Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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1.2.11

Having premised thus much, we must now take into consideration the reasons of those who assert that Homer

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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

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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

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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.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.10 Str. 1.2.13 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.16

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