Tales From Herodotus X. Respect for Supplicants Enforced by an Oracle

Translated from Tales From Herodotus

Pactyes fled, for fear of the Persians, going away to Cyme.  Mazares, then, sent messengers to Cyme, ordering [the city] to hand over Pactyes. The Cymeans decided to refer to the god in Branchidae for advice concerning this. For there was at that place a shrine established from antiquity, at which the Ionians and the Aeolians both were wont to consult. Therefore, the Cymeans sent messengers* to ask what sort of action concerning Pactyes would be pleasing to the gods. And when they asked this, an oracle came [telling them] to hand over Pactyes to the Persians.

When they heard this, the Cymeans were eager to hand [him] over; But although the majority were eager, Aristodicus, an honoured man of the townsmen, distrusted the oracle, and believed that the messengers* did not speak truthfully; and he held the Cymeans from doing this until they would ask again. And so other messengers* were [sent] one of whom was Aristodicus,

When they arrived at Branchidae, he consulted on behalf of them all, asking this, “O Lord, a supplicant came to us, Pactyes the Lydian, fleeing violent death at the hand of the Persians; and they demanded him, ordering the Cymeans to send him forth. And we, although we feared the power of the Persians, have not at this point dared to hand [him] over, until your wishes were clearly shown to us what we should do.”

That is what he asked. And the god again revealed an oracle to him, ordering [them] to hand over Pactyes to the Persians. In reply to this, Aristodicus, with deliberate intent, did this: going around the temple in a circle he removed the sparrows, and all other kinds of birds, anything whatsoever that had been hatched that were in the temple. And when he did this, there arose a voice from the sanctuary, saying this, “Wickedest of men, how dare you do this? Would you destroy the supplicants of my temple?” Aristodicus, at no loss for words, said in response to this, “Oh Lord, thus do you yourself give aid to supplicants, but you order the Cymeans to hand over a supplicant.” And the god again replied to this man, “Indeed I do order it, so that all ye acting impiously should more quickly perish; and so in the future you will not come to the oracle concerning the surrender of supplicants.”

* The Cymeans sent messengers, θεοπρόπος, to the shrine as opposed to the more usual sort of messenger, ἀγγέλος (which is the sort that Mazares sent to the Cymeans). The θεοπρόπος was a specific kind of public messenger sent to enquire of oracles.

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