Tales From Herodotus XVIII. Curiosities of Arabia

Translated from Tales From Herodotus.

(a) The spices of Arabia and the methods by which they are gathered.

In Arabia alone of all lands, there grows frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, and ladanum. The Arabians procure all these things with difficulty, except myrrh.

Frankincense, anyway, they collect by burning storax; for winged snakes, small in size and spotted in appearance, guard these incense-bearing trees, a great crowd around each tree. They are driven away from the trees by nothing other than the smoke of the storax.

The Arabians procure cassia like this: after they bind their whole body and face with hides and other skins, except their eyes, they go to the cassia. It is grown in a shallow marsh, and of course, winged wild animals encamp around this place and within it, very much resembling bats. It makes a fiendish shriek, and its physical strength is strong. These must be warded off from the eyes after gathering the cassia.

Their collection of cinnamon is still more amazing than this. For where it arises and what earth nourishes it, they are not able to say, but they say that great birds bear the twigs which we call cinnamon, as we learned it from the Phoenicians. The birds bear these to their nests, built from mud on precipitous mountains, where there is no approach for any man. And so, the Arabians devise things as follows. They cut the limbs of cows and donkeys and other beasts of burden, as large as possible, and they carry them to those spots. And after placing them near the nests, they get far away from them.  The birds fly down and bring the limbs of the beasts of burden up to their nests. But those nests unable to bear the weight fall down to the earth; and going to them, they collect the cinnamon.

(b) Unusual size of the tails of Arabian sheep.

They have two kinds of sheep worthy of amazement, which exist nowhere else. For one of them has a long tail, not less than three cubits1, which if one were to allow it to drag behind them, would have sores, since the tails would be rubbed away by the earth. But every single shepherd there is acquainted with carpentry to this point; for they make little carts and bind them to the tails. The other kind of sheep possesses wide tails, even up to a cubit in width.

1. A cubit is a little over twenty inches. Three cubits are a little over five feet.

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