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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography

of
Strabo

published in Vol. I
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,
1917

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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I.2

(Vol. I) Strabo
Geography

p3 Book I Chapter 1

1 1The science of Geography, which I now propose to investigate, is, I think, quite as much as any other science, a concern of the philosopher; and the correctness of my view is clear for many reasons. In the first place, those who in earliest times ventured to treat the subject were, in their way, philosophers — Homer, Anaximander of Miletus, and Anaximander's fellow-citizen Hecataeus — just as Eratosthenes has already said; philosophers, too, were Democritus, Eudoxus, 2Dicaearchus, Ephorus, with several others of their times; and further, their successors — Eratosthenes, Polybius, and Poseidonius — were philosophers. In the second place, wide learning, which alone makes it possible to undertake a work on geography, is possessed solely by the man who has investigated things both human and divine — knowledge of which, they say, constitutes philosophy. And so, too, the utility of geography — and its utility is manifold, not only as regards the activities of statesmen and commanders but also as regards knowledge both of the heavens and of things on land and sea, animals, plants, fruits, and everything else to be seen in p5various regions — the utility of geography, I say, presupposes in the geographer the same philosopher, the man who busies himself with the investigation of the art of life, that is, of happiness.

2 But I must go back and consider each one of these points in greater detail; and, first, I say that both I and my predecessors, one of whom was Hipparchus himself, are right in regarding Homer as the founder of the science of geography; for Homer has surpassed all men, both of ancient and modern times, not only in the excellence of his poetry, but also, I might say, in his acquaintance with all that pertains to public life. And this acquaintance made him busy himself not only about public activities, to the end that he might learn of as many of them as possible and also give an account of them to posterity, but also about the geography both of the individual countries and of the inhabited world at large, both land and sea; for otherwise he would not have gone to the uttermost bounds of the inhabited world, encompassing the whole of it in his description.

3 In the first place, Homer declares that the inhabited world is washed on all sides by Oceanus, and this is true; and then he mentions some of the countries by name, while he leaves us to infer the other countries from hints; for instance, he expressly mentions Libya,1 Ethiopia, Sidonians, and Erembians — by Erembians he probably means Arabian Troglodytes2 — whereas he only indicates in general terms the people who live in the far east and the far west by saying that their countries are washed by Oceanus. For he makes the sun to p7rise out of Oceanus and to set in Oceanus; and he refers in the same way to the constellations: "Now the sun was just beating on the fields as he climbed heaven from the deep stream of gently-flowing Oceanus." "And the sun's bright light dropped into Oceanus drawing black night across the earth." And he declares that the stars also rise from Oceanus "after having bathed in Oceanus."

4 As for the people of the west, Homer makes plain that they were prosperous and that they lived in a temperate climate — doubtless having heard of the wealth of Iberia,3 and how, in quest of that wealth, Heracles invaded the country, and after him the Phoenicians also, the people who in earliest times became masters of most of the country (it was at a later date that the Romans occupied it). For in the west the breezes of Zephyrus blow; 3and there it is that Homer places the Elysian Plain itself, to which he declares Menelaus will be sent by the gods: "But the deathless gods will convey thee to the Elysian Plain and the ends of the earth, where is Rhadamanthys of the fair hair, where life is easiest. No snow is there, nor yet great storm; but always Oceanus sendeth forth the breezes of the clear-blowing4 Zephyrus."

5 And, too, the Islands of the Blest5 lie to the westward of most western Maurusia,6 that is, west p9of the region where the end of Maurusia runs close to that of Iberia. And their name shows that because those islands were near to blessed countries they too were thought to be blessed abodes.

6 Furthermore, Homer assuredly makes it plain that the Ethiopians live at the ends of the earth, on the banks of Oceanus: that they live at the end of the earth, when he speaks of "the Ethiopians that are sundered in twain, the farthermost of men" (and indeed the words "are sundered in twain" are not carelessly used, as will be shown later on); and that they live on the banks of Oceanus, when he says "for Zeus went yesterday to Oceanus, unto the noble Ethiopians for a feast." And he has left us to infer that the farthest land in the north is also bounded by Oceanus when he says of the Bear that "She alone hath no part in the baths of Oceanus." That is, by the terms "Bear" and "Wain" he means the "arctic circle";7 for otherwise he would not have said of the Bear that "She alone hath no part in the baths of Oceanus," since so many stars complete their diurnal revolutions in that same quarter of the heavens which was always visible to him. So it is not well for us to accuse him of ignorance on the ground that he knew of but one Bear instead of two; for it is likely that in the time of Homer the other Bear had not yet been marked out as a constellation, and that the star-group did not become known as such to the Greeks until the Phoenicians so designated it and used it for purposes of navigation; the same is true of Berenice's Hair and of Canopus, for we know that these two constellations have received p11their names quite recently, and that there are many constellations still unnamed, just as Aratus says. Therefore Crates is not correct, either, when in seeking to avoid what needs no avoidance, he alters the text of Homer so as to make it read, "And the arctic circle8 alone hath no part in the baths of Oceanus." Better and more Homeric is Heracleitus, who likewise employs "the Bear" for "the arctic circle": "The Bear forms limits of morning and evening, and over against the Bear fair breezes blow from fair skies";9 for the arctic circle, and not the Bear, forms a boundary beyond which the stars neither rise nor set. 4Accordingly, by "the Bear," which he also calls "the Wain" and describes as keeping watch upon Orion, Homer means the "arctic circle," and by Oceanus he means the horizon into which he makes the stars to set and from which he makes them to rise. And when he says that the Bear makes its revolution in that region without having a part in Oceanus, he knows that the arctic circle touches the most northerly point of the horizon. If we construe the poet's verse in this way, then we should interpret the terrestrial horizon as closely corresponding to Oceanus, and the arctic circle as touching the earth — if we may believe the evidence of our sense — at its most northerly inhabited point. And so, in the opinion of Homer, this part of the earth also is p13washed by Oceanus. Furthermore, Homer knows of the men who live farthest north; and while he does not mention them by name — and even to the present day there is no common term that will embrace them all — he characterises them by their mode of life, describing them as "nomads," and as "proud mare-milkers, curd-eaters, and a resourceless folk."

7 In other ways, too, Homer indicates that Oceanus surrounds the earth, as when Hera says as follows: "For I am going to visit the limits of the bountiful earth, and Oceanus, father of the gods." By these words he means that Oceanus touches all the extremities of the earth; and these extremities form a circle round the earth. Again, in the story of the making of the arms of Achilles, Homer places Oceanus in a circle round the outer edge of the shield of Achilles. It is another proof of the same eagerness for knowledge that Homer was not ignorant about the ebb and flow of the tide of Oceanus; for he speaks of "Oceanus that floweth ever back upon himself," and also says: "For thrice a day she10 spouts it forth, and thrice a day she sucks it down." For even if it be "twice" and not "thrice" — it may be that Homer really strayed from the fact on this point, or else that there is a corruption in the text11 — the principle of his assertion remains the same. And even the phrase "gently-flowing" contains a reference to the flood-tide, which comes with a gentle p15swell, and not with a violent current. Poseidonius conjectures both from Homer's reference to the headlands as sometimes covered with the waves and sometimes bare, and from his calling Oceanus a river, that by the current of Oceanus Homer is indicating the flow of the tides. The first conjecture of Poseidonius is correct, but the second is unreasonable. For the swell of the tide is not like a stream of a river, and still less so is the ebb. The explanation given by Crates is more plausible. Homer speaks of the whole of Oceanus as "deep-flowing" and "back-flowing," and, likewise, as being a river; 5he also speaks of a part of Oceanus as a river, or as a "river-stream"; and he is speaking of a part of Oceanus, and not of the whole, when he says" "Now after the ship had left the river-stream of Oceanus, and was come to the wave of the wide sea." Not the whole, I say, but the stream of the river, which stream is in Oceanus, being therefore a part of it and this stream, Crates says, is a sort of estuary or gulf, which stretches from the winter tropic12 in the direction of the south pole. Indeed, one might leave this estuary and still be in Oceanus; but it is not possible for a man to leave the whole and still be in the whole. At any rate Homer says: "The ship had left the river-stream, and was come to the wave of the sea," where "the sea" is surely nothing other than Oceanus; if you interpret it otherwise, the assertion becomes: "After Odysseus had gone out of Oceanus, he came into Oceanus." But that is a matter to be discussed at greater length.

p17 8 We may learn both from the evidence of our senses and from experience that the inhabited world is an island; for wherever it has been possible for man to reach the limits of the earth, sea has been found, and this sea we call "Oceanus." And wherever we have not been able to learn by the evidence of our sense, there reason points the way. For example, as to the eastern (Indian) side of the inhabited earth, and the western (Iberian and Maurusian) side, one may sail wholly around them and continue the voyage for a considerable distance along the northern and southern regions; and as for the rest of the distance around the inhabited earth which has not been visited by us up to the present time (because of the fact that the navigators who sailed in opposite directions towards each other never met), it is not of very great extent, if we reckon from the parallel distances that have been traversed by us. It is unlikely that the Atlantic Ocean is divided into two seas, thus being separated by isthmuses so narrow and that prevent the circumnavigation; it is more likely that it is one confluent and continuous sea. For those who undertook circumnavigation, and turned back without having achieved their purpose, say that they were made to turn back, not because of any continent that stood in their way and hindered their further advance, inasmuch as the sea still continued open as before, but because of their destitution and loneliness. This theory accords better, too, with the behaviour of the ocean, that, in respect of the ebb and flow of the tides; everywhere, at all events, the same principle, or else one that does not vary much, accounts for the changes both of high tide and low p19tide,13 as would be the case if their movements were produced by one sea and were the result of one cause.

9 Hipparchus is not convincing when he contradicts this view on the ground, first, that the ocean does not behave uniformly throughout, 6and, secondly, that, even if this be granted, it does not follow that the Atlantic Ocean runs round the earth in one unbroken circle. In support of his opinion that the ocean does not behave uniformly he appeals to the authority of Seleucus of Babylon. But for a further discussion of the ocean and its tides I refer the reader to Poseidonius and Athenodorus, who have examined the argument on this subject with thoroughness. For my present purpose I merely add that it is better to accept this view of the uniform behaviour of the ocean; and that the farther the mass of water may extend around the earth, the better the heavenly bodies will be held together by the vapours that arise therefrom.14

10 Homer, then, knows and clearly describes the remote ends of the inhabited earth and what surrounds it; and he is just as familiar with the regions of the Mediterranean Sea. For if you begin at the Pillars of Heracles,15 you will find that the Mediterranean Sea is bounded by Libya, Egypt, and Phoenicia, and further on by the part of the continent lying over against Cyprus; then by the territory of the Solymi, by Lycia, and by Caria, and next by the seaboard between Mycale and the Troad, together with the islands adjacent thereto; and all these lands are p21mentioned by Homer, as well as those farther on, about the Propontis and the Euxine Sea as far as Colchis and the limits of Jason's expedition; more than that, he knows the Cimmerian Bosporus, because he knows the Cimmerians — for surely, if he knows the name of the Cimmerians, he is not ignorant of the people themselves — the Cimmerians who, in Homer's own time or shortly before his time, overran the whole country from the Bosporus to Ionia. At least he intimates that the very climate of their country is gloomy, and the Cimmerians, as he says, are "shrouded in mist and in cloud, and never does the shining sun look upon them, but deadly night is spread o'er them." Homer also knows of the River Ister,16 since he mentions Mysians, a Thracian tribe that lives on the Ister. More than that, he knows the sea-board next to the Ister, on the Thracian side, as far as the Peneus17 River; for he speaks of Paeonians, of Athos and Axius,18 and of their neighbouring islands. And next comes the sea-board of Greece, as far as Thesprotia, which he mentions in its entirety. And yet more, he knows the promontories of Italy also, for he speaks of Temesa and of Sicily; he also knows about the headland capes of Iberia, and of the wealth of Iberia, as I have stated above. If between these countries there are some countries which he leaves out, one might pardon him; for the professed geographer himself omits many details. And we might pardon the poet even if he has inserted things p23of a mythical nature in his historical and didactic narrative. 7That deserves no censure; for Eratosthenes is wrong in his contention that the aim of every poet is to entertain, not to instruct; indeed the wisest of the writers on poetry say, on the contrary, that poetry is a kind of elementary philosophy.19 But later on I shall refute Eratosthenes at greater length, when I come to speak of Homer again.

11 For the moment what I have already said is sufficient, I hope, to show that Homer was the first geographer. And, as every one knows, the successors of Homer in geography were also notable men and familiar with philosophy. Eratosthenes declares that the first two successors of Homer were Anaximander, a pupil and fellow-citizen of Thales, and Hecataeus of Miletus; that Anaximander was the first to publish a geographical map, and that Hecataeus left behind him a work on geography, a work believed to be his by reason of its similarity to his other writings.

12 Assuredly, however, there is need of encyclopaedic learning for the study of geography, as many men have already stated; and Hipparchus, too, in his treatise Against Eratosthenes, correctly shows that it is impossible for any man, whether layman or scholar, to attain to the requisite knowledge of geography without the determination of the heavenly bodies and of the eclipses which have been observed; for instance, it is impossible to determine whether Alexandria in Egypt is north or south of Babylon, or how much north or south of Babylon it is, without investigation through the means of the "climata."20 In p25like manner, we cannot accurately fix points that lie at varying distances from us, whether to the east or the west, except by a comparison of the eclipses of the sun and the moon.21 That, then, is what Hipparchus says on the subject.

13 All those who undertake to describe the distinguishing features of countries devote special attention to astronomy and geometry, in explaining matters of shape, of size, of distances between points, and of "climata," as well as matters of heat and cold, and, in general, the peculiarities of the atmosphere. Indeed, an architect in constructing a house, or an engineer in founding a city, would make provision for all these conditions; and all the more would they be considered by the man whose purview embraced the whole inhabited world; for they concern him more than anyone else. Within the area of small countries it involves no very great discrepancy if a given place be situated more towards the north, or more towards the south; but when the area is that of the whole round of the inhabited world, the north extends to the remote confines of Scythia and Celtica,22 and the south to the remote confines of Ethiopia, and the difference between these two extremes is very great. The same thing holds true also as regards a man's living in India or Iberia; 8the one country is in the far east, and the other is in the far west; indeed, they are, in a sense, the antipodes of each other, as we know.

14 Everything of this kind, since it is caused by the movement of the sun and the other stars as well p27as by their tendency towards the centre,23 compels us to look to the vault of heaven, and to observe the phenomena of the heavenly bodies peculiar to our individual positions; and in these phenomena we see very great variations in the positions of inhabited place. So, if one is about to treat of the differences between countries, how can he discuss his subject correctly and adequately if he has paid no attention, even superficially, to any of these matters? For even if it be impossible in a treatise of this nature, because of its having a greater bearing on affairs of state, to make everything scientifically accurate, it will naturally be appropriate to do so, at least in so far as the man in public life is able to follow the thought.

15 Moreover, the man who has once thus lifted his thoughts to the heavens will surely not hold aloof from the earth as a whole; for it is obviously absurd, if a man who desired to give a clear exposition of the inhabited world had ventured to lay hold of the celestial bodies and to use them for the purposes of instruction, and yet had paid no attention to the earth as a whole, of which the inhabited world is just a part — neither as to its size, nor its character, nor its position in the universe, nor even whether the world is inhabited only in the one part in which we live, or in a number of parts, and if so, how many such parts there are; and likewise how large the uninhabited part is, what its nature is, and why it is uninhabited. It seems, then, that the special branch of geography represents a union of meteorology24 and geometry, since it unites terrestrial and celestial phenomena as p29being very closely related, and in no sense separated from each other "as heaven is high above the earth."

16 Well, then, to this encyclopaedic knowledge let us add terrestrial history — that is, the history of animals and plants and everything useful or harmful that is produced by land or sea (this definition will, I think, make clear what I mean by "terrestrial history"). In fact all such studies are important as preliminary helps toward complete understanding. And to this knowledge of the nature of the land, and of the species of animals and plants, we must add a knowledge of all that pertain to the sea; for in a sense we are amphibious, and belong no more to the land than to the sea. That the benefit is great to anyone who has become possessed of information of this character, is evident both from ancient traditions and from reason. At any rate, the poets declare that the wisest heroes were those who visited many places and roamed over the world; for the poets regard it as a great achievement to have "seen the cities and known the minds of many men." Nestor boasts of having lived among the Lapithae, to whom he had gone as an invited guest, "from a distant land afar — for of themselves they summoned me." Menelaus, too, makes a similar boast, when he says: "I roamed over Cyprus and Phoenicia and Egypt, and came to Ethiopians and Sidonians and Erembians and Libya" p31— and at this point he added the distinctive peculiarity of the country — "where lambs are horned from the birth; for there the ewes yean thrice within the full circle of the year." 9And in speaking of Thebes in Egypt, he says that Egypt is the country "where earth the grain-giver yields herbs in plenty"; and again he says: "Thebes of the hundred gates, whence sally forth two hundred warriors though each, with horses and chariots." And doubtless it was because of Heracles' wide experience and information that Homer speaks of him as the man who "had knowledge of great adventures." And my contention, made at the outset, is supported by reason as well as by ancient tradition. And that other argument, it seems to me, is adduced with especial force in reference to present-day conditions, namely, that the greater part of geography subserves the needs of states; for the scene of the activities of states is land and sea, the dwelling-place of man. The scene is small when the activities are of small importance, and large when they are of large importance; and the largest is the scene that embraces all the rest (which we call by the special name of "the inhabited world") and this, therefore, would be the scene of activities of the largest importance. Moreover, the greatest generals are without exception men who are able to hold sway over land and sea, and to unite nations and cities under one government and political administration. It is therefore plain that geography as a whole has a direct bearing upon the activities of commanders; for it describes continents p33and seas — not only the sea inside the limits of the whole inhabited world, but also those outside these limits. And the description which geography gives is of importance to these men who are concerned as to whether this or that is so or otherwise, and whether known or unknown. For thus they can manage their various affairs in a more satisfactory manner, if they know how large a country is, how it lies, and what are its peculiarities either of sky or soil. But because different kings rule in different quarters of the world, and carry on their activities from different centres and starting-points, and keep extending the borders of their empires, it is impossible either for them or for geographers to be equally familiar with all parts of the world; nay, the phrase "more or less" is a fault much in evidence in kings and geographers. For even if the whole inhabited world formed one empire or state, it would hardly follow that all parts of that empire would be equally well known; nay, it would not be true even in that case, but the nearer regions would be better known. And it would be quite proper to describe these regions in greater detail, in order to make them known, for they are also nearer to the needs of the state. Therefore it would not be remarkable even if one person were a proper chorographer for the Indians, another for the Ethiopians, and still another for the Greeks and Romans. 10For example, wherein would it be proper for the Indian geographer to add details about Boeotia such as Homer gives: "These were they that dwelt in Hyria and rocky Aulis and Schoenus and Scolus"? For me these details are proper; but when I come to treat India it is no longer proper to add such details; and, in fact, utility does p35not urge it — and utility above all things is our standard in empirical matters of this kind.

17 The utility of geography in matters of small concern, also, is quite evident; for instance, in hunting. A hunter will be more successful in the chase if he knows the character and extent of the forest; and after, only one who knows a region can advantageously pitch camp there, or set an ambush, or direct a march. The utility of geography is more conspicuous, however, in great undertakings, in proportion as the prizes of knowledge and the disasters that result from ignorance are greater. Thus Agamemnon and his fleet ravaged Mysia in the belief that it was Troy-land, and came back home in disgrace. And, too, the Persians and the Libyans, surmising that the straits were blind alleys, not only came near great perils, but they left behind them memorials of their folly, for the Persians raised the tomb on the Euripus near Chalcis in honour of Salganeus, whom they executed in the belief that he had treacherously conducted their fleet from the Gulf of Malis25 to the Euripus, and the Libyans erected the monument in honour of Pelorus, whom they put to death for a similar reason;26 and Greece was covered with wrecks of vessels on the occasion of the expedition of Xerxes; and again, the colonies sent out by the Aetolians and by the Ionians have furnished many examples of similar blunders. There have also been cases of success, in which success was due to acquaintance with the regions involved; for instance, at the pass of Thermopylae it is said that Ephialtes, p37by showing the Persians the pathway across the mountains, put Leonidas and his troops at their mercy, and brought the Persians south of Thermopylae. But leaving antiquity, I believe that modern campaign of the Romans against the Parthians27 is a sufficient proof of what I say, and likewise that against the Germans and the Celts, for in the latter case the barbarians carried on a guerilla warfare in swamps, in pathless forests, and in deserts;28 and they made the ignorant Romans believe to be far away with was really near at hand, and kept them in ignorance of the roads and of the facilities for procuring provisions and other necessities.

18 Now just as the greater part of geography, as I have said, has a bearing on the life and the needs of rulers, so also does the greater part of the theory of ethics and the theory of politics have a bearing on the life of rulers. And the proof of this is the fact that we distinguish the differences between the constitutions of states by the sovereignties in those states, 11in that we call one sovereignty the monarchy or kingship, another the aristocracy, and still another the democracy. And we have a corresponding number of constitutions of states, which we designate by the names of the sovereignties, because it is from these that they derive the fundamental principle of their specific nature; for in one country the will of the king is law, in another the will of those of highest rank, and in another the will of the p39people. It is the law that gives the type and the form of the constitution. And for that reason some have defined "justice" as "the interest of the more powerful."29 If, then, political philosophy deals chiefly with the rulers, and if geography supplies the needs of those rulers, then geography would seem to have some advantage over political science. This advantage, however, has to do with practice.

19 And yet, a work of geography also involves theory of no mean value, the theory of the arts, of mathematics, and of natural science, as well as the theory which lies in the fields of history and myths30 — though myths have nothing to do with practice; for instance, if a man should tell the story of the wanderings of Odysseus or Menelaus or Jason, it would not be thought that he was making any contribution to the practical wisdom of his hearers — and that is what the man of affairs demands — unless he should insert the useful lessons to be drawn from the hardships those heroes underwent; still, he would be providing no mean entertainment for the hearer who takes an interest in the regions which furnished the scenes of the myths. Men of affairs are fond of just such entertainment, because the localities are famous and the myths are charming; but they care for no great amount of it, since they are more interested in what is useful, and it is quite natural that they should be. For that reason the geographer, also, should direct his attention to the useful rather than to what is famous and charming. The same principle holds good in regard to history and the mathematical sciences; for in these branches, also, that which is useful and more trustworthy should always be given precedence.

p41 20 Most of all, it seems to me, we need, as I have said, geometry and astronomy for a subject like geography; and the need of them is real indeed; for without such methods as they offer it is not possible accurately to determine our geometrical figures, "climata,"31 dimensions, and the other cognate things; but just as these sciences prove for us in other treatises all that has to do with the measurement of the earth as a whole and as I must in this treatise take for granted that the universe is sphere-shaped,32 and also that the earth's surface is sphere-shaped, and, what is more, I must take for granted the law that is prior to these two principles, namely that the bodies tend toward the centre;33 and I need only indicate, in a brief and summary way, whether a proposition comes — if it really does — within the range of sense-perception or of intuitive knowledge. Take, for example, the proposition that the earth is sphere-shaped: whereas the suggestion of this proposition comes to us mediately from the law that bodies tend toward the centre and that each body inclines toward its own centre of gravity, the suggestion comes immediately from the phenomena observed at sea and in the heavens; 12for our sense-perception and also our intuition can bear testimony in the latter case. For instance, it is obviously the curvature of the sea that prevents sailors from seeing distant lights at an elevation equal to that of the eye; however, if they are at a higher elevation than that of the eye, they become visible, even though they be at a p43greater distance from the eyes; and similarly if the eyes themselves are elevated, they see what was before invisible. This fact is noted by Homer, also, for such is the meaning of the words: "With a quick glance ahead, being upborne on a great wave, [he saw the land very near]." So, also, when sailors are approaching land, the different parts of the shore become revealed progressively, more and more, and what at first appeared to be low-lying land grows gradually higher and higher. Again, the revolution of the heavenly bodies is evident on many grounds, but it is particularly evident from the phenomena of the sun-dial; and from these phenomena our intuitive judgment itself suggests that no such revolution could take place if the earth were rooted to an infinite depth.34 As regards the "climata,"35 they are treated in our discussion of the Inhabited Districts.

21 But at this point we must assume off-hand a knowledge of some matters, and particularly of all that is useful for the statesman and the general to know. For one should not, on the one hand, be so ignorant of the heavens and the position of the earth as to be alarmed when he comes to countries in which some of the celestial phenomena that are familiar to everybody have changed, and to exclaim: "My friends, lo, now we know not where is the place of darkness, nor of dawning, nor where the sun, that gives light to men, goes beneath the earth, nor where he rises"; nor, on the other hand, need one have such scientifically accurate knowledge as to know what constellations rise and set and pass the p45meridian at the same time everywhere; or as to know the elevations of the poles, the constellations that are in the zenith, and all other such changing phenomena as meet one according as he changes his horizons and arctic circles,36 whether those changes be merely visual, or actual as well. Nay, he should pay no attention at all to some of these things, unless it be in order to view them as a philosopher. But he should take some other things on faith, even if he does not see a reason for them; for the question of causes belongs to the student of philosophy alone, whereas the statesman does not have adequate leisure for research, or at least not always. However, the reader of this book should not be so simple-minded or indifferent as not to have observed a globe, 13or the circles drawn upon it, some of which are parallel, others drawn at right angles to the parallels, and still others oblique to them; or, again, so simple as not to have observed the position of tropics, equator, and zodiac — the region through which the sun is borne in his course and by his turning determines the different zones and winds. For if one have learned, even in a superficial way, about these matters, and about the horizons and the arctic circles and all the other matters taught in the elementary courses of mathematics, he will be able to follow what is said in this book. If, however, a man does not know even what a straight line is, or a curve, or a circle, nor the difference between a spherical and a plane surface, and if, in the heavens, he have not learned even the seven stars of the Great Bear, or anything else of that kind, either he will have no use for this book, or else p47not at present — in fact, not until he has studied those topics without which he cannot be familiar with geography. And so those who have written the treatises entitled Harbours and Coasting Voyages leave their investigations incomplete, if they have failed to add all at mathematical and astronomical information which properly belonged in their books.

22 In short, this book of mine should be generally useful — useful alike to the statesman and to the public at large — as was my work on History.37 In this work, as in that, I mean by "statesman," not the man who is wholly uneducated, but the man who has taken the round of courses usual in the case of freemen or of students of philosophy. For the man who has given no thought to virtue and to practical wisdom, and to what has been written about them, would not be able even to form a valid opinion either in censure or in praise; nor yet to pass judgment upon the matters of historical fact that are worthy of being recorded in this treatise.

23 And so, after I had written my Historical Sketches,37 which have been useful, I suppose, for moral and political philosophy, I determined to write the present treatise also; for this work itself is based on the same plan, and is addressed to the same class of readers, and particularly to men of exalted stations in life. Furthermore, just as in my Historical Sketches only the incidents in the lives of distinguished men are recorded, while deeds that are petty and ignoble are omitted, so in this work p49also I must leave untouched what is petty and inconspicuous, and devote my attention to what is noble and great, and to what contains the practically useful, or memorable, or entertaining. Now just as in judging of the merits of colossal statues we do not examine each individual part with minute care, but rather consider the general effect and endeavour to see if the statue as a whole is pleasing, so should this book of mine be judged. 14For it, too, is a colossal work, in that it deals with the facts about large things only, and wholes, except as some petty thing may stir the interest of the studious or the practical man. I have said thus much to show that the present work is a serious one, and one worthy of a philosopher.


The Editor's Notes:

1 For Strabo's definition of Libya see 17.3.1.

2 "Cave-dwellers." They lived on the western shores of the Red Sea.

3 What is now Portugal and Spain.

4 See page 107.

5 Strabo has in mind the Canary Islands.

6 That is, Morocco, approximately.

7 For the meaning of the term "arctic circle" among the ancients, see 2.2.2 and footnote.

8 Crates emended Homer's feminine form of the adjective for "alone" (οἴη) to the masculine form (οἶος), so as to make it agree with "arctic circle" and not with "Bear."

9 Heracleitus, with his usual obscurity, divides the heavens roughly into four quarters, viz.: the Bear (north), morning (east), evening (west), and the region opposite the Bear (south). Strabo's interpretation of Heracleitus as regards the "arctic circle" is altogether reasonable.

10 Homer here refers to Charybdis. Strabo himself seems to be doing Homer an injustice by confusing the behaviour of Charybdis with the tides of Oceanus.

11 See 1.2.16, where Polybius is referred to as making a similar statement.

12 Strabo placed the "summer tropic" and winter tropic" respectively at 24° north and south of the equator. They correspond, therefore, pretty closely to our Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

13 See 1.3.7 and 1.3.12.

14 A doctrine of the Stoics.

15 See 3.5.5 for the different conceptions of what the Pillars were.

16 Danube.

17 Salambria.

18 The River Vardar.

19 Strabo discusses the point more fully in 1.2.3.

20 Hipparchus took as a basis of calculation for latitudes and longitudes a principal parallel of latitude through the Pillars of Hercules and the Gulf of Issus, and a principal meridian through Alexandria. He then drew parallels of latitude through various well-known places, and thus formed belts of latitude which he called "climata." By means of the solstitial day he determined the width of each "clima," differences of latitude, and so on. But Strabo uses the term primarily in reference to the parallels of latitude themselves.

Thayer's Note: For fuller information, see the article Clima in Smith's Dictionary.

21 That is, by a comparison of the observations of the same eclipse, made from the different points of observation.

22 France, approximately.

23 See § 20 (following), and footnote.

24 The Greek word here includes our science of astronomy as well as our science of meteorology.

25 Lamia. See 9.2.9.

26 Pelorus tried to conduct the Carthaginians through the Strait of Messina.

27 Under Augustus and Tiberius no Roman army invaded Parthia, apparently. Strabo must be thinking of the campaign of Crassus or of that of Antony — or of both campaigns.

28 The campaign of Drusus, apparently, which he carried on till his death in 9 B.C. But if Niese's theory be accepted as to the time when Strabo wrote (see Introduction, pp. xxiv ff.), or if the above reference was inserted in a revised edition about 18 A.D. (p. xxv), then we might assume that allusion is made to the destruction of the Roman legions under Varus in 9 A.D. — to which Strabo refers in 7.1.4.

29 The definition ascribed to Thrasymachus, Plato's Republic, 1.12.

30 Strabo has in mind his theory (which he often takes occasion to uphold) as to the comparative mythical and historical elements in Homer and other poets.

31 See footnote 2, page 22.

32 Strabo uses the word in its literal sense of "sphere-shaped," and not in its geometrical sense. The spheroidicity of the earth in the modern sense appears not to have been suspected until the seventeenth century. (See 2.5.5.)

Thayer's Note: A note that though precisely worded is poorly written, and will confuse many, as it did me. By the casually used natural Greek compound σφαιροειδῆ Strabo means "looking like" a sphere, i.e., he is referring to a sphere (generated by rotating a circle about its diameter); and not to what modern science now calls a spheroid (generated by rotating an ellipse about one of its diameters).

Strabo, like other educated people in classical Antiquity, knew that the earth is a sphere, as became known again in western Europe well before the 17c; but not that it isn't a perfect sphere, but rather a spheroid: that's the 17c discovery.

33 Strabo here means all the heavenly bodies. According to his conception, the earth was stationary and all the heavenly bodies revolved about the earth from east to west, the heavens having the same centre as the earth. The Greek word ἄρτημα, here used figuratively, mean a weight suspended by a cord or otherwise. Strabo means that each body is moored, as it were, from its own respective position of suspension to the centre of the earth.

34 This was the doctrine of Xenophanes and Anaximenes.

35 See footnote 2, page 22.

36 See 2.2.2, and footnote.

37a 37b Strabo refers to his historical work (now lost) as his Historical Sketches and also as his History. The work contained both of these, and comprised forty-seven books, covering the course of events prior to the opening and subsequent to the close of the History of Polybius. The first part was merely an outline of historical events, while the latter part presented a complete history from 146 B.C. to the time of the Empire.


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