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Because they passed through endless compilations the fables remained brief, or became so. Despite its vigor and penetrating quality, even the Geography of Strabo rests for its main facts on a multitude of travel books whose statements it abridged. What the Greek writers could not wholly avoid was too much for the Roman encyclopædists. They were note-takers, compilers, abridgers, and they tried to make all learning their province. The encyclopædias of Varro, Verrius, Flaccus, Pliny, Suetonius, Pompeius Festus, and Nonius Marcellus were the product not of a staff of experts, but in each case of a single mind. The editors epitomized everything. They made extracts from books, extracts from extracts, abridgments of abridgments. The original works they consulted were lost, and only fragments of the mental inheritance of the Roman world were transmitted from age to age. Under the modern system of specialized inquiry the frontiers of knowledge press ever outward. Under the old encyclopædists they drew inward and the body of known facts shrank continually. This tendency culminated in Isidore, Bishop of Seville in the seventh century, last of the Roman, first of the Christian, encyclopædists. He devotes two sentences to the small island of Thanet, now a part of Kent. He gives three sentences to Great Britain; “jet is very common there, and pearls,” he says.
From works prepared under such conditions one must be content with a treatise as brief as this in Isidore's Etymologies: “The Cynocephali are so called because they have dogs' heads and their very barking betrays them as beasts rather than men. They are born in India.”
The ideal lands, the prodigious races, and the fabulous ani. mals were first made known to the world by the Greeks. Few of the classic travel tales, however, originated with them. Most of them trace back to Egypt and India; if their sources are still more remote, the track has been lost. The mythical peoples and animals dwelt in the deserts of Africa and the deserts and mountains of Asia. India, even more than Egypt, was their home. The mighty mountains that bordered it, the multitude of peoples that inhabited it, the strong touch of the grotesque in their art and ritual, and their curious sense of kinship with the elephant, the tiger, the snake, and the jackal made theirs the native soil of marvel. Many of the singular creatures that peopled the hinterlands of Africa seem to be emigrants from India and beyond.
The earliest travel tales in Greek literature are found in Homer's Odyssey commingled with accounts of places and peoples that are not of the earth. These stories of the tenth century before Christ look westward from Greece. In the poems of Pindar the strange outlines of eastern marvel appear on the Mediterranean scene and a new aspect of reality animates them. With the history of Herodotus, written in the fifth century before Christ, the invasion is well-nigh complete. Imbedded in the greatest of all histories, passages about the griffin, the phænix and kindred creatures are scattered through volumes that contain the high story of the Persian attempt upon Greece, and the best accounts which the Mediterranean world had of the back lands of the earth. Herodotus had heard of so many won. derful things which were true that he made it a rule to report what he heard even where he doubted its truth; and to this rule the world owes much. The Halicarnassian doubted the existence of a sea north of Europe, or of the Tin Islands, but he gave them a place in his pages. He could not believe that the Phænicians had circumnavigated Africa, but his record of their incredible assertion that as they sailed they “had the sun on their right” is evidence that the thing was done.
Herodotus was attacked as untruthful by Ctesias and the Pseudo-Plutarch, and his monument at Thurium in Italy recites that he removed thither to escape ridicule; but in the main this was the ridicule of men who accepted his pleasant stories and doubted his history, and who were offended because with too candid a pen he sketched faction and faint-heartedness in the Greek states when Xerxes led his host across the Hellespont.
After Herodotus the chief sponsor for antique marvel is Ctesias the Cnidian, whose work falls in the following generation. If the one history was the product of travel, the other was the product of prolonged residence abroad, Ctesias having been stationed as physician for seventeen years at the Persian court. He gave the Greeks their first special treatise on India, introduced the Deformed Folk to the west, and pictured the peninsula as a preserve of curious peoples and animals. So he made
a notable book of his Indika, but among the learned it had small credit. “A writer not to be depended on,” Aristotle calls the author, and where Herodotus was accused of credulity, Ctesias was assailed for mendacity. Modern criticism, however, has identified several of his monstrous races with tribes still inhabiting Hindostan and partly excused other fables on the ground that he never saw India and put in his book only what the Persians told him of their neighbors to the east. When one people tells another the ways of a third, the theme is marvel.
What was denied to Ctesias was vouchsafed to Alexander in the next generation. With his own eyes he saw India. The European race before which the east unveiled was the most gifted, curious, and imaginative of all peoples, and the east beheld it personified in the captivating figure of Alexander. The expedition brought legends back with it, and left other legends behind. Indian and Afghan and Turkoman and Arab never forgot the great Macedonian, while the whole literature of the west was colored by this eastern contact.
A few other Greek names are linked with the travel tale. Scylax of Caryanda taxed credulity with his fabric of wonder. Aristotle examined reports of fabulous creatures, and fables as to actual species, and rejected most, but not all, of them. The study of anthropology, developed at Alexandria, found its harvest in the geography of Strabo and in the survey of the Erythræan Sea by Agatharcides. Both works contain curious accounts of curious tribes of men.
Pausanias the Lydian, who lived in the secona century of the Christian era, is better remembered than men with better title to remembrance, because his work happened to survive. His Description of Greece has been compared to an old shoe flung high on the beach of time. An old man wrote it, interested in old things. Pausanias has much to say of the wonders of sacred grottos, trees, and springs. His method of taking a road and describing everything along it was copied by pilgrim writers, who clogged the paths of Palestine with their marvels. Modern criticism has discovered that he repeats as interviews with natives statements he had read in local handbooks, and that, betrayed thereby, he tells of seeing cities as flourishing places
which had been in ruins for centuries. Yet Pausanias was a real traveler, although at times a luckless compiler.
Lucian the Samosatan was his contemporary, but his contribution to marvel is a satire on the credulity of all travelers, among whom he arraigns Homer, Herodotus, and Ctesias. His True History relates an imaginary voyage to the moon, and thence to the Fortunate Isles, where Ulysses entrusts him with a letter to Calypso. In the belly of a whale nearly two hundred miles long, which had swallowed his ship, he finds lakes, woods, and strange races of living men. It was the singular fortune of this travesty to provide material for epics which the Celts accepted as history and for adventures which were foisted on the narrative of Baron Munchausen.
The Latin mind was inferior to the Greek chiefly in that it was deficient in curiosity. The Romans were content to rule the world rather than to understand it. It was enough that amber and silk and incense and spice should come to them from the four corners of the earth without their following the trade routes back to find what manner of people sent these things. Yet legend was active among the mariners and camel-drivers and porters of the races that served the Roman on the fringes of his empire. The fables of these porter-nations were passed on to the Arab and are preserved in the Thousand and One Nights.
Rome, however, performed a service to the traditional world by producing the elder Pliny and his amazing Natural History. Pliny has not the charm, narrative gifts, or historical genius of Herodotus, but he comes half a millennium afterward and has more to report. He lacks the comprehensive and penetrating intelligence of Aristotle, but he knows more
of things that are so, and of things that are not so. His great work is perhaps the most impressive monument to industry raised by a single mind. The entire body of learning of the ancient world passed through his mind and came out again in the volumes which he calls a natural history but which are in fact an encyclopædia. These thirty-seven books record twenty thousand matters of importance collected from about two thousand volumes, only a few of which have survived. As his nephew, the younger Pliny, recites, it was his maxim that “there is no book so bad but some good may be got out of it.”
To get it Pliny made notes, even in the bath. When he traveled, his secretary was by his side with a book and tablets, and if it was winter the scribe took dictation with his gloves on. In Rome Pliny never moved about except in a litter, reading while he was being carried through the streets. Once he rebuked his nephew for walking and “losing all those hours.”
While tracing the courses of the stars, the description of countries, plants and animals, the anatomy of man, the properties of drugs, the nature of gems, the uses of metals, the science of farming and the fine arts, Pliny contrives also to sketch the geography of marvel. “It is really wonderful,” he declares, "to what a length the credulity of the Greeks will go." Yet he draws most of his material from them, and whatever his own attitude toward the things he recites, the result of the recital was to give credulity its own text-book for a thousand years. Cynical as was his point of view, Pliny was yet a lover of marvel and searched it out and set it forth in his pages whether he believed it or not. It was enough that it was interesting.
His was the journalistic angle. The Natural History is in effect a vast newspaper report of the world of about A.D. 77. The columns of curious miscellany which newspapers print sometimes under such headings as “Oddities in the Day's News" are legacies of his spirit. The monument to his immense industry and reportorial instinct is a work which fabulists of all succeeding ages used as a quarry for their own building materials. Had his been the questing mind of the Greek, instead of the drag.net intelligence of the journalist of an incurious but marvel-loving world, the view of the central countries of culture and of the horizon lands presented in the Natural History would have less the aspect of a main circus tent surrounded by side shows.
Solinus, surnamed Polyhistor or the Varied Narrator, distilled the marvels from Pliny, making some seven hundred extracts, adding to them from other sources, and producing a work which supplanted the older writer in the affections of the multitude throughout the Middle Ages. His Collecteanea appeared in the third or fourth century of the Christian Era, and although he seems to have been a pagan grammarian, he had mainly Christian readers. St. Augustine quotes him four times