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The Babylonian Magi (1)

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11 Language, communication, libraries and education

11 Language, communication, libraries and education

2nd century CE
Roman Empire
Helleno-Roman philosophers and scholars

Lucian, Menippus 6-9:
(Menippus:) Disappointed, therefore, in this expectation, I was still more uncomforatable than before, althouth I consoled myself somewhat with the thought that if I was still foolish and went about in ignorance of the truth, at all events I had the company of many wise men, widely renowned for intelligence. So one time, while I lay awake over these problems, I resolved to go to Babylon and address myself to one of the Magi, the disciples and successors of Zoroaster, as I had heard that with certain charms and ceremonials they could open the gates of Hades, taking down in safety anyone they would and guiding him back again. Consequently I thought best to arange with one of these men for my going down, and then to call upon Teiresias of Boeotia and find out from him in his capacity of prophet and sage what the best life was, the life that a man of sense would choose. Well, springing to my feet, I made straight for Babylon as fast as I could go. On my arrival I conversed with one of the Chaldeans, a wise man of miraculous skill, with grey hair and a very majestic beard; his name was Mithrobarzanes. By dint of supplications and entreaties, I secured his reluctant consent to be my guide on the journey at whatever price he would. So the man took me in charge, and first of all, for twenty-nine days, beginning with the new Moon, he took me down to the Euphrates in the early morning, toward sunrise, and bathed me; after which he would make a long address which I could not follow very well, for like an incompetent announcer at the games, he spoke rapidly and indistinctly. It is likely, however, that he was invoking certain spirits. Anyhow, after the incantation he would spit in my face thrice and then go back again without looking at anyone whom he met. We ate nuts, drank milk, mead, and the water of the Choaspes, and slept out of the doors on the grass. When he considered the preliminary course of dieting satisfactory, taking me to the Tigris river at midnight he purged me, cleansed me, and consecrated me with torches and squill and may other things, murmuring his incantation as he did so. Then after he had becharmed me from head to foot and walked all about me, that I might not be harmed by the phantoms, he took me home again, just as I was, walking backward. After that, we made ready for our journey. He himself put on a magician’s gown very like the Median dress, and speedily costumed me in these things which you see - the cap, the lion’s skin, and the lyre besides; and he urged me, if anyone should ask my name, not to say Menippus, but Heracles or Odysseus or Orpheus.

Friend: What was his object in that, Menippus? I do not understand the reason either for the costume or for the names.

Menippus: Why, that at any rate, is obvious and not at all shrouded in mystery. Since they had been before us in going down to Hades alive, he thought that if he should make me look like them, I might easily by the frontier-guard of Aeacus and go in unhindered as something of an old acquaintance; for thanks to my costume they would speed me along my journey just as they do in the plays. Well, day was just beginning to break when we went down to the river and set about getting under way. He had provided a boat, victims, mead, and everything else that we should need for the ritual. So we shipped all the stores, and at length ourselves. Gloomily hied us aboard, with great tears falling profusely. For a space we drifted along the river, and then we sailed into the marsh and the lake in which the Euphrates loses itself. After crossing this, we came to a deserted, woody, sunless place. There at last we landed with Mithrobarzanes leading the way; we dug a pit, we slaughtered the sheep, and we sprinkled their blood about it. Meanwhile the magician held a burning torch and no longer muttered in a low tone but shouted as loudly as he could, invoking the spirits, one and all, at the top of his lungs; also the Tormentors, the Furies, Hekate, queen of the night, and eery Persephoneia. With these names he intermingled a number of foreign-sounding, meaningless words of many syllables.

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Lucian, Menippus 6-9

Amar Annus

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