Sarah Pothecary's web resource on Strabo




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Updated: March 2016


Photo credit: Héléne Anne Fortin, Wakefield , Québec , Canada


Why is Strabo not better-known?


Strabo is difficult to pigeon-hole. He is a geographer, but he writes rather than draws maps. A literary geographer, then. Yet his work does not qualify as ‘literature’ in the sense that Greek poetry and drama do.


Strabo writes about the past – a great deal, in fact – but because his narrative is structured round the layout of the world rather than the passage of the years, he does not count as a historian.


Strabo deals with scientific questions such as the spherical shape of the world, yet his overriding interest in the inhabitants of that world precludes his consideration as a purely technical writer.


Strabo defies categorisation. This is possibly why he is so little-known outside the world of university classics departments, and to be honest relatively unknown within them. Yet it is precisely his broad scope and untrammeled vision that makes Strabo appealing … and worth translating for a modern audience.



For a list of Sarah’s publications, with online links where available, click here.

Ongoing project: Sarah is currently at work on a new translation of Strabo’s Geography from ancient Greek into English


Strabo’s Geography is truly a millennial work – written at the start of the first millennium, as Rome adjusted to the first of what was to become a long succession of emperors with increasingly absolute powers. Strabo’s work is a mega-project. Weighing in at around three hundred thousand words, it would be equivalent today to a densely-printed, one-thousand-page paperback.


Strabo implicitly asks: who are we? and where we come from? His answer involves a detailed description of the first century world he knew. Some of the information is derived from his own travels, but most of it the product of his reading and research.


Much of what Strabo tells us is solid and sober, some of it less so, but entertaining nonetheless. Such gems include, for example, the information that Massagetan men (who lived more than two millennia ago in the approximate region of modern day Uzbekistan) were said to hang their quiver for their arrows outside the wagon of another man -- when they were inside having sex with the other man’s wife.


Sarah’s translation will make Strabo’s narrative accessible by updating it for the reader of the early third millennium. As he progresses through the narrative, the reader will be able to locate where he is in the modern world, as well as in the ancient world.


Strabo’s work is long. In an age when writers scratched away with quill pens on papyrus rolls by the light of oil lamps, their audience apparently expected multi-volume works. Today, with the writing process made so much easier with word-processors, electric lights (and eye-glasses, come to that), we paradoxically value brevity and succinctness.


Succinct and brief Strabo is not -- but the questions of identity and origin that underlie his work are as relevant today as two thousand years ago. It is time the modern world got to know Strabo better.






© 2009 Sarah Pothecary

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