Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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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. 1.2.31

As his description of the wanderings of Menelaus may seem to authenticate the charge of ignorance made against him in respect to those regions, it will perhaps be best to point out the difficulties of the narrative, and their explanation, and at the same time enter into a fuller defence of our poet. Menelaus thus addresses Telemachus, who is admiring the splendour of his palace: After numerous toils
And perilous wanderings o'er the stormy deep,
In the eighth year at last I brought them home.
Cyprus, Phœnicia, Sidon, and the shores
Of Egypt, roaming without hope, I reach'd,

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In distant Ethiopia thence arrived,
And Libya. [Note]
Odyssey iv. 81.

It is asked, What Ethiopians could he have met with on his voyage from Egypt? None are to be found dwelling by our sea, [Note] and with his vessels [Note] he could never have reached the cataracts of the Nile. Next, who are the Sidonians? Certainly not the inhabitants of Phoenicia; for leaving mentioned the genus, he would assuredly not particularize the species. [Note] And then the Erembi; this is altogether a new name. Our contemporary Aristonicus, the grammarian, in his [observations] on the wanderings of Menelaus, has recorded the opinions of numerous writers on each of the heads under discussion. It will be sufficient for us to refer to them very briefly. They who assert that Menelaus went by sea to Ethiopia, tell us he directed his course past Cadiz into the Indian Ocean; [Note] with which, say they, the long duration of his wanderings agrees, since he did not arrive there till the eighth year. Others, that he passed through the isthmus [Note] which enters the Arabian Gulf; and others again, through one of the canals. At the same time the idea of this circumnavigation, which owes its origin to Crates, is not necessary; we do not mean it was impossible, (for the wanderings of Ulysses are

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not impossible,) but neither the mathematical hypothesis, not yet the duration of the wandering, require such an explanation; for he was both retarded against his will by accidents in the voyage, as by [the tempest] which he narrates five only of his sixty ships survived; and also by voluntary delays for the sake of amassing wealth. Nestor says [of him], Thus he, provision gathering as he went,
And gold abundant, roam'd to distant lands. [Note]
Odyssey iii. 301.
[And Menelaus himself], Cyprus, Phœnicia, and the Egyptians' land
I wandered through. [Note]
Odyssey iv. 83.

As to the navigation of the isthmus, or one of the canals, if it had been related by Homer himself, we should have counted it a myth; but as he does not relate it, we regard it as entirely extravagant and unworthy of belief. We say unworthy of belief, because at the time of the Trojan war no canal was in existence. It is recorded that Sesostris, who had planned the formation of one, apprehending that the level of the sea was too high to admit of it, desisted from the undertaking. [Note]

Moreover the isthmus itself was not passable for ships, and Eratosthenes is unfortunate in his conjecture, for he considers that the strait at the Pillars was not then formed,

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so that the Atlantic should by that channel communicate with the Mediterranean, and that this sea being higher than the Isthmus [of Suez], covered it; but when the Strait [of Gibraltar] was formed, the sea subsided considerably; and left the land about Casium [Note] and Pelusium [Note] dry as far over as the Red Sea.

But what account have we of the formation of this strait, supposing it were not in existence prior to the Trojan war? Is it likely that our poet would make Ulysses sail out through the Strait [of Gibraltar] into the Atlantic Ocean, as if that strait already existed, and at the same time describe Menelaus conducting his ships from Egypt to the Red Sea, as if it did not exist. Further, the poet introduces Proteus as saying to him, Thee the gods
Have destined to the blest Elysian Isles,
Earth's utmost boundaries. [Note]
Odyssey iv. 563.
And what this place was, namely, some far western region, is evident from [the mention of] the Zephyr in connexion with it: But Zephyr always gently from the sea
Breathes on them. [Note]
Odyssey iv. 567.
This, however, is very enigmatical.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.29 Str. 1.2.31 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.2.33

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