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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

 p253  Book II Chapter 2

1 (94) Now let us see what Poseidonius has to say in his treatise on Oceanus. For in it he seems to deal mainly with geography, treating it partly from the point of view of geography properly so called, and partly from a more mathematical point of view. And so it will not be out of place for me to pass judgment upon a few of Poseidonius' statements, some of them now, and others in my discussion of the individual countries, as occasion offers, always observing a kind of standard.​94 Now it is one of the things proper to geography to take as an hypothesis that the earth as a whole is sphere-shaped,​95 — just as we do in the case of the universe — and accept all the conclusions that follow this hypothesis, one of which is that the earth has five zones.

2 Poseidonius, then, says that Parmenides was the originator of the division into five zones,​96 but that Parmenides represents the torrid zone as almost double its real breadth,​97 inasmuch as it falls beyond  p363 both the tropics and extends into the two temperate zones, while Aristotle​98 calls "torrid" the region between the tropics, and "temperate" the regions between the tropics and the "arctic circles." But Poseidonius censures both systems, and with justice, 95for by "torrid,"​99 he says, is meant only the region that is uninhabitable on account of heat; and, of the zone between the tropics, more than half is uninhabitable if we may base a conjecture upon the Ethiopians who live south of Egypt — if it be true, first, that each division of the torrid zone made by the equator is half the whole breadth of that zone​100 and, secondly, that, of this half, the part that reaches to Meroë from Syene (which is a point on the boundary line of the summer tropic)​101 is five thousand stadia in breadth, and the part from Meroë to the parallel of the Cinnamon-producing Country, on which parallel the torrid zone begins, is three thousand stadia in breadth. Now the whole of these two parts can be measured, for they are traversed both by water and by land; but the rest of the distance, up to the equator, is shown by calculation based upon the measurement which Eratosthenes made of the earth​102 to be eight thousand eight hundred stadia. Accordingly, as is the ratio of the sixteen thousand eight hundred stadia​103 to the eight thousand eight  p365 hundred stadia, so would be the ratio of the distance between the two tropics to the breadth of the torrid zone.​104 And if, of the more recent measurements of the earth, the one which makes the earth smallest in circumference be introduced — I mean that of Poseidonius, who estimates its circumference at about one hundred and eighty thousand stadia — this measurement, I say, renders the breadth of the torrid zone somewhere about half the space between the tropics, or slightly more than half, but in no wise equal to, or the same as, that space. And again, Poseidonius asks how one could determine the limits of the temperate zones, which are non-variable, by means of the "arctic circles," which are neither visible among all men nor the same everywhere. Now the fact that the "arctic circles" are not visible to all could be of no aid to his refutation of Aristotle, because the "arctic circles" must be visible to all who live in the temperate zone, with reference to whom alone the term "temperate" is in fact used. But his point that the "arctic circles" are not everywhere visible in the same way, but are subject to variations, has been well taken.105

3 When Poseidonius himself divides the earth into the zones,​106 he says that five of them are useful with reference to the celestial phenomena; of these five, two — those that lie beneath the poles and extend to the regions that have the tropics as arctic  p367 circles — are "periscian";​107 and the two that come next and extend to the people who live beneath the tropics are "heteroscian";​108 and the zone between the tropics, "amphiscian".​109 But for purposes of human interest there are, in addition to these five zones, two other narrow ones that lie beneath the tropics and are divided into two parts by the tropics; these have the sun directly overhead for above half a month each year. These two zones, he says, have a certain peculiarity, in that they are parched in the literal sense of the word, are sandy, and produce nothing except silphium and some pungent fruits that are withered by the heat; for those regions have in their neighbourhood no mountains against which the clouds may break and produce rain, nor indeed are they coursed by rivers; 96and for this reason they produce creatures with woolly hair, crumpled horns, protruding lips, and flat noses (for their extremities are contorted by the heat); and the "fish-eaters" also live in these zones. Poseidonius says it is clear that these things are peculiar to those zones from the fact that the people who live farther south than they do have a more temperate atmosphere, and also a more fruitful, and a better-watered, country.

The Editor's Notes:

94 That is, some such standard as Strabo himself has defined in 2.1.37.

95 See footnote 2 on p40.

96 But, according to Plutarch, Thales and Pythagoras had divided the heavens into five zones, and Pythagoras had divided the earth into five corresponding zones (De Placitis Philosophorum 2.12 and 3.14).

97 That is, double the breadth assigned to the torrid zone by Poseidonius and Strabo — namely, 2 × 17,600 stadia = 35,200; and thus the torrid zone would reach to 25°8′3427″ (counting 700 stadia to the degree). Thus the difference between Aristotle and Parmenides is not great, if we assume that the former places the tropics at about 24°. The reading of the manuscripts (see critical note on opposite page) makes Parmenides say that the torrid zone is double the zone between the tropics, but it is inconceivable that he did so.

The critical note to the Greek text reads:

The words τῆς μεταξὺ τῶν τροπικῶν after διακεκαυμένων are omitted by Kramer and succeeding editors.

98 De Meteorologicis 2.5.

99 Poseidonius insists on taking literally the Greek word διακεκαυμένην, "scorched."

100 Strabo proceeds to give a definite estimate of the inhabited and uninhabited portions of the torrid zone north of the equator. But, for the division of the zone south of the equator, he can only assume that a similar estimate applies. By so assuming he reaches a conclusion for the whole zone, in the form of a ratio.

101 The north and south temperate zones had also the name of summer and winter zones; and hence the summer tropic is the northern tropic.

102 252,000 stadia.

103 The distance between the northern tropic and the equator.

104 That is, 16,800:8,000 :: 33,600:17,600. The ratio is 21:11, and the breadth of the torrid zone 17,600 stadia (compare 2.1.13).

105 The Greeks in general used the term "arctic circle" of a celestial circle, and not of a terrestrial circle as we do to‑day. Our arctic circle is fixed; theirs varied according to the standpoint of the observer. Their arctic circle was drawn on the celestial sphere parallel to the equator and tangent to observer's horizon, and it therefore separated the circumpolar stars that are always above the horizon from the stars that rise and set with respect to his horizon. Since the altitude of the celestial pole is always the same as the latitude of the observer, the arctic circles would become zero for him at the equator; and, again, he would have no arctic circles if stationed south of the equator, nor would he have any antarctic circles if stationed north of the equator. Strabo insists that the boundaries of the temperate zones shall be fixed, not variable.

106 Seven.

107 That is, the frigid zones, where the shadows describe an oval in the summer-time.

108 That is, the temperate zones, where the shadows are thrown in opposite directions at noon; the shadow in the northern zone falling north and in the southern falling south.

109 That is, the torrid zone, where the shadow for any point at noon is north part of the year and south part of the year.

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