Text #8657

Aristotle. Meteorologica
[Aristot. 1.6.1--1.6.28. Translated by E. W. Webster. Oxford, Clarendon Press. 1931]


The great comet which appeared at the time of the earthquake in Achaea and the tidal wave rose due west; and many have been known to appear in the south.[…] For instance the great comet we mentioned before appeared to the west in winter in frosty weather when the sky was clear, in the archonship of Asteius. On the first day it set before the sun and was then not seen. On the next day it was seen, being ever so little behind the sun and immediately setting. But its light extended over a third part of the sky like a leap, so that people called it a “path”. This comet receded as far as Orion’s belt and there dissolved. Democritus however, insists upon the truth of his view and affirms that certain stars have been seen when comets dissolve. But on his theory this ought not to occur occasionally but always.

Text #8658

Strabo. Geography. Series: Geography. Vol. 1
[Strab. 1.3.18. Translated by Horace Leonard Jones and John Robert Sitlington. William Heinemann; G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1967. (8 Vols.) p. 219]

Then there are Bura and Helice; Bura disappeared in a chasm of the earth, and Helice was wiped out by a wave from the sea.1

  1. Both were in Achaia. The earthquake took place 373 B.C. [OF]

Text #8659

Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History. Vol. 7
[Diod. 15.48. Translated by C. H. Oldfather. Harvard University Press. 1935. (12 Vols.) pp. 81--85]

When Asteius was archon at Athens, the Romans elected six military tribunes with consular power, Marcus Furius, Lucius Furius, Aulus Postumius, Lucius Lucretius, Marcus Fabius, and Lucius Postumius. During their term of office great earthquakes occurred in the Peloponnese accompanied by tidal waves which engulfed the open country and cities in a manner past belief; for never in the earlier periods had such disasters befallen Greek cities, nor had entire cities along with their inhabitants disappeared as a result of some divine force wreaking destruction and ruin upon mankind. The extent of the destruction was increased by the time of its occurrence; for the earthquake did not come in the daytime when it would have been possible for the sufferers to help themselves, but the blow came at night, so that when the houses crashed and crumbled under the force of the shock, the population, owing to the darkness and to the surprise and bewilderment occasioned by the event, had no power to struggle for life. The majority were caught in the falling houses and annihilated, but as day returned some survivors dashed from the ruins and, when they thought they had escaped the danger, met with a greater and still more incredible danger. For the sea rose to a vast height, and a wave towering even higher washed away and drowned all the inhabitants and their native lands as well. Two cities in Achaïa bore the brunt of this disaster, Helicê and Bura the former of which had, as it happened, before the earthquake held first place among the cities of Achaïa. These disasters have been the subject of much discussion. Natural scientists make it their endeavour to attribute responsibility in such cases not to divine providence, but to certain natural circumstances determined by necessary causes, whereas those who are disposed to venerate the divine power assign certain plausible reasons for the occurrence, alleging that the disaster was occasioned by the anger of the gods at those who had committed sacrilege. This question I too shall endeavour to deal with in detail in a special chapter of my history.

Text #8670

Aelian. On the Characteristics of Animals. Vol. 2
[Bk. 11 Ch. 19 pp. 385--387]

When a house is on the verge of ruin the mice in it, and the martens also, forestall its collapse and emigrate1. This, you know, is what they say happened at Helice, for when the people of Helice treated so impiously the Ionians who had come to them, and murdered them at their altar, then it was (in the words of Homer [Od. 12. 394]) that “the gods showed forth their wonders among them.” For five days before Helice disappeared all the mice and martens and snakes and centipedes and beetles and every other creature of that kind in the town left in a body by the road that leads to Cerynea.

And the people of Helice seeing this happening were filled with amazement, but were unable to guess the reason. But after the aforesaid creatures had departed, an earthquake occurred in the night; the town collapsed; an immense wave poured over it, and Helice disappeared, while ten Lacedaemonian vessels which happened to be at anchor close by were destroyed together with the city I speak of.

  1. In 6.41, p. 57-59, Aelian adds about mice predicting natural disasters : “whereupon the Mice, I fancy, are in dread of the wrath of heaven and retreat in the formation of a hollow square to some mountain […] And itis believed that whenever a house is threatening to fall, all the Mice will change house as fast as their legs can carry them.” [nE]

Text #8656

Pausanias. Description of Greece. Series: Description of Greece. Vol. 3
[Paus. 7.24--7.25. Translated by W. H. S. Jones. Harvard University Press. 1918. (6 Vols.)]


But the wrath of Poseidon visited them (Helice and the Heliconian) without delay; an earthquake promptly struck their land and swallowed up, without leaving a trace for posterity to see, both the buildings and the very site on which the city stood.

Warnings, usually the same in all cases, are wont to be sent by the god before violent and far-reaching earthquakes. Either continuous storms of rain or else continuous droughts occur before earthquakes for an unusual length of time, and the weather is unseasonable. In winter it turns too hot, and in summer along with a tendency to haze the orb of the sun presents an unusual color, slightly inclining to red or else to black.

Springs of water generally dry up; blasts of wind sometimes swoop upon the land and overturn the trees; occasionally great flames dart across the sky; the shapes of stars too appear such as have never been witnessed before, producing consternation in those that witness them; furthermore there is a violent rumbling of winds beneath the earth – these and many other warnings is the god wont to send before violent earthquakes occur.

The shock itself is not of one fixed type, but the original inquirers into such matters and their pupils have been able to discover the following forms of earthquake. The mildest form – that is, if such a calamity admits of mitigation – is when there coincides with the original shock, which levels the buildings with the ground, a shock in the opposite direction, counteracting the first and raising up the buildings already knocked over.

In this form of’ earthquake pillars may be seen righting themselves which have been almost entirely uprooted, split walls coming together to their original position; beams, dislocated by the shock, go back to their places, and likewise channels, and such-like means of furthering the flow of water, have their cracks cemented better than they could be by human craftsmen. Now the second form of earthquake brings destruction to anything liable to it, and it throws over at once, as it were by a battering-ram, whatever meets the force of its impact.

The most destructive kind of earthquake the experts are wont to liken to the symptoms of a man suffering from a non-intermittent fever, the breathing of such a patient being rapid and laboured. There are symptoms of this to be found in many parts of the body, especially at each wrist. In the same way, they say, the earthquake dives directly under buildings and shakes up their foundations, just as molehills come up from the bowels of the earth. It is this sort of shock alone that leaves no trace on the ground that men ever dwelt there.

This was the type of earthquake, they say, that on the occasion referred to levelled Helice to the ground, and that it was accompanied by another disaster in the season of winter. The sea flooded a great part of the land, and covered up the whole of Helice all round. Moreover, the tide was so deep in the grove of Poseidon that only the tops of the trees remained visible. What with the sudden earthquake, and the invasion of the sea that accompanied it, the tidal wave swallowed up Helice and every man in it.

A similar fate, though different in type, came upon a city on Mount Sipylus, so that it vanished into a chasm. The mountain split, water welled up from the fissure, and the chasm became a lake called Saloe. The ruins of the city were to be seen in the lake, until the water of the torrent hid them from view. The ruins of Helice too are visible, but not so plainly now as they were once, because they are corroded by the salt water.

The disaster that befell Helice is but one of the many proofs that the wrath of the God of Suppliants is inexorable. The god at Dodona too manifestly advises us to respect suppliants. For about the time of Apheidas the Athenians received from Zeus of Dodona the following verses:–

Consider the Areopagus, and the smoking altars
Of the Eumenides, where the Lacedaemonians are to be thy suppliants,
When hard-pressed in war. Kill them not with the sword,
And wrong not suppliants. For suppliants are sacred and holy.

The Greeks were reminded of these words when Peloponnesians arrived at Athens at the time when the Athenian king was Codrus, the son of Melanthus. Now the rest of the Peloponnesian army, on learning of the death of Codrus and of the manner of it, departed from Attica, the oracle from Delphi making them despair of success in the future; but certain Lacedaemonians, who got unnoticed within the walls in the night, perceived at daybreak that their friends had gone, and when the Athenians gathered against them, they took refuge in the Areopagus at the altars of the goddesses called August.

On this occasion the Athenians allowed the suppliants to go away unharmed, but subsequently the magistrates themselves put to death the suppliants of Athena, when Cylon and his supporters had seized the Acropolis. So the slayers themselves and also their descendants were regarded as accursed to the goddess. The Lacedaemonians too put to death men who had taken refuge in the sanctuary of Poseidon at Taenarum. Presently their city was shaken by an earthquake so continuous and violent that no house in Lacedaemon could resist it.

The destruction of Helice occurred while Asteius was still archon at Athens, in the fourth year of the hundred and first Olympiad, whereat Damon of Thurii was victorious for the first time. As none of the people of Helice were left alive, the land is occupied by the people of Aegium.


When the god wiped off Helice from the face of the earth, Bura too suffered a severe earthquake, so that not even the ancient images were left in the sanctuaries.

The only Burians to survive were those who chanced to be absent at the time, either on active service or for some other reason, and these became the second founders of Bura.

Text #8660

Seneca. Natural Questions. Series: The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca
[Sen. 6.23.4--6.25.4. Translated by Harry M. Hine. The University of Chicago Press. 2010 pp. 105--107]

23 This Callisthenes, in the books where he describes the inundation of Helice and Buris, and the event that drove them into the sea, or the sea onto them, says what has already been said in an earlier section: “Breath enters the earth through invisible openings; this happens everywhere, including under the sea. Then, when the pathway through which it had been descending is blocked, and the pressure of the water behind prevents its return, it oscillates backward and forward, and as it collides with itself, it weakens the earth. Th at is why places next to the sea are ravaged most often, and for that reason the power to cause earthquakes has been assigned to Neptune. Anyone who has learned to read knows that in Homer he is called Enosichthon.”


25 That great convulsion in which two cities disappeared, Helice and Buris, stopped short of Aegium. So it is clear that the earthquake spreads as far as the hollowness of the empty space extends beneath the earth.

Text #8663

Seneca. Natural Questions. Series: The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca
[Sen. 7.5.3--7.5.5. Translated by Harry M. Hine. The University of Chicago Press. 2010 pp. 118--125]

15 Certainly Charmander, in the book he wrote about comets, says that Anaxagoras saw a massive and unusual light in the sky, the size of a large beam, and it shone for many days. Callisthenes records that a similar shape, resembling an elongated fire, shone before the sea overwhelmed Bura and Helice. Aristotle says this was not a beam but a comet, but because of the intense heat, the dispersed fire was not visible; yet as time went on, once it was blazing less fiercely, the standard comet shape was restored. In this fiery object there were many features deserving attention, none more so than the fact that, as soon as it shone in the sky, the sea covered Bura and Helice. (Could it be that Aristotle believed that not only this beam but all beams are comets, the difference being that beams have unbroken fire, whereas comets have dispersed fire? For beams have a steady flame that is not interrupted or feeble at any point, and is dense at its extremities, as Callisthenes records in the case I have just mentioned.

16 Ephorus is not someone of the most scrupulous reliability: he is often deceived, more often he deceives, as in the case of this comet, which was watched by the eyes of all humankind, because it brought about the occurrence of a major event, drowning Helice and Bura at its appearance. He says it separated into two stars; but apart from him no one has reported this. Who could have observed that moment at which the comet broke up and was reduced to two pieces? How come, if there is somebody who has seen a comet being split in two, that nobody has seen one forming from two stars? Why did he not add what stars it divided into, since it must have been some of the five stars?

Text #8666

Orosius. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. Series: Translated Texts for Historians. Vol. 54
[Oros. 3.3.1. Translated by A. T. Fear. Liverpool University Press. 2010 p. 116]

376 years after the foundation of the City, all Achaea was struck by a most ferocious earthquake and two cities, namely Ebora and Helice, were swallowed up as the ground gaped open.

Text #8667

Ammianus Marcellinus. The History . Series: Loeb Classical Library. Vol. 1
[Amm. 17.7.13--17.7.14. Translated by J. C. Rolfe. Harvard University Press. 1935. (3 Vols.) p. 349]


Now earthquakes take place in four ways; for they are either brasmatiae, or upheavings, which lift up the ground from far within, like a tide and force upward huge masses, as in Asia Delos came to the surface, and Hgate rainiera, Anaphe, and Rhodes, called in former ages Ophiusa and Pelagia, and once drenched with a shower of gold; also Eleusis in Boeotia, Vulcanus in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and many more islands. Or they are climatiae which rush along to one side and obliquely, levelling cities, buildings, and mountains. Or they are chasmatiae, or gaping, which with their intensive movement suddenly open abysses and swallow up parts of the earth; as in the Atlantic Ocean an island more extensive than all Europe, and in the Crisaean Gulf, Helice and Bura; and in the Ciminian district of Italy the town of Saccumum; these were all sunk into the deep abysses of Erebus, and lie hidden in eternal darkness. Among these three sorts of earthquakes the mycematiae are heard with a threatening roar, when the elements break up into their component parts and clash of their own accord, or slide back when the ground settles. For then of necessity the crashing and rumbling of the earth must resound like the bellowing of a bull. But to return to the episode which we began.

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