Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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1.2.1

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-

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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,

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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-

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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,
To his own mansion. [Note]
Ib. iii. 272.

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

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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.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.1.22 Str. 1.2.2 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.5

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