Mapping the World: Greek Initiatives from Homer to Eratosthenes

Chapter Title

Mapping the World: Greek Initiatives from Homer to Eratosthenes


Document Type

Book Chapter


Classical Studies

Publication Date


Book Title

Ancient Perspectives: Maps and Their Place in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome


University of Chicago Press


Richard Talbert



First Page


Last Page



In 423 BCE, when the comedy The Clouds was fi rst produced at Athens, the two most powerful Greek city- states and bitter rivals, Athens and Sparta, had been at war for several years (fi g. 3.1). Much of the literature of that period refl ects the social and political anxieties felt by all Athenian citizens in wartime. In this connection, the author of the Clouds, Aristophanes, ingeniously employs a map as a focal point of the geography of contemporary politics. In the comedy, Strepsiades, an everyman Athenian farmer, argues with his son Pheidippides over his profl igate lifestyle of horseracing and gambling but fails to talk his son into enrolling in college. In fear for his own economic security, Strepsiades decides to attend college himself in order to learn the art of persuasion: he aims to talk himself out of his debts. As he awaits his meeting with the principal, a comically exaggerated Socrates, he tours the grounds of the school, the Phrontisterion, asking his student guide about various astronomical and geographic instruments there. When prompted, the student explains geometry as the science of measuring land and, by way of explanation, points out a map of the Greek world on display. Strepsiades asks to be shown Athens and his neighborhood within it, and the student obliges. However, when Strepsiades asks the student to show him where his friend Cicynna might be, the exasperated student dismisses the question, and instead draws attention to Euboea, a “long island lying off the coast.” Strepsiades then asks where Sparta is. The student obligingly points it out, indicating its spatial relationship to Athens. Strepsiades’s reaction, in alarm at the proximity of the enemy state, is a vehement demand that the student move Sparta further away (Clouds 200– 18).



Mapping the World: Greek Initiatives from Homer to Eratosthenes