Island of Panchaea
Land of Panchaea
PANKHAIA (Panchaea) was a legendary island of the far south, located in the ocean beyond Arabia. It was inhabited by a lost Greek tribe who had been led there from Krete (Crete) by the god Zeus in the early days of his divine rule.
Pankhaia was famous for its spice-trees and wealth of silver and gold. It possessed three fabulous cities named Panara, Hyrakia (Hyracia), Dalis and Okeanis (Oceanis), and a huge temple complex near the capital dedicated to the god Zeus Triphylios.
In some ways Pankhaia resembles its legendary western counterpart Atlantis.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 41. 4 - 5. 64. 7 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
[Diodorus is believed to have drawn the following account of Pankhaia (Panchaea) from the writer Euhemerus of Messene, who composed a work on the subject known as the Sacred History around 300 B.C.]
"On the farthest bounds of Arabia the Blest, where Okeanos (the Ocean) washes it, there lie opposite it a number of islands, of which there are three which merit a mention in history, one of them bearing the name of Hiera, or Sacred, on which it is not allowed to bury the dead, and another lying near it, seven stades distant, to which they take the bodies of the dead whom they see fit to inter. Now Hiera has no share in any other fruit, but it produces frankincense in such abundance as to suffice for the honours paid to the gods throughout the entire inhabited world; and it possesses also exceptional quantity of myrrh an every variety of all the other kinds of incense of highly fragrant odour.
The nature of frankincense and the preparing of it is like this: In size it is a small tree, and in appearance it resembles the white Egyptian Acacia, its leaves are like those of the willow, as it is called, the bloom it bears is in colour like gold, and the frankincense which comes from it oozes forth in drops like tears.
But the myrrh-tree is like the mastich-tree, although its leaves are more slender and grow thicker. It oozes myrrh when the earth is dug away from the roots, and if it is planted in fertile soil this take place twice a year, in spring and in summer; the myrrh of the spring is red, because of the dew, but that of the summer is white. They also gather the fruit of the Christ's thorn, which they use both for meat and for drink and as a drug for the cure of dysentery.
The land of Hiera is divided among its inhabitants, and the king takes for himself the best land and likewise a tithe of the fruits which the island produces. The width of the island is reputed to be about two hundred stades. And the inhabitants of the island are known as Pankhaioi (Panchaeans), and these men take the frankincense and myrrh across to the mainland and sell it to Arab merchants, from whom others in turn purchase wares of this kind and convey them to Phoinike (Phoenicia) and Coele-Syria and Egypt, and in the end merchants convey them from these countries throughout all the inhabited world.
And there is yet another large island, thirty stades distant from the one we have mentioned, lying out in the ocean to the east and many stades in length; for men say that from its promontory which extends toward the east one can descry India, misty because of its great distance.
As for Pankhaia (Panchaea) itself, the island possesses many things which are deserving to be recorded by history. It is inhabited by men who were sprung from the soil itself, called Pankhaioi (Panchaeans), and the foreigners there are Okeanites (Oceanites) and Indoi (Indians) and Skythai (Scythians) and Kretes (Cretans).
There is also a notable city on the island, called Panara, which enjoys unusual felicity; its citizens are called ‘suppliants of Zeus Triphylios,’ [Triphylios means ‘Of the Three Tribes’] and they are the only inhabitants of the land of Panchaea who live under laws of their own making and have no king over them. Each year they elect three chief magistrates; these men have no authority over capital crimes, but render judgment in all other matters; and the weightiest affairs they refer of their own accord to the priests.
Some sixty stades distant from the city of Panara is the temple of Zeus Triphylios, which lies out on a level plain and is especially admired for its antiquity, the costliness of its construction, and its favourable situation. Thus, the plain lying around the temple is thickly covered with trees of every kind, not only such as bear fruit, but those also which possess the power of pleasing the eye; for the plain abounds with cypresses of enormous size and plane-trees and sweet-bay and myrtle, sine the region is full of springs of water.
Indeed, close to the sacred precinct there bursts forth from the earth a spring of sweet water of such size that it gives rise to a river on which boats may sail. And since the water is led off from the river to many parts of the plain and irrigates them, throughout the entire area of the plain there grow continuous forests of lofty trees, wherein a multitude of men pass their time in the summer season and a multitude of birds make their nests, birds of every kind and of various hues, which greatly delight the ear by their song; therein also is every kind of garden and many meadows with varied plants and flowers, so that there is a divine majesty in the prospect which makes the place appear worthy of the gods of the country.
And there were palm trees there with mighty trunks, conspicuous for the fruits they bore, and many varieties of nut-bearing trees, which provide the natives of the place with the most abundant subsistence. And in addition to what we have mentioned, grape-vines were found there in great number and of every variety, which were trained to climb high and were variously intertwined so that they presented a pleasing sight and provided an enjoyment of the season without further ado.
The temple was a striking structure of white marble, two plethora in length and the width proportionate to the length; it was supported by large and thick columns and decorated at intervals with reliefs of ingenious design; and there were also remarkable statues of the gods, exceptional in skill of execution and admired by men for their massiveness.
Around about the temple the priests who served the gods had their dwellings, and the management of everything pertaining to the sacred precinct was in their hands.
Leading from the temple an avenue had been constructed, four stades in length and a plethrum in width. On each side of the avenue are great bronze vessels which rest upon square bases, and at the end of the avenue the river we mentioned above has its sources, which pour forth in a turbulent stream. The water of the stream is exceedingly clear and sweet and the use of it is most conductive to the health of the body; and the river bears the name ‘Water of the Sun.’ The entire spring is surrounded by an expensive stone quay, which extends along each side of it four stades, and no man except the priests may set foot upon the place up to the edge of the quay.
The plain lying below the temple has been made sacred to the gods, for a distance of two hundred stades, and the revenues which are derived from it are used to support the sacrifices. Beyond the above-mentioned plain there is a lofty mountain which has been made sacred to the gods and is called the ‘Throne of Ouranos’ (i.e. Throne of Heaven) and also ‘Triphylian Olympos.’
For the myth relates that in ancient times, when Ouranos (Uranus) was king of the inhabited earth, he took pleasure in tarrying in that place and in surveying from its lofty top both the heavens and the stars therein, and that at a later time it came to be called Triphylian (Of Three Tribes) Olympos because the men who dwelt about it were composed of three peoples; these namely, were known as Pankhaioi (Panchaeans), Okeanites, and Doians, who were expelled at a later time by Ammon [i.e. a Libyan god which the Greeks described as an African Zeus.] For Ammon, men say, not only drove this nation into exile but also totally destroyed their cities, razing to the ground both Doia and Asterusia. And once year, we are told, the priests hold a sacrifice in this mountain with great solemnity.
Beyond this mountain and throughout the rest of the land of Pankhaiitis (Panchaiitis), the account continues, there is found a multitude of beasts of every description; for the land possesses many elephants and lions and leopards and gazelles and an unusual number of other wild animals which differ in their aspect and are of marvellous ferocity.
This island also contains three notable cities, Hyrakia (Hyracia), Dalis, and Okeanis (Oceanis). The whole country, moreover, is fruitful and possesses in particular a multitude of vines of every variety.
The men are warlike and use chariots in battle after the ancient manner. The entire body politic of the Pankhaioi (Panchaeans) is divided into three castes : The first caste among them is that of the priests, to whom are assigned the artisans, the second consists of the farmers, and the third is that of the soldiers, to whom are added the herdsmen.
The priests served as the leaders in all things, rendering the decisions in legal disputes and possessing the final authority in all other affairs which concerned the community; and the farmers, who are engaged in the tilling of the soil, bring the fruits into the common store, and the man among them who is thought to have practised the best farming receives a special reward when the fruits are portioned out, the priests deciding who has been first, who second, and so in order to the tenth, this being done in order to spur on the rest.
In the same manner the herdsmen also turn both the sacrificial animals and all others into the treasury of the state with all precision, some by number and some by weight. For, speaking generally, there is not a thing except a home and a garden which a man may possess for his own, but all the products and the revenues are taken over by the priests, who portion out with justice to each man his share, and to the priests alone is given two-fold.
The clothing of the Pankhaioi (Panchaeans) is soft, because the wool of the sheep of the land is distinguished above all other for its softness; and they wear ornaments of gold, not only the women but the men as well, with collars of twisted gold about their necks, bracelets on their wrists, and rings hanging from their ears after the manner of the Persians. The same kind of shoes are worn by both sexes, and they re worked in more varied colours than is usual.
The soldiers receive a pay which is apportioned to them and in return protect the land by means of forts and posts fixed at intervals; for there is one section of the country which is infested with robber bands, composed of bold and lawless men who lie in wait for the farmers and war upon them.
And as for the priests, they far excel the rest in luxury and in every other refinement and elegance of their manner of life; so, for instance, their robes are of linen and exceptionally sheer and soft, and at times they wear garments woven of the softest wool; furthermore, their headdress is interwoven with gold, their foot-gear consists of sandals which are of varied colours and ingeniously worked, and they wear the same gold ornaments as do the women, with the exception of the earrings. The first duties of the priests are concerned with the services paid to the gods and with the hymns and praises which are accorded them, and in them they recite in song the achievements of the gods one after another and the benefactions they have bestowed upon mankind.
According to the myth which the priests give, the gods had their origin in Krete (Crete), and were led by Zeus to Pankhaia at the time when he sojourned among men and was king of the inhabited earth. In proof of this they cite their language, pointing out that most of the things they have about them still retain their Kretan (Cretan) names; and they add that the kinship which they have with the Kretans and the kindly regard they feel towards them are traditions they received from their ancestors, since this report is ever handed down from one generation to another. And it has been their practice, in corroboration of these claims, to point to inscriptions which, they said, were made by Zeus during the time he still sojourned among men and founded the temple.
The land possesses rich mines of gold, silver, copper, tin, and iron, but none of these metals is allowed to be taken from the island; nor may the priests for any reason whatsoever set foot outside the hallowed land, and if one of them does so, whoever meets him is authorized to slay him.
There are many great dedications of gold and of silver which have been made to the gods, since time has amassed the multitude of such offerings. The doorways of the temples are objects of wonder in their construction, being worked in silver and gold and ivory and citrus-wood. And there is the couch of the god, which is six cubits long and four wide and is entirely of gold and skilfully constructed in every detail of its workmanship.
Similar to it both in size and in costliness in general is the table of the god which stands near the couch. And on the centre of the couch stands a large gold stele which carries letters which the Egyptians call sacred [i.e. hieroglyphs], and the inscription recounts the deeds both of Ouranos and of Zeus; and to them there were added by Hermes the deeds also of Artemis and of Apollon.
As regards the islands, then, which lie in the ocean opposite Arabia, we shall rest content with what has been said."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 6 . 1. 1 - 11 (from Eusebeius, Praeparatio evangelica, 2. 2. 59B - 61A) :
[Book 6 of Diodorus Siculus is no longer extant. However the Christian writer Eusebius quotes part of the first few chapters. Here Diodorus continues his desciption of Pankhaia with the mythological history of the island sourced from the writings of Euhemerus of Messene.]
"The foregoing is told by Diodorus in the Third Book of his History. And the same writer, in the sixth Book as well, confirms the same view regarding the gods, drawing from the writing of Euhemerus of Messenê, and using the following words :
‘As regards the gods, then, men of ancient times have handed down to later generations two different conceptions: Certain of the gods, they say, are eternal and imperishable, such as the sun and the moon and the other stars of the heavens, and the winds as well and whatever else possesses a nature similar to theirs; for of each of these the genesis and duration are from everlasting to everlasting. But the other gods, we are told, were terrestrial beings who attained to immortal honour and fame because of their benefactions to mankind, such as Herakles, Dionysos, Aristaios (Aristaeus), and the others who were like them. Regarding these terrestrial gods many and varying accounts have been handed down by the writers of history and of mythology; of the historians, Euhemeros, who composed the Sacred History, has written a special treatise about them, while, of the writers of myths, Homer and Hesiod and Orpheus and the others of their kind have invented rather monstrous stories about the gods. But for our part, we shall endeavour to run over briefly the accounts which both groups of writers have given, aiming at due proportion in our exposition.
‘Now Euhemeros, who was a friend of King Cassander [a successor of Alexander the Great] and was required by him to perform certain affairs of state and to make great journeys abroad, says that he travelled southward as far as the ocean; for setting sail from Arabia the Blest he voyaged through the ocean for a considerable number of days and was carried to the shore of some islands in the sea, one of which bore the name of Pankhaia (Panchaea). On this island he saw the Pankhaioi (Panchaeans) who dwell there, who excel in piety and honour the gods with the most magnificent sacrifices and with remarkable votive offerings of silver and god. The island is sacred to the gods, and there are a number of other objects on it which are admired both for their antiquity and for the great skill of their workmanship, regarding which severally we have written in the preceding Books.
‘There is also on the island, situated upon an exceedingly high hill, a sanctuary of Zeus Triphylios, which was established by him during the time when he was king of all the inhabited world and was still in the company of men. And in this temple there is a stele of gold on which is inscribed in summary, in the writing employed by the Pankhaioi, the deeds of Ouranos (Uranus) and Kronos (Cronus) and Zeus. Euhemeros goes on to say that Ouranos was the first to be king, that he was an honourable man and beneficent, who was versed in the movement of the stars, and that he was also the first to honour the gods of the heavens with sacrifices, whence he was called Ouranos or Heaven. There were born to him by his wife Hestia two sons, Titan and Kronos, and two daughters, Rhea and Demeter. Kronos became king after Ouranos, and marrying Rhea he begat Zeus and Hera and Poseidon. And Zeus on succeeding to the kingship, married Hera and Demeter and Themis, and by them he had children, the Kouretes (Curetes) by the first named, Persephonê by the second, and Athena by the third.
‘And going to Babylon he was entertained by Belos [king of Phoenicia], and after that he went to the island of Pankhaia, which lies in the ocean, and here he set up an altar to Ouranos, the founder of his family. From there he passed through Syria and came to Kasios (Casius), who was ruler of Syria at that time, and who gave his name to Mt. Kasios. And coming to Kilikia (Cilicia) he conquered in battle Kilix (Cilix), the governor of the region, and he visited very many other nations, all of which paid honour to him and publicly proclaimed him a god.’
After recounting what I have given and more to the same effect about the gods, as if about mortal men, Diodoros goes on to say : ‘Now regarding Euhemeros, who composed the Sacred History, we shall rest content with what has been said, and shall endeavour to run over briefly the myths which the Greeks recount concerning the gods, as they are given by Hesiod and Homer and Orpheus.’ Thereupon Diodoros goes on to add the myths as the poets give them."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 308 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Across the countryside she [Myrrha of Phoenicia, the mother of Adonis,] wandered till she left the palm-fringed lands of Arabae (Arabia) and rich Panchaea's fields."
Claudian, The Rape of Proserpine 2. 78 ff (trans. Platnauer) (Roman poet C4th A.D.) :
"All the sweet airs of Panchaea's incense-bearing woods, all the honied odours of Hydaspes' distant [Indian] stream, all the spices which from the furthest fields the long-lived Phoenix gathers, seeking new birth from wished for death."
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Claudian, Rape of Proserpine - Latin Poetry C4th A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.