[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Click here for the text in ancient Greek.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

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.

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!

[image ALT: link to next section]

(Vol. I) Strabo

 p111  Book I Chapter 2 (end)

24 (30) The same mistake is made by those who say that Homer is not acquainted with the isthmus that lies between the Egyptian Sea and the Arabian Gulf, and that he is in error when he speaks of "the Ethiopians that are sundered in twain, the farthermost of men." Men of later times are wrong when they censure Homer for saying that, for it is correct. Indeed, the reproach that Homer is ignorant of this isthmus is so far from being true, that I affirm not only that he knows about it, but that he describes it in express terms, and that the grammarians beginning with  p113 Aristarchus and Crates, the leading lights in the science of criticism, even though Homer speaks of it, do not perceive that he does. The poet says: "the Ethiopians that are sundered in twain, the farthermost of men." About the next verse there is a difference of opinion, Aristarchus writing: "Abiding some where Hyperion sets, and some where he rises"; but Crates: "abiding both where Hyperion sets and where he rises." 31Yet so far as the question at issue is concerned, it makes no difference whether you write the verse one way or the other. For Crates, following the mere form of mathematical demonstration, says that the torrid zone is "occupied"78 by Oceanus and that on both sides of this zone are the temperate zones, the one being on our side, while the other is on the other side of it. Now, just as these Ethiopians on our side of Oceanus, who face the south throughout the whole length of the inhabited land, are called the most remote of the one group of peoples, since they dwell on the shores of Oceanus, so too, Crates thinks, we must conceive that on the other side of Oceanus also there are certain Ethiopians, the most remote of the other group of peoples in the temperate zone, since they dwell on the shores of this same Oceanus; and that they are in two groups and are "sundered in twain" by Oceanus. Homer adds the words, "abiding both where Hyperion sets and where he rises," because, inasmuch as the celestial zodiac always lies in the zenith above its corresponding  p115 terrestrial zodiac and inasmuch as the latter does not by reason of its obliquity79 extend outside the territory of the two Ethiopias, we must conceive that the entire revolution of the sun takes place within the width of this celestial zone, and that his risings and his settings take place herein, appearing differently to different peoples, and now in this sign and now in that. Such, then, is the explanation of Crates, who conceives of the matter rather as an astronomer; but he might have put it more simply — still saving his point that this was the sense in which the Ethiopians are "sundered in twain," as Homer has stated — namely, by declaring that the Ethiopians stretch along both shores of Oceanus from the rising to the setting of the sun. What difference, I say, does it make with respect to this thought whether we read the verse as Crates writes it, or as Aristarchus does — "abiding some where Hyperion sets and some where he rises"? For this, too, means that Ethiopians live on both sides of Oceanus, both towards the west and towards the east. But Aristarchus rejects this hypothesis of Crates, and thinks that the people referred to as divided "in twain" are the Ethiopians in our part of the world, namely, those that to the Greeks are most remote on the south; but he thinks these are not so divided "in twain" that there are two Ethiopias, the one lying towards the east and the other towards the west, but that there is just one, the one that lies south of the Greeks and is situated along Egypt; and he thinks that the poet, ignorant of this fact, just as he was ignorant of those other matters which  p117 Apollodorus has mentioned in the second book of his work entitled "On the Catalogue of Ships," told what was not true about the regions in question.

25 To reply to Crates would require a long discourse, which would perhaps be irrelevant to my present purpose. As for Aristarchus, I approve of him in this, that he rejects the hypothesis of Crates, which is open to many objections, and inclines to the view that the words of Homer have reference to our Ethiopia. But let us examine Aristarchus on the other points; and, in the first place, take the fact that he too indulges in a petty and fruitless discussion of the text. For if the verse be written in either of the two ways, it can fit his thought on the subject. 32For what difference does it make whether we say: "On our side of Oceanus there are two groups of Ethiopians, some in the east and some in the west," or, "both in the east and in the west"? In the second place, take the fact that Aristarchus champions a false doctrine. Well, let us suppose that the poet is ignorant of the existence of the isthmus, but is referring to Ethiopia on the confines of Egypt when he speaks of "Ethiopians that are sundered in twain." What then? Are they not thus "sundered in twain"? And does the poet make that statement in ignorance? Is not Egypt also, are not the Egyptians also, from the Delta up to Syene, "sundered in twain" by the Nile, "some where Hyperion sets and some where he rises"? What is Egypt but a river valley, which the water floods? And this valley  p119 lies on both sides of the river, toward the east and toward the west. But Ethiopia lies directly beyond Egypt and it is analogous to Egypt in its relation both to the Nile and the other physical characteristics of the regions in question. For it, too, is narrow, long, and subject to inundations; and its parts that lie beyond the territory subject to inundations are desert, without water, and habitable only in spots, both on the east and on the west. Of course, then, Ethiopia also is "sundered in twain." Or, again, did the Nile seem important enough for those who were drawing a boundary-line between Asia and Libya to serve as that boundary-line (since in length it stretches toward the south for more than ten thousand stadia, and is of such width that it contains islands with many thousands of inhabitants, the largest of which is Meroë, the residence of the King and the metropolis of the Ethiopians) and yet was not important enough to "sunder" Ethiopia itself "in twain"? And furthermore, the critics of the men who make the River Nile the boundary-line between the continents bring this against them as their most serious charge, that they dismember Egypt and Ethiopia, and that they reckon one part of each country to Libya and one part to Asia; or that, if they do not wish such dismemberment, then either they do not divide the continents at all, or else do not make the river the boundary-line.

26 But Ethiopia may be divided in still another way, quite apart from this. For all those who have made coasting-voyages on the ocean along the shores of Libya, whether they started from the Red Sea or from the Pillars of Heracles, always turned back, after they had advanced a certain distance, because  p121 they were hindered by many perplexing circumstances, and consequently they left in the minds of most people the conviction that the intervening space was blocked by an isthmus; and yet the whole Atlantic Ocean is one unbroken body of water, and this is particularly true of the Southern Atlantic. All those voyagers have spoken of the last districts to which they came in their voyagings as Ethiopic territory and have so reported them. 33Wherein, then, lies the absurdity, if Homer, too, was misled by a report of this character and divided the Ethiopians into two groups, placing the one group in the east and the other in the west, since it was not known whether the intervening people really existed or not? Furthermore, Ephorus mentions still another ancient tradition, and it is not unreasonable to believe that Homer also had heard it. Ephorus says the Tartessians report that Ethiopians overran Libya as far as Dyris,80 and that some of them stayed in Dyris, while others occupied a great part of the sea-board; and he conjectures it was from this circumstance that Homer spoke as he did: "Ethiopians that are sundered in twain, the farthermost of men."

27 These arguments one might urge in reply to Aristarchus and his followers, and also others still more convincing, and thus set the poet free from the charge of gross ignorance. I maintain, for example, that in accordance with the opinion of the ancient Greeks — just as they embraced the inhabitants of the known countries of the north under the single designation "Scythians" ("or "Nomads," to use Homer's term) and just as later, when the inhabitants of the west also were discovered, they were called  p123 "Celts" and "Iberians," or by the compound words "Celtiberians" and "Celtiscythians," the several peoples being classed under one name through ignorance of the facts — I maintain, I say, that just so, in accordance with the opinion of the ancient Greeks, all the countries in the south which lie on Oceanus were called "Ethiopia." And there is the following testimony to this statement. Aeschylus, in his Prometheus Unbound, speaks thus: "The sacred flood of the Red Sea with its bed of scarlet sands, and the mere on the shore of Oceanus that dazzles with its gleam of brass and furnishes all nourishment to Ethiopians, where the Sun, who sees all things, gives rest to his tired steeds and refreshes his immortal body in warm outpourings of soft water." For since Oceanus renders this service and maintains this relation to the sun along the whole southern belt, Aeschylus obviously places the Ethiopians also along this whole belt. And Euripides, in his Phaëthon, says that Clymene was given "to Merops, the king of this country which is the first country that the Sun, as he rises in his chariot and four, strikes with his golden flame. And the swarthy men who dwell upon the confines of that country call it the bright stables of Dawn and Sun." In this passage Euripides assigns the stables jointly to Dawn and Sun, but in what immediately follows he says that these stables are near to the dwelling of Merops, and indeed this is woven into the whole structure of the play, 34not, I am sure, because it is a peculiarity of the Ethiopia which lies next to Egypt, but rather  p125 because it is a peculiarity of the sea-board that stretches along the entire southern belt.

28 Ephorus, too, discloses the ancient belief in regard to Ethiopia, for in his treatise On Europe he says that if we divide the regions of the heavens and of the earth into four parts, the Indians will occupy that part from which Apeliotes blows, the Ethiopians the part from which Notus blows, the Celts the part on the west, and the Scythians the part from which the north wind blows.81 And he adds that Ethiopia and Scythia are the larger regions; for it is thought, he says, that the nation of the Ethiopians stretches from the winter sunrise to sunset,82 and that Scythia lies directly opposite in the north. That Homer is in agreement with this view is also clear from his assertion that Ithaca lies "toward the darkness" — that is, of course, toward the north — "but those others face the dawning and the sun"; by which he means the whole country on the southern side. And again this is clear when he says: "Whether they fare to the right, to the dawn and to the sun, or to the left, to mist and darkness"; and from this passage too: "My friends, lo, now we know not where is the place of darkness or of dawning, nor where the sun that gives light to men goes beneath the earth, nor where he rises." But about all these passages I shall speak more fully in my account of Ithaca.83 And so, when Homer says, "For Zeus went yesterday to Oceanus, unto the noble Ethiopians," we  p127 must understand both words in a more general sense, "Oceanus" meaning the body of water that extends along the entire southern belt, and the "Ethiopians" meaning the people along this same extent; for upon whatever point of this belt you fix your attention, you will be both on Oceanus and in Ethiopia. And this is the meaning also of the words: "On his way from the Ethiopians he espied Odysseus from afar, from the mountains of the Solymi" — which is equivalent to saying "from the regions of the south"; for he does not mean the Solymi in Pisidia, but, as I said before,84 he invents a people of the same name whom he depicts as occupying the same position relatively to the sailor on his raft and the people to the south of him (who would be the Ethiopians) as the Pisidians occupy relatively to the Pontus and to the Ethiopians that lie beyond Egypt. And in like manner Homer puts his assertion about the cranes in general terms: "When they flee from the coming of winter and sudden rain, 35and fly with clamour toward the streams of Oceanus, bearing slaughter and doom to the Pygmy men." For it is not the case that the crane is seen migrating toward the south only in Greek lands, and never in Italy or Iberia, or in the regions of the Caspian Sea and Bactriana. Since, then, Oceanus stretches along the entire southern sea-board, and since the cranes migrate in winter to this entire sea-board, we must admit that the Pygmies also are placed by mythology along the entire extent of that sea-board. And if  p129 men of later generations restricted the story about the Pygmies to the Ethiopians next to Egypt alone, that would have no bearing on the facts in ancient times. For nowadays we do not use the terms "Achaeans" and "Argives" of all who took part in the expedition against Troy, though Homer so uses them. Now what I contend in the case of the Ethiopians that are "sundered in twain" is similar to this, namely, that we must interpret "Ethiopians" as meaning that the Ethiopians extend along the whole sea-board of Oceanus from the rising to the setting sun. For the Ethiopians that are spoken of in this sense are "sundered in twain" naturally by the Arabian Gulf (and this would constitute a considerable part of a meridian circle) as by a river, being in length almost fifteen thousand stadia, and in width not much more than one thousand stadia, I mean at its greatest width; and to the length we must add the distance by which the head of this gulf is separated from the sea at Pelusium, a journey of three or four days — the space occupied by the isthmus. Now, just as the abler of the geographers who separate Asia from Libya regard this gulf as a more natural boundary-line between the two continents than the Nile (for he says the gulf lacks but very little of stretching from sea to sea, whereas the Nile is separated from Oceanus by many times that distance, so that it does not separate Asia as a whole from Libya), in the same way I also assume that the poet considered that the southern regions as a whole throughout the inhabited world were "sundered in twain" by this gulf. How, then, can the poet have been ignorant of the isthmus which the gulf forms with the Egyptian85 Sea?

 p131  29 And indeed it is in the highest degree unreasonable that the poet had accurate knowledge about Thebes in Egypt, which is distant from the Mediterranean Sea but a trifle less than four thousand stadia, and yet had no knowledge about the head of the Arabian Gulf, or about the adjoining isthmus, whose width is not more than one thousand stadia; but it would seem to be much more unreasonable that he knew the Nile bore the same name as the vast country Aegyptus and yet did not see the reason therefor; for the thought which has been expressed by Herodotus86 would occur to one at once, 36namely, that the country was "a gift of the river" and laid claim for this reason to the same name as the river.87 Moreover, those peculiarities of each several country which are in some way marvellous are most widely known, and manifest to everybody; such is the case with the rising of the Nile as also the silting up of the sea. And just as those who visit Egypt learn no fact concerning the country before they learn the nature of the Nile, because the natives cannot tell foreigners anything more novel or more remarkable about their country than these particulars (for the nature of the entire country becomes quite clear to one who has learned about the river), so also those who hear about the country at a distance learn this fact before anything else. To all this we must add the poet's fondness for knowledge and for travel, to which all who have written on his life bear witness; and one may find many illustrations of such a predilection in the poems themselves. And so it is proved, on many grounds, that Homer both knows and expressly says what is to be said, and that he  p133 keeps silent about what is too obvious to mention, or else alludes to it by an epithet.88

30 But I must express my amazement at the Egyptians and Syrians,89 against whom I am directing this argument, that they do not understand Homer even when he tells them about matters in their own countries, and yet actually accuse him of ignorance — a charge to which my argument shows that they themselves are subject. In general, silence is no sign of ignorance; for neither does Homer mention the refluent currents of the Euripus, nor Thermopylae, nor yet other things in Greece that are well-known, though assuredly he was not ignorant of them. However, Homer also speaks of things well-known, though those who are wilfully deaf do not think so; and therefore the fault of ignorance is theirs. Now the poet calls the rivers "heaven-fed" — not merely the winter torrents, but all rivers alike — because they are all replenished by the rains. But the general epithet becomes particular when applied to things in relation to their pre-eminence. For one would interpret "heaven-fed" in one way of the winter torrent and in quite another way of the ever-flowing stream; and in the latter case the pre-eminence is, one may say, twofold.90 And just as there are cases of hyperbole on hyperbole — for example, "lighter than the shadow of a cork," "more timid than a Phrygian91 hare," "to own a farm smaller than a Laconian letter" — just so there is a parallel case of pre-eminence on pre-eminence when the Nile is spoken of as being "heaven-fed." For while the winter torrent surpasses the other  p135 rivers in respect of being "heaven-fed," the Nile, when at its flood, surpasses even the winter torrents to just that extent, not only in the amount of its flood but also in the duration thereof. And so, since the behaviour of the river was known to the poet, as I have urged in my argument, 37and since he has applied this epithet to it, we cannot interpret it in any other way than that which I have pointed out. But the fact that the Nile empties its waters through several mouths is a peculiarity it shares with several other rivers, and therefore Homer did not think it worthy of mention, particularly in addressing people who knew the fact; just as Alcaeus does not mention those mouths, either, although he affirms that he too visited Egypt. But the matter of the silting may be inferred not only from the risings of the river but also from what Homer says about Pharos. For the man who told Homer about Pharos — or rather, I should say, the common report that it was so and so far from the mainland — this report, I say, would not have got abroad falsified to such an extent as the distance which Homer gives, namely, a day's run for a ship; but as for the rising and silting, it is reasonable to suppose that the poet learned as a matter of common knowledge that they were such and such; and concluding from these facts that at the time of the visit of Menelaus the island was more distant from the mainland than it was in his own times, he added a distance many times as great on his own responsibility for the sake of the fabulous element. Moreover, the fabulous creations are not, I take it, a sign of ignorance — not even those stories about Proteus and the Pygmies,  p137 nor the potent effects of magic potions, nor any other such inventions of the poets; for these stories are told, not in ignorance of geography, but in order to give pleasure and enjoyment. How does it come, then, that Homer says that Pharos has water, when it is without water: "And therein is a good haven, whence men launch the well-proportioned ships into the deep when they have drawn a store of black water"? Now, in the first place, it is not impossible that the source of the water has dried up; and, in the second place, Homer does not say that the water came from the island, but merely that the launching of the ships took place thence — on account of the excellence of the harbour; but the water itself may have been drawn from the opposite mainland, since, in a way, the poet by implication confesses that, when he applied the term "in the open sea" to Pharos, he did not use it in a literal sense, but as an hyperbolical or mythical statement.

31 Now, since it is thought that Homer's account of the wanderings of Menelaus, also, argues for ignorance of those countries on his part, it is perhaps better to make a preliminary statement of the questions called forth by those poems, and then at once to separate these questions and thus speak more clearly in defence of the poet. Menelaus says, then, to Telemachus, who has marvelled at the decorations of the palace: "Yea, after many a woe and wanderings manifold, I brought my wealth home in ships, and in the eighth year came hither. I roamed over Cyprus and Phoenicia and Egypt, and came to Ethiopians, Sidonians, Erembians, and to Libya." 38Now they ask to what Ethiopians he came in thus  p139 sailing from Egypt (for no Ethiopians live in the Mediterranean Sea, nor was it possible for ships to pass the cataracts of the Nile); and who the Sidonians are (for they are certainly not those that live in Phoenicia, since he would not have put the genus first and then brought in the species); and who the Erembians are (for that is a new name). Now Aristonicus, the grammarian of our own generation, in his book On the Wanderings of Menelaus, has recorded opinions of many men on each one of the points set forth; but for me it will be sufficient to speak briefly on these questions. Of those who say that Menelaus "sailed" to Ethiopia, some propose a coasting-voyage by Gades as far as India, making his wanderings correspond exactly to the time which Homer gives: "In the eighth year I came back"; but others propose that he sailed across the isthmus that lies at the head of the Arabian Gulf, while still others propose that he sailed through one of the canals of the Nile. But, in the first place, Crates' theory of a coasting-voyage is unnecessary — not that such a voyage would be impossible (for the wanderings of Odysseus would have been impossible), but because it serves no purpose either as regards Crates' mathematical hypotheses or as regards the time consumed in the wanderings. For Menelaus was detained against his will because of the difficulties of sailing (he himself says that out of sixty ships only five were left to him), he also made intentional stops for the sake of trafficking. For Nestor says: "Thus Menelaus, gathering much substance and gold, was wandering there with his ships"; [to which Menelaus adds:] "having roamed over Cyprus and Phoenicia and Egypt." Again, the  p141 voyage through the isthmus or one of the canals would, if Homer mentioned such a city, be interpreted as a kind of fiction; but since he does not mention such a voyage it would be gratuitous and absurd for one to propose it. It would be absurd, I repeat, since before the Trojan War there was no canal; and the person who undertook to build one — I mean Sesostris92 — is said to have abandoned the undertaking because he supposed the level of the Mediterranean Sea was too high. Furthermore, the isthmus was not navigable either, and Eratosthenes' conjecture is wrong. For he thinks that the breaking of the channel at the Pillars of Heracles had not yet taken place and that in consequence the Mediterranean Sea, since it was of a higher level, joined the exterior sea at the isthmus and covered it, but after the breaking of the channel took place at the Pillars, the Mediterranean Sea was lowered and thus exposed the land about Casium and Pelusium, as far as the Red Sea. Now what historical information have we regarding this break at the Pillars to the effect that it did not yet exist before the Trojan War? 39But perhaps — you will say — the poet has represented Odysseus as sailing through the strait at the Pillars into the ocean (as though a channel were already in existence) at the same time that he conveys Menelaus by ship from Egypt into the Red Sea (as though a channel were not yet in existence)! Furthermore, Homer brings in Proteus as saying to Menelaus: "Nay, the deathless gods will convey thee to the Elysian Plain and to the end of the  p143 earth." What end of the earth, pray? Why, the citing of "Zephyrus" shows that he means by this remote region a place somewhere in the west: "But always Oceanus sendeth forth the breezes of the clear-blowing Zephyrus." Really, these matters are full of puzzling questions.

32 If, however, the poet had heard that this isthmus was once submerged, should we not have all the greater reason for believing that the Ethiopians, since they were separated by so great a strait, were really "sundered in twain"? And how could Menelaus have gotten treasures from the remote Ethiopians who lived along Oceanus? For at the moment when they marvelled at the ornaments themselves in the palace of Menelaus, Telemachus and his companions marvelled at the great quantity of them — "of gold and of amber and of silver and of ivory"; but with the exception of ivory, there is no great store of any of these things among those people, most of whom are the poorest of all peoples and are wandering shepherds. "Very true," you say; "but Arabia and the regions as far as India belonged to them; and though Arabia alone of all these countries has the name 'Blest,' India is supposed and reported to be in the highest degree 'blest,' even though people do not so call it by name." Now as to India, Homer did not know of it (for had he known of it, he would have mentioned it); but he did know the Arabia which is to‑day called "Blest."93 In his time, however, it was not rich, and not only was the country itself without resources but most of it was occupied by  p145 dwellers in tents. The part of Arabia that produces the spices is small; and it is from this small territory that the country got the name of "Blest," because such merchandise is rare in our part of the world and costly. To‑day, to be sure, the Arabs are well to do and even rich, because their trade is extensive and abundant, but it is not likely to have been so in Homer's time. So far as the mere spices are concerned, a merchant or camel-driver might attain to some sort of wealth by trafficking in them, whereas Menelaus needed booty or presents from kings or dynasts who had not only the means to give, but also the good-will to make him presents because of his distinction and fame. The Egyptians, however, and the neighbouring Ethiopians and Arabs,94 were not wholly destitute of the means of livelihood, as were the other Ethiopians, nor wholly ignorant of the fame of the sons of Atreus, particularly in view of the successful issue of the Trojan War, and hence Menelaus might hope for profit from them. 40Compare what Homer says of the breastplate of Agamemnon: "The breastplate that in time past Cinyrasa gave him for a guest-gift; for afar in Cyprus did Cinyras hear the mighty tale." Furthermore, we must assert that Menelaus' time in his wanderings was spent mostly in the regions about Phoenicia,95 Syria,96 Egypt, and Libya, and in the countries round Cyprus, and, generally speaking, along the Mediterranean sea-board and among the islands. For Menelaus might procure guest-gifts among these peoples and also enrich himself from them by violence and robbery, and more particularly from those who had been allies of the Trojans. But the barbarians that lived outside these regions or at a distance could  p147 prompt in him no such expectations. Now Homer says that Menelaus "came to" Ethiopia, not meaning that he really came into Ethiopia, but that he reached its frontier next to Egypt. For perhaps at that time the frontier was still nearer Thebes97 (though to‑day it is quite near) — I mean the frontier that runs by Syene and Philae. Of these towns the former belongs to Egypt, but Philae is inhabited alike by Ethiopians and Egyptians. Accordingly, when Menelaus came to Thebes, it need not cause surprise if he also came as far as the frontier of the Ethiopians or even farther, especially since he was enjoying the hospitality of the king of Thebes.98 And it is in the same sense that Odysseus says he "came to" the country of the Cyclopes, although he did not get any further away from the sea than the cavalry; for he says that the cavalry lay "on the edge"99 of the country, I believe; and again, in referring to the country of Aeolus, to the Laestrygonians and the rest — wherever, I say, he so much as came to anchor, he says he "came to" the country. It is in this sense, therefore, that Menelaus "came to"100 Ethiopia and in this sense to Libya, too, namely, that he "touched at" certain points; and it is from his having touched there that the harbour at Ardanis above Paraetonium101 is called "Menelaus."

33 Now if Homer, in speaking of the Phoenicians, mentions Sidonians also, who occupy the Phoenician metropolis, he is but employing a familiar figure of speech, as when he says: "Now Zeus, when he had brought the Trojans and Hector to the ships"; and,  p149 "For the sons of great-hearted Oeneus were no more, neither did he still live, and the golden-haired Meleager was dead"; and, "So fared he to Ida" and "to Gargaros"; and, "But they possessed Euboea" and "Chalcis and Eretria"; and likewise Sappho, in the verse: "Either Cyprus or Paphos of the spacious harbour holds thee." And yet there was another reason which induced Homer, although he had already mentioned Phoenicia, to repeat Phoenicia in a special way — that is, to add Sidon to the list. For merely to list the peoples in their proper order it was quite enough to say: "I roamed over Cyprus and Phoenicia and Egypt, and came to Ethiopia." 41But in order to suggest also the sojourn of Menelaus among the Sidonians, it was proper for Homer to repeat as he did, or even add still more than that; and he suggests that this sojourn was of long duration by his praise of their skill in the arts and of the hospitality formerly extended to Helen and Paris by these same people. That is why he speaks of many Sidonian works of art stored up in the house of Paris — "where were her embroidered robes, the work of Sidonian women, whom godlike Alexandros himself brought from Sidon, that journey wherein he brought back Helen to his home"; and in the  p151 house of Menelaus too, for Menelaus says to Telemachus: "I will give thee a mixing-bowl beautifully wrought; it is all of silver, and the lips thereof are finished with gold, the work of Hephaestus; and the hero Phaedimus, the king of the Sidonians, gave it me, when his house sheltered me on my coming thither." But the expedition "the work of Hephaestus" must be regarded as a case of hyperbole, just as beautiful things are spoken of as "works of Athene," or of the Graces, or of the Muses. For Homer makes it clear that the Sidonians were makers of beautiful works of art, by the praise he bestows on the bowl which Euneos gave as a ransom for Lycaon; his words are: "In beauty it was far the best in all the earth, for artificers of Sidon wrought it cunningly, and men of the Phoenicians brought it."

34 Much has been said about the Erembians; but those men are most likely to be correct who believe that Homer meant the Arabians. Our Zeno102 even writes the text accordingly: "And I came to the Ethiopians and Sidonians and Arabians." However, it is not necessary to change the reading, for it is old. It is better to lay the confusion to the change of their name, for such change is frequent and noticeable among all nations, than to change the reading — as in fact some do when they emend by changing certain letters. But it would seem that the view of Poseidonius is best, for here he derives an etymology of the words from the kinship of the peoples and their common characteristics.  p153 For the nation of the Armenians and that of the Syrians and Arabians betray a close affinity, not only in their language, but in their mode of life and in their bodily build, and particularly wherever they live as close neighbours. Mesopotamia, which is inhabited by these three nations, gives proof of this, for in the case of these nations the similarity is particularly noticeable. And if, comparing the differences of latitude, there does exist a greater difference between the northern and the southern people of Mesopotamia than between these two peoples and the Syrians in the centre, still the common characteristics prevail. 42And, too, the Assyrians, the Arians, and the Aramaeans display a certain likeness both to those just mentioned and to each other. Indeed, Poseidonius conjectures that the names of these nations also are akin; for, says he, the people whom we call Syrians are by the Syrians themselves called Arimaeans and Arammaeans; and there is a resemblance between this name and those of the Armenians, the Arabians and the Erembians, since perhaps the ancient Greeks gave the name of Erembians to the Arabians, and since the very etymology of the word "Erembian" contributes to this result. Most scholars, indeed, derive the name "Erembian" from eran embainein,103 a name which later peoples changed to "Troglodytes"104 for the sake of greater clearness. Now these Troglodytes are that tribe of Arabians who live on the side of the Arabian Gulf next to Egypt and Ethiopia. It was natural for the poet to mention these Erembians and to say that Menelaus "came to" them, in the same sense in which he says that Menelaus "came to" the Ethiopians (for they too  p155 are near the territory of Thebes); however, they were mentioned not on account of their handicraft nor yet on account of the profit Menelaus made among them (for that could not amount to much), but on account of the length of his sojourn among them and the fame of having visited them; for it was a famous thing to have travelled so far abroad. This is the meaning of: "Many were the men whose towns he saw whose mind he learnt"; and of: "Yea, and after many woes and wanderings manifold, I brought my wealth home in ships." Hesiod in his Catalogus speaks of "the daughter of Arabus, the son of guileless Hermaon105 and of Thronia the daughter of king Belus." And Stesichorus says the same thing. Therefore, we may conjecture that at the time of Hesiod and Stesichorus the country was already called Arabia from this "Arabus," although it may be that it was not yet so called in the times of the heroes.

35 Those scholars who invent the explanation that the Erembians are some particular Ethiopian tribe, or, again, a tribe of Cephenians, or thirdly, a tribe of Pygmies — or a host of other tribes — are less deserving of credence, since in addition to the incredibility of their theories they betray a tendency to confound myth and history. Like them are the writers who tell of Sidonians on the Persian Gulf, or somewhere else on Oceanus, and who place the wanderings of Menelaus, and likewise place the Phoenicians, out in Oceanus. And not the least reason for not believing them is the fact that they contradict one another. For some of them say that  p157 even the Sidonians who are our neighbours are colonists from the Sidonians on Oceanus, and they actually add the reason why our Sidonians are called Phoenicians,106 namely, because the colour of the Persian Gulf is "red"; and the others hold that the Sidonians on Oceanus are colonists from our Phoenicia. And there are some who transfer Ethiopia also to our Phoenicia, 43and who say that the adventure of Andromeda took place in Joppa, though the story is surely not told in ignorance of its local setting107 but rather in the guise of myth; and the same is true of the stories that Apollodorus cites from Hesiod and the other poets without even realising in what way he is comparing them with the stories in Homer. For he compares what Homer says about the Pontus and Egypt and charges him with ignorance, on the ground that, though he wanted to tell the truth, he did not do so, but in his ignorance stated as true what was not true. Yet no one could charge Hesiod with ignorance when he speaks of "men who are half-dog," of "long-headed men" and of "Pygmies"; no more should one charge Homer with ignorance when he tells these mythical stories of his, one of which is that of these very Pygmies; nor Alcman when he tells about "web-footed men"; nor Aeschylus when he speaks of "dog-headed men," or of "men with eyes in their breasts," or of "one-eyed men";108 since, at all events, we do not pay much attention to prose writers, either, when they compose stories on many subjects in the guise of history, even if they do not expressly acknowledge that they are dealing in myths. For it is self-evident that they are weaving in myths intentionally, not through  p159 ignorance of the facts, but through an intentional invention of the impossible, to gratify the taste for the marvellous and the entertaining. But they give the impression of doing this through ignorance, because by preference and with an air of plausibility they tell such tales about the unfamiliar and the unknown. Theopompus expressly acknowledges the practice when he says that he intends to narrate myths too in his History — a better way than that of Herodotus, Ctesias, Hellanicus, and the authors of the Histories of India.109

36 What Homer says about the behaviour of Oceanus is set forth in the guise of a myth (this too is a thing the poet must aim at); for he borrowed the myth of Charybdis from the ebb and flow of the tides; though even Charybdis herself is not wholly an invention of Homer, for she was dressed up by him in accordance with what had been told him about the Strait of Sicily. And suppose that by the words, "For thrice a day she spouts it forth, and thrice a day she sucks it down," Homer does affirm that the refluent tide comes in three times within the course of each day and night (although it comes in but twice), he might be permitted to express it in this way; for we must not suppose that he used these words in ignorance of the facts, but for the sake of the tragic effect and of the emotion of fear upon which Circe plays largely in what she says to Odysseus in order to terrify him; and for that reason she mingled the false with the true. At any rate, in these very lines Circe has said: "For thrice a day she spouts it forth and thrice a day she sucks it  p161 down — a terrible sight! Never mayest thou be there when she sucks the water, for none might save thee from thy bane, not even the Earth-Shaker." Yet Odysseus later on was present when she "sucked it down," and he did not perish; as he himself says: 44"Now she had sucked down the salt sea-water, but I was swung up on high to a tall fig-tree, whereto I clung like a bat." Then waiting for the pieces of wreckage and laying hold of them again, he saved himself on them; and so Circe lied. And as she lied in this statement, so she lied in that other statement, "for thrice a day she spouts it forth," instead of "twice a day," although it is true, at the same time, that this kind of hyperbole is familiar to everybody — as, for instance, when we say "thrice-blessed" and "thrice-wretched." The poet himself says: "Thrice-blessed those Danaäns"; and again: "Welcome, thrice-prayed for"; and yet again: "Into three, yea, into four pieces." Perhaps one might infer also from the time involved that Homer is, in a way, hinting at the truth; for the fact that the pieces of wreckage remained so long engulfed and were only tardily cast up for Odysseus, who was longing for them and constantly clinging to the limbs of the tree, better suits the assumption that the refluent tide came in twice, rather than thrice, during the twofold period, consisting of a day and a night: "Steadfastly I clung," he says, "till she should vomit forth mast and keel again; and late they came to my desire. At the hour when a man rises up from the assembly and goes to supper,  p163 the arbiter of many quarrels of the young men that plead their cases, at that hour the timbers came forth to view from out Charybdis." All this gives the impression of a considerable lapse of time, and particularly the fact that the poet prolongs time to the evening, for he does not merely say in general terms, "at the hour when the judge rises up," but he adds "arbiter of many quarrels"; hence he had been detained somewhat longer than usual. And another consideration: the means of escape which the poet offers the shipwrecked Odysseus would not be plausible, if each time, before he was carried far away by the tide, he was immediately thrown back by the refluent tide.110

37 Apollodorus, agreeing with Eratosthenes and his school, censures Callimachus, because, though a scholar, Callimachus names Gaudos111 and Corcyra as scenes of the wanderings of Odysseus, in defiance of Homer's fundamental plan, which is to transfer to Oceanus the regions in which he describes the wanderings as taking place. But if the wanderings never took place anywhere, and if this is wholly a fiction of Homer's, then Apollodorus' censure is just. Or if the wanderings did take place, but in other regions, then Apollodorus should have said so at the outset and should have told in what regions they took place, thus at once correcting the ignorant view of Callimachus. But since the story cannot with plausibility be called wholly a fiction, as I have shown above,112 and since no other places are pointed out that have a greater claim to our credence, Callimachus might be absolved from censure.

 p165  38 45Nor is Demetrius of Scepsis right; on the contrary, he is the cause of some of the mistakes of Apollodorus. For in his excessive eagerness to refute the statement of Neanthes of Cyzicus that the Argonauts erected the sanctuary of the Idaean Mother113 in the neighbourhood of Cyzicus when they were sailing to Phasis114 on the voyage which is admitted by Homer and other writers, Demetrius says that Homer knew absolutely nothing about the voyage of Jason to Phasis. Now this is opposed not only to Homer's statements but to the statements made by Demetrius himself. For Demetrius says that Achilles sacked Lesbos and other places, but spared Lemnos and the islands adjacent thereto on account of his kinship with Jason and with Jason's son Euneos who at that time possessed the island of Lemnos. Now how comes it that the poet knew this, namely, that Achilles and Jason were kinsmen or fellow-countrymen, or neighbours, or friends in some way or other (a relationship that could not be due to any other fact than that both men were Thessalians, and that one was born in Iolcus and the other in Achaean Phthiotis), and yet did not know what had put it into the head of Jason, a Thessalian and an Iolcan, to leave no successor on the throne of his native country, but to establish his son as lord of Lemnos? And did he know about Pelias and the daughters of Pelias, and about Alcestis, the noblest of them, and about her son "Eumelus, whom Alcestis, fair among women, bare to Admetus, Alcestis that was most beauteous to look upon of the daughters of Pelias," and yet, as regards the  p167 adventures of Jason and the Argo and the Argonauts, had never heard of the things that are agreed upon by everybody, but invented the voyage away from Aeëtes' country and placed it on Oceanus, without any foundation for his story in history?

39 For, as all admit, the original voyage to Phasis ordered by Pelias, the return voyage, and the occupation, however considerable, of islands on the coasting-voyage thither, contain an element of plausibility, as do also, I am sure, the wanderings which carried Jason still further — just as there is an element of plausibility in the wanderings of both Odysseus and Menelaus — as evidenced by things still to this day pointed out and believed in, and by the words of Homer as well. For example, the city of Aea is still shown on the Phasis, and Aeëtes is believed to have ruled over Colchis, and the name Aeëtes115 is still locally current among the people of that region. Again, Medea the sorceress is a historical person; and the wealth of the regions about Colchis, which is derived from the mines of gold, silver, iron, and copper, suggests a reasonable motive for the expedition, a motive which induced Phrixus also to undertake this voyage at an earlier date. Moreover, memorials of both expeditions still exist: the sanctuary of Phrixus,116 situated on the confines of Colchis and Iberia, and the sanctuaries of Jason, which are pointed out in many places in Armenia and Media and in the countries adjacent thereto. 46More than that, it is  p169 said that there are many evidences of the expeditions of Jason and of Phrixus in the neighbourhood of Sinope and the adjacent sea-board and also about the Propontis and the Hellespont as far as the regions about Lemnos. And there are traces of the expedition of Jason, and of the Colchians who pursued him, as far as Crete and Italy and the Adriatic Sea, woman of which Callimachus notes when he says, "Aegletes117 and Anaphe hard by Laconian Thera,"118 in an elegy whose opening words are, "At the outset I shall sing how the heroes sailed back from the kingdom of Aeëtes of Cytaea to ancient Haemonia."119 In another place Callimachus speaks about the Colchians, who "stayed their oars in the Sea of Illyria beside the tomb-stone of blonde Harmonia, and there built a little city, which a Greek would call 'the city of the exiles,' but which their language has named Polae."120 Some say that Jason and his companions even sailed up the Ister121 a considerable distance, while others say that he ascended as far as the Adriatic Sea; the former make their statement in ignorance of these regions, whereas the latter make the assertion that a river Ister branches off from the great Ister and empties into the Adriatic Sea; but apart from this, what they say is neither improbable nor incredible.

40 Accordingly, it is by availing himself of some such basis of fact that Homer tells his story, agreeing in some respects with matters of history,  p171 but adding to them an element of myth, thus adhering to a custom that is not only his own but one common to poets. He agrees with history when he uses the name of "Aeëtes,"122 when he tells of Jason and the Argo, when, with "Aea" in mind, he invents "Aeaea,"123 when he established Euneos in Lemnos, when he makes the island of Lemnos beloved of Achilles, and when, with Medea in mind, he makes the sorceress Circe "own sister to the baleful Aeëtes." But he adds an element of myth when he transfers to Oceanus the wanderings that follow the voyage to Aeëtes' country. For if the facts above-mentioned be assumed, then the words, "the Argo that is in all men's minds," are also properly used, inasmuch as the expedition is supposed to have taken place in well-known and populous regions. But if the facts were as Demetrius of Scepsis maintains, on the authority of Mimnermus (Mimnermus places the home of Aeëtes in Oceanus, outside the inhabited world in the east, and affirms that Jason was sent thither by Pelias and brought back the fleece), then, in the first place, the expedition thither in quest of the fleece would not sound plausible (since it was directed to unknown and obscure countries), and in the second place, the voyage through regions desolate and uninhabited and so out‑of-the‑way from our part of the world would be neither famous nor "in all men's minds." 47Mimnermus says: "Never would Jason himself have brought back the great fleece from Aea, accomplishing his mind-racking journey and fulfilling the  p173 difficult task for insolent Pelias, nor would they have come even to the fair stream of Oceanus"; and further on he says: "To the city of Aeëtes, where the rays of the swift Sun lie in a chamber of gold beside the lips of Oceanus, whither glorious Jason went."

The Editor's Notes:

78 For the purposes of demonstration Crates identified the limits of Oceanus with those of the torrid zone, an assumption which was not strictly true.

79 Compare "the obliquity of the ecliptic" — which is now about 23½°.

80 The barbarian name for the Atlas mountains. See 17.3.2.

81 On the winds, see page 105.

82 That is, on the due east and west line drawn from the south-east point of the sky to the south-west point.

83 See 10.2.11 ff.

84 See page 77 and footnote.

85 Mediterranean.

86 Herod. 2.5.

87 Compare 15.1.16.

88 Compare 1.2.3.

89 Aristarchus and Crates, respectively.

90 That is, "heaven-fed" in the former case is used in the literal sense of the Greek word, "heaven-fallen," and applies specifically to precipitate descent; in the latter case the epithet has reference to volume and duration.

91 The Phrygian slave was a proverbial coward.

92 See 17.1.25; also Herodotus, 2.158, and 4.39.

93 That is, Arabia Felix, east of the Red Sea. Strabo defines it in 16.3.1.

94 The Troglodytes on the western side of the Arabian Gulf (1.1.3).

95 See 16.2.21.

96 See 16.2.1.

97 See 17.1.46.

98 Od. 4.126.

99 Od. 9.182.

100 Od. 4.84.

101 Now, Baretoun.

102 See Introduction, page xviii.º

103 To go into the earth.

104 Cave-dwellers.

105 Hermes.

106 Phoen means "red."

107 For example, by Sophocles or Euripides.

108 These quotations are from works now lost, though Aeschylus refers to certain one-eyed men in Prometheus 804 also.

109 Deïmachus, Megasthenes, Onesicritus, Nearchus and others. See 2.1.9.

110 That is, three times a day.

111 The island of Gozo, south of Sicily, which Callimachus makes the Isle of Calypso.

112 1.2.9 ff.

113 Cybele. See 10.3.12‑13.

114 See 11.2.16‑18.

115 Aeëtes was a patronym of a dynasty of Colchian kings. See Xenophon, Anab. 5.6.37.

116 On this sanctuary and Iberia (east of Colchis) see 11.2.18.

117 "The radiant one," epithet of Apollo. To save the Argonauts he caused the island of Anaphe, now Nanfi, to rise from the sea. The Argonauts erected a temple there to "Apollo Aegletes."

118 In Cyrene. See 8.3.19.

119 Thessaly. See 9.5.23.

120 See 5.1.9.

121 Danube.

122 Od. 12.70.

123 Od. 11.70; 12.3. Homer's "Aeaea" (home of Circe) was an invention based upon "Aea," which he actually knew. Strabo alludes to the same thing in 1.2.10.

Thayer's Note:

a A convenient collection of Cinyras references may be found in James Eason's note to Plutarch, Of the Delphic Oracle.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 21 Sep 12