[Author’s Note: This piece, examining the legendary journey of Aristeas of Proconnesus across Scythia, is an extract from my earlier “The Gryphon – Indo-European Guardian of the Golden Realm”. I felt that it was of sufficient import and general interest to publish separately as well – and may further expand the concepts it touches upon at a later time to also speak of Abaris the Hyperborean, and other angles upon the mythic representation, the de-euhemerization of the sacred geography and cosmology of the Indo-European world and Eurasia. It is my belief that there are an array of other accounts in our mythology wherein while you can interpret the journey in question as being a literal physical one – it is, in essence, a recording of something else. A Guide-Book of sorts to the traversing of the Mythic World – the secret, sacred roadways to the Heavens (and, for that matter … elsewhere), masquerading as mere marching across the mundus mundane]
Nor is the fact that the most archaic source we have (incredibly fragmentarily and indirectly) available to us which directly speaks to the traverse between Ancient Greece and the Realm of the Arimaspi – the account of Aristeas of Proconnesus – is effectively a ‘Wind-Walk’ metempsychotic journey of the soul of a theoretically dead man. Which had him, empowered by the Bright God (although I personally suspect that Phobos may be near as relevant as Phoebus for this journey – perhaps similar to the role of Bhairava in some more Dharmically oriented equivalents), (meta)physically run the entire distance to the borders of the Arimaspi; before returning, some seven years later, to extol the knowledge and experience of which he had gained in a now almost entirely lost poetic verse. He then left again, only to reappear in another part of the world entirely, claiming that he had ventured there previously in the form of a Raven, following the leadership and footsteps of Apollo and urging the locals to construct an altar thereto in consequence. Following which, he is supposed to have lived for a further two hundred and forty years.
While the notion of Aristeas making the physical journey across the wilds of Scythia to its further extremes is not, itself, entirely implausible in mundanely literal (or, if you prefer, euhemeric) terms – the concept of him doing this despite being dead is somewhat less viable. As is the idea of his then accomplishing further divinely-guided journeying in the form of a Crow or Raven, and most especially his then subsequent living for a span of almost a quarter of a millennium. It is therefore my belief that his account and circumstance is best understood somewhere between ‘metaphorically’ and ‘metempsychotically’ – ‘mythically’. A position perhaps strengthened by Herodotus’ own expression of dubiousness at Aristeas’ presentation of inter-national relations and history in that far-flung part of the world, on grounds of it not according with the Scythians’ own understanding of their history.
To phrase it more directly – I believe that Aristeas’ Steppe sojourn was at least in part a Soul’s journey up almost to the edge of the Divine Realm (or, at least, the beginnings of the liminal zone intermediate between this world and Theirs), and then heading back down to this plane of Earth armed with both wisdom and a Mission; and potentially also equipped with that most particular sort of ‘Gold’ found amongst the Upplands … the ‘Gold’ that is ‘Immortality’ – at least, in some certain small supply of it fit to sustain him for the further length of time he needed here to carry out his purpose. This interpretation is perhaps strengthened via his mention of flitting about the world in the form of a Raven – not merely due to the Bird’s association with Apollo or Odin, but due to the manner in which we Hindus regard these as ‘Yamadutas’ (‘Emissaries of Lord Yama’, the Ruler of the Realm of the Glorious/Ancestral Dead), and as ‘Pitrs’ (Spirits of the Ancestors come back amidst us). Now by necessity, such a journey would, of course, have taken him up to the North and then the East – proceeding somewhat ‘astrally’ backward along the ancient migratory routes that had borne the Greek people out Southward from the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat so many centuries before; until eventually reaching such ‘deepa’ point at which to cross over any further would run the veer-y real risk of there being no chance of turning back – to vigorously Ascend the World-Mountain, endeavour to attempt to make it past the watchful Sentinels of the Sky-Road [as mentioned in, for instance, RV X 14 10-12], and attain the proper un-dying-ness of the Ancestors, of which Aristeas was only given a temporary simulacra.
This was, of course, semi-euhemerized by later and more rationalistically minded Classical authors, for whom “Scythian” was both some strange and otherwordly semi-mythical figure … but also a somewhat prominent and in-the-street (in certain cities, anyway – Athens being a standout example) encounterable human people. And therefore so, too, did all the other more overtly mythical or even downright mystical elements in Aristeas’ account or the others no doubt like it, get brought together in ‘History’ books as descriptions, regarded as unusually fanciful even for their day, of what might lie out there in the mundane world under that most map-legendary of designators: “Here Be Monsters”.