Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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1.2.29

It is quite irrational to suppose that he could be accurately acquainted with Egyptian Thebes, [Note] which is separated from our sea [Note] by a little less than 5000 [Note]
stadia; and yet ignorant of' the recess of the Arabian Gulf, and of the isthmus there, whose breadth is not more than 1000 stadia. Still more, would it not be ridiculous to believe that Homer was aware the Nile was called by the same name as the vast country [of Egypt], and yet unacquainted with the reason why? especially since the saying of Herodotus would occur to him, that the country was a gift from the river, and it ought there-

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fore to bear its name. Further, the best known peculiarities of a country are those which have something of the nature of a paradox, and are likely to arrest general attention. Of this kind are the rising of the Nile, and the alluvial deposition at its mouth. There is nothing in the whole country to which travellers in Egypt so immediately direct their inquiries, as the character of the Nile; nor do the inhabitants possess any thing else equally wonderful and curious, of which to inform foreigners; for in fact, to give them a description of the river, is to lay open to their view every main characteristic of the country. It is the question put before every other by those who have never seen Egypt themselves. To these considerations we must add Homer's thirst after knowledge, and his delight in visiting foreign lands, (tastes which we are assured both by those who have written histories of his life, and also by innumerable testimonies throughout his own poems, he possessed in an eminent degree,) and we shall have abundant evidence both of the extent of his information, and the felicity with which he described objects he deemed important, and passed over altogether, or with slight allusion, matters which were generally known. 1.2.30

These Egyptians and Syrians [Note] whom we have been criticising fill one with amazement. They do not understand [Homer], even when he is describing their own countries, but accuse him of ignorance where, as our argument proves, they are open to the charge themselves. Not to mention a thing is clearly no evidence that a person is not acquainted with it. [Note] Homer does not tell us of the change in the current of the Euripus, nor of Thermopylæ, nor of many other remarkable things well known to the Greeks; but was he therefore unacquainted with them? He describes to us, although these men, who are obstinately deaf, will not hear: they have themselves to blame.

Our poet applies to rivers the epithet of heaven-sent. And this not only to mountain torrents, but to all rivers alike, since they are all replenished by the showers. But even what

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is general becomes particular when it is bestowed on any object par excellence. Heaven-sent, when applied to a moun- tain torrent, means something else than when it is the epithet of the ever-flowing river; but the force of the term is doubly felt when attributed to the Nile. For as there are hyperboles of hyperboles, for instance, to be lighter than the shadow of a cork, more timid than a Phrygian hare, [Note]to possess an estate shorter than a Lacedæmonian epistle; so excellence becomes more excellent, when the title of heaven-sent is given to the Nile. The mountain torrent has a better claim to be called heaven-sent than other rivers, but the Nile exceeds the mountain torrents, both in its size and the lengthened period of its overflow. Since, then, the wonders of this river were known to our poet, as we have shown in this defence, when he applies this epithet to the Nile, it must only be understood in the way we have explained. Homer did not think it worth mentioning, especially to those who were acquainted with the fact, that the Nile had many mouths, since this is a common feature of numerous other rivers. Alcæus [Note] does not mention it, although he tells us he had been in Egypt. One might infer the fact of its alluvial deposit, both From the rising [of the river] and what Homer tells us concerning Pharos. For his account, or rather the vulgar report

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concerning Pharos, that it was distant from the mainland a whole day's voyage, ought not to be looked upon as a down- right falsehood.

It is clear that Homer was only acquainted with the rising and deposit of the river in a general way, and concluding from what he heard that the island had been further removed in the time of Menelaus from the mainland, than it was in his own, he magnified the distance, simply that he might heighten the fiction. Fictions however are not the offspring of ignorance, as is sufficiently plain from those concerning Proteus, the Pygmies, the efficacy of charms, and many others similar to these fabricated by the poets. They narrate these things not through ignorance of the localities, but for the sake of giving pleasure and enjoyment. But [some one may in- quire], how could he describe [Pharos], which is without water as possessed of that necessary? The haven there is good, and many a ship
Finds watering there from rivulets on the coast. [Note]
Odyssey iv. 358.
[I answer,] It is not impossible that the sources of water may since have failed. Besides, he does not say that the water was procured from the island, but that they went thither on account of the safety of the harbour; the water was probably obtained from the mainland, and by the expression the poet seems to admit that what he had before said of its being wholly surrounded by sea was not the actual fact, but a hyperbole or fiction.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.28 Str. 1.2.30 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.32

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