previous next


It is quite irrational to suppose that he could be accurately acquainted with Egyptian Thebes,1 which is separated from our sea2 by a little less than 50003 stadia; and yet ignorant of' the recess of the Arabian Gulf, and of the isthmus there, whose breadth is not more than 1000 stadia. Still more, would it not be ridiculous to believe that Homer was aware the Nile was called by the same name as the vast country [of Egypt], and yet unacquainted with the reason why? especially since the saying of Herodotus would occur to him, that the country was a gift from the river, and it ought there- fore to bear its name. Further, the best known peculiarities of a country are those which have something of the nature of a paradox, and are likely to arrest general attention. Of this kind are the rising of the Nile, and the alluvial deposition at its mouth. There is nothing in the whole country to which travellers in Egypt so immediately direct their inquiries, as the character of the Nile; nor do the inhabitants possess any thing else equally wonderful and curious, of which to inform foreigners; for in fact, to give them a description of the river, is to lay open to their view every main characteristic of the country. It is the question put before every other by those who have never seen Egypt themselves. To these considerations we must add Homer's thirst after knowledge, and his delight in visiting foreign lands, (tastes which we are assured both by those who have written histories of his life, and also by innumerable testimonies throughout his own poems, he possessed in an eminent degree,) and we shall have abundant evidence both of the extent of his information, and the felicity with which he described objects he deemed important, and passed over altogether, or with slight allusion, matters which were generally known.

1 Aristotle accounts for Homer's mentioning Thebes rather than Memphis, by saying that, at the time of the poet, the formation of that part of Egypt by alluvial deposit was very recent. So that Memphis either did no then exist, or at all events had not then obtained its after celebrity. Aristotle likewise seems to say that anciently Egypt consisted only of the territory of the Thebaid, καὶ τὸ ἀοͅχαῖον αἴυπτος, θῆβαι καλούμεναι.

2 The Mediterranean.

3 Gosselin says, ‘Read 4000, as in lib. xvii. This correction is indicated by the following measure given by Herodotus:

From the sea to Heliopolis1500 stadia
From Heliopolis to Thebes4860

The stadium made use of in Egypt at the time of Herodotus consisted of 1111 1/9 to a degree on the grand circle, as may be seen by comparing the measure of the coasts of the Delta furnished by that historian with our actual information. The length of this stadium may likewise be ascertained by reference to Aristotle. In the time of Eratosthenes and Strabo, the stadium of 700 to a degree was employed in Egypt. Now 6360 stadia of 1111 1/9 to a degree make just 4006 stadia of 700: consequently these two measures are identical, their apparent inconsistency merely resulting from the different scales by which preceding authors had expressed them.’ This reasoning seems very plausible, but we must remark that Col. Leake, in a valuable paper ‘On the Stade as a Linear Measure,’ published in vol. ix. of the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, is of opinion that Gosselin's system of stadia of different lengths cannot be maintained.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1877)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1111 AD (2)
1500 AD (1)
hide References (5 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: