Theras, a descendant of Polynices through Thersander, Tisamenus, and Autesion, was preparing to lead out colonists from Lacedaemon. This Theras was of the line of Cadmus and was an uncle on their mother's side to Aristodemus' sons Eurysthenes and Procles; and while these boys were yet children he held the royal power of Sparta as regent; but when his nephews grew up and became kings, then Theras could not endure to be a subject when he had had a taste of supreme power, and said he would no longer stay in Lacedaemon but would sail away to his family. On the island now called Thera, but then Calliste, there were descendants of Membliarus the son of Poeciles, a Phoenician; for Cadmus son of Agenor had put in at the place now called Thera during his search for Europa; and having put in, either because the land pleased him, or because for some other reason he desired to do so, he left on this island his own relation Membliarus together with other Phoenicians. These dwelt on the island of Calliste for eight generations before Theras came from Lacedaemon.
It was these that Theras was preparing to join, taking with him a company of people from the tribes; his intention was to settle among the people of Calliste and not drive them out but claim them as in fact his own people.So when the Minyae escaped from prison and camped on Teugetum, and the Lacedaemonians were planning to put them to death, Theras interceded for their lives, that there might be no killing, promising to lead them out of the country himself. The Lacedaemonians consented to this, and Theras sailed with three thirty-oared ships to join the descendants of Membliarus, taking with him not all the Minyae but only a few; for the greater part of them made their way to the lands of the Paroreatae and Caucones, and after having driven these out of their own country, they divided themselves into six companies and established the cities of Lepreum, Macistus, Phrixae, Pyrgus, Epium, and Nudium in the land they had won; most of these were in my time taken and sacked by the Eleans. As for the island Calliste, it was called Thera after its colonist.
But as Theras' son would not sail with him, his father said that he would leave him behind as a sheep among wolves; after which saying the boy got the nickname of Oeolycus, and it so happened that this became his customary name. He had a son, Aegeus, from whom the Aegidae, a great Spartan clan, take their name. The men of this clan, finding that none of their children lived, set up a temple of the avenging spirits of Laius and Oedipus, by the instruction of an oracle, after which their children lived. It fared thus, too, with the children of the Aegidae at Thera.
So far in the story the Lacedaemonian and Theraean records agree; for the rest, we have only the word of the Theraeans. Grinnus son of Aesanius, king of Thera, a descendant of this same Theras, came to Delphi bringing a hecatomb from his city; among others of his people, Battus son of Polymnestus came with him, a descendant of Euphemus of the Minyan clan. When Grinnus king of Thera asked the oracle about other matters, the priestess' answer was that he should found a city in Libya. "Lord, I am too old and heavy to stir; command one of these younger men to do this", answered Grinnus, pointing to Battus as he spoke. No more was said then. But when they departed, they neglected to obey the oracle, since they did not know where Libya was, and were afraid to send a colony out to an uncertain destination.
For seven years after this there was no rain in Thera; all the trees in the island except one withered. The Theraeans inquired at Delphi again, and the priestess mentioned the colony they should send to Libya. So, since there was no remedy for their ills, they sent messengers to Crete to find any Cretan or traveller there who had travelled to Libya. In their travels about the island, these came to the town of Itanus, where they met a murex fisherman named Corobius, who told them that he had once been driven off course by winds to Libya, to an island there called Platea. They hired this man to come with them to Thera; from there, just a few men were sent aboard ship to spy out the land first; guided by Corobius to the aforesaid island Platea, these left him there with provision for some months, and themselves sailed back with all speed to Thera to bring news of the island.
But after they had been away for longer than the agreed time, and Corobius had no provisions left, a Samian ship sailing for Egypt, whose captain was Colaeus, was driven off her course to Platea, where the Samians heard the whole story from Corobius and left him provisions for a year; they then put out to sea from the island and would have sailed to Egypt, but an easterly wind drove them from their course, and did not abate until they had passed through the Pillars of Heracles and came providentially to Tartessus. Now this was at that time an untapped1 market; hence, the Samians, of all the Greeks whom we know with certainty, brought back from it the greatest profit on their wares except Sostratus of Aegina, son of Laodamas; no one could compete with him. The Samians took six talents, a tenth of their profit, and made a bronze vessel with it, like an Argolic cauldron, with griffins' heads projecting from the rim all around; they set this up in their temple of Hera, supporting it with three colossal kneeling figures of bronze, each twelve feet high. What the Samians had done was the beginning of a close friendship between them and the men of Cyrene and Thera.
As for the Theraeans, when they came to Thera after leaving Corobius on the island, they brought word that they had established a settlement on an island off Libya. The Theraeans determined to send out men from their seven regions, taking by lot one of every pair of brothers, and making Battus leader and king of all. Then they manned two fifty-oared ships and sent them to Platea.
This is what the Theraeans say; and now begins the part in which the Theraean and Cyrenaean stories agree, but not until now, for the Cyrenaeans tell a wholly different story about Battus, which is this. There is a town in Crete called Oaxus, of which one Etearchus became ruler. He was a widower with a daughter whose name was Phronime, and he married a second wife. When the second wife came into his house, she thought fit to be the proverbial stepmother to Phronime, ill-treating her and devising all sorts of evil against her; at last she accused the girl of lewdness, and persuaded her husband that the charge was true. So Etearchus was persuaded by his wife and contrived a great sin against his daughter. There was at Oaxus a Theraean trader, one Themison; Etearchus made this man his guest and friend, and got him to swear that he would do him whatever service he desired; then he gave the man his own daughter, telling him to take her away and throw her into the sea. But Themison was very angry at being thus tricked on his oath and renounced his friendship with Etearchus; presently, he took the girl and sailed away, and so as to fulfill the oath that he had sworn to Etearchus, when he was on the high seas he bound her with ropes and let her down into the sea and drew her up again, and presently arrived at Thera.
There Polymnestus, a notable Theraean, took Phronime and made her his concubine. In time, a son of weak and stammering speech was born to him, to whom he gave the name Battus, as the Theraeans and Cyrenaeans say; but in my opinion the boy was given some other name, and changed it to Battus on his coming to Libya, taking this new name because of the oracle given to him at Delphi and the honorable office which he received. For the Libyan word for king is "Battus", and this (I believe) is why the Pythian priestess called him so in her prophecy, using a Libyan name because she knew that he was to be king in Libya. For when he grew to adulthood, he went to Delphi to inquire about his voice; and the priestess in answer gave him this:
"Battus, you have come for a voice; but Lord Phoebus Apollo
Sends you to found a city in Libya, nurse of sheep,"
just as if she addressed him using the Greek word for "king," "Basileus, you have come for a voice," et cetera. But he answered: "Lord, I came to you to ask about my speech; but you talk of other matters, things impossible to do; you tell me to plant a colony in Libya; where shall I get the power or strength of hand for it?" Battus spoke thus, but as the god would not give him another oracle and kept answering as before, he departed while the priestess was still speaking, and went away to Thera.
But afterward things turned out badly for Battus and the rest of the Theraeans; and when, ignorant of the cause of their misfortunes, they sent to Delphi to ask about their present ills, the priestess declared that they would fare better if they helped Battus plant a colony at Cyrene in Libya. Then the Theraeans sent Battus with two fifty-oared ships; these sailed to Libya, but, not knowing what else to do, presently returned to Thera. There, the Theraeans shot at them as they came to land and would not let the ship put in, telling them to sail back; which they did under constraint of necessity, and planted a colony on an island off the Libyan coast called (as I have said already) Platea. This island is said to be as big as the city of Cyrene is now.
This extract is from: Herodotus. The Histories (ed. A. D. Godley, 1920), Cambridge. Harvard University Press. Cited Feb 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
- Perseus: Herodotus, The Histories (ed. A. D. Godley, 1920)