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Strabo's Cultural Geography: The Making of a Kolossourgia (review)
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Reviewed by
Daniela Dueck, Hugh Lindsay, and Sarah Pothecary (eds.). Strabo's Cultural Geography: The Making of a Kolossourgia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xvi, 286. $85.00. ISBN 978-0-521-85306-4.

This volume is the first-ever anthology of articles on Strabo published in English and thus marks yet another landmark in the revival of interest in the long-obscure author of the Geographica. The papers included derive for the most part from a 2001 conference held at Bar-Ilan University, but two were solicited from scholars not involved in the conference. Given that the editors have assembled a wide-ranging array of contributors from around the globe, it is surprising that some of the leading names in recent Strabo scholarship, such as Katherine Clark and Stefan Radt, are not included here. Indeed several of those whose work does appear here have had only a recent [End Page 107] or tangential connection to the field, to judge by the works cited under their names in the bibliography, and the lack of depth in their analyses makes this an uneven though often enlightening collection.

The title of the volume does not well represent its contents: Strabo called his Geographica a kolossourgia as a way of characterizing its breadth of scope and monumentality, but most of these papers deal with small or localized elements rather than with the work as a whole. Perhaps the most far-reaching is Sarah Pothecary's opening essay on the meaning of kolossourgia itself and what this choice of terminology says about Strabo's perspective on Greek culture in an increasingly Roman world. Similarly broad in their approaches are Christina Roseman's chapter on Strabo's relationship to contemporary philosophic and scientific movements; Denise McCoskey's, on Strabo's portrayals of women; Daniela Dueck's paper on Strabo's use of poetry; and Eran Almagor's discussion of the category "barbarian" in the Geographies. These last two papers, however, do not do justice to the topics they address, and both offer only weak conclusions, stating only that Strabo writes or thinks differently at different points in his work. When Almagor, for example, claims to have produced an "outline of the diversity in the attitudes of Strabo towards the 'others'. . . [that] would hopefully shed some further light on the varied nature of the Geography," we feel we are more at the outset of an analysis than at its endpoint. Dueck's concluding paragraph shows the same lack of point: "Strabo had several reasons to include poetic citations in his Geography. His particular choice of poets was determined by several factors. . . ." Partly this problem of inconclusiveness results from the immensity of Strabo's text; compassing its many diverse stratagems and methods with a single thesis is a formidable task, yet that is what we hope for from contributors to a volume of this kind.

The majority of the papers collected here attempt more limited goals, by examining only a single book of the Geographies or a very circumscribed theme, though even in these cases conclusions are often unusually tentative. Nikos Litinas, in a surprisingly short paper, has the ingenious idea of tracing a single story retold by Strabo (that of the courtesan Rhodopis) back to its sources in an effort to understand the geographer's methodology, but quickly reaches a point at which his efforts are stymied. Yuval Shahar, by contrast, conducts an elaborate comparison of Strabo's text with the writings of Josephus, in order to demonstrate that "Josephus . . . actually knew the Geography . . . as early as the 70's C.E., when he was writing his Jewish War" (248f.), but succeeds in illuminating Josephus far more fully than Strabo. Other authors, including David Braund, Silvia Panichi, and the volume's co-editors Sarah Pothecary and Hugh Lindsay, deal separately with various regions of the oikoumene as represented by Strabo, with varying degrees of success. One of the most interesting papers in the volume is Johannes Engels' discussion of the political and intellectual elite of the eastern empire who formed Strabo's principal intended audience, and whom Strabo refers to repreatedly as ἄνδρεϛ ἔνδοξοι; this carefully researched and beautifully articulated discussion taught me much about...