Extract from 'The Histories' of Herodotus
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Extract from 'The Histories' of Herodotus

Herodotus (approx 490 BC - 420 BC) was referred to by Cicero as 'The Father of History'. The main purpose of The Histories is to describe the wars between Greece and Persia, but it also provides a great deal of information about early civilisation. The extract here describes the early exploration of the coast of Africa.

'As for Libya (Africa), we know that it is washed on all sides by the sea except where it joins Asia, as was first demonstrated , so far as our knowledge goes, by the Egyptian king Neco, who, after calling off the construction of a canal between the Nile and the Arabian Gulf, sent out a fleet manned by a Phoenician crew with orders to sail round and return to Egypt and the Mediterranean by way of the Pillars of Heracles (Straits of Gibraltar). The Phoenicians sailed from the red sea into the southern ocean, and every autumn put in where they were on the Libyan coast, sowed a patch of ground, and waited for next year's harvest. Then, having got in their grain, they put to sea again, and after two full years rounded the Pillars of Heracles in the course of the third, and returned to Egypt. These men made a statement which I do not myself believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the Southern end of Libya, they had the sun on their right, to northward of them'

Translation by Aubrey de Selincourt, first published 1954, Penguin Classics.

Although the authenticity of this narrative has been doubted, it is supported by the observation, surprising at the time, that when in the southern hemisphere the sun appears to the north.

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Last modified: 13 December 2010