Tales From Herodotus XV. Exploration of Africa

A Roman painting of pygmy hunters, from Pompeii.

Translated from Tales From Herodotus.

A. The Pygmies and the Source of the Nile

The Nile is known only as far as four months of sail and road beyond the flow in Egypt. It flows from the west and the setting sun.  And beyond that, no-one can speak of it with certainty; for that land is a waste, because of its heat. But I have heard he following from some men, Cyrenaeans who said that they went to a shrine of Ammon and came there into discourse* with Etearchus, king of the Ammonians; and how from other topics* they came to a discussion concerning the Nile, that no-one knew its source. But Etearchus said that some Nasamonean men once came to him, who said, when they were asked if they had more to say concerning the wilderness of Libya, that there were among them some unruly children born of powerful men, who, when they became men, contrived a number of excesses, one in particular being to choose by lot five of their number that would go see the wilderness of Libya. For along the northern sea of Libya, from Egypt up to the peak of Soloeis, which is the end of Libya, there dwell the Libyans and many tribes of the Libyans, except whatever the Greeks and the Phoenicians hold. And beyond this, Libya teems with wild beasts, and beyond the wild beasts there is sand, fiendishly dry, an empty wasteland.

And so the youths, so the Nasamoneans say, sent out by their fellows, well stocked with water and provisions, went through the inhabited places first; and when they had gone through them, they came upon the beastlands, and from there they went through to the wasteland, making their way against the westerly wind. And having gone through much sandy land for many days, they saw at last trees growing in a plain and they went to it and touched the fruit that was on the trees. And small men came toward those who touched the fruit, smaller than average men, who took them and led them through a very large marsh, and having gone through it, they arrived at a city in which everyone was, with respect to size, like those who led them, and black of skin. A great river flowed to the city, and it flowed from the west toward the rising sun, and crocodiles could be seen in it.

And so let the story** of Etearchus the Ammonian be set forth by me only to this point, except to say that they returned home and they told the Nasamoneans, or so the Cyrenaeans say, and the men to whom they had come were all wizards. And Etearchus surmised that this river was indeed the Nile.

* Both “discourse” and “topics” use different senses of the Greek word, λόγος. Wherever I reasonably could, I have been trying to maintain the word repetition that is present in the Greek. (This is why Tale XI.B used the word, “mutilate,” so often.) I have no doubt that my translation is lacking in many ways, but where I can perceive it, I want to preserve the feel of the Greek, without going so far as to make the English ridiculous. In this case, however, given the enormous flexibility of λόγος, it simply didn’t seem possible.

** Another use of λόγος.

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