On the Ocean

Pytheas of Massalia. On the Ocean. Translated by Christina Horst Roseman. Chicago: Ares Publishers, Inc., 1994.

Reason read: December is a good time to visit Greece, if you are so inclined to travel this holiday season.

Probably the biggest take-away I got from Christina Horst Roseman’s translation of On the Ocean was that Pytheas did not intend it as a sailing guide. What is amazing is that despite eighteen known ancient writers making reference to Pytheas over an 850 year-span, his original writings do not exist at all. It is obvious that On the Ocean was an important document but what happened to it? How was it not preserved in some way? In addition, Roseman states, “special problems are also raised by the work of two authors who probably made use of Pytheas, but in whose surviving work he is not named” (p 18). Wouldn’t that be considered plagiarism…if they had such a thing back then? A great deal of Roseman’s text is comparing what Strabo, Polybios and Pliny wrote as they were considered rivals of Pytheas.

Author fact: Roseman admits that through the years, because not a shred of Pytheas’s original writings exist, “assumptions have been accepted” about On the Ocean. I think that would be true of anything without substantiated proof. Rumor becomes real after awhile.

Book trivia: On the Ocean has an index of Greek words but no dictionary. There are quite a few passages in Greek without translation so right away I found it inconvenient.

Nancy said: not much aside from the writings of Pytheas don’t exist anymore.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Here Be Dragons: the Great Explorers and Expeditions” (p 111).



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