the first Roman author who composed a formal treatise upon Geography. From one passage in his work (2.6.74) we learn that he was born at a town situated on the bay of Algesiras, and the name of the place seems to have been Tingentera
or Cingentera ;
but the text is here so corrupt, that it is impossible to speak with certainty. From a second passage (3.6.25, comp. Sueton. Claud.
17) it is highly probable that he flourished under the emperor Claudis ; but at all events it is certain that he must have written after the campaigns of Augustus in Spain, for he speaks of the ancient Jol as having been ennobled by the appellation of Caesareia (1.6.5), and mentions two towns in the country of the Cantabri which had been named after their con queror. Beyond these particulars our knowledge does not extend. Funceius indeed conjectures that the designation Pomponius
was acquired by adoption, and that he is in reality the L. Annaeus Mela of Corduba, who was the son of Seneca the rhetorician--the brother of Seneca the philosopher, and of Junius Gallio -- and the father of the poet Lucan; but there appears to be no evidence in favour of this hypothesis beyond the bare facts that both of these personages were Spaniards, and that both bore the surname of Mela. (Senec. Controv.
lib. ii. praef.; Tac. Ann. 16.17
; Hieron. in Chron. Euseb. Olymp.
ccxi.; comp. Plin. Nat. 19.33
, who, probably by mistake, wrote Tiberio
The title prefixed to the Compendium of Mela in the best MSS. is De Situ Orbis Libri III.
After a short prooemium, in which he dwells upon the importance and the difficulties of the undertaking, and states the manner in which he proposes to execute his task, he proceeds to define the cardinal points, and to explain the division of the world into two hemispheres and five zones.
The northern hemisphere is that portion of the earth which is known, and is separated by the impassable torrid zone from the southern hemisphere, which is altogether unknown, and is the abode of the Anticthones.
The northern or known hemisphere is completely surrounded by the ocean, which communicates with the four great seas: one on the north, the Caspian; two on the south, the Persian and the Arabian; one on the west, the Mediterranean, with its subdivisions of the Hellespont, the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus, the Euxine, the Cimmerian Bosporus, and the Palus Maeotis.
By this sea and the two great rivers, the Tanais and Nile, the whole of the northern hemisphere is portioned out into three great divisions. All to the north of the Mediterranean and the west of the Tanais constitute Europe; all to the south of the Mediterranean and the west of the Nile constitute Africa; what remains is Asia. Next follows a brief general description of the three continents, and an enumeration of the chief tribes by which they are inhabited.
These preliminaries being discussed, the author enters upon more minute details, and makes a complete circuit of the known world, tracing first the coast of the Mediterranean and the shores of the ocean. Thus commencing at the straits of Hercules with Mauritania, he passes on in regular order to Numidia, Africa Proper, the Cyrenaica, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Phoenicia, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lycia, Caria, Ionia, Aeolis, Bithynia, Paphlagonia, the Asiatic nations on the Euxine and the Palus Maeotis, European Scythia, Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, the Peloponinesus, Epirus, Illyricum, Italy from the head of the Adriatic round by Magna Graecia to the Ligurian Gulf, Gallia Narbonnensis, and the eastern coast of Spain. (Hispaniae ora citerior.
) The tour of the Mediterranean being now completed, a chapter is devoted to its islands. Passing beyond the Straits, we stretch along the western coast of Spain (Hispaniae ora exterior
), the western coast of Gaul (Galliae ora exterior
), the islands of the Northern Ocean, Germany, Sarmatia, the shores of the Caspian, the Eastern Ocean and India, the Mare Rubrum and its two gulfs, the Persian and Arabian, Aethiopia, and those portions of Aethiop a and Mauritania bordering upon the Atlantic, which brings him round to the point from which he started.
It will be seen from the above sketch that the existence of the northern countries of Europe and of the northern and eastern countries of Asia were unknown, it being supposed that these regions formed part of the ocean, which, in like manner, was supposed to occupy the whole of Central and Southern Africa.
As might be expected in a tract which consists chiefly of proper names, the text is often excessively and hopelessly currupt, but the style is simple, unaffected, and perspicuous; the Latinity is pure; all the best authorities accessible at that period, especially Eratosthenes, appear to have been carefully consulted; and although everything is compressed within the narrowest limits, we find the monotony of the catalogue occasionally diversified) by animated and pleasing pictures.
The Editio Princeps of Pomponius Mela appeared at Milan, in 4to. 1471, without any printer's name
. Numerous editions were published before the end of the fifteenth century, but the text first began to assume an improved appearance in those superintended by Vadianus, fol. Vienn. 1518, and fol. Basil. 1522, especially in the second
. Further emendations were introduced by Vinetus, 4to. Paris, 1572
; by Schottus, 4to. Antv. 1582
; but the great restorers of this author were Vossius, 4to. Hag. Corn. 1658
; Jac. Gronovius, 8vo. Lug. Bat. 1685, 1696
; and Abr. Gronovius, Lug. Bat. 8vo. 1722, and especially 1728
This last edition gives a completely new recension, and remained the standard until superseded by that of Tzschuckius, 7 parts, 8vo. Lips. 1807
, which is executed with the greatest care, presents us with the labours of former critics in their best form, is enriched by the collation of several new MSS., contains an ample collection of the most valuable commentaries, and supplies everything which either the scholar or the student can require.
We have an old translation into English: The rare and singular Work of Pomponius Mela, that excellent and worthy Cosmographer, of the Situation of the World, most orderly prepared, and divided every parte by its selfe: with the Longitude and Latitude of everie Kingdome, Regent, Province, Rivers, &cc. Whereunto is added, that learned Worke of Julius Solinus Polyhistor, with a necessarie Table for this Booke; right pleasant and profitable for Gentlemen, Merchaunts, Mariners, and Travellers. Translated into Englyshe by Arthur Golding, Gent. 4to. Lond. The Mela was first published in 1585
, the Solinus in 1587
, and then both were bound up in one volume, and reissued with the above title in 1590
. There is a translation into French by C. P. Fradin, 3 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1804, and with a new title-page 1827
; into Italian by Porcacchi, 8vo. Venet. 1547
; and into German by J. C. Dietz, 8vo. Giessen, 1774
, which is said to be very bad. (Bähr, Gesch. der Röm. Litterat.
§ 362, 3d ed.)