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A Greek philosopher and author, a disciple of Aristotle. He was born at Messana in Sicily, but lived mostly in Greece, and especially in the Peloponnese. He was the author of many works on geography, history, politics" and philosophy. One of his most important works was The Life of Hellas, in three books, which contained an account of the geography of Greece, its political development and the condition of its various states, its public and private life, its theatre, games, religions, etc. Only fragments of it remain. [The De Re Publica of Cicero is supposed, with good reason, to be founded upon a work by Dicaearchus.] A badly written description of Greece, in 150 iambic senarii, bears the name of Dicaearchus, but (as the acrostic at the beginning shows) is really from the band of a certain Dionysius, son of Calliphon. Three interesting and not unimportant fragments of a work on The Cities of Greece have also been wrongly attributed to him. Their real author appears to have been an unknown writer named Heraclides, who flourished 280 B.C.
Dionysius Periegetes, or the describer of the earth. A Greek poet whose precise country and date have not been ascertained; it is certain only that he did not live earlier than the imperial age of Rome. His surviving work is a Descriptio Orbis Terrarum, or description of the earth, written in well-turned hexameters, and founded mainly on Eratothenes. This was much read, and translated into Latin by Avienus and Priscian (see these names). To the later Greeks he was the geographer par excellence. The ancient scholia to his book, a paraphrase, and the commentary by Eustathius, testify to the interest which it excited. (On another author of a geographical poem of the same name, see DICAeARCHUS.)
Geographical research and literature took their rise, like historical literature, among the Ionians of Asia Minor. Their extended commerce and their activity in founding colonies enlarged their geographical horizon. The necessity was thus felt of utilizing and registering the knowledge already acquired for the purpose of discovering the form and constitution of the earth. The first attempt at sketching a map of the world was made by Aristagoras of Miletus about 550 B.C. His kinsman Hecataeus, one of the writers called Logographi, who flourished about fifty years later, corrected and enlarged this map, and added a commentary. (See LOGOGRAPHI.) This commentary, of which only fragments are preserved in quotations, is the oldest piece of purely geographical writing in Greek. The geographical chapters in the history of Herodotus (about 450 B.C.) compensate us to a certain extent for the loss of this work, and of the other works of the Logographi on history and geography. But they only treat the eastern half of the known world. It became indeed, in the absence of a regular tradition of geographical science, a usual thing for historians to insert geographical disquisitions into their works. The writings of Thucydides, Xenophon, Ctesias, Ephorus, Theopompus, Timaeus, and others down to Polybius, afford examples of this. The first purely geographical work which has come down to us in a complete state is the Periplus bearing the name of Scylax, written in the first part of the 4th century B.C. This is a description of the coast of the Mediterranean. About the same time the astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus made a great advance in the theory of physical geography. He was the first who adduced mathematical proof of the spherical shape of the earth, which had been asserted before his time by Pythagoras. The division of the globe into five zones (two frigid, two temperate, and one torrid) is also due to him. About 330 B.C. Pytheas of Massilia explored towards the N.W. as far as the northern end of the British Islands and the coasts of the German Ocean. About the same time the campaigns of Alexander the Great opened up Asia as far as India to Greek research. Nearchus made a report of exceptional value on his coast voyage from the Indus to the Euphrates. All these discoveries were embodied, about 320 B.C. in a new map by Dicaearchus of Messana, a disciple of Aristotle. He was the first savant who treated physical geography in a scientific manner. He assumed the existence of a southern hemisphere, and made an estimate of the earth's circumference, to which he gave the exaggerated measurement of 40,000 miles. His map remained for a long time the standard work of the kind. The southern and eastern parts of India were still further opened out under Alexander's successors, in consequence of the campaigns of the Seleucidae, and several journeys undertaken by ambassadors, among which that of Megasthenes should be mentioned. The commercial expeditions of the Ptolemies brought in fresh knowledge of the coasts of Arabia and E. Africa. The first man who arranged the mass of geographical materials hitherto collected, into a really scientific system, was Eratosthenes of Cyrene (about 276-175 B.C.). His materials he found in the rich collections of the Alexandrian library, Alexandria being then the central point of the commerce of the world. He was fully equipped for his task by his acquirements both in physical science and mathematics, and in history and philology. He endeavoured for the first time to estimate the earth's circumference by a measurement of degrees carried out over a space of 16 degrees of latitude. The imperfection of his method brought out too large a quantity, 25,000 geographical miles. The name of Hipparchus of Nicaea (about 140 B.C.) marks a considerable advance. He may be called the founder of mathematical geography, as he applied geographical length and breadth to determine the position of places on the earth's surface. He also superseded the rectangular and equidistant projection of parallels and meridians, hitherto used in maps, by a projection which, with few modifications, is identical with the one now in use. The parallels were represented by segments of a circle, the meridians by straight lines or curves, corresponding with the portion of surface to be represented, drawn at distances corresponding to the actual distances on the surface of the globe. The estimate of the earth's circumference which was accepted as correct down to the 10th century A.D., was that of Posidonius of Apamea (about 90 B.C.). Taking as his basis the measurement of the shortest distance from Alexandria to Rhodes, he brought out the result as 18,000 geographical miles, instead of 21,600 (or about 25,000 English miles.) Only fragments remain of the writings of these geographers, and others contemporary with them. But we possess the great work of Strabo of Amaseia, finished about 20 A.D., the most important monument of descriptive geography and ethnology which has come down from Greek antiquity. Thanks to the Roman conquest, he was in a position to give a more accurate description of the West than his predecessors. Up to this time all that the Romans had done for geographical research was to open up Western Europe and Northern Africa to the Greek savants. An immense service was rendered to science by Agrippa, under the direction of Augustus. He measured and indicated on a map the distance between the stations on the great military roads and along the coasts of the Roman empire, thus contributing enormously to our knowledge of ancient topography, and laying a foundation for our maps. These data formed the basis of a new map of the world, which was first set up in Rome. Numerous copies were probably taken for the larger cities of the empire, and smaller portable ones distributed among the military and the administrating officials. It is probably upon copies of this kind that the Tabula Peutingeriana and the Iteneraria are based. (See PEUTINGER; ITENERARIA.) In the 1st century A.D. much was added to geographical knowledge by the expeditions of the Romans into the interior of North Africa and the North of Europe. The most important literary works of the Romans on geography belong to this period. These are (1) the compendium of Pomponius Mela; (2) the geographical books of Pliny the Elder's great encyclopaedia, a dreary uncritical compilation, but the only representative we have of a number of lost works; (3) the Germania of Tacitus, an essay mainly of an ethnographical character. The last great contribution made to geographical science in antiquity is the work of the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy (about 140 A.D.). This consists mainly of lists of the places marked in the current maps which he makes his authorities, with their latitude and longitude. After Ptolemy, the geographical literature of the Greeks and Romans alike has nothing to show but compilations and extracts. Towards the end of the 6th century, Stephanus of Byzantium compiled a dictionary of geography, which is valuable for the quantity of information taken from the older and lost writings which it embodies. The book of Pausanias (about 175 A.D.) is valuable as bearing on the special topography of Greece.
Type: Standard
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