On Reading Ancient Ethnography Generously, Polybius 3. 58

“In earlier times, truly, one might find rather few Greeks who were troubled to make much about the farthest parts of the world due to the impossibility of attempting it. For there were then many dangers at sea and they were hard to count, and there were many more than these on land. But even if someone by necessity or by choice had come to the edge of the inhabited would, he would not have then completed the task. For it was hard to be a witness of many of these things because of the complete barbarism of some places and the desolation of others; it was even more difficult to inquire by speech and learn anything about the places that were seen because of differences in language. And even then, if someone did learn, it was still challenging to use a measured approach in describing what was seen, to avoid  miracles and monsters in preference to the truth for its own sake and to report to us nothing beyond that.

Since, then, it was practically impossible in earlier generations to provide an accurate account of the regions we have mentioned, it is right to praise the writers and wonder at their work for what they did learn and for advancing our knowledge about these things even in those circumstances rather than criticizing what they left out or got wrong.”

ἐν μὲν γὰρ τῷ προγεγονότι χρόνῳ σπανίους ἂν εὕροι τις τῶν ῾Ελλήνων τοὺς ἐπιβεβλημένους πολυπραγμονεῖν τὰ κατὰ τὰς ἐσχατιὰς διὰ τὸ τῆς ἐπιβολῆς ἀδύνατον. πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἦσαν οἱ κατὰ θάλατταν τότε κίνδυνοι καὶ δυσεξαρίθμητοι, πολλαπλάσιοι δὲ τούτων οἱ κατὰ γῆν. ἀλλ’ εἰ καί τις ἢ κατ’ ἀνάγκην ἢ κατὰ προαίρεσιν ἐξίκοιτο πρὸς τὰ πέρατα τῆς οἰκουμένης, οὐδ’ οὕτως ἤνυεν τὸ προκείμενον. δυσχερὲς μὲν γὰρ ἐπὶ πλέον τινῶν αὐτόπτην γενέσθαι

διὰ τὸ τοὺς μὲν ἐκβεβαρβαρῶσθαι τοὺς δ’ ἐρήμους εἶναι τόπους, ἔτι δὲ χαλεπώτερον τὸ περὶ τῶν ὁραθέντων διὰ λόγου τι γνῶναι καὶ μαθεῖν διὰ τὸ τῆς

φωνῆς ἐξηλλαγμένον. ἐὰν δὲ καὶ γνῷ τις, ἔτι τῶν πρὸ τοῦ δυσχερέστερον τὸ τῶν ἑωρακότων τινὰ μετρίῳ χρῆσθαι τρόπῳ καὶ καταφρονήσαντα τῆς παραδοξολογίας καὶ τερατείας ἑαυτοῦ χάριν προτιμῆσαι τὴν ἀλήθειαν καὶ μηδὲν τῶν πάρεξ ὄντων ἡμῖν ἀναγγεῖλαι. διόπερ οὐ δυσχεροῦς ἀλλ’ ἀδυνάτου σχεδὸν ὑπαρχούσης κατά γε τοὺς προγεγονότας καιροὺς τῆς ἀληθοῦς ἱστορίας ὑπὲρ τῶν προειρημένων, οὐκ εἴ τι παρέλιπον οἱ συγγραφεῖς ἢ διήμαρτον, ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτοῖς ἄξιον, ἀλλ’ ἐφ’ ὅσον ἔγνωσάν τι ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτοῖς ἄξιον, καὶ προεβίβασαν τὴν ἐμπειρίαν τὴν περὶ τούτων ἐν τοιούτοις καιροῖς, ἐπαινεῖν καὶ θαυμάζειν αὐτοὺς δίκαιον.

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