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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Geography


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

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. IV) Strabo

 p125  Book VIII, Chapter 5

1 (362) Be this as it may, after the Messenian Gulf comes the Laconian Gulf, lying between Taenarum​235 and Maleae,​236 which bends slightly from the south towards the east; and Thyrides,​237 a precipitous rock exposed to the currents of the sea, is in the Messenian Gulf at a distance of one hundred and thirty stadia from Taenarum. Above Thyrides lies Taÿgetus; 363it is a lofty and steep mountain, only a short distance from the sea, and it connects in its northerly parts with the foothills of the Arcadian mountains in such a way that a glen is left in between, where Messenia borders on Laconia. Below Taÿgetus, in the interior, lies Sparta, and also Amyclae, where is the temple of Apollo,​238 and Pharis. Now the site of Sparta is in a rather hollow district,​239 although it includes mountains within its limits; yet no part of it is marshy, though in olden times the suburban part was marshy, and this part they called Limnae;​240 and the temple of Dionysus in Limnae​241 stood on wet ground, though now its foundations  p127 rest on dry ground. In the bend of the seaboard one comes, first, to a headland that projects into the sea, Taenarum, with its temple of Poseidon situated in a grove; and secondly, near by, to the cavern​242 through which, according to the myth writers, Cerberus was brought up from Hades by Heracles. From here the passage towards the south across the sea to Phycus,​243 a cape in Cyrenaea, is three thousand stadia; and the passage towards the west to Pachynus,​244 the promontory of Sicily, is four thousand six hundred, though some say four thousand; and towards the east to Maleae, following the sinuosities of the gulfs, six hundred and seventy; 364and to Onugnathus,​245 a low-lying peninsula somewhat this side of Maleae, five hundred and twenty; off Onugnathus and opposite it, at a distance of forty stadia, lies Cythera, an island with a good harbour, containing a city of the same name, which Eurycles, the ruler of the Lacedaemonians in our times, seized as his private property; and round it lie several small islands, some near it and others slightly farther away; and to Corycus,​246 a cape in Crete, the shortest voyage is seven hundred stadia.247

2 After Taenarum, on the voyage to Onugnathus and Maleae, one comes to the city Psamathus; then to Asinê, and to Gythium, the seaport of Sparta, situated at a distance of two hundred and forty stadia from Sparta. The roadstead of the seaport was dug by the hand of man, so it is said.  p129 Then one comes to the Eurotas, which empties between Gythium and Acraea. Now for a time the voyage is along the shore, for about two hundred and forty stadia; then comes a marshy district situated above the gulf, and also a village called Helus.​248 In earlier times Helus was a city, just as Homer says: "And they that held Amyclae, and Helus, a city by the sea."​249 It is said to have been founded by Helius, a son of Perseus. And one comes also to a plain called Leucê;​250 then to a city Cyparissia, which is situated on a peninsula and has a harbour; then to Onugnathus, which has a harbour; then to the city Boea; and then to Maleae. And the distance from Onugnathus to Maleae is one hundred and fifty stadia; and there is also a city Asopus​251 in Laconia.

3 They say that one of the places mentioned in Homer's Catalogue,​252 Messê, is nowhere to be seen; and that Messoa was not a part of the country but of Sparta, as was the case with Limnaeum,​253 . . .​254 But some take "Messê" as an apocopated form of  p131 "Messenê," for, as I have said,​255 Messenê too was a part of Laconia. As examples of apocope from the poet himself, writers cite "krī," "do," and "maps,"​256 and also the passage "the heroes Automedon and Alcimus,"​257 for "Alcimedon"; then from Hesiod, who uses "bri" for "brithu" or "briaron"; and Sophocles and Ion, "rha" for "rhadion"; and Epicharmus, "li" for "lian," and "Syracō" for "Syracuse"; and in Empedocles,​258 "ops" for "opsis": "the 'ops'​259 of both becomes one;" and in Antimachus, "the sacred 'ops' of the Eleusinian Demeter," and "alphi" for "alphiton"; and Euphorion even uses "hēl" for "hēlos"; and in Philetas, "eri" for "erion": "maidservants bring white 'eri'​260 and put it in baskets;" and Aratus says "pēda" for "pēdalia": "the 'pēda'​261 towards the wind"; and Simmias, "Dodo" for "Dodona." As for the rest of the places listed by the poet, some have been destroyed; of others traces are still left; and of others the names have been changed, for example, Augeiae​262 to Aegaeae;​263 for the Augeiae in Locris​264 no longer exists at all. As for Las, the story goes, the Dioscuri​265 once captured it  p133 by siege, and it was from this fact that they got the appellation "Lapersae."​266 And Sophocles says, "by the two Lapersae, I swear, by Eurotas third, by the gods in Argos and about Sparta."267

4 According to Ephorus: Eurysthenes and Procles, the Heracleidae, took possession of Laconia,​268 divided the country into six parts, and founded cities;​269 now one of the divisions, Amyclae, they selected and gave to the man​270 who had betrayed Laconia to them and who had persuaded the ruler who was in possession of it to accept their terms and emigrate with the Achaeans to Ionia; Sparta they designated as a royal residence for themselves; to the other divisions they sent kings, and because of the sparsity of the population gave them permission to receive as fellow inhabitants any strangers who wished the privilege; and they used Las as a naval station because of its good harbour, and Aegys​271 as a base of operations against their enemies (for its territory​272 bordered on those of the surrounding peoples) and Pharis as a treasury, because it afforded security against outsiders; . . . but  p135 though the neighbouring peoples, one and all, were subject to the Spartiatae, 365still they had equal rights, sharing both in the rights of citizen­ship and in the offices of state, and they were called Helots;​273 but Agis, the son of Eurysthenes, deprived them of the equality of rights and ordered them to pay tribute to Sparta; now all obeyed except the Heleians, the occupants of Helus, who, because they revolted, were forcibly reduced in a war, and were condemned to slavery, with the express reservation that no slaveholder should be permitted either to set them free or to sell them outside the borders of the country; and this war was called the War against the Helots. One may almost say that it was Agis and his associates who introduced the whole system of Helot-slavery that persisted until the supremacy of the Romans; for the Lacedaemonians held the Helots as state-slaves in a way, having assigned to them certain settlements to live in and special services to perform.

5 Concerning the government of the Laconians and the changes that took place among them, one might omit most things as well known, but there are certain things which it is perhaps worthwhile to mention. For instance, they say that the Achaeans of Phthiotis came down with Pelops into the Peloponnesus, took up their abode in Laconia, and so far excelled in bravery that the Peloponnesus, which now for many ages had been called Argos, came to be called Achaean Argos, and the name was applied not only in a general way to the  p137 Peloponnesus, but also in a specific way to Laconia; at any rate, the words of the poet, "Where was Menelaüs?"​274 or was he not in Achaean Argos?"​275 are interpreted by some thus: "or was he not in Laconia?" And at the time of the return of the Heracleidae, when Philonomus betrayed the country to the Dorians, the Achaeans emigrated from Laconia to the country of the Ionians, the country that still to‑day is called Achaea. But I shall speak of them in my description of Achaea.​276 Now the new possessors of Laconia restrained themselves at first, but after they turned over the government to Lycurgus they so far surpassed the rest that they alone of the Greeks ruled over both land and sea, and they continued ruling the Greeks until they were deprived of their hegemony, first by the Thebans, and immediately after them by the Macedonians. However, they did not wholly yield even to the Macedonians, but, preserving their autonomy, always kept up a struggle for the primacy both with the rest of the Greeks and with the kings of the Macedonians. And when the Macedonians had been overthrown by the Romans, the Lacedaemonians committed some slight offences against the praetors who were sent by the Romans, because at that time they were under the rule of tyrants and had a wretched government; but when they had recovered themselves, they were held in particular honour, and remained free, contributing to Rome nothing else but friendly services. 366But recently Eurycles has stirred up trouble among them, having apparently abused the friendship of Caesar  p139 unduly in order to maintain his authority over his subjects; but the trouble​277 quickly came to an end, Eurycles retiring to his fate,​278 and his son​279 being averse to any friendship of this kind.​280 And it also came to pass that the Eleuthero-Lacones​281 got a kind of republican constitution, since the Perioeci​282 and also the Helots, at the time when Sparta was under the rule of tyrants, were the first to attach themselves to the Romans. Now Hellanicus says that Eurysthenes and Procles drew up the constitution;​283 but Ephorus censures Hellanicus, saying that he has nowhere mentioned Lycurgus and that he ascribes the work of Lycurgus to persons who had nothing to do with it. At any rate, Ephorus continues, it is to Lycurgus alone that a temple has been erected and that annual sacrifices are offered, whereas Eurysthenes and Procles, although they were the founders, have not even been accorded the honour of having their respective descendants  p141 called Eurysthenidae and Procleidae; instead, the respective descendants are called Agidae, after Agis the son of Eurysthenes, and Eurypontidae, after Eurypon the son of Procles; for Agis and Eurypon reigned in an honourable way, whereas Eurysthenes and Procles welcomed foreigners and through these maintained their overlord­ship; and hence they were not even honoured with the title of "archegetae,"​284 an honour which is always paid to founders; and further, Pausanias,​285 after he was banished because of the hatred of the Eurypontidae, the other royal house, and when he was in exile, prepared a discourse on the laws of Lycurgus, who belonged to the house that banished him,​286 in which he also tells the oracles that were given out to Lycurgus concerning most of the laws.

6 Concerning the nature of the regions, both Laconia and Messenia, one should accept what Euripides says in the following passages: He says that Laconia has "much arable land but is not easy to cultivate, for it is hollow,​287 surrounded by mountains, rugged, and difficult for enemies to invade;"  p143 and that Messenia is "a land of fair fruitage and watered by innumerable streams, abounding in pasturage for cattle and sheep, being neither very wintry in the blasts of winter nor yet made too hot by the chariot of Helios;"​288 and a little below, in speaking of the lots which the Heracleidae cast for the country, he says that the first lot conferred "lord­ships over the land of Laconia, a poor country," and the second over Messenia, "whose fertility is greater than words can express;" and Tyrtaeus speaks of it in the same manner. But one should not admit that the boundary between Laconia and Messenia is formed, as Euripides says, "by the Pamisus, which rushes into the sea," for it flows through the middle of Messenia, nowhere touching the present Laconia. Neither is he right when he says that to mariners Messenia is far away, for Messenia like Laconia lies on the sea; and he does not give the right boundary of Elis either, "and far away, after one crosses the river, lies Elis, the neighbour of Zeus;" 367for if, on the one hand, he means the present Eleian country, which borders on Messenia, the Pamisus does not touch this country, any more than it does Laconia, for, as I have said, it flows through the middle of Messenia; or if, on the other hand, he means the old Coelê  p145 Elis,​289 he deviates much further from the truth; for after one crosses the Pamisus there is still a large part of Messenia to traverse, and then the whole of the territories of the Lepreatae and the Macistii, which they used to call Triphylia; and then come Pisatis and Olympia, and then, three hundred stadia farther on, Elis.

7 Since some critics write​290 Lacedaemon "Ketoessan" and others "Kaietaessan," the question is asked, how should we interpret "Ketoessa," whether as derived from "Ketê,"​291 or as meaning "large,"​292 which seems to be more plausible. And as for "Kaietaessan," some interpret it as meaning "Kalaminthodê,"​293 whereas others say that the clefts caused by earthquakes are called "Kaietoi," and that from "Kaietoi" is derived "Kaietas," the word among the Lacedaemonians for their "prison," which is a sort of cavern. But some prefer to call such cavernous places "Kooi," and whence, they add, comes the expression " 'oreskoioi' monsters."​294 Laconia is subject to earthquakes, and in fact some writers record that certain peaks of Taÿgetus have been broken away. And there are quarries of very costly marble — the old quarries of Taenarian marble on Taenarum; and recently some men have opened a large quarry in Taÿgetus, being supported in their undertaking by the extravagance of the Romans.

 p147  8 Homer makes it clear that both the country and the city are called by the same name, Lacedaemon (and when I say "country" I include Messenia with Laconia). For in speaking of the bows, when he says, "beautiful gifts which a friend had given him when he met him in Lacedaemon, even Iphitus the son of Eurytus,"​295 and then adds, "these twain met one another in Messenê in the home of Ortilochus,"​296 Homer means the country of which Messenia was a part. Accordingly it made no difference to him whether he said "a friend had given him when he met him in Lacedaemon" or "these twain met in Messenê." For, that Pherae is the home of Ortilochus, is clear from this passage: "and they" (Telemachus and Peisistratus) "went to Pherae, the home of Diocles, son of Ortilochus;"​297 and Pherae is in Messenia. But when Homer says that, after Telemachus and his companions set out from Pherae, "they shook the yoke all day long,"​298 and then adds, "and the sun set, and they came to Hollow Lacedaemon 'Ketoessan,'​299 and then drove to the palace of Menelaüs,"​300 368we must interpret him as meaning the city; otherwise it will be obvious that the poet speaks of their arrival at Lacedaemon from Lacedaemon! And, besides, it is not probable that  p149 the residence of Menelaüs was not at Sparta, nor yet, if it were not there, that Telemachus would say, "for I would go both to Sparta and to Pylus."​301 But the fact that Homer uses the epithets of the country​302 is in disagreement with this view​303 unless, indeed, one is willing to attribute this to poetic license — as one should do, for it were better for Messenê to be included with Laconia or with the Pylus that was subject to Nestor, and not to be set off by itself in the Catalogue as not even having a part in the expedition.

The Editor's Notes:

235 Now Cape Matapan.

236 Now Cape Malea.

237 Literally, "Windows"; now called Kavo Grosso, a peninsular promontory about six miles in circumference, with precipitous cliffs that are riddled with caverns (Frazer, Pausanias 3, p399, and Curtius, Peloponnesos 2, p281).

238 For a description of this temple, see Pausanias 3.18.9 ff.

239 Hence Homer's "Hollow Lacedaemon" (Odyssey 4.1).

240 "Marshes."

241 Bölte (Mitteilungen d. Kaiserl. deutsch. Arch. Inst. Athen. Abt. vol. 34, p388) shows that Tozer (Selections, note on p212) was right in identifying this "temple of Dionysus in Limnae" with the Lenaeum at Athens, where the Lenaean festival was called the "festival in Limnae."

242 The "Taenarias fauces" of Vergil (Georgics 4.467).

243 Now Ras-al‑Razat.

244 Now Cape Passero.

245 Literally, "Ass's-jaw"; now Cape Elaphonisi.

246 To be identified with Cimarus (10.4.5); see Murray's Small Classical Atlas (1904, Map 11). The cape is now called Garabusa.

247 From Cape Taenarum.

248 "Helus" means "Marsh."

249 Iliad 2.584.

250 This plain extends northeast from Cyparissia.

251 Between Acraeae and Cyparissia. Now in ruins near Xyli.

252 Iliad 2.484‑877.

253 "Limnae or Limnaeum, Cynosura, Messoa, and Pitanê, seem to have been the quarters or wards of Sparta, the inhabitants of each quarter forming a local tribe" (Frazer's Pausanias, note on 16.9, Vol. III, p341).

254 Three or four Greek letters are missing. Meineke's conjecture yields "near Thornax," which, according to Stephanus Byzantinus, was a mountain in Laconia. But as yet such a mountain has not been identified, and on still other grounds the conjecture is doubtful (cp. the note on 10.8, "Thornax," in Frazer's Pausanias, Vol. III, p322). Kramer's tempting conjecture yields "according to the Thracian," i.e., Dionysius the Thracian, who wrote Commentaries on Homer; but it is doubtful whether Strabo would have referred to him merely by his surname (cp. the full name in 14.2.13).

255 8.3.29, 8.4.1.

256 For "krithē," "dōma," "mapsidion," Aristotle (Poet. 1458A) quotes the same examples.

257 Iliad 19.392 (but see critical note on opposite page).

The critical note to the Greek text, where it quotes Homer's verse as "ἥρως δ’ Αὐτομέδων τε καὶ Ἄλκιμος", reads:

But the MSS. of Homer (Il. 19.392) read ἵππους, not ἥρως.

258 Frag. 88 (Diels). Aristotle (l.c.) quotes the same example.

259 "Vision."

260 For "erion," "wool."

261 "Rudders."

262 Iliad 2.583.

263 That is, the Laconian (not the Locrian) Augeiae, which was thirty stadia from Gytheium (Pausanias 3.21.6), near the Limni of to‑day.

264 Iliad 2.532.

265 Castor and Pollux.

266 "Sackers of Las."

267 Frag. 871 (Nauck).

268 Tradition places the Dorian Conquest as far back as 1104 B.C.

269 Cp. 8.5.5.

270 Philonomus (§ 5 following).

271 Aegys was situated in northwestern Laconia near the source of the Eurotas.

272 Its territory included Carystus (10.1.6).

273 Meineke and Forbiger transfer "and they were called Helots" to a position after "Helus" (following).

274 Odyssey 3.249.

275 Odyssey 3.251.

276 8.7.1.

277 Eurycles likewise abused the friendship of Herod the Great and others (Josephus Antiq. Jud. 16.10 and Josephus Bell. Jud. 1.26.1‑5).

278 Others interpret the clause to mean simply "he died," but the Greek certainly alludes to his banishment by Caesar (Josephus, Bell. Jud. 1.26.4 and Plut. Apophth. 208A),º after which nothing further is known of him (see Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. "Eurykles").

279 Gaius Julius, apparently named after Julius Caesar. In an inscription found on Cape Taenarum by Falconer he was extolled as the special benefactor of the Eleuthero-Lacones.

280 i.e. disloyalty to Caesar.

281 That is, "Free Laconians." Augustus released them from their subjection to the Lacedaemonians, and hence the name. At first they had twenty-four cities, but in the time of Pausanias only eighteen. For the names see Pausanias, 3.21.6.

282 "Perioeci" means literally "people living round (a town)," but it came to be the regular word for a class of dependent neighbours. They were not citizens, though not state-slaves as were the Helots.

283 Strabo now means the Spartan constitution.

284 i.e. the original, or independent, founders of a new race or state.

285 A member of the house of the Agidae, and king of Sparta, 408‑394 B.C. (Diod. Sic. 13.75 and 14.89).

286 He was the sixth in descent from Procles (10.4.18).

287 i.e. "low-lying." Cp. Homer's "Hollow Lacedaemon" (Iliad 2.581).

288 Frag. 1083 (Nauck).

289 See 8.3.2.

290 i.e. in Homer's text, Iliad 2.581 and Odyssey 4.1.

291 The usual meaning of Ketê is "deep-sea monsters," or more specifically the "cetaceans," but Strabo obviously speaks of the word in the sense of "ravines" or "clefts" (see Buttman, Lexilogus s.v., and Goebel, Lexilogus s.v.).

292 The meaning given to the word in the scholia to Homer, and one which seems more closely associated with the usual meaning, "deep-sea monster."

293 i.e. "abounding in mint."

294 Iliad 1.268, where Homer refers to the Centaurs, which, according to the above interpretation, are "monsters that live in mountain-caverns."

295 Odyssey 21.13.

296 Odyssey 21.15.

297 Odyssey 3.488.

298 Odyssey 3.486.

299 See footnote 4, p141.

300 Odyssey 4.1‑2.

301 Odyssey 2.359.

302 In Odyssey 4.1, and Iliad 2.581 (Catalogue of Ships). But the epithets are omitted in Odyssey 21.13.

303 i.e. that Homer's country of Lacedaemon includes Messenia.

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