Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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1.4.5

Eratosthenes being mistaken as to the breadth [of the habitable earth], is necessarily wrong as to its length. The most accurate observers, both ancient and modern, agree that the known length of the habitable earth is more than twice its breadth. Its length I take to be from the [eastern] extremity of India [Note] to the [westernmost] point of Spain; [Note] and its breadth from [the south of] Ethiopia to the latitude of Ierne. Eratosthenes, as we have said, reckoning its breadth from the extremity of Ethiopia to Thule, was forced to extend its length beyond the true limits, that he might make it more than twice as long as the breadth he had assigned to it. He says that India, measured where it is narrowest, [Note] is 16,000 stadia to the river Indus. If measured from its most prominent capes it extends 3000 more. [Note] Thence to the Caspian Gates, 14,000. From the Caspian Gates to the Euphrates, [Note] 10,000. From

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the Euphrates to the Nile, 5000. [Note] Thence to the Canopic [Note] mouth, 1300. From the Canopic mouth to Carthage, 13,500. From thence to the Pillars at least 8000. Which make in all 70,800 stadia. To these [he says] should be added the curvature of Europe beyond the Pillars of Hercules, fronting the Iberians, and inclining west, not less than 3000 stadia, and the headlands, including that of the Ostimii, named Cabæum, [Note] and the adjoining islands, the last of which, named Uxisama, [Note] is distant, according to Pytheas, a three days' sail. But he added nothing to its length by enumerating these last, viz. the headlands, including that of the Ostimii, the island of Uxisama, and the rest; they are not situated so as affect the length of the earth, for they all lie to the north, and belong to Keltica, not to Iberia; indeed it seems but an invention of Pytheas. Lastly, to fall in with the general opinion that the breadth ought not [Note] to exceed half the length, he adds to the stated measure of its length 2000 stadia west, and as many east. 1.4.6

Further, endeavouring to support the opinion that it is in accordance with natural philosophy to reckon the greatest dimension of the habitable earth from east to west, he says that, according to the laws of natural philosophy, the habitable earth ought to occupy a greater length from east to west, than its breadth from north to south. The temperate zone, which we have already designated as the longest zone, is that which the mathematicians denominate a continuous circle returning upon itself. So that if the extent of the Atlantic Ocean were not an obstacle, we might easily pass by sea from Iberia to India, [Note] still keeping in the same parallel; the remaining portion of which parallel, measured as above in stadia, occupies more than a third of the whole circle: since the parallel drawn through Athens, [Note] on which we have taken the distances from India to Iberia, does not contain in the whole 200,000 stadia.

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Here too his reasoning is incorrect. For this speculation respecting the temperate zone which we inhabit, and whereof the habitable earth is a part, devolves properly on those who make mathematics their study. But it is not equally the province of one treating of the habitable earth. For by this term we mean only that portion of the temperate zone where we dwell, and with which we are acquainted. But it is quite possible that in the temperate zone there may be two or even more habitable earths, especially near the circle of latitude which is drawn through Athens and the Atlantic Ocean. After this he returns to the form of the earth, which he again declares to be spheroidal. Here he exhibits the same churlishness we have previously pointed out, and goes on abusing Homer in his old style. He proceeds: 1.4.7

There has been much argument respecting the continents. Some, considering them to be divided by the rivers Nile and Tanais, [Note] have described them as islands; while others suppose them to be peninsulas connected by the isthmuses between the Caspian and the Euxine Seas, and between the Erythræan Sea [Note] and Ecregma. [Note] He adds, that this question does not appear to him to be of any practical importance, but rather, as Democritus observed, a bone of contention for angry litigants. Where there are no precise boundary marks, columns, or walls, as at Colyttus and Melitè, [Note] it is easy for us to say such a place is Colyttus, and such another Melitè, but not so easy to show the exact limits: thus disputes have frequently arisen concerning certain districts; that, for instance, between the Argives and Lacedæmonians concerning [the possession of] Thyrea, [Note] and that between the Athenians and Bœotians relative to Oropus. [Note] Further, in giving names to the three continents, the Greeks did not take into consideration the whole habitable earth, but merely their own country and the land exactly opposite, namely, Caria, which is now inhabited by

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the Ionians and other neighbouring tribes. In course of time, as they advanced further and daily became acquainted with new countries, this their division came to be general."

I take this last part first, and (to use Eratosthenes' own words, not those of Democritus) willing to pick my bone of contention, inquire, whether they who first made the division of the three continents were the same persons as those who first desired to distinguish their own land from that of the Carians opposite, or whether they were only acquainted with Greece, Caria, and some few other adjoining countries, and not with Europe, Asia, or Africa; but that others who followed them, and were able to write a description of the habitable earth, were the real authors of the division into three continents. How did he know that these were not the men who made this division of the habitable earth? And he who divided the earth into three parts, giving to each portion the name of continent, could he not form in his mind a just idea of that taken as a whole, which he had so parcelled out. But if indeed he were not acquainted with the whole habitable earth, but merely made a division of some part thereof, pray what portion of that part did he denominate Asia, or Europe, or simply continent? Such talk is altogether nonsense.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 1.4.1 Str. 1.4.6 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 1.4.9

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