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Scyllias: Diving in Antiquity1

Abstract

When Xerxes' fleet encountered a violent storm and was shattered against the seaward flank of Mount Pelion, much of the treasure that had been lost in the wreckage was recovered by Scyllias of Scione, the best diver of his day. He and many of his fellow citizens had been impressed into service as the Persian armada came by the Chalcidic peninsula, but he later escaped to the Greeks waiting at Artemisium. By the time of Herodotus, a half-century or so later, it was being claimed that he had dived into the sea at Aphetae and not come up until he had reached Artemisium eight miles away. ‘Many other tales are told of this man, some lies, some true,’ said Herodotus (viii. 8), ‘but in my opinion, he came by boat.’

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page 180 note 2 If one accepts the story of Scyllias at all, one must agree with the location of the disaster proposed by Pritchett W. K., ‘Xerxes' Fleet at the “Ovens”’, AJA 67 (1963), 16. At other sites along this coast the land falls off immediately into great depths where no salvage would have been possible.

page 180 note 3 Pausanias , x. 19. 12. The authenticity of the tale is argued convincingly by Hauvette A., ‘Un épisode de la guerre médique’, Revue de Philologie 10 (1886), 132–42.

page 180 note 4 Apollonides , in Anth. Pal. 9. 296. These elegiac verses echo, if in a rather forced manner, extant work of Simonides. It is not impossible that Apollonides had Simonides’ Seafight at Artemisium before him (the title of the elegy alone is known from Suidas, s.v. Simonides). The poet was a good friend of Themistocles (Plutarch , Them. 1. 4, 5. 6), and it is difficult to see who else could have brought Themistocles into this episode of the Persian War.

page 181 note 1 Proposed by Klein W., ‘Zur sogenannten Aphrodite vom Esquilin’, Jahreshefte Öst. Arch. Inst. 10 (1907), 141–4, on the basis of the early fifth-century style, binding of the hair and sandals (which he claims to be unsuitable for mere bathing) and other features. The theory is ingenious, but see other interpretations cited in Picard C., Manuel arch, grecque, ii, La sculpture, 120 f.

page 182 note 1 Aristotle , Const, of Delos, in Athen. 7. 296C (Mueller , Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, ii. 154 fr. 165).

page 182 note 2 Diog. Laert . ii. 22; ix. 11; Suidas s.v. Δηλίου.

page 182 note 3 Plutarch , De Primo Frigido 950B; Oppian , Halieutica v. 638, 646.

page 183 note 1 Any one of a number of wrasses, perhaps lulis Mediterranea according to A. W. Mair, ad loc. (Loeb edition).

page 183 note 2 See Gary G., The Medieval Alexander (Cambridge, 1956), 237–8; 340–1. Cange Du, Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis s.v. colimpha.

page 184 note 1 The longest descriptions are in Oppian , Hal. v. 612–74, and Pliny , NH ix. 151 ff. Oppian's spine-tingling account is ludicrous, but is clearly built upon a description of actual practice.

page 184 note 2 Oppian , Hal. v. 594–5; Heraclides i. 24.

page 184 note 3 Athenaeus , 7. 317B; Pliny , NH ix. 86.

page 184 note 4 [Aristotle], Mirab. Auscult. 58; Antigonus , Hist. Mirab. 131. Cf. Stephanus of Byzantium s.v. Demonesos.

page 185 note 1 Chrysostom Dio, Orat. vii. 31–2. Traditionally, the custom was begun by King Nauplius of Euboea; see Euripides , Helen 766 f., 1126 ff.; Apollodorus ii. 1. 5.

1 There are short treatments of ancient diving in Pauly-Wissowa-Kroll, Realencycl. Supplb. 5 (1931), s.v. Schwimmen, cols. 857–9; and in Daremberg-Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines, s.v. ‘Urinator’ and ‘Spongia’. In addition, one is guided to many references by the entries κατακολυμβ-, κολυμβ-, κυβιστ-, σпογγ- in Liddell-Scott-Jones, Lexicon, and Stephanus, Thesaurus Graecae Linguae. Undersea life is treated exhaustively by Oppian, Halieutica (with an excellent commentary by A. W. Mair in the Loeb edition), by Aristotle in his four works on animals, and by Pliny, Natural History, especially books 9 and 32. Also by Aelian, De Natura Animalium, passim, and here and there in Athenaeus' Deipnosophists.

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Greece & Rome
  • ISSN: 0017-3835
  • EISSN: 1477-4550
  • URL: /core/journals/greece-and-rome
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