Pygmaioi ( via Theoi.com)

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CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES

PYGMIES IN MYTH

Homer, The Iliad 3. 3 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
„The clamour of cranes goes hight to the heavens, when the cranes escape the winter time and the rains unceasing and clamorously wing their way to streaming Okeanos (Oceanus), bringing the Pygmaioi (Pygmy) men bloodshed and destruction : at daybreak they bring on the baleful battle against them.“

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Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 40A (from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
„To the lands of the Massagetai and of the proud Hemikunes (Hemicynes) (Half-Dog Men), of the Katoudaioi (Catoudaei) (Underground-Folk) and of the feeble Pygmaioi (Pygmies); and to the tribes of the boundless Melanokhrotoi (Melanchroti) (Black-Skins) and the Libys (North-Africans). Huge Gaia (the Earth) bare these to Epaphos–soothsaying people, knowing seercraft by the will of Zeus the lord of oracles, but deceivers, to the end that men whose thought passes their utterance might be subject to the gods and suffer harm–Aithiopes (Ethiopians) and Libys (Libyans) and mare-milking Skythioi (Scythians). For verily Epaphos was the child of the almighty Son of Kronos (Cronus) [Zeus], and from him sprang the dark Libys and high-souled Aithiopes, and the Katoudaioi (Underground-Folk) and feeble Pygmaioi. All these are the offspring of the lord, the Loud-thunderer [i.e. Zeus as the father of Epaphos].“

Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 43 (from Philodemus on Piety 10) :
„Nor let anyone mock at Hesiod who mentions . . . the Troglodytoi (Troglodytes) and the Pygmaioi (Pygmies).“

 

Aesop, Fables 294 (from Babrius 26) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
„There were some cranes who came to nibble at a field which a farmer had recently sown with wheat . . . The farmer . . . began throwing rocks at the cranes, crippling a good many of them. As the cranes abandoned the field they cried to one another, ‘Let’s run away to the land of the Pygmaioi (Pygmies)!’“

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 16 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
„Among the people we call Pygmaioi (Pygmies) there was born a girl called Oinoe (Oenoe) who was of flawless beauty but she was graceless by nature and overweening. She cared not a rap for Artemis and Hera. She was married to one of the citizens, Nikodamos (Nicodamus), a good and sensible man, and gave birth to a child called Mopsos (Mopsus). And all the Pygmaioi, who loved to show kindliness, brought her many gifts to celebrate the birth of the child. But Hera found fault with Oinoe for not honouring her and turned her into a crane, elongated her neck, ordained that she should be a bird that flew high. She also caused war to arise between her and the Pygmaioi. Yearning for her child Mopsos, Oinoe flew over houses and would not go away. But all the Pygmaioi armed themselves and chased her away. Because of this there arose a state of war then as well as now between the Pygmaioi and the cranes.“

Aelian, On Animals 15. 29 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
„As to the race of Pygmaioi (Pygmies) I have heard that they are governed in a manner peculiar to themselves, and that in fact owing to the failure of the male line a certain woman became queen and ruled over the Pygmaioi; her name was Gerana, and the Pygmaioi worshipped her as a god, paying her honours too august for a human being. The result was, they say, that she became so puffed up in her mind that she held the goddesses of no account. It was especially Hera, Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite that, she said, came nowhere near her in beauty. But she was not destined to escape the evil consequences of her diseased imagination. For in consequence of the anger of Hera she changed her original form into that of a most hideous bird and became the crane of today and wages war on the Pygmaioi because with their excessive honours they drove her to madness and to her destruction.“

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Pygmies on the Nile, Greco-Roman mosaic, National Roman Museum

Aelian, On Animals 3. 23 :
„Alexandros (Alexander) of Myndos [Greek writer C1st A.D.] asserts that when they [the storks] reach old age they pass to the island of Okeanos (Oceanus) and are transformed into human shape, and that this is a reward for their filial piety towards their parents, since, if I am not mistaken, the gods especially desire to hold up there if nowhere else a human model of piety and uprightness, for in no other country under the sun could such a race continue to exist. This is in my opinion no fairy-tale, otherwise what was Alexandros‘ design in relating such marvels when he had nothing to gain from it?“

Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 90 (trans. Melville) (Roman poet C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
„The Pygmaea (Pygmy) matron’s doom, her pitiable doom, when Juno [Hera] won the contest and transformed her to a crane and made her fight her folk, her kith and kin.“

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 22 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
„[Ostensibly a description of an ancient Greek painting at Neapolis (Naples) :] Herakles (Heracles) among the Pygmaioi (Pygmies). While Herakles is asleep in Libya after conquering Antaios (Antaeus), the Pygmaioi set upon him with the avowed intention of avenging Antaios; for they claim to be brothers of Antaios, high-spirited fellows, not athletes, indeed, nor his equals at wrestling, but earth-born (gêgenes) and quite strong besides, and when they come up out of the earth the sand billows in waves. For the Pygmaioi dwell in the earth just like ants and store their provisions underground, and the food they eat is not the property of others but their own and raised by themselves. For they sow and reap and ride on a cart drawn by pigmy horses, and it said that they use an axe on stalks of grain, believing that these are trees. But ah, their boldness! Here they are advancing against Herakles and undertaking to kill him in his sleep; though they would not fear him even if he were awake. Meanwhile he sleeps on the soft sand, since weariness has crept over him in wrestling; and, filled with sleep, his mouth open, he draws full breaths deep in his chest, and Hypnos (Sleep) himself stands over him in visible form, making much, I think, of his own part in the fall of Herakles. Antaios also lies there, but whereas art paints Herakles as alive and warm, it represents Antaios as dead and withered and abandons him to Ge (Gaea, the Earth).
The army of the Pygmaioi envelops Herakles; while this one phalanx attacks his left hand, these other two companies march against his right hand as being stronger; bowmen and a host of slingers lay siege to his feet, amazed at the size of his shin; as for those who advance against his head, the Pygmaios (Pygmy) King has assumed the command at this point, which they think will offer the stoutest resistance, and they bring engines of war to bear against it as if it were a citadel–fire for his hair, mattocks for his eyes, doors of a sort for his mouth, and these, I fancy, are gates to fasten on his nose, so that Herakles may not breathe when his head has been captured. All these things are being done, to be sure, around the sleeping Herakles; but lo! he stands erect and laughs at the danger, and sweeping together the hostile forces he puts them in his lion’s skin, and I suppose he is carrying them to Eurystheus.“

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7. 26 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
„This tribe [the Pygmies] Homer has also recorded as being beset by cranes. It is reported that in springtime their entire band, mounted on the backs of rams and she-goats and armed with arrows, goes in a body down to the sea and eats the cranes‘ eggs and chickens, and that this outing occupies three months; and that otherwise they could not protect themselves against the flocks of cranes would grow up; and that their houses are made of mud and feathers and egg-shells.“

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 33 ff (trans. Lind) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
„Like Thrakian cranes, when they fly from the scourge of winter and floods of stormy rain to throw their great flocks against the heads of Pygmaioi (Pygmies) round the waters of Tethys, and when with sharp beaks they have destroyed that weak and helpless race, they wing their way like a cloud over the horn of Okeanos (Oceanus).“


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