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Bill Thayer
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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Geography

Claudius Ptolemy

published in English translation by
Dover Publications, 1991

The text is in the public domain.

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

(link to previous section)
Book II Ch. 1

 p47  Book II: Prologue to the particular descriptions

Thayer's Note: Stevenson's "translation" of Ptolemy, to which this page belongs, is abysmally bad. It should not be used for any serious purpose. For details and correctives, see my Ptolemy homepage.

That which should be considered in general geography must here be explained, and also how the drawing of maps should be emended in keeping with the present knowledge of the known parts of our habitable earth, as far as it concerns the question of the relation of place to place, and also their likenesses, and the method of depicting them.

Beginning with the particular narration let us first make a statement respecting the degrees of longitude and latitude which have been assigned to well-known places. Approximately these are correct, since the traditions concerning them are continuously the same; that is, in the main the traditions agree. But as to the degrees ascribed to localities not as yet thoroughly explored, because of the incomplete and uncertain knowledge we have of these places, they should be computed rather from their nearness to the localities already laid down, and the more thoroughly explored. This should be done lest any of those localities which have been inserted for completing the whole earth's picture should be without a fixed and definite place.

Therefore we have written on the margins of the pages notations respecting the different degrees of different places, and have used these as measurements, in the first place of longitude; then we have noted the degrees of latitude in such manner that if any corrections must be made, from a fuller investigation, they can be inserted in the adjoining spaces which have left vacant between the separate pages.

Moreover we have selected the projection which we especially consider the best in the making of maps, this being the one in which we start at the right hand. The work may then proceed from places already inserted to those not yet inserted. This can best be carried out if we write in the northern latitudes before the southern ones, and the western before the eastern ones; since to the eye of the writer or reader the northern localities appear in the upper part, and the eastern appear on the right hand, on both the globe and the map of the habitable earth.

First of all, therefore, let us set down Europe which we separate from Libya by the Straits of Hercules, and from Asia, after we have put in the seas and the swamp of Myotis, by the river Tanisº and by the meridian drawn through it to the unknown region; then let us put in Libya and place it likewise next to the sea which extends from the bay lying near Prasum, a promontory of Ethiopia, as far as the Gulf of Arabia. Let us separate Libya from Asia by the isthmus which extends from the interior of Heroopoliticus to our sea, and separates Egypt from Arabia and Judea. Let us do this that we may not divide Egypt, in making a division of the continent, by the Nile, because continents are bounded more properly, where it is possible, by seas than by rivers.

In the last place let us put in Asia, keeping the same plan as in the parts of each continent,  p48 of disposing of each of them according to its relation to the whole earth, and to the entire inhabited regions in the continents themselves, first writing in the coast that is most northern, then the western, and the seas and the islands that are nearest together, and those which in some particular are most worthy of mention.

After this let us distinguish, in the descriptions, the various prefectures, and provinces of the earth, treating them as we have before noted, in accord with the known positions of localities and according to what especially ought to be inserted, spurning the multitudinous traditional farrago concerning the peculiar qualities of their different inhabitants, except that, in the case of qualities renowned by general report, we make a short and suitable note on the religion and manners. In this way the opportunity will be given to any one, who desires it, for drawing the parts of the earth in maps according to the particular prefectures and provinces, one or many, and the right relation of the places of each other on the maps will be preserved, together with the right size and the right shape. Nor will it make much difference if in these maps we use parallel meridian straight lines instead of curved lines, provided we keep the proper proportion of the meridian degrees to the degrees marked on the great circle, that is the equator, which is in the middle of every map.

Having stated these things, let us begin our particular descriptions with the western part of Europe according to its provinces or prefectures.

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Page updated: 11 Jul 20