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Review of Eratosthenes' Geography

Frederick Sakon (The Florida State University)

Eratosthenes’ Geography. Fragments collected and translated, with commentary and additional material, Duane W. Roller, 2010, 320 pp., hardcover, $49.50, ISBN-13: 978-0-691-14267-8, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,

Roller grants an accessible journey through the fragmented beginnings of the discipline in Eratosthenes’ Geography. This work is the first English translation of the Geographika, an account of the known inhabited world as documented by Eratosthenes in the third century BC. Eratosthenes used this work to establish a set of latitudes and meridians, mapping the territory explored by tradesmen onto a systemic grid. Eratosthenes’ work established a geographical foundation, which later scholars – primarily Strabo and Pliny – referenced and critiqued as more exploration revealed further details of the Earth’s topography.

Eratosthenes’ Geography accounts for more than 150 fragments of Eratosthenes’ original work. Fragments are primarily derived from Strabo’s citations of Eratosthenes, for which Roller does an excellent job of distinguishing obscure references. Strabo made reference to many scholars, and it is often difficult to determine to whom he has referred with certain pronouns. Roller’s meticulous referencing of pronouns throughout the fragments makes for easier assimilation of the content by the reader. Fragments are first presented in their English translation with an account of their source. In the second half of his work, Roller provides a summary and commentary on each of the fragments presented in the first half. Aside from these two primary components comprising the body of this work, Roller also includes an introduction and appendices providing a history of the text, a biography of Eratosthenes, and maps showing the known world as Eratosthenes’ depicted it in his Geographika and the refinements made by his successors in the discipline through subsequent work.

For educators, Eratosthenes’ Geography serves as a rich resource of history, geography, and mathematics. Eratosthenes presented approximations of the Earth’s circumference as well as the measurements across specific landmasses within the inhabited world of his time. Mathematics educators will find fragments from Eratosthenes’ second book of the Geographika and his related work, On the Measurement of the Earth (provided in the appendices), full of measures fit for exploration and discussion in the classroom. This resource can also serve as an excellent tool for interdisciplinary learning; it provides ample material (e.g., maps across many revisions, measurements estimated from travel reports, debate and criticism among scholars) for grounding student learning in the general scope of defining and refining our understanding of the world and then branching off into the historical, geographical, and mathematical content that can be examined more specifically in respective content-area courses.

Frederick Sakon (The Florida State University), "Review of Eratosthenes' Geography," Convergence (January 2011), DOI:10.4169/loci003613