This beautiful edition of Strabo’s ‘kolossourgia’, or colossal work, published with commentary by Isaac Casaubon, has been acquired for the Library’s collections.
Titled Strabonis rerum geographicarum libri IIXV [with] Isaaci Casauboni commentaries et castigations (The 17 books about geographical matters by Strabo, with commentary and notes by Isaac Casaubon), this book was published in 1587, and is one of the earliest printed editions of Strabo’s work.
Strabo (64/63 BC – c. AD 24) was a Greek philosopher, geographer and historian who travelled extensively throughout his life. This book, the earliest known surviving compendium of geographic information, is mostly based on classical Greek sources, but it also contains many anecdotes of Strabo’s from his travels. It is a sprawling work, covering a variety of subjects including the history of geography, linguistics, religion and biography. Strabo’s background as a historian and personal interest in particular topics is evident in this book – there is a focus on geology, fishing, wine growing and sculpture.
Strabo appears to have written this book for the educated general public of the Roman Empire, stating that readers should have basic knowledge of mathematics and be familiar with a globe. The work is therefore an important insight into the geographical knowledge available to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Casaubon commissioned Rumold Mercator, the son of Gerard Mercator, to create a double hemisphere world map for the book . Included in the map is the unknown terra Australis, depicted as a large continent covering the southern hemisphere. New Guinea is shown as an island, with a caption noting that it may be part of a continent. You can view a digitised copy of this map here: Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio.
This is not the very first printed edition, but it is considered the first complete and accurate printed edition, as previous versions were based on imperfect texts and inaccurate translations. In publishing Strabo’s work, Casaubon had the advantage of access to more faithful reproductions of the text through his father in law, the publisher Henri Estienne. It is also the first printed edition to include commentary on the text. Isaac Casaubon’s work was so well regarded that it remained the basis of subsequent editions for three centuries.
This book is held in the Mitchell Library at MRB/Q111.