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Pytheas

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 line1 “"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. . . .

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Homer, Odyssey, 9.82
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