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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.
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(Vol. I) Strabo

 p345  Book II Chapter 1 (end)

38 (90) But against Hipparchus this too may be argued, that, as he criticised the statements of Eratosthenes, so also he should have made some sort of correction of Eratosthenes' errors — the thing that I am doing. But Hipparchus — if he has really ever taken thought of this matter — bids us to give heed to the old maps although they need much more correction than the  p347 map of Eratosthenes still needs. And his subsequent effort suffers from the same flaw. For, as I have shown by test, he takes as an admitted assumption what he has fabricated from data not granted by Eratosthenes, namely, that Babylon is not more than one thousand stadia farther east than Thapsacus; hence, if even a perfect inference is drawn by Hipparchus to the effect that Babylon is not more than two thousand four hundred stadia farther east than Thapsacus, from Eratosthenes' statement that there is a short route of two thousand four hundred stadia from Thapsacus to the Tigris River where Alexander crossed — yet if Eratosthenes also states 91that the Tigris and the Euphrates, after encircling Mesopotamia for a time, flow east, then turn toward the south, and finally draw near to each other and to Babylon, he has proved no absurdity in Eratosthenes' statement.86

39 Hipparchus is also wrong in his next effort, in which he wishes to draw the inference that Eratosthenes gives the highway from Thapsacus to the Caspian Gates — a highway the length of which Eratosthenes has estimated at ten thousand stadia — as measured in a straight line, although it was not so measured, the straight line being much shorter. The attack he makes against Eratosthenes is to this effect: According to Eratosthenes himself the meridian through the Canobic mouth of the Nile and that through the Cyanean Rocks​87 are one and the same, and this meridian is six thousand three hundred stadia distant from the meridian through  p349 Thapsacus; and the Cyanean rocks are six thousand six hundred stadia distant from Mt. Caspius, which lies at the mountain-pass that leads over from Colchis to the Caspian Sea; and hence the distance from the meridian through the Cyanean Rocks to Thapsacus is within three hundred stadia of being equal to the distance thence to Mt. Caspius; so then, practically speaking, both Thapsacus and Mt. Caspius lie on the same meridian. From this it follows, says Hipparchus, that the Caspian Gates are equidistant from Thapsacus and from Mt. Caspius; but the Caspian Gates are at a much less distance from Mt. Caspius than the ten thousand stadia which Eratosthenes says is the distance between the Caspian Gates and Thapsacus; therefore the Caspian Gates are at a much less distance from Thapsacus than the ten thousand stadia that are measured on a straight line; and therefore it is a roundabout way that measures the ten thousand stadia which Eratosthenes reckons on a straight line from the Caspian Gates to Thapsacus.​88 Now my reply to Hipparchus will be that, although Eratosthenes takes his straight lines only roughly, as is proper to do in geography, and roughly, out of, his meridians and his lines to the equinoctial east, Hipparchus puts him to a geometrical test — just as if every one of these lines had been taken with the aid of instruments.​89 Neither does Hipparchus himself take everything by the aid of instruments, but it is rather by conjecture that he  p351 takes the relations of both "perpendicular" and "parallel." This, then, is one of Hipparchus' mistakes. Another mistake is this, that he does not even put down the distances that are found in Eratosthenes or apply his test to them, but to those that are fabricated by himself. So, for instance, though Eratosthenes first estimated the distance from the outlet​90 to Phasis​91 at eight thousand stadia and added to this the six hundred stadia thence to Dioscurias, and then estimated at a five days' journey the pass that leads over to Mt. Caspius (which, according to Hipparchus himself, is conjectured to mean about one thousand stadia), so that the total distance, according to Eratosthenes, 92amounts to nine thousand six hundred stadia, Hipparchus has made a short cut to his result, and says that from the Cyanean Rocks to Phasis the distance is five thousand six hundred stadia, and thence to Mt. Caspius, another thousand stadia. Therefore the statement that Mt.  Caspius and Thapsacus are virtually situated on the same meridian could not be based on the authority of Eratosthenes, but on that of Hipparchus himself. Well, suppose it were on the authority of Eratosthenes. How, pray, can it follow therefrom that the line from Mt. Caspius to the Caspian Gates is equal in length to the line from Thapsacus to the same point?

40 In his Second Book, Hipparchus again takes up the same question of Eratosthenes' division of the inhabited world along the line of the Taurus Range, about which I have already said enough; then he passes to a discussion of the Northern  p353 Division; and then he sets forth what Eratosthenes said about the countries that lie next after the Pontus, namely, that three promontories jut down from the north; one promontory, on which is the Peloponnesus; a second, the Italian; and a third the Ligurian; and that these three promontories enclose both the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian Gulfs. After setting forth these statements of Eratosthenes in a general way, Hipparchus undertakes to test each several statement about the promontories, yet on the principles of geometry rather than those of geography. But so great is the multitude of mistakes made in case of these promontories by Eratosthenes, and by Timosthenes who wrote on The Harbours (whom Eratosthenes praises beyond all the rest, though we find him disagreeing with Timosthenes on most points), that I consider it unfitting to pass judgment either upon those men, since they both stray so very far from the facts, or upon Hipparchus. For even Hipparchus passes by some of their mistakes in silence, while yet others he does not correct, but merely shows by test that they were made falsely or captiously. We might perhaps find fault with Eratosthenes on this point too, namely, because he says "three promontories" of Europe, putting down as "one promontory" that on which is the Peloponnesus; for it is split, so to speak, into a number of promontories; for example, Sunium is a promontory just as much as is Laconia, since it reaches almost as far south as Maleae and embraces a gulf of considerable size. And the Thracian Cherronese and the promontory of Sunium cut off, between them, not only the gulf of Melas​92 but  p355 also all the Macedonian Gulfs that come after Melas. However, if we should pass over this objection, still, the most of the distances, which are obviously wrong, prove that Eratosthenes' ignorance of these regions is surpassing and that his ignorance requires no geometrical proofs, but only such proofs as are obvious and can be attested forthwith; for instance, that pass from Epidamnus that leads over to the Thermaic Gulf is more than two thousand stadia, though Eratosthenes says it is nine hundred; 93and that the distance from Alexandria to Carthage is more than thirteen thousand stadia, though it is not more than nine thousand — if Caria and Rhodes lies, as Eratosthenes says, on the same meridian as Alexandria, and the Strait of Sicily on the same meridian as Carthage. In fact, all agree that the voyage from Caria to the Strait of Sicily is not more than nine thousand stadia; and though, when there is some considerable distance between two places, the meridian taken for the more easterly place might be granted to be the same as the meridian which is no farther west therefrom than Carthage is west of the Strait of Sicily, yet when we are concerned with a matter of four thousand stadia the error is self-evident. And when Eratosthenes actually places Rome — which is so much farther west of the Strait of Sicily than even Carthage is — on the same meridian with Carthage, his ignorance both of these regions and of the successive regions toward the west as far as the Pillars can reach no higher extreme.

 p357  41 Now it would have been proper for Hipparchus, if he were not writing a work on geography but merely a review of what Eratosthenes had said in his Geography, to go further than he did in setting right in detail the mistakes of Eratosthenes; but as for me, I have thought it right to introduce in detail the appropriate discussion both in regard to the points in which Eratosthenes is right and, still more so, in regard to those in which he is wrong; and I have not merely corrected his mistakes, but where I have acquitted him of the charges brought by Hipparchus, I have also criticised Hipparchus himself, whenever he has said anything in a censorious spirit. But since in these instances I see at a glance that Eratosthenes goes entirely astray and that Hipparchus accuses him justly, I assume that it is sufficient if I correct Eratosthenes by merely stating the facts in the course of my Geography itself. Indeed, where the errors are continuous and lie on the surface, it is better not to mention them at all, except rarely and in a general way; and this is what I shall try to do in my detailed account. However, let it be said at this moment that Timosthenes and Eratosthenes and the still earlier geographers were completely ignorant of Iberia and Celtica; and vastly more ignorant of Germany and Britain, and likewise of the countries of the Getans and the Bastarnians; and they were to a considerable extent ignorant of Italy, the Adriatic Sea, the Pontus, and the regions beyond them on the north; though perhaps such statements are censorious. For, since Eratosthenes asserts that where it is a question of very remote regions he will give merely the traditional distances without vouching for them, and admits that he got  p359 them by tradition, — though at times he adds the words "in a line more or less straight" — it is not fair to apply the rigorous test​93 94to those distances which do not agree with each other. That is precisely what Hipparchus tries to do, not only in the cases mentioned above but also where he sets forth the distances round about Hyrcania up to Bactria and to the tribes on beyond, and, besides, the distances from Colchis to the Hyrcanian Sea. Indeed, in the case of the geography of the remote countries, we should not scrutinize him in the same way as we do in that of the continental sea-board and of the other regions that are as well known; nay, not even in case of the nearer regions ought we to apply the geometrical test, as I was saying, but rather the geographical. Now toward the end of his Second Book, which he has written in refutation of the Geography of Eratosthenes, Hipparchus finds fault with some of the statements of Eratosthenes about Ethiopia, and then says that in his Third Book the greater part of his speculation will be mathematical, but "to some extent" geographical also. It seems to me, however, that he did not make his theory geographical even "to some extent," but wholly mathematical — though Eratosthenes himself gives Hipparchus a good excuse for so doing. For frequently Eratosthenes digresses into discussions too scientific for the subject he is dealing with, but, after he digresses, the declarations he makes are not rigorously accurate but only vague, since, so to speak, he is a mathematician among geographers, and yet a geographer among mathematicians; and consequently on both sides he offers his opponents occasions for  p361 contradiction; and the occasions which both he and Timosthenes offer Hipparchus in this Third Book are so just that it remains for me not even to join my observations to those of Hipparchus, but merely to content myself with what Hipparchus has said about them.

The Editor's Notes:

86 Hipparchus' reductio ad absurdum again fails, Strabo says. First, he has attributed to Eratosthenes a result (1,000 stadia) not based upon Eratosthenes' statements; secondly, he has drawn a false inference from an estimate that Eratosthenes did make (2,400 stadia), as Eratosthenes' description of the circuit of the Tigris and Euphrates shows.

87 The Symplegades.

88 Even though Hipparchus takes Eratosthenes' distances as longitudinal, the error of the latter is quite obvious; and it is now obvious also that Strabo is inclined to protect Eratosthenes wherever he can.

89 That is, instruments of observation — the sun-dial, for instance.

90 Of the Euxine.

91 A town at the mouth of the Phasis River.

92 The Gulf of Saros.

93 That is, of geometry.

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Page updated: 11 Sep 12