previous next


‘There has been much argument respecting the continents. Some, considering them to be divided by the rivers Nile and Tanais,1 have described them as islands; while others suppose them to be peninsulas connected by the isthmuses between the Caspian and the Euxine Seas, and between the Erythræan Sea2 and Ecregma.’3 He adds, that this question does not appear to him to be of any practical importance, but rather, as Democritus observed, a bone of contention for angry litigants. Where there are no precise boundary marks, columns, or walls, as at Colyttus and Melitè,4 it is easy for us to say such a place is Colyttus, and such another Melitè, but not so easy to show the exact limits: thus disputes have frequently arisen concerning certain districts; that, for instance, between the Argives and Lacedæmonians concerning [the possession of] Thyrea,5 and that between the Athenians and Bœotians relative to Oropus.6 Further, in giving names to the three continents, the Greeks did not take into consideration the whole habitable earth, but merely their own country and the land exactly opposite, namely, Caria, which is now inhabited by the Ionians and other neighbouring tribes. In course of time, as they advanced further and daily became acquainted with new countries, this their division came to be general."

I take this last part first, and (to use Eratosthenes' own words, not those of Democritus) willing to pick my bone of contention, inquire, whether they who first made the division of the three continents were the same persons as those who first desired to distinguish their own land from that of the Carians opposite, or whether they were only acquainted with Greece, Caria, and some few other adjoining countries, and not with Europe, Asia, or Africa; but that others who followed them, and were able to write a description of the habitable earth, were the real authors of the division into three continents. How did he know that these were not the men who made this division of the habitable earth? And he who divided the earth into three parts, giving to each portion the name of ‘continent,’ could he not form in his mind a just idea of that taken as a whole, which he had so parcelled out. But if indeed he were not acquainted with the whole habitable earth, but merely made a division of some part thereof, pray what portion of that part did he denominate Asia, or Europe, or simply continent? Such talk is altogether nonsense.

1 The Nile being thought to separate Africa from Asia, and the Tanais, or Don, Europe.

2 The Red Sea.

3 The name of the mouth of the lake Sirbonis or Sebaket-Bardoil, which opens into the Mediterranean. A line drawn from this embouchure to the bottom of the Arabian Gulf, would give the boundary between Africa and Asia.

4 Places in Attica.

5 Probably Thyros, a place situated close to the sea, just at the boundary of the two countries.

6 Oropo, on the confines of Attica and Bœotia.

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