BMCR 2003.07.08

Strabons Geographika, Band 1, Prolegomena, Buch I-IV: Text und Übersetzung

, , Strabons Geographika : mit Übersetzung und Kommentar. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002-2011. 10 volumes : maps (some color) ; 25 cm. ISBN 3525259506 EUR 141.00.

This, the first volume of what will be a ten-volume series, is a critical edition of the first four books of Strabo’s Geography. The remaining thirteen books of the Geography will take up the next three volumes, which will be published in late 2003, in 2004 and in 2005 respectively. I understand that there will be no delay in their publication. By 2005, then, we will have volumes one to four of the ten-volume series, and with these four volumes we will have a complete critical edition of all seventeen books of Strabo’s Geography. This achievement should not be underestimated: the last time that such an edition was made available was in the mid-1850’s.1

Much work has been done on the text of the Geography over the last one hundred and fifty years, but it has not been fully reflected in intervening editions, which have either lacked a critical apparatus (Müller and Dübner, Jones) or have not covered all seventeen books of the Geography, being limited either to the first six books (Aly, Sbordone) or to the first twelve (Aujac et al.).2 The Radt edition is intended to be complete, in the sense of incorporating all the textual work that has been done on the Geography since the middle of the nineteenth century, as well as in the sense of covering all seventeen books.

The Radt edition is to be commended for its clarity. A reader who opens a volume at random easily pinpoints his location in the text. A header above each page of the Greek text gives: the book number, in Roman numerals; the chapter and section number within each book; the ‘C’ page number(s), i.e. the page(s) occupied by the relevant text in the sixteenth century edition by Isaac Casaubon. Although Radt himself much prefers the latter system, the chapter and section reference system is in widespread use by commentators on Strabo. The inclusion of both systems in the header is therefore useful to the reader who may be following up a reference given under either system. The reader attempting to ‘zero in’ on a particular passage is further helped by the ‘C’ page numbers being clearly marked in the left-hand margin of the pages of the new edition, while the right-hand margin of the pages shows chapter and section number.

The Greek text, on the left-hand page, is faced by a German translation on the right-hand page. The header above the German translation gives the reader his geographical location, i.e. the general area covered by the book in question, and the precise area within it covered by the relevant text. Thus, to open a page at random, the header ‘III 3,7 sq. p. 155-6 C’ for the Greek text is accompanied by the header ‘Iberien: Lusitanien’ for the German translation, showing that book 3 as a whole deals with Iberia (Spain), while this particular section deals in particular with Lusitania. Again, this simple tool is surprisingly useful. The incidental user, looking up a particular reference by means of the chapter and section or the ‘C’ page system, can detect immediately the geographical location of the passage in question, that is to say, what part of the world Strabo is describing in his narrative at the point where the passage occurs. Conversely, the scholar interested in seeing what Strabo has to say about a particular region but not having a particular reference to pursue can use the header above the translation to find the relevant part of the text.

Amazing as it may seem, no previous edition has included all these features: headers including book, chapter and section numbers as well as ‘C’ page numbers; headers indicating the geographical location which is the subject of the narrative; and clear designations in the margin, off-set from the text, of where the next chapter and section begins, as well as where the next ‘C’ page starts. Since it is probably true to say that the majority of users of Strabo’s text are not engaged in reading through the work as a whole for its own sake but rather are looking up a particular passage relevant to their other work, the inclusion of these features makes the edition very ‘user-friendly’.

While accessibility to the text is commendable, the real justification for the new edition will lie in its critical apparatus, the value of which can only be fully assessed through usage. A brief overview suggests that it takes very full account indeed of emendations and corrections suggested in individual journal articles and monographs and suggestions made by editors of fragment collections and in general reference works, as well as those of earlier editors. For some of these suggestions, full bibliographic detail is given in the critical apparatus; in other cases (presumably where the work is cited more than once) bibliographic citations are given in shortened form and will require the full bibliography for elucidation. The bibliography is not included, but will appear in a later volume.

Also appearing later is the commentary, which will provide additional discussion of textual matters. The commentary will appear in volumes four to eight of the series, scheduled for 2006-9. The occasional admonition ‘vide comm.’ in the critical apparatus will have to wait until then. Readers who wish to get a flavour of how the text and translation, commentary and bibliography will work together should look at the 1993 article by Radt and Drijvers, which provides a sample of all these aspects of the new edition for a specific passage, Geography XIII 1,26-42 593-602 C.3 Indeed, the bibliography in this article is very full and may be useful, pending publication of the series’ own bibliography, for those readers who require fuller details of earlier editions of the Geography cited in the apparatus.

The critical apparatus is slimmed down by concentration on the five primary manuscripts (p. vii-ix), with much less attention paid to the secondary manuscripts. Even as regards the primary manuscripts, variations considered of minor importance are noted not in the critical apparatus at the foot of each page but in an appendix at the end of the volume. The letters employed as sigla in the critical apparatus all designate ‘concrete’ manuscripts. Radt rejects the practice of citing what might be called ‘virtual’ manuscripts, i.e. those posited as forerunners of groups of manuscripts sharing common errors, omissions, etc. The use of letters designating such virtual manuscripts has been used as a sort of shorthand in earlier critical apparatus, a way of listing several manuscripts by one letter. Radt rejects the methodology as confusing the issues of manuscript readings and the relationship between manuscripts (p. xvii).

The line references in the critical apparatus are those marked alongside the Greek text, which in turn are numbered according to the ‘C’ pages. Thus, on our random page headed III 3, 7sq. p. 155-6 C, the line of Greek text at the top of the page is line number 14 of 155 C. The use of line numbering according to ‘C’ pages is an innovation by Radt, and is set to become the standard form of reference where precision is required. One of its main advantages is that each ‘C’ page contains approximately 33 lines of text in the new edition, giving us a fairly consistent unit of text with which to work (p. xvi; see also Radt,2 310-11).

Two of the four papyri so far known to contain text of Strabo’s Geography happen to contain text from book II. These two papyri, designated π 3 and π 4 (for bibliographic details, see p. xi) thus feature in the critical apparatus of the volume under review and indeed make their appearance in an apparatus for the first time, since they were not published until some time after Aujac’s edition. The latter papyrus affects reconstruction of some parts of the text in 123-4 C, sometimes confirming earlier editors’ conjectures, as noted in the apparatus; some of the questions raised by this papyrus will doubtless be discussed in the forthcoming commentary. The former papyrus contains text from 124 C; a note in the apparatus to line 19 specifically refers the reader to the commentary.

Between the critical apparatus and the Greek text on each page is, where applicable, a short list of testimonia, that is to say, citations of the relevant part of the work by later authors or its appearance in manuscripts containing short excerpts of the Geography. Radt has excluded from the list those manuscripts containing longer excerpts (p. xix). The texts of two such manuscripts, the ninth century Chrestomathy and the fourteenth century Epitome (more of an abridgement than a list of excerpts), will be available in their entirety in volume nine of the series (pp. x-xi), to be published around 2010. This seems a neat solution, ultimately providing the user with the testimonia inherent in these abridgements without burdening the pages of the critical edition by constant and repetitive mention.

There are no ‘notes’ as such in the volumes dedicated to the text and translation. Such notes as will be provided on geographical, historical and archaeological points will be found in the volumes dedicated to the commentary, but we are warned that they will be briefer than the textual notes and will largely refer to discussions elsewhere in the secondary literature (p. xxi, see also Radt2 310). However, there is one way in which information which would traditionally be incorporated into the notes is, in this edition, incorporated into the text. The many passages of Strabo that are considered as ‘fragments’ of earlier writers are marked by the addition of the name of the editor of the collection of fragments in which they appear and by the relevant fragment number. This information is provided in brackets in the text itself (mirrored in the translation) at points where Strabo cites an earlier writer. The reader will not, therefore, have to wait for the four volumes of commentary for this information. Although the fragment editions used are standard, some readers may not be familiar with them. Full details will presumably be found in the forthcoming bibliography.

In this volume, the text and translation is preceded by admirably concise and to-the-point ‘Prolegomena’ (pp. vi-xxi) outlining the editor’s methodology and his rationale for the various decisions an editor must make, some aspects of which I have highlighted in the foregoing discussion. Radt purposely avoids giving the ‘potted life’ of Strabo, that traditionally appears in editorial introductions. Radt makes the point that the only evidence for Strabo’s life comes from the text of the Geography itself. Hence, he refers the reader to the entries under ‘Strabon’ in the index (which will occupy volume ten, the final volume of the series, to be published around 2011). Readers who cannot wait that long should know that Radt has provided a short and up-to-date account of Strabo’s life and work for Der Neue Pauly s.v. ‘Strabon’ (in the eleventh volume, published in 2001).

A final verdict on the critical edition as a whole must, of course, depend on the publication of the next three volumes of text and translation. Moreover, the four volumes of text and translation will be only part of the overall series which, as will be apparent from the foregoing discussion, will also include four volumes of commentary (largely textual), a volume containing the text of the Epitome and the Chrestomathy and, finally, a volume of indices. The process of publication of the entire ten volumes will span the next ten years. What is under review here is, therefore, only the tip of the iceberg. However, it is enough to predict that the series as a whole is destined for widespread usage among all the myriad types who use Strabo’s text either as an adjunct to their studies or as the main focus of their research. The critical apparatus and forthcoming commentary should satisfy scholars interested in the soundness of the text; while the clear lay-out of both text and translation should benefit incidental users. Both types of reader might find that the forthcoming commentary lacks comprehensive historical background, a criticism which Radt himself anticipates (p. xxi). This may leave a hole still to be plugged in Strabonian studies.


1. Gustav Kramer (1844-52), followed by Augustus Meineke (1852-3), who listed variations from Kramer’s text rather than giving a complete critical apparatus himself.

2. Radt provides an account of the history of these editions and a critique of their methods in ‘Eine neue Strabonsausgabe’, Mnemosyne 44 (1991) 305-26.

3. S. Radt and J. W. Drijvers, ‘Die Groninger Neuedition von Strabons Geographika, vorgestellt anhand des Abschnittes über Troia’, Studia Troica 3 (1993) 201-31.