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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.

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(Vol. I) Strabo

 p367  Book II Chapter 3

1 (96) Polybius makes six zones: two that fall beneath the arctic circles, two between the arctic circles and the tropics, and two between the tropics and the  p369 equator. However, the division into five zones seems to me to be in harmony with physics as well as geography; with physics, in relation both to the celestial phenomena and to the temperature of the atmosphere; in relation to the celestial phenomena, because, by means of the "periscian" and the "heteroscian" and the "amphiscian"​110 regions (the best way to determine the zone), the appearance of the constellations to our sight is at the same time determined; for thus, by a kind of rough-outline division,​111 the constellations receive their proper variations; and in relation to the temperature of the atmosphere, because the temperature of the atmosphere, being judged with reference to the sun, is subject to three very broad differences — namely, excess of heat, lack of heat, and moderate heat, which have a strong bearing on the organisations of animals and plants, and the semi-organisations​112 of everything else beneath the air or in the air itself. And the temperature of the atmosphere receives its proper determination by this division of the earth into five zones: for the two frigid zones imply the absence of heat, agreeing in the possession of one characteristic temperature; and in like manner the two temperate zones agree in one temperature, that of moderate heat; while the one remaining is consistent in having the remaining characteristic, in that it is one and torrid in temperature. And it is clear that this division is in harmony with geography.  p371 For geography seeks to define by boundaries that section of the earth which we inhabit by means of the one of the two temperate zones. Now on the west and on the east it is the sea that fixes its limits, but on the south and the north the nature of the air; for the air that is between these limits is well-tempered both for plants and for animals, while the air on both sides of these limits is harsh-tempered, because of excess of heat or lack of heat. It was necessary to divide the earth into five zones corresponding to these three differences of temperature; indeed, the cutting of the sphere of the earth by the equator into two hemispheres, the northern hemisphere in which we live, and the southern hemisphere, suggested the three differences of temperature. For the regions on the equator and in the torrid zone are uninhabitable because of the heat, and those near the pole are uninhabitable because of the cold; but it is the intermediate regions that are well-tempered and inhabitable. But when he adds the two zones beneath the tropics, Poseidonius does not follow the analogy of the five zones, nor yet does he employ a like criterion; 97but he was apparently representing zones by the ethnical criteria also, for he calls one of them the "Ethiopic zone," another the "Scythico-Celtic zone," and a third the "intermediate zone."

2 Polybius is not right in this, namely, in that he defines some of his zones by means of the arctic circles: two that fall under the arctic circles themselves, and two between the arctic circles and the tropics; for, as I have already said, non-variables must not be defined by points that are variable.​113 And we must also not employ the tropics as boundaries of the  p373 torrid zone; this, too, I have already said. However, when he divides the torrid zone into two parts, it is clearly no foolish notion that has moved him to do so; it is by this notion that we very suitably use the equator to divide the whole earth into two parts, namely, the northern and the southern hemispheres. For it is clear that, if the torrid zone as well is divided according to this method of partition, Polybius reaches a convenient result; that is, each of the two hemispheres is composed of three whole zones, each of which is like in form to its corresponding zone in the other hemisphere. Now a partition of this kind admits of the division into six zones; but the other partition does not altogether admit of it. At all events, if you should cut the earth into two parts by means of the circle that runs through the poles, you could not reasonably divide each of the two hemispheres, the western and the eastern, into six zones, but the division into five zones would be sufficient; for the homogeneousness of the two sections of the torrid zone that are made by the equator, and the fact that they are contiguous to each other, render their partition useless and superfluous, indeed, alike in form respectively, though they are not contiguous. So, therefore, if you conceive of the whole earth as composed of hemispheres of this kind it will be sufficient to divide it into five zones. But if the country that lies under the equator is temperate, as Eratosthenes says it is (an opinion with which Polybius agrees, though he adds this, that it is the highest part of the earth, and for that reason is subject to rains, because at the season of the Etesian Winds the clouds from the north strike in great  p375 numbers against the mountain peaks in that region), it would be much better to regard it as a third temperate zone, although a narrow one, than to introduce the two zones beneath the tropics. And in accord with these circumstances​114 are the following (which Poseidonius has already mentioned), namely, that in those regions the oblique motion of the sun is more rapid, and in the same way its daily motion from east to west; for when revolutions are accomplished within the same period of time, those on the greatest circles​115 are the more rapid.

3 But Poseidonius objects to the statement of Polybius that the inhabited region under the equator is the highest. For, says Poseidonius, there can be no high point on a spherical surface, because the surface of a sphere is uniform all round; 98and indeed the country under the equator is not mountainous, but rather it is a plain that is approximately on a level with the surface of the sea; and the rains that flood the Nile come together from the mountains of Ethiopia. But although Poseidonius thus expresses himself in this passage, he concedes the view of Polybius in other passages, saying he suspects that there are mountains beneath the equator and that the clouds from the two temperate zones strike against those mountains on both sides and cause the rains. Now here the lack of consistency is obvious; but even if it be admitted that the country beneath the equator is mountainous, another inconsistency, as it seems, would arise; for these same men assert that the ocean is one continuous stream round the earth. How, pray,  p377 can they place mountains in the centre of the ocean — unless by "mountains" they refer to certain islands? But however this may be, it falls outside the province of geography; and perhaps we should give over these matters for examination to some one who proposes to write a treatise on the ocean.

4 In giving the names of those who are said to have circumnavigated Libya Poseidonius says that Herodotus believes that certain men commissioned by Neco accomplished the circumnavigation of Libya; and adds that Heracleides of Pontus in one of his Dialogues makes a certain Magus who had come to the court of Gelo assert that he had circumnavigated Libya. And, after stating that these reports are unsupported by testimony, he tells the story of a certain Eudoxus of Cyzicus, a sacred ambassador and peace herald at the festival of Persephone. Eudoxus, the story goes, came to Egypt in the reign of Euergetes the Second;​116 and he became associated with the king and the king's ministers, and particularly in connection with the voyages up the Nile; for he was a man inclined to admire the peculiarities of regions and was also not uninformed about them. Now it so happened, the story continues, that a certain Indian was brought to the king by the coast-guards of the recess of the Arabian Gulf, who said that they had found him half-dead and alone on a stranded ship, but that they did not know who he was or where he came from, since they did not understand his language; and the king gave the Indian into the charge of men who would teach him Greek; and when the Indian had learned Greek, he related that on his voyage from India he by a  p379 strange mischance​117 mistook his course and reached Egypt in safety, but only after having lost all his companions by starvation; and when his story was doubted, he promised to act as guide on the trip to India for the men who had been previously selected by the King; and of this party Eudoxus, also, became a member.

So Eudoxus sailed away with presents; and he returned with a cargo of perfumes and precious stones (some of which the rivers bring down with the sands, while others are fortified by digging, being solidified from a liquid state, just as our crystals are). 99But Eudoxus was wholly deceived in his expectations, for Euergetes took from him his entire cargo. And after the death of Euergetes, his wife, Cleopatra, succeeded him on the throne; and so Eudoxus was again sent out, by her also, and this time with a larger outfit. But on his return voyage he was driven out of his course by the winds to the south of Ethiopia, and being driven to certain places he conciliated the people by sharing with them bread, wine, and dried figs (for they had no share of such things), and in return therefor he received a supply of fresh water and the guidance of pilots, and he also made a list of some of their words. And he found an end of a wooden prow that had come from a wrecked ship and had a horse carved on it; and when he learned that this piece of wreckage belonged to some voyagers who had been sailing from the west, he took it with him when he turned back upon his homeward voyage. And when he arrived safely in Egypt, inasmuch as Cleopatra no longer reigned but  p381 her son in her stead, he was again deprived of everything, for it was discovered that he had stolen much property. But he brought the figure-head to the market-place and showed it to the shipmasters, and learned from them that it was a figure-head from Gades; for he was told that whereas the merchants of Gades fit out large ships, the poor men fit out small ships which they call "horses" from the devices on the prows of their ships, and that they sail with these small ships on fishing voyages around the coast of Maurusia as far as the river Lixus; but some of the shipmasters, indeed, recognized the figure-head as having belonged to one of the ships that had sailed rather too far beyond the Lixus River and had not returned home safely.

And from the above-mentioned fact Eudoxus conjectured that the circumnavigation of Libya was possible, went home,​118 placed all his property on a ship, and put out to sea. First he put in at Dicaearchia, then at Massilia, and then at the successive points along the coast until he came to Gades; and everywhere noisily proclaiming his scheme and making money by trafficking, he built a great ship and also two tow-boats like those used by pirates; and he put music-girls on board, and physicians, and other artisans, and finally set sail on the high sea on the way to India, favoured by constant western breezes. But since his companions became tired of the voyage, he sailed with a fair wind towards the land; though he did it against his will, for he feared the ebb and flow of the tides. And, indeed, what he feared actually came to pass: the  p383 ship ran aground, — though so gently that it was not broken up all at once, and they succeeded in bringing safely to land the cargo and also most of the ship's timbers' and from these timbers he constructed a third boat about as large as a ship of fifty oars; and he continued his voyage, until he came to people who spoke the same words that he had made a list of on the former occasion; 100and forthwith he learnt this, at least, that the men in that region belonged to the same nation as those other Ethiopians, and also that they were neighbours to the kingdom of Bogus.

Accordingly, he abandoned the voyage to India and turned back; and on the voyage along the coast, he espied and made note of an island that was well-watered and well-wooded but uninhabited. And when he reached Maurusia safely he disposed of his boats, travelled on foot to the court of Bogus, and advised him to take up this expedition on his own account; but the friends of Bogus prevailed to the contrary, inspiring in him the fear that Maurusia might in consequence be easily exposed to hostile intrigue if the way thither had once been pointed out to outsiders who wished to attack it. And when Eudoxus heard that he was being sent out, ostensibly, on the expedition as proposed by him, but in reality was going to be placed out on some desert island, he fled to the territory that was under Roman dominion, and thence crossed over to Iberia. And again he built a round ship and a long ship of fifty oars, his purpose being to keep to the open sea with his long ship and to explore the coast with the round ship. He put on board agricultural implements, seeds, and carpenters, and again set out with a view to the same circumnavigation; his intention being, in case the  p385 voyage should be delayed, to spend the winter on the island he had previously observed, to sow the seed, reap the harvest therefrom, and then finish the voyage which he had decided upon at the outset.

5 "Now I," says Poseidonius, "have traced the story of Eudoxus to this point, but what happened afterwards probably the people of Gades and Iberia know." So from all these indications he says it is shown that the ocean flows in a circle round the inhabited world: "For him no fetters of continent encompass; but he pours forth his waters boundlessly, and nothing ever sullies their purity."​119 Now Poseidonius is a wonderful fellow in all this; for although he considers as unsupported by testimony the story of the voyage of the Magus, which Heracleides told, and of the voyage even of the emissaries of Neco, of which Herodotus gives an account, he puts down as real evidence this Bergaean​120 story, though he either invented it himself or accepted it from others who were its inventors. For, in the first place, what plausibility is there in the "strange mischance" which the Indian tells about? Why, the Arabian Gulf is like a river in its narrowness, and it is about fifteen thousand stadia long up to its mouth, which, in its turn, is narrow throughout its entire length; and so it is not likely that the Indians who were voyaging outside this gulf were pushed out of their course into it by mistake (for its narrowness at its mouth would have shown their mistake), nor, if they sailed into the gulf on purpose, did they any longer have the excuse that they mistook their course or encountered inconstant  p387 winds. 101And how can it be that they permitted all their number to die of starvation with the exception of one man? And if he survived, how could he single-handed have guided the ship, which was not a small one, since at all events it could sail over open seas of so great extent? And how strange his speedy mastery of the Greek language, which enabled him to convince the king that he was competent to act as pilot of the expedition? And how strange Euergetes' scarcity of competent pilots, since the sea in that region was already known to many men? And as for that peace herald and sacred ambassador of the people of Cyzicus, how came he to abandon his native city and go sailing to India? And how did he come to be entrusted with so great an office? And although on his return everything was taken away from him, contrary to his expectation, and he was in disgrace, how did he come to be entrusted with a still greater equipment of presents? And when he returned from this second voyage and was driven out of his course to Ethiopia, why did he write down those lists of words, and why did he enquire from what source the beak of that fishing-smack had been cast ashore? For the discovery that this bit of wreckage had belonged to men who sailed from the west could have signified nothing, since he himself was to sail from the west on his homeward voyage. And so, again, upon his return to Alexandria, when it was discovered that he had stolen much property, how is it that he was not punished, and that he even went about interviewing shipmasters, at the same time showing them the figure-head of the ship? And wasn't the man that recognized the figure-head a wonderful fellow? And  p389 wasn't the man that believed him a still more wonderful fellow — the man who on the strength of a hope of that sort returned to his home land, and then changed his home to the regions beyond the Pillars? But it would not even have been permitted him to put to sea from Alexandria without a passport, least of all after he had stolen property belonging to the king. Neither could he have sailed out of the harbour secretly, since not only the harbour, but also all the other ways of issue from the city had always been kept closed under just as strong guard as I know is still kept up to this day (for I have lived a long time in Alexandria) — though at the present time, under Roman control, the watch is considerably relaxed: but under the kings, the guards were much more strict. And, again, when Eudoxus had sailed away to Gades, and in royal style had built himself ships and continued on his voyage, after his vessel had been wrecked, how could he have built a third boat in the desert? And how is it, when once more he put out to sea and found that those western Ethiopians spoke the same language as the eastern Ethiopians, that he was not eager to accomplish the rest of his voyage (inasmuch as he was so foolish in his eagerness for travels abroad, and since he had a good hope that the unexplored remainder of his voyage was but small) — but instead gave up all this and conceived a longing for the expedition that was to be carried out through the aid of Bogus? And how did he come to learn about the plot that was secretly framed against him? 102And what advantage could this have been to Bogus — I mean his causing the disappearance of the man when he might have dismissed him in other ways? But even if the man learned about the plot,  p391 how could he have made his escape to places of safety? For, although there is nothing impossible in any escapes of that sort, yet every one of them is difficult and rarely made even with a streak of good luck; but Eudoxus is always attended by good luck, although he is placed in jeopardies one after another. And, again, after he had escaped from Bogus, why was he not afraid to sail once more along the coast of Libya when he had an outfit large enough to colonise an island?

Now, really, all this does not fall short of the fabrications of Pytheas, Euhemerus and Antiphanes. Those men, however, we can pardon for their fabrications — since they follow precisely this as their business — just as we pardon jugglers; but who could pardon Poseidonius, master of demonstration and philosopher, whom we may almost call the claimant for first honours. So much, at least, is not well done by Poseidonius.

6 On the other hand, he correctly sets down in his work the fact that the earth sometimes rises and undergoes settling processes, and undergoes changes that result from earthquakes and the other similar agencies, all of which I too have enumerated above. And on this point he does well to cite the statement of Plato that it is possible that the story about the island of Atlantis is not a fiction.​121 Concerning Atlantis Plato relates that Solon, after having made inquiry of the Egyptian priests, reported that Atlantis did once exist, but disappeared — an island no smaller in size than a continent;​122 and Poseidonius thinks  p393 that it is better to put the matter in that way than to say of Atlantis: "Its inventor caused it to disappear, just as did the Poet the wall of the Achaeans."​123 And Poseidonius also conjectures that migration of the Cimbrians and their kinsfolk from their native country occurred as the result of an inundation of the sea that came on all of a sudden. And he suspects that the length of the inhabited world, being about seventy thousand stadia, is half of the entire circle on which it has been taken, so that, says he, if you sail from the west in a straight course you will reach India within the seventy thousand stadia.

7 Then, after an attempt to find fault with those who divided the inhabited world into continents in the way they did,​124 instead of by certain circles parallel to the equator (through means of which they could have indicated variations in animals, plants, and climates, because some of these belong peculiarly to the frigid zone and others to the torrid zone), so that the continents would be practically zones, Poseidonius again revises his own plea and withdraws his indictment, in that he again approves of the prevailing division into three continents, and thus he makes the question a mere matter of argument with no useful end in view. For such a distribution of animals, plants, and climates as exists is not the result of design — just as the differences of race, or of language, are not, either — 103but rather of accident and chance. And again, as regards the various arts and faculties and institutions of mankind, most of them,  p395 when once men have made a beginning, flourish in any latitude whatsoever and in certain instances even in spite of the latitude; so that some local characteristics of a people come by nature, others by training and habit. For instance, it was not by nature that the Athenians were fond of letters, whereas the Lacedaemonians, and also the Thebans, who are still closer to the Athenians, were not so; but rather by habit. So, also, the Babylonians and the Egyptians are philosophers, not by nature, but by training and habit. And further, the excellent qualities of horses, cattle, and other animals, are the result, not merely of locality, but of training also. But Poseidonius confounds all this. And when he approves of such a division into three continents as is now accepted, he uses as an illustration the fact that the Indians differ from the Ethiopians of Libya, for the Indians are better developed physically and less parched by the dryness of the atmosphere. And, says he, that is the reason why Homer, in speaking of the Ethiopians as a whole, divides them into two groups, "some where Hyperion sets and some where he rises." But, says Poseidonius, Crates, in introdu­cing into the discussion the question of a second inhabited world, about which Homer knows nothing, is a slave to hypothesis,​125 and, says Poseidonius, the passage in Homer should have been emended to read: "both where Hyperion departs," meaning where he declines from the meridian.

8 Now, in the first place, the Ethiopians that border on Egypt are themselves, also, divided into  p397 two groups; for some of them live in Asia, others in Libya,​126 though they differ in no respect from each other. And, in the second place, Homer divides the Ethiopians into two groups, not for this reason, namely, because he knew that the Indians were physically similar to the Ethiopians (for Homer probably did not know of the Indians at all, in view of the fact that even Euergetes himself, according to that story of Eudoxus, knew nothing about India, nor the voyage that leads thither), but rather on the basis of the division of which I have spoken above.​127 And in speaking on that subject I also expressed my opinion in regard to the reading proposed by Crates, namely, that it makes no difference whether we read the passage one way or the other;​128 but Poseidonius says it does make a difference, and that it is better to emend the passage to read "both where Hyperion departs." Now wherein does this differ from "both where Hyperion sets"? For the whole segment of the circle from the meridian to the setting is called "the setting,"​129 just as the semi-circle of the horizon is so called. This is what Aratus means when he says: "There where the extremities of the west and of the east join with each other." And if the passage is better as Crates reads it, then one may say that it must also be better as Aristarchus reads it.

So much for Poseidonius. For in my detailed discussions 104many of his views will meet with fitting criticism, so far as they relate to geography; but so far as they relate to physics, I must inspect them elsewhere or else not consider them at all. For in  p399 Poseidonius there is much inquiry into causes and much imitating of Aristotle — precisely what our school​130 avoids, on account of the obscurity of the causes.

The Editor's Notes:

110 See 2.2.3, and footnotes.

111 Strabo, like Pythagoras, has in mind celestial zones corresponding to his terrestrial zones. The former would not be so accurate as the latter, but they would afford a consistent basis for astronomical observation.

112 Seeds, for example.

113 See page 365, and footnote 2.

114 That is, the circumstances just quoted from Polybius.

115 That is, the equator and adjacent circles of latitude. Strabo means simply that the sun passes more rapidly with respect to points in this third temperate zone than in the new torrid zone on either side of that zone; hence a temperate climate on and near the equator.

116 Ptolemy Physcon, who reigned B.C. 146‑117.

117 In § 5 following Strabo makes sport of this "strange mischance."

118 To Cyzicus.

119 The author­ship of these verses is unknown.

120 See footnote, p172.

121 The only direct reference extant in Plato to the truth or falsity of the story is made by Socrates to Critias: "And what other narrative" (but the Atlantis story) "has the very great advantage of being a fact and not a fiction?" (Timaeus 26E).

122 In Plato, one of the Egyptian priests is credited with saying to Solon that Atlantis was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and that, as a result of violent earthquakes and floods, it sank beneath the sea in a single day and night (see Timaeus 24‑25, and Critias 108E, 113C).

123 That is, Solon avoided the historical consequences of his fiction by sinking Atlantis, just as Homer did by making Poseidon and Apollo sweep away with a flood the wall built by the Achaeans in front of their ships (see Iliad 7.433, 441, and 12.1‑33).

124 See pp119 and 129.

125 That is, his hypothesis that one division of the Ethiopians lived south of the equator, on the other side of Oceanus (see pp117 ff.).

126 See pp119 ff. and 129.

127 See p129.

128 See p117.

129 That is, the west.

130 That is, the Stoic school of philosophy. Compare the same Greek phrase on p55; and "our Zeno," p151.

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