Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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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. 1.2.18

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 the poet, 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
Of the Oceanus; [Note]
Odyss. xii. l.
and this, In the island of Ogygia, the centre of the sea, [Note]
Odyssey i. 50.

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and that the daughter of Atlas [Note] dwells there. And the following concerning the Phæacians, Remote amid the billowy deep, we hold
Our dwelling, utmost of all human kind,
And free from mixture with a foreign race. [Note]
Odyssey vi. 204.

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

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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.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.15 Str. 1.2.18 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.21

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