Epimenides. A Cretan, contemporary with Solon, and born perhaps in B.C. 659, at
Phaestus, in the island of Crete, according to some accounts, or at Cnosus according
to others. Many marvellous tales are related of him. It is said that, going by
his father's order in search of a sheep, he laid himself down in a cave, where
he fell asleep and slept for fifty years, on which legend Goethe has written a
poem. He then made his appearance among his fellow-citizens with long hair and
a flowing beard, and with a knowledge of medicine and natural history which then
appeared more than human. Another story told of this Cretan was that he had the
power of sending his soul out of his body and recalling it at pleasure; that he
had familiar intercourse with the gods, and possessed the power of prophecy. The
event of his life by which he is best known was his visit to Athens at the request
of the inhabitants, in order to pave the way for the legislation of Solon by purifications
and propitiatory sacrifices. These rites were intended, according to the spirit
of the age, to allay the feuds and party dissensions which prevailed there; and,
although what he enjoined was mostly of a religious nature (for instance, the
sacrifice of a human victim, the consecration of a temple to the Eumenides, and
of two altars to Hybris and Anaidea, the two evil powers which were exerting their
influence on the Athenians), there can be little doubt that his object was political,
and that Solon's constitution would hardly have been accepted had it not been
recommended and sanctioned by some person who, like Epimenides, claimed from men
little less than the veneration due to a superior being.
The Athenians wished to reward Epimenides with wealth and public honours, but he refused to accept any remuneration, and demanded only a branch of the sacred olive-tree and a decree of perpetual friendship between Athens and his native city. Epimenides is said to have lived, after his return to Crete, to the age of 157 years. Other accounts give his age as nearly 230 years. Divine honours were paid him by the Cretans after his death. Epimenides composed a theogony and other poems concerning religious mysteries. He wrote also a poem on the Argonautic Expedition, and other works, which are entirely lost. His treatise on oracles and responses, mentioned by St. Jerome, is said to have been the work from which St. Paul quotes in the epistle to Titus.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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