ISCINA, LIBYA — Our field correspondent Herodotus has sent word of a most intriguing story. Last Wednesday he was supping with some Nasamonians, and inbetween bites of mutton and couscous one of them related the following tale:
And adjacent to the Nasamonians are the Psylli. They utterly perished in the following manner: The south wind had blown against them and dried up their water tanks; and all their country, being within the Syrtis, was waterless. So after they had taken counsel, by common agreement they marched their army against the south wind (now I’m only saying what the Libyans say), and when they came into the sandy desert, the south wind blew and buried them. Since they utterly perished, the Nasamonians have their land.
When Herodotus asked if the Nasamonians had searched the desert for the remains of this unfortunate tribe, a certain chieftan named Siwa spluttered tea all over the guests in his laughter and replied, “Of course not. Don’t be Psylli!”
This account comes from Herodotus’ Histories, IV.173 as he tells of the various tribes that inhabited Libya. We might be inclined to view the tale of the Psylli with some skepticism; even Herodotus felt compelled to note, “I’m only saying what the Libyans say.” Yet Herodotus included the story because of its moral value.
The simple fact is, there are certain things that we as human beings can’t trifle with, things we must simply accept as they are. If the wind dries up our water stores, we can’t get retribution, we can’t change the wind, we can’t even make the wind care that it “wronged” us. If we ignore these facts and try to take on the wind, we shouldn’t be surprised when our war against nature ends with our own destruction.
Some things are beyond us. Making nature bend to our will is one of those things. The Greek adage, “Know thyself” comes to mind: know what is within your grasp, and know what is beyond you.
- What should the Psylli have done instead of going to war against the south wind?
- Are public schools teaching that man must accept nature as it is, or that man can change nature as he sees fit? Think in particular of the current debates over sexual orientation, gender identity, and restroom policies.
- The ancients considered that presumptuous acts against nature, such as the Psylli committed, were a form of impiety, that is, offense against the gods. Why would defying nature be offensive to God?
Painting: Egypt 1903, Storm-driven by Robert Talbot Kelly (1861-1934).
Herodotus’ Histories, IV.173 translated by Andrew Richard, 2017.