Lucian tells us, that, reflecting upon the account given of Phaëthon, who
fell thunderstruck into the Eridanus, and of his sisters, who were changed
to poplars weeping amber, he took a resolution, if he should ever be near
the scene of these wonderful transactions, to inquire among the natives
concerning the truth of the [150]story. It so happened, that, at a certain
time, he was obliged to go up the river above mentioned: and he says, that
he looked about very wistfully; yet, to his great amazement, he saw neither
amber nor poplar. Upon this he took the liberty to ask the people, who
rowed him, when he should arrive at the amber-dropping trees: but it was
with some difficulty that he could make them understand what he meant. He
then explained to them the story of Phaëthon: how he borrowed the chariot
of the Sun; and being an awkward charioteer, tumbled headlong into the
Eridanus: that his sisters pined away with grief; and at last were
transformed to trees, the same of which he had just spoken: and he assured
them, that these trees were to be found somewhere upon the banks, weeping
amber. Who the deuce, says one of the boatmen, could tell you such an idle
story? We never heard of any charioteer tumbling into the river; nor have
we, that I know of, a single poplar in the country. If there were any trees
hereabouts dropping amber, do you think, master, that we would sit here,
day after day, tugging against stream for a dry groat, when we might step
ashore, and make our fortunes so easily? This affected Lucian a good deal:
for he had formed some hopes of obtaining a little of this precious
commodity; and began to think that he must have been imposed upon. However,
as Cycnus, the brother of Phaëthon, was here changed to a swan, he took it
for granted that he should find a number of those birds sailing up and down
the stream, and making the groves echo with their melody. But not
perceiving any in a great space, he took the liberty, as he passed onward,
to put the question again to the boatmen; and to make inquiry about these
birds. Pray, gentlemen, says he, at what particular season is it that your
swans hereabouts sing so sweetly? It is said, that they were formerly men,
and always at Apollo’s side; being in a manner of his privy council. Their
skill in music must have been very great: and though they have been changed
into birds, they retain that faculty, and, I am told, sing most
melodiously. The watermen could not help smiling at this account. Why, sir,
says one of them, what strange stories you have picked up about our
country, and this river? We have plied here, men and boys, for years; and
to be sure we cannot say that we never saw a swan: there are some here and
there towards the fens, which make a low dull noise: but as for any
harmony, a rook or a jackdaw, in comparison of them, may be looked upon as
a nightingale.

Such are the witty strictures of Lucian upon the story of Phaëthon and
Cycnus, as described by the poets. Whatever may have been the grounds upon
which this fiction is founded, they were certainly unknown to the Greeks;
who have misinterpreted what little came to their hands, and from such
misconstruction devised these fables. The story, as we have it, is not
uniformly told. Some, like Lucian, speak of swans in the plural; and
suppose them to have been the ministers, and attendants of Apollo, who
assisted at his concerts. Others mention one person only, called Cycnus;
who was the reputed brother of Phaëthon, and at his death was transformed
to the bird of that name. The fable is the same whichever way it may be
related, and the purport of it is likewise the same. There is one mistake
in the story, which I must set right before I proceed; as it may be of some
consequence in the process of my inquiry. Phaëthon is represented by many
of the poets as the offspring of the Sun, or Apollo: [151]Sole satus
Phaëthon. But this was a mistake, and to be found chiefly among the Roman
poets. Phaëthon was the Sun. It was a title of Apollo; and was given to him
as the God of light. This is manifest from the testimony of the more early
Greek poets, and particularly from Homer, who uses it in this acceptation.

[152]Ουδεποτ’ αυτους
Ηελιος Φαεθον επιδερκεται ακτινεσσιν.

In respect to Cycnus and his brotherhood, those vocal ministers of Apollo,
the story, which is told of them, undoubtedly alludes to Canaan, the son of
Ham; and to the Canaanites, his posterity. They sent out many colonies;
which colonies, there is great reason to think, settled in those places,
where these legends about swans particularly prevailed. The name of Canaan
was by different nations greatly varied, and ill expressed: and this
misconstruction among the Greeks gave rise to the fable. To shew this, it
will be proper to give an account of the rites and customs of the
Canaanites, as well as of their extensive traffic. Among the many branches
of the Amonian family, which settled in various parts of the world, and
carried on an early correspondence, the Canaanites were not the least
respectable. They traded from Sidon chiefly, before that city was taken by
the king of Ascalon: and upon their commerce being interrupted here, they
[153]removed it to the strong hold of Tyre. This place was soon improved to
a mighty city, which was very memorable in its day. The Canaanites, as they
were a sister tribe of the Mizraïm, so were they extremely like them in
their rites and religion. They held a heifer, or cow, in high veneration,
agreeably with the [154]customs of Egypt. Their chief Deity was the Sun,
whom they worshipped together with the Baalim, under the titles Ourchol,
Adonis, Thamuz. It was a custom among the Grecians, at the celebration of
their religious festivals, to crown the whole with hymns of praise, and the
most joyful exclamations. But the Egyptians were of a gloomy turn of mind,
which infected the whole of their worship. Their hymns were always composed
in melancholy affecting airs, and consisted of lamentations for the loss of
Osiris, the mystic flight of Bacchus, the wanderings of Isis, and the
sufferings of the Gods. Apuleius takes notice of this difference in the
rites and worship of the two nations: [155]Ægyptiaca numinum fana plena
plangoribus: Græca plerumque choreis. Hence the author of the Orphic
Argonautica, speaking of the initiations in Egypt, mentions,

[156]Θρενους τ’ Αιγυπτιον, και Οσιριδος ἱερα χυτλα.

The Canaanites at Byblus, Berytus, Sidon, and afterwards at Tyre, used
particularly mournful dirges for the loss of Adonis, or Thamuz; who was the
same as Thamas, and Osiris in Egypt. The Cretans had the like mournful
hymns, in which they commemorated the grief of Apollo for the loss of

[157]Αιλινα μελπειν,
Ὁια παρα Κρητεσσιν αναξ ελιγαινεν Απολλων
Δακρυχεων ερατεινον Ατυμνιον.

The measures and harmony of the Canaanites seem to have been very
affecting, and to have made a wonderful impression on the minds of their
audience. The infectious mode of worship prevailed so far, that the
children of Israel were forbidden to weep, and make lamentation upon a
festival: [158]Ειναι γαρ ἑορτην, και μη δειν εν αυτῃ κλαιειν, ου γαρ
εξειναι. And Nehemiah gives the people a caution to the same purpose:
[159]_This day is holy unto the Lord your God: mourn not, nor weep_. And
Esdras counsels them in the same manner: [160]_This day is holy unto the
Lord: be not sorrowful_. It is likewise in another place mentioned, that
[161]_the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the
day is holy: neither be ye grieved_. Such was the prohibition given to the
Israelites: but among the Canaanites this shew of sorrow was encouraged,
and made part of their [162]rites.

The father of this people is represented in the Mosaic history, according
to our version, Canaan: but there is reason to think that by the Egyptians
and other neighbouring nations it was expressed Cnaan. This by the Greeks
was rendered Χναας, and Χνας; and in later times Χνα, Cna. [163]Χνα, ὁυτος
ἡ Φοινικη εκαλειτο–το εθνικον Χναος. We are told by Philo from
Sanchoniathon, that [164]Isiris the Egyptian, who found out three letters,
was the brother of Cna: by which is meant, that Mizraïm was the brother of
Canaan. I have taken notice more than once of a particular term, Υκ, Uc;
which has been passed over unnoticed by most writers: yet is to be found in
the composition of many words; especially such as are of Amonian original.
The tribe of Cush was styled by Manethon, before the passage was depraved,
Υκκουσος. Uch, says this author, in the sacred language of Egypt, signifies
a [165]king. Hence it was conferred as a title upon the God Sehor, who, as
we may infer from Manethon and [166]Hellanicus, was called Ucsiris, and
Icsiris; but by the later Greeks the name was altered to Isiris and Osiris.
And not only the God Sehor, or Sehoris was so expressed; but Cnas, or
Canaan, had the same title, and was styled Uc-Cnas, and the Gentile name or
possessive was Uc-cnaos, Υκ-κναος: το εθνικον γαρ Χναος, as we learn from
Stephanus. The Greeks, whose custom it was to reduce every foreign name to
something similar in their own language, changed Υκκναος to Κυκνειος, Uc
Cnaus to Cucneus; and from Υκ Κνας formed Κυκνος. Some traces of this word
still remain, though almost effaced; and may be observed in the name of the
Goddess Ichnaia. Instead of Uc-Cnaan the son of Ham, the Greeks have
substituted this personage in the feminine, whom they have represented as
the daughter of the Sun. She is mentioned in this light by Lycophron:
[167]Της Ἡλιου θυγατρος Ιχναιας βραβευς. They likewise changed Thamuz and
Thamas of Canaan and Egypt to Themis a feminine; and called her Ichnaia
Themis. She is so styled by Homer.

[168]Θεαι δ’ εσαν ενδοθι πασαι,
Ὁσσαι αρισται εσαν, Διωνη τε, Ῥειη τε,
Ιχναιη τε Θεμις, και αγαστονος Αμφιτριτη.

Ιχναια is here used adjectively. Ιχναια Θεμις signifies Themis, or Thamuz,
of [169]Canaan.

There was another circumstance, which probably assisted to carry on the
mistake: a Canaanitish temple was called both Ca-Cnas, and Cu-Cnas; and
adjectively[170] Cu-Cnaios; which terms there is reason to think were
rendered Κυκνος, and Κυκνειος. Besides all this, the swan was undoubtedly
the insigne of Canaan, as the eagle and vulture were of Egypt, and the dove
of Babylonia. It was certainly the hieroglyphic of the country. These were
the causes which contributed to the framing many idle legends, such as the
poets improved upon greatly. Hence it is observable, that wherever we may
imagine any colonies from Canaan to have settled and to have founded
temples, there is some story about swans: and the Greeks, in alluding to
their hymns, instead of Yκκναον ασμα, the music of Canaan, have introduced
κυκνειον ασμα, the singing of these birds: and, instead of the death of
Thamuz, lamented by the Cucnaans, or priests, they have made the swans sing
their own dirge, and foretell their own funeral. Wherever the Canaanites
came, they introduced their national worship; part of which, as I have
shewn, consisted in chanting hymns to the honour of their country God. He
was the same as Apollo of Greece: on which account, Lucian, in compliance
with the current notion, says, that the Cycni were formerly the assessors
and ministers of that Deity. By this we are to understand, that people of
this denomination were in antient times his priests. One part of the world,
where this notion about swans prevailed, was in Liguria, upon the banks of
the Eridanus. Here Phaëthon was supposed to have met with his downfal; and
here his brother Cycnus underwent the metamorphosis, of which we have
spoken. In these parts some Amonians settled very early; among whom it
appears that there were many from Canaan. They may be traced by the mighty
works which they carried on; for they drained the river towards its mouth,
and formed some vast canals, called Fossæ Philistinæ. Pliny, speaking of
the entrance into the Eridanus, says, [171]Indé ostia plana, Carbonaria, ac
fossiones Philistinæ, quod alii Tartarum vocant: omnia ex Philistinæ fossæ
abundatione nascentia. These canals were, undoubtedly the work of the
Canaanites, and particularly of some of the Caphtorim, who came from
Philistim: and hence these outlets of the river were named Philistinæ. The
river betrays its original in its name; for it has no relation to the
Celtic language, but is apparently of Egyptian or Canaanitish etymology.
This is manifest from the terms of which it is made up; for it is
compounded of Ur-Adon, sive Orus Adonis; and was sacred to the God of that
name. The river, simply, and out of composition, was Adon, or Adonis: and
it is to be observed, that this is the name of one of the principal rivers
in Canaan. It ran near the city Biblus, where the death of Thamuz was
particularly lamented. It is a circumstance taken notice of by many
authors, and most pathetically described by Milton.

[172]Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allur’d
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In amorous ditties all a summer’s day:
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea; suppos’d with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded.

It is said that the Eridanus was so called first by [173]Pherecydes Syrus:
and that my etymology is true, may in great measure be proved from the
[174]Scholiast upon Aratus. He shews that the name was of Egyptian
original, at least consonant to the language of Egypt; for it was the same
as the Nile. It is certain that it occurred in the antient sphere of Egypt,
whence the Grecians received it. The great effusion of water in the
celestial sphere, which, Aratus says, was the Nile, is still called the
Eridanus: and, as the name was of oriental original, the purport of it must
be looked for among the people of those parts. The river Strymon, in
Thrace, was supposed to abound with swans, as much as the Eridanus; and the
antient name of this river was Palaestinus. It was so called from the
Amonians, who settled here under the name of Adonians, and who founded the
city Adonis. They were by the later Greeks styled, after the Iönic manner,
Edonians, and their city Edonis. [175]Στρυμων ποταμος εστι της Θρακης κατα
πολιν Ηδωνιδα, προσηγορευετο δε προτερον Παλαιστινος. _The Strymon is a
river of Thrace, which runs by the city Edonis: it was of old called the
river Palæstinus_. In these places, and in all others where any of the
Canaanites settled, the Grecians have introduced some story about swans.

Some of them seem to have gained access at Delphi; as did likewise others
from Egypt: and by such was that oracle first founded. Egypt, among other
names, was called Ait, and Ai Ait, by the Greeks expressed Αετια:
[176]Εκληθη δε–και ΑΕΤΙΑ. The natives, in consequence of it, were called
Αετιοι, and Αεται; which was interpreted eagles. Hence, we are told by
Plutarch, that some of the feathered kind, either eagles or swans, came
from the remote parts of the earth, and settled at Delphi. [177]Αετους
τινας, η Κυκνους, ω Τερεντιανε Πρισκε, μυθολογουσιν απο των ακρων της γης
επι το μεσον φερομενους εις ταυτο συμπεσειν Πυθοι περι τον καλουμενον
ομφαλον. These eagles and swans undoubtedly relate to colonies from Egypt
and Canaan. I recollect but one philosopher styled Cygnus; and, what is
remarkable, he was of Canaan. Antiochus, the Academic, mentioned by Cicero
in his philosophical works, and also by [178]Strabo, was of Ascaloun, in
Palestine; and he was surnamed Cygnus, the Swan: which name, as it is so
circumstanced, must, I think, necessarily allude to this country.

As in early times colonies went by the name of the Deity whom they
worshipped, or by the name of the insigne and hieroglyphic under which
their country was denoted, every depredation made by such people was placed
to the account of the Deity under such a device. This was the manner in
which poets described things: and, in those days, all wrote in measure.
Hence, instead of saying that the Egyptians, or Canaanites, or Tyrians,
landed and carried off such and such persons; they said, that it was done
by Jupiter, in the shape of an eagle, or a swan, or a bull: substituting an
eagle for Egypt, a swan for Canaan, and a bull for the city of [179]Tyre.
It is said of the Telchines, who were Amonian priests, that they came to
Attica under the conduct of Jupiter in the shape of an eagle.

[180]Αιετος ἡγεμονευε δι αιθερος αντιτυπος Ζευς.

By which is meant, that they were Egyptian priests; and an eagle was
probably the device in their standard, as well as the insigne of their

Some of the same family were to be found among the Atlantes of Mauritania,
and are represented as having the shape of swans. Prometheus, in Æschylus,
speaks of them in the commission which he gives to Io: [181]_You must go_,
says he, _as far as the city Cisthene in the Gorgonian plains, where the
three Phorcides reside; those antient, venerable ladies, who are in the
shape of swans, and have but one eye, of which they make use in common._
This history relates to an Amonian temple founded in the extreme parts of
Africa; in which there were three priestesses of Canaanitish race; who, on
that account, are said to be in the shape of swans. The notion of their
having but one eye among them took its rise from an hieroglyphic very
common in Egypt, and probably in Canaan: this was the representation of an
eye, which was said to be engraved upon the pediment of their [182]temples.
As the land of Canaan lay so opportunely for traffic, and the emigrants
from most parts went under their conduct, their history was well known.
They navigated the seas very early, and were necessarily acquainted with
foreign regions; to which they must at one time have betaken themselves in
great numbers, when they fled before the sons of Israel. In all the places
where they settled they were famous for their hymns and music; all which
the Greeks have transferred to birds, and supposed that they were swans who
were gifted with this harmony. Yet, sweet as their notes are said to have
been, there is not, I believe, a person upon record who was ever a witness
to it. It is, certainly, all a fable. When, therefore, Plutarch tells us
that Apollo was pleased with the music of swans, [183]μουσικῃ τε ἡδεται,
και κυκνων φωναις; and when Æschylus mentions their singing their own
dirges; they certainly allude to Egyptian and Canaanitish priests, who
lamented the death of Adon and Osiris. And this could not be entirely a
secret to the Grecians, for they seem often to refer to some such notion.
Socrates termed swans his fellow-servants: in doing which he alluded to the
antient priests, styled Cycni. They were people of the choir, and
officiated in the temples of the same Deities; whose servant he professed
himself to be. Hence Porphyry assures us, [184]Ὁυ παιζων ὁμοδουλους αυτου
ελεγεν τους κυκνους (Σοκρατης), _that Socrates was very serious when he
mentioned swans as his fellow-servants._ When, therefore, Aristophanes
speaks of the [185]Delian and Pythian swans, they are the priests of those
places, to whom he alludes. And when it is said by Plato, that the soul of
Orpheus, out of disgust to womankind, led the life of a [186]swan, the
meaning certainly is, that he retired from the world to some cloister, and
lived a life of celibacy, like a priest. For the priests of many countries,
but particularly of Egypt, were recluses, and devoted themselves to
[187]celibacy: hence monkery came originally from Egypt. Lycophron, who was
of Egypt, and skilled in antient terms, styles Calchas, who was the priest
of Apollo, a swan. [188]Μολοσσου κυπεως κοιτου κυκνον. These epithets, the
Scholiast tells us, belong to Apollo; and Calchas is called a swan, δια το
γηραιον, και μαντικον: _because he was an old prophet and priest_. Hence,
at the first institution of the rites of Apollo, which is termed the birth
of the Deity, at Delos, it is said that many swans came from the coast of
Asia, and went round the island for the space of seven days.

[189]Κυκνοι δε θεου μελποντες αοιδοι
Μηονιον Πακτωλον εκυκλωσαντο λιποντες
Ἑβδομακις περι Δηλον· επηεισαν δε λοχειῃ
Μουσαων ορνιθες, αοιδοτατοι πετεηνων.

The whole of this relates to a choir of priests, who came over to settle at
Delos, and to serve in the newly erected temple. They circled the island
seven times; because seven, of old, was looked upon as a mysterious and
sacred number.

[190]Ἑβδομη ειν αγαθοις, και ἑβδομη εστι γενεθλη.
Ἑβδομη εν πρωτοισι, και ἑβδομη εστι τελειη.
Ἑβδοματῃ δη ὁι τετελεσμενα παντα τετυκται.
Ἑπτα δε παντα τετυκται εν ουρανῳ αστεροεντι.

The birds in the island of Diomedes, which were said to have been
originally companions of that hero, were undoubtedly priests, and of the
same race as those of whom I have been treating. They are represented as
gentle to good men, and averse to those who are bad. Ovid describes their
shape and appearance: [191]Ut non cygnorum, sic albis proxima cygnis;
which, after what has been said, may, I think, be easily understood.

If then the harmony of swans, when spoken of, not only related to something
quite foreign, but in reality did not of itself exist, it may appear
wonderful that the antients should so universally give into the notion. For
not only the poets, but [192]Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, Pliny, with many
others of high rank, speak of it as a circumstance well known. But it is to
be observed, that none of them speak from their own experience: nor are
they by any means consistent in what they say. Some mention this singing as
a general faculty; which was exerted at all times: others limit it to
particular seasons, and to particular places. Aristotle seems to confine it
to the seas of [193]Africa: [194]Aldrovandus says, that it may be heard
upon the Thames near London. The account given by Aristotle is very
remarkable. He says, that mariners, whose course lay through the Libyan
sea, have often met with swans, and heard them singing in a melancholy
strain: and upon a nearer approach, they could perceive that some of them
were dying, from whom the harmony proceeded. Who would have expected to
have found swans swimming in the salt sea, in the midst of the
Mediterranean? There is nothing that a Grecian would not devise in support
of a favourite error. The legend from beginning to end is groundless: and
though most speak of the music of swans as exquisite; yet some absolutely
deny [195]the whole of it; and others are more moderate in their
commendations. The watermen in Lucian give the preference to a jackdaw: but
Antipater in some degree dissents, and thinks that the swan has the

[196]Λωιτερος κυκνων μικρος θροος, ηε κολοιων

And Lucretius confesses, that the screaming of a crane is not quite so

[197]Parvus ut est, Cygni melior canor, ille gruum quam

Which however is paying them no great compliment. To these respectable
personages I must add the evidence of a modern; one too of no small repute,
even the great Scaliger. He says, that he made a strict scrutiny about this
affair, when in Italy; and the result of his observations was this:
[198]Ferrariæ multos (cygnos) vidimus, sed cantores sane malos, neque
melius ansere canere.

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