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XIII.1 (Part 3)

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


published in Vol. V
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,
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(Vol. VI) Strabo

 p139  Book XIII, Chapter 2

1 (616) Since Lesbos, an island worthy of a full account, lies alongside and opposite the coast which extends from Lectum to Canae, and also has small islands lying round it, some others it and some between it and the mainland, it is now time to describe these; for these are Aeolian, and I might almost say that Lesbos is the metropolis of the Aeolian cities. But I must begin at the point whence I began to traverse the coast that lies opposite the island.

2 Now as one sails from Lectum to Assus, the Lesbian country begins at Sigrium, its promontory on the north.​1 In this general neighbourhood is also Methymna, a city of the Lesbians, sixty stadia distant from the coast that stretches from Polymedium to Assus. But while the perimeter which is filled out by the island as a whole is eleven hundred stadia, the several distances are as follows: From Methymna to Malia, the southernmost​2 promontory to one keeping the island on the right, I  p141 mean 617 at the point where Canae lies most directly opposite the island and precisely corresponds with it, the distance is three hundred and forty stadia; thence to Sigrium, which is the length of the island, five hundred and sixty; and then to Methymna, two hundred and ten.​3 Mitylene, the largest city, lies between Methymna and Malia, being seventy stadia distant from Malia, one hundred and twenty from Canae, and the same distance from the Arginussae, which are three small islands lying near the mainland along Canae. In the interval between Mitylene and Methymna, in the neighbourhood of a village called Aegeirus in the Methymnaean territory, the island is narrowest, with a passage of only twenty stadia over to the Euripus of the Pyrrhaeans. Pyrrha is situated on the western side of Lesbos at a distance of one hundred stadia from Malia. Mitylene has two harbours, of which the southern can be closed and holds only fifty triremes, but the northern is large and deep, and is sheltered by a mole. Off both lies a small island, which contains a part of the city that is settled there. And the city is well equipped with everything.

3 Mitylene has produced famous men: in early times, Pittacus, one of the Seven Wise Men; and the poet Alcaeus, and his brother Antimenidas, who, according to Alcaeus, won a great struggle when fighting on the side of the Babylonians, and rescued  p143 them from their toils by killing "a warrior, the royal wrestler" (as he says), "who was but one short of five cubits in height."​4 And along with these flourished also Sappho, a marvellous woman; for in all the time of which we have record I do not know of the appearance of any woman who could rival Sappho, even in a slight degree, in the matter of poetry. The city was in those times ruled over by several tyrants because of the dissensions among the inhabitants; and these dissensions are the subject of the Stasiotic​5 poems, as they are called, of Alcaeus. And also Pittacus​6 was one of the tyrants. Now Alcaeus would rail alike at both Pittacus and the rest, Myrsilus and Melanchrus and the Cleanactidae and certain others, though even he himself was not innocent of revolutionary attempts; but even Pittacus himself used monarchy for the overthrow of the oligarchs, and then, after overthrowing them, restored to the city its independence. Diophanes the rhetorician was born much later; but Potamon, Lesbocles, Crinagoras, and Theophanes the historian in my time. Theophanes was also a statesman; and he became a friend to Pompey the Great, mostly through his very ability, and helped him to succeed in all his achievements;  p145 whence he not only adorned his native land, partly through Pompey and partly through himself, 618 but also rendered himself the most illustrious of all the Greeks. He left a son, Marcus Pompey, whom Augustus Caesar once set up as Procurator of Asia, and who is now counted among the first of the friends of Tiberius. The Athenians were in danger of suffering an irreparable disgrace when they voted that all Mitylenaeans from youth upwards should be slain, but they changed their minds and their counter-decree reached the generals only one day before the order was to be executed.

4 Pyrrha has been rased to the ground, but its suburb is inhabited and has a harbour, whence there is a passage of eighty stadia over hills to Mitylene. Then, after Pyrrha, one comes to Eressus; it is situated on a hill and extends down to the sea. Then to Sigrium, twenty-eight stadia from Eressus. Both Theophrastus and Phanias, the peripatetic philosophers, disciples of Aristotle, were from Eressus. Theophrastus was at first called Tyrtamus, but Aristotle changed his name to Theophrastus, at the same time avoiding the cacophony of his former name and signifying the fervour of his speech; for Aristotle made all his pupils eloquent, but Theophrastus most eloquent of all. Antissa, a city with a harbour, comes next in order after Sigrium. And then Methymna, whence came Arion, who, according to a myth told by Herodotus and his followers, safely escaped on a dolphin to Taenarum after being thrown into the sea by the pirates. Now Arion played, and sang to, the cithara; and Terpander,  p147 also, is said to have been an artist in the same music and to have been born in the same island, having been the first person to use the seven-stringed instead of the four-stringed lyre, as we are told in the verses attributed to him: "For thee I, having dismissed four-toned song, shall sing new hymns to the tune of a seven-stringed cithara."​7 Also Hellanicus the historian, and Callias, who interpreted Sappho and Alcaeus, were Lesbians.

5 In the strait between Asia and Lesbos there are about twenty small islands, but according to Timosthenes, forty. They are called Hecatonnesi, a compound name like Peloponnesus, the second letter n being customarily redundant in such compounds, as in the names Myonnesus, Proconnesus, and Halonnesus; and consequently we have Hecatonnesi, which means Apollonnesi, for Apollo is called Hecatus; for along the whole of this coast, as far as Tenedos, Apollo is highly honoured, being called Sminthian or Grynian or some other appellation. Near these islands is Pordoselenê, which contains a city of the same name, 619 and also, in front of this city, another island, larger and of the same name, which is uninhabited and has a temple sacred to Apollo.

6 Some writers, to avoid the indecency of the names, say that in this place we should read "Poroselenê," and that we should call Aspordenum, the rocky and barren mountain round Pergamum, "Asporenum," and the temple of the Mother of the  p149 gods there the temple of the "Asporene" mother.​8 What, then, shall we say of Pordalis and Saperdes and Perdiccas, and of the phrase of Simonides, "banished, 'pordacian' clothes and all," instead of "wet" clothes, and, somewhere in the early comedy, "the place is 'pordacian,' " that is, the place that is "marshy"? Lesbos is equidistant from Tenedos and Lemnos and Chios, one might say rather less than five hundred stadia.

The Author's Notes:

1 But Sigrium was the westernmost promontory of the island.

2 More accurately, "southwesternmost."

3 The total, 1110, being ten more than the round number given above.

4 Frag. 33 (Bergk).

5 Seditious.

6 Reigned 589‑579 B.C.

7 Frag. 5 (Bergk).

8 i.e., they avoid "pord," which, as also "perd," is the stem of an indecent Greek word.

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