Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Pline I' Ancien, Histoire naturelle, livre VI 4e partie

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Stanley M. Burstein)

Jehan Desanges (ed.), Pline I' Ancien, Histoire naturelle, livre VI 4e partie (L'Asie africaine sauf l'Égypte, les dimensions et les climats du monde habité). Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2008.

The past few decades have seen renewed interest in Pliny the Elder and the Historia Naturalis with a corresponding growing recognition of the magnitude of the work and of Pliny's achievement in compiling it. The geographical books (Books 3-6), however, have largely been exempt from this revision. Almost 130 years ago E. H. Bunbury1 observed apropos of these books that "we are struck with the almost total absence of any scientific comprehension of his subject," and little has changed in the assessment of them since then. Yet, not only are these books the fullest extant geographical treatise in Latin, but they are of fundamental importance for the geography and history of many parts of the ancient world. This is particularly true of the final fifty-seven chapters of the sixth book (6. 163-220) edited in this valuable addition to the Budé edition of the Historia Naturalis.

These relatively few chapters are critically important sources for the history of ancient Africa. Without them, our knowledge of the historical geography of Hellenistic Nubia and the Red Sea basin and the history of Ptolemaic activity south of Egypt would be greatly impoverished. And their importance is not limited to northeast Africa, since they contain also the earliest account of the discovery and exploration of the Canary Islands. Fortunately, this section of the Historia Naturalis has found the ideal editor in Jehan Desanges.

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