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

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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

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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. 1.2.17

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

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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
Athwart the fishy deep, [Note]
Odyssey ix. 82.
should be understood of merely a short distance, (for cruel storms do not blow in a right course,) and not of being carried beyond the ocean, as if impelled by favourable winds. And, says Polybius, allowing the distance from Malea [Note] to the Pillars to be 22,500 stadia, and supposing the rate of passage was the same throughout the nine days, the voyage must have been accomplished at the speed of 2500 stadia per diem: now who has ever recorded that the passage from Lycia or Rhodes to Alexandria, a distance of 4000 stadia, has been made in two days? To those who demand how it was that Ulysses, though he journeyed thrice to Sicily, never once navigated the Strait, we reply that, long after his time, voyagers always sedulously avoided that route.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.13 Str. 1.2.16 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.19

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