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I.2.23‑40

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography

of
Strabo

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

The text is in the public domain.

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


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I.4

(Vol. I) Strabo
Geography

p173 Book I Chapter 3

1 (47) Eratosthenes is wrong on this point too, that he makes mention at too great length of men who do not deserve mention, censuring them in some things, while in other things he believes them and uses them as authorities — for instance, Damastes and others of his type. For even if there is an element of truth in what they say, we should not on that account use them as authorities, or believe them, either; on the contrary, we should use in such a way only men of repute — men who have been right on many points, and who, though they have omitted many things, or treated them inadequately, have said nothing with false intent. But to use Damastes as an authority is no whit better than to cite as authorities the "Bergaean" — or rather the Messenian — Euhemerus124 and the other writers whom Eratosthenes himself cites, in order to ridicule their absurdities. Eratosthenes himself tells us one of the absurd stories of Damastes, who assumes that the p175Arabian Gulf is a lake, and that Diotimus, the son of Strombichus, sailed, at the head of an embassy of the Athenians, from Cilicia up the Cydnus River to the Choaspes River, which flows by Susa, and reached Susa on the fortieth day; and Eratosthenes says that Damastes was told all this by Diotimus himself. And then, Eratosthenes adds, Damastes wonders whether it was really possible for the Cydnus River to cut across the Euphrates and the Tigris and to empty into the Choaspes.

2 Not only might one disapprove of Eratosthenes for telling such a story, but also for this reason: after admitting that the exact details about the seas were not yet known even in his own time, and although he bids us not to be too ready to accept the authority of people at haphazard, and although he gives at length the reasons why we should believe no one who writes mythical tales about the regions along the Euxine and the Adriatic, yet he himself accepted the authority of people at haphazard. So, for example, he believed that the Gulf of Issus is the most easterly point of the Mediterranean; whereas the point at Dioscurias in the extreme corner of the Euxine Sea is farther east by almost three thousand stadia, even according to Eratosthenes himself, if we follow the reckoning by stadia which he gives. And when he describes the northernmost and extreme parts of the Adriatic Sea there is nothing fabulous about them from which he holds aloof. And he has also given credence to many fables about the regions beyond the Pillars of Heracles, mentioning an island named Cerne and other countries which are p17748nowhere pointed out to‑day — matters about which I shall speak later on. And although Eratosthenes has said that the earliest Greeks made voyages for the sake of piracy or of commerce, not, indeed, in the open sea, but along the coast — as did Jason, who actually abandoned his ships and, starting from the Colchians, penetrated as far as Armenia and Media — he says later on that in ancient times no one had the courage to sail on the Euxine Sea, or along Libya, Syria, or Cilicia. Now if by "the ancients" he means those who lived in the times of which we of to‑day have no records, then I am in no wise concerned to speak about them, as to whether they made voyages or not. But if he means men who are mentioned in history, then one would not hesitate to affirm that the ancients will be shown to have made longer journeys, both by land and by sea, than have men of a later time, if we are to heed what tradition tells us: for instance, Dionysus, and Heracles, and Jason himself; and, again, Odysseus and Menelaus, whose stories are narrated by the poet. And again, it is doubtless because Theseus and Pirithous had the hardihood to make such long journeys as they made that they left behind them the reputation of having gone down to Hades, and that the Dioscuri were called "guardians of the sea" and "saviours of sailors." Again, the maritime supremacy of Minos is far-famed, and so are the voyages of the Phoenicians, who, a short time after the Trojan War, explored the regions beyond the Pillars of Heracles and founded cities both there and in the central parts of the Libyan sea-board. As to Aeneas, Antenor, and the Enetians, and, in a word, p179the survivors of the Trojan War that wandered forth into the whole inhabited world — is it proper not to reckon them among the men of ancient times? For it came about that, on account of the length of the campaign, the Greeks of that time, and the barbarians as well, lost both what they had at home and what they had acquired by the campaign; and so, after the destruction of Troy, not only did the victors turn to piracy because of their poverty, the still more the vanquished who survived the war. And, indeed, it is said that a great many cities were founded by them along the whole sea-coast outside of Greece, and in some places in the interior too.

3 Now after Eratosthenes has himself told what great advances in the knowledge of the inhabited world had been made not only by those who came after Alexander but by those of Alexander's own times, he passes to his discussion of the shape of the world, not indeed of the inhabited world — which would have been more appropriate to his discussion of that subject — but of the earth as a whole; of course, one must discuss that point too, but not out of its proper place. And so, after he has stated that the earth as a whole is spheroidal125 — not spheroidal indeed as though turned by a sphere-lathe, 49but that it has certain irregularities of surface — he proceeds to enumerate the large number of its successive changes in shape — changes which take place as the result of the action of water, fire, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other similar agencies; and here too he does not preserve the proper order. For the spheroidal shape that characterises the earth as a whole results from the constitution of the universe, but such changes as Eratosthenes mentions do p181not in any particular alter the earth as a whole (changes so insignificant are lost in great bodies), though they do produce conditions in the inhabited world that are different at one time from what they are at another, and the immediate causes which produce them are different at different times.

4 Eratosthenes says further that this question in particular has presented a problem: how does it come about that large quantities of mussel-shells, oyster-shells, scallop-shells and also salt-marshes are found in many places in the interior at a distance of two thousand or three thousand stadia from the sea — for instance (to quote Eratosthenes) in the neighbourhood of the temple of Ammon and along the road, three thousand stadia in length, that leads to it? At that place, he says, there is a large deposit of oyster-shells, and many beds of salt are still to be found there, and jets of salt-water rise to some height; besides that, they show pieces of wreckage from seafaring ships which the natives said had been cast up through a certain chasm, and on small columns dolphins are dedicated that bear the inscription: "Of Sacred Ambassadors of Cyrene." Then he goes on to praise the opinion of Strato, the physicist, and also that of Xanthus of Lydia. In the first place he praises the opinion of Xanthus, who says that in the reign of Artaxerxes there was so great a drought that the rivers, lakes, and wells dried up; that far from the sea, in Armenia, Matiene, and Lower Phrygia, he himself had often seen, in many places, stones in the shape of a bivalve, shells of the pecten order, impressions of scallop-shells, and a p183salt-marsh, and therefore was persuaded that these plains were once sea. Then Eratosthenes praises the opinion of Strato, who goes still further into the question of causes, because Strato says he believes the Euxine Sea formerly did not have its outlet at Byzantium, but the rivers which empty into the Euxine forced and opened a passage, and then the water was discharged into the Propontis and the Hellespont. The same thing, Strato says, happened in the Mediterranean basin also; for in this case the passage at the Pillars was broken through when the sea had been filled by the rivers, and at the time of the outrush of the water the places that had hitherto been covered with shoal-waters were left dry. Strato proposes as a cause of this, first, that the beds of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean are on different levels, and, secondly, that at the Pillars even at the present day a submarine ridge stretches across from Europe to Libya, 50indicating that the Mediterranean and the Atlantic could not have been one and the same formerly. The seas of the Pontus region, Strato continues, are very shallow, whereas the Cretan, the Sicilian, and the Sardinian Seas are very deep; for since the rivers that flow from the north and east are very numerous and very large, the seas there are being filled with mud, while the others remain deep; and herein also is the reason why the Pontus is sweetest, and why its outflow takes place in the direction of the inclination of its bed. Strato further says it is his point that the whole Euxine Sea will be silted up at some future period, if such inpourings continue; for even now the regions on the left side126 of the Pontus are already covered with shoal waters; for instance, Salmydessus,127 and p185the land at the mouth of the Ister, which sailors call "the Breasts," and the desert of Scythia;128 perhaps too the temple of Ammon was formerly on the sea, but is now situated in the interior because there has been an outpouring of the sea. Strato conjectures that the oracle of Ammon with good reason became so distinguished and so well-known as it is if it was situated on the sea, and that its present position so very far from the sea gives no reasonable explanation of its present distinction and fame; and that in ancient times Egypt was covered by the sea as far as the bogs about Pelusium, Mt. Casius, and Lake Sirbonis; at all events, even to‑day, when the salt-lands in Egypt are dug up, the excavations are found to contain sand and fossil-shells, as though the country had been submerged beneath the sea and the whole region round Mt. Casius and the so‑called Gerrha had once been covered with shoal water so that it connected with the Gulf of the Red Sea; and when the sea retired, these regions were left bare, except that the Lake Sirbonis remained; then the lake also broke through to the sea, and thus became a bog. In the same way, Strato adds, the beaches of the so‑called Lake Moeris129 more nearly resemble sea-beaches than river-banks. Now one may admit that a great part of the continents was once covered by water for certain periods and was then left bare again; and in the same way one may admit also that the whole surface of the earth now submerged is uneven, at the bottom of the sea, just as we might admit, of course, that the part of the earth above water, on which we live, is subject to all the changes mentioned by p187Eratosthenes himself; and therefore, so far as the argument of Xanthes is concerned, one cannot bring against it any charge of absurdity.

5 Against Strato, however, one might urge that, although there are many real causes of these changes, he overlooks them and suggests causes that do not exist; for he says their primary cause is that the beds of the Mediterranean Sea and of the Atlantic Ocean are not on the same level, and that their depth is not the same. But I reply that the cause of the rising and the falling of the sea, 51of its inundation of certain tracts of country, and of its subsequent retirement from them, is not to be sought for in the varying levels of the beds of the sea, in that some are lower and others higher, but in the fact that the beds of the sea themselves sometimes rise, and, on the other hand, sometimes sink, and in the fact that the sea rises or recedes along with its beds; for when the sea is lifted up, it will overflow, and when it is lowered, it will subside to its former level. Indeed, if what Strato says is true, then the overflow will necessarily follow every sudden increase in the volume of the sea; for instance, at every high tide of the sea or whenever the rivers are at their flood — in the one case the water having been brought in from other parts of the sea, in the other case the volume of water having been increased. But neither do the increases from the rivers thus cause a swelling of the sea, nor do the tides persist long enough to do so (they are not irregular, either), nor do they cause inundations either on the Mediterranean Sea or anywhere else. Therefore, it remains for us to find the cause in the floor of the sea, either that which underlies p189the sea or that which is temporarily flooded, but preferably the submarine floor. For the floor that is saturated with water is far more easily moved and is liable to undergo more sudden changes; for the air-element, which is the ultimate cause of all such occurrences, is greater there. But, as I have said, the immediate cause of such occurrences is that the beds of the sea themselves are sometimes elevated and sometimes undergo a settling process, and not that some of the beds are high, while others are less so. Strato, however, assumes this, believing that what happens in the case of rivers occurs also in the case of the sea, namely, that the flow is away from the high places; otherwise, he would not have suggested that the bed is the cause of the current at Byzantium, saying that the bed of the Euxine is higher than that of the Propontis and the sea next after the Propontis, and at the same time adding the reason, namely, that the deeps of the Euxine are being filled up by the mud which is carried down from the rivers, and are becoming shallow, and that, on this account, the current is outward. He applies the same reasoning to the Mediterranean Sea as a whole compared with the Atlantic Ocean, since, in his opinion, the Mediterranean Sea is making its bed higher than that which lies beneath the Atlantic Ocean; for the Mediterranean Sea, too, is being filled up with silt from many rivers, and is receiving a deposit of mud similar to that of the Euxine Sea. It should also be true, then, that the inflow at the Pillars and Calpe130 is similar to the inflow at Byzantium.131 But I pass this point by, for people p191will say that the same thing does occur here, but that the inflow is lost in the ebb and flow of the tides and thus escapes observation.

6 But what I wish to learn is this: supposing the bed of the Euxine Sea was lower132 than that of the Propontis and of the sea next after the Propontis before the opening of the outlet at Byzantium, 52what was there to prevent the Euxine from being filled up by the rivers, whether it was previously a sea or merely a lake greater than Lake Maeotis? If this point be conceded, then I shall go on to ask this question too: Is it not true that the water-levels of the Euxine and the Propontis were such that, so long as they remained the same, there could be no straining for an outflow, for the reason that resistance and pressure were equal, but that, as soon as the inner sea reached a higher level, it set up a strain and discharged its excess water? And is not this the reason why the outer sea became confluent with the inner sea and why it assumed the same level as the inner sea — regardless of whether the latter was originally a sea or once a lake and later a sea — simply because of its mingling with the inner sea and prevailing over it? For if this point be granted as well as the first, the outflow that now takes place would go on just the same, but it would not be away from a higher sea-bed, or from a sloping one, as Strato contended.

7 Now we must apply these principles to the whole of the Mediterranean Sea and to the Atlantic Ocean, finding the cause of the outflow not in their beds, nor in the sloping of their beds, but in the rivers. For according to Strato and p193Eratosthenes, it is not improbable that our whole Mediterranean Sea (even granting that in former times it was a lake) became flooded by the rivers, overflowed, and poured its waters out through the narrows at the Pillars as over a waterfall; and that the Atlantic Ocean, swollen ever more and more, was finally made confluent by it, and united with it on one sea-level; and that thus the Mediterranean basin was turned into a sea because the Atlantic prevailed over it. It is wholly contrary to physical science,133 however, to liken the sea to rivers; for the rivers are carried down a sloping course, whereas the sea has no slope. But the current through the straits is accounted for by another principle, and is not due to the fact that the mud carried down by the rivers silts up the deeps of the sea. For this silting up occurs only at the very mouths of the rivers, as for example the so‑called "Breasts" at the mouth of the Ister, the Scythian desert, and Salmydessus — where other violent streams also contribute to the result; and, at the mouths of the Phasis, the Colchian seaboard, which is sandy, low-lying and soft; and, at the mouths of the Thermodon and the Iris, the whole of Themiscyra, that plain of the Amazons, and the most of Sidene. The same is true of the other rivers also; for they all imitate the Nile in that they keep converting the channel just in front of them into land, some to a greater and others to a less extent; to a less extent those that do not bring down much mud, but to a greater extent those that flow for a great distance through a country with a soft soil and have many torrents as tributaries. To the p195latter class belongs the Pyramus, which has added much land to Cilicia, and it is to this fact that the following oracle refers: 53"Men that are yet to be will experience this at the time when the Pyramus of the silvery eddies shall silt up its sacred sea-beach and come to Cyprus." The Pyramus, making its course as a navigable stream from the midst of the plains of Cataonia, and then breaking a passage for itself into Cilicia through the gorges of the Taurus Mountains, empties into the strait that lies between Cilicia and Cyprus.

8 Now the reason why the alluvium brought down by the rivers does not reach the open sea in its forward course134 is that the sea, which is naturally refluent, drives it back again; for the sea is like animated beings, and, just as they inhale and exhale their breath unremittingly, so in like manner the sea too is subject to a certain recurrent motion that proceeds from itself and returns to itself unremittingly. This is apparent to any one who stands on the beach at the time when the waves break; for no sooner are one's feet washed than they are left bare by the waves, and then again they are washed, and this goes on unremittingly. And close upon the wash comes a wave also, which, however gentle it may be, possesses a certain increase of power as it rushes in, and casts all foreign matter out upon the land — "and casteth much tangle out along the sea." Now while this takes place to a greater extent when there is wind, yet it occurs p197both when there is a calm and when the winds blow from the land; for the wave is carried to the land none the less even against the wind, as though it were subject, along with the sea itself, to the sea's own motion. This is what Homer means when he says: "And goeth with arching crest about the promontories, and speweth the foaming brine afar," and "The shores cry aloud as the salt sea belches forth."

9 Accordingly, the onset of the wave has a power sufficient to expel foreign matter. They call this, in fact, a "purging"135 of the sea — a process by which dead bodies and bits of wreckage are cast out upon the land by the waves. But the ebb has not power sufficient to draw back into the deep sea a corpse, or a stick of wood, or even that lightest of substances, a cork (when once they have been cast by the wave upon the land) from the places on the shore that are near the sea, where they have been stranded by the waves. And so it comes about that both the silt and the water fouled by it are cast out by the waves, the weight of the silt coöperating with the wave, so that the silt is precipitated to the bottom near the land before it can be carried forward into the deep sea; in fact, even the force of the river ceases just a short distance beyond the mouth. So, then, it is possible p199for the sea, beginning at its beaches, to be entirely silted up, if it receives the inflow from the rivers uninterruptedly. And this would be the result even if we assume that the Euxine Sea is deeper than the Sea of Sardinia, 54which is said to be the deepest of all the seas that have been sounded — about one thousand fathoms, as Poseidonius states.

10 However, one might be rather disinclined to accept such an explanation, and so it is necessary for me to bring my discussion into closer connection with things that are more apparent to the senses and that, so to speak, are seen every day. Now deluges as we have seen, are caused by upheavals of the bed of the sea; and earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and upheavals of the submarine ground raise the sea, whereas the settling of the bed of the sea lowers the sea. For it cannot be that burning masses may be raised aloft, and small islands, but not large islands; nor yet that islands may thus appear, but not continents. And in a similar way settlings in the bed of the sea, both great ones and small, may also occur, if it be true, as people say, that yawning abysses and engulfments of districts and villages have been caused by earthquakes — as happened in the case of Bura and Bizone and several other places; and as for Sicily, one might conjecture that it is not so much a piece broken away from Italy as that it was cast up from the deeps by the fire of Aetna and remained there;136 and the same is true both of the Lipari Islands and the Pithecussae.

p201 11 But Eratosthenes is so simple that, although he is a mathematician, he will not even confirm the doctrine of Archimedes, who, in his treatise On Floating Bodies says that the surface of every liquid body at rest and in equilibrium is spherical, the sphere having the same centre as the earth137 — a doctrine that is accepted by every one who has studied mathematics at all. And so, although Eratosthenes himself admits that the Mediterranean Sea is one continuous sea, yet he does not believe that it has been brought under a law of one continuous surface, even in places that lie close together. And as authorities for such an ignorant opinion as this he summons engineers, although the mathematicians have declared that engineering is a branch of mathematics. For he says that Demetrius, too, attempted to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth in order to provide a passage for his fleets, but was prevented by the engineers, after they had taken measurements and reported to him that the sea in the Corinthian Gulf was higher than at Cenchreae, so that, if he should cut through the intervening land, the whole strait about Aegina, Aegina itself, and the neighbouring islands would be submerged, and the canal would not be useful, either. And Eratosthenes says that this is the reason why the narrow straits have p203strong currents, and in particular the strait of Sicily, which, he declares, behaves in a manner similar to the flow and the ebb of the ocean; for the current changes twice within the course of every day and night, and like the ocean, it floods twice a day and falls twice a day. 55Now corresponding to the flood-tide, he continues, is the current that runs down from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Sicilian Sea as though from a higher water-level — and indeed this is called the "descending" current — and this current corresponds to the flood-tides in that it begins at the time of the rising and the setting of the moon, and it stops when the moon attains either meridian, namely, the meridian above the earth or that below the earth; on the other hand, corresponding to the ebb-tide is the return-current — and this is called the "ascending" current — which begins when the moon attains either meridian, just as the ebbs do, and stops when the moon attains the points of her rising and setting.

12 Now Poseidonius and Athenodorus have satisfactorily treated the question of the flow and ebb of the tides; but concerning the refluent currents of straits, which also involve a discussion that goes deeper into natural science than comports with the purpose of the present work, it is sufficient to say that neither does one principle account for the straits' having currents, the principle by which p205they are classified as straits (for if that were the case, the Strait of Sicily would not be changing its current twice a day, as Eratosthenes says it does, but the strait of Chalcis seven times a day, while the strait at Byzantium makes no change at all but continues to have its outflow only from the Pontus into the Propontis, and, as Hipparchus reports, even stands still sometimes), nor, if one principle should account for the currents, would the cause be what Eratosthenes alleges it to be, namely, that the two seas on the sides of a strait have different levels. Indeed this would not be the case with the rivers either, except when they have cataracts; but since they have cataracts, they are not refluent, but run continuously toward the lower level. And this, too, results on account of the fact that the stream and its surface are inclined. But who would say that a sea-surface is inclined? And particularly in view of the hypotheses by which the four bodies (which, of course, we also call "elements")138 are made spheres. And so not only is a strait not refluent, but it is also not subject to standing still without any current at all, since, although there is confluence therein of two seas, yet there is not merely one level, but two of them, one higher, the other lower. The case of the water, indeed, is not the same as that of the earth, which, being solid in character, has than shape accordingly; and therefore it has hollows that keep their shape, and elevations as well; but the water, through the mere p207influence of gravity, rides upon the earth and assumes the sort of surface which Archimedes says it does.

13 Eratosthenes adds to what he has said about Ammon and Egypt his opinion that Mt. Casius was once washed by the sea, and also that all the region where the so‑called Gerrha139 now is, was in every part covered with shoal-water since it was connected with the gulf of the Red Sea, and that it became uncovered when the seas140 came together. Now it is ambiguous to say that the region mentioned was covered with shoal-water since it was connected with gulf of the Red Sea, 56for "to be connected with" means either "to come near to" or "to touch"; so that, if we were referring to bodies of water, that phrase would mean, in the latter sense, that one body of water is confluent with another. My interpretation, however, is that the shoal-waters "came near to" the Red Sea as long as the narrows at the Pillars of Heracles were still closed, and that after the narrows had been broken through, the retirement of the shoal-water took place because the level of the Mediterranean Sea had been lowered by the outflow at the Pillars. But Hipparchus, interpreting the phrase "to be connected with" to be the same thing as "to be confluent with," that is, that our Mediterranean Sea "became confluent with" the Red Sea because of its being filled up with water, finds fault by asking why in the world it is that, at the time when our Mediterranean Sea, because of the outflow of its waters at the Pillars, underwent its change in that direction, it did not also cause the Red Sea, which had become confluent p209with it, to make the same change, and why in the world the Red Sea continued at the same level into being lowered with the Mediterranean? For, says he, even according to Eratosthenes himself the whole exterior sea is confluent, and consequently the western sea and the Red Sea form one sea. After saying this, Hipparchus adds his corollary: that the Sea outside the Pillars, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea, too, which has become confluent with the Red Sea, all have the same level.

14 But Eratosthenes replies to this that he has not said that the confluence with the Red Sea took place at the time the Mediterranean Sea had become filled, but merely that the Mediterranean Sea had come near to it; and, besides, that it does not follow from the notion of one continuous sea that it has the same height and the same level — just as the Mediterranean has not, and as most assuredly its waters at Lechaeum and those about Cenchreae141 have not. This very point Hipparchus himself makes in his book against Eratosthenes; since, then, he knows that such is the opinion of Eratosthenes, let him give some argument of his own against Eratosthenes, and let him not assume off-hand that, forsooth, if a man says the exterior sea is one, he at the same time affirms also that its level is everywhere the same.

15 Again, when Hipparchus says that the inscription on the dolphins,142 made by sacred ambassadors of Cyrene, is false, he gives an unconvincing reason when he says that although the founding of Cyrene falls within historical times, yet no historian has recorded that the oracle was ever situated on a sea.143 p211Well, what if no historian does record the fact, and yet, according to the evidence on which we base the conjecture that the region was once coast-land, the dolphins were in fact dedicated and the inscription was engraved by sacred ambassadors of Cyrene? Again, although Hipparchus has admitted that, along with the elevation of the bed of the sea, the sea itself was elevated, and that it inundated the country as far as the oracle, 57a distance of somewhat more than three thousand stadia from the sea, he does not admit the elevation of the sea to such a point that both the whole island of Pharos and the greater part of Egypt were covered — just as though so high an elevation of the sea were not sufficient to inundate these districts too! And again, after saying that if, he says the outbreak of the waters at the Pillars took place, the Mediterranean Sea was really filled to such an extent as Eratosthenes has stated, the whole of Libya and the greater part of Europe and Asia must first have been covered, he adds thereto that the Pontus would then have been confluent with the Adriatic in some places, for the reason that the Ister,144 as he supposes, branches off from the Pontus regions and thus flows into both seas, on account of the lie of the land. But neither does the Ister rise in the Pontus regions (on the contrary, it rises in the mountains above the Adriatic), nor does it flow into both seas, but into the Pontus alone, and it branches off near its mouths only. However, this mistake of Hipparchus is shared with him by some of his predecessors, who supposed that there was a river of the same name as the Ister, which branched off from it and emptied into the Adriatic, and that the tribe p213of Istrians, through whose territory this Ister flows, got their appellation from it, and that it was by this route that Jason made his return voyage from the land of the Colchians.

16 Now, in order to promote the virtue of not marvelling145 at such changes as I have declared to be responsible for deluges and for such operations of nature as I have spoken of146 in the case of Sicily, the islands of Aeolus, and the Pithecussae, it is worth while to set forth still other instances of things similar thereto that exist, or else have taken place, in other regions. For if a large number of such instances are placed in view, they will put a stop to one's amazement. But, as it is, the unfamiliar thing disturbs the senses and shews one's ignorance of natural occurrences and of the conditions of life generally; for instance, suppose one should tell the story of Thera and Therasia (islands situated in the roadstead between Crete and Cyrenaea, the first of which, Thera, is the mother-city of Cyrene), and of Egypt, and of many such places in Greece. For midway between Thera and Therasia fires broke forth from the sea and continued for four days, so that the whole sea boiled and blazed, and the fires cast up an island which was gradually elevated as though by levers and consisted of burning masses — an island with a stretch of twelve stadia in circumference. p215After the cessation of the eruption, the Rhodians, at the time of their maritime supremacy, were first to venture upon the scene and to erect on the island a temple in honour of Poseidon Asphalios.147 58And in Phoenicia, says Poseidonius, on the occasion of an earthquake, a city situated above Sidon was swallowed up, and nearly two-thirds of Sidon itself was engulfed too, but not all at once, so that no considerable destruction of human life took place. The same operation of nature extended also over the whole of Syria, but with rather moderate force; and it also passed over to certain islands, both the Cyclades and Euboea, with the result that the fountains of Arethusa (a spring in Chalcis) were stopped up, though after many days they gushed up at another mouth, and the island did not cease from being shaken in some part or other until a chasm in the earth opened in the Lelantine Plain and vomited forth a river of fiery lava.

17 Though many writers have made collections of such instances, those collected by Demetrius of Scepsis will suffice since they are appropriately cited. For example, he mentions these verses of Homer: "And they came to the two fair-flowing springs, where two fountains rise of deep-eddying Scamander; the one floweth with warm water, while the other in summer floweth forth like hail"; and then he does not allow us to marvel if at the present time the spring of cold water is still there, whereas the one of hot water is no longer visible.a For, says he, we must lay the cause to the shutting off of the hot p217water.148 And he recalls on this point the words of Democles, who records certain great earthquakes, some of which long ago took place about Lydia and Ionia as far north as the Troad, and by their action not only were villages swallowed up, but Mt. Sipylus was shattered — in the reign of Tantalus. And lakes arose from swamps, and a tidal wave submerged the Troad. Again, the Egyptian Pharos was once an island of the sea, but now it has become, in a sense, a peninsula; and the same is true of Tyre and Clazomenae. And when I was residing in Alexandria, in Egypt, the sea about Pelusium and Mt. Casius rose and flooded the country and made an island of the mountain, so that the road by Mt. Casius into Phoenicia became navigable. Hence it is nothing to marvel at even if, at some time, the isthmus should be parted asunder or else undergo a settling process — I mean the isthmus that separates the Egyptian Sea from the Red Sea — and thus disclose a strait and make the outer sea confluent with the inner,149 just as happened in the case of the strait at the Pillars of Heracles. I have already said something about such things at the beginning of this treatise;150 and all these instances must needs contribute to one result, namely, to fix strong our belief in the works of nature and also in the changes that are being brought to pass by other agencies.

18 And as for the Peiraeus, it was because the Peiraeus was formerly an island and lay "over against"151 the mainland, 59they say,b that it got the p219name it has; but contrariwise Leucas, since the Corinthians cut a canal through the isthmus, has become an island, although it was formerly a headland. Indeed, it is with reference to Leucas, they say, that Laertes remarks: "As I was when I took Nericus, the well-built castle on the headland of the continent." Here, then, a partition cut by hand has been made; in other places man has built moles or bridges — just as, in the case of the island next to Syracuse, there is at the present time a bridge which connects it with the mainland, whereas formerly there was a mole, as Ibycus says, built of selected stones, which he calls stones "picked out."152 Then there are Bura and Helice; Bura disappeared in a chasm of the earth, and Helice was wiped out by a wave from the sea.153 And about Methone in the Hermionic Gulf154 a mountain seven stadia in height was cast up in consequence of a fiery eruption, and this mountain was unapproachable by day on account of the heat and the smell of sulphur, while at night it shone to a great distance and was so hot that the sea boiled for five stadia and was turbid even for twenty stadia, and was heaped up with massive broken-off rocks no smaller than towers. And again, by Lake Copaïs155 both Arne and Mideia p221were swallowed up, places which have been named by Homer in the Catalogue of Ships: "And they that possess Arne rich in vineyards, and they that possess Mideia." And by Lake Bistonis156 and by the lake which they now call Aphnitis157 certain cities of Thracians appear to have been overwhelmed; and some say cities of Trerans also, thinking they were neighbours of the Thracians. And, too, one of the Echinades Islands, which used to be called Artemita, has become part of the continent; and they say that still others of the little islands about the mouth of the Acheloüs have suffered the same change from the silting up of the sea by the river; and the rest of them too, as Herodotus158 says, are in process of fusion with the continent. Again, there are certain Aetolian promontories which were formerly islands; and Asteria has been changed, which the poet calls Asteris: "Now there is a rocky isle in the mid-sea,159 Asteris, a little isle; and there is a harbour therein with a double entrance, where ships may lie at anchor." But at the present time it has not even a good anchorage. Further, in Ithaca there is no cave, neither grotto of the Nymphs, such as Homer describes; but it is better to ascribe the cause to physical change rather than to Homer's ignorance or to a false account of the places to suit the fabulous element in his poetry. Since this matter, however, is uncertain, 60I leave it to the public to investigate.

p223 19 Antissa was formerly an island, as Myrsilus says; and since Lesbos was formerly called Issa, it came about that this island was called Antissa;160 but now Antissa is a city of Lesbos. And some believe that Lesbos itself is a fragment broken off from Mt. Ida, just as Prochyta and Pithecussa from Misenum, Capri from the Promontory of Athene, Sicily from the district of Rhegium, and Ossa from Olympus. And it is a fact that changes of this sort have also occurred in the neighbourhood of these places. And, again, the River Ladon in Arcadia once ceased to flow.161 Duris says that Rhagae in Media has received its name because the earth about the Caspian Gates had been "rent"162 by earthquakes to such an extent that numerous cities and villages were destroyed, and the rivers underwent changes of various kinds. Ion says of Euboea in his satyr-drama Omphale: "The slender wave of Euripus hath separated the land of Euboea from Boeotia, in that by means of a strait it hath cut a projecting headland away."

20 Demetrius of Calatis, in his account of all the earthquakes that have ever occurred throughout all Greece, says that the greater part of the Lichades Islands163 and of Cenaeum164 was engulfed; the hot springs at Aedepsus165 and Thermopylae, after having ceased to flow for three days, began to flow afresh, and those at Aedepsus broke forth also at another source; at Oreus166 the wall next to the sea and about p225seven hundred of the houses collapsed;167 and as for Echinus and Phalara and Heracleia in Trachis, not only was a considerable portion of them thrown down, but the settlement of Phalara was overturned, ground and all. And, says he, something quite similar happened to the people of Lamia and of Larissa; and Scarphia, also, was flung up, foundations and all, and no fewer than seventeen hundred human beings were engulfed, and over half as many Thronians; again, a triple-headed wave rose up, one part of which was carried in the direction of Tarphe and Thronium, another part to Thermopylae, and the rest into the plain as far as Daphnus in Phocis; fountains of rivers were dried up for a number of days, and the Spercheiusº changed its course and made the roadways navigable, and the Boagrius was carried down a different ravine, and also many sections of Alope, Cynus, and Opus were seriously damaged, and Oeum, the castle above Opus, was laid in utter ruin, and a part of the wall of Elateia was broken down, and at Alponus, during the celebration of the Thesmophoria, twenty-five girls ran up into one of the towers at the harbour to get a view, the tower fell, and they themselves fell with it into the sea. And they say, also, of the Atalanta near Euboea that its middle portions, 61because they had been rent asunder, got a ship-canal through the rent, and that some of the plains were overflowed even as far as twenty stadia, and p227that a trireme was lifted out of the docks and cast over the wall.168

21 Writers also add the changes resulting from the migrations of peoples, wishing to develop in us, to a still greater extent, that virtue of not marvelling at things (a virtue which is lauded by Democritus and all the other philosophers; for they put it in a class with freedom from dread and from perturbability and from terror).169 For instance: the migration of Western Iberians170 to the regions beyond the Pontus and Colchis (regions which are separated from Armenia by the Araxes according to Apollodorus, but rather by the River Cyrus and the Moschican Mountains); and the migration of Egyptians to Ethiopia and Colchis; and that of Enetians171 from Paphlagonia to the Adriatic. This is what took place in the case of the Greek tribes also — Ionians, Dorians, Achaeans, and Aeolians; and the Aenianians that are now neighbours of the Aetolians used to live about Dotium and Mt. Ossa among the Perrhaebians; and, too, the Perrhaebians themselves are emigrants. And the present treatise is full of such instances. A number of them, to be sure, are matters even of ready knowledge to most people, but the emigrations of the Carians, Trerans, Teucrians, and Galatians, and likewise also the expeditions of the princes to lands far remote (I refer to Madys the Scythian, Tearko the Ethiopian, Cobus the Treran, Sesostris and Psammitichus the p229Egyptians, and to Persians from Cyrus to Xerxes) are not likewise matters of off-hand knowledge to everybody. And those Cimmerians whom they also call Trerans (or some tribe or other of the Cimmerians) often overran the countries on the right of the Pontus and those adjacent to them, at one time having invaded Paphlagonia, and at another time Phrygia even, at which time Midas drank bull's blood, they say, and thus went to his doom. Lygdamis,172 however, at the head of his own soldiers, marched as far as Lydia and Ionia and captured Sardes, but lost his life in Cilicia. Oftentimes both Cimmerians and Trerans made such invasions as these; but they say that the Trerans and Cobus were finally driven out by Madys, the king of the Scythians. Let these illustrations be given here, inasmuch as they involve matters of fact which have a bearing upon the entire compass of the world in general.

22 I now return to the points next in order, whence I digressed.173 First, as for the statement of Herodotus174 that there are no Hyperboreans175 because there are also no Hypernotians.176 62Eratosthenes says the argument presented is absurd and like the following quibble: suppose some one should say "There are none who rejoice over the ills of others because there are also none who rejoice over the blessings of others." And, adds Eratosthenes, it so happens that there are also Hypernotians — at all events, Notus does not blow in Ethiopia, but farther north. But it p231is a marvellous thing if, although winds blow in every latitude, and although the wind that blows from the south is everywhere called Notus, there is any inhabited place where this is not the case. For, on the contrary, not only might Ethiopia have the same Notus as we have, but even the whole country further south as far as the equator might have it. However that may be, this charge should be laid against Herodotus, that he assumed that by "Hyperboreans" those peoples were meant in whose countries Boreas does not blow. For even if the poets do speak thus, rather mythically, those, at least, who expound the poets should give ear to sound doctrine, namely, that by "Hyperboreans" were meant merely the most northerly177 peoples. And as for limits, that of the northerly peoples is the north pole, while that of the southerly178 peoples is the equator; and the winds too have the same limits.

23 Next in order, Eratosthenes proceeds to reply to those whose stories are plainly fictitious and impossible, some of which are in the form of myths, and others in the form of history — persons whom it is not worth while to mention; neither should he, when treating a subject of this kind, have paid heed to persons who talk nonsense. Such, then, is Eratosthenes' course of argument in the First Book of his Commentaries.


The Editor's Notes:

124 Since Antiphanes of Berga, in Thrace, was the typical romancer, "Bergaean" became a proverbial epithet for writers of this type. It is not known whether Euhemerus was from Messene in Sicily, or from Messene in the Peloponnesus. He made extensive journeys by order of Cassander, King of Macedonia (316‑297 B.C.). In his work on "Sacred History" he gave a fanciful account of his travels, and, on the basis of various inscriptions which he said he saw, attempted to rationalize the whole system of Greek mythology.

125 See note 2, page 40.

126 Western side.

127 See 7.6.1.

128 See 7.4.5.

129 Birket-el‑Kerun. See 17.1.35.

130 The Rock of Gibraltar. See 3.5.5.

131 That is, the current of the Mediterranean should be toward the Atlantic just as that of the Euxine is toward the Aegean, and the amount of the two inflows should be proportional to the deposits received.

132 Strabo has assumed (§ 4 preceding) that the bed was higher.

133 On page 181 Strabo has referred to Strato as "the physicist."

134 It has to prepare the way for itself gradually. The following illustration concerning the action of the waves does not mean that the alluvium cannot eventually build its way over the whole bottom of the sea — a possibility admitted by Strabo in §9.

135 Catharsis: commonly used of (1) the purification of the soul by sacrifice, or (2) the purging effect of tragedy upon the emotions, or (3) as a medical term for various bodily discharges.

136 But compare 6.1.6, where Strabo discusses this subject again and leaves a different impression.

137 Chapter 1, Theorem 2: "Of every liquid body perfectly at rest, the surface is spheroidal and has the same centre as the earth." Archimedes says "spheroidal," and not "spherical" as Strabo quotes him; but Archimedes used his term in the literal and not the geometrical sense, and the term is equivalent to "spherical" when it is applied to "a liquid body perfectly at rest." Compare the use of "spheroidal" [Thayer's note: the Greek σφαιροειδῆ is translated there as "sphere-shaped"] by Strabo himself on page 41.

138 A Pythagorean doctrine: "The bodies of the four elements" (water, earth, air, and fire) "are spherical, fire only excepted, whose figure is conical" (Plutarch, De Placitis Philosophorum 1.14).

139 A little town in Egypt between Pelusium and Mt. Casius; not the Arabian Gerrha.

140 The Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

141 That is, the gulfs of Corinth and Aegina, west and east, respectively, of the Isthmus of Corinth.

142 That is, at the oracle of Ammon. See page 181.

143 The dolphin was to the Greeks the symbol of a seaport town. It would seem to us that the ambassadors from Cyrene set up the dolphin as a symbol of their own town, and that it had no bearing on the question whether or not the oracle of Ammon was once on the seashore.

144 The Danube.

145 Compare Horace's "Nil admirari" (Epist. 6). Also 1.3.21 (below); and Cicero, De Finibus 5.8.23 and 5.29.87. The Stoic philosophers attached great importance to the virtue of "marvelling at nothing." Strabo's present purpose is, by heaping up instances of marvellous occurrences, to promote that virtue in the student of geography, and thus to remove doubt and encourage the scientific spirit.

146 Page 199.

147 Poseidon, "Securer" of travel by sea, and of the foundations of the earth.

148 See 13.1.43, where Strabo again refers to these springs.

149 Compare the Suez Canal.

150 1.3.4.

151 Peran.

152 Ibycus says: "picked out by mortal hands."

153 Both were in Achaea. The earthquake took place 373 B.C.

154 We should have expected Strabo to say "Saronic" Gulf. The form which he elsewhere gives to the Hermionic Gulf (see 8.6.1), making it reach as far north as Aegina and Epidaurian territory, is strange indeed; but in accordance with his definition Methone comes within the Hermionic Gulf.

155 In Boeotia (Lake Topolia).

156 In Thrace (Lake Lagos).

157 The other name was Dascylitis (see 13.1.9). It was in Bithynia; and according to the best authority, it was not the lake now called Maniyas or that called Abullonia, but a third lake which has disappeared.

158 2.10.

159 Asteris lay "midway between Ithaca and rugged Samos," says Homer; but scholars have been unable to identify it.

160 That is, the island opposite Issa (Lesbos) was called Antissa (Anti‑Issa).

161 See 8.8.4.

162 The root of the verb here used is rhag.

163 Between Euboea and Locris.

164 A promontory in north-western Euboea, opposite Locris.

165 A city in north-western Euboea.

166 A city in north-eastern Euboea.

167 The places subsequently named in this paragraph — except Atalanta — are all on the mainland of Greece, more or less in proximity to the Euboean Sea.

168 Diodorus (12.59) says that Atalanta was once a peninsula and that it was broken away from the mainland by an earthquake, though he does not refer to the occurrence mentioned by Strabo. Both apparently have in mind the earthquake of 426 B.C.

169 See § 16 above, and the footnote.

170 That is, "Western" as distinguished from the new, or "Eastern," Iberia beyond the Pontus.

171 Compare "Venetians"; and see 5.1.4.

172 King of the Cimmerians.

173 At § 16 Strabo digressed from the order of discussion pursued by Eratosthenes.

174 Herod. 4.36.

175 People who live beyond Boreas (North Wind).

176 People beyond Notus (South Wind).

177 Literally, "borean."

178 Literally, "notian."


Thayer's Notes:

a According to the page on the Scamander River at Livius, modern research doesn't confirm Strabo: but the historian was already recounting an old story. In the seismically active Mediterranean countries, and especially Italy and Greece, it is in fact very common for springs to burst forth or disappear; usually an earthquake is the cause of the change.

[decorative delimiter]

b This idea was checked up on in the early 21c, and the full panoply of modern science — boreholes, stratigraphy, radiocarbon dating, the works — brought to bear on it: and the Piraeus indeed turns out to have been an island; the results of the study were published in Geology, the journal of the American Geological Society (abstract). This left lots of people amazed, but for the life of me I can't see why. Antiquity had its share of intelligent people, and Strabo was clearly one of them: disbelief on the mere grounds that the writer lived long ago is pure perversion, with the arrogance that only our time can exhibit. Where there is doubt, I prefer to believe the ancients rather than not.

It should further be noted that Strabo didn't form his own conclusion, but merely reports a common idea of his time ("they say").


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