University of Sydney Highlights Ancient Greek Travel Guides

SYDNEY – The University of Sydney in Australia highlighted ancient Greek travel guides in an article dated July 15 which featured alumnus Daniel Hanigan.

As the article noted, “it was the Greeks who first began taking maps seriously as factual documents (some earlier cartographers depicted religious ideas as actual places), and “the Greeks (and later, the Romans) also had another way of guiding people through the world, called a periplous, which translates as ‘sailing around.’”

A periplous was “a chronological document, like an itinerary, indicating landmarks to guide your journey,” the University of Sydney News reported, adding that “many of them talk of places we might still visit today, but also of places and civilizations that now exist only on those pages.”

Daniel Hanigan studies periplography, according to the News and noted that “learning Greek was the most remarkable experience of my life. It’s very technical and a new way of thinking, but parts of the language are lost, so there’s this fantastic, almost detective work in piecing it all together. The payoff is that you get to read some of the most remarkable poetry and literature ever written.”

Hanigan was “raised on a dairy farm in northern New South Wales, and later in the western suburbs of Sydney, neither parent had academic leanings and Hanigan himself admits he wasn’t a dedicated student,” the article noted, adding that he was nevertheless drawn to classics.

He told the News, “I was pretty unfocussed, but I was good at ancient history, so while I studied mathematics during my first year at uni, I had electives in ancient history, archaeology, and anthropology – all of which I loved.”

Hanigan eventually won the University Medal in 2016, and now is working on his PhD in classics at Cambridge University where “he is grappling with the question of whether the many periploi written over 800 years were specifically created as travel guides,” the News reported, adding that “some academics are unwilling to bring them together under one classification because their styles vary so markedly, but Hanigan sees that as an inevitable product of who wrote them.”

“There’s the periplous of Arian, an administrative general for the Roman emperor, Hadrian,” Hanigan told the News. “His periplous was sort of a military report. The earliest one was Hanno’s Periplous of the African Coast. Hanno might have been a Carthaginian King who went to colonies in Africa. At one point, his periplous seems to describe sailing past an erupting volcano.”

“… Large torrents of fire emptied into the sea, and the land was inaccessible because of the heat. Quickly and in fear, we sailed away from that place. Sailing on for four days, we saw the coast by night full of flames. In the middle was a big flame, taller than the others … By day, this turned out to be a very high mountain, which was called Chariot of the Gods,” from Periplous of the African Coast (4th century BCE) by Hanno the Navigator, as quoted in the article.

“Our best guess here is that Hanno is referring to Mount Cameroon, largely because it is known locally as Seat of the Gods, so, Chariot of the Gods, is likely an adaptation of that local name,” Hanigan told the News.

There was some controversy in ancient times about what should and should not be included in a periplous, according to the article, which cited as an example, “Markianos of Heraklea championed the removal of anything other than pure navigational information,” and noted that for Hanigan though, the insights and perceptions beyond navigation are where the real value is.”

He told the News, “this is the Greeks coming into contact with cultures that are fundamentally not like their own. As our world is changed by forces like migration and tourism, that’s one of the challenges of today.”


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