The periplus of the erythrean sea

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Description: Posts about Periplus of the Erythraean Sea written by amélia muge

WHAT WAS EXACTLY THE MOTIVE behind man’s decision to take his chances and go out to sea? As always, he had needs to satisfy: he initially searched for a better place to live. Navigation started long ago during migrations. the first humans e.g. arrived in Australia. presumably by boat, around 45,000 BCE. After settling down, man’s needs changed: there was much food in the sea and he could certainly fish far better with a canoe or a small boat. The more man familiarized himself with the sea, the further he went out there, and thus the vessel also became a means of transport. Men started exchanging goods and, as long as production increased, the boatmen were divided into fishermen and traders – and warriors, as well. Commerce developed further in parallel with navigation. A sea trader was obliged to start taking down notes and mapping out his routes. This notebook gradually developed into a

“PERIPLUS” is the Latinization of the Hellenic word περίπλους , ‘a sailing-around’. The word was understood by the ancient Greek speaker in its literal sense; however, it also developed specialized meanings, one of which became a standard term in the navigation of Hellenes, Phoenicians. Romans and others. (a) Such a periplus was a manuscript listing – in order and with approximate intervening distances – the ports and coastal landmarks that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore. It served the same purpose as the Roman itinerarium of road stops. The navigators, however, added various notes, which, if they were skilled geographers (as many were), became part of their own additions to geography. In that sense the periplus was a type of log. The form of periplus is at least as old as the earliest Hellene historian, Hecataeus of Miletus. The works by Herodotus and Thucydides contain passages that appear to have been based on peripli.

  • (a) A periplus was also an ancient naval manoeuvre in which attacking triremes would outflank or encircle the defenders in order to strike them in the rear.

The Milesian Hecataeus (Ἑκαταῖος, c. 550–c. 476 BCE) flourished during the time of the Persian invasion. Having travelled extensively, he settled in his native city devoting his time to the composition of geographical and historical works. He is the first Greek historian and one of the first classical writers to mention the Celts. Some have credited him with a work entitled Γῆς περίοδος (World Survey, or Travels Round the Earth), written in two books. Each book is organized like a periplus, a point-to-point coastal survey. One, on Europe. is essentially a Mediterranean periplus, describing each region in turn, reaching as far north as Scythia. The other, on Asia. is arranged similarly to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea . He described the countries and inhabitants of the world, the account of Egypt being particularly comprehensive. It was accompanied by a map, based upon Anaximander ’s map of the Earth, which he corrected and enlarged. The work only survives in fragments, by far the majority being quoted in Ethnica, the geographical lexicon compiled by Stephanus of Byzantium (fl. 6th century CE). The other known work of Hecataeus was the Genealogiae. a rationally systematized account of the legends and myths of the Hellenes, a break with the epic myth-making tradition, which survives in fragments, just enough to show what we are missing.

Anaximander (Ἀναξίμανδρος, c. 610–c. 546 BCE), a pre-Socratic philosopher, succeeded his master, Thales. one of the Seven Sages of Greece. as head of the Milesian school where he counted Anaximenes and, arguably, Pythagoras among his pupils. According to available historical documents, he is the first philosopher known to have written down his studies, although only one fragment of his work remains. He was an early proponent of science trying to observe and explain different aspects of the universe, with a particular interest in its origins. In astronomy, he attempted to describe the mechanics of celestial bodies in relation to the Earth. In physics, his postulation that the apeiron ’ ( πειρον ) was the source of all things led Hellenic philosophy to a new level of conceptual abstraction. He created a map of the world contributing greatly to the advancement of geography. According to Carl Sagan. he conducted the earliest recorded scientific experiment.

Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος, c. 484–c. 425 BCE), born in Halicarnassus. is regarded as the “Father of History ”. He was the first historian known to systematically collect his materials, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. He is exclusively known for writing The Histories , a record of his ‘Inquiry’ into the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars that culminated in 490 and 480-479 BCE – especially since he includes a narrative account of that period, which would otherwise be poorly documented; and numerous long digressions concerning the various places and people he encountered during his wide-ranging travels around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

“Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε, ὡς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα γένηται, μήτε ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά, τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι, τὰ δὲ βαρβάροισι ἀποδεχθέντα, ἀκλεᾶ γένηται”…

(Herodotus of Halicarnassus’ “Researches” are here set down to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of our own and of other peoples…)

It was rather conventional at that time for authors to have their works ‘published’ by reciting them at popular festivals. Herodotus took his Histories to Olympia. in the Olympian Games. and presented his entire work to the assembled spectators in one sitting, receiving rapturous applause at the end. According to a different account, he refused to begin reading his work until some clouds offered him a bit of shade, by which time however the assembly had dispersed – thus the proverbial expression “Herodotus and his shade” to describe anyone who misses his opportunity through delay.

The Athenian Thucydides (Θουκυδίδης, c. 460–c. 395 BCE) is the notable author of the History of the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens (431-404 BCE) to the year 411. Its finale is recounted by Xenophon in his Hellenica. Thucydides is regarded as the father of “scientific history” because of his strict standards of evidence-gathering and analysis in terms of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods. He has also been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the relations between nations as based on might rather than right. His classical text is still studied at military colleges worldwide, and the Melian dialogue still remains a seminal work of international relations theory. (b)

This Greek civil war, the Peloponnesian War, a few years after the glorious end of the Persian Wars, marked the dramatic end to the Golden Age of Hellenic civilization.

  • (b) The Melian dialogue is the account of a confrontation between Athens and Melos. a small, neutral island in the southern Aegean. east of the Peloponnese and Sparta, in 416-415 BCΕ, during the Peloponnesian War. Athens wanted to conquer the island to intimidate Sparta. The confrontation ended in tragedy for Melos: the Athenians executed all the men they took captive and enslaved women and children…
Melos had been a very important source of obsidian. a volcanic material most valuable in the Neolithic era. The island, however, is famous all over the world because of a work of art of a later period that was found there: it is the celebrated statue of Aphrodite of Melos , better known as Venus de Milo.
  • In the first phase of the war, Sparta launched invasions of Attica. while Athens raided the coast of the Peloponnese taking advantage of its naval supremacy. Later the Athenians sent a massive expeditionary force to attack Syracuse in Sicily failing disastrously. This ushered in the final phase of the war, when Sparta, already receiving support from Persia. incited rebellions in the Athenians’ subject states in the Aegean and Asia Minor. undermining their empire. The destruction of their fleet put an end to the war and Athens surrendered in the next year. This Greek civil war. a few years after the glorious end of the Median (Persian) Wars (499-449 BCΕ), reshaped the ancient Hellenic world. Athens, the strongest city-state in Greece prior to the war’s beginning, was reduced to almost complete subjection, while Sparta became established as the leading power. However, the economic costs of the war were felt all across Hellas; poverty became widespread in the Peloponnese, while Athens found itself completely devastated, and it never recovered its pre-war prosperity. The war also wrought subtler changes to Greek society; the antagonism between democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta, each of which supported friendly political factions within other states, made civil war a common occurrence in Hellas. Greek warfare. meanwhile, originally on a limited scale, was transformed into an all-out struggle between city-states, complete with atrocities on a large scale. Shattering religious and cultural taboos, devastating whole cities and the countryside, this war marked the dramatic end to the 5th century BCΕ and the Golden Age of Hellenic civilization .
    • The Peloponnesian War is the background of a didactic story on music and politics centered on Euripides. who is thought to have been perhaps the best of the Greek tragedians. He was musically very advanced and worked with the most progressive musicians, something that conservatives such as Aristophanes exploited in order to ridicule him. Nevertheless, it was Euripides’ music, and not that by Aristophanes, that saved many Athenians and Athens itself during the war. At that time, and for many centuries to come, the people used to sing the best songs’ (in operatic terminology we would say ‘arias ’) of a tragedy. Hence the Hellenic word for ‘song’ (‘τραγούδι’) comes from the word ‘tragedy’ (‘τραγῳδία’). After the disastrous Athenian expedition to Sicily, many Athenians held captives there saved their lives because they could sing songs by Euripides that were so much loved by all Greeks, even those in Sicily. At the end of the war, when Sparta conquered Athens, the victorious generals (Spartans and allies) had a meeting to decide the fate of Athens. They concluded that the city should be demolished and its citizens enslaved. Then a feast was held to celebrate victory. During this banquet someone sang a song by Euripides (from Electra ). The generals were so much moved that they changed their minds. “They felt that it would be a barbarous act to annihilate a city which produced such men” … Needless to say these generals were cultured enough to appreciate the music by Euripides. The same song in the ears of present-day generals or politicians would have no effect whatsoever… (These stories are episodes from Plutarch ‘s Parallel Lives , and in particular the Lives of Nicias and Lysander ) .

    During celebrations for victory, someone sang a song by Euripides. The Spartans were so moved that they changed their minds. “They felt that it would be a barbarous act to annihilate Athens which produced such men”…

    • The Massaliote Periplus is a description of Tartessian and Phoenician trade routes along the coasts of Atlantic Europe, possibly dating to the 6th century, either early or late, around 500 BCE, depending on the writer. Preserved in Avienus ’ Ora maritima (Sea Coasts), it describes a voyage from Marseille to the British Isles. circumnavigating Iberia .
    • The Periplus of Hanno the Navigator , a Punic explorer of the early 5th century BCE, describing the coast of Africa from Morocco deep into the Gulf of Guinea. It was undertaken probably after Carthage’s crushing defeat in Sicily in 480 BCE (when Hanno became a king with no powers). Excluded from the markets of the East, the Punics turned westwards.
    • The exploration of another Punic, Himilco the Navigator. who sailed in the sea routes described in the Massaliote Periplus, from the Mediterranean to the north-western shores of Europe, during the 5th century, as well.
    • The voyage of Euthymenes of Massalia (ca 450-390 or, less probable, in the early 6th century BCE). Following Hanno’s route, Euthymenes must have sailed south to the Senegal River. His Periplus in the Outer Sea (possibly around 400 BCE) was lost and what survived are some references such as those made by Plutarch or Seneca the Younger (and… doubtful).
    • The epic exploration of the greatest Massaliote navigator, Pytheas. ca 325 BCE, who completed a periplus of Europe, sailing to Britain, Scandinavia. the Baltic and, via river routes, the Black Sea. Only excerpts remain from his testimony, On the Ocean and World Survey, quoted by later authors, some of whom, such as Strabo (mistrustful as usual) and Polybius. treat with skepticism.
    • During Pytheas’ periplus of Europe, Nearchus. an admiral of Alexander the Great, performed his Paraplus (sailing by the coastline), leading the Macedonian fleet from India (the rivers Hydaspes and Indus ) to the Persian Gulf and meeting the king at Susa in 324 BCE. His testimony is preserved in Arrian ’s Indica .
    • The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. written in the 1st century CE by some Alexandrian. gives the shoreline itinerary of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, starting each time at the port of Berenice. Beyond the Red Sea, the manuscript describes the coast of India as far as the Ganges River and the east coast of Africa (called Azania ).
    • The Periplus Ponti Euxini , describing the trade routes along the coasts of the Black Sea, was also written by Arrian in the early 2nd century CE.

    Some peripli are evaluated as less important. Such is the case of the Periplus Outside the Pillars of Heracles by Charon of Lampsacus (first half of the 5th century BCE), the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax (4th or 3rd century BCE), the Periplus of Scymnus of Chios (around 110 BCE), or even the Periplus of the Outer Sea by Marcian of Heraclea (5th century CE), referring also to the British Isles. There are, however, significant losses, such as Democritus ’ Periplus of the Ocean (see Chronicle 7 ), and a Periplus by Timosthenes of Rhodes in ten volumes (3rd century BCE). The latter was an admiral of the Ptolemaic fleet, navigator, geographer and cartographer, admired and cited by geographers like Strabo and Eratosthenes. Strabo revealed another talent of this truly versatile man: he composed a “Pythic nomos” (law), a “Pythian canon”, if you like, for aulos and kithara to be played at Delphi in the Pythian Games in celebration of the victory of Apollo over Python. (c)

      (c) “A nomos [law or canon] was the most important form of composition and interpretation in ancient Greek music. It seems that it evolved from a very old tradition, according to which the laws were sung by the people to be easily memorized and followed [unlike what happens now that the legislators do their best for the laws to be incomprehensible by the people, though – or precisely because – ignorance of the law is not forgiven…] The composition and interpretation of nomoi was very demanding and set high professional standards in the four Hellenic games (Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian. Nemean ), where the most distinguished musicians (composers-performers) of their time took part. The Pythian nomos was the most important nomos for aulos [Timosthenes either innovated combining the aulos with the kithara, or this combination had been already established by his time]. The Pythian nomos was the first known type of program music and was meant to describe the struggle between Apollo and the dragon Python, consisting of five parts…” (Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek Music, by Solon Michaelides ).
    • The instruments Timosthenes used, aulos and kithara (cithara), were those mostly played by professional musicians: aulos, a wind instrument, was connected with Dionysus ; kithara, a string instrument, was identified with Apollo. The lyre , instead, was played only by amateurs. Its professional equivalent was the kithara (precursor of the guitar ).

    The contest between the citharoedus Apollo and Marsyas. the Phrygian aulete satyr. In order to win, the god was also obliged to sing, something that the Muses. who were the judges, permitted, of course. Then Apollo flayed Marsyas alive for his “hybris … Thus Greek music prevailed over Phrygian and the Apollonian spirit subdued the Dionysian …

    “Nómoi, the most important form of composition in ancient Greece, evolved from a very old tradition, according to which the laws were sung by the people to be easily memorized and followed.” Now legislators do their best for the laws to be incomprehensible, though (or because) ignorance of the law is not forgiven…

    Of course, such voyages, together with the logbooks that gradually evolved into peripli, date back to much earlier times; notable examples:

    Photogallery The periplus of the erythrean sea:

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