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How the Scythians Used Hemp – Paragraphs 73-75 from Book 4 of The Histories of Herodotus [circa 440 BC]
|| 4/2/2010 || 4:05 pm || + Render A Comment || ||

The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the influential works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known around the Mediterranean and Western Asia at that time. These paragraphs are about the Scythians, who were an Ancient Iranian people of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who throughout Classical Antiquity dominated the Pontic-Caspian steppe in present day Kazakhstan, southern Russia, and Ukraine. Below is how the Scythians used hemp about 2,450 years ago:


73. Thus they bury their kings; but as for the other Scythians, when they die their nearest relations carry them round laid in wagons to their friends in succession; and of them each one when he receives the body entertains those who accompany it, and before the corpse they serve up of all things about the same quantity as before the others. Thus private persons are carried about for forty days, and then they are buried: and after burying them the Scythians cleanse themselves in the following way:–they soap their heads and wash them well, and then, for their body, they set up three stakes leaning towards one another and about them they stretch woolen felt coverings, and when they have closed them as much as possible they throw stones heated red-hot into a basin placed in the middle of the stakes and the felt coverings. 73. [1] οὕτω μὲν τοὺς βασιλέας θάπτουσι· τοὺς δὲ ἄλλους Σκύθας, ἐπεὰν ἀποθάνωσι, περιάγουσι οἱ ἀγχοτάτω προσήκοντες κατὰ τοὺς φίλους ἐν ἀμάξῃσι κειμένους. τῶν δὲ ἕκαστος ὑποδεκόμενος εὐωχέει τοὺς ἑπομένους, καὶ τῷ νεκρῷ ἁπάντων παραπλησίως παρατίθησι ὅσα τοῖσι ἄλλοισι. ἡμέρας δὲ τεσσεράκοντα οὕτω οἱ ἰδιῶται περιάγονται, ἔπειτα θάπτονται. [2] θάψαντες δὲ οἱ Σκύψαι καθαίρονται τρόπῳ τοιῷδε. σμησάμενοι τὰς κεφαλὰς καὶ ἐκπλυνάμενοι ποιεῦσι περὶ τὸ σῶμα τάδε ἐπεὰν ξύλα στήσωσι τρία ἐς ἄλληλα κεκλιμένα, περὶ ταῦτα πίλους εἰρινέους περιτείνουσι, συμφράξαντες δὲ ὡς μάλιστα λίθους ἐκ πυρὸς διαφανέας ἐσβάλλουσι ἐς σκάφην κειμένην ἐν μέσῳ τῶν ξύλων τε καὶ τῶν πίλων.


74. Now they have hemp growing in their land, which is very like flax except in thickness and in height, for in these respects the hemp is much superior. This grows both of itself and with cultivation; and of it the Thracians even make garments, which are very like those made of flaxen thread, so that he who was not specially conversant with it would not be able to decide whether the garments were of flax or of hemp; and he who had not before seen stuff woven of hemp would suppose that the garment was made of flax. 74. [1] ἔστι δέ σφι κάνναβις φυομένη ἐν τῇ χώρῃ πλὴν παχύτητος καὶ μεγάθεος τῷ λίνῳ ἐμφερεστάτη· ταύτῃ δὲ πολλῷ ὑπερφέρει ἡ κάνναβις. αὕτη καὶ αὐτομάτη καὶ σπειρομένη φύεται, καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς Θρήικες μὲν καὶ εἵματα ποιεῦνται τοῖσι λινέοισι ὁμοιότατα· οὐδ᾽ ἄν, ὅστις μὴ κάρτα τρίβων εἴη αὐτῆς, διαγνοίη λίνου ἢ καννάβιος ἐστί· ὃς δὲ μὴ εἶδε κω τὴν κανναβίδα, λίνεον δοκήσει εἶναι τὸ εἷμα.


75. The Scythians then take the seed of this hemp and creep under the felt coverings, and then they throw the seed upon the stones which have been heated red-hot: and it burns like incense and produces a vapour so think that no vapour-bath in Hellas would surpass it: and the Scythians being delighted with the vapour-bath howl like wolves. This is to them instead of washing, for in fact they do not wash their bodies at all in water. Their women however pound with a rough stone the wood of the cypress and cedar and frankincense tree, pouring in water with it, and then with this pounded stuff, which is thick, they plaster over all their body and also their face; and not only does a sweet smell attach to them by reason of this, but also when they take off the plaster on the next day, their skin is clean and shining.

75. [1] ταύτης ὦν οἱ Σκύθαι τῆς καννάβιος τὸ σπέρμα ἐπεὰν λάβωσι, ὑποδύνουσι ὑπὸ τοὺς πίλους, καὶ ἔπειτα ἐπιβάλλουσι τὸ σπέρμα ἐπὶ τοὺς διαφανέας λίθους τῷ πυρί· τὸ δὲ θυμιᾶται ἐπιβαλλόμενον καὶ ἀτμίδα παρέχεται τοσαύτην ὥστε Ἑλληνικὴ οὐδεμία ἄν μιν πυρίη ἀποκρατήσειε. [2] οἱ δὲ Σκύθαι ἀγάμενοι τῇ πυρίῃ ὠρύονται. τοῦτό σφι ἀντὶ λουτροῦ ἐστι. οὐ γὰρ δὴ λούονται ὕδατι τὸ παράπαν τὸ σῶμα. [3] αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες αὐτῶν ὕδωρ παραχέουσαι κατασώχουσι περὶ λίθον τρηχὺν τῆς κυπαρίσσου καὶ κέδρου καὶ λιβάνου ξύλου, καὶ ἔπειτα τὸ κατασωχόμενον τοῦτο παχὺ ἐὸν καταπλάσσονται πᾶν τὸ σῶμα καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον· καὶ ἅμα μὲν εὐωδίη σφέας ἀπὸ τούτου ἴσχει, ἅμα δὲ ἀπαιρέουσαι τῇ δευτέρη ἡμέρῃ τὴν καταπλαστὺν γίνονται καθαραὶ καὶ λαμπραί. 


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