'Pech für die Tatsachen': Strabo, India and the á¼°διÏŽτηςStrabo's survey of India, contained within book 15 of his Geographika, does not sit easily with broad analytical sweeps of the work. If the Geographika can be seen normally to focus on either events contemporaneous to the Augustan period, or else to concentrate on formative and foundational periods for a given region (Clarke 1999a:305), then the unreal time of India fits poorly into this framework. In his account, Strabo, normally so sober and reasoned, can be seen to lose his way a little. This paper attempts to broach this difficulty primarily through examination of his opening words to the book and what is meant by the usage of á¼°διÏŽτης therein. Though he discredits and attempts to weigh up the accounts of earlier historians of the region, by and large, he reports repeatedly and at length fantastic tales of dyed beards, poisoned trousers used for the killing of monkeys and the peoples that live there. Gone is his reliance on autopsy – most evident in his Italy of books 5 and 6 –and even his trust of reliable source material takes a hit.
And yet it need not have been so. The book opens with a discussion of the evidence available to Strabo. In an almost offhand manner, Strabo dismisses the reports of those who have sailed to India and who continue to be in contact with the region (οá¼± νá¿¦ν πλÎοντες) as á¼°διá¿¶ται καá½¶ οá½δá½²ν πρá½¸ς á¼±στορÎ¯αν τá¿¶ν τÏŒπων χρÎ®σιμοι: idiÅtai of no use to the historical inquiry of the place. In doing so Strabo opens up a perplexing divide between the groups who have familiarity with the region: the idiÅtai whose accounts are not to be trusted and are not reported, and the historians whose accounts are likewise not to be trusted but are reported.
The decision to create this unreal time of unreal stories, then, clearly has a close connection with Strabo's own relationship with his source material. The first few minutes will be used to sketch Strabo's general use of sources within the Geographika and his general purpose as outlined in his preface(s) as a counterweight to understand his comment regarding the idiÅtai.
Moreover, if the purpose of the work, as stated in Strabo's preface, is one of utility and practical philosophy, then we may reasonably question and examine the unusual tone of the Indian description. The concentration of the Mediterranean oikoumenÄ“ is thrown aside, and with it the concerns of his intended readership, and the image of "the Roman empire as stage of decisive historical events" (Engels 2010:75) is quietly forgotten. This secondary focus, of the work's intended utility, will be briefly surveyed.
Thirdly, though I cannot hope to provide a full and thorough reanalysis of book 15, this paper will hope to point towards such a goal, and attempt to move the debate on from broad and statements about the extent of Roman power (e.g. Clarke 1999:327a). I am guided, by the issue of the idiÅtai as precursed in my introductory remarks. Parker (2008) acts as my tracer. I will detail and analyse the various and distinct uses and roles of á¼°διÏŽτης within the Geographika. A threefold usage will be identified and classified, operating within a broad spectrum between 'non-specialist' at one end (e.g. 1.2.8), to a specific marker of non-ruling status at the other (e.g. 7.1.3). It is this topic which is the primary focus of this talk. In following its usage we begin to see, through the relationship between source, author and intended audience, the contradictions upon which Strabo operates, and which are most apparent in his description of India. We shall see that the recourse to source material dating from the campaign of Alexander is a deliberate ideological choice. It is through this, and the emblematic class and status-relationship between author and audience the un-real, un-place of India is created.
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