previous next


But if our poet speaks of the Isthmus of Suez as ever having been the strait of confluence between the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, how much more credit may we attribute to his division of the Ethiopians into two portions, being thus separated by so grand a strait! And what commerce could he have carried on with the Ethiopians who dwelt by the shores of the exterior sea and the ocean? Telemachus and his companions admire the multitude of ornaments that were in the palace,

“ Of gold, electrum, silver, ivory.1

Odyssey iv. 73.
Now the Ethiopians are possessed of none of these productions in any abundance, excepting ivory, being for the most part a needy and nomad race. True, [you say,] but adjoining them is Arabia, and the whole country as far as India. One of these is distinguished above all other lands by the title of Felix,2 and the other, though not dignified by that name, is both generally believed and also said to be preeminently Blessed.

But [we reply], Homer was not acquainted with India, or he would have described it. And though he knew of the Arabia which is now named Felix, at that time it was by no means wealthy, but a wild country, the inhabitants of which dwelt for the most part in tents. It is only a small district which produces the aromatics from which the whole territory afterwards received its name,3 owing to the rarity of the commodity amongst us, and the value set upon it. That the Arabians are now flourishing and wealthy is due to their vast and extended traffic, but formerly it does not appear to have been considerable. A merchant or camel-driver might attain to opulence by the sale of these aromatics and similar commodities; but Menelaus could only become so either by plunder, or presents conferred on him by kings and nobles, who had the means at their disposal, and wished to gratify one so distinguished by glory and renown. The Egyptians, it is true, and the neighbouring Ethiopians and Arabians, were not so entirely destitute of the luxuries of civilization, nor so unacquainted with the fame of Agamemnon, especially after the termination of the Trojan war, but that Menelaus might have expected some benefits from their generosity, even as the breastplate of Agamemnon is said to be

“ The gift
Of Cinyras long since; for rumour loud
Had Cyprus reached.4

Iliad xi. 20.
And we are told that the greater part of his wanderings were in Phœnicia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, around Cyprus, and, in fact, the whole of our coasts and islands.5 Here, indeed, he might hope to enrich himself both by the gifts of friendship and by violence, and especially by the plunder of those who had been the allies of Troy. They however who dwelt on the exterior ocean, and the distant barbarians, held out no such encouragement: and when Menelaus is said to have been in Ethiopia, it is because he had reached the frontiers of that country next Egypt. But perhaps at that time the frontiers lay more contiguous to Thebes than they do now. At the present day the nearest are the districts adjacent to Syene and Philæ,6 the former town being entirely in Egypt, while Philæ is inhabited by a mixed population of Ethiopians and Egyptians. Supposing therefore he had arrived at Thebes, and thus reached the boundary-line of Ethiopia, where he experienced the munificence of the king, we must not be surprised if he is described as having passed through the country.7 On no better authority Ulysses declares he has been to the land of the Cyclops, although he merely left the sea to enter a cavern which he himself tells us was situated on the very borders of the country: and, in fact, wherever he came to anchor, whether at Æolia, Læstrygonia, or elsewhere, he is stated to have visited those places. In the same manner Menelaus is said to have been to Ethiopia and Libya, because here and there he touched at those places, and the port near Ardania above Parætonium8 is called after him ‘the port of Menelaus.’9

1 Odyssey iv. 73.See Strabo's description of electrum, Book iii. c. ii. § 8.

2 Blessed.

3 The name of Arabia Felix is now confined to Yemen. A much larger territory was anciently comprehended under this designation, containing the whole of Hedjaz, and even Nedjed-el-Ared. It is probable that Strabo here speaks of Hedjaz, situated about two days' journey south of Mecca.

4 Iliad xi. 20.

5 Of the Mediterranean.

6 Philæ was built on a little island formed by the Nile, now called El-Heif.

7 This is evidently Strabo's meaning; but the text, as it now stands, is manifestly corrupt.

8 El-Baretun. A description of this place will be found in the 17th book.

9 At this port it was that Agesilaus terminated his glorious career.

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 References (4 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: