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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


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

The text is in the public domain.

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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(Vol. I) Strabo

 p231  Book I Chapter 4

1 (62) In his Second Book Eratosthenes undertakes a revision of the principles of geography; and he declares his own assumptions, to which, in turn, if  p233 there is any further revision to be made, I must undertake to supply it. Now his introduction of the principles of mathematics and physics into the subject is a commendable thing; also his remark that if the earth is sphere-shaped, just as the universe is, it is inhabited all the way round; and his other remarks of this nature. But as to the question whether the earth is as large as he has said, later writers do not agree with him; neither do they approve his measurement of the earth.​179 Still, when Hipparchus plots the celestial phenomena for the several inhabited places, he uses, in addition, those intervals measured by Eratosthenes on the meridian through Meroë and Alexandria and the Borysthenes,​180 after saying that they deviate but slightly from the truth. And, too, in Eratosthenes' subsequent discussion about the shape of the earth, when he demonstrates at greater length that not only the earth with its liquid constituent is sphere-shaped but the heavens also, he would seem to be talking about things that are foreign to his subject; for a brief statement is sufficient.181

2 Next, in determining the breadth of the inhabited world, Eratosthenes says that, beginning at Meroë and measuring on the meridian that runs through Meroë, it is ten thousand stadia to Alexandria; 63and thence to the Hellespont about eight thousand one hundred; then to the Borysthenes five thousand; then to the parallel circle that runs through Thule (which Pytheas says is a six days' sail north of Britain, and is near the frozen sea)  p235 about eleven thousand five hundred more. Accordingly, if we add three thousand four hundred stadia more to the south of Meroë, in order to embrace the Island of the Egyptians,​182 the Cinnamon-producing country, and Taprobane,​183 we shall have thirty-eight thousand stadia.

3 However, with one exception, let all the distances of Eratosthenes be granted him — for they are sufficiently agreed upon; but what man of sense could grant his distance from the Borysthenes to the parallel of Thule? For not only has the man who tells about Thule, Pytheas, been found, upon scrutiny, to be an arch-falsifier, but the men who have seen Britain and Ierne​184 do not mention Thule, though they speak of other islands, small ones, about Britain; and Britain itself stretches alongside of Celtica​185 with a length about equal thereto, being not greater in length than five thousand stadia, and its limits are defined by the extremities of Celtica which lie opposite its own. For the eastern extremity of the one country lies opposite the eastern extremity of the other, and the western extremity of the one opposite the western of the other; and their eastern extremities, at all events, are near enough to each other for a person to see across from one to the other — I mean Cantium​186 and the mouths of the Rhine. But Pytheas declares that the length of Britain is more than twenty thousand stadia, and that Cantium is several days' sail from Celtica; and in his account both of the Ostimians and of what is beyond the Rhine as far as Scythia he has in every case falsified the regions. However, any man who has told such  p237 great falsehoods about the known regions would hardly, I imagine, be able to tell the truth about places that are not known to anybody.

4 The parallel through the mouth of the Borysthenes is conjectured by Hipparchus and others to be the same as that through Britain, from the fact that the parallel through Byzantium is the same as that through Massilia;​187 for as to the relation of the dial-index to the shadow, which Pytheas has given for Massilia, this same relation Hipparchus says he observed at Byzantium, at the same time of the year as that mentioned by Pytheas. But it is not more than five thousand stadia from Massilia to the centre of Britain. Furthermore, if you were to proceed not more than four thousand stadia north from the centre of Britain you would find a region that is inhabitable only after a fashion (which region would be in the neighbourhood of Ierne); and so, as for the regions farther on, far out where Eratosthenes places Thule, you would find places no longer habitable. But by what guesswork Eratosthenes could say that the distance from the parallel through Thule to that through the mouth of the Borysthenes is eleven thousand five hundred stadia, I do not see.​a

5 64And since he entirely missed the breadth of the inhabited world, he has necessarily failed to guess its length also. For, in the first place, that the known length is more than double the known breadth is agreed to by the later writers as well as by the most accomplished of the early writers (I mean the distance from the extremities of India to the extremities of Iberia, double that from Ethiopia up to the parallel that runs by Ierne). Again, after  p239 Eratosthenes has determined the said breadth, namely, that from extreme Ethiopia up to the parallel of Thule, he extends the length beyond the due measure, in order to make the length more than double the aforesaid breadth. At all events he says that the narrowest part of India up to the river Indus measures sixteen thousand stadia (for the part of India that extends to its capes will increase this length by three thousand stadia); and the distance hence to the Caspian Gates, fourteen thousand; then, to the Euphrates, ten thousand, and from the Euphrates to the Nile five thousand, and on to its Canobic mouth thirteen hundred more; then, to Carthage, thirteen thousand five hundred; then, to the Pillars, at least eight thousand; there is, accordingly, he says, an excess of eight hundred stadia over seventy thousand stadia. We must still add, he says, the bulge of Europe outside the Pillars, which lies over against Iberia and leans westward, reaching not less than three thousand stadia; we must also add all the capes, but in particular that of the Ostimians, called Cabaeum,​188 and the islands about it — the outermost of which, Uxisame,​189 Pytheas says, is a three days' sail distant. And after mentioning these last places, though all of them in their stretch add nothing to the length of the inhabited world, he has added the regions in the neighbourhood of the capes, of the Ostimians, of Uxisame, and of all the islands he names. (In fact, these places all lie towards the north and belong to Celtica, not to Iberia — or rather they are inventions of Pytheas.) And he adds to the  p241 aforesaid length-distances still other stadia, namely, two thousand on the west, and two thousand on the east, in order to keep the breadth from being more than half the length.

6 Again, attempting still further to appease us by saying that it is "in accordance with nature" to call the distance from east to west greater, he says it is "in accordance with nature" that from the east to the west the inhabited world is longer, and, "just as I have already stated in the manner of the mathematicians," he says, "it forms a complete circle,​190 itself meeting itself; so that, if the immensity of the Atlantic Sea did not prevent, we could sail from Iberia to India along one and the same parallel over the remainder of the circle, 65that is, the remainder when you have subtracted the aforesaid distance,​191 which is more than a third of the whole circle — if it be true that the circle that runs through Athens, along which I have made the said reckoning of stadia from India to Iberia, is less than two hundred thousand stadia in circuit."​192 However, Eratosthenes is not happy in this statement, either; for although this argument might be used in the  p243 treatment of the temperate zone (that is, our zone) from the point of view of mathematics (since the inhabited world is a fraction of the temperate zone) yet in the treatment of the inhabited world — why we call "inhabited" the world which we inhabit and know; though it may be that in this same temperate zone there are actually two inhabited worlds, or even more, and particularly in the proximity of the parallel through Athens that is drawn across the Atlantic Sea. And again, by dwelling on his demonstration of the spheroidal shape of the earth he might meet with the same criticism as before. And in the same way also he does not cease to quarrel with Homer about the very same things.

7 Next, after saying that there has been much discussion about the continents, and that some divide them by the rivers (the Nile and the Tanaïs), declaring them to be islands, while others divide them by the isthmuses (the isthmus between the Caspian and the Pontic Seas, and the isthmus between the Red Sea and the Ecregma),​193 and that the latter call the continents peninsulas, Eratosthenes then says that he does not see how this investigation can end in any practical result, but that it belongs only to persons who choose to live on a diet of disputation, after the manner of Democritus; for if there be no accurate boundaries — take the case of Colyttus and Melite​194 — of stone posts, for example, or enclosures, we can say only this, "This is Colyttus," and "That is Melite," but we should not be able to point out the boundaries; and this is the reason also why disputes often arise  p245 concerning districts, such as the dispute between the Argives and the Lacedaemonians about Thyrea, and between the Athenians and the Boeotians about Oropus; and the Greeks named the three continents wrongly, because they did not look out upon the whole inhabited world, but merely upon their own country and that which lay directly opposite, namely, Caria, where Ionians and their immediate neighbours now live; but in time, ever advancing still further and becoming acquainted with more and more countries, they have finally brought their division of the continents to what it now is. The question, then, is whether the "first men" who divided the three continents by boundaries (to begin with Eratosthenes' last points, dieting upon disputation, not after the manner of Democritus, but after that of Eratosthenes) were those "first men" who sought to divide by boundaries their own country from that of the Carians, which lay opposite; or, did the latter have a notion merely of Greece, and of Caria and a bit of territory that is contiguous thereto, without having, in like manner, a notion of Europe or Asia, or of Libya, 66whereas the men of subsequent times, travelling over what was enough of the earth to suggest the notion of the inhabited world — are these the men, I say, who made the division into three parts? How, pray, could they have failed to make a division? And who, when speaking of three parts and calling each of the parts a continent, does not at the same time have a notion of the integer of which he makes his division into parts? But suppose he does not have a notion of the inhabited world, but should make his division of some part of it — of what part of the inhabited world, I ask, would anyone have said Asia  p247 was a part, or Europe, or a continent in general? Indeed these points of his have been crudely stated.

8 Still cruder is it, after he has said that he does not see what practical result there can be of the investigation of the boundaries, to cite Colyttus and Melite, and then turn round to the opposite side of the question. For if the wars about Thyrea and Oropus resulted through ignorance of the boundaries, then the separation of countries by boundaries is a thing that results in something practical. Or does Eratosthenes mean this, that in the case of the districts and, of course, of the several nations it is practical at once divide them by accurate boundaries, whereas in case of the continents it is superfluous? And yet, I answer, not even here is it any the less practical; for there might arise also in case of the continents a controversy between great rulers, for example, one ruler who held Asia and another who held Libya, as to which one of them really owned Egypt, that is to say, the so‑called "Lower" country of Egypt. Moreover, if anyone dismisses this example on account of its rarity, at all events it must be said that the continents are divided according to a process of grand division which also has relation to the whole inhabited world. In following that principle of division we must not worry about this point, either, namely, that those who have made the rivers the dividing lines leave certain districts without dividing lines, because the rivers do not reach all the way to the ocean and so do not really leave the continents as islands.

9 Now, towards the end of his treatise — after withholding praise from those who divide the whole multitude of mankind into two groups, namely,  p249 Greeks and Barbarians, and also from those who advised Alexander to treat the Greeks as friends but the Barbarians as enemies — Eratosthenes goes on to say that it would be better to make such divisions according to good qualities and bad qualities; for not only are many of the Greeks bad, but many of the Barbarians are refined — Indians and Arians, for example, and, further, Romans and Carthaginians, who carry on their governments so admirably. And this, he says, is the reason why Alexander, disregarding his advisers, welcomed as many as he could of the men of fair repute and did them favours — 67just as if those who have made such a division, placing some people in the category of censure, others in that of praise, did so for any other reason than that in some people there prevail the law-abiding and the political instinct, and the qualities associated with education and powers of speech, whereas in other people the opposite characteristics prevail! And so Alexander, not disregarding his advisers, but rather accepting their opinion, did what was consistent with, not contrary to, their advice; for he had regard to the real intent of those who gave him counsel.

The Editor's Notes:

179 252,000 stadia in circumference at the equator. See 2.5.7.

180 The Dnieper; Strabo means, as usual, the mouth of the river.

181 Strabo means that the hypotheses of physics and astronomy should be accepted at once by geographers. Compare 2.5.2.

182 Strabo elsewhere speaks of this island as "the island of the fugitive Egyptians." See 2.5.14 (and note), 16.4.8, and 17.1.2; also Pliny, Nat. Hist. 6.35.

183 Ceylon.

184 Ireland.

185 France, roughly.

186 Kent.

187 Marseilles.

188 Or Gabaeum (Ptol. 2.8.1); apparently Pointe du Raz.

189 Ushant (Ouessant); the Axanthos of Pliny, Nat. Hist. 4.16 (30).

190 The inhabited world is thought of as an arc, which, when produced, completes a circle. Even Aristotle had discussed the question whether the inhabited world, in its length, could be connected by an arc of latitude drawn from Spain westward to India (Meteor. 2.5.13).

Instead of "Spain", the Loeb commentator might better have written "Iberia". The westernmost point of Iberia is in what is now Portugal, near Colares (lat. 38.7811N, long. 9.5004W); the ancients, however, thought it was in Cape Finisterre (best candidate: lat. 43.0555N, long. 9.299519W) in what is now Spain. I haven't seen the text of Aristotle.

191 Eratosthenes means by "the aforesaid distance" his length of the inhabited world, 77,800 stadia.

192 It has been assumed by various scholars that Eratosthenes' parallel of latitude, above referred to, ran 25,450 stadia north of the equator, which would be at 36°21′25½″. In this case the circumference of this parallel works out to be 202,945 stadia — if we count 700 stadia to the degree, following Eratosthenes' method. But Strabo fails to quote Eratosthenes on one section of the distance (from the equator to the southern limit of the inhabited world), and the 25,450 is reached only by a computation based on a statement of Ptolemy (Mathematica Syntaxis 1.10), wherein Ptolemy refers to Eratosthenes' estimate of the distance between the tropics. That estimate was inaccurate and so is this; but even in his round numbers Eratosthenes is usually close to the truth.

193 Literally, the "Outbreak"; the outlet of Lake Sirbonis into the Mediterranean.

194 Attic demes, or townships.

Thayer's Note:

a Neither do I; but if (a) the mouth of the Dnieper has not advanced significantly into the Black Sea since his time, and (b) Thule is identifiable as Iceland, as is often supposed, the latitudes in question are 46°30 for the Dnieper and 65°00 for the middle of Iceland. The distance between these parallels is 2055 km; setting the stadion in the range of 7⅔ to 8 to the Roman mile (1.48 km) yields a figure of 10,650 to 11,110 stadia; as the Loeb editor says, even in his round numbers Eratosthenes is usually close to the truth; nothing short of marvellous, considering.

If, alternately, we use Eratosthenes's own figure of 700 stadia to the degree, we get 12,950 stadia; since he calculates the distance at 11,500, we might conclude that he put Thule at 62°55. The southern coast of Iceland extends to 63°25.

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