Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alexander and the Talking Trees

Adapted for modern English from Pseudo-Callisthenes’ History of Alexander translated by E. A. Wallis Budge:

“Then a certain Indian said to me, “King Alexander, we have something famous, which it is right that you should see. We will show you therefore two talking trees, which talk like human beings.” And as soon as he had said this speech, I commanded them to beat him, as one who had said something which he was not able to show. Then he said to me, “O king, doer of good things, I have not lied in what I have said to you.” Then I rose up from there and went a journey of fifteen days with the Indian, and we arrived at a certain place, and thus he spoke: “This is the end of the south quarter of the world, and from here onwards there is nothing at all except a wilderness, and ravening beasts and evil reptiles, and none of us is able to advance beyond this place.” When he had said this to me, he brought me into a beautiful garden, the wall of which was not of stones nor of clay, but trees were planted round it and were so dense that not even the light of the Sun or the Moon was seen through them; and in the midst of the garden there was another enclosure which was hedged round, and they called it the temple of the sun and of the moon. And two trees were there, the like of which for length and breadth I had never seen. Their length was immeasurable, and so I thought that their tops were near to heaven. Their appearance was like unto the cypresses which are in our country, and they grew up within the enclosure; and they said that one of them is male and the other female. They said of the male that he is the sun, and that the female is the moon, and in their language they call the one Mitora, and the other Mayosa. Skins of all kinds of animals were lying there, before the male skins of males, and before the female skins of females; but no vessels of iron or brass or tin or clay were found there at all. And when I asked them, “Of what are these skins?” They said to me, “Of lions and leopards, because those who worship the sun and moon are not allowed to wear any other clothing but skins.” Then I asked them about these trees, “When do they speak?” And they said to me, “That of the Sun in the morning and at midday and towards evening, at these three times it speaks; and that of the Moon in the evening and at midnight and towards the dawn.” Then the priests that were in the garden came to me and said to me, “Enter, O king, purely, and do reverence.” Then I called my friends Phonnion [Parmenion], Artaron [Craterus], Goron (?), Philip, Mikton [Machetes], Tarnsargotha [Thrasyleon], Thirtakith [Theodektes], Philea [Diiphilus], and Khadklion [Neokles]; twelve men I took, and we began to enter the temple. The chief priest said unto me, “O king, it is not meet to bring into the temple tools of iron.” Then I bade my friends take their swords and put them outside the enclosure, and I ordered these twelve alone of all my troops to go in with me without their swords, but I gave orders that they should first go round about the trees, because I thought that they might have brought me there treacherously; but after they had come in and had gone round about, they said to me, “There is nothing at all here.” Then I took hold of the hand of one of the Indians and went in there, that when the tree spoke, the Indian might interpret for me; and I swore to him by Olympias my mother, and by Ammon, and by the victory of all the gods of the Macedonians, “If I do not hear a voice from this tree as soon as the sun sets, I will slay you all with the sword.” As soon as the sun had set, a voice came from that tree in a barbarous tongue; and when I asked the Indian “What is this voice from this tree?” he was afraid to explain it to me and wished to hide it Then I straightway understood, and I took hold of the Indian and led him aside and said to him, “If you do not explain this voice to me, I will kill thee with a hard and bitter death.” And the Indian whispered in my ears, “The explanation of the voice is this: you will shortly perish by your troops.” Then I and my friends went again into the temple by night, and when I had drawn near to the tree of the moon, and had done reverence to it, and placed my hand upon it, again at that moment from the tree a voice came in the Greek tongue, “You shall die at Babylon.” And when I together with my friends were marvelling at this wonder, my mind was troubled and sorrowful, and I desired to put the glorious and beautiful crown which was upon my head in that place; but the priest said to me, “You cannot do this, unless you choose to do it by violence, for laws are not laid down for kings.” Then, as I was in trouble and sorrow because of these things, my friends Parmaon [Parmenion] and Philip tried to persuade me to sleep and to rest myself a little. I did not consent however, but remained awake the whole night. When the dawn was near, I and my friends together with the priest and the Indians again entered the temple; and I and the priest went to the tree, and I laid my hands upon it and questioned it, saving, “Tell me if the days of my life are come to an end; this too I desire to know, if it will be granted me to go to Macedonia, and to see Olympias my mother, and to ask after her welfare, and to return again.” And as soon as the sun had risen and his rays had fallen upon the top of the tree, a loud and harsh voice came from it, which spoke thus, “The years of your life are come to an end, and you will not be able to go to Macedonia, but you will perish in Babylon after a short time by the hands of your kinsfolk, and your mother too will die a hideous death by the hands of your kinsfolk, and in the same way your sister also; but do not ask further concerning this matter, for you wilt hear nothing more from us.” Then I took counsel with my troops, and we set out again from there and marched along the road a journey of fifteen days. And when we had gone straight forward on our march, we arrived at the country of Prasiake.”

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