TITLE: Dionysius Periegetes' World Map
DATE: A.D. 124
AUTHOR: Dionysius Periegetes
DESCRIPTION: Poetry, sometimes illustrated by maps, also continued to
be used as a way of memorizing and popularizing the knowledge or meaning
seen in cartographic images. Such literary sources do, however, give the
impression that the educated class largely preferred to ignore new discoveries,
and earlier Hellenistic concepts of geography persisted long after they
had ceased to reflect up-to-date knowledge. A late example is provided by
Dionysius, born in Alexandria and called "Periegetes" after the
title of his poem. A contemporary of Marinus and Ptolemy, he composed a
description in verse of the inhabited world (A.D. 124) that was long used
as a school textbook. He presented the oikumene [known world] as
an island, sling-shaped, entirely north of the equator, extending from Thule
[Iceland?] to Libya [Africa]. He did not mention either Agisymba
or the promontory of Prasum. He limited the inhabited world eastward
by the river Ganges, taking into account the Seres [Chinese and Tibetans],
but locating them much less far east than Marinus.
Dionysius's poem, like Aratus' Phænomena, was a success partly
because it summarized, and made easier to remember, the array of traditional
teachings since Eratosthenes . It was first translated into Latin by Rufius
Festus Avienius (4th century A.D.), and it remained in regular academic
use during the whole of the Middle Ages.
The poem was originally supplied with maps, probably drawn on the models
of Eratosthenes (Slide #112), or Strabo's (Slide #115) maps. Various annotations preserved in the margins
of the existing manuscripts refer to maps illustrating the poem: some of
them point out that a particular place is lacking on the map or that the
outline of a specific country do not agree with Dionysius' description .
These seem to provide evidence that such mapmakers continued to copy their
models uncritically and rarely tried to adapt the map to the written description
to be illustrated.
In the case of Dionysius, both maps and poems were behind their time, even
at the date of their composition; but they reflect the ordinary level of
geographic knowledge. His description of the British Isles may be rendered:
Two islands are there, British, off the Rhine,
By Ocean's northern shores; for there the Rhine
Sends out its furthest eddies to the sea.
Enormous is their size: no other isles
Equal the British isles in magnitude.
Such a poor description, and the lack of revision elsewhere, suggests too
close a reliance on Eratosthenes.
LOCATION: ( this map exists only as a reconstruction )
*Bunbury, E., History of Ancient Geography, volume 2, p. 490.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume One, p. 172.