Pomponius Mela Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Nothing is known of Pomponius Mela (pahm-POH-nee-uhs MEE-luh) except what he says and what may be inferred from his only surviving book, De chorographia (also known as De situ terrarum orbis, 43 or 44 c.e.; The Cosmographer, Concerninge the Situation of the World, 1585). He boasts of his native region and his hometown Tingentera in the Roman province of Baetica, Spain. The location of Tingentera is uncertain. It was near the Pillars of Hercules (Strait of Gibraltar) and may be the Julia Traducta attested on coins. He praises Claudius’s conquest of Britain, promoting the emperor’s imminent triumph. The expectant air suggests that Pomponius was writing at Rome, perhaps to win imperial patronage. Like other Spanish-born Roman writers, Pomponius had migrated to the capital. The book was published between August, 43 c.e. (Claudius’s departure for the front) and February, 44 c.e. (his triumph at Rome). A generation later, Pomponius was named as a source for nine books of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis historia (77 c.e.; Natural History, 1938-1963).

Pomponius treats the coastal region of the known world without regard to the continental interiors. The book is cast as a coasting voyage, beginning and ending on the North African side of the Pillars of Hercules, skirting the Mediterranean coasts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and then the outer coasts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Pomponius was unoriginal. Even his one apparent novelty, the Nile’s underground bed, probably is owed to the same source as the underground beds of the Po, Ister, and Alpheus.