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Geographical Fragments

Polybius devoted one book of his history to a separate treatise on the geography of the continents. Strabo, 9.1.1.


IN their Greek histories Eudoxus gave a good, but Ephorus the best, account of the foundations, blood connexions, migrations, and founders of states; but I shall now give some information on the position of countries and their distances, which are the subjects most properly belonging to the science of Geography. . . .

Fishing Near Scylla

It is not Homer's manner to indulge in mere mythological
Homer true to nature.
stories founded on no substratum of truth. For there is no surer way of giving an air of verisimilitude to fiction than to mix with it some particles of truth. And this is the case with the tale of the wanderings of Odysseus. . . .

For instance, Aeolus, who taught the way of getting through the straits, where there are currents setting both ways, and the passage is rendered difficult by the indraught of the sea, came to be called and regarded as the dispenser and king of the winds; just as Danaus, again, who discovered the storages of water in Argos, and Atreus, who discovered the fact of the sun's revolution being in the opposite direction to that of the heaven, were called seers and priest-kings. So the priests of the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, and the Magi, being superior to the rest of the world in wisdom, obtained rule and honour in former generations. And on this principle, too, each one of the gods is honoured as the inventor of something useful to man. I do not allow therefore that Aeolus is wholly mythical, nor the wanderings of Odysseus generally. Some mythical elements have been undoubtedly added, as they have in the War or Ilium; but the general account of Sicily given by the poet agrees with that of other historians who have given topographical details of Italy and Sicily. I cannot agree therefore with the remark of Eratosthenes that "we shall discover where Odysseus wandered, when we find the cobbler who sewed up the leather bag of the winds." See for instance how Homer's description of Scylla agrees with what really happens at the Scyllaean rock, and the taking of the sword fish:1 “"And there she fishes, roaming round the rock,
For dog-fish and for dolphins, or what else
Of huger she may take that swims the sea."
” For the fact is that tunnies swimming in great shoals along the Italian coast, if they are drifted from their course and are prevented from reaching Sicily, fall a prey to the larger fish, such as dolphins, dog-fish, or other marine monsters; and from hunting these the sword-fish (called also xiphiae, or sometimes sea-dogs) are fattened. The same thing happens at a rise of the Nile, and other rivers, as in the case of a fire or a burning forest; the animals crowd together, and, in their effort to escape the fire or the water, fall a prey to stronger animals.

Fishing for Swordfish

Fishing for sword-fish at the Scyllaean rock is carried on
Fishing for sword-fish.
in this way. A number of men lie in wait, two each in small two-oared boats, and one man is set to look out for them all. In the boat one man rows, while the other stands on the prow holding a spear. When the look-out man signals the appearance of a sword-fish (for the animal swims with one-third of its body above water), the boat rows up to it, and the man with the spear strikes it at close quarters, and then pulls the spear-shaft away leaving the harpoon in the fish's body; for it is barbed and loosely fastened to the shaft on purpose, and has a long rope attached to it. They then slacken the rope for the wounded fish, until it is wearied out with its convulsive struggles and attempts to escape, and then they haul it on to land, or, if its size is not too great, into the boat. And if the spear-shaft falls into the sea it is not lost; for being made of two pieces, one oak and the other pine, the oak end as the heavier dips under water, the other end rises above it and is easily got hold of. But sometimes it happens that the man rowing is wounded, right through the boat, by the immense size of the animal's sword; for it charges like a boar, and hunting the one is very like hunting the other.

This would lead us to conjecture that the wandering described by Homer was near Sicily, because he has assigned to Scylla the kind of fishing which is indigenous to the Scyllaean rock; and because what he says of Charybdis correctly describes what does happen in the Straits. But the “"Thrice sends she up the darksome tide,"
” in stead of twice "a day," is an error to be ascribed to the copyist or the geographer.

Island of Meninx, off the lesser Syrtis. See 1. 39.
2 So also Meninx answers to his description of the Lotophagi.


Or if there are some points which do not answer, we must lay the blame on ignorance or poetic licence, which uses real history, picturesque detail, and mythological allusion. The object of history is truth, as when in the catalogue of ships the poet describes the features of the several localities, calling one city "rocky," another "frontier-placed," another "with wealth of doves," or "hard by the sea." But the object of picturesque detail is vividness, as when he introduces men fighting; and that of mythological allusion is to give pleasure or rouse wonder. But a narrative wholly fictitious creates no illusion and is not Homeric. For all look upon his poetry as a philosophical work; and Eratosthenes is wrong in bidding us not judge his poems with a view to having any serious meaning, or to seek for history in them.

It is better, again, to take the line3 “"Thence for nine days the foul winds drave us on,"
” to mean that he made but a short distance—for foul winds do not favour a straight course—than to imagine him to have got into the open ocean as running before favouring winds. The distance from Malea to the Pillars is twenty-two thousand five hundred stades. If we suppose this to have been accomplished at an even speed in the nine days, he would make two thousand five hundred stades a day. Now, who has ever asserted that any one made the voyage from Lycia or Rhodes to Alexandria in four days, a distance of four thousand stades?

To those who ask how it was that Odysseus, though he came to Sicily three times, never once went through the straits, I answer that all subsequent sailors avoided that passage also. . . .

Implausibility of Pytheas's Geography

In treating of the geography of Europe I shall say nothing of the ancient geographers, but shall confine my attention to their modern critics, Dicaearchus, Eratosthenes, who is the most recent writer on geography, and Pytheas, who has misled many readers by professing to have traversed on foot the whole of Britain, the coastline of which island, he says, is more than forty thousand stades. And again by his stories of Thule and the countries in its neighbourhood, "in which," he says, "there is neither unmixed land or sea or air, but a kind of compound of all three (like the jelly-fish or Pulmo Marinus), in which earth and sea and everything else are held in suspense, and which forms a kind of connecting link to the whole, through which one can neither walk nor sail." This substance, which he says is like the Pulmo Marinus, he saw with his own eyes, the rest he learnt by report.
Cadiz to the Don.
Such is Pytheas's story, and he adds that, on his return thence, he traversed the whole of the coast of Europe from Gades to the Tanais. But we cannot believe that a private person, who was also a poor man, should have made such immense journeys by land and sea. Even Eratosthenes doubted this part of his story, though he believed what he said about Britain, and Gades, and Iberia. I would much rather believe the Messenian (Euhemerus) than him. The latter is content with saying that he sailed to one country which he calls Panchaia;4 while the former asserts that he has actually seen the whole northern coast of Europe up to the very verge of the world, which one would hardly believe of Hermes himself if he said it. Eratosthenes calls Euhemerus a Bergaean,5 yet believes Pytheas, though Dicaearchus himself did not.6 . . . Eratosthenes and Dicaearchus give mere popular guesses as to distances.

Distances In the Mediterranean

For instance, Dicaearchus says that the distance from the Peloponnese to the Pillars is ten thousand stades and still further to the head of the Adriatic; and from the Peloponnesus to the Sicilian straits three thousand; and therefore the remainder, from the Straits to the Pillars, is seven thousand stades. I say nothing about the three thousand stades, whether they are right or wrong; but the seven thousand cannot be made out, whether you measure along the coast or straight across the sea. The coast route is a kind of obtuse angle, contained by two lines resting on the straits and the pillars respectively; so that we have a triangle, of which the apex is Narbo, and the base the straight line representing the course by the open sea; of the two sides of the triangle which contain the obtuse angle, that which extends from the straits to Narbo is more than eleven thousand two hundred stades, the other from Narbo to the Pillars is a little under eight thousand. The longest distance from Europe to Libya across the Tuscan sea is allowed to be not more than three thousand stades, that by the Sardinian sea is somewhat less; but let us call it three thousand stades. Now suppose a perpendicular let down through the gulf of Narbo to the base of the triangle, that is to the straight seacourse, measuring two thousand stades; it requires only a schoolboy's geometry to prove that the coasting voyage is longer than the direct sea voyage by nearly five hundred stades.7 And when the three thousand stades from the Peloponnese to the straits are added, the whole number of the stades even of the straight sea course will be more than double Dicaearchus's reckoning. And if we measure to the head of the Adriatic we must add still more by his own admission; that is to say, from the Peloponnese to Leucas is seven hundred stades, from Leucas to Corcyra seven hundred, from Corcyra to Ceraunia seven hundred, and from Ceraunia along the Illyrian coast six thousand one hundred and fifty. Strabo quotes this reckoning of the distance from the Peloponnese to the head of the Adriatic to prove that Polybius, on his own showing, is wrong in admitting that this distance (8250 stades) is greater than that from the Peloponnese to the Pillars, which Dicaearchus said was 10,000 stades, and which Polybius showed to be 18,765 stades by the shortest route.

In talking such nonsense he might well be regarded as having gone beyond even Antiphanes of Berga, and, in fact, to have left no folly for his successors to commit. . . .

Gaul and Spain

From Ithaca to Corcyra is more than nine hundred stades; from Epidamnus to Thessalonica more than two thousand. From Marseilles to the Pillars is more than nine thousand; from the Pyrenees, rather less than eight thousand. . . . The Pagus from source to mouth is eight thousand, not following its windings, but taking a direct line. . . . Eratosthenes is quite ignorant of the geography of Iberia, and sometimes makes statements about it entirely contradictory. He says, for instance, that its western coast as far as Gades is inhabited by Gauls, since the whole western side of Europe, as far south as Gades, is occupied by that people: and then, quite forgetting he has said this, when taking a survey of the whole of Spain, he nowhere mentions the Gauls. . . . The length of Europe is less than that of Libya and Asia put together by the distance between the sunrise in summer and at the point of the equinox; for the source of the Tanais is at the former, and the Pillars are at the western equinox, and between them lies Europe, while Asia occupies the northern semicircle between the Tanais and equinoctial sunrise. . . .

Southern Europe is divided into five peninsulas—Iberia;

Polybius's fivefold division of the European peninsulas, as opposed to the threefold division of Eratosthenes.
Italy; a third ending in the Capes Malea and Sunium, in which are included Greece and Illyria, and a part of Thrace; a fourth called the Thracian Chersonese, bounded by the strait between Sestos and Abydos; and a fifth along the Cimmerian Bosphorus and the entrance to the Maeotis. . . .

Portugal and Spain

In the sea off Lusitania acorn-bearing oaks grow, upon which the tunnies feed and fatten themselves, which may, therefore, well be called sea-hogs, as they feed like hogs on acorns.

These acorns are sometimes carried by the tide as far as the coast of Latium, unless they may be thought to be the produce of Sardinia or neighbouring islands. . . .

In Lusitania both animals and man are extraordinarily productive, owing to the excellent temperature of the air; the fruits never wither; there is not more than three months in the year in which roses, white violets (or gilly-flowers), and asparagus do not grow; while the fish caught in its sea is far superior to what is found in our waters for quantity, quality, and beauty. There, too, a Sicilian medimnus of barley is sold for a drachma, and one of wheat for nine Alexandrine obols. A metreta of wine costs a drachma, and a good kid or hare an obol, and a lamb from three to four obols; a fat pig weighing a hundred minae costs five drachmae, and a sheep two. A talent of figs is sold for three obols, a calf for five drachmae, a draught-ox for ten. The flesh of wild animals is not thought worth fixing a price upon at all, but the people give it to each other for nothing and as a present.8 . . .

Geography of Celtiberia

The Turduli live on the immediate north Tribes in Boetica of the Turdetani. . . .

The fertility of their country has had a civilising influence on the Turditani and on their Celtic kinsfolk, and taught them the art of social life. . . .

The Pillars are at either side of the straits. . . .

There is a fountain in the Heracleum at Gades, the water

A tidal spring at Gades.
of which is sweet and is reached by steps. This fountain has a tide which rises and falls exactly in the reverse order of the sea tide. When it is high tide at sea it is low tide in the fountain, and high in the fountain when it is low at sea. The explanation of this is that the wind, which rises from the bowels of the earth to the surface, is prevented from finding its natural egress when the earth is covered with water at the rise of the tide, and being thus turned back into the interior of the earth, it stops up the underground channels of the fountain and produces a deficiency of water; but when the earth is again uncovered, the wind having once more found an easy egress, sets the veins of the fountain free again, and the water spurts up freely.

There are very large silver mines about twenty stades

The process of producing silver in the mines near New Carthage.
from New Carthage, extending to a circuit of four hundred stades, in which forty thousand men are continually employed, who produce for the benefit of the Roman people twenty-five thousand drachmae a day. It would take too long to describe the whole process of working them, but I may mention that the alluvial soil containing the silver ore is first broken up, and sifted in sieves held in water; that then the deposit is again broken, and being again filtered with running water, is broken a third time. This is done five times; the fifth deposit is smelted, and, the lead having been run off, pure silver remains. . . .

The Anas and Boetis both flow from Celtiberia, their streams being about nine hundred

The Guadiana and Guadalquivir.
stades apart. . . .

Among other cities of the Vaccaei and Celtiberians are Segesama and Intercatia. . . .

One of the Iberian kings had such a magnificent and

Homer, Odyss. 8, 248.
richly furnished palace, that he rivalled the luxury of the Phaeacians, except that the vessels standing in the interior of the house, though made of gold and silver, were full of barley-wine. . . .

The Alps

From the Pyrenees to the river Narbo the country is
River Aude. The Tech and the Ruscino or Tet.
flat; and through it flow the Illeberis and Ruscinus, past some cities of the same name inhabited by Celts. In this plain there are found what are called underground fish.
A mistake of Timaeus as to the Rhone.
The soil is light, and produces a quantity of grass called agrostis; and below this soil the earth is sandy for a depth of two or three cubits, through which the overflow of the river percolates; and with this water, as it makes its way, the fish also get below the soil to feed, for they are exceedingly fond of the root of the agrostis, and have thus made the whole plain full of subterranean fish, which people dig up and take. . . .

The Rhone has not five, but two mouths. . . .

The Liger discharges itself between the Pictŏnes and Namnitae.

Britain is quite unknown to the southern Gauls.
There was in ancient times an emporium
The Loire between Poitou and Nantes. Coiron.
on this river called Corbilo, but none of its inhabitants, nor those of Massalia or Narbo, could give Scipio9 any information worth mentioning on the subject of Britain when questioned by him, though they were the most important cities in that part of the country; and yet Pytheas has ventured on all those stories about it. . . .

An animal is produced on the Alps of a peculiar form; its

The Elk.
shape is that of a stag except its neck and coat, which resemble that of a he-goat. Beneath its chin it has an excrescence about a span long, hairy at the end, about as thick as a colt's tail. . . .

Near Aquileia, in the territory of the Noric Taurisci, in my

A gold mine near Aquileia.
own time a gold mine was discovered, so easy to work, that by scraping away the surface soil for two feet, gold could be found immediately. The seam of gold was not more than fifteen feet; some of it was found unmixed with alloy in nuggets of the size of a bean or lupine, only an eighth of it disappearing in the furnace; and some wanted more elaborate smelting, but would still pay thoroughly well. Accordingly, on the Italians joining the barbarians in working this mine, in two months the price of gold went down a third throughout Italy: and when the Taurisci found out that, they expelled their Italian fellowworkers and kept the monopoly themselves. . . .

If we compare the mountains in Greece—Taygetus,

The four passes of the Alps,—the Cornice, Argentière, Genèvre (Val d'Aosta), Cenis.
Lycaeus, Parnassus, Olympus, Pelion, Ossa, and those in Thrace—Haemus, Rhodope, Dunax, with the Alps, we may state the case thus. Each one of the former may be ascended or skirted by an active traveller in a single day; but no one could ascend the Alps even in five days, the distance from the plain being two thousand two hundred stades.
Lago di Garda, Lago di Como.
Lago Maggiore.
There are but four passes, one through Liguria, nearest the Tyrrhenian Sea; the next through the Taurini, which was the one used by Hannibal; the third through the Salassi; and the last by the Rhaeti,10 all of them excessively precipitous. There are several lakes in the mountains, three of great size, the Benacus, five hundred by one hundred and thirty stades, out of which the Mincius flows; the Larius, four hundred stades long, and somewhat narrower than the Benacus, discharging the Addua; and thirdly, the Verbanus, about three hundred stades by thirty, from which comes a considerable river—the Ticinus. All these three rivers discharge themselves into the Padus. . . .

Islands Off the Italian Coast

There is an excellent wine made at Capua called Anadendrites, or the "wine of the climbing vine," with which no other can compare. . . .

The length of the coast from Iapygia to the

Capuan wine.
straits is three thousand stades by land, and it is washed by the Sicilian sea. Sailing, however, the distance is less than five hundred stades. . . .

The largest distance of the Etrurian coast is from Luna to Ostia, a distance of one thousand three hundred and thirty stades.11 . . .

The island Lemnos is called Aethaleia. . . .

The bay between the two promontories of Misenum and

The Bay of Naples.
Minerva is called the Crater (the Bowl). Above this coast lies the whole of Campania, the most fertile plain in the country. Round the Bowl live the Opici and the Ausones. . . .

The north road from Iapygia has been

Eastern coast-road from S. to N. of Italy.
marked out with miles, five hundred and sixty to Sena, and one hundred and seventy thence to Aquileia. . . .

Then comes Lacinium . . . from the straits to this place

The Lacinian promontory.
is a distance of one thousand three hundred stades, and thence to the Iapygian promontory seven hundred. . . .

Of the three craters one has partly fallen in, the other two

The craters in the volcanic Holy Island one of the Lipari group.
remain perfect. The largest has a circular orifice with a circumference of five stades, but it gradually contracts to a diameter of fifty feet; it runs right down to the sea for a stade, so that the sea is visible in clear weather. When a south wind is about to blow, a thick mist envelopes the little island, so that even Sicily is invisible from it: but if there is going to be a north wind, bright flames rise from the crater and shoot up high, and louder rumblings are emitted; but a west wind causes a medium display of both. The other two craters are of the same shape, but their eruptions are less violent. From the difference in the sound of the rumbling, and by observing from what point the eruptions and flames and smoke begin, the wind which is to blow on the third day from that time can be foretold. At least, some men in the Lipari Islands when weather-bound have foretold what wind was coming and have not been deceived. Therefore, it appears that Homer did not speak without meaning, but was stating a truth allegorically when he called Aeolus12 "steward of the winds." . . .

The Via Egnatia

The road from Apollonia to Macedonia is called the
The Via Egnatia.
Via Egnatia, which has been measured in miles and marked out with milestones as far as Cypselus and the River Hebrus, a distance of five hundred and thirty-five miles. Reckoning eight and one-third stades to a mile, the number of stades will be four thousand four hundred and fifty-eight.13 The distance is exactly the same whether you start from Apollonia or Epidamnus. The whole road is called the Egnatia, but its first part has got a name from Candavia, a mountain of Illyria, and leads through the town of Lycnidus, and through Pylon, which is the point on the road where Illyria and Macedonia join.
Thessalonica half-way to the Hebrus form Apollonia.
Thence it leads over Mount Barnūs, through Heracleia, Lyncestia, and Eordea, to Edessa and Pella, and finally to Thessalonica; and the number of miles is altogether two hundred and sixty-seven. . . . And the whole distance from the Ionian Gulf at Apollonia to Byzantium is seven thousand five hundred stades. . . .

The circumference of the Peloponnesus, if

The Peloponnesus.
you do not follow the indentations, is four thousand stades. . . .

The distance from Cape Malea to the Ister

From C. Malea to the Danube.
is ten thousand stades.14 . . .

Eratosthenes a Better Authority than Artemidorus

On matters concerning the country between the Euphrates and India, Eratosthenes is a better authority than Artemidorus. . . .

State of Alexandria

A personal visit to Alexandria filled me with disgust at the state of the city. It is inhabited by three distinct races,—native Egyptians, an acute and civilised race; secondly, mercenary soldiers (for the custom of hiring and supporting men-at-arms is an ancient one), who have learnt to rule rather than obey owing to the feeble character of the kings; and a third class, consisting of native Alexandrians, who have never from the same cause become properly accustomed to civil life, but who are yet better than the second class; for though they are now a mongrel race, yet they were originally Greek, and have retained some recollection of Greek principles. But this last class has become almost extinct, thanks to Euergetes Physcon, in whose reign I visited Alexandria; for that king being troubled with seditions, frequently exposed the common people to the fury of the soldiery and caused their destruction. So that in this state of the city the poet's words only expressed the truth—15 “"To Egypt 'tis a long and toilsome road."

1 Odyss. 12, 95.

2 Odyss. 12, 105.

3 Odyss. 9, 82.

4 Panchaia or Panchēa, the fabulous island or country in the Red Sea or Arabian gulf, in which Euhemerus asserted that he had discovered the inscriptions which proved the reputed gods to have been famous generals or kings. Plutarch, Is. et Osir. 23, Diodor. fr. 6. 1. The Roman poets used the word as equivalent to "Arabian." See Verg. Georg. 2, 139.

5 That is "as great a liar as Antiphanes of Berga." See below. Strabo classes Antiphanes with Pytheas and Euhemerus more than once (see 2, 3, 5). Hence came the verb βεργάζειν, "to tell travellers' tales" (Steph. Byz.). But there is considerable doubt as to the identification of the traveller Antiphanes, some confounding him with a comic poet of the same name, and others with the author of an essay περὶ ἑταιρῶν. Berga was in the valley of the Strymon.

6 Strabo here protests against Dicaearchus being treated as a standard of geographical truth. For Pytheas see Appendix.

7 Polybius proves his point by the demonstration of the proposition "The square of hypotenuse of a right-angled-triangle is equal to the squares of the sides containing the right angle."

By applying this principle AD = 7745.9 . . and DC = 11019.9 . . . and the whole AC = 18765.8: whereas AB + BC (i.e. the coasting voyage) = 19200 stades (a difference of 434.2 stades, not 500). Add to this the 3000 from the Peloponnese to the Straits, the total coast voyage is 22,200 stades, as against Dicaearchus's 10,000.

8 To enable the reader to follow this list of prices, a short table is here sub-joined of Greek weights and money,—though he must be warned that values varied at different times and places,—with approximate values in English weights and money. 1 obol =1/40 oz. =1/8 shilling. 6 obol =I drachma =3/20 oz. . . . 9d. 100 drachmac = 1 mina =151/2 oz. . . . £3:18:6. 60 minae =1 talent =57 lbs. . . £235. A medimnus =11 gals. 4 pts. (dry measure). A metreta =8 gals. 5 pts. (liquid measure).

9 Which member of the Cornelian gens this was is unknown. He appears to have been at Marseilles in the 4th century B. C. inquiring as to centres of trade open to Rome in rivalry with Carthage.

10 Varro (Serv. ad Æn. 10, 13) adds a fifth by the Graian Alps, i.e. Little St. Bernard.

11 Strabo corrects this, saying that the distance is 3000 stades.

12 The islands were called also Vulcaniae and Aeoliae.

13 Strabo reckons 8 stades to a mile, thus making the number of stades 4280. The exact calculation by Polybius's reckoning is 4458 1/3 stades. The miles are Roman miles of 5000 feet; therefore, by Strabo's calculation, the stade is 625 feet, by Polybius's 600 feet.

14 Strabo, however, supports the measurement of Artemidorus—6500, explaining that Polybius is taking some practical measurement of a voyage, not the shortest.

15 Homer, Odyss. 4, 485.

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