BESANTINUS THE ALTAR
The deep-red blood of sacrifices does not drench me with drops of gore dark as the ink of the cuttlefish; the knives sharpened on a Naxian whetstone1 spare the possession of Pan;2 the fragrant sap of Nysian branches3 does not blacken me with its swirling smoke: behold, I am an altar made neither of gold ingots nor of nuggets from Alybe;4 may I not weigh so much as the altar built by the twins born on Cynthus from the horns of bleating sheep that graze on the smooth ridges of Cynthus.5 I was made, with the help of the children of heaven,6 by a group of nine born on earth,7 and the lord of the immortals granted that their art should live for ever. O you who drank from the fountain which the Gorgon’s offspring struck forth,8 may you sacrifice and offer upon me sufficient libations much sweeter than the daughters of Hymettus.9 Approach this structure of mine with confidence: I am free from such poisonous creatures as hid near that altar set up at Thracian Neae near Myrine to you, Goddess of Three Fathers, by the thief of the purple ram.10
- 1The best sort: Pind. Isthm. 6.73.
- 2Herds of animals.
- 3Incense from Nysa in Arabia.
- 4Mentioned in the Iliad as a source of silver (2.857).
- 5Cynthus: a mountain on Delos, birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, where there was an altar of Apollo made from horns (Callim. Hymn 2.60).
- 6The Graces; or the three Heliconian Muses (Anth. Plan. 220).
- 7The nine Muses, daughters of Uranus and Ge, according to Alcman (PMG 67 = Diod. Sic. 4.7.1).
- 8The spring Hippocrene, fount of poetic inspiration, which welled up on Mt. Helicon when a rock was struck by the hoof of Pegasus, born of the Gorgon’s blood (Hes. Theog. 281).
- 9The bees of Hymettus in Attica, whose honey was the best (Plin. HN 11.32).
- 10It was near the altar set up by Jason at Neae, an island near Myrine on Lemnos, that Philoctetes was bitten by a water snake (see on Dosiadas Altar 4–6, 13–14). Why Neae is called “Thracian” is not clear. The “Goddess of Three Fathers” is Athena, whose title Tritogeneia is here taken to mean “thrice begotten.”