Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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7.3.6

Any one may well entertain such questions as these touching the localities mentioned by the poet [Homer], and with regard to the Mysians and the illustrious Hippemolgi: but what Apollodorus has advanced in his preface to the Catalogue of Ships in the Second Book [of the Iliad] is by no means to be adopted. For he praises the opinions of Eratosthenes, who says that Homer and the rest of the ancients were well versed in every thing that related to Greece, but were in a state of considerable ignorance as to places at a distance, in consequence of the impossibility of' their making long journeys by land or voyages by sea. In support of this he asserts, [Note] that Homer designated Aulis as 'rocky,' as indeed it is; Eteonus as 'mountainous and woody,' Thisbe as 'abounding in doves,' Haliartus as ' grassy;' but that neither Homer nor the others were familiar with localities far off; for although there are forty rivers which discharge themselves into the Black Sea, [Note] he makes no mention whatever even of the most considerable, as the Danube, [Note] the Don, [Note] the Dnieper, [Note] the Bog, [Note] the Phasz, [Note] the Termeh, [Note] the Kisil-Irmak, [Note] nor does

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he even allude to the Scythians, but makes up fables about certain illustrious Hippemolgi, Galactophagi, and Abii. He had become acquainted with the Paphlagonians of the interior from the relations of such as had penetrated into those regions on foot, but he was perfectly unacquainted with the sea-coasts of the country; which indeed was likely enough, for that sea was in his time closed to navigation, and known by the name of Pontus Axenus [or the Inhospitable] on account of the severity of the storms to which it was subject, as well as of the savage disposition of the nations who inhabited its shores, but more especially of the Scythian hordes, [Note] who made a practice of sacrificing strangers, devouring their flesh, and using their skulls for drinking-cups; although at a subsequent period, when the Ionians had established cities along its shores, it was called by the name of Pontus Euxinus [or the Hospitable]. He was likewise in ignorance as to the natural peculiarities of Egypt and Libya, [Note] as the risings of the Nile, and the alluvial deposits, which he no where notices, nor yet the isthmus [of Suez] which separates the Red Sea from the Egyptian Sea; [Note] nor yet does he relate any particulars of Arabia, Ethiopia, or the Ocean, unless we should agree with the philosopher Zeno in altering the Homeric line as follows, I came to the Ethiopians, the Sidonians, and the Arabians. [Note] Indeed we ought not to be surprised at meeting with this in Homer, for those who have lived at a more recent period than he did, have been ignorant of many things, and have told strange tales. Hesiod has talked of Hemicynes, [Note] Megalocephali, and Pygmies; Alcman of Steganopodes;æschylus of Cynocephali, Sternophthalmi, and Monommati, (they say it is in his Prometheus,) and ten thousand other absurdities. From these he proceeds to censure the writers who talk of

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the Riphæan Mountains [Note] and Mount Ogyium, [Note] and the dwelling of the Gorgons [Note] and the Hesperides, [Note] the land of Meropis [Note] mentioned by Theopompus, Cimmeris, [Note] a city mentioned in Hecatæus, the land of Panchæa [Note] mentioned by Euhemerus, and the river-stones formed of sand mentioned by Aristotle, [Note] which were dissolved by rain-showers. Further, that there exists in Africa a city of Bacchus which no one can find twice. He likewise reproves those who assert that the wanderings of Ulysses mentioned in Homer were in the neighbourhood of Sicily, for again, if we should say that the wanderings did take place in those parts, we should have to confess that the poet transferred them to the ocean for the sake of making his account the more romantic. Some allowance might be made for others, but no manner of excuse can be put forward for Callimachus, who pretends to the character of a critic, and yet supposes that Gaudus was the island of Calypso, and identifies Scheria with Corcyra. [Note] Other writers he blames for misstatements as to Gerena, [Note] Acacesium, [Note] and

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the Demus [Note] in Ithaca, Pelethronium [Note] in Pelium, and the Glaucopium at Athens. [Note] With these and a few similar trifling observations, most of which he has drawn from Eratosthenes, whose inaccuracy we have before shown, he breaks off. However, we frankly acknowledge, both with respect to him [Apollodorus] and Eratosthenes, that the moderns are better informed on geography than the ancients: but to strain the subject beyond measure, as they do, especially when they inculpate Homer, seems to me as if it gave a fair occasion to any one to find fault, and to say by way of recrimination, that they reproach the poet for the very things of which they themselves are ignorant. As for the rest of their observations, particular mention is made of some of them in the places where they occur, and of others in the General Introduction. 7.3.7

It has been our wish, while discoursing of the Thracians, and the bold
Close-fighting Mysian race, and where abide,
On milk sustain'd, and blest with length of days,
The Hippemolgi, justest of mankind, [Note]
Iliad xiii. 5

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to compare what we have advanced with the remarks of Posidonius and the other critics. Now, in the first place, they have universally proved the very contrary of the allegations which they had undertaken to maintain; for where they undertook to show that amongst the ancients there was a greater amount of ignorance as to places far from Greece than there was among the moderns, they have proved the very contrary, and that not only with regard to the countries more remote, but even with respect to Greece itself; but, as I have said before, let the other matters remain in abeyance while we consider carefully the subject now before us. Thus they say that it was through ignorance Homer and the ancients omitted to speak of the Scythians, and their cruelty to strangers, whom they sacrificed, devoured their flesh, and afterwards made use of their skulls as drinking-cups, for which barbarities the sea was termed the Axine, [Note] or inhospitable; but in place of these they imagined fables as to illustrious Hippemolgi, Galactophagi, and Abii, the most just of mankind, who never existed any where in this world. But how came it that they named the sea the Axenus, if they were so ignorant of the barbarism of that region, or of those savages who were the most barbarous on earth? But these undoubtedly are the Scythians! Or in the early times were not those who dwelt beyond the Mysians, and Thracians, and Getæ, Hippemolgi, (or milkers of mares,) Galactophagi, and Abii? Nay rather, they exist at this very day, being called Hamaxoeci and Nomades, living on the herd, milk and cheese, and especially on cheese made of mare's milk, and being ignorant how to lay up treasure or deal in merchandise, except the simple barter of one commodity for another. How then can it be said that the poet [Homer] knew nothing of the Scythians, since he doubtless designates some of them by the names of Hippemolgi and Galactophagi? And that the men of that

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time called these people Hippemolgi even Hesiod is a witness in the words which Eratosthenes has quoted: He went and saw the Ethiopians, the Ligurians, [Note] and the Scythians, milkers of mares. And when we consider the amount of fraud connected with trading speculations even amongst ourselves, what ground have we to wonder that Homer should have designated as the justest and most noble those who had but few commercial and monetary transactions, and with the exception of their swords and drinking-cups, possessed all things in common, and especially their wives and children, who were cared for by the whole community according to the system of Plato. æschylus too seems to plead the poet's cause, when he says, But the Scythians, governed by good laws, and feeding on cheese of mares' milk. And this is still the opinion entertained of them by the Greeks; for we esteem them the most sincere, the least deceitful of any people, and much more frugal and self-relying than ourselves. And yet the manner of life customary among us has spread almost every where, and brought about a change for the worse, effeminacy, luxury, and over-great refinement, inducing extortion in ten thousand different ways; and doubtless much of this corruption has penetrated even into the countries of the nomades, as well as those of the other barbarians; for having once learnt how to navigate the sea, they have become depraved, committing piracy and murdering strangers; and holding intercourse with many different nations, they have imitated both their extravagance and their dishonest traffic, which may indeed appear to promote civility of manners, but do doubtless corrupt the morals and lead to dissimulation, in place of the genuine sincerity we have before noticed.



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 7.3.5 Str. 7.3.7 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 7.3.9

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