Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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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. 1.2.32

But if our poet speaks of the Isthmus of Suez as ever having been the strait of confluence between the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, how much more credit may we attribute to his division of the Ethiopians into two portions, being thus separated by so grand a strait! And what commerce could he have carried on with the Ethiopians who dwelt by the shores of the exterior sea and the ocean? Telemachus and his companions admire the multitude of ornaments that were in the palace, Of gold, electrum, silver, ivory. [Note]
Odyssey iv. 73.
Now the Ethiopians are possessed of none of these productions in any abundance, excepting ivory, being for the most

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part a needy and nomad race. True, [you say,] but adjoining them is Arabia, and the whole country as far as India. One of these is distinguished above all other lands by the title of Felix, [Note] and the other, though not dignified by that name, is both generally believed and also said to be preeminently Blessed.

But [we reply], Homer was not acquainted with India, or he would have described it. And though he knew of the Arabia which is now named Felix, at that time it was by no means wealthy, but a wild country, the inhabitants of which dwelt for the most part in tents. It is only a small district which produces the aromatics from which the whole territory afterwards received its name, [Note] owing to the rarity of the commodity amongst us, and the value set upon it. That the Arabians are now flourishing and wealthy is due to their vast and extended traffic, but formerly it does not appear to have been considerable. A merchant or camel-driver might attain to opulence by the sale of these aromatics and similar commodities; but Menelaus could only become so either by plunder, or presents conferred on him by kings and nobles, who had the means at their disposal, and wished to gratify one so distinguished by glory and renown. The Egyptians, it is true, and the neighbouring Ethiopians and Arabians, were not so entirely destitute of the luxuries of civilization, nor so unacquainted with the fame of Agamemnon, especially after the termination of the Trojan war, but that Menelaus might have expected some benefits from their generosity, even as the breastplate of Agamemnon is said to be The gift
Of Cinyras long since; for rumour loud
Had Cyprus reached. [Note]
Iliad xi. 20.
And we are told that the greater part of his wanderings were in Phœnicia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, around Cyprus, and, in fact, the whole of our coasts and islands. [Note] Here, indeed, he might hope to enrich himself both by the gifts of friendship

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and by violence, and especially by the plunder of those who had been the allies of Troy. They however who dwelt on the exterior ocean, and the distant barbarians, held out no such encouragement: and when Menelaus is said to have been in Ethiopia, it is because he had reached the frontiers of that country next Egypt. But perhaps at that time the frontiers lay more contiguous to Thebes than they do now. At the present day the nearest are the districts adjacent to Syene and Philæ, [Note] the former town being entirely in Egypt, while Philæ is inhabited by a mixed population of Ethiopians and Egyptians. Supposing therefore he had arrived at Thebes, and thus reached the boundary-line of Ethiopia, where he experienced the munificence of the king, we must not be surprised if he is described as having passed through the country. [Note] On no better authority Ulysses declares he has been to the land of the Cyclops, although he merely left the sea to enter a cavern which he himself tells us was situated on the very borders of the country: and, in fact, wherever he came to anchor, whether at æolia, Læstrygonia, or elsewhere, he is stated to have visited those places. In the same manner Menelaus is said to have been to Ethiopia and Libya, because here and there he touched at those places, and the port near Ardania above Parætonium [Note] is called after him the port of Menelaus. [Note]



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