Printer Friendly

Agatharchides of Cnidos, On the Erythaean Sea.

The Erythraean or `Red' Sea was the Greeks' name for the passage between the eastern Mediterranean and India, including the Indian Ocean as well as the Red Sea itself, more precisely referred to in antiquity as the Arabian Gulf. Most accounts of this region during the later Hellenistic and Roman periods derived from the five books On the Erythraean Sea written during the middle of the second century B.C.E. by Agatharchides, a native of Cnidos in southwestern Anatolia, who was resident in Ptolemaic Egypt as secretary to a prominent official of the court.

Agatharchides was not a popular author, and none of his works is extant in its original form. A copy of On the Erythraean Sea survived in ninth-century Constantinople, however, and Photius included an extensive summary of its fifth book and a few fragments from the first in Codex 250 of his Bibliotheca. From this summary it is clear that both Diodorus and Strabo derived their accounts of the region from Agatharchides' fifth book.

Professor Stanley Burstein and the Hakluyt Society have now made available for the first time in English a complete collection of the fragments of this important work. Burstein displays the evidence of Photius and Diodorus side-by-side on the page, with the much shorter epitome of Strabo at the bottom. Explanatory notes appear on the page below the columns and above the extracts from Strabo. The format is quite easy to use, and the translations are excellent both for their accuracy and their readability. Burstein achieves an admirable combination of literal translation with naturally flowing English construction.

More significant, perhaps, than the translation are the introduction and especially the excellent explanatory notes that accompany the text. In the introduction, Burstein discusses not only Agatharchides and his work, but also the history of Ptolemaic exploration and exploitation of the region bordering the Red Sea. He explains that this activity was prompted primarily by the need for elephants for military use. Economic exploitation of the region for mining and for the incense-trade was a secondary and later benefit. Turning to Agatharchides and his work, Burstein persuasively argues that On the Erythraean Sea, like Agatharchides' larger (and unfortunately completely lost) works On Europe and On Asia, was a work of history. The fifth book was a geographical and ethnographic appendix. It is only the accident of its survival in the absence of the rest that has led to the erroneous modern classification of the entire work as a geography and the inclusion of its author among the `minor Greek geographers.' In fact, Agatharchides reflects little interest in the Alexandrian science of geography. As Burstein explains, Agatharchides relied on archival sources and travelers' reports, rather than autopsy. When political difficulties drove him into exile and away from his sources, Agatharchides was forced to leave his work incomplete.

The explanatory notes represent nothing less than the very best in scholarly research. One may wonder whether there are very many `Greekless readers' who will benefit from a translation of Agatharchides as such. There can be no doubt, however, that anyone who uses the text of Agatharchides (or his epitomators) in any language and anyone interested in the history of this region will benefit enormously from Burstein's explanatory notes. Nothing escapes his attention, and the range of his knowledge is prodigious. The philologist will learn that the correct name of that famed people is `Trogodyte', not `Troglodyte' and that their association with cave-dwelling results from false nomenclature. The economic historian will learn that the turtle-shell trade had not yet developed in the time of Agatharchides. The botanist will be introduced to the debate over the identification of ancient cinnamon. The anthropologist will find references to modern travelers' accounts, which often record parallels to ethnographic oddities in Agatharchides' description. Burstein identifies every plant and insect mentioned in the text, and he locates every place-name by reference to map-coordinates as well as to modern nomenclature.

A concordance to the fragments, an excellent index, and a comprehensive bibliography complete this fine volume.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Oriental Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Mosshammer, Alden A.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:The Music of the Bible Revealed: The Deciphering of a Millenary Notation.
Next Article:Court, Poetry and Literary Miscellanea.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters