Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Mediterranean peoples: Dionysios of Alexandria’s poetic Guide to the Inhabited World (117-138 CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 16, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=16043.
Comments: This fascinating and lengthy poem by Dionysios of Alexandria (island of Pharos in the bay to be precise) shows how ethnographic interests were by no means limited to prose narratives of the “historiographical” kind. We know very little about this Dionysios, whose signature can be found in acrostic form in the first letter of each line from lines 109-134 (“By me, Dionysios among those of Pharos”) and whose dedication to Hermes (at least that seems a good option, even though the dative is not used) in the time of Hadrian can be found in another acrostic at lines 513-532 (“God Hermes during Hadrian’s [time]”).
This poet surveys the entire known world in the context of Ocean and, as a result, deals with a huge range of “tribes” (phylai) from Libya, Europe and Asia (the three-fold division he works with, with islands added in as a fourth). In reading the poem, one begins to realize the intimate connections Dionysios imagines between particular environments and the peoples who inhabit them. His evaluations of peoples are brief and there are few signs of the sort of extended derogatory stereotypes so familiar to us from other Greek and Roman authors (even if at times he might briefly call a people “barbarous,” as with the far-off Serians / Chinese). Dionysios’ conclusion shows that, all along, he was very much interested in documenting the diversity of peoples which, he clarifies, is due to the variety of environments created by the gods themselves.
It is difficult to determine what sources Dionysios may have used, but in some ways he comes across as a sort of poetic Strabo, so to speak. Dionysios regularly blends myth into his discussion of places and peoples, and so the story of the god Dionysos in India makes an appearance, for instance (on which see Megasthenes as this link).
Works consulted: Yumna Khan, “A Commentary on Dionysius of Alexandria’s Guide to the Inhabited World, 174-382,” (Ph.D., London, University of London, 2002) (link).
Source of the translation: Translation courtesy of Yumna Khan (as cited above), used with her generous permission. Slightly adapted by Harland to match spellings and terminology on this website and to include in square brackets some indications of modern equivalents or other clarifications.
[Introduction on geography and the tribes of men]
To begin my song of the earth and broad sea
and the rivers, cities and countless tribes (phyla) of men
I shall recall the deep-flowing Ocean. For therein
the whole world is crowned, like an immense island,
(5) not wholly circular throughout, but on either side
becoming wider towards the sun’s paths,
like a sling-shot. And although it is one
men have divided it into three lands:
first Libya, and then Europe and Asia.
[Continents: Boundaries of Libya, Europe and Asia]
(10) Well, then, Libya has a horizontal division from Europe
and, on this line, are Gades and the mouth of the Nile,
where lies the northernmost corner of Egypt
and the well-known precinct of Amyklaian Kanobos.
The Tanais divides Europe from Asia, right through the middle.
(15) This river, winding through the land of the Sauromatians,
sweeps to Scythia and lake Maiotis [sea of Azov]
in the north. In the south the boundary is the Hellespont.
and the line stretches further south to the mouth of the Nile.
But others divide the continents according to the land.
(20) A certain isthmus stretches above, uppermost in the
Asian land, in the middle of the Caspian and Euxine seas.
This they have called the boundary of Europe and Asia.
Another again, unutterably long, goes towards the south,
in the middle of the Arabian and Egyptian gulfs,
(25) and this divides Libya from the land of Asia.
[Ocean and its subsidiary seas and bodies of water]
Such have mortals said about the boundaries,
but on all sides flows the might of the tireless Ocean,
one, yet endowed with many names.
Indeed by the furthest recess of the Lokrian zephyr
(30) it is called the western Atlantic, but beyond
towards the north, where dwell the children of the war-mad Arimaspians (Arimaspes),
they call it the frozen and the Kronian (or: Saturnian) sea.
Others again call it the Dead sea, because of the
weakness of the sun, for it shines over that sea with a dim light,
(35) and on all sides it is dulled by dark clouds.
But there, where it first shines on men,
they call the swell of the sea Eastern or Indian.
Nearby they call it Erythraian and Ethiopian, to the south,
that is, where a great curve of uninhabited
(40) land lies stretched, burned by the sun’s fierce rays.
Thus does the Ocean run around the whole earth,
in such a form and bearing among men such names.
Here and there it churns out gulfs, casting itself inwards
into a sea. There are many small gulfs, but four large ones.
(45) So, then, first of all, it begets the Western sea,
sweeping from Libya to the Pamphylian land.
The second is small, but far surpassing others,
which, spreading from the Kronian sea in the north
sends forth a lofty stream into the Caspian sea,
(50) which others call the Hyrkanian sea.
Of the others, which are both from the southern sea,
one reaches higher, pouring forth the Persian wave,
turned to face the Caspian sea,
and the other, the Arabian gulf, seethes within,
(55) winding its channel to the south of the Euxine sea [Black sea].
So many are the gulfs of the deep-waved Ocean,
the greater ones, but there are countless others.
Now I will tell of the path of the Western sea,
which wanders to and from all the lands with its oblique waters,
(60) sometimes encircling islands, and sometimes
in turn brushing below the feet of mountains or cities.
But you, Muses, tell of its winding paths,
beginning in order from the Western ocean.
Here, by the boundaries the Pillars of Herakles stand,
(65) a great marvel, beside outermost Gades,
beneath the high peak of the far-flung Atlantians,
where too a bronze column runs to heaven,
tall, and enveloped in dense clouds.
First of all, as one begins, the Iberian sea
(70) flows forth, which is the beginning of Europe
and of Libya. For it winds in the middle of the two.
The Pillars stand on its shores, on this side and that,
the one looking at Europe, the other at Libya.
After this comes the Galatian stream, where the land
(75) of Massalia lies stretched, with its curved harbour.
Next after these flows the Ligurian sea,
where the sons of the Italians dwell on the land,
descendants of Ausonian Zeus, always mighty rulers,
beginning from the north as far as the White Rock,
(80) which is rooted in the Sicilian strait.
Next the briny water bellows at Kyrnos.
After this the Sardinian sea roars within, and after
this the wave of the Tyrrhenian sea howls towards the south.
But then towards the rays of the sun
(85) the curved Sicilian stream runs back and forth, bringing
waters up from its depths between wave-beaten Pachynos
and the headland of Crete, which juts far into the sea,
beside holy Gortyn and mainland Phaistos,
stretched forth, in the image of the head of a ram.
(90) Because of this they call it the Ram’s Brow.
Indeed it also stretches towards the Iapygian land.
From there the swell of the Adriatic grows
wide and stretches towards the north, and again towards the
western corner, and those dwelling nearby also call it the Ionian sea.
(95) It pours forth onto two lands. As one travels,
on the right-hand side there appears the Illyrian land, and
Dalmatia above, province of war-like men.
On the left extends the immense isthmus of the
Ausonians, far-reaching, and surrounded by three seas,
(100) the Tyrrhenian, the Sicilian, and the brimming Adriatic.
Each one stretches its channel towards a wind,
The Tyrrhenian sea the west-wind, the Sicilian the
south-wind, the Adriatic the east-wind.
But beyond the soil of Sicily the sea flows towards Libya
raising crested waves, winding about the southern Syrtis,
(105) the one which they also call the Greater Syrtis.
The other one, which has a lesser path, being an inlet,
receives the flood of the sea making its way from afar.
So do the two bays thunder as they twist and turn,
while from the Sicilian mountains stretches the wave of
(110) Crete far to the east, as far as the headland of Salmonis,
which they say is the eastern tip of Crete.
Next two further seas tremble,
as they are driven by the blasts of the north-wind of Ismaros,
blowing straight at them, for they lie opposite.
(115) Sailors call the first the Pharian sea,
which stretches to the furthermost cape of Casion.
The other is called the Sidonian sea, where stretching into
the deepest recesses of the land,
[as far as the city of Issos, passing the country of the Cilicians]
the boundless Gulf of Issos drives northward.
(120) It does not run very far in this direction, for it breaks off
directly near the dark entrance to the land of the Cilicians.
From there it disgorges its crooked water to the west.
Just as a grim-looking serpent winds, coiled and creeping,
sluggish, and beneath it the entire summit of a mountain
(125) is crushed as it moves, so does that gulf wind in the sea,
full-flowing, weighed down here and there by flood-waters.
Around its waters the Pamphylians dwell,
as far as the corners of the Chelidonian islands reach.
It has as its boundary in the west the far summit of Patara.
(130) Consider now, turning from there again to the north,
the broad path of the Aegean sea, where the waves
thunder as they break around the islands of the Sporades.
For no other path of the sea raises waves,
not like the Aegean, roaring on high.
(135) It sets its limit at furthest Tenedos,
with Imbros on the other side, whence there goes a
narrow strait, sweeping northward within all Propontis.
Above this the countless tribes of the land of Asia extend
towards the south, for it reaches a wide isthmus of land.
(140) After this is the mouth of the Thracian Bosporos, which
Io once swam at Hera’s instigation, as a young heifer.
That is the narrowest strait of all
the others, which the stormy sea holds,
where the story goes that the pitiless Kyanean rocks
(145) roam in the sea and clash against one another with a resounding din.
From here opens up and spreads the nearby Pontos.
It is vast and vast is its sprawling span into the heart of the east.
Its paths flow obliquely,
always looking to the north and to the east.
(150) In the middle, on this side and that, rise two peaks,
one to the far south, which they call Karambis,
the other further north, above the land of Europe,
which those who dwell round about call the Ram’s Brow.
These two meet face to face, although they are not
(155) close, but as far apart as a ship might travel in three days.
From here you could also see that the Pontos is two seas,
and resembles the cord of a rounded bow in its curvature.
Now the right-hand side of the Pontos would be the bow-string,
drawn straight, but Karambis is alone,
(160) standing outside the line, and looking to the north.
The left-hand path has the shape of horns. It is bent
in a double curve, like the horns of a bow.
To its north the waters of lake Maiotis
spread. Around this dwell the Scythians,
(165) men of countless number, and they call it the Mother of the Pontos.
For from this flows the measureless water of the Pontos
straight through the Kimmerian Bosporos, on which
many Kimmerians dwell beneath the cold foot of the Tauros.
Such, then, is the shape of the dark-shining deep.
[Form of the earth and its continents]
(170) Now I shall recall the form of the whole earth,
so that, without seeing it, still you should have an intelligible view,
and as a result of this you should be honoured and well respected,
as you explain the details to the man of ignorance.
Well, then, Libya goes stretching to the south,
(175) to the south and east, like a trapezium in form,
beginning first from Gades, where the point
is sharp and reaches into the heart of the Ocean.
A wider boundary is marked near the Arabian sea,
where lies the land of the dark Ethiopians,
(180) the other ones, close to whom stretches the soil of the Erembians.
Men say that the continent is like a leopard-skin,
for indeed it is dry and parched,
and dotted here and there with dark spots.
[Peoples of Libya / Africa]
So, then, below the outermost point there dwell
(185) near the Pillars the peoples (ethnē) of the Maurousian land.
After them there stretch the countless nomads,
where the Masaisylians and country-dwelling Masylians
go to pasture with their children through plain and forest
chasing a grim and wretched hunt for sustenance.
(190) For they do not know the cut of the earth-sharing plough
and they never hear the sweet sound of the carriage’s course,
nor the lowing of cattle returning to their pens.
But they just herd through the thickets, like wild animals,
ignorant of corn and unaware of the harvest.
(195) After them Carthage embraces her lovely harbour,
Carthage, now Libyan, but once Phoenician,
Carthage, which the story says was measured with an ox-hide.
Next the Syrtis rolls its strong-flowing course,
the Lesser Syrtis. After this towards the east the other flows,
(200) immense, burdened as it is by fuller floods.
Here, when the Tyrrhenian sea raises its crested waves,
sometimes the water towers high, and sometimes, in turn,
the ebb-tide runs over the dry sands.
In the middle of these two stands a city,
(205) which they call Neapolis. Inland of this
the Lotophagians (Lotus-eaters) dwell, a people who welcome strangers.
Here the wily Odysseus once came in his wanderings.
In that region you can see the deserted homes of the
Nasamonians who have perished,
for the Ausonian spear destroyed this people who paid no heed to Zeus.
(210) After them are the Asbystians (Asbystai), inland,
and the precinct of the Libyan god, beneath thick sand,
and Cyrene of the fine horses, seat of the Amyklaians.
Nearby are the Marmaridians who extend before Egypt,
(215) and the Gaitulians beyond them and the neighbouring Nigretians.
Next after these are the Phaurousians, and beyond them
the land is inhabited by the innumerable Garamantians. In the
remote corners of the continent feed the furthermost Ethiopians,
by the Ocean itself, beside the vales of farthest Kerne.
(220) Above them there rise the peaks of the smoky Blemmyians,
down from which flow the waters of the most fertile Nile,
which, as it creeps from Libya towards the east,
is called Siris by the Ethiopians. But the inhabitants of Syene,
once it has turned, change its name to Nile.
[The Nile as boundary between Libya and Asia, with an aside on Egyptians]
(225) From there stretching towards the north, this way and
that, it [the Nile] winds through seven mouths and falls into the sea,
enriching with its waters the fertile plain of Egypt.
For no river is like the Nile,
not in depositing silt, nor in increasing the wealth of the land.
(230) This river also divides Libya from the land of Asia,
to the west Libya, and to the east the Asian land.
Beside it dwells a descent group of most illustrious men, who were
the first to distinguish the ways of life,
the first to put the beloved plough to the test,
(235) and scatter seed over the straightest furrow,
and the first to divide the heavens with lines,
considering at heart the oblique course of the sun.
I shall tell of the limits and form of their land itself,
for it has been allotted no small share of honour,
(240) and it is of no small size, but beyond others
it abounds in pasture and meadows, and yields every glory.
Its shape, then, rests on three sides.
It is broad around the northern shores, but pointed towards the dawn,
and stretches as far as high-peaked Syene,
(245) fenced on both sides by sheltering mountains,
through the middle of which pour the waters of the fair-flowing Nile.
And many prosperous men occupy this land,
as many as inhabit glorious Thebes,
ancient Thebes, with a hundred gates, where, with a loud cry,
(250) Memnon welcomes his mother, Dawn, as she rises.
As many too as inhabit the midmost land of the Heptapolis (Seven-cities),
and as many as there are on the moist shores of the sea
occupying the coast as far as lake Serbonis.
To the west of this is the Macedonian city [i.e. Alexandria],
(255) where stands the home of mighty Zeus of Sinope,
adorned with precious gold. You could not see
another temple more divine than that among men,
nor another city as wealthy, where high up
there appear the summits of Pallenian Eidothea.
(260) Next, towards the east, by mount Kasios
the city named after Peleus is occupied by a people
exceptionally skilled in seafaring. Those men are not
numbered among the Libyans, for the city allotted them
is situated to the east of the seven-mouthed Nile.
(265) But a great many others inhabit this land,
some by the Ocean, some in the centre of the mainland,
and others around the waters of beloved lake Tritonis,
which embraces a wide bay in the middle of Libya.
Such, then, is the shape and form of Libya.
(270) But if you want an outline of Europe too, I will not hide it from you.
The shape is the same as that of Libya, but it is turned
towards the north, and it tends back towards the east
just as that of the southerly Libya leans towards the boundary.
Both alike have their furthest track on the border with Asia,
(275) the one to the north, and the other to the south. But if you
made the two of them one land, then altogether
it would be the shape of a triangle with two equal sides,
pointed in the west, but broad in the east at the middle.
So, having seen that this is the outline of the two
(280) continents, you will easily grasp the bounds of Europe.
[Iberians, Celts, and Germans]
At its furthest borders there dwell,
near the Pillars, the people of the brave-hearted Iberians,
reaching across the length of the land, where lies the cold
stream of the northern Ocean, where the Britons
(285) and the white tribes of the war-mad Germans dwell,
running beside the mountains of the Herkynian forest.
They say that that land is like an ox-hide.
After the Iberians are mount Pyrene and the homes of the Celts,
near the springs of the fair-flowing Eridanos,
(290) beside the streams of which once in the solitary night
the Heliades cried, lamenting Phaethon.
There the children of the Celts, seated beneath the poplars,
milk the tears of gold-gleaming amber.
Next after this are the haunts of the Tyrrhenian land.
(295) To the east of this appears the start of the Alp,
through the middle of which flow down the waters of the Rhine,
towards the furthermost wave of the northern Ocean [North Sea].
[Peoples west of the Black Sea and north of the Ister / Danube river]
Next after the Rhine there rises the sacred Ister [Danube],
the Ister, reaching to the east as far as the Euxine
(300) sea [Black Sea], where it emits all the foam of its water,
winding around Peuke with its mouth of five channels.
To its north dwell very many scattered tribes
which succeed one another as far as the mouth of lake Maiotis [Sea of Azov]:
Germans, Samatians [usually spelled Sarmatians], and Getians together with Bastarnians,
(305) and the boundless land of the Dacians and the mighty Alans,
and the Taurians, who inhabit the lofty track of Achilles,
both narrow and long, as far as the mouth of the lake itself.
Above them there extends the tribe of the Agauians rich in horses.
Here are the Melanchlainians and the Hippemolgians,
(310) and the Neurians, Hippopodians, Gelonians and Agathyrsians.
Here the far-reaching stream of the Borysthenes [Dnieper] river
mixes with the Euxine before the Ram’s Brow,
directly in a line opposite the Kyaneai [rocks].
Here the waters of the Aldeskos and Pantikapes [i.e. rivers between the Dnieper and the Don]
(315) roar each in their own corner of the Rhipaian mountains.
Beside them, near the waters of the frozen sea
sweet-gleaming amber swells, like a beam
of the waxing moon, and nearby you could see
diamonds glittering beside the cold Agathyrsians.
[Peoples west of the Black Sea and south of the Ister / Danube]
(320) So many, then, are the peoples north of the Ister,
while to the south are the Gerrians and the fortified towns of the Norikians,
Pannonians and Mysians, north of the Thracians,
and the Thracians themselves, who inhabit a limitless land,
some on the shores of the sea of the Propontis,
(325) some beside the strong-flowing Hellespont, and others
beside the deep wave of the loud-roaring Aegean sea itself.
Here on the summits of bee-feeding Pallene,
springs the beautiful asterios stone, which glows
like a star, and the lychnis, just like a flame of fire.
(330) So many, then, are the peoples who dwell around the river Ister.
Consider now the remaining path of Europe, which
extends towards the dawn on three feet, that of the Iberians,
that of the Panhellenes, and that of the noble Ausonians.
Well, then, the outermost is that of the illustrious Iberians,
(335) neighbours of the Ocean to the west. On it stands
the summit of Alybe, one of the Pillars. Above this
is lovely Tartesos, land of affluent men,
and the Kempsians, who dwell by the foot of Pyrene [Pyrenees mountain range].
[Peoples of Italy]
In the middle of the other two extends the Ausonian land,
(340) far-reaching. A mountain cuts it in two down the middle,
straight, as though it had been aligned with a ruler. No
skilled servant of artful Athena would find fault with it.
This they call the Apennine [mountains], and beginning from the
Alp in the north it ends at the strait of Sicily.
(345) Many tribes dwell around it, and I will easily tell you about them all,
beginning on the west side from the north.
The Tyrrhenians are first, and after them are the tribes of
the Pelasgians, who once came from Cyllene to the western sea,
where they settled with the Tyrrhenian men.
(350) After them comes the dread tribe of the noble Latins,
who inhabit a lovely land, through the middle of which
the Tiber winds, casting its pure stream into the sea,
the fair-flowing Tiber, most regal of all rivers,
the Tiber which divides in two beloved Rome,
(355) honoured Rome, the great home of my lords,
the mother of all cities, rich abode.
After this is the fertile plain of the Campanians, where
stands the home of chaste Parthenope, laden with sheaves of corn,
Parthenope, whom the sea welcomed in its embrace.
(360) To the south, some way beyond the Siren’s Rock,
appear the streams of the Picentine Silarus.
Nearby are the men of the Leukanians and the Brentians,
who inhabit the land as far the white rock.
From there to the north appears the cape of Zephyr,
(365) Below it are the Lokrians, all those who in years gone by,
came to Ausonia, after coupling with their mistresses.
Even now their people dwell by the streams of the Alex.
Next after them are the Metapontians, and near them
the beloved city of well-crowned Kroton,
(370) situated by the waters of the charming Aisaros,
where you can see the lofty home of Lakinian Hera.
There too, at the anger of mighty Zeus is wretched Sybaris,
mourning her fallen inhabitants,
who were overly mad for Alpheius’ honours.
(375) The Samnites after them inhabit the middle territory,
and the nimble tribes of the Marsians. Tarentum lies near the sea,
which strong Amyklaian Ares once built.
Next after these are the haunts of the Calabrian land
and the tribes of the Iapygians reaching as far as Hyrion,
(380) by the sea, Hyrion, where the flood of the Adriatic flows
to the neighbouring sea of Aquileia where stands
the city of the Tegestreans, on the edges of the innermost sea.
So many are the peoples who inhabit the Ausonian land.
[Peoples of Illyria]
From there to the east the winding flood flows,
(385) wearing at the Liburnian shores, and around all the
fortified country of the Hylles, all that lies beside the isthmus,
and the coasts of the Boulimes. Onward it drives its immense course,
winding to the Illyrian land [largely overlapping with modern Albania] as far as the peak
and the steep mountains, which they call the Keraunians.
(390) Moreover in that region you could see the famous tomb,
the tomb which rumour has it belongs to Kadmos and Harmony.
For it was there that they were changed into coiled snakes,
when they came from Ismenos in their rich old age.
Here the gods brought about another miracle for them.
(395) For in that region, on either side two rocks stand firmly fixed,
which both tremble and come together, whenever any
ill begins to threaten those who dwell there.
[Peoples of Greece]
To the south, quite far below fertile Thrace
and beyond the land of Orikia, is the beginning of Greece,
(400) stretching far, girded by twin seas,
the Aegean and the Sicilian. Each has been allotted a wind,
the Sicilian sea the west wind, which they also call Zephyr,
and the Aegean the east wind. The island of Pelops
follows next, like the tapering leaf of a plane-tree.
(405) For the narrow isthmus to the north is
pinched like the stem, and is attached to Greece by a common path.
The land is like a wind-tossed leaf in outline,
wreathed with coastal bays on this side and that.
To its west are the haunts of the Triphylian land,
(410) where the loveliest of rivers, the Alpheios, makes its way
separating itself from the waters of the Messenian Eurotas.
Both these rivers churn forth their streams from Asea,
but the one divides the land of the Eleans, and the other that of the Amyklaians.
In the middle of the island the Apidanian Arkadians
(415) inhabit a hollow country below the peak of Erymanthos,
where Melas, where Krathis, where the moist Iaon flows,
where too ancient Ladon stretches with its waters,
nearby is the soil of the Argives and the land of the Lakonians,
the one looking to the east, the other to the south.
(420) Two seas thunder around the shores of the Isthmos,
one flowing opposite Ephyre towards the darkness,
the other towards the dawn. This they call the Saronic.
Beyond the isthmus to the east lies the Attic land,
through which flows the stream of the divine Ilissos.
(425) It was from here too that Boreas once snatched Oreithyia.
After this there is the plain of the Boiotians and the Lokrian soil,
and Thessaly is after these and the cities of Macedonia.
After this there appear the summits of snowy Haimos [now the Balkan range]
in Thrace. Facing this towards the blast of the west wind
(430) the immense land of Dodona extends.
Beyond this, below the plain of Arakynthos, the great
plain of the Aitolians goes towards the south. Through
the middle sweeps the silver-eddying Achelous, driving its course,
winding to the sea of Trinakria through the midst
(435) of the islands, which they call the Echinades. There
follow here and there the cities of the neighbouring Kephallenians.
After this there is the soil of Phokis, towards the east and the dawn,
coursing northwards to the mouth of Thermopylai,
below the cleft of snowy Parnassos. Through the middle
(440) of this the great wave of Kephisos descends with a murmur.
Beside this is the fragrant plain of Pytho, where the coil
of the serpent Delphyne lies next to the tripods of the god,
the coil, rough with countless scales,
in the beloved temple, where often Apollo himself
(445) stops and loosens the cord of his golden quiver,
just back from Miletos or from Klaros.
[Peoples on islands, starting in the far west]
So, then, may he be gracious. But you, Muse of Zeus, tell
me of the sacred path of all the islands, which appear in
the sea before men’s eyes, facing this way and that.
(450) Well, then, in the middle beneath the western Pillars
furthest Gadeira [Cadiz, Spain] appears before men,
on a sea-bound island, beside the limits of Ocean.
Here dwells a descent group (genos) of Phoenician men
who worship mighty Zeus’ son, Herakles.
(455) This island too, which among men of old
was called Kotinoussa, the inhabitants call Gadeira.
Next are the Gymnesian islands [also in Spain]. Nearby there is Bousos,
and broadest Sardo, and Kyrnos lovely in the sea,
which the people who live there call Korsis.
(460) There is no forest which is as vast as hers.
After this there are the islands of Aiolos which form a circle in the sea,
Aiolos, son of Hippotas, the king who welcomes strangers,
Aiolos, who was allotted gifts wondrous among men,
the command of the winds as they rage and as they rest.
(465) He has seven, named by men the “Navigable islands,”
because in their midst they have a winding path that may be sailed around.
After these Trinakria extends beyond the land
of the Ausonians, standing on three sides.
Its headlands are Pachynos, Peloris and Lilybe.
(470) So, then, Lilybe [Marsala in Sicily] rises up into the blast of the west wind,
and Pachynos is to the east, and towards the north
lies windy Peloris, looking at Ausonian.
To its north the passage is deadly for sailors,
narrow and winding and unruly, where the sea
(475) as it flows thunders about the high rocks,
the sea pierced by the many-barbed Aonian iron.
To the south is the path of Libya and the beginning of the Syrtis,
the one. The other you would see as you made your way further,
the western one. Before this there are two islands,
(480) Meninx and Kerkinna, occupying the Libyan basin.
But whenever you sail the left-hand path of the Adriatic
sea in your ship, to the Iapygian land,
you will immediately find the island of mighty Diomedes,
where the hero came, after enraging Aphrodite,
(485) when he sought the people of the much-longed-for Iberes,
at the advice of his wife, ill-minded Aegialeia.
Next after this passage towards the rays of the sun,
there appears the immense course of the islands of Apsyrtes,
which the sons of the Kolchians once invaded, when they took pains
(490) in searching after the traces of the errant daughter of Aietes.
Next after these the Liburnian islands [off what is now Croatia] stand rooted.
To the south, after the Keraunian forests, before the
passing ship, there would appear on the far side the islands of the
Ambrakians [in the Ambracian Gulf, Greece], and fertile Kerkyra, beloved land of Alkinous.
(495) After this is fixed the seat of Nerikian Ithaca,
and of all the other islands that Achelous flowing
from Chalkis winds about with silver eddies.
Many can be seen to the north of Amnisos:
Aigila, Kythera and rugged Kalauria [in Greece].
(500) Karpathos is on the other side. Towards the darkness, nearby,
is honoured Crete, mighty Zeus’ nurse-maid,
great and fertile and abounding in pastures, above which is Ida,
Ida, lush with fair-tressed oaks.
Its size too is indeed immense. Opposite the coast
(505) of Egypt is Rhodes, land of the Ialysian men.
After this to the east are the Chelidoniai [Beşadalar, Turkey],
three islands inside the great promontory of Patara.
To the east, in the Pamphylian gulf, Cyprus
is washed by the sea, the lovely city of Dionean Aphrodite.
(510) Near Phoenicia Arados sits in the great gulf.
Before the peak of Sounion, beyond the Abantes,
there appear Salamis and the city of Aegina.
The deep path of the Aegean is a wonder,
with its row of endless islands on either side within it,
(515) as far as the narrow waters of Helle, Athamas’ daughter,
where Sestos and Abydos each have a harbour facing the other.
The islands of Europe run in order beneath the
left-hand quarter of the heavens, and those of Asia lie to the right,
reaching lengthwise to the Arctic north.
(520) So, then, Abantian Makris [belongs to Europe],
and windy Skyros and lofty Peparethos.
Here too Lemnos, the rugged land of Hephaistos,
extends, and ancient Thasos, Demeter’s shore,
Imbros, and Thracian Samos, the city of the Korybantes.
(525) The islands of Asia which have obtained the first lot, are
circled around Delos, and are called the Kyklades.
As offerings to Apollo they all lead dances,
as the sweet spring begins anew, when in the mountains
far from people, the clear-voiced nightingale conceives.
(530) Next the islands of the Sporades beam brightly all around,
as when the stars are seen through the cloudless air,
once the swift north wind has dispersed the damp mists.
After these are the Ionian islands. Here are Kaunos
and lovely Samos, the abode of Pelasgian Hera,
(535) and Chios at the foot of steep Pelinnaion.
From there the mountains of the Aiolian isles appear,
wide Lesbos, and beloved Tenedos.
From there too the gulf of Melas flows towards the
Hellespont, churning foam. As one goes far to the north,
(540) there extends on this side and that the swell of the Propontic sea.
There is also, above the left-hand path of the Euxine,
opposite the Borysthenes, a well-known island in the sea,
the Island of Heroes. They call it by the name of Leuke,
because the serpents there are “white.”
(545) There rumour has it the spirits of Achilles and other
heroes roam this way and that through the deserted glens.
This is the gift from Zeus which attends the most noble
in reward for their virtue. For virtue is allotted a pure honour.
As one goes straight through the Kimmerian Bosporos
(550) there is another immense island, which is situated
within lake Maiotis on the right-hand side,
and on which stand Phanagora and well-built Hermonassa [Taman Peninsula, Russia].
Here dwell the children of the Ionian land.
These are the islands in the sea famous among men,
(555) but others are wreathed along Ocean’s stream.
I would tell of the notable position of these,
and at the foot of which wind each of them lies.
So, then, there dwell around cattle-rearing Erytheia,
by the wave of the Atlantic, the god-fearing Ethiopians,
(560) noble sons of the Makrobians, who once came here
after the death of proud Geryon. Below the sacred
Cape, which they say is the headland of Europe,
the islands of the Hesperides, the birthplace of tin,
are inhabited by the rich people of the illustrious Iberians.
(565) There are two other islands by the northern shores
of Ocean, the islands of Britannia, opposite the Rhine.
For there the river pours forth its last eddy into the sea.
The size of these islands is immense and no other
among all the islands is equal to the islands of Britannia.
(570) Nearby there is another path of islets, where the wives
of the noble Amnitian men on the opposite shores
excitedly perform the sacred rites for Bacchos according to custom,
wreathed with clusters of black-leaved ivy
by night. And the clear sound of the tumult rises.
(575) Not so on the banks of the Thracian Apsynthos
do the Bistonians call upon loud-roaring Eiraphiotes;
not so beside the black-eddying Ganges do the Indians,
with their children, lead the revelry in honour of loud-thundering Dionysos,
not as the women in that land raise their cries of ‘Euoi’.
(580) Cutting further along Ocean’s long path
in your well-built ship you would to the island of Thulis [or: Ultima Thule, a northern island].
Here, when the sun reaches the pole of the Bears,
the ever-blazing fire pours out days and nights alike.
For then it revolves in a more oblique orbit
(585) its rays travelling in a straight descent,
until it progresses along its southern path in turn
toward the dark-skinned peoples.
But whenever you cleave the deep stream of the Scythian
ocean in your ship, and you turn further towards the eastern sea,
your path leads you to the island of Chryseia, where the
(590) rising of the bright sun itself is even visible.
Turning from there before the southern headland,
you would immediately come to the island of mighty Kolias,
Taprobane [Sri Lanka], mother of the Asian-born elephants,
beyond which, raised high in the revolution of the heavens,
(595) the fiery Crab spins in a circle in the ether.
This island is very broad in size, and all around
sea-creatures inhabit the shores, beasts of the Erythraian sea,
like lofty mountains. On the ridges
of their backs there rises a long track of spines
(600) May the children of our enemies, as they wander over the
sea, meet these creatures in their travels. For there is no
escape inside their wretched jaws, since it is a gaping chasm.
Often these monsters even gulp down the ship along with
ship’s men themselves. For a deity has placed myriad ills
(605) on sea and on land for those who are wicked.
There is further on, outside the Karmanian headland
Ogyris, where lies the tomb of king Erythraios.
From there you would make your way to the mouth of
the Persian sea, if you set out northwards, and you would come to
(610) Icaros on the sea, where the altars of the goddess Tauropolis,
full of the steam of burnt sacrifices, bear bitter smoke.
So many are the islands which Ocean’s stream meet,
the larger islands. But there are countless others,
some in the waters of the Libyan sea,
(615) some Asian, and some again around the region of Europe.
The other islands elsewhere are innumerable. There are
some which are inhabited by men and have lovely harbours for ships,
and some which have high cliffs and are not suitable for sailors.
The names of all these it is not easy for me to relate.
(620) The shape of Asia is the same as the form of the two
continents, facing in the other direction, like the outline of a cone,
heading little by little towards the furthest nooks of all the east,
where too stand the Pillars of Theban-born Dionysos,
beside the stream of the outermost Ocean,
(625) in the most distant mountains of the Indians, where
the Ganges winds its white water to the Nysaian plain.
But the size of the Asian land is not so great,
nor is its shape entirely alike. For there is one sea
which guides its stream into those continents,
(630) but in Asia there is the great Ocean. For it winds
and pours forth three seething gulfs, casting them inwards:
the Persian, the Arabian, and the Hyrkanian with its deep eddies.
Two in the south, and one looking to the north,
looking to the north and to the west, neighbour to the
(635) Euxine sea, where countless men dwell all around.
An immense isthmus of land marks the boundary
between the two, stretching here and there in vast plains.
At the centre of all Asia a mountain-range extends,
beginning from the Pamphylian land as far as even the Indians,
(640) at times at an angle and winding, and at times in turn
completely straight in its tracks. They call it Tauros,
because it looks like a bull and makes its way with peaks
like pointed horns, divided here and there into outstretched mountains.
From there countless rivers flow with a loud din,
(645) some to the north, some to the south, and some towards
the blasts of the east and west winds. Who could tell the names of them all?
It has not been allotted one name, but in each
valley it has a name. These names might concern those
men who have their homes in the neighbouring country.
[Peoples north of the Black Sea near lake Maiotis / Sea of Azov]
(650) Now, then, I will go through all the renowned peoples
who dwell there. May the Muses lead a most straight path.
Well, then, near lake Maiotis there dwell
the Maiotians themselves and the Sauromatians,
noble descent group of war-like Ares. For they are sprung
(655) from that powerful love of the Amazons,
in which they once joined with the men of the Sauromatians,
when they had wandered from their homeland far from the Thermodon.
Because of this great-hearted children were born too,
who inhabit an immense forest, through the middle of
(660) which the Tanais sweeps, falling into the recesses of the Maiotis.
The river also divides Europe from the Asian land,
to the west Europe, and to the east the land of Asia.
Its springs roar in the Kaukasos [now Caucasus] mountains
far away. Broad, it rushes here and there
(665) running over the Scythian plains.
And, when it seethes in immense waves under the north wind,
you would see ice freezing in the frost.
Wretched are those who have their homes around that place.
Constantly they suffer the cold snow and excessive frost.
(670) Indeed, when the winds bring the fiercest frost,
you could see horses dying before your eyes,
or even mules, or the tribe of field-dwelling sheep.
Not even the men themselves would stay unharmed,
those who remained exposed to those blasts.
(675) So they harness up their carts and roam
to another place, leaving the land to the wintry
gales, which rage against them in cruel storms,
and shake the land and the pine-covered mountains.
So many dwell around the Tanais river,
(680) while beside the Sauromatians one after another are
the Sindians, the Kimmerians and, bordering on the Euxine,
the Kerketians and Toreteans and the valiant Achaians [not to be confused with Achaians in Attica],
whom the gusts of the south and west wind
once drove from Xanthos and Idaian Simoeis,
(685) as they followed their war-like king after battle.
After them there dwell, inhabitants of the neighbouring land,
the Heniochians and Zygians, descendants of the Pelasgian land.
Beside the furthest nook of the Pontos, after the country
of the Tyndaridians, there dwell the Kolchians, settlers from Egypt [Herodotos, Inquiries 2.104-105 – link],
(690) near the Kaukasos [now Caucasus], which rises in lofty mountains
around the Hyrkanian sea. Here the Phasis
winds across the flat of the Kirkaian plain,
and churns its swift foam towards the wave of the Euxine,
beginning first from the Armenian mountain.
[Peoples around the Caspian Sea and to the east]
(695) To the east and north of this there lies an isthmus
the isthmus of the Caspian and Euxine [Black] seas.
Here dwells the eastern tribe of the Iberians,
who once came from Pyrene to the east,
when they engaged in a hostile war with the Hyrkanians,
(700) and the great tribe of the Kamaritians, who once
received and welcomed Bacchos after his war with the Indians,
and, together with the Lenai, established a sacred dance,
placing loin-cloths and fawnskins around their middles,
crying “Euoi, Bacche!” And the god cherished in his
(705) heart the descent group of those men and their haunts on the land.
After them the Caspian sea swells with waves.
I shall easily draw you this sea,
without having seen its far away paths, without having travelled in a ship.
For my life is not on black ships,
(710) and my family is not in commerce, nor do I sail
to the Ganges, like others do, through the Erythraian sea,
without a care for their lives, in order to win immense wealth,
and I do not mix with the Hyrkanians, nor search for
the Kaukasian peaks [of what is now the Caucasus range] of the Erythraian Arianians.
(715) But I am carried by the knowledge of the Muses, who,
without wandering, can measure vast tracts of sea,
and the mountains, the mainland and the course of the heavenly stars.
So, then, the shape of the great Caspian sea as a whole
would be round, circular. You would not cross it
(720) in a ship before the circling of the third moon.
For so great is its relentless course. Flowing sharply
towards the north, it mixes with the waters of Ocean.
Indeed it nurtures many other marvels for men.
It produces crystal and cloudy jasper,
(725) hateful shape-shifters and other phantoms.
I shall tell you of all those tribes who dwell around it,
beginning on the western side from the north.
First are the Scythians, as many as inhabit the coast
near the sea of Kronos along the mouth of the Caspian sea.
(730) Next are the Thynians, and after them are the Caspians,
and the war-like Albanians after them, and the Kadousians
who dwell beyond the rugged land. Nearby are the Mardians,
the Hyrkanians and the Tapyrians. After them the Mardos winds
its course, the draught of the Derkebians and the rich Baktrians.
(735) For between the two it descends into the Hyrkanian sea.
So, then, the Baktrians inhabit a wider region [overlapping with modern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan]
inland beneath the ridges of Pamasos,
and the Derkebians dwell on the other side by the Caspian waters.
After them to the east, beyond the resounding Araxes,
(740) dwell the Massagetians, drawers of swift arrows.
May neither I myself nor any companion go near
these men. For they are far more hostile to strangers than others.
For they do not have the food of sweet grain,
nor even native wine. But by mixing white milk
(745) with the blood of horses, they prepare their meals.
After them to the north are the Chorasmians, beyond whom lies the land,
of Sogdia, through the middle of which winds the sacred Oxos,
which leaves the Emodos mountain and descends into the Caspian.
After this there dwell beside the waters of the Iaxartes
(750) the Sakians, bearing bows which no other archer
could put to shame. For it is not customary for them to cast arrows in vain.
There also dwell the Toxarians and Phrourians and the
barbarous tribes of the Serians [i.e. silk people, Chinese],
who spurn cattle and fat sheep,
and comb the shimmering blossoms of their desolate land
(755) and weave finely-wrought garments, prized garments,
resembling in colour the flowers of the grassy meadow.
No spider’s work would rival them.
There are other Scythians in dense numbers, who inhabit
the furthest regions. Beside them there lies stretched a stormy land,
(760) left to the wintry winds and hail.
So many are the peoples around the Caspian waves.
[Peoples west of Kolchians in northern Asia Minor on the southern shore of the Black Sea]
But consider now from the Kolchians and the Phasis to the west,
by the edge of the Euxine, the abundant tribes of the Pontos
as far as the Thracian mouth, where lies the land of Chalkis.
(765) First there are the Byzerians and nearby the tribes of the Becheirians,
the Makronians and the Philyrians and those who have
wooden houses. Near them are the Tibarenians rich in lambs.
After them there are also the Chalybians inhabiting a cruel
and harsh land, experts in the working of toilsome iron,
(770) who, standing over their loud-thundering anvils,
never cease from their labour and terrible misery.
After them the alluvial soil of the Assyrian land extends,
where, from the Armenian mountain to the Amazons,
the furious Thermodon sends forth its white water,
(775) Thermodon, who once received Sinope, the wandering daughter of Asopos,
and, as she grieved, consoled her in his own land
at Zeus’ bidding. For Zeus, desiring sweet love,
sent her from her fatherland, unwilling as she was.
Men also inhabit a city named after her.
(780) Around the frozen banks of that river,
you could cut the pure stone of crystal, like ice
in winter. You will also find watery jasper.
Next the Iris casts its pure stream into the sea.
After this there roar the streams of the river Halys,
(785) coursing towards the north near the peak of Karambis,
beginning first from the Armenian mountain.
Next on the shores there reside the Paphlagonians
and the sacred plain of the Maryandini. Here they say
Infernal Zeus’ great dog with its voice of brass,
(790) when dragged up by the hands of great-hearted Herakles,
cast from its mouth a terrible slavering humour,
which the earth received and bore as a bane to men.
Nearby the Bithynians inhabit a fertile land.
The Rhebas here sends forth a lovely stream,
(795) the Rhebas, which courses beside the mouth of the Pontos,
the Rhebas, whose water is the fairest to sweep over the land.
So many are the men who dwell around the Pontos.
Let the Scythian tribes, then, be those that I have mentioned.
Now, I would tell in turn of the path of the Asian coast,
(800) which goes to the south at the Hellespont coursing
even to the southern stream of the most vast Aegean,
as far as Syria itself and lovely Arabia.
The Chalcidians first of all inhabit the land near the mouth,
looking at the soil of Byzantium on the opposite coast.
(805) After these are the Bebrykians and the mountains of the
Mysian land, where Kios sends forth its beloved streams,
at the waters of which a nymph once stole Hylas,
the ready servant of giant Herakles.
From here to the Hellespont runs the immense curve
(810) of Lesser Phrygia. The other Phrygia lies inland,
the Greater Phrygia, by the waters of the Sangarios.
So, then, it is vast and stretches to the east,
a fertile land grazed by horses. To the west you would
see the other, which lies beneath the foot of sacred Ida,
(815) with wind-blown Troy on its borders,
Troy, glorious city of heroes of old,
Troy, which Poseidon and Apollo founded,
Troy, which Athene and Hera destroyed,
beside the broad-flowing Xanthos and Idaian Simoeis.
(820) After this there extend the haunts of the Aiolian land,
by the edge of the Aegean, beyond the great Hellespont.
After this there dwell the people of the noble Ionians,
near the sea, in that country through the middle of which
the Maiander descends into the sea with fertile eddies.
(825) between Miletos and broad Priene.
To the north of these two you would see
Ephesos on the coast, the great city of arrow-shooting Artemis,
where the Amazons once built a temple to the goddess
at the trunk of an elm, an extraordinary wonder to men.
(830) Next Maionia extends to the east
beneath windy [mount] Tmolos, from which the Pactolos makes its way,
bringing gold in its eddies and murmuring.
Sitting on its banks in the season of Spring
you would hear the clear voices of the swans, which graze
(835) beside the water here and there on the growing grass.
For many meadows flourish in Asia,
especially on the plain of Maiander, where the gleaming
water of the gently-plashing Kaystros flows.
You certainly would not fault the women, who around
(840) that divine spot, wearing a belt of gold at their waists,
dance, turning in a wondrous circle,
when the dances of Dionysos take place.
With them maidens skip, like young fawns,
and round about them the sounding winds
(845) stir the lovely tunics on their breasts.
But this is the concern of the Lydian people.
By the sea the Lycians inhabit a land
on the waters of the Xanthos, the fair-flowing river.
Here the mountains of the high-cliffed Tauros appear,
(850) as far as Pamphylia. They call it Kragos.
There you would see a city on the sea,
Aspendos, by the stream of the river Eurymedon,
where they appease the daughter of Dione with the slaughter of swine.
Other Pamphylian cities follow,
(855) Korykos, and Perge, and wind-blown Phaselis.
To the east of these, inhabiting an inland region,
are the Lykaonians with their crooked bows, experts in war.
After them there is the fertile plain of the Pisidians,
where stand the cities of Telmessos and Lyrbe and that city which the people
(860) of the Amyklaians once built in times past, Selge, of great renown in the land.
From there to the east a curved sea cuts
a winding path reaching far inland,
neighbour to the stormy Euxine sea.
That gulf sweeps around the peoples of the Cilicians
(865) a long way to the east. They call it the Strait of Asia.
The waters of many rivers which come from afar
mix with this, the waters of the Pyramos and the Pinaros,
and the winding Cydnos, which flows through the middle of Tarsos,
well-built Tarsos, where the horse Pegasos once,
(870) lost a hoof and left his name to that place, when the hero
Bellerophon fell from the horse on his way to the home of Zeus.
There too is the plain of Aleios, on the flat of which,
as he wandered far from men, Bellerophon rested.
Next are the many cities of the Cilicians,
(875) Lymessos and Mallos and Anchialeia and Soloi,
some inland, and others near the sea itself.
After these are the seat of Commagenos and the cities of Syria
stretching along the winding shore. For the course of the
grey sea turns around to the west, as far as the peak
(880) of the mountain near the sea, high-cliffed Kasios.
[Conclusion to first section about Asia]
I would easily tell of the remaining path
of the lands of Asia. Keep these words in your heart,
and do not let the grace of my hard work be carried away by the winds.
For if you were to observe this path clearly,
(885) then you could soon tell others too in an expert fashion
of the rivers and of the location of the cities and of each land.
So let there be a shape of four sides, stretching towards the east in long plains.
Now you know, as you heard me say so in the first place,
(890) that a mountain cuts all of Asia in two as far as the Indians.
That would form the more northerly of the sides,
and the Nile would be the western side. The eastern side
would be the Indian ocean, and the southern would be
formed by the waves of the Erythraian sea.
[Syrians and Phoenicians]
Consider how I shall now make my way to the east along the coast,
(895) beginning from Syria, where I left off, and no man
could accuse me of giving a false account.
Well, then, Syria goes beyond the sea nearby
to the south and east, with a land that has many cities,
which they call “Hollow,” because it is in the middle
(900) of mountain-peaks which render it low down,
the peaks of Kasios in the west and Libanos in the east.
Many wealthy men inhabit this land,
though they do not dwell together under one name, but
separately, some inland, who are called Syrians,
(905) and some near the sea, named Phoenicians.
They are of the descent group of men who are Erythraians,
who first made an attempt on the sea in ships,
and were the first to turn their minds to trade by sea
and consider the far chorus of the heavenly stars.
(910) These men inhabit Iope, Gaza and Elais,
and ancient Tyre and the lovely land of Berytos,
and Byblos by the sea and flowery Sidon,
situated by the waters of the charming Bostrenos,
and fertile Tripolis, and Orthosia and Marathos
(915) and Laodike, which lies on the shores of the sea,
and the fields of Poseidon and the sacred vales of Daphne
[where stands Antiocheia, named after Antiochos].
In the midst of these is the city of Apameia,
to the east of which flows the moist Orontes,
(920) immense, and dividing the land of Antiochos through the middle.
The whole region is fertile and abounds in pasture,
to feed the sheep and cause the fruit on the trees to grow.
[Arabians and Nabateans]
Beyond this land you would see, as you made your way further south,
the innermost path of the Arabian gulf, which winds
(925) between Syria and lovely Arabia,
turning a little to the east as far as Elana.
From there the land of the most fortunate Arabians extends
reaching far, and girded by twin seas,
the Persian and the Arabian. Each has been allotted a wind,
the Arabian the west wind and the Persian the paths of the east wind.
The southern coast facing the east
is washed by the waves of the Erythraian Ocean.
And I shall tell you of its position. For it is inhabited by
tribes who are fortunate and noble beyond all others.
(935) This land has been allotted another exceptionally great wonder.
It always smells sweetly from the perfume of burnt offerings,
either of incense, or myrrh, or fragrant grass
or even divinely-scented mature frankincense
or cassia. For indeed it was in that place that Zeus
(940) freed Dionysos himself from his well-stitched thigh;
and at his birth there grew fragrant shrubs of every kind.
The sheep too then became laden with shaggy fleeces
in the pasture, and the lakes flowed with spontaneous waters.
Birds from uninhabited islands elsewhere
(945) came bearing leaves of untouched cinnamon.
Then the god stretched a fawn-skin over his shoulders
and garlanded his fair hair with lovely ivy,
and slightly drunk with wine he brandished his
wreathed thyrsi, smiling, and showered the men with great wealth.
(950) For this reason even today the fields are thick with frankincense,
the mountains with gold, and the rivers elsewhere with
The inhabitants themselves are a very wealthy people,
glorying in soft robes of gold.
So, then, first beyond the slope of Libanos
(955) dwell the rich people called the Nabateans.
Near them are the Chaulasians and the Agreians, beyond whom
is the land of Chatramis, opposite the Persian land.
Inhabiting the coast of the Erythraian sea
are the Minnaians and Sabians and the neighbouring Kletabanians.
(960) So many immense tribes inhabit Arabia,
but there are also many more, for it is extremely vast.
Towards the opposite shore, under the blast of the west wind
appears the wretched land of the mountain-dwelling Erembians,
who live their lives in dug-out rocks,
(965) naked and without possessions. On their bodies
burning from the heat the parched skin grows black.
Thus, like wild animals, they roam and suffer hardships,
unlike the people of the soft-living Arabians. For the deity
has not given to all men an equal share in wealth.
[Cappadocians, Assyrians, and Babylonians]
(970) Beyond Libanos towards the rays of the sun
there lies stretched the extensive land of the other Syria,
reaching as far as sea-washed Sinope.
In the middle of this deep land
there dwell the Cappadocians, experts in horsemanship,
(975) and the Assyrians near the sea, by the mouth of the Thermodon.
To the east, out from the rugged mountains
there appears the stream of the boundless Euphrates.
This starts first from the Armenian mountain
and goes far towards the south, and back, winding in curves,
(980) facing the sun as it journeys through the middle of Babylon,
it pours forth its swift foam into the swell of the Persian sea,
passing near Teredon with its furthermost waters.
After this to the east the most rapid of all rivers,
the fair-flowing Tigris bears its stream leading an even course,
(985) as far as a strong, fast traveller could journey
if he travelled for seven days.
There is in the middle a certain lake encircled by its waters,
named Thonitis, into the corners of which the Tigris flows,
sinking far below. On rising back up again,
(990) it casts southward a swifter stream. Among all the rivers
you would not see another more rapid.
All the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris
the people who live round about call ‘Mesopotamia’.
No herdsman has faulted the pastures of that land,
(995) nor anyone who honours horn-hoofed Pan on the syrinx
and follows the sheep of the field. No man who tends plants
has made light of the variety of fruits,
such is the soil in that land, in fostering
the grass, the pastures full of flowers, and even
(1000) humankind, most handsome and similar to the immortals.
To the north of this a fertile country is inhabited by
the Armenian men and the close-fighting Matienians,
who live in the mountains, along the river Euphrates,
rich and wealthy and expert in war.
(1005) To the south is the sacred city of Babylon, the whole of
which Semiramis crowned with impenetrable walls.
Moreover on the acropolis she built a great temple to Belos [Marduk],
and adorned it with gold and ivory and silver.
The plain of Babylon is immense, where many
(1010) overhanging palms grow with leafy crowns.
Yes, it bears something else beautiful than gold,
the sea-green stone of watery beryl, which forms
on the jutting rocks in that region within the stone of serpentine.
[Medes, Parthians and Persians]
Beyond Babylon toward the blast of
(1015) the north wind the Kissians, Messabatians and Chalonitians dwell.
But whenever you should journey beyond the Armenian mountains,
to the east, then you will find the valleys of the Medes.
To the north of these a flourishing land is inhabited
by Gelians, Mardians and Atropatenians.
(1020) To the south there dwell the tribes of the noble Medes,
descendants of that glorious line of Aietes’ daughter, blameless heroine.
For when, beside the stream of the Aktaian Ilissos,
she prepared the baneful drugs for the son of the Pandionid,
she left that place in shame, and, as she wandered among men,
she came to that rich land, which shares her name,
not far from the Kolchians. She could not come
to the land of the Kolchians, for she feared her father’s anger.
For this reason still now men expert in many drugs
(1030) inhabit that immense land, some dwelling on the very
rocks, which produce dark narcissite,
and some also in the overgrown meadows,
pasturing their fine flocks, which are utterly weighed
down by their fleeces.
These men reach towards the east, as far as the Caspian
(1035) Gates, which lie below hollow rocks,
keys to the Asian land, where a path
lies stretched for those travelling both to the north and to the south,
one to the Hyrkanians, another to the mountains of the Persian land.
Well, then, below the foot of the Caspian Gates
(1040) dwell the war-like Parthians, who carry curved bows,
experts in every form of combat. For they do not
trace the furrow with the plough, cleaving the farm-lands,
nor do they cut through the sea with oars aboard ships,
nor do they feed the race of cattle in the pastures. But from birth,
(1045) as children, they concern themselves with bows and horses,
and always over this echoing land there is the noise of
javelins or arrows, and everywhere the running of
storm-swift horses, racing. For it is not customary for them to take their
supper before showering their heads with sweat from the strains of battle.
(1050) They feed on the prey of a livelihood won by the spear.
Nevertheless, though they are relentless in battle,
the sword of the Ausonian king has tamed them [perhaps a reference to Trajan’s victory over the Parthians].
If sweet longing to learn of the Persians also grips you,
with eloquent words I would tell you of their descent group too,
(1055) and of the course of the ever-flowing rivers and of the paths of the mountains.
For they alone have the most kingly descent group of Asia,
and they alone laid boundless wealth in their homes,
when they sacked Maionia and Sardis.
Golden is the armour worn on the flesh of those men,
(1060) and golden are the bits in the mouths of their horses,
and with gold they adorn the shoes on their feet.
For so immense is their wealth. Well, all
the land of Persia is surrounded by great mountains,
and its path reaches to the south of the Caspian Gates,
(1065) going even as far as the sea of the same name.
They inhabit it in three distinct areas, some in the north
situated near the shady mountains of the bow-carrying Medes,
some in the interior, and some to the south as far as the sea.
First are the Sabians, after them are the Pasargadians, and nearby the Taskians,
(1070) and others, who inhabit various parts of the Persian land.
Many rivers make this region very fertile,
turning this way and that with their winding waters.
On one side is the great Coros, on the other the Choaspes,
drawing Indian water, and flowing beside the country of the Sousans.
(1075) On its banks you would see beautiful agate,
lying like marbles on the ground, which the torrents
of the stormy river sweep down from the rock.
What’s more, ever rejoicing in the warm wind,
fruits flourish densely packed against one another.
[Peoples further east towards India]
(1080) Now consider the remaining path of Asia to the east.
For nearby the coast of the land comes to an end.
So, then, by the Persian wave of the Ocean,
the Carmani dwell, beneath the rising sun.
They occupy a land in two parts not far from Persia,
(1085) some by the sea, and others inland.
To the east of them extends the land of the Gedrosians,
neighbours of the yawning Ocean, to the east of whom
dwell the southern Scythians beside the Indus river,
which flows opposite the Erythraian sea,
(1090) furiously driving its swift stream directly south,
beginning first from the windy Kaukasos [now the Caucasus range].
It has two mouths, and it runs past an island in the middle,
an island which the inhabitants call Patalene.
That river divides the tribes of many peoples:
(1095) towards the descent of the setting sun
the Oreitians, the Aribians and the Arachotians in their tunics of linen,
and the Satraidians, and all those beside the valley of Parpanisos,
together with very well all those alike who are called Arianans,
who do not inhabit a fair land, but one filled
(1100) with fine sand and rough with thickets.
But, nevertheless, the means are sufficient for those living there.
For the land provides for them a pure wealth of a different kind.
For everywhere there is the stone of red coral,
and everywhere, moreover, beneath the rocks, the veins
(1105) bear the fair stone of the golden and blue sapphire,
from the mining of which they have the merchandise to live on.
To the east stretches the lovely land of the Indians,
last of all, by the edges of Ocean.
The sun scorches this land with its first rays
(1110) as it rises over the workings of the blessed ones and humankind.
For this reason the inhabitants of the land are
dark-skinned, divinely sleek, and they bear on their heads
the most luxuriant hair like hyacinths.
Of these men, some mine the sources of gold,
(1115) digging the sand with well-made picks,
some weave webs of linen, and some polish
the silvery sawn-off tusks of elephants.
Others hunt on the jutting rocks of mountain-torrents
for the sea-green stone of beryl or sparkling
(1120) adamant or green-glancing jasper
or again the glittering stone of pure topaz
and sweet softly flushing amethyst.
For the land fosters wealth of every kind for the men,
watered here and there by ever-flowing rivers.
(1125) Yes, even the meadows are always thick with leaves.
for on one side millet grows, and on the other, in turn,
there flourish forests of the Erythraian reed.
Consider how I am to describe to you the shape and the rivers,
and the windy mountains and the peoples of the land itself.
(1130) Well, then, it is fixed on four sides,
all of them at an angle, like the shape of a rhombus.
So, on the west the waters of the neighbouring Indus
cut off the land, and in the south there is the swell of the
Erythraian sea, and the Ganges is to the east, and the Kaukasos [now Caucasus] toward
the pole of the Bears.
(1135) Many fortunate men inhabit this land,
not all of them living under the same name, but
distinguished into separate groups. So, near the boundless river Indus,
are the Dardanees, where the Acesine, which flows in a
crooked course from the rocks, is received by the
Hydaspes, navigable to ships.
(1140) After them there follows a third, the silver-eddying Kophe.
Amidst these rivers there dwell the Sabians, the Toxilians,
and next the Skodrians. And following on there are the wild (agria) tribes,
of the Peukalians. After them the servers of Dionysos,
the Gargaridians, dwell, there where the Hypanis and the
(1145) divine Magarsos, most turbulent of rivers, bear the
marvellous progeny of gold. Starting from the mountain
of Emodos, they flow toward the country of the Ganges,
which reaches to the south along the borders of the Kolian land.
This, indeed, juts out into the deep-eddying Ocean.
(1150) It is steep, inaccessible to swift birds.
For this reason men call it the “land without birds.”
[Bacchos / Dionysos among the Indians]
There is a certain spectacular place beside the fair-flowing Ganges,
a place which is revered and sacred, where Bacchos once
walked in anger, when the delicate fawn-skins
(1155) of the Lenae were turned into shields, and their wands (thyrsoi)
were changed into iron, and their belts and the tendrils of the twisting vine into the coils of serpents,
then when in their folly they slighted the festival of the god.
For this reason they call it the Nysaian path,
(1160) and they duly established with their sons all his rites.
He himself, when he destroyed the tribes of the dark Indians,
ascended the mountains of Emodos, below the foot of
which flows the mighty stream of the eastern Ocean.
Here he planted two pillars near the borders of the land,
(1165) and exultant he returned to the waters of the Ismenos.
[Conclusion: Gods establish variety among environments and peoples]
So many are the most eminent men on the earth,
but others wander here and there over the lands
in their thousands, whom no-one could tell of clearly,
no mortal. Only the gods are able to do all with ease.
(1170) For they rounded off the first foundations
and revealed the deep swell of the measureless sea.
They marked out all that is immutable in life,
distinguishing the stars, and allotting each
a share of the sea and the deep earth.
(1175) For this reason each land has been allotted a nature of a different kind.
For one is white and shining,
another is darker, and another has been allotted the appearance of both.
One resembles the flowers of the red earth of Assyria,
others are otherwise. For mighty Zeus has conceived it this way.
So everything is diverse among men.
Farewell, you countries and islands in the sea,
waters of Ocean and sacred waves of the deep,
rivers and springs and wooded mountains.
Now I have run over the swell of the entire sea,
(1185) and the winding path of the lands. So let me have
from the blessed ones themselves an answer worthy of my hymns.