companies and congregations. No discord know
they. No sickness are they acquainted with. They die
only when they have lived long enough: for when the aged
men have made good cheere, and anoynted their bodies
with sweet ointments they leape off a certain rocke into
the sea. This kind of sepulture is of all others the most

And in another short passage relating to the six months'
daylight, we read that " they sow in the morning, reape at
noone, at sunsetting gather the fruits from the trees, and
in the nights they lie close shut up within their caves. "^

1 Pliny, Hist. Nat. iv. c. 12.

88 Origins of English History.

The story of the old men " tired of the feast of life," is

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