Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.16 Str. 1.2.20 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.22

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.

-- 39 --

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

-- 40 --

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. 1.2.20

On the whole, however, it is not proper to place the works of Homer in the common catalogue of other poets, without challenging for him a superiority both in respect of his other [excellences] and also for the geography on which our attention is now engaged.

If any one were to do no more than merely read through the Triptolemus of Sophocles, or the prologue to the Bacchæ of Euripides, and then compare them with the care taken by Homer in his geographical descriptions, he would at once perceive both the difference and superiority of the latter, for wherever there is necessity for arrangement in the localities he has immortalized, he is careful to preserve it as well in regard to Greece, as to foreign countries. They
On the Olympian summit thought to fix
Huge Ossa, and on Ossa's towering head
Pelion with all his forests. [Note]

-- 41 --

And Juno starting from the Olympian height
O'erflew Pieria and the lovely plains
Of broad Emathia; [Note] soaring thence she swept
The snow-clad summit of the Thracian hills [Note]
Steed-famed, nor printed, as she pass'd, the soil,
From Athos [Note] the foaming billows borne. [Note]
In the Catalogue he does not describe his cities in regular order, because here there was no necessity, but both the people and foreign countries he arranges correctly. Having wandered to Cyprus, and Phœnice, and the Egyptians, I came to the Ethiopians, and Sidonians, and Erembi, and Libya. [Note] Hipparchus has drawn attention to this. But the two tragedians where there was great necessity for proper arrangement, one [Note] where he introduces Bacchus visiting the nations, the other [Note] Triptolemus sowing the earth, have brought in juxta-position places far remote, and separated those which were near.

And having left the wealthy lands of the Lydians and Phrygians, and the sunny plains of the Persians and the Bactrian walls, and having come over the stormy land of the Medes, and the Happy Arabia. [Note] And the Triptolemus is just as inaccurate.

Further, in respect to the winds and climates, Homer shows the wide extent of his geographical knowledge, for in his

-- 42 --

topographical descriptions he not unfrequently informs us of both these matters. Thus, My abode
Is sun-burnt Ithaca.
Flat on the deep she lies, farthest removed
Toward the west, while situate apart,
Her sister islands face the rising day. [Note]
Odyssey ix. 25.
And, It has a two-fold entrance,
One towards the north, the other south. [Note]
Odyssey xiii. 109, 111.
And again, Which I alike despise, speed they their course
With right-hand flight towards the ruddy east,
Or leftward down into the shades of eve. [Note]
Iliad xii. 239.
Ignorance of such matters he reckons no less than confusion. Alas! my friends, for neither west
Know we, nor east; where rises or where sets
The all-enlightening sun. [Note]
Odyssey x. 190.
Where the poet has said properly enough, As when two adverse winds, blowing from Thrace,
Boreas and Zephyrus, [Note]
Iliad ix.5.
Eratosthenes ill-naturedly misrepresents him as saying in an absolute sense, that the west wind blows from Thrace; whereas he is not speaking in an absolute sense at all, but merely of the meeting of contrary winds near the bay of Melas, [Note] on the Thracian sea, itself a part of the ægæan. For where Thrace forms a kind of promontory, where it borders on Macedonia, [Note]

-- 43 --

it takes a turn to the south-west, and projects into the ocean, and from this point it seems to the inhabitants of Thasos, Lemnos, Imbros, Samothracia, [Note] and the surrounding sea, that the west winds blow. [Note] So in regard to Attica, they seem to come from the rocks of Sciros, [Note] and this is the reason why all the westerly winds, the north-west more particularly, are called the Scirones. Of this Eratosthenes was not aware, though he suspected as much, for it was he who described this bending of the land [towards the south-west] which we have mentioned. But he interprets our poet in an absolute sense, and then taxes him with ignorance, because, says he, Zephyr blows from the west, and off Spain, and Thrace does not extend so far. Does he then think that Homer was not aware that Zephyr came from the west, notwithstanding the careful manner in which he distinguishes its position when he writes as follows: The east, the south, the heavy-blowing Zephyr,
And the cold north-wind clear. [Note]
Odyssey v. 295.
Or was he ignorant that Thrace did not extend beyond the Pæonian and Thessalian mountains. [Note] To be sure he was well acquainted with the position of the countries adjoining Thrace in that direction, and does he not mention by name both the maritime and inland districts, and tells us of the Magnetæ, [Note] the Malians, [Note] and other Grecian [territories], all in order, as far as Thesprotis; [Note] also of the Dolopes [Note] bordering on Pæo-

-- 44 --

nia, and the Sellæ who inhabit the territory around Dodona [Note] as far as the [river] Achelous, [Note] but he never mentions Thrace, as being beyond these. He has evidently a predilection for the sea which is nearest to him, and with which he is most familiar, as where he says, Commotion shook
The whole assembly, such as heaves the flood
Of the Icarian deep. [Note]
Iliad ii. 144.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.16 Str. 1.2.20 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.22

Powered by PhiloLogic