The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought: Geography, Exploration and Fiction

The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought: Geography, Exploration and Fiction


By (author) James S. Romm

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  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Format: Paperback | 248 pages
  • Dimensions: 138mm x 214mm x 16mm | 322g
  • Publication date: 1 November 1994
  • Publication City/Country: New Jersey
  • ISBN 10: 0691037884
  • ISBN 13: 9780691037882
  • Edition statement: Reprint
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
  • Sales rank: 805,336

Product description

For the Greeks and Romans the earth's furthest perimeter was a realm radically different from what they perceived as central and human. The alien qualities of these "edges of the earth" became the basis of a literary tradition that endured throughout antiquity and into the Renaissance, despite the growing challenges of emerging scientific perspectives. Here James S. Romm surveys this tradition, revealing that the Greeks, and to a somewhat lesser extent the Romans, saw geography not as a branch of physical science but as an important literary genre. The tradition described by Romm emerged in Homer and Hesiod, whose imaginative geography defined the earth by giving it boundaries - the river Ocean, the Pillars of Heracles, and other mythic forms of circumscription. Other Greek authors developed exotic literary landscapes by filling these "limits" with idealized human societies and bizarre or monstrous animal life, while the Romans adapted the concept of perimeters to goals of imperial conquest. As Hellenistic and Roman voyages of exploration failed to confirm the fancied landscapes, the tradition came to be seen as one in which invented narratives had masqueraded as truths. As a result some of late antiquity's most daring innovators seized on geography as a theme for prose fiction, and the explorer's log became an important antecedent of the early modern novel.

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Review quote

"An immensely engaging and erudite work, packed full of provocative insights... Romm successfully sorts out for us some of the most complex traditions of ancient geographic literature; and he deserves high marks for doing it in such an intelligent, original, and attractive manner."--T. Corey Brennan, Bryn Mawr Classical Review "Romm's incisive and brilliant analysis of Greco-Roman ideas of earth's geography is grounded in a linguistic interpretation of Greek conceptions of space and boundary... His work captures the imagination as few others have and will provide material for the study of the classical legacy in the shaping of the modern scientific mind for many years to come."--Helen Liebel-Weckowicz, Classical Bulletin

Back cover copy

"This work is unparalleled in its scope and perspective."--Deborah Boedeker, College of the Holy Cross

Table of contents

Acknowledgments 1The Boundaries of Earth Boundaries and the Boundless Ocean and Cosmic Disorder Roads around the World Herodotus and the Changing World Picture Aristotle and After 2Ethiopian and Hyperborean The Blameless Ethiopians The Fortunate Hyperboreans Arimaspians and Scythians The Kunokephaloi 3Wonders of the East Before Alexander Marvel-Collectors and Critics The Late Romance Tradition 4Ultima Thule and Beyond Antipodal Ambition The North Sea Coast The Headwaters of the Nile The Atlantic Horizon 5Geography and Fiction Ocean and Poetry The Voyage of Odysseus Pytheas, Euhemerus, and Others The Fiction Election Epilogue: After Columbus Index