Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.11 Str. 1.2.15 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.18

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

-- 35 --

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;

-- 36 --

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
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]
Odyssey xii. 95.
accords well with what takes place around Scyllæum: for the thunny-fish, carried in shoals by Italy, and not being able to reach Sicily, fall into [the Strait], where they become the prey of larger fish, such as dolphins, dog-fish, and other ceta- cea, and it is by this means that the galeotes (which are also called sword-fish) and dogs fatten themselves. For the same thing occurs here, and at the rising of the Nile and other rivers, as takes place when a forest is on fire. Vast crowds of animals, in flying from the fire or the water, become the prey of beasts more powerful than themselves." 1.2.16

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

-- 37 --

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.
instead of twice, being only a mistake, either of the scribe or the historian.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.11 Str. 1.2.15 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.18

Powered by PhiloLogic