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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


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

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. I) Strabo

 p49  Book I Chapter 2 (beginning)

1 (14) If I, too, undertake to write upon a subject that has been treated by many others before me, I should not be blamed therefor, unless I prove to have discussed the subject in every respect as have my predecessors. Although various predecessors have done excellent work in various fields of geography, yet I assume that a large portion of the work still remains to be done; and if I shall be able to make even small additions to what they have said, that must be regarded as a sufficient excuse for my undertaking. Indeed, the spread of the empires of the Romans and of the Parthians has presented to geographers of to‑day a considerable addition to our empirical knowledge of geography, just as did the campaign of Alexander to geographers of earlier times, as Eratosthenes points out. For Alexander  p51 opened up for us geographers a great part of Asia and all the northern part of Europe as far as the Ister38 River; the Romans have made known all the western part of Europe as far as the River Albis39 (which divides Germany into two parts), and that regions beyond the Ister as far as the Tyras40 River; and Mithridates, surnamed Eupator, and his generals have made known the regions beyond the Tyras as far as Lake Maeotis41 and the line of coast that ends at Colchis;42 and, again, the Parthians have increased our knowledge in regard to Hyrcania and Bactriana, and in regard to the Scythians who live north of Hyrcania and Bactriana, all of which countries were but imperfectly known to the earlier geographers. I therefore may have something more to say than my predecessors. This will become particularly apparent in what I shall have to say in criticism of my predecessors, but my criticism has less to do with the earliest geographers than with the successors of Eratosthenes and Eratosthenes himself. For it stands to reason that because Eratosthenes and his successors have had wider knowledge than most geographers, it will be correspondingly more difficult for a later geographer to expose their errors if they say anything amiss. And if I shall, on occasion, be compelled to contradict the very men whom in all other respects I follow most closely, I beg to be pardoned; for it is not my purpose to contradict every individual geographer, but rather to leave the most of them out of consideration — men whose arguments it is unseemly even to follow — and to pass upon the opinion of those men whom we recognize to have been correct in most cases. Indeed, to engage in philosophical  p53 discussion with everybody is unseemly, but it is honourable to do so with Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Poseidonius, Polybius, and others of their type.

2 15First, I must consider Eratosthenes, at the same time setting forth the objections which Hipparchus urges against the statements of Eratosthenes. Now Eratosthenes is not so open to attack as to warrant my saying that he never saw even Athens, as Polemon undertakes to prove; nor, on the other hand, is he so trustworthy as some have been taught to believe that he is — notwithstanding the fact that he had been associated with many eminent men, as he himself tells us. "For," says he, "philosophers gathered together at this particular time, as never before within one wall or one city; I refer to those who flourished in the time of Ariston and Arcesilaus." But I do not think that sufficient; what we need is a clear-cut judgment as to what teachers we should choose to follow. But he places Arcesilaus and Ariston at the head of the scholars who flourished in his day and generation; and Apelles is much in evidence with him, and so is Bion, of whom he says: "Bion was the first to drape philosophy in embroidered finery"; and yet he states that people frequently applied to Bion the words: "Such a [thigh] as Bion [shews] from out his rags."43 Indeed, in these very statements Eratosthenes reveals a serious infirmity in his own judgment; and because of this infirmity, although he himself studied in Athens under Zeno of Citium, he makes  p55 no mention of any of Zeno's successors, but speaks of those men who dissented from the teachings of Zeno and who failed to establish a school that lived after them as "flourishing" at that particular time. His treatise entitled On the Good, also, and his Studies in Declamation, and whatever else he wrote of this nature, go to show his tendency, namely, that of the man who is constantly vacillating between his desire to be a philosopher and his reluctance to devote himself entirely to this profession, and who therefore succeeds in advancing only far enough to have the appearance of being a philosopher; or of the man who has provided himself with this as a diversion44 from his regular work, either for his pastime or even amusement; and in a sense Eratosthenes displays this tendency in his other writings, too. But let this pass; for my present purpose I must correct Eratosthenes' geography as far as possible; and first, on the point which I deferred a while ago.45

3 As I was saying, Eratosthenes contends that the aim of every poet is to entertain, not to instruct. The ancients assert, on the contrary, that poetry is a kind of elementary philosophy, which, taking us in our very boyhood, introduces us to the art of life and instructs us, with pleasure to ourselves, in character, emotions, and actions. And our School46 goes still further and contends that the wise man alone is a poet. That is the reason why in Greece the various states educate the young, at the very beginning of their education, by means of poetry; not for the mere sake of entertainment, of course, but for the sake of moral discipline. 16Why, even the musicians, when they give instruction in singing, in  p57 lyre-playing, origin flute-playing, lay claim to this virtue, for they maintain that these studies tend to discipline and correct the character. You may hear this contention made not merely by the Pythagoreans, but Aristoxenus also declares the same thing. And Homer, too, has spoken of the bards as disciplinarians in morality, as when he says of the guard of Clytaemnestra: "Whom the son of Atreus as he went to Troy strictly charged to keep watch over his wife"; and he adds that Aegisthus was unable to prevail over Clytaemnestra until "he carried the bard to a lonely isle and left him there — while as for her, he led her to his house, a willing lady with a willing lover." But, even apart from this, Eratosthenes contradicts himself; for shortly before the pronouncement above-mentioned, and at the very beginning of his treatise on geography, he says that from the earliest times all the poets have been eager to display their knowledge of geography; that Homer, for instance, made a place in his poems for everything that he had learned about the Ethiopians and the inhabitants of Egypt and Libya, and that he has gone into superfluous detail in regard to Greece and the neighbouring countries, speaking of Thisbe as the "haunt of doves," Haliartus as "grassy," Anthedon as "on the uttermost borders," Lilaea as "by the springs of Cephisus"; and he adds that Homer never lets fall an inappropriate epithet. Well then, I ask, is the poet who makes use of these epithets like a person engaged in entertaining, or in  p59 instructing? "The latter, of course," you reply; "but while these epithets have been used by him for purposes of instruction, everything beyond the range of observation has been filled, not only by Homer but by others also, with mythical marvels." Eratosthenes, then, should have said that "every poet writes partly for purposes of mere entertainment and partly for instruction"; but his words were "mere entertainment and not instruction." And Eratosthenes gives himself quite unnecessary pains when he asks how it contributes to the excellence of the poet for him to be an expert in geography, or in generalship, or in agriculture, or in rhetoric, or in any kind of special knowledge with which some people have wished to "invest" him. Now the desire to "invest" Homer with all knowledge might be regarded as characteristic of a man whose zeal exceeds the proper limit, just as would be the case if a man — to use a comparison of Hipparchus — should hang apples and pears, or anything else that it cannot bear, on an Attic "eiresione";47 so absurd it would be to "invest" Homer with all knowledge and with every art. You may be right, Eratosthenes, on that point, but you are wrong when you deny to Homer the possession of vast learning, and go on to declare that poetry is a fable-prating old wife, who has been permitted to "invent" (as you call it) whatever she deems suitable for purposes of entertainment. 17What, then? Is no contribution made, either, to the excellence of him who hears the poets recited? I again refer to the poet's being an expert in geography, or generalship, or agriculture, or rhetoric, the subjects in which the poet naturally "invests" the hearer with special knowledge.

 p61  4 Assuredly Homer has attributed all knowledge of this kind, at least, to Odysseus, whom he adorns beyond his fellows with every kind of excellence; for his Odysseus "of many men the towns did see and minds did learn," and he is the man who "is skilled in all the ways of wile and cunning device." Odysseus is continually spoken of as "the sacker of cities" and as the capturer of Troy "by means of his counsels and his persuasiveness and his deceitful arts"; and Diomedes says of him: "But while he cometh with me, even out of burning fire might we both return." More than that, Odysseus prides himself on being a farmer. For instance, with round to reaping he says: "In the deep grass might the match be, and might I have a crooked scythe, and thou another like it"; and with regard to ploughing: "Then shouldst thou see me, whether or no I would cut a clean furrow unbroken before me." And not only does Homer thus possess wisdom about these matters, but all enlightened men cite the poet as a witness whose words are true, to prove that practical experience of this kind contributes in the highest degree to wisdom.

5 Rhetoric is, to be sure, wisdom applied to discourse; and Odysseus displays this gift throughout the entire Iliad, in the Trial, in the Prayers, and in the Embassy, where Homer says: "But when  p63 he uttered his great voice from his chest, and words like unto the snowflakes of winter, then could no mortal man contend with Odysseus." Who, then, can assume that the poet who is capable of introducing other men in the rôle of orators, or of generals, or in other rôles that exhibit the accomplishments of excellence, is himself but one of the buffoons or jugglers, capable only of bewitching and flattering his hearer but not of helping him? Nor can we assume that any excellence of a poet whatever is superior to that which enables him to imitate life through the means of speech. How, then, can a man imitate life if he has no experience of life and is a dolt? Of course we do not speak of the excellence of a poet in the same sense as we speak of that of a carpenter or a blacksmith; for their excellence depends upon no inherent nobility and dignity, whereas the excellence of a poet is inseparably associated with the excellence of the man himself, and it is impossible for one to become a good poet unless he has previously become a good man.

6 So, then, to deny the art of rhetoric to Homer is to disregard my position entirely. For what is so much a part of rhetoric as style?48 And what is so much a part of poetry? 18And who has surpassed Homer in style?49 "Assuredly," you answer, "but the style of poetry is different from that of rhetoric." In species, yes; just as in poetry itself the style of tragedy differs from that of comedy, and in prose the style of history differs from that of forensic speech. Well then, would you assert that discourse is not a generic term, either, whose  p65 species are metrical discourse and prose discourse? Or, rather, is discourse, in its broadest sense, generic, while rhetorical discourse is not generic, and style andº excellence of discourse are not? — But prose and discourse — I mean artistic prose — is, I may say, an imitation of poetic discourse; for poetry, as an art, first came upon the scene and was first to win approval. Then came Cadmus, Pherecydes, Hecataeus, and their followers, with prose writings in which they imitated the poetic art, abandoning the use of metre but in other respects passing the qualities of poetry. Then subsequent writers took away, each in his turn, something of these qualities, and brought prose down to its present form, as from a sublime height. In the same way one might say that comedy took its structure from tragedy, but that it also has been degraded — from the sublime height of tragedy to its present "prose-like" style, as it is called. And further, the fact that the ancients used the verb "sing" instead of the verb "tell"50 bears witness to this very thing, namely, that poetry was the source and origin of style, I mean ornate, or rhetorical, style. For when poetry was recited, it employed the assistance of song; this combination formed melodic discourse, or "ode"; and from "ode" they began to use the terms rhapsody, tragedy, and comedy. Therefore, since "tell"50 was first used in reference to poetic "style"51 and since among the ancients this poetic style was accompanied by song, the term "sing" was to them equivalent to the term "tell"; and then after they had misused the former of these two terms by applying it to prose  p67 discourse, the misuse passed over to the latter term also. And, furthermore, the very fact that non-metrical discourse was termed "pedestrian" indicates its descent from a height, or from a chariot, to the ground.

7 Nor, indeed, is the statement of Eratosthenes true that Homer speaks only of places that are near by and in Greece; on the contrary, he speaks also of many places that are distant; and when Homer indulges in myths he is at least more accurate than the later writers, since he does not deal wholly in marvels, but for our instruction he also uses allegory, or revises myths, or curries popular favour, and particularly in his story of the wanderings of Odysseus; and Eratosthenes makes many mistakes when he speaks of these wanderings and declares that not only the commentators on Homer but also Homer himself are dealers in nonsense. But it is worth my while to examine these points more in detail.

8 19In the first place, I remark that the poets were not alone in sanctioning myths, for long before the poets the states and the lawgivers had sanctioned them as a useful expedient, since they had an insight into the natural affections of the reasoning animal; for man is eager to learn, and his fondness for tales is a prelude to this quality. It is fondness for tales, then, that induces children to give their attention to narratives and more and more to take part in them. The reason for this is that myth is a new language to them — a language that tells them, not of things as they are, but of a different set of things. And what is new is pleasing, and so is what one did not know before; and it is just this that makes men eager to  p69 learn. But if you add thereto the marvellous and the portentous, you thereby increase the pleasure, and pleasure acts as a charm to incite to learning. At the beginning we must needs make use of such bait for children, but as the child advances in years we must guide him to the knowledge of facts, when once his intelligence has become strong and no longer needs to be coaxed. Now every illiterate and uneducated man is, in a sense, a child, and, like a child, he is fond of stories; and for that matter, so is the half-educated man, for his reasoning faculty has not been fully developed, and, besides, the mental habits of his childhood persist in him. Now since the portentous is not only pleasing, but fear-inspiring as well, we can employ both kinds of myth for children, and for grown-up people too. In the case of children we employ the pleasing myths to spur them on, and the fear-inspiring myths to deter them; for instance, Lamia52 is a myth, and so are the Gorgon, and Ephialtes,53 and Mormolyce.54 Most of those who live in the cities are incited to emulation by the myths that are pleasing, when they hear the poets narrate mythical deeds of heroism, such as the Labours of Heracles of Theseus, or hear of honours bestowed by gods, or, indeed, when they see paintings or primitive images or works of sculpture which suggest any similar happy issue of fortune in mythology; but they are deterred from evil courses when, either through descriptions or through typical representations of objects unseen, they learn of divine punishments, terrors, and threats — or even  p71 when they merely believe that men have met with such experiences. For in dealing with a crowd of women, at least, or with any promiscuous mob, a philosopher cannot influence them by reason or exhort them to reverence, piety and faith; nay, there is need of religious fear also, and this cannot be aroused without myths and marvels. For thunderbolt, aegis, trident, torches, snakes, thyrsus-lances, — arms of the gods — are myths, and so is the entire ancient theology. But the founders of states gave their sanction to these things as bugbears wherewith to scare the simple-minded. 20Now since this is the nature of mythology, and since it has come to have its place in the social and civil scheme of life as well as in the history of actual facts, the ancients clung to their system of education for children and applied it up to the age of maturity; and by means of poetry they believed that they could satisfactorily discipline every period of life. But now, after a long time, the writing of history and the present-day philosophy have come to the front. Philosophy, however, is for the few, whereas poetry is more useful to the people at large and can draw full houses — and this is exceptionally true of the poetry of Homer. And the early historians and physicists were also writers of myths.

9 Now inasmuch as Homer referred his myths to the province of education, he was wont to pay considerable attention to the truth. "And he mingled therein" a false element also, giving his sanction to the truth, but using the false to win the favour of the populace and to out-general the masses.  p73 "And as when some skilful man overlays gold upon silver," just so was Homer wont to add a mythical element to actual occurrences, thus giving flavour and adornment to his style; but he has the same end in view as the historian or the person who narrates facts. So, for instance, he took the Trojan war, an historical fact, and decked it out with his myths; and he did the same in the case of the wanderings of Odysseus; but to hang an empty story of marvels on something wholly untrue is not Homer's way of doing things. For it occurs to us at once, doubtless, that a man will lie more plausibly if he will mix in some actual truth, just as Polybius says, when he is discussing the wanderings of Odysseus. This is what Homer himself means when he says of Odysseus: "So he told many lies in the likeness of truth;" for Homer does not say "all" but "many" lies; since otherwise they would not have been "in the likeness of truth." Accordingly, he took the foundations of his stories from history. For instance, history says that Aeolus was once king over the islands about Lipara, and that the Cyclopes and the Laestrygonians, inhospitable peoples, were lords over the region about Aetna and Leontine; and that for this reason the region about the Strait might not be visited by men of that time, and that Charybdis and the Rock of Scylla were infested by brigands. And from history we learn that the rest of the peoples mentioned by Homer lived in other parts of the world. And, too, it was on the basis of Homer's actual knowledge that the Cimmerians lived  p75 about the Cimmerian Bosporus, a gloomy country in the north, that he transferred them, quite appropriately, to a certain gloomy region in the neighbourhood of Hades — a region that suited the purpose of his mythology in telling of the wanderings of Odysseus. The writers of chronicles make it plain that Homer knew the Cimmerians, in that they fix the date of the invasion of the Cimmerians either a short time before Homer, or else in Homer's own time.

10 21And likewise it was on the basis of Homer's actual knowledge of the Colchians, of Jason's expedition to Aea, and of the stories of fact and fiction told about Circe and Medea regarding their use of magic potions and their general similarity of character, that he invented a blood-relationship between the two, although they lived so very far apart, the one in the remote recess of the Pontus, and the other in Italy, and also invented a residence for both of them out by Oceanus, though it may be that Jason wandered as far as Italy; for there are some indications that point to the wanderings of the Argonauts in the region of the Ceraunian Mountains,55 about the Adriatic Sea,56 in the Gulf of Poseidonia,57 and in the islands that lie off Tyrrhenia. And the Cyaneae58 also, which some call the Symplegades,59 furnished the poet an additional matter of fact, in that they made the passage through the mouth of the strait at Byzantium very difficult; so that when we compare the Aeaea of Circe with the Aea of Medea, and Homer's Planctae60 with the Symplegades,  p77 Jason's voyage through the Planctae was clearly plausible also; and so was Odysseus' passage between the Rocks, when we think of Scylla and Charybdis. Again, the men of Homer's day, in general, regarded the Pontic Sea as a kind of second Oceanus, and they thought that those who voyaged thither got beyond the limits of the inhabited world just as much as those who voyaged far beyond the pillars of Heracles; the Pontic Sea was thought to be the largest of the seas in our part of the world, and for that reason they applied to this particular sea the term "The Pontus," just as they spoke of Homer as "The Poet." Perhaps it was for that very reason that Homer transferred to Oceanus things that were true of the Pontus, in the belief that such a change would prove acceptable because of the prevailing notions in regard to the Pontus. And I think that since the Solymi occupied the loftiest peaks of the Taurus Range, I mean the peaks about Lycia as far as Pisidia, and since their country presented to people who lived north of the Taurus Range, and particularly to those who lived about the Pontus, the most conspicuous altitudes on the south — for this reason, on the strength of a certain similarity of position, these people too were transferred to the position out by Oceanus; for in speaking of Odysseus sailing on his raft he says: "Now the lord, the shaker of the earth, on his way from the Ethiopians espied Odysseus from afar, from the mountains of the Solymi."61 Perhaps Homer also borrowed his idea of the one-eyed Cyclopes from the history of Scythia;  p79 for it is reported that the Arimaspians are a one-eyed people — a people whom Aristeas of Proconnesus has made known in his Arimaspian Epic.

11 Having made these preliminary remarks, I must ask what people mean when they affirm that Homer places the wanderings of Odysseus in the region of Sicily and Italy? It is possible to accept this view in two senses, one better and the other worse. The better is to assume that Homer was convinced that those regions were the scene of the wanderings of Odysseus, and that, taking his hypothesis as fact, he elaborated the story in poetic fashion. 22So much may be said with propriety about Homer; at any rate one may find traces of the wanderings of Odysseus, and of several others, not only in the region of Italy, but also as far as the extreme frontiers of Iberia. But the worse is to accept Homer's elaboration of the story as history also, because the poet is obviously indulging in marvels when he tells of Oceanus, Hades, cattle of Helius, entertainment by goddesses, metamorphoses, huge Cyclopes and huge Laestrygonians, Scylla's shape, distances traversed on the voyage, and many other things of a similar nature. But, on the one hand, it is not worth while to refute one who so obviously misinterprets the poet — any more than it would be if one should contend that the return of Odysseus to Ithaca, the massacre of the suitors, and the fight which took place out in the country between the Ithacans and Odysseus, all happened precisely as described by the poet; nor, on the other hand, is it right to quarrel with the man who interprets Homer in a proper fashion.

 p81  12 Eratosthenes, however, has taken issue with both these answers to my question, and in so doing he is wrong; he is wrong as regards the second answer, in that he attempts to misrepresent things that are obviously fictitious and that do not deserve protracted discussion; and he is wrong as regards the first, because he declares that all poets are dealers in absurdities and thinks their knowledge either of places or of arts does not conduce to virtue. Again, because Homer lays the scenes of his myths not only in non-fictitious places, such as Ilion, Mt. Ida, and Mt. Pelion, but also in fictitious places, such as those in which the Gorgons and Geryon dwell, Eratosthenes says that the places mentioned in the story of the wanderings of Odysseus, also, belong to the category of fiction, and that the persons who contend that they are not fictitious but have a foundation in fact, stand convicted of error by the very fact that they do not agree among themselves; at any rate, that some of them put the Sirens on Cape Pelorias,62 while others put them more than two thousand stadia distant on the Sirenussae, which is the name given to a three-peaked rock that separates the Gulf of Cumae63 from the Gulf of Poseidonia.64 But neither does this rock have three peaks, nor does it run up into a peak at all; instead it is a sort of elbow that juts out, long and narrow, from the territory of Surrentum to the Strait of Capreae, with the sanctuary of the Sirens on one side of the hilly headland, while on the other side, looking towards the Gulf of Poseidonia, lie three uninhabited rocky little islands, called the Sirens, and on the Strait of Capreae itself  p83 is situated the sanctuary of Athene, from which the elbow takes its name.65

13 However, even if those who hand down to us our knowledge of the regions under consideration do not agree among themselves, we should not on that account set aside the entire body of that knowledge; indeed there are times when the account as a whole is all the more to be accepted for this reason. For example, suppose the question is raised whether the wanderings took place in the regions of Sicily and Italy, and whether the Siren Rocks are anywhere thereabouts: 23the man who places the Siren Rocks on Cape Pelorias is in disagreement with the man who places them on the Sirenussae, but neither disagrees with the man who says that the Siren Rocks are placed in the neighbourhood of Sicily and Italy; nay, they even add to the credibility of the third witness, because, though they do not name the self-same spot for the Rocks, yet, at all events, they have not gone beyond the regions of Italy and Sicily for them. Then, if some one adds that a monument of Parthenope, one of the Sirens, is shown in Neapolis, we have still further proof, although a third site has been introduced into the discussion. Furthermore, the fact that Neapolis also lies on this gulf (called by Eratosthenes the gulf of Cumae), which is formed by the Sirenussae, induces us to believe all the more firmly that the Sirens were in the neighbourhood of these places; for we do not demand of the poet that he should have inquired accurately into every detail, nor do we in our School demand scientific accuracy in his statements; yet, even so, we surely are not entitled to assume that Homer composed the story of the  p85 wanderings without any inquiry at all, either as to where or as to how they occurred.

14 But Eratosthenes conjectures that Hesiod learned by inquiry that the scene of the wanderings of Odysseus lay in the region of Sicily and Italy, and, adopting this belief, mentioned not only the places spoken of by Homer, but also Aetna, Ortygia (the little island next to Syracuse), and Tyrrhenia; and yet he contends that Homer knew nothing about these places and had no intention of placing the wanderings in any known regions. Now were Aetna and Tyrrhenia well-known places, but Scyllaeum, Charybdis, Circaeum, and the Sirenussae wholly unknown? Or was it the proper thing for Hesiod not to talk nonsense and to follow prevailing opinions, but the proper thing for Homer to "give utterance to every thought that comes to his inopportune tongue"? For apart from what I have said concerning the type of myth which it was proper for Homer to employ, most of the writers who discuss the same topics that Homer discusses, and also most of the various local traditions, can teach us that these matters are not fictions of poets nor yet of prose writers, but are traces of real persons and events.

15 Polybius also entertains correct views in regard to the wanderings of Odysseus, for he says that Aeolus, the man who taught navigators how to steer a course in the regions of the Strait of Messina, whose waters are subject to a constant ebb and flow and are difficult to navigate on account of the  p87 reverse currents, has been called lord of the winds and regarded as their king; and just as Danaüs, because he discovered the subterranean reservoirs of water in Argos, and Atreus, because he discovered that the sun revolves in a direction opposite to the movement of the heavens, were appointed kings; 24and just as the priests of the Egyptians, the Chaldaeans, and the Magi, because they excelled their fellows in knowledge of some kind or other, attained to leadership and honour among the peoples before our times; so, says Polybius, each one of the gods came to honour because he discovered something useful to man. Having said this much by way of preamble, Polybius insists that we shall not interpret Aeolus as a myth, nor yet the wanderings of Odysseus, as a whole; but that insignificant elements of myth have been added by the poet, just as had already been done in the case of the Trojan War, and that the scene of the whole story has been laid in the neighbourhood of Sicily by Homer as well as all the other writers who deal with local matters pertaining to Italy and Sicily. Neither does Polybius approve of this sort of declaration from Eratosthenes: "You will find the scene of the wanderings of Odysseus when you find the cobbler who sewed up the bag of the winds." And the description of Scylla by the poet, says Polybius, is in agreement with what takes place off the Scyllaean Rock and in the hunting of the "galeotae": "And there she fishes, swooping round the rock, for dolphins or for dog-fish, or whatso greater beast she may anywhere take." For when the tunny-fish, Polybius goes on to say, as they swim along in  p89 schools by the coast of Italy, meet with the current from the strait and are prevented from reaching Sicily, they fall a prey to the larger sea-animals, such as dolphins, dog-fish and cetaceans in general; and the "galeotae" (which are called both sword-fish and dog-fish) grow fat from the chase of the tunny-fish. Indeed, the same thing occurs here, and at the rise of the Nile and other rivers, as happens when there is a conflagration or a forest fire, namely, the assembled animals attempt to escape the fire or the flood and become prey of animals more powerful than themselves.

16 After making this statement Polybius goes on to describe the hunting of the "galeotae," which takes place off the Scyllaean Rock: one man on the look-out acts for all the fishermen, who lie in wait in many two-oared skiffs, two men in each skiff, one rowing and the other standing in the bow with his spear poised in hand. And when the man on the look-out signals the appearance of the "galeotes" (the creature swims along with a third of its body out of the water), and when the skiff draws near it, the man in the bow strikes the fish at close range, and then withdraws the spear-shaft, leaving the spear-head in the body of the fish; for the spear-head is barbed and loosely attached to the spear-shaft on purpose, and has a long line fastened to it. They pay out this line to the wounded fish until he becomes tired out by his struggles and his attempts at escape; then they tow him to the shore, or take him aboard the skiff — unless he be of enormous size. If the spear-shaft fall into the water, it is not lost; for it is made of both oak and pine wood, so that  p91 although the oaken end sinks because of its weight, the rest stays afloat and is easily recovered. 25It sometimes happens, says Polybius, that the man who rows the skiff is wounded through the bottom of the boat because of the great size of the sword of the "galeotae" and because the edge of the sword is sharp and biting like the wild boar's tusk. So, from such facts as these, Polybius concludes, one may conjecture that the wanderings of Odysseus took place in the neighbourhood of Sicily according to Homer, inasmuch as Homer attributed to Scylla that sort of fish-hunting which is most characteristic of Scyllaeum; and also from Homer's statements in regard to Charybdis, which correspond to the behaviour of the waters of the Strait. But the use of the word "thrice" instead of "twice" in the statement "for thrice a day she spouts it forth" is either an error of a copyist or an error of fact.

17 Furthermore, the facts about Meninx,66 continues Polybius, agree with what Homer says about the Lotus-Eaters. But if there be some discrepancy we must ascribe it to the changes wrought by time, or to ignorance, or to poetic license — which is compounded of history, rhetorical composition, and myth. Now the aim of history is truth, as when in the Catalogue of Ships the poet mentions the topographical peculiarities of each place, saying of one city that it is "rocky," of another that it is "on the uttermost border," of another that it is the "haunt of doves," and of still another that it is "by the sea"; the aim of most rhetorical composition is vividness, as when Homer introduces men fighting; the aim of myth is to please and  p93 to excite amazement. But to invent a story outright is neither plausible nor like Homer; for everybody agrees that the poetry of Homer is a philosophic production — contrary to the opinion of Eratosthenes, who bids us not to judge the poems with reference to their thought, nor yet to seek history in them. And Polybius says it is more plausible to interpret the poet's words, "Thence for nine days was I borne by baneful winds," as applying to a restricted area (for baneful winds do not maintain a straight course), than to place the incident out on Oceanus, as though the phrase had been "fair winds continually blowing." Now, if we reckon the distance from Cape Malea to the Pillars of Heracles at twenty-two thousand five hundred stadia, and if, says Polybius, we suppose that this distance was traversed at an even speed for those nine days, the distance covered each day would be two thousand five hundred stadia. But where do we find it recorded that anyone ever arrived at Alexandria from Lycia or Rhodes on the second day, though the distance is only four thousand stadia? And to those who ask the further question how it came about, if Odysseus touched Sicily three times, that he never once sailed through the Strait, Polybius replies that it was for the same reason that all later navigators have avoided that passage.

18 Such are the words of Polybius, and what he says is in the main correct. 26But when he demolishes the argument that places the wanderings of Odysseus on Oceanus, and when he reduces the nine days' voyage and the distances covered thereon to exact measurements, he reaches the height of  p95 inconsistency. For at one moment he quotes the words of the poet: "Thence for nine whole days was I borne by baneful winds"; and at another moment he suppresses statements. For Homer says also: "Now after the ship had left the river-stream of Oceanus"; and "In the island of Ogygia, where is the navel of the sea," going on to say that the daughter of Atlas lives there; and again, regarding the Phaeacians, "Far apart we live in the wash of the waves, the farthermost of men, and no other mortals are conversant with us." Now all these incidents are clearly indicated as being placed in fancy in the Atlantic Ocean; but Polybius by suppressing them destroys what the poet states in express terms. In so doing he is wrong; but he is right in placing the wanderings in the neighbourhood of Sicily and Italy; and the words of the poet are confirmed by the geographical terms of those regions. For what poet or prose writer ever persuaded the Neapolitans to name a monument after Parthenope the Siren, or the people of Cumae, of Dicaearchia,67 and of Vesuvius, to perpetuate the names of Pyriphlegethon, of the Acherusian Marsh, of the oracle of the dead at Lake Avernus, and of Baius and Misenus, two of the companions of Odysseus? The same question may be asked regarding Homer's stories of the  p97 Sirenussae, the Strait, Scylla, Charybdis, and Aeolus — stories which we should neither scrutinize rigorously, nor set aside as baseless and as without logical setting, having no claim to truthfulness or to utility as history.

19 Eratosthenes himself had a suspicion of this, for he says one may suppose that the poet wished to place the wanderings of Odysseus in the far west, but abandoned his purpose, partly because of his lack of accurate information, and partly because he had even preferred not to be accurate but rather to develop each incident in the direction of the more awe-inspiring and the more marvellous. Now Eratosthenes interprets rightly what Homer actually did, but wrongly his motive for doing it; for Homer's object was not to indulge in empty talk, but to do useful service. It is therefore right that Eratosthenes should submit to examination both on this point and on his assertion that far distant places are made the scenes of Homer's marvellous stories because of the fact that it is safer to fabricate about them. For his stories of marvels whose scenes are laid in distant places are very few in number in comparison with those laid in Greece or in countries near Greece; as such I may mention the stories about the labours of Heracles and Theseus, and the myths whose scenes are laid in Crete and Sicily and in the other islands, and on Cithaeron, Helicon, Parnassus, Pelion, and in various places in Attica or in the Peloponnesus. 27No one accuses the myth-makers of ignorance because of the myths they create; furthermore, since the poets, and Homer in particular, do not narrate pure myths simply but more often use mythical elements as additions to fact, the man who investigates what  p99 mythical additions the ancients make does not seek to discover whether the additions were once true or are true to‑day, but rather seeks to discover the truth in regard to the places to which, or the persons to whom, these mythical elements are added; for instance, in regard to the wanderings of Odysseus, whether they took place and, if so, where.

20 Generally speaking, it is wrong to place the poetry of Homer on the same level with that of other poets, and to decline to rank him above them in any respect, and particularly in the subject that now occupies our attention, namely, geography. For if you did no more than go over the Triptolemus of Sophocles or the prologue to the Bacchae of Euripides, and then compare Homer's care with respect to geographical matters, it would be easy for you to perceive this difference, which lies on the surface. Indeed, wherever there is need of an orderly sequence in the places he mentions, Homer is careful to preserve that order, not only in regard to places in Greece, but equally in regard to those beyond the limits of Greece: "They strove to pile Ossa on Olympus, and on Ossa Pelion with the trembling forest leaves"; "And Hera, rushing down, left the peak of Olympus, and touched on Pieria and pleasant Emathia, and sped over the snowy hills of the Thracian horsemen; and she went from Athos across the sea." In the Catalogue of Ships he does not, indeed, mention the cities in their order, for that was not necessary,  p101 but he does mention the peoples in their order. And so in case of the peoples remote from Greece: "I roamed over Cyprus and Phoenicia and Egypt, and reached the Ethiopians and Sidonians and Erembians and Libya"; Hipparchus also noted this fact. But Sophocles and Euripides, even where there is need of orderly sequence — the latter when he describes the visits of Dionysus to the various peoples, and the former when he tells Triptolemus visiting the earth that is being sown with seed — both poets, I say, bring near together regions that are very widely separated, and separate those that are contiguous: "I have left behind me," says Dionysus, "the gold-bearing glades of Lydia and of Phrygia, and I have visited the sun-stricken plains of Persia, the walled towns of Bactria, the wintry lands of the Medes, and Arabia the Blest." And Triptolemus does the same sort of thing. Again, in the case of the "climata"68 and of the winds, Homer displays the breadth of his geographical knowledge; for in marking the sites of places he often touches upon both these points too: 28"Now Ithaca lies low, uppermost on the sea-line towards the darkness, but those others face the dawning and the sun";69 "Two gates there are, the one set toward the north wind, but the other toward the south"; "Whether they fare to the right, to the dawn and to the sun, or to the left, to darkness." In point of fact, Homer  p103 regards ignorance of these matters as tantamount to utter confusion in all particulars: "My friends, lo, we know not where is the place of darkness or of dawning, nor where the sun." In still another passage Homer is accurate when he speaks of "the north wind and the west wind that blow from Thrace" but Eratosthenes puts a false interpretation upon these words and falsely accuses the poet, as though he were making the universal statement that the west wind blows from Thrace; whereas Homer is not speaking in a universal sense, but refers to the time when these two winds meet in the Gulf of Melas70 upon the Thracian Sea, which is a part of the Aegean itself. For Thrace, running out into a promontory at the point where Thrace borders on Macedonia, takes a turn towards the west, and, thus projecting into the sea, gives the impression to the people in Thasos, Lemnos, Imbros, Samothrace, and on the sea that lies round about those islands, that the west winds actually blow from Thrace; precisely as, for Attica, they seem to come from the Scironian Rocks; and it is from these that the west winds, and particularly the north-west winds, get their name "Scirones." But Eratosthenes did not perceive this, though he suspected it; at any rate he himself describes the turn of the coast which I have mentioned. In any case, he interprets Homer's verse as a universal statement, and then charges the poet with ignorance, on the ground that, while the west wind blows from the west and from Iberia, Thrace does not extend so far west. Now is Homer really unaware that the west wind blows from the west? But Homer  p105 keeps it in its own proper place when he says: "The east wind and the south wind clashed, and the stormy west and the north." Or is he unaware that Thrace does not extend westward beyond the mountains of Paeonia and Thessaly? But he knows and correctly names the Thracian country as well as the country contiguous to it, both the sea-coast and the interior; and while he lists Magnesians, Malians, and the Hellenes next after them as far as the Thesprotians, and likewise the Dolopians and Sellans about Dodona, next neighbours to the Paeonians, as far as Acheloüs, yet he mentions no Thracians further west. And besides, Homer has a special fondness for the sea that lies nearest his home and is best-known to him, as is shown when he says: 29"And the assembly swayed like high waves of the Icarian deep."

21 There are some writers who say that there are only two principal winds, Boreas and Notus; and that the rest of the winds differ from these only by a slight variation of direction — Eurus blowing from the direction of summer sunrise,71 Apeliotes from the direction of winter sunrise,72 Zephyrus from the direction of summer sunset,73 Argestes from the direction of winter sunset.74 And to prove that there are only two winds they adduce the testimony of Thrasyalces75 and of Homer himself, on the ground that Homer assigns Argestes to Notus in the phrase "of Argestes Notus," and Zephyrus to  p107 Boreas in the verse: "Boreas and Zephyrus that blow from Thrace." But Poseidonius says that none of the recognised authorities on these matters, such as Aristotle, Timosthenes, and Bion the astrologer, have taught any such doctrine about the winds; rather do they maintain that Caecias is the name of the wind that blows from the direction of summer sunrise, while Lips is the name of the wind that blows diametrically opposite to Caecias from the direction of winter sunset; and again, that Eurus is the name of the wind that blows from the direction of winter sunrise, while Argestes is its opposite; and that the winds that lie between these are Apeliotes and Zephyrus. He says further that when Homer speaks of "the boisterous Zephyrus" he means what we call Argestes; that Homer's "clear-blowing Zephyrus" is what we call Zephyrus, and that Homer's "Argestes Notus" is our Leuconotus; for Leuconotus causes very few clouds, while Notus proper is somewhat cloudy: "Even as when Zephyrus divideth the clouds of Argestes Notus, smiting with deep storm." Homer here means "the boisterous Zephyrus," which usually scatters the thin clouds assembled by Leuconotus; for in this passage "Argestes" is applied to "Notus" as an epithet. Such, then, are the corrections that must be made to the remarks of Eratosthenes at the beginning of the first chapter of his Geography.

22 But, persisting in his false assumptions, Eratosthenes says that Homer does not even know that there are several mouths of the Nile, nor yet does he know the real name of the river, though Hesiod knows, for he mentions it. Now, as to the  p109 name, it is likely that in Homer's time it was not yet in use; but as to the mouths, if the fact that there were several, and not one only, was unnoticed or known to only a few, one might grant that Homer had not heard of it. But if the river was then, as it still is, the best-known and most marvellous thing in Egypt and decidedly the most worthy of mention and of historical record — and the same applies to its inundations and its mouths — who could ever assume either that those who brought to Homer the story of the River "Aegyptus" and the country "Aegyptus," 30and Egyptian Thebes, and Pharos, did not know about these mouths, or that if they knew, did not tell about them — except for the reason that they were already well known? But it is more incredible still that he mentioned Ethiopia, Sidonians, Erembians, the sea beyond,76 and the fact that the Ethiopians are "sundered in twain," and yet did not know about what was near at hand and well known. The fact that he did not mention them is no sign that he did not know about them — he does not mention his own native country, either, nor many other things — but rather would one say that Homer thought the best-known facts were not worth mentioning to those who already knew them.

23 Equally unjust is the reproach they cast upon Homer in the matter of the island of Pharos, because he says that it is "in the open sea" — as though he said this in ignorance. On the contrary, one might use that statement as bearing witness to the fact that not one of the things which we have just been talking about regarding Egypt was unknown  p111 to the poet. You might convince yourself of it in the following way: Everybody who tells the story of his own travels is a braggart; to this class belonged Menelaus, who had ascended the Nile as far as Ethiopia, and had heard about the inundations of the Nile and the quantity of alluvial soil which the river deposits upon the country, and about the large extent of territory off its mouths which the river had already added to the continent by silting — so that Herodotus77 was quite right in saying that the whole of Egypt is "a gift of the River Nile"; and even if this is not true of the whole of Egypt, it certainly is true of the part embraced by the Delta, which is called Lower Egypt; and Menelaus was told that the island of Pharos had been "in the open sea" in ancient times; so he falsely added that it was still "in the open sea," although it was no longer "in the open sea." However, it was the poet who elaborated this story, and therefore from it we may conjecture that Homer knew about the inundations of the Nile and about its mouths as well.

The Editor's Notes:

38 Danube.

39 Elbe.

40 Dniester.

41 Sea of Azov.

42 Southern Caucasia.

43 The original allusion is to "the old man" Odysseus, Od. 18.74.

44 The Greek word here used is significant. The parabasis formed a part of the Old Comedy, and was wholly incidental to the main action of the play.

45 Page 23.

46 See Introduction, page xviii.º

47 The "eiresione" was an olive (or laurel) branch adorned with the first-fruits of a given land and carried around to the accompaniment of a song of thanksgiving and prayer.

48 Phrasis.

49 Phrazein.

50 Phrazein.

51 Phrasis.

52 A familiar female goblin, devourer of children, in the ancient nursery-legends.

53 The giant whose eyes were put out by Apollo and Heracles.

54 A female goblin.

55 The Kimara Mountains in Albania.

56 See 7.5.9.

57 Gulf of Salerno.

58 Dark Blue Rocks.

59 Clashing Rocks.

60 Wandering Rocks.

61 Draw a north and south line from the poet's point of observation (near the Black Sea) through the Solyman Mountains and through Egypt to the Ethiopians on Oceanus south of Egypt. Then draw a north and south line from Odysseus' point of observation (on his raft, west of Greece) to the Ethiopians living on Oceanus due south of the raft. Homer transfers the Solymi and their mountains from his own due-south line of vision to an analogous position on Odysseus' due-south line of vision. Just as these mountains, to Homer, arose on the northern border of the Mediterranean, so to Odysseus they arose on the northern border of Oceanus. Strabo again refers to this on page 127.

62 Cape Faro, Sicily.

63 Bay of Naples.

64 Gulf of Salerno.

65 That is, Cape Minerva.

66 The Island of Jerba, off the northern coast of Africa.

67 Puteoli.

68 Strabo does not mean to attribute to Homer a knowledge of "climata" in the technical sense as employed by Hipparchus (see footnote 2, page 22), but merely a knowledge of the general principle involved — the inclination of the earth's surface.

69 Strabo would take this passage as referring to Ithaca's geographical position, not its topography. Thus "low" would mean "next to the mainland"; and "uppermost," "farthest up on the earth's surface." And "darkness," according to Strabo, means "north," not "south." See § 28 following; and 10.2.12.

70 Gulf of Saros.

71 North-east.

72 South-east.

73 North-west.

74 South-west.

75 See 17.1.5.

76 The Atlantic Ocean.

77 Herod. 2.5.

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