400s BC


Source: Xenophon (trans. Carleton L. Brownson), Anabasis (Book VI) (Loeb Classical Library – Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press, 1922), pp. 437-441 [dual-language text]

Text: After this, while they delayed at Cotyora, some of the men lived by purchasing from the market and others by pillaging the territory of Paphlagonia. The Paphlagonians, however, were extremely clever in kidnapping the stragglers, and at night time they tried to inflict harm upon such of the Greeks as were quartered at some distance from the rest; consequently they and the Greeks were in a very hostile mood toward one another. Then Corylas, who chanced at the time to be ruler of Paphlagonia, sent ambassadors to the Greeks, with horses and fine raiment, bearing word that Corylas was ready to do the Greeks no wrong and to suffer no wrong at their hands. The generals replied that they would take counsel with the army on this matter, but meanwhile they received the ambassadors as their guests at dinner, inviting in also such of the other men in the army as seemed to them best entitled to an invitation. By sacrificing some of the cattle they had captured and also other animals they provided an adequate feast, and they dined reclining upon couches and drank from cups made of horn which they found in the country.

After they had made libations and sung the paean, two Thracians rose up first and began a dance in full armour to the music of a flute, leaping high and lightly and using their sabres; finally, one struck the other, as everybody thought, and the second man fell, in a rather skilful way. And the Paphlagonians set up a cry. Then the first man despoiled the other of his arms and marched out singing the Sitalcas, while other Thracians carried off the fallen dancer, as though he were dead; in fact, he had not been hurt at all. After this some Aenianians and Magnesians arose and danced under arms the so-called carpaea. The manner of the dance was this: a man is sowing and driving a yoke of oxen, his arms laid at one side, and he turns about frequently as one in fear; a robber approaches; as soon as the sower sees him coming, he snatches up his arms, goes to meet him, and fights with him to save his oxen. The two men do all this in rhythm to the music of the flute. Finally, the robber binds the man and drives off the oxen; or sometimes the master of the oxen binds the robber, and then he yokes him alongside the oxen, his hands tied behind him, and drives off. After this a Mysian came in carrying a light shield in each hand, and at one moment in his dance he would go through a pantomime as though two men were arrayed against him, again he would use his shields as though against one antagonist, and again he would whirl and throw somersaults while holding the shields in his hands, so that the spectacle was a fine one. Lastly, he danced the Persian dance, clashing his shields together and crouching down and then rising up again; and all this he did, keeping time to the music of the flute. After him the Mantineans and some of the other Arcadians arose, arrayed in the finest arms and accoutrements they could command, and marched in time to the accompaniment of a flute playing the martial rhythm and sang the paean and danced, just as the Arcadians do in their festal processions in honour of the gods. And the Paphlagonians, as they looked on, thought it most strange that all the dances were under arms. Thereupon the Mysian, seeing how astounded they were, persuaded one of the Arcadians who had a dancing girl to let him bring her in, after dressing her up in the finest way he could and giving her a light shield. And she danced the Pyrrhic with grace. Then there was great applause, and the Paphlagonians asked whether women also fought by their side. And the Greeks replied that these women were precisely the ones who put the King to flight from his camp. Such was the end of that evening.

Comments: Xenophon (c.431-354 BC) was a Greek soldier and historian. His eye-witness account of the march of Greek mercenaries (‘The Ten Thousand’) from Persia through hostile lands to the Black Sea, following the battle at Cunaxa near Babylon in 401 BC is one of the greatest of all historical accounts. This section from his history Anabasis (also known as The Persian Expedition) describes a dance performance given by the Greek at Cotyora (now Ordu) in Paphlagonia, on the Black Sea’s southern coast (now part of Turkey). The Thracians, Aenians, Magnesians etc. were each members of the several peoples that made up the Greek force. Such war dances were common in Greek and other societies at this time. The Pyrrhic (Pyrrhichios or Pyrrhike) was a Spartan war dance while the Carpaea (or Karpaea) was associated with Aenianians, Magnesians, and Macedonians.

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