|Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].|
|<<Str. 1.1||Str. 1.2 (Greek English(2))||>>Str. 1.3|
No one can [justly] blame us for having undertaken to write on a subject already often treated of, unless it appears that we have done nothing more than copy the works of former writers. In our opinion, though they may have perfectly treated some subjects, in others they have still left much to be completed; and we shall be justified in our performance, if we can add to their information even in a trifling degree. At the present moment the conquests of the Romans and Parthians have added much to our knowledge, which (as was well observed by Eratosthenes) had been considerably increased by the expedition of Alexander. This prince laid open to our view the greater part of Asia, and the whole north of Europe as far as the Danube. And the Romans [have discovered to us] the entire west of Europe as far as the river Elbe, which divides Germany, and the country beyond the Ister to the river Dniester. The country beyond this to the Mæotis, [Note] and the coasts extending along Colchis, [Note] was brought to light by Mithridates, surnamed Eupator, and his generals. To the Parthians we are indebted for a better acquaintance with Hyrcania, [Note] Bac-
triana, [Note] and the land of the Scythians [Note] lying beyond, of which before we knew but little. Thus we can add much information not supplied by former writers, but this will best be seen when we come to treat on the writers who have preceded us; and this method we shall pursue, not so much in regard to the primitive geographers, as to Eratosthenes and those subsequent to him. As these writers far surpassed the generality in the amount of their knowledge, so naturally it is more difficult to detect their errors when such occur. If I seem to contradict those most whom I take chiefly for my guides, I must claim indulgence on the plea, that it was never intended to criticise the whole body of geographers, the larger number of whom are not worthy of consideration, but to give an opinion of those only who are generally found correct. Still, while many are beneath discussion, such men as Eratosthenes, Posidonius, Hipparchus, Polybius, and others of their stamp, deserve our highest consideration.1.2.2
Let us first examine Eratosthenes, reviewing at the same time what Hipparchus has advanced against him. Eratosthenes is much too creditable an historian for us to believe what Polemon endeavours to charge against him, that he had not even seen Athens. At the same time he does not merit that unbounded confidence which some seem to repose in him, although, as he himself tells us, he passed much of his time with first-rate [characters]. Never, says he, at one period, and in one city, were there so many philosophers flourishing together as in my time. In their number was Ariston and Arcesilaus. This, however, it seems is not sufficient, but you must also be able to choose who are the real guides whom it is your interest to follow. He considers Arcesilaus and Ariston to be the coryphæi of the philosophers who flourished in his time, and is ceaseless in his eulogies of Apelles and Bion,
the latter of whom, says he, was the first to deck himself in
the flowers of philosophy, but concerning whom one is often
likewise tempted to exclaim, How great is Bion in spite of
his rags! [Note]
It is in such instances as the following that the mediocrity of his genius shows itself.
Although at Athens he became a disciple of Zeno [Note] of Citium, he makes no mention of his followers; while those who opposed that philosopher, and of whose sect not a trace remains, he thinks fit to set down amongst the [great characters] who flourished in his time. His real character appears in his Treatise on Moral Philosophy, [Note] his Meditations, and some similar productions. He seems to have held a middle course between the man who devotes himself to philosophy, and the man who cannot make up his mind to dedicate himself to it: and to have studied the science merely as a relief from his other pursuits, or as a pleasing and instructive recreation. In his other writings he is just the same; but let these things pass. We will now proceed as well as we can to the task of rectifying his geography.
First, then, let us return to the point which we lately deferred.1.2.3
Eratosthenes says that the poet directs his whole attention to the amusement of the mind, and not at all to its instruction. In opposition to his idea, the ancients define poesy as a primitive philosophy, guiding our life from infancy, and pleasantly regulating our morals, our tastes, and our actions. The [Stoics] of our day affirm that the only wise man is the poet. On this account the earliest lessons which the citizens of Greece convey to their children are from the poets; cer-
tainly not alone for the purpose of amusing their minds, but for their instruction. Nay, even the professors of music, who give lessons on the harp, lyre, and pipe, lay claim to our consideration on the same account, since they say that [the accomplishments which they teach] are calculated to form and improve the character. It is not only among the Pythagoreans that one hears this claim supported, for Aristoxenus is of that opinion, and Homer too regarded the bards as amongst the wisest of mankind.
Of this number was the guardian of Clytemnestra, to
whom the son of Atreus, when he set out for Troy, gave
earnest charge to preserve his wife, [Note] whom ægisthus was
unable to seduce, until leading the bard to a desert island,
he left him, [Note] and then
The queen he led, not willing less than he,
Ib. iii. 272.
To his own mansion. [Note]
But apart from all such considerations, Eratosthenes contradicts himself; for a little previously to the sentence which we have quoted, at the commencement of his Essay on Geography, he says, that all the ancient poets took delight in showing their knowledge of such matters. Homer inserted into his poetry all that he knew about the Ethiopians, Egypt, and Libya. Of all that related to Greece and the neighbouring places he entered even too minutely into the details, describing Thisbe as abounding in doves, Haliartus, grassy, Anthedon, the far distant, Litæa, situated on the sources of the Cephissus, [Note] and none of his epithets are without their meaning. But in pursuing this method, what object has he in view, to amuse [merely], or to instruct? The latter, doubtless. Well, perhaps he has told the truth in these instances, but in what was beyond his observation both he and the other writers have indulged in all the marvels of fable. If such be the case the statement should have been, that the poets relate some things for mere amusement, others for instruction; but he affirms that they do it altogether for amusement, without any view to information; and by way of climax, inquires, What can it add to Homer's worth to be familiar with many
lands, and skilled in strategy, agriculture, rhetoric, and similar information, which some persons seem desirous to make him possessed of. To seek to invest him with all this knowledge is most likely the effect of too great a zeal for his honour. Hipparchus observes, that to assert he was acquainted with every art and science, is like saying that an Attic eiresionè [Note] bears pears and apples.
As far as this goes, Eratosthenes, you are right enough; not so, however, when you not only deny that Homer was possessed of these vast acquirements, but represent poetry in general as a tissue of old wives' fables, where, to use your own expression, every thing thought likely to amuse is cooked up. I ask, is it of no value to the auditors [Note] of the poets to be made acquainted with [the history of] different countries, with strategy, agriculture, and rhetoric, and suchlike things, which the lecture generally contains.1.2.4
One thing is certain, that the poet has bestowed all these
gifts upon Ulysses, whom beyond any of his other [heroes]
he loves to adorn with every virtue. He says of him, that he
Discover'd various cities, and the mind
Odyssey i 3.
And manners learn'd of men in lands remote. [Note]
Of a piercing wit and deeply wise. [Note]Iliad iii. 202.
Let him attend me, and through fire itself
Ib. x. 246.
We shall return; for none is wise as he. [Note]
I with my well-bent sickle in my hand,
Odyssey xviii. 367.
Thou arm'd with one as keen. [Note]
Then shouldst thou see
Ib. xviii. 374.
How straight my furrow should be cut and true. [Note]
That eloquence is regarded as the wisdom of speech,
Ulysses manifests throughout the whole poem, both in the
Trial, [Note] the Petitions, [Note] and the Embassy. [Note] Of him it is said by
But when he spake, forth from his breast did flow
Iliad iii. 221.
A torrent swift as winter's feather'd snow. [Note]
Are we not all agreed that the chief merit of a poet consists in his accurate representation of the affairs of life? Can this be done by a mere driveller, unacquainted with the world?
The excellence of a poet is not to be measured by the same standard as that of a mechanic or a blacksmith, where honour and virtue have nothing to do with our estimate. But the poet and the individual are connected, and he only can become a good poet, who is in the first instance a worthy man.1.2.6
To deny that our poet possesses the graces of oratory is using us hardly indeed. What is so befitting an orator, what so poetical as eloquence, and who so sweetly eloquent as Homer? But, by heaven! you'll say, there are other styles of eloquence than those peculiar to poetry. Of course [I admit this]; in poetry itself there is the tragic and the comic style; in prose, the historic and the forensic. But is not language
a generality, of which poetry and prose are forms? Yes, language is; but are not the rhetorical, the eloquent, and the florid styles also? I answer, that flowery prose is nothing but an imitation of poetry. Ornate poetry was the first to make its appearance, and was well received. Afterwards it was closely imitated by writers in the time of Cadmus, Pherecydes, and Hecatæus. The metre was the only thing dispensed with, every other poetic grace being carefully preserved. As time advanced, one after another of its beauties was discarded, till at last it came down from its glory into our common prose. In the same way we may say that comedy took its rise from tragedy, but descended from its lofty grandeur into what we now call the common parlance of daily life. And when [we find] the ancient writers making use of the expression to sing, to designate eloquence of style, this in itself is an evidence that poetry is the source and origin of all ornamented and rhetorical language. Poetry in ancient days was on every occasion accompanied by melody. The song or ode was but a modulated speech, from whence the words rhapsody, tragedy, comedy, [Note] are derived; and since originally eloquence was the term made use of for the poetical effusions which were always of the nature of a song, it soon happened [that in speaking of poetry] some said, to sing, others, to be eloquent; and as the one term was early misapplied to prose compositions, the other also was soon applied in the same way. Lastly, the very term prose, which is applied to language not clothed in metre, seems to indicate, as it were, its descent from an elevation or chariot to the ground. [Note]1.2.7
Homer accurately describes many distant countries, and not only Greece and the neighbouring places, as Eratosthenes asserts. His romance, too, is in better style than that of his successors. He does not make up wondrous tales on every occasion,
but to instruct us the better often, and especially in the Odyssey, adds to the circumstances which have come under his actual observation, allegories, wise harangues, and enticing narrations. Concerning which, Eratosthenes is much mistaken when he says that both Homer and his commentators are a pack of fools. But this subject demands a little more of our attention.1.2.8
To begin. The poets were by no means the first to avail themselves of myths. States and lawgivers had taken advantage of them long before, having observed the constitutional bias of mankind. Man is eager after knowledge, and the love of legend is but the prelude thereto. This is why children begin to listen [to fables], and are acquainted with them before any other kind of knowledge; the cause of this is that the myth introduces them to a new train of ideas, relating not to every-day occurrences, but something in addition to these.
A charm hangs round whatever is new and hitherto unknown, inspiring us with a desire to become acquainted with it, but when the wonderful and the marvellous are likewise present, our delight is increased until at last it becomes a philtre of study. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.
Every illiterate and uninstructed man is yet a child, and takes delight in fable. With the partially informed it is much the same; reason is not all-powerful within him, and he still possesses the tastes of a child. But the marvellous, which is capable of exciting fear as well as pleasure, influences not childhood only, but age as well. As we relate to children pleasing tales to incite them [to any course] of action, and frightful ones to deter them, such as those of Lamia, [Note] Gorgo, [Note] Ephialtes, [Note] and Mormolyca. [Note] So numbers of our citizens are
incited to deeds of virtue by the beauties of fable, when they hear the poets in a strain of enthusiasm recording noble actions, such as the labours of Hercules or Theseus, and the honours bestowed on them by the gods, or even when they see paintings, sculptures, or figures bearing their romantic evidence to such events. In the same way they are restrained from vicious courses, when they think they have received from the gods by oracles or some other invisible intimations, threats, menaces, or chastisements, or even if they only believe they have befallen others. The great mass of women and common people, cannot be induced by mere force of reason to devote themselves to piety, virtue, and honesty; superstition must therefore be employed, and even this is insufficient without the aid of the marvellous and the terrible. For what are the thunderbolts, the ægis, the trident, the torches, the dragons, the barbed thyrses, the arms of the gods, and all the paraphernalia of antique theology, but fables employed by the founders of states, as bugbears to frighten timorous minds.
Such was mythology; and when our ancestors found it capable of subserving the purposes of social and political life, and even contributing to the knowledge of truth, they continued the education of childhood to maturer years, and maintained that poetry was sufficient to form the understanding of every age. In course of time history and our present philosophy were introduced; these, however, suffice but for the chosen few, and to the present day poetry is the main agent which instructs our people and crowds our theatres. Homer here stands pre-eminent, but in truth all the early historians and natural philosophers were mythologists as well.1.2.9
Thus it is that our poet, though he sometimes employs
fiction for the purposes of instruction, always gives the preference to truth; he makes use of what is false, merely tolerating it in order the more easily to lead and govern the multitude. As a man
Binds with a golden verge
Odyssey vi. 232.
Bright silver: [Note]
this manner he undertook the narration of the Trojan war,
gilding it with the beauties of fancy and the wanderings of
Ulysses; but we shall never find Homer inventing an empty
fable apart from the inculcation of truth. It is ever the case
that a person lies most successfully, when he intermingles
[into the falsehood] a sprinkling of truth. Such is the remark of Polybius in treating of the wanderings of Ulysses;
such is also the meaning of the verse,
He fabricated many falsehoods, relating them like truths: [Note]Odyssey xix. 203.
Being acquainted with Colchis, and the voyage of Jason to æa, and also with the historical and fabulous relations concerning Circe and Medea, their enchantments and their various other points of resemblance, he feigns there was a relationship between them, notwithstanding the vast distance by which they were separated, the one dwelling in an inland creek of the Euxine, and the other in Italy, and both of them beyond the ocean.
It is possible that Jason himself wandered as far as Italy, for traces of the Argonautic expedition are pointed out near the Ceraunian [Note] mountains, by the Adriatic, [Note] at the Possidonian [Note] Gulf, and the isles adjacent to Tyrrhenia. [Note] The
Cyaneæ, called by some the Symplegades, [Note] or Jostling Rocks,
which render the passage through the Strait of Constantinople so difficult, also afforded matter to our poet. The
actual existence of a place named æa, stamped credibility
upon his ææa; so did the Symplegades upon the Planctæ,
(the Jostling Rocks upon the Wandering Rocks,) and the
passage of Jason through the midst of them; in the same
way Scylla and Charybdis accredited the passage [of Ulysses]
past those rocks. In his time people absolutely regarded the
Euxine as a kind of second ocean, and placed those who had
crossed it in the same list with navigators who had passed the
Pillars. [Note] It was looked upon as the largest of our seas,
and was therefore par excellence styled the Sea, in the
same way as Homer [is called] the Poet. In order therefore to be well received, it is probable he transferred the scenes
from the Euxine to the ocean, so as not to stagger the general
belief. And in my opinion those Solymi who possess the
highest ridges of Taurus, lying between Lycia and Pisidia,
and those who in their southern heights stand out most conspicuously to the dwellers on this side Taurus, and the inhabitants of the Euxine by a figure of speech, he describes as
being beyond the ocean. For narrating the voyage of Ulysses
in his ship, he says,
But Neptune, traversing in his return
Odyssey v. 282.
From Ethiopia's sons, the mountain heights
Of Solymè, descried him from afar. [Note]
It is probable he took his account of the one-eyed Cyclopæ from Scythian history, for the Arimaspi, whom Aristæus of Proconnesus describes in his Tales of the Arimaspi, are said to be distinguished by this peculiarity.1.2.11
Having premised thus much, we must now take into consideration the reasons of those who assert that Homer
makes Ulysses wander to Sicily or Italy, and also of those who denied this. The truth is, he may be equally interpreted on this subject either way, according as we take a correct or incorrect view of the case. Correct, if we understand that he was convinced of the reality of Ulysses' wanderings there, and taking this truth as a foundation, raised thereon a poetical superstructure. And so far this description of him is right; for not about Italy only, but to the farthest extremities of Spain, traces of his wanderings and those of similar adventurers may still be found. Incorrect, if the scene-painting is received as fact, his Ocean, and Hades, the oxen of the sun, his hospitable reception by the goddesses, the metamorphoses, the gigantic size of the Cyclopæ and Læstrygonians, the monstrous appearance of Scylla, the distance of the voyage, and other similar particulars, all alike manifestly fabulous. It is as idle to waste words with a person who thus openly maligns our poet, as it would be with one who should assert as true all the particulars of Ulysses' return to Ithaca, [Note] the slaughter of the suitors, and the pitched battle between him and the Ithacans in the field. But nothing can be said against the man who understands the words of the poet in a rational way.1.2.12
Eratosthenes, though on no sufficient grounds for so doing, rejects both these opinions, endeavouring in his attack on the latter, to refute by lengthened arguments what is manifestly absurd and unworthy of consideration, and in regard to the former, maintaining a poet to be a mere gossip, to whose worth an acquaintance with science or geography could not add in the least degree: since the scenes of certain of Homer's fables are cast in actual localities, as Ilium, [Note] Pelion, [Note] and Ida; [Note] others in purely imaginary regions, such as those of the Gorgons and Geryon. Of this latter class, he says, are the places mentioned in the wanderings of Ulysses, and those who pretend that they are not mere fabrications of the poet, but
have an actual existence, are proved to be mistaken by the differences of opinion existing among themselves: for some of them assert that the Sirenes of Homer are situated close to Pelorus, [Note] and others that they are more than two thousand stadia distant, [Note] near the Sirenussæ, [Note] a three-peaked rock which separates the Gulfs of Cummæa and Posidonium. Now, in the first place, this rock is not three-peaked, nor does it form a crest at the summit at all, but a long and narrow angle reaching from the territory of Surrentum [Note] to the Strait of Capria, [Note] having on one side of the mountain the temple of the Sirens, and on the other side, next the Gulf of Posidonius, three little rocky and uninhabited islands, named the Sirenes; upon the strait, is situated the Athenæum, from which the rocky angle itself takes its name.1.2.13
Further, if those who describe the geography of certain places do not agree in every particular, are we justified in at once rejecting their whole narration? Frequently this is a reason why it should receive the greater credit. For example, in the investigation whether the scene of Ulysses' wanderings were Sicily or Italy, and the proper position of the Sirenes, they differ in so far that one places them at Pelorus, and the other at Sirenussæ, but neither of them dissents from the idea that it was some where near Sicily or Italy. They add thereby strength to this view, inasmuch as though they are not agreed as to the exact locality, neither of them makes any question but that it was some where contiguous to Italy or Sicily. If a third party should add, that the monument of Parthenope, who was one of the Sirens, is shown at Naples, this only confirms us the more in our belief, for though a third place is introduced to our notice, still as Naples is situated in the gulf called by Eratosthenes the Cumæan, and
which is formed by the Sirenussæ, we are more confident still that the position of the Sirenes was some where close by.
That the poet did not search for accuracy in every minor detail we admit, but neither ought we to expect this of him; at the same time we are not to believe that he composed his poem without inquiring into the history of the Wandering, nor where and how it occurred.1.2.14
Eratosthenes thinks it probable that Hesiod, having heard of the wanderings of Ulysses, and of their having taken place near to Sicily and Italy, embraced this view of the case, and not only describes the places spoken of by Homer, but also ætna, the Isle of Ortygia, [Note] near to Syracuse, and Tyrrhenia. As for Homer, he was altogether unacquainted with these places, and further, had no wish to lay the scene of the wanderings in any well-known locality. What! are then ætna and Tyrrhenia such well-known places, and Scyllæum, Charybdis, Circæum, [Note] and the Sirenussæ, so obscure? Or is Hesiod so correct as never to write nonsense, but always follow in the wake of received opinions, while Homer blurts out whatever comes uppermost? Without taking into consideration our remarks on the character and aptitude of Homer's myths, a large array of writers who bear evidence to his statements, and the additional testimony of local tradition, are sufficient proof that his are not the inventions of poets or contemporary scribblers, but the record of real actors and real scenes.1.2.15
The conjecture of Polybius in regard to the particulars of the wandering of Ulysses is excellent. He says that æolus instructed sailors how to navigate the strait, a difficult matter on account of the currents occasioned by the ebb and flow. and was therefore called the dispenser of the winds, and reputed their king.
In like manner Danaus for pointing out the springs of water that were in Argos, and Atreus for showing the retrograde movement of the sun in the heavens, from being mere soothsayers and diviners, were raised to the dignity of kings. And the priests of the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, and Magi, distinguished for their wisdom above those around them, obtained from our predecessors honour and authority;
and so it is that in each of the gods, we worship the discoverer of some useful art.
Having thus introduced his subject, he does not allow us to
consider the account of æolus, nor yet the rest of the Odyssey, as altogether mythical. There is a spice of the fabulous
here, as well as in the Trojan War, [Note] but as respects Sicily,
the poet accords entirely with the other historians who
have written on the local traditions of Sicily and Italy. He
altogether denies the justness of Eratosthenes' dictum, that
we may hope to discover the whereabout of Ulysses' wanderings, when we can find the cobbler who sewed up the winds
in the leathern sack. "And [adds Polybius] his description
of the hunt of the galeotes [Note] at Scylla,
'Plunged to her middle in the horrid den
Odyssey xii. 95.
She lurks, protruding from the black abyss
Her heads, with which the ravening monster dives
In quest of dolphins, dog-fish, or of prey
More bulky, [Note]
He then goes on to describe the manner in which they catch the sword-fish at Scyllæum. One look-out directs the whole body of fishers, who are in a vast number of small boats, each furnished with two oars, and two men to each boat. One man rows, the other stands on the prow, spear in hand, while the look-out has to signal the appearance of a sword-fish. (This fish, when swimming, has about a third of its body above water.) As it passes the boat, the fisher darts the spear from his hand, and when this is withdrawn, it leaves the sharp point with which it is furnished sticking in the flesh
of the fish: this point is barbed, and loosely fixed to the spear
for the purpose; it has a long end fastened to it; this they pay
out to the wounded fish, till it is exhausted with its struggling
and endeavours at escape. Afterwards they trail it to the
shore, or, unless it is too large and full-grown, haul it into
the boat. If the spear should fall into the sea, it is not lost,
for it is jointed of oak and pine, so that when the oak sinks
on account of its weight, it causes the other end to rise, and
thus is easily recovered. It sometimes happens that the rower
is wounded, even through the boat, and such is the size of the
sword with which the galeote is armed, such the strength of
the fish, and the method of the capture, that [in danger] it is
not surpassed by the chase of the wild boar. From these facts
(he says) we may conclude that Ulysses' wanderings were close
to Sicily, since Homer describes Scylla [Note] as engaging in a pur-
suit exactly similar to that which is carried on at Scyllæum.
As to Charybdis, he describes just what takes place at the
Strait of Messina:
Each day she thrice disgorges, [Note]Odyssey xii. 105.
The customs of the inhabitants of Meninx [Note] closely correspond to the description of the Lotophagi. If any thing does not correspond, it should be attributed to change, or to misconception, or to poetical licence, which is made up of history, rhetoric, and fiction. Truth is the aim of the historical portion, as for instance in the Catalogue of Ships, [Note] where the poet informs us of the peculiarities of each place, that one is rocky, another the furthest city, that this abounds in doves. and that is maritime. A lively interest is the end of the rhetorical, as when he points to us the combat; and of the fiction, pleasure and astonishment. A mere fabrication would neither be persuasive nor Homeric; and we know that his poem
is generally considered a scientific treatise, notwithstanding what Eratosthenes may say, when he bids us not to judge poems by the standard of intellect, nor yet look to them for history.
It is most probable that the line
Nine days by cruel storms thence was I borne
Odyssey ix. 82.
Athwart the fishy deep, [Note]
Such are the sentiments of Polybius; and in many
respects they are correct enough; but when he discusses the
voyage beyond the ocean, and enters on minute calculations
of the proportion borne by the distance to the number of days,
he is greatly mistaken. He alleges perpetually the words of
Nine days by cruel storms thence was I borne;
but at the same time he takes no notice of this expression,
which is his as well,
And now borne sea-ward from the river stream
Odyss. xii. l.
Of the Oceanus; [Note]
In the island of Ogygia, the centre of the sea, [Note]Odyssey i. 50.
and that the daughter of Atlas [Note] dwells there. And the following concerning the Phæacians,
Remote amid the billowy deep, we hold
Odyssey vi. 204.
Our dwelling, utmost of all human kind,
And free from mixture with a foreign race. [Note]
These passages clearly refer to the Atlantic Ocean, [Note] but though so plainly expressed, Polybius slily manages to overlook them. Here he is altogether wrong, though quite correct about the wandering of Ulysses having taken place round Sicily and Italy, a fact which Homer establishes himself. Otherwise, what poet or writer could have persuaded the Neapolitans to assert that they possessed the tomb of Parthe- nope [Note] the Siren, or the inhabitants of Cumæ, Dicæarchia, [Note] and Vesuvius [to bear their testimony] to Pyriphlegethon, the Marsh of Acherusia, [Note] to the oracle of the dead which was near Aornus, [Note] and to Baius and Misenus, [Note] the companions of Ulysses. The same is the case with the Sirenussæ, and the Strait of Messina, and Scylla, and Charybdis, and æolus, all which things should neither be examined into too rigorously, nor yet [despised] as groundless and without foundation, alike remote from truth and historic value.1.2.19
Eratosthenes seems to have had something like this view of the case himself, when he says, Any one would believe that the poet intended the western regions as the scene of Ulysses' wanderings, but that he has departed from fact, sometimes through want of perfect information, at other times because he wished to give to scenes a more terrific and marvellous appearance than they actually possessed. So far this is true, but his idea of the object which the poet had in
view while composing, is false; real advantage, not trifling, being his aim. We may justly reprehend his assertion on this point, as also where he says, that Homer places the scene of his marvels in distant lands that he may lie the more easily. Remote localities have not furnished him with near so many wonderful narrations as Greece, and the countries thereto adjacent; witness the labours of Hercules, and Theseus, the fables concerning Crete, Sicily, and the other islands; besides those connected with Cithærum, Helicon, [Note] Parnassus, [Note] Pelion, [Note] and the whole of Attica and the Peloponnesus. Let us not therefore tax the poets with ignorance on account of the myths which they employ, and since, so far from myth being the staple, they for the most part avail themselves of actual occurrences, (and Homer does this in a remarkable degree,) the inquirer who will seek how far these ancient writers have wandered into fiction, ought not to scrutinize to what extent the fiction was carried, but rather what is the truth concerning those places and persons to which the fictions have been applied; for instance, whether the wanderings of Ulysses did actually occur, and where.1.2.20
On the whole, however, it is not proper to place the works of Homer in the common catalogue of other poets, without challenging for him a superiority both in respect of his other [excellences] and also for the geography on which our attention is now engaged.
If any one were to do no more than merely read through
the Triptolemus of Sophocles, or the prologue to the Bacchæ
of Euripides, and then compare them with the care taken by
Homer in his geographical descriptions, he would at once
perceive both the difference and superiority of the latter, for
wherever there is necessity for arrangement in the localities
he has immortalized, he is careful to preserve it as well in
regard to Greece, as to foreign countries.
On the Olympian summit thought to fix
Huge Ossa, and on Ossa's towering head
Pelion with all his forests. [Note]
And Juno starting from the Olympian height
In the Catalogue he does not describe his cities in regular
order, because here there was no necessity, but both the
people and foreign countries he arranges correctly. Having
wandered to Cyprus, and Phœnice, and the Egyptians, I came
to the Ethiopians, and Sidonians, and Erembi, and Libya. [Note]
Hipparchus has drawn attention to this. But the two tragedians where there was great necessity for proper arrangement, one [Note] where he introduces Bacchus visiting the nations,
the other [Note] Triptolemus sowing the earth, have brought in
juxta-position places far remote, and separated those which
O'erflew Pieria and the lovely plains
Of broad Emathia; [Note] soaring thence she swept
The snow-clad summit of the Thracian hills [Note]
Steed-famed, nor printed, as she pass'd, the soil,
From Athos [Note] the foaming billows borne. [Note]
And having left the wealthy lands of the Lydians and Phrygians, and the sunny plains of the Persians and the Bactrian walls, and having come over the stormy land of the Medes, and the Happy Arabia. [Note] And the Triptolemus is just as inaccurate.
Further, in respect to the winds and climates, Homer shows the wide extent of his geographical knowledge, for in his
topographical descriptions he not unfrequently informs us of
both these matters. Thus,
Odyssey ix. 25.
Is sun-burnt Ithaca.
Flat on the deep she lies, farthest removed
Toward the west, while situate apart,
Her sister islands face the rising day. [Note]
It has a two-fold entrance,
Odyssey xiii. 109, 111.
One towards the north, the other south. [Note]
Which I alike despise, speed they their course
Iliad xii. 239.
With right-hand flight towards the ruddy east,
Or leftward down into the shades of eve. [Note]
Alas! my friends, for neither west
Odyssey x. 190.
Know we, nor east; where rises or where sets
The all-enlightening sun. [Note]
As when two adverse winds, blowing from Thrace,
Boreas and Zephyrus, [Note]
it takes a turn to the south-west, and projects into the ocean,
and from this point it seems to the inhabitants of Thasos,
Lemnos, Imbros, Samothracia, [Note] and the surrounding sea, that
the west winds blow. [Note] So in regard to Attica, they seem to
come from the rocks of Sciros, [Note] and this is the reason why
all the westerly winds, the north-west more particularly, are
called the Scirones. Of this Eratosthenes was not aware,
though he suspected as much, for it was he who described
this bending of the land [towards the south-west] which we
have mentioned. But he interprets our poet in an absolute
sense, and then taxes him with ignorance, because, says he,
Zephyr blows from the west, and off Spain, and Thrace does
not extend so far. Does he then think that Homer was not
aware that Zephyr came from the west, notwithstanding the
careful manner in which he distinguishes its position when he
writes as follows:
The east, the south, the heavy-blowing Zephyr,
Odyssey v. 295.
And the cold north-wind clear. [Note]
nia, and the Sellæ who inhabit the territory around Dodona [Note]
as far as the [river] Achelous, [Note] but he never mentions
Thrace, as being beyond these. He has evidently a predilection for the sea which is nearest to him, and with which he is
most familiar, as where he says,
Iliad ii. 144.
The whole assembly, such as heaves the flood
Of the Icarian deep. [Note]
Some writers tell us there are but two principal winds, the north and south, and that the other winds are only a slight difference in the direction of these two. That is, (supposing only two winds, the north and south,) the south wind from the commencement of the summer quarter blows in a south-easterly direction; and from the commencement of the winter quarter from the east. The north wind from the decline of the summer, blows in a westerly direction, and from the decline of the winter, in a north-westerly direction.
In support of this opinion of the two winds they adduce
Thrasyalces and our poet himself, forasmuch as he mentions
the north-west with the south,
From the north-west south, [Note]Iliad xi. 306, xxi. 334.
As when two adverse winds, blowing from Thrace,
Iliad ix. 5.
Boreas and Zephyrus. [Note]
But Posidonius remarks that none of those who are really acquainted with these subjects, such as Aristotle, Timosthenes,
and Bion the astronomer, entertain so mistaken an opinion in regard to the winds. They say that the north-east (Cæcias) blows from the commencement of summer, and that the southwest wind (Libs), which is exactly opposite to this, blows from the decline of winter. And again, the south-east wind (Eurus), which is opposite to the north-west wind (Argestes), from the commencement of winter. The east and west winds being intermediate.
When our poet makes use of the expression stormy zephyr,
he means the wind which is now called by us the north-west;
and by the clear-blowing zephyr our west wind; our Leuco-
notus is his Argestes-notus, or clearing south wind, [Note] for this
wind brings but few clouds, all the other southern winds
bringing clouds and rain, [Note]
As when whirlwinds of the west
Iliad xi. 305.
A storm encounter from the clearing south. [Note]
The statements made by Eratosthenes in the first book of his Geography, require some such correction as this.1.2.22
Persisting in his false views in relation to Homer, he goes on to say, He was ignorant that the Nile separated into many mouths, nay, he was not even acquainted with the name of the river, though Hesiod knew it well, for he even mentions it. [Note] In respect of the name, it is probable that it
had not then been given to the river, and as to the mouths, if they were obscure and little known, will not every one excuse him for not being aware whether there were several or merely one? At that time, the river, its rising, and its mouths were considered, as they are at the present day, amongst the most remarkable, the most wonderful, and most worthy of recording of all the peculiarities of Egypt: who can suppose that those who told our poet of the country and river of Egypt, of Egyptian Thebes, and of Pharos, were unaware of the many embouchures of the Nile; or that being aware, they would not have described them, were it not that they were too generally known? But is it not inconceivable that Homer should describe Ethiopia, and the Sidonians, the Erembi, and the Exterior Sea, [Note]—should tell us that Ethiopia was divided into two parts, and yet nothing about those things which were nearer and better known? Certainly not, his not describing these things is no proof that he was not acquainted with them. He does not tell us of his own country, nor yet many other things. The most probable reason is, they were so generally known that they did not appear to him worth recording. [Note]1.2.23
Again, they are entirely wrong when they allege as a mark of Homer's ignorance, that he describes the island of Pharos [Note] as entirely surrounded by the sea. On the contrary, it might be taken advantage of as a proof that our poet was not unacquainted with a single one of the points concerning Egypt which we have just been speaking of: and thus we
demonstrate it:—Every one is prone to romance a little in narrating his travels, and Menelaus was no exception to the rule. He had been to Ethiopia, [Note] and there heard much discussion concerning the sources of the Nile, and the alluvium which it deposited, both along its course, and also at its mouths, and the large additions which it had thereby made to the main-land, so as fully to justify the remark of Herodotus [Note] that the whole of Egypt was a gift from the river; or if not the whole, at all events that part of it below the Delta, called Lower Egypt. He had heard too that Pharos was entirely surrounded by sea, and therefore misrepresented it as entirely surrounded by the sea, although it had long ago ceased so to be. Now the author of all this was Homer, and we therefore infer that he was not ignorant concerning either the sources or the mouths of the Nile.1.2.24
They are again mistaken when they say that he was
not aware of the isthmus between the sea of Egypt and the
Arabian Gulf, and that his description is false,
The Ethiopians, utmost of mankind,
Odyssey i. 23.
These eastward situate, those toward the west. [Note]
even the chiefs of their number, Aristarchus and Crates, have
understood the words of our poet on this subject. For they
disagree as to the words which follow this expression of
The Ethiopians, utmost of mankind,
Odyssey i. 23.
These eastward situate, those towards the west, [Note]
These towards the west, and those towards the east,
As well in the west as also in the east.
However, in regard to their hypotheses, it makes no difference
whether the passage were written this way or that. One of
them, in fact, takes what he considers the mathematical
view of the case, and says that the torrid zone is occupied by
the ocean, [Note] and that on each side of this there is a temperate
zone, one inhabited by us and another opposite thereto. And
as we call the Ethiopians, who are situated to the south, and
dwell along the shores of the ocean, the most distant on the
face of the inhabited globe; so he supposed that on the other
side of the ocean, [Note] there were certain Ethiopians dwelling
along the shores, who would in like manner be considered the
most distant [Note] by the inhabitants of the other temperate zone;
and thus that the Ethiopians were double, separated into two
divisions by the ocean. He adds, as well in the west as also
in the east, because as the celestial zodiac always corresponds
to the terrestrial, and never exceeds in its obliquity the space
occupied by the two Ethiopias, the sun's entire course must
necessarily be within this space, and also his rising and setting,
as it appears to different nations according to the sign which
he may be in.
He (Crates) adopted this version, because he considered it the more astronomical. But it would have maintained his opinion of the division of the Ethiopians into two parts, and
at the same time have been much more simple, had he said
that the Ethiopians dwelt on either side of the ocean from the
rising to the setting of the sun. In this case what difference
does it make whether we follow his version, or adopt the
reading of Aristarchus,
These towards the west, and those towards the east?
which also means, that whether east or west, on either side
of the ocean, Ethiopians dwell. But Aristarchus rejects this
hypothesis. He says, The Ethiopians with whom we are
acquainted, and who are farthest south from the Greeks,
are those described by the poet as being separated into two
divisions. But Ethiopia is not so separated as to form two
countries, one situated towards the west, the other towards
the east, but only one, that which lies south of the Greeks
and adjoins Egypt; but of this the poet was ignorant, as well
as of other matters enumerated by Apollodorus, which he has
falsely stated concerning various places in his second book,
containing the catalogue of the ships.
To refute Crates would require a lengthened argument, which here perhaps may be considered out of place.
Aristarchus we commend for rejecting the hypothesis of
Crates, which is open to many objections, and for referring
the expression of the poet to our Ethiopia. But the remainder of his statement we must discuss. First, his minute examination of the reading is altogether fruitless, for whichever
way it may have been written, his interpretation is equally
applicable to both; for what difference is there whether you
say thus—In our opinion there are two Ethiopias, one towards the east, the other to the west; or thus—For they
are as well towards the east as the west? Secondly, He
makes false assumptions. For admitting that the poet was
ignorant of the isthmus, [Note] and that he alludes to the Ethiopia
contiguous to Egypt, when he says,
The Ethiopians separated into two divisions; [Note]Odyssey i. 23.
rated into two divisions by the Nile from the Delta to Syene, [Note]
These towards the west, those towards the east?
And what else is Egypt, with the exception of the island
formed by the river and overflowed by its waters; does it not
lie on either side of the river both east and west?
Ethiopia runs in the same direction as Egypt, and resembles it both in its position with respect to the Nile, and in its other geographical circumstances. It is narrow, long, and subject to inundation; beyond the reach of this inundation it is desolate and parched, and unfitted for the habitation of man; some districts lying to the east and some to the west of [the river]. How then can we deny that it is separated into two divisions? Shall the Nile, which is looked upon by some people as the proper boundary line between Asia and Libya, [Note] and which extends southward in length more than 10,000 stadia, embracing in its breadth islands which contain populations of above ten thousand men, the largest of these being Meroe, the seat of empire and metropolis of the Ethiopians, be regarded as too insignificant to divide Ethiopia into two parts? The greatest obstacle which they who object to the river being made the line of demarcation between the two continents are able to allege, is, that Egypt and Ethiopia are by this means divided, one part of each being assigned to Libya, and the other to Asia, or, if this will not suit, the continents cannot be divided at all, or at least not by the river.1.2.26
But besides these there is another method of dividing Ethiopia. All those who have sailed along the coasts of Libya, whether starting from the Arabian Gulf, [Note] or the Pillars, [Note] after proceeding a certain distance, have been obliged to turn back again on account of a variety of accidents; and thus originated a general belief that it was divided midway by some isthmus, although the whole of
the Atlantic Ocean is confluent, more especially towards
the south. Besides, all of these navigators called the final
country which they reached, Ethiopia, and described it
under that name. Is it therefore at all incredible, that
Homer, misled by such reports, separated them into two
divisions, one towards the east and the other west, not
knowing whether there were any intermediate countries
or not? But there is another ancient tradition related by
Ephorus, which Homer had probably fallen in with. He
tells us it is reported by the Tartessians, [Note] that some of the
Ethiopians, on their arrival in Libya, [Note] penetrated into the
extreme west, and settled down there, while the rest occupied
the greater part of the sea-coast; and in support of this statement he quotes the passage of Homer,
The Ethiopians, the farthest removed of men, separated into two divisions.
These and other more stringent arguments may be urged against Aristarchus and those of his school, to clear our poet from the charge of such gross ignorance. I assert that the ancient Greeks, in the same way as they classed all the northern nations with which they were familiar under the one name of Scythians, or, according to Homer, Nomades, and
afterwards becoming acquainted with those towards the west,
styled them Kelts and Iberians; sometimes compounding the
names into Keltiberians, or Keltoscythians, thus ignorantly
uniting various distinct nations; so I affirm they designated
as Ethiopia the whole of the southern countries towards the
ocean. Of this there is evidence, for æschylus, in the Pro-
metheus Loosed, [Note] thus speaks:
There [is] the sacred wave, and the coralled bed of the Erythræan
Sea, and [there] the luxuriant marsh of the Ethiopians, situated near
the ocean, glitters like polished brass; where daily in the soft and tepid
stream, the all-seeing sun bathes his undying self, and refreshes his weary
And as the ocean holds the same position in respect to the
sun, and serves the same purpose throughout the whole southern region, [Note] he [Note] therefore concludes that the Ethiopians inhabited the whole of the region.
And Euripides in his Phaeton [Note] says that Clymene was
To Merops, sovereign of that land
Here the poet merely describes them as the common stables
of the Morning and of the Sun; but further on he tells us
they were near to the dwellings of Merops, and in fact the
whole plot of the piece has reference to this. This does not
therefore refer alone to the [land] next to Egypt, but rather
to the whole southern country extending along the sea-coast.
Which from his four-horsed chariot first
The rising sun strikes with his golden rays;
And which its swarthy neighbours call
The radiant stable of the Morn and Sun.
Ephorus likewise shows us the opinion of the ancients respecting Ethiopia, in his Treatise on Europe. He says, If the whole celestial and terrestrial globe were divided into four parts, the Indians would possess that towards the east, the Ethiopians towards the south, the Kelts towards the west, and the Scythians towards the north. He adds that Ethiopia is larger than Scythia; for, says he, it appears that the country of the Ethiopians extends from the rising to the setting of the sun in winter; and Scythia is opposite to it.
It is evident this was the opinion of Homer, since he places
Towards the gloomy region, [Note]Odyssey ix. 26.
Towards the morning and the sun,
by which he means the whole southern hemisphere: and again
when he says,
speed they their course
Iliad xii. 239.
With right-hand flight towards the ruddy east,
Or leftward down into the shades of eve. [Note]
Alas! my friends, for neither west
Odyssey x. 190.
Know we, nor east, where rises or where sets
The all-enlightening sun. [Note]
When therefore he says,
For to the banks of the Oceanus,
Iliad i. 423.
Where Ethiopia holds a feast to Jove,
He journey'd yesterday, [Note]
But Neptune, traversing in his return
Odyssey v. 282.
From Ethiopia's sons the mountain heights
Of Solymè, descried him from afar. [Note]
which is equal to saying, in his return from the southern
regions, [Note] meaning by the Solymi, as I remarked before, not
those of Pisidia, but certain others merely imaginary, having
the same name, and bearing the like relation to the navigators in [Ulysses'] ship, and the southern inhabitants there
called Ethiopians, as those of Pisidia do in regard to Pontus
and the inhabitants of Egyptian Ethiopia. What he says
about the cranes must likewise be understood in a general
Such clang is heard
Iliad iii. 3.
Along the skies, when from incessant showers
Escaping, and from winter's cold, the cranes
Take wing, and over ocean speed away.
Woe to the land of dwarfs! prepared they fly
For slaughter of the small Pygmæan race. [Note]
And if the moderns have confined the term of Ethiopians
to those only who dwell near to Egypt, and have also restricted the Pygmies in like manner, this must not be
allowed to interfere with the meaning of the ancients. We
do not speak of all the people who fought against Troy as
merely Achæans and Argives, though Homer describes the
whole under those two names. Similar to this is my remark
concerning the separation of the Ethiopians into two divisions, that under that designation we should understand the
whole of the nations inhabiting the sea-board from east to
west. The Ethiopians taken in this sense are naturally separated into two parts by the Arabian Gulf, which occupies
a considerable portion of a meridian circle, [Note] and resembles a
river, being in length nearly 15,000 stadia, [Note]
two continents than the Nile, since it extends almost entirely from sea to sea, whereas the Nile is so remote from the ocean that it does not by any means divide the whole of Asia from Africa. On this account I believe it was the Gulf which the poet looked upon as dividing into two portions the whole southern regions of the inhabited earth. Is it possible, then, that he was unacquainted with the isthmus which separates this Gulf from the Egyptian Sea? [Note]1.2.29
fore to bear its name. Further, the best known peculiarities of a country are those which have something of the nature of a paradox, and are likely to arrest general attention. Of this kind are the rising of the Nile, and the alluvial deposition at its mouth. There is nothing in the whole country to which travellers in Egypt so immediately direct their inquiries, as the character of the Nile; nor do the inhabitants possess any thing else equally wonderful and curious, of which to inform foreigners; for in fact, to give them a description of the river, is to lay open to their view every main characteristic of the country. It is the question put before every other by those who have never seen Egypt themselves. To these considerations we must add Homer's thirst after knowledge, and his delight in visiting foreign lands, (tastes which we are assured both by those who have written histories of his life, and also by innumerable testimonies throughout his own poems, he possessed in an eminent degree,) and we shall have abundant evidence both of the extent of his information, and the felicity with which he described objects he deemed important, and passed over altogether, or with slight allusion, matters which were generally known.1.2.30
These Egyptians and Syrians [Note] whom we have been criticising fill one with amazement. They do not understand [Homer], even when he is describing their own countries, but accuse him of ignorance where, as our argument proves, they are open to the charge themselves. Not to mention a thing is clearly no evidence that a person is not acquainted with it. [Note] Homer does not tell us of the change in the current of the Euripus, nor of Thermopylæ, nor of many other remarkable things well known to the Greeks; but was he therefore unacquainted with them? He describes to us, although these men, who are obstinately deaf, will not hear: they have themselves to blame.
Our poet applies to rivers the epithet of heaven-sent. And this not only to mountain torrents, but to all rivers alike, since they are all replenished by the showers. But even what
is general becomes particular when it is bestowed on any
object par excellence. Heaven-sent, when applied to a moun-
tain torrent, means something else than when it is the epithet
of the ever-flowing river; but the force of the term is doubly
felt when attributed to the Nile. For as there are hyperboles
of hyperboles, for instance, to be lighter than the shadow of
a cork, more timid than a Phrygian hare, [Note]to possess an
estate shorter than a Lacedæmonian epistle; so excellence
becomes more excellent, when the title of heaven-sent is
given to the Nile. The mountain torrent has a better claim
to be called heaven-sent than other rivers, but the Nile exceeds the mountain torrents, both in its size and the lengthened
period of its overflow. Since, then, the wonders of this river
were known to our poet, as we have shown in this defence,
when he applies this epithet to the Nile, it must only be understood in the way we have explained. Homer did not
think it worth mentioning, especially to those who were acquainted with the fact, that the Nile had many mouths, since
this is a common feature of numerous other rivers. Alcæus [Note]
concerning Pharos, that it was distant from the mainland a whole day's voyage, ought not to be looked upon as a down- right falsehood.
It is clear that Homer was only acquainted with the rising
and deposit of the river in a general way, and concluding
from what he heard that the island had been further removed
in the time of Menelaus from the mainland, than it was in
his own, he magnified the distance, simply that he might
heighten the fiction. Fictions however are not the offspring
of ignorance, as is sufficiently plain from those concerning
Proteus, the Pygmies, the efficacy of charms, and many others
similar to these fabricated by the poets. They narrate these
things not through ignorance of the localities, but for the sake
of giving pleasure and enjoyment. But [some one may in-
quire], how could he describe [Pharos], which is without
water as possessed of that necessary?
The haven there is good, and many a ship
Odyssey iv. 358.
Finds watering there from rivulets on the coast. [Note]
As his description of the wanderings of Menelaus may
seem to authenticate the charge of ignorance made against
him in respect to those regions, it will perhaps be best to
point out the difficulties of the narrative, and their explanation, and at the same time enter into a fuller defence of our
poet. Menelaus thus addresses Telemachus, who is admiring
the splendour of his palace:
After numerous toils
Odyssey iv. 81.
And perilous wanderings o'er the stormy deep,
In the eighth year at last I brought them home.
Cyprus, Phœnicia, Sidon, and the shores
Of Egypt, roaming without hope, I reach'd,
In distant Ethiopia thence arrived,
And Libya. [Note]
It is asked, What Ethiopians could he have met with on his voyage from Egypt? None are to be found dwelling by our sea, [Note] and with his vessels [Note] he could never have reached the cataracts of the Nile. Next, who are the Sidonians? Certainly not the inhabitants of Phoenicia; for leaving mentioned the genus, he would assuredly not particularize the species. [Note] And then the Erembi; this is altogether a new name. Our contemporary Aristonicus, the grammarian, in his [observations] on the wanderings of Menelaus, has recorded the opinions of numerous writers on each of the heads under discussion. It will be sufficient for us to refer to them very briefly. They who assert that Menelaus went by sea to Ethiopia, tell us he directed his course past Cadiz into the Indian Ocean; [Note] with which, say they, the long duration of his wanderings agrees, since he did not arrive there till the eighth year. Others, that he passed through the isthmus [Note] which enters the Arabian Gulf; and others again, through one of the canals. At the same time the idea of this circumnavigation, which owes its origin to Crates, is not necessary; we do not mean it was impossible, (for the wanderings of Ulysses are
not impossible,) but neither the mathematical hypothesis, not
yet the duration of the wandering, require such an explanation; for he was both retarded against his will by accidents
in the voyage, as by [the tempest] which he narrates five
only of his sixty ships survived; and also by voluntary delays
for the sake of amassing wealth. Nestor says [of him],
Thus he, provision gathering as he went,
Odyssey iii. 301.
And gold abundant, roam'd to distant lands. [Note]
Cyprus, Phœnicia, and the Egyptians' land
Odyssey iv. 83.
I wandered through. [Note]
As to the navigation of the isthmus, or one of the canals,
if it had been related by Homer himself, we should have
counted it a myth; but as he does not relate it, we regard
it as entirely extravagant and unworthy of belief. We
say unworthy of belief, because at the time of the Trojan war
no canal was in existence. It is recorded that Sesostris, who
had planned the formation of one, apprehending that the level
of the sea was too high to admit of it, desisted from the undertaking. [Note]
Moreover the isthmus itself was not passable for ships, and Eratosthenes is unfortunate in his conjecture, for he considers that the strait at the Pillars was not then formed,
so that the Atlantic should by that channel communicate with the Mediterranean, and that this sea being higher than the Isthmus [of Suez], covered it; but when the Strait [of Gibraltar] was formed, the sea subsided considerably; and left the land about Casium [Note] and Pelusium [Note] dry as far over as the Red Sea.
But what account have we of the formation of this strait,
supposing it were not in existence prior to the Trojan war?
Is it likely that our poet would make Ulysses sail out through
the Strait [of Gibraltar] into the Atlantic Ocean, as if that
strait already existed, and at the same time describe Menelaus conducting his ships from Egypt to the Red Sea, as if it
did not exist. Further, the poet introduces Proteus as saying to him,
Thee the gods
Odyssey iv. 563.
Have destined to the blest Elysian Isles,
Earth's utmost boundaries. [Note]
But Zephyr always gently from the sea
Odyssey iv. 567.
Breathes on them. [Note]
But if our poet speaks of the Isthmus of Suez as ever
having been the strait of confluence between the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, how much more credit may we attribute to his division of the Ethiopians into two portions, being
thus separated by so grand a strait! And what commerce
could he have carried on with the Ethiopians who dwelt by
the shores of the exterior sea and the ocean? Telemachus
and his companions admire the multitude of ornaments that
were in the palace,
Of gold, electrum, silver, ivory. [Note]Odyssey iv. 73.
part a needy and nomad race. True, [you say,] but adjoining them is Arabia, and the whole country as far as India. One of these is distinguished above all other lands by the title of Felix, [Note] and the other, though not dignified by that name, is both generally believed and also said to be preeminently Blessed.
But [we reply], Homer was not acquainted with India, or
he would have described it. And though he knew of the
Arabia which is now named Felix, at that time it was by no
means wealthy, but a wild country, the inhabitants of which
dwelt for the most part in tents. It is only a small district
which produces the aromatics from which the whole territory
afterwards received its name, [Note] owing to the rarity of the commodity amongst us, and the value set upon it. That the
Arabians are now flourishing and wealthy is due to their vast
and extended traffic, but formerly it does not appear to have
been considerable. A merchant or camel-driver might attain
to opulence by the sale of these aromatics and similar commodities; but Menelaus could only become so either by plunder, or presents conferred on him by kings and nobles, who
had the means at their disposal, and wished to gratify one so
distinguished by glory and renown. The Egyptians, it is
true, and the neighbouring Ethiopians and Arabians, were
not so entirely destitute of the luxuries of civilization, nor so
unacquainted with the fame of Agamemnon, especially after the
termination of the Trojan war, but that Menelaus might have
expected some benefits from their generosity, even as the
breastplate of Agamemnon is said to be
Iliad xi. 20.
Of Cinyras long since; for rumour loud
Had Cyprus reached. [Note]
and by violence, and especially by the plunder of those who had been the allies of Troy. They however who dwelt on the exterior ocean, and the distant barbarians, held out no such encouragement: and when Menelaus is said to have been in Ethiopia, it is because he had reached the frontiers of that country next Egypt. But perhaps at that time the frontiers lay more contiguous to Thebes than they do now. At the present day the nearest are the districts adjacent to Syene and Philæ, [Note] the former town being entirely in Egypt, while Philæ is inhabited by a mixed population of Ethiopians and Egyptians. Supposing therefore he had arrived at Thebes, and thus reached the boundary-line of Ethiopia, where he experienced the munificence of the king, we must not be surprised if he is described as having passed through the country. [Note] On no better authority Ulysses declares he has been to the land of the Cyclops, although he merely left the sea to enter a cavern which he himself tells us was situated on the very borders of the country: and, in fact, wherever he came to anchor, whether at æolia, Læstrygonia, or elsewhere, he is stated to have visited those places. In the same manner Menelaus is said to have been to Ethiopia and Libya, because here and there he touched at those places, and the port near Ardania above Parætonium [Note] is called after him the port of Menelaus. [Note]1.2.33
When, after mentioning Phoenicia, he talks of Sidon,
its metropolis, he merely employs a common form of expression, for example,
He urged the Trojans and Hector to the ships. [Note]Iliad xiii. 1.
For the sons of magnanimous Œneus were no more, nor was he himself
surviving; moreover, fair-haired Meleager was dead. [Note]
He came to Ida—and to Gargarus. [Note]Iliad viii. 47.
But he had some other cause besides this for mentioning
Sidon immediately after having spoken of the Phoenicians:
for had he merely desired to recount the nations in order, it
would have been quite sufficient to say,
Having wandered to Cyprus, Phœnice, and the Egyptians, I came to the Ethiopians. [Note]
But that he might record his sojourn amongst the Sidonians,
which was considerably prolonged, he thought it well to refer
to it repeatedly. Thus he praises their prosperity and skill
in the arts, and alludes to the hospitality the citizens had
shown to Helen and Alexander. Thus he tells us of the
many [treasures]of this nature laid up in store by Alexander. [Note]
There his treasures lay,
Iliad vi. 289.
Works of Sidonian women, whom her son,
The godlike Paris, when he crossed the seas
With Jove-begotten Helen, brought to Troy. [Note]
'I give thee this bright beaker, argent all,
Odyssey xv. 115.
But round encircled with a lip of gold.
It is the work of Vulcan, which to me
The hero Phædimus presented, king
Of the Sidonians, when on my return
Beneath his roof I lodged. I make it thine. [Note]
said to be the work of Minerva, of the Graces, or of the Muses.
But that the Sidonians were skilful artists, is clear from the
praises bestowed [by Homer] on the bowl which Euneos gave
in exchange for Lycaon:
Iliad xxiii. 742.
Own'd not its like for elegance of form.
Skilful Sidonian artists had around
Embellish'd it, and o'er the sable deep
Phœnician merchants into Lemnos' port
Had borne it. [Note]
Many conjectures have been hazarded as to who the Erembi were: they who suppose the Arabs are intended, seem to deserve the most credit.
Our Zeno reads the passage thus:—
I came to the Ethiopians, the Sidonians, and the Arabians.
But there is no occasion to tamper with the text, which is of great antiquity; it is a far preferable course to suppose a change in the name itself, which is of frequent and ordinary occurrence in every nation: and in fact certain grammarians establish this view by a comparison of the radical letters. Posidonius seems to me to adopt the better plan after all, in looking for the etymology of names in nations of one stock and community; thus between the Armenians, Syrians, and Arabians there is a strong affinity both in regard to dialect, mode of life, peculiarities of physical conformation, and above all in the contiguity of the countries. Mesopotamia, which is a motley of the three nations, is a proof of this; for the similarity amongst these three is very remarkable. And though in consequence of the various latitudes there may be some difference between those who dwell in the north [Note] and those of the the south, [Note] and again between each of these and the inhabitants of the middle region, [Note] still the same characteristics are dominant in all. Also the Assyrians and Arians have a great affinity both to these people and to each other. And [Posidonius] believes there is a similarity in the names of these different nations. Those whom we call Syrians style themselves Armenians and Arammæans, names greatly like those of the Armenians, Arabs, and Erembi. Perhaps this [last] term
is that by which the Greeks anciently designated the Arabs;
the etymon of the word certainly strengthens the idea. Many
deduce the etymology of the Erembi from ἔραν ἐμ<>αίνειν, (to go
into the earth,) which [they say] was altered by the people of a
later generation into the more intelligible name of Troglodytes, [Note]
by which are intended those Arabs who dwell on that side of
the Arabian Gulf next to Egypt and Ethiopia. It is probable
then that the poet describes Menelaus as having visited these
people in the same way that he says he visited the Ethiopians;
for they are likewise near to the Thebaid; and he mentions them
not on account of any commerce or gain, (for of these there
was not much,) but probably to enhance the length of the
journey and his meed of praise: for such distant travelling
was highly thought of. For example,—
Discover'd various cities, and the mind
Odyssey i. 3.
And manners learn'd of men in lands remote. [Note]
After numerous toils
Odyssey iv. 81.
And perilous wanderings o'er the stormy deep,
In the eighth year at last I brought them home. [Note]
And the daughter of Arabus, whom gracious Hermes and Thronia,
descended from king Belus, brought forth.
Thus, too, says Stesichorus. Whence it seems that at that
time the country was from him named Arabia, though it is
not likely this was the case in the heroic period. [Note]
There are many who would make the Erembi a tribe of the Ethiopians, or of the Cephenes, or again of the Pygmies, and a thousand other fancies. These ought to be regarded with little trust; since their opinion is not only incredible, but they evidently labour under a certain confusion as to the
different characters of history and fable. In the same category must be reckoned those who place the Sidonians and Phœnicians in the Persian Gulf, or somewhere else in the Ocean, and make the wanderings of Menelaus to have happened there. Not the least cause for mistrusting these writers is the manner in which they contradict each other. One half would have us believe that the Sidonians are a colony from the people whom they describe as located on the shores of the [Indian] Ocean, and who they say were called Phoenicians from the colour of the Erythræan Sea, while the others declare the opposite. [Note]
Some again would transport Ethiopia into our Phœnicia, and make Joppa the scene of the adventures of Andromeda; [Note] and this not from any ignorance of the topography of those places, but by a kind of mythic fiction similar to those of Hesiod and other writers censured by Apollodorus, who, however, couples Homer with them, without, as it appears, any cause. He cites as instances what Homer relates of the Euxine and Egypt, and accuses him of ignorance for pretending to speak the actual truth, and then recounting fable, all the while ignorantly mistaking it for fact. Will anyone then accuse Hesiod of ignorance on account of his Hemicynes, [Note] his Macro- cephali, [Note] and his Pygmies; or Homer for his like fables, and amongst others the Pygmies themselves; or Alcman [Note] for describing the Steganopodes; [Note] or æschylus for his Cyno- cephali, [Note] Sternophthalmi, [Note] and Monommati; [Note] when amongst prose writers, and in works bearing the appearance of veritable history, we frequently meet with similar narrations, and that without any admission of their having inserted such myths. Indeed it becomes immediately evident that they have woven together a tissue of myths not through ignorance
of the real facts, but merely to amuse by a deceptive narration of the impossible and marvellous. If they appear to do this in ignorance, it is because they can romance more frequently and with greater plausibility on those things which are uncertain and unknown. This Theopompus plainly confesses in the announcement of his intention to relate the fables in his history in a better style than Herodotus, Ctesias, Hellanicus, and those who had written on the affairs of India.1.2.36
Homer has described to us the phenomena of the ocean
under the form of a myth; this [art] is very desirable in a
poet; the idea of his Charybdis was taken from the ebb
and flow of the tide, and was by no means a pure invention of his own, but derived from what he knew concerning
the Strait of Sicily. [Note] And although he states that the ebb
and flow occurred thrice during the four and twenty hours,
instead of twice,
(Each day she thrice disgorges, and each day
Odyssey xii. 105.
Thrice swallows it,") [Note]
Each day she thrice disgorges, and each day
Odyssey xii. 105.
Thrice swallows it. Ah! well-forewarn'd beware
What time she swallows, that thou come not nigh,
For not himself, Neptune, could snatch thee thence. [Note]
'It was the time when she absorb'd profound
Odyssey xii. 431.
The briny flood, but by a wave upborne,
I seized the branches fast of the wild fig,
To which bat-like I clung. [Note]
And then having waited for the timbers of the wreck he seized hold of them, and thus saved himself. Circe, therefore, had exaggerated both the peril, and also the fact of its vomiting forth thrice a day instead of twice. However, this latter is a hyperbole which every one makes use of; thus we say thrice- happy and thrice-miserable.
So the poet,
Thrice-happy Greeks! [Note]Odyssey v. 306.
O delightful, thrice-wished for! [Note]Iliad viii. 488.
O thrice and four times. [Note]Iliad iii. 363.
Odyssey xii. 437.
I clench'd the boughs, till she disgorged again
Both keel and mast. Not undesired by me
They came, though late; for at what hour the judge,
After decision made of numerous strifes
Between young candidates for honour, leaves
The forum, for refreshment's sake at home,
Then was it that the mast and keel emerged. [Note]
Every word of this indicates a considerable length of time, especially when he prolongs it to the evening, not merely saying at that time when the judge has risen, but having adjudicated on a vast number of cases, and therefore detained longer than usual. Otherwise his account of the return of the wreck would not have appeared likely, if he had brought it back again with the return of the wave, before it had been first carried a long way off.1.2.37
Apollodorus, who agrees with Eratosthenes, throws much blame upon Callimachus for asserting, in spite of his
character as a grammarian, that Gaudus [Note] and Corcyra [Note] were among the scenes of Ulysses' wandering, such an opinion being altogether in defiance of Homer's statement, and his description of the places as situated in the exterior ocean. [Note]
This criticism is just if we suppose the wandering to have never actually occurred, and to be merely the result of Homer's imagination; but if it did take place, although in other regions, Apollodorus ought plainly to have stated which they were, and thus set right the mistake of Callimachus. Since, however, after such evidence as we have produced, we cannot believe the whole account to be a fiction, and since no other more likely places have as yet been named, we hold that the grammarian is absolved from blame.1.2.38
Demetrius of Skepsis is also wrong, and, in fact, the cause of some of the mistakes of Apollodorus. He eagerly objects to the statement of Neanthes of Cyzicus, that the Argonauts, when they sailed to the Phasis, [Note] founded at Cyzicus the temples of the Idæan Mother. [Note] Though their voyage is attested both by Homer and other writers, he denies that Homer had any knowledge whatever of the departure of Jason to the Phasis. In so doing, he not only contradicts the very words of Homer, but even his own assertions. The poet informs us that Achilles, having ravaged Lesbos [Note] and other districts, spared Lemnos [Note] and the adjoining islands, on account of his relationship with Jason and his son Euneos, [Note] who then had possession of the island. How should he know of a relationship, identity of race, or other connexion existing between Achilles and Jason, which, after all, was nothing else than that they were both Thessalians, one being of Iolcos, [Note] the other of the Achæan Pthiotis, [Note] and yet
was not aware how it happened that Jason, who was a Thes-
salian of Iolcos, should leave no descendants in the land of his
nativity, but establish his son as ruler of Lemnos? Homer
then was familiar with the history of Pelias and the daughters
of Pelias, of Alcestis, who was the most charming of them
all, and of her son
Eumelus, whom Alcestis, praised
Iliad ii. 714.
For beauty above all her sisters fair,
In Thessaly to king Admetus bore, [Note]
If, however, the expedition to the Phasis, fitted out by Pelias, its return, and the conquest of several islands, have at the bottom any truth whatever, as all say they have, so also has the account of their wanderings, no less than those of Ulysses and Menelaus; monuments of the actual occurrence of which remain to this day elsewhere than in the writings of Homer. The city of æa, close by the Phasis, is still pointed Out æetes is generally believed to have reigned in Colchis, the name is still common throughout the country, tales of the sorceress Medea are yet abroad, and the riches of the country in gold, silver, and iron, proclaim the motive of Jason's expedition, as well as of that which Phrixus had formerly undertaken. Traces both of one and the other still remain. Such is Phrixium, [Note] midway between Colchis and Iberia, and the Jasonia, or towns of Jason, which are every where met with in Armenia, Media, and the surrounding countries. Many are the witnesses to the reality of the expeditions of Jason and Phrixus at Sinope [Note] and its shore, at Propontis, at the Hellespont, and even at Lemnos. Of Jason and his Colchian followers there are traces even as far as Crete, [Note] Italy, and the Adriatic. Callimachus himself alludes to it where he says,
I sing how the heroes from Cytæan æeta,
And again concerning the Colchians, who,
Return'd again to ancient æmonia. [Note]
Ceasing to plough with oars the Illyrian Sea, [Note]
Near to the tomb of fair Harmonia,
Who was transform'd into a dragon's shape,
Founded their city, which a Greek would call
The Town of Fugitives, but in their tongue
Is Pola named.
Some writers assert that Jason and his companions sailed high up the Ister, others say he sailed only so far as to be able to gain the Adriatic: the first statement results altogether from ignorance; the second, which supposes there is a second Ister having its source from the larger river of the same name, and discharging its waters into the Adriatic, is neither incredible nor even improbable. [Note]1.2.40
Starting from these premises, the poet, in conformity
both with general custom and his own practice, narrates some
circumstances as they actually occurred, and paints others in
the colours of fiction. He follows history when he tells us of
æetes and Jason also, when he talks of Argo, and on the authority of [the actual city of æa], feigns his city of ææa,
when he settles Euneos in Lemnos, and makes that island
friendly to Achilles, and when, in imitation of Medea, he makes
the sorceress Circe
Sister by birth of the all-wise æetes, [Note]Odyssey x. 137.
since, in that case, the expedition was directed to a populous and well-known country. But if, as [Demetrius] of Skepsis asserts, on the authority of Mimnermus, æetes dwelt by the Ocean, and Jason was sent thither far east by Pelias, to bring back the fleece, it neither seems probable that such an expedition would have been undertaken into unknown and obscure countries after the Fleece, nor could a voyage to lands desert, uninhabited, and so far remote from us, be considered either glorious or renowned.
[Here follow the words of Demetrius.]
Nor as yet had Jason, having accomplished the arduous journey, carried off the splendid fleece from æa, fulfilling the dangerous mission of
the insolent Pelias, nor had they ploughed the glorious wave of the
The city of æetes, where the rays of the swift sun recline on their
golden bed by the shore of the ocean, which the noble Jason visited.
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