Sarah Pothecary's web resource on Strabo




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Updated: May 2013


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.



Major project: I am currently at work on a new translation of Strabo’s Geography from ancient Greek into English


Strabo’s Geography is a millennial work – written at the very start of the first millennium, as Rome fell under the control of what was to become a succession of emperors with increasingly absolute powers. Strabo’s work was, and is, a mega-project. Weighing in at around three thousand words, it is the equivalent of a one thousand-page paperback with densely printed pages.


Strabo implicitly asks who we are, and where we come from. His answer involves a detailed description of the first century world he knew -- some of the information 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. Did you know that Massagetan men (who lived more than two millennia ago in the approximate region of modern day Uzbekistan) were said to hang their quiver outside the wagon when they were having sex with another man’s wife? Strabo’s pages are replete with such gems.


My translation will make Strabo’s narrative accessible by updating it for the reader of the early third millennium: marginal notes will provide modern day identifications for places mentioned, and historical dates and context for events noted.


Strabo’s work is admittedly long. In an age when writers scratched away with quill pens on papyrus rolls by the light of oil lamps, readers 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 that underlie his work (who are ‘we’ and where did ‘we’ come from?) are as relevant today as two thousand years ago. It is time the modern world got to know Strabo better.






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