Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.40 Str. 1.3.4 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.3.6


However, this is not all we have to say against him. Of many places he tells us that nothing is known, when in fact they have every one been accurately described. Then he warns us to be very cautious in believing what we are told on such matters, and endeavours by long and tedious arguments to show the value of his advice; swallowing at the same time the most ridiculous absurdities himself concerning the Euxine and Adriatic. Thus he believed the Bay of Issus [Note] to be the most easterly point of the Mediterranean, though Dioscurias, [Note] which is nearly at the bottom of the Pontus Euxinus, is, according to his own calculations, farther east by a distance of 3000 stadia. [Note] In describing the northern and farther parts of the Adriatic he cannot refrain from similar romancing, and gives credit to many strange narrations concerning what lies beyond the Pillars of Hercules, informing us of an Isle of Kerne there, and other places now nowhere to be found, which we shall speak of presently.

Having remarked that the ancients, whether out on piratical

-- 76 --

excursions, or for the purposes of commerce, never ventured into the high seas, but crept along the coast, and instancing Jason, who leaving his vessels at Colchis penetrated into Armenia and Media on foot, he proceeds to tell us that formerly no one dared to navigate either the Euxine or the seas by Libya, Syria, and Cilicia. If by formerly he means periods so long past that we possess no record of them, it is of little consequence to us whether they navigated those seas or not, but if [he speaks] of times of which we know any thing, and if we are to place any trust in the accounts which have come down to us, every one will admit that the ancients appear to have made longer journeys both by sea and land than their successors; witness Bacchus, Hercules, nay Jason himself, and again Ulysses and Menelaus, of whom Homer tells us. It seems most probable that Theseus and Pirithous are indebted to some long voyages for the credit they afterwards obtained of having visited the infernal regions; and in like manner the Dioscuri [Note] gained the appellation of guardians of the sea, and the deliverers of sailors. [Note] The sovereignty of the seas exercised by Minos, and the navigation carried on by the Phœnicians, is well known. A little after the period of the Trojan war they had penetrated beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and founded cities as well there as to the midst of the African coast. [Note] Is it not correct to number amongst the ancients æneas, [Note] Antenor, [Note] the Heneti, and all the crowd of warriors, who, after the destruction of Troy, wandered over the face of the whole earth? For at the conclusion of the war

-- 77 --

both the Greeks and Barbarians found themselves deprived, the one of their livelihood at home, the other of the fruits of their expedition; so that when Troy was overthrown, the victors, and still more the vanquished, who had survived the conflict, were compelled by want to a life of piracy; and we learn that they became the founders of many cities along the sea-coast beyond Greece, [Note] besides several inland settlements. [Note] 1.3.3

Again, having discoursed on the advance of knowledge respecting the Geography of the inhabited earth, between the time of Alexander and the period when he was writing, Eratosthenes goes into a description of the figure of the earth; not merely of the habitable earth, an account of which would have been very suitable, but of the whole earth, which should certainly have been given too, but not in this disorderly manner. He proceeds to tell us that the earth is spheroidal, not however perfectly so, inasmuch as it has certain irregularities, he then enlarges on the successive changes of its form, occasioned by water, fire, earthquakes, eruptions, and the like; all of which is entirely out of place, for the spheroidal form of the whole earth is the result of the system of the universe, and the phenomena which he mentions do not in the least change its general form; such little matters being entirely lost in the great mass of the earth. Still they cause various peculiarities in different parts of our globe, and result from a variety of causes. 1.3.4

He points out as a most interesting subject for disquisition the fact of our finding, often quite inland, two or three thousand stadia from the sea, vast numbers of muscle, oyster, and scallop-shells, and salt-water lakes. [Note] He gives as an

-- 78 --

instance, that about the temple of Ammon, [Note] and along the road to it for the space of 3000 stadia, there are yet found a vast amount of oyster shells, many salt-beds, and salt springs bubbling up, besides which are pointed out numerous fragments of wreck which they say have been cast up through some opening, and dolphins placed on pedestals with the inscription, Of the delegates from Cyrene. Herein he agrees with the opinion of Strato the natural philosopher, and Xanthus of Lydia. Xanthus mentioned that in the reign of Artaxerxes there was so great a drought, that every river, lake, and well was dried up: and that in many places he had seen a long way from the sea fossil shells, some like cockles, others resembling scallop shells, also salt lakes in Armenia, Matiana, [Note] and Lower Phrygia, which induced him to believe that sea had formerly been where the land now was. Strato, who went more deeply into the causes of these phenomena, was of opinion that formerly there was no exit to the Euxine as now at Byzantium, but that the rivers running into it had forced a way through, and thus let the waters escape into the Propontis, and thence to the Hellespont. [Note] And that a like change had occurred in the Mediterranean. For the sea being overflowed by the rivers, had opened for itself a passage by the Pillars of Hercules, and thus, much that was formerly covered by water, had been left dry. [Note] He gives as the cause of this, that anciently the levels of the Mediterranean and Atlantic were not the same, and states that a bank of earth, the remains of the ancient separation of the two seas, is still stretched under water from Europe to Africa. He adds, that the Euxine is the most shallow, and the seas of Crete, Sicily, and Sardinia much deeper, which is occasioned by the number of large

-- 79 --

rivers flowing into the Euxine both from the north and east, and so filling it up with mud, whilst the others preserve their depth. This is the cause of the remarkable sweetness of the Euxine Sea, and of the currents which regularly set towards the deepest part. He gives it as his opinion, that should the rivers continue to flow in the same direction, the Euxine will in time be filled up [by the deposits], since already the left side of the sea is little else than shallows, as also Salmydessus, [Note] and the shoals at the mouth of the Ister, and the desert of Scythia, [Note] which the sailors call the Breasts. Probably too the temple of Ammon was originally close to the sea, though now, by the continual deposit of the waters, it is quite inland: and he conjectures that it was owing to its being so near the sea that it became so celebrated and illustrious, and that it never would have enjoyed the credit it now possesses had it always been equally remote from the sea. Egypt too [he says] was formerly covered by sea as far as the marshes near Pelusium, [Note] Mount Casius, [Note] and the Lake Sirbonis. [Note] Even at the present time, when salt is being dug in Egypt, the beds are found under layers of sand and mingled with fossil shells, as if this district had formerly been under water, and as if the whole region about Casium and Gerrha [Note] had been shallows reaching to the Arabian Gulf. The sea afterwards receding left the land uncovered, and the Lake Sirbonis remained, which having afterwards forced itself a passage, became a marsh. In like manner the borders of the Lake Mœris resemble a sea-beach rather than the banks of a river. Every one will admit that formerly at various periods a great portion of the mainland has been covered and again left bare by the sea. Likewise that the land now covered by the sea is not all on the same level, any more than that whereon we dwell; which is now

-- 80 --

uncovered and has experienced so many changes, as Eratosthenes has observed. Consequently in the reasoning of Xanthus there does not appear to be any thing out of place.

Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.2.40 Str. 1.3.4 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.3.6

Powered by PhiloLogic