“neither by ship nor on foot would you find
the marvellous road to the assembly of the Hyperboreans.
Never the Muse is absentfrom their ways:
lyres clash and flutes cry and everywhere maiden choruses whirling.
Neither disease nor bitter old age is mixed in their sacred blood;
far from labor and battle they live.”

– Pindar, Tenth Pythian Ode.

In Greek mythology Boreas, the North Wind, lived in Thrace. The Greeks thought that Hyperboreans, a mythical people, lived far to the north of Thrace and that therefore Hyperborea was an unspecified region in the northern lands that lay beyond the north wind. Their land, called Hyperborea or Hyperboria — “beyond the Boreas” — was perfect, with the sun shining twenty-four hours a day.

Hyperborea - A map of the North Pole. Date 1623, from Helmink Antique Maps. Author Gerardus Mercator, with addition of data from Willem Barentsz voyages
A map of the North Pole. Date 1623, from Helmink Antique Maps. Author Gerardus Mercator, with addition of data from Willem Barentsz voyages

Among the Olympians Gods Apollo alone was venerated by the Hyperboreans. The Greeks belived that the God of Light spent his winter amongst them.

Up on his a winged chariot which was pulled by two white swans, Apollo was traveling above the clouds, slowly leaving behind Greece. During his journey, he could see the dense snow of the mountains from his chariot. But while he was approaching his destination, the snow slowly began to dwindle away. The golden rays of the sun were strong enough to pass through the clouds, illuminating a magical land. Upon arrival, Apollo got off his chariot and stepped on the green, fertile grass. Immediately, festivals started taking place, with birds flying between the trees and singing divine melodies. But at the same time in Greece, black clouds darkened the sun because the god of light was missing. The people in Greece felt cold and gathered around the fireplace, patiently awaiting the return of Apollo. As soon as the god of light returned, he removed the the darkness with his golden rays and the lovely spring season arrived. Happily, people glorified their benefactor with festivals and sang joyful songs about the sun and the light.

For their part the Hyperboreans sent mysterious gifts, packed in straw, which came first to Dodona and then were passed from tribe to tribe until they came to Apollo’s temple on Delos.

Along with Thule, Hyperborea was one of several terrae incognitae to the Greeks and Romans, where Pliny and Herodotus, as well as Virgil and Cicero, reported that people lived to the age of one thousand and enjoyed lives of complete happiness.

Hecataeus of Abdera collated all the stories about the Hyperboreans current in the fourth century BC and published a lengthy treatise on them, lost to us, but noted by Diodorus Siculus. According to Herodotus, Aristeas had written a hexameter poem about a journey to the Issedones. Beyond these lived the one-eyed Arimaspi, further on there were gold-guarding griffins, and beyond these the Hyperboreans. Herodotus also reported that Hesiod mentioned the Hyperboreans though a text is now lost.

In Hyperborea the sun was supposed to rise and set only once a year, which would place it above or upon the Arctic Circle, or, more generally, in the arctic polar regions. In maps based on reference points and descriptions given by Strabo, Hyperborea, shown variously as a peninsula or island, is located beyond France and has a greater latitudinal than longitudinal extent. Other descriptions put it in the general area of the Ural Mountains.

The Celts as Hyperboreans

Several classic Greek authors also came to identify these mythical people at the back of the North Wind with their Celtic neighbours in the north: Antimachus of Colophon, Protarchus, Heraclides Ponticus, Hecataeus of Abdera, Apollonius of Rhodes and Posidonius of Apamea. The way the Greeks understood their relationship with non-Greek peoples was significantly moulded by the way myths of the Golden Age were transplanted unto the contemporary scene, especially in the context of Greek colonisation and trade.

As the Rhipean mountains of the mythical past were identified with the Alps of northern Italy, there was at least a geographic rationale for identifying the Hyperboreans with the Celts living in and beyond the Alps, or at least the Hyperborean lands with the lands inhabited by the Celts. A reputation for feasting and a love of gold may have reinforced the connection

Abaris the Healer

Hyperborea - Abaris the Hyperborean
Abaris the Hyperborean

Abaris the Healer traveled around the world on a magical arrow meant to symbolize Apollo, eating no food as he journeyed, and performing miracles wherever he went.

The arrow he flew on was the same arrow Apollo used to slay the Cyclopes, and it had been hidden beneath a Hyperborean mountain before being found by Abaris.

He practiced healing of the soul as well as the body through incantations, and also had a gift for prophecy. He wore simple Scythian clothing and was held in high regard in Greece for his honesty and simplicity.

Abaris learned his healing skills after fleeing a plague at Caucasus in his homeland of Hyperborea. With what he learned from the experience, he was able to purify Sparta and Knossos and several other cities.

His ability to reason and his persuasive manner helped him to steer a former tyrant, Phalaris, towards a virtuous life after a long discussion of divine matters. Abaris was able to read omens and predict future events by examining the entrails of animals, and his deeds are mentioned in the Scythian Oracles.

Hyperboreans founders of Shrines

Leto, a female Titan, traveled to the island of Delos from Hyperborea along with her pack of wolves to give birth to Apollo, with aid from Eileithyia who came from the northern realm.

Hyperborea - Let with the infants Apollo and Artemis, by Francesco Pozzi, 1824.Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth House - Derbyshire, England.
Leto with the infants Apollo and Artemis, by Francesco Pozzi, 1824. Sculpture Gallery, Chatsworth House – Derbyshire, England.

The Hyperboreans sent five men and several female priestesses as pilgrims to the island to form a shrine, but the maidens were raped and killed, which caused the Hyperboreans to end the pilgrimage and choose to deliver offerings and messages through neighboring tribes instead.

The oracle of Apollo at Delphi is another major shrine in Hyperborea. The Hyperboreans made the temples located at the shrine from beeswax and feathers. At the time the Gauls attempted to sack the temple, phantom spirits of the pilgrim prophets appeared and chased the army from Hyperborea.

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