Time for another Pagan Blog Post with a letter that isn't in the Hellenic alphabet! As such, I get to be creative and provide you with an overview of the life of a fisherman in ancient Hellas, and of the great importance of fish in the ancient Hellenic diet. In ancient Hellas, fishery was a valued but underpaid skill, and one practiced for centuries. The earliest representation of a fishing scene in ancient Hellas dates from the year 1500 BC, and is found on a vase dug up on the island of Melos (Μῆλος), a volcanic Greek island in the Aegean Sea, just north of the Sea of Krete. It's extremely likely, however, that the act of fishing was practiced long before that.

While fish was a staple food of the ancient Hellenes, those who caught it were considered amongst the lowest of society. It wasn't a very glamorous job, and it paid very little. Fresh fish had to be consumed within one to three days of being caught. It is assumed that most fresh fish was taken to the local agora and sold there. Fish appeared only as a luxury item beyond the coastal towns. There is evidence of fish being transported in amphorai across water, and also that the ancient Hellenes knew how to preserve fish in a manner of ways.

Amongst others, fish could be preserved by salting, smoking, drying, or being made into fish sauce. Fish sauce, also know as garon (γάρον), was prepared from the intestines of small fishes through the process of bacterial fermentation. Makers of fish sauce would pick out the parts of the fish they wanted, and would then macerate them. Following that, they were cured in the sun for up to three months. Eventually the mixture fermented and liquefied. The clear liquid that settled on the top was skimmed off and sold as garon, the rest was used (probably locally) to flavor dishes. Garon was high in nutrients and contained a high amount of protein and amino acids. It kept for a good while and from the fourth or third century BC on, it was made and transported throughout Hellas. Fish processing facilities dating back as far as the 5th century BC have been found along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of modern Spain, Morocco, Portugal, and in the Northern Black Sea region.

Hómēros makes several references to the methods of fishing in ancient Hellas, amongst which nets, lines, and harpoons. It was common for fishermen to post watchmen on the cliffs to look out for shoals of fish at sea, after which they signaled the boats below. Hómēros gives the names of only two distinct species--the dolphin and eel--but Hellenic writer Oppianos (Ὀππιανός) describes a large variety of fishes which were known to the ancient Hellenes, either in his time (around the third century AD), or earlier. His writings include: grey and red mullet, muraena, mormyrus, basse, tunny, ox-ray, sea-sheep, skate, hake, bonito, fox-shark, torpedo, cuttle-fish, squid, anthias, cantharus or black sea-bream, admos, saupe, melanurus, sword-fish, needle-fish, and dentex, but also prawn, crab, oyster, star-fish, lobster, sting-ray and turtle. It can be assumed a large section of these fish served as dinner.

Oppianos' Halieutica is one of the greatest sources of knowledge about the fishing tactics in ancient Hellas we have to this day: very little writing and pottery decorations were made about the lowly job of fishermen, and even fewer have survived. From Oppianos, for example, we know how a fishermen was supposed to present himself, and who of the Theoi favored them:

"First of all the fisher should have body and limbs both swift and strong, neither over fat nor lacking in flesh. For often he must fight with mighty fish in landing them — which have exceeding strength so long as they circle and wheel in the arms of their mother sea. And lightly he must leap from a rock; and, when the toil of the sea is at its height, he must swiftly travel a long way and dive into the deepest depths and abide amongst the waves and remain labouring at such works as men upon the sea toil at with enduring heart. Cunning of wit too and wise should the fisher be, since many and various are the devices that fishes contrive, when they chance upon unthought-of snares. Daring also should he be and dauntless and temperate and he must not love satiety of sleep but must be keen of sight, wakeful of heart and open-eyed. He must bear well the wintry weather and the thirsty season of Sirius; he must be fond of labour and must love the sea. So shall he be successful in his fishing and dear to Hermes."

It is clear that the ancient Hellenes loved their fish. It was the most preferred dish to accompany their basic grain diet, the favorite relish, or 'opson' (ὄψον). Hellenic rhetorician and grammarian Athenaeus of Naucratis, who lived around the beginning of the third century AD, wrote one of the best summaries of the opinion on fish as a dietary staple:

"It is no wonder, my friends, that among all the specially prepared dishes which we call an opson, the fish is the only one which has won its way, on account of its excellent eating qualities, to be called by this name, because people are so mad for this kind of food."