Strabo of Amasia: A Greek Man of Letters in Augustan Rome

Strabo of Amasia: A Greek Man of Letters in Augustan Rome

Strabo of Amasia: A Greek Man of Letters in Augustan Rome

Strabo of Amasia: A Greek Man of Letters in Augustan Rome

Synopsis

Strabo of Amasia offers an intellectual biography of Strabo, a Greek man of letters, set against the political and cultural background of Augustan Rome. It offers the first full-scale interpretation of the man and his life in English. It emphasises the place and importance of Strabo's Geography and of geography itself within these intellectual circles. It argues for a deeper understanding of the fusion of Greek and Roman elements in the culture of the Roman Empire. Though he wrote in Greek, Strabo must be regarded as an 'Augustan' writer like Virgil or Livy.

Excerpt

Strabo of Amasia is known particularly for his geographical survey of the world of his time, the first century. But the work is more than the outcome of research and compilation of sources undertaken by a Greek scholar. It also supplies personal information about Strabo, being the only ancient source to throw light on his personality, which, as far as can be assessed, to some extent explains the nature of his writings. In this sense the man and his book are inseparable and present a mutual reflection, each of the other.

Strabo’s intention was to survey the entire inhabited world. Dealing with northern Asia Minor, and describing the region of Pontus, he depicts Amasia, and mentions by the way that he was born in this city (12.3.15, C 547; 12.3.39, C 561), situated in central Pontus, about 75 km distant from the southern coast of the Black Sea. This reticence is typical of all the biographical allusions and remarks scattered in the Geography, which are never part of a systematic self-presentation of the author, but appear somewhat sporadically throughout the work, to compose only an incomplete image. Thus, even Strabo’s birth-date is no more than a conjecture and derives from what he chose to reveal in his work as we have it.

The Suda notes that Strabo ‘lived at the time of Tiberius’ but this notion is too general and seems to refer to his prime as an active scholar. A better assessment of the birth-date was suggested by Niese who surveyed all the temporal phrases in the Geography such as ‘a little before my time’ (mikron pro hemon) and ‘in my time’ (kath’ hemas or eph’ hemon), interpreting them as literally referring to Strabo’s lifetime since Strabo always refers to himself in the plural, the ‘authorial we’. By collating these general temporal references with accurate dates derived from other sources, Niese tried to establish the period to which Strabo applies the term ‘in my time’. Referring to the political situation in Paphlagonia Strabo says that ‘this country…was governed by several rulers a little before my time, but…it is now in possession of the Romans’ (12.3.41, C 562). It was Pompey who organized the region after subduing the Asian Iberians and the Albanians and before his campaign in Syria

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