Besides its interest as a record of war and adventure, this history gives the successive stages by which modern men have been made what they are. The longest known countries and peoples have, on the whole, had the deepest influence in the forming of the civilised character. Nor is the practical utility of this study less important. The way in which the world has been discovered determines now-a-days the world’s history. The great problems of the twentieth century will have immediate relation to the discoveries of America, of Africa, and of Australia. In all these problems, Englishmen will have most to say and to do, and the history of geographical discovery is, therefore, of immediate and immense interest to Englishmen.
[Authorities: Cooley, History of Maritime and Inland Discoveries, 3 vols., 1831; Vivien de Saint Martin, Histoire de la Geographie, 1873.]
THE WORLD AS KNOWN TO THE ANCIENTS
Before telling how the ancients got to know that part of the world with which they finally became acquainted when the Roman Empire was at its greatest extent, it is as well to get some idea of the successive stages of their knowledge, leaving for the next chapter the story of how that knowledge was obtained. As in most branches of organised knowledge, it is to the Greeks that we owe our acquaintance with ancient views of this subject. In the early stages they possibly learned something from the Phoenicians, who were the great traders and sailors of antiquity, and who coasted along the Mediterranean, ventured through the Straits of Gibraltar, and traded with the British Isles, which they visited for the tin found in Cornwall. It is even said that one of their admirals, at the command of Necho, king of Egypt, circumnavigated Africa, for Herodotus reports that on the homeward voyage the sun set in the sea on the right hand. But the Phoenicians kept their geographical knowledge to themselves as a trade secret, and the Greeks learned but little from them.
The first glimpse that we have of the notions which the Greeks possessed of the shape and the inhabitants of the earth is afforded by the poems passing under the name of HOMER. These poems show an intimate knowledge of Northern Greece and of the western coasts of Asia Minor, some acquaintance with Egypt, Cyprus, and Sicily; but all the rest, even of the Eastern Mediterranean, is only vaguely conceived by their author. Where he does not know he imagines, and some of his imaginings have had a most important influence upon the progress of geographical knowledge. Thus he conceives of the world as being a sort of flat shield, with an extremely wide river surrounding it, known as Ocean. The centre of this shield was at Delphi, which was regarded as the “navel” of the inhabited world. According to Hesiod, who is but little later than Homer, up in the far north were placed a people known as the Hyperboreani, or those who dwelt at the back of the north wind; whilst a corresponding place in the south was taken by the Abyssinians. All these four conceptions had an important influence upon the views that men had of the world up to times comparatively recent. Homer also mentioned the pigmies as living in Africa. These were regarded as fabulous, till they were re-discovered by Dr. Schweinfurth and Mr. Stanley in our own time.