Of Miletus, the most important of the early Ionian prose‐writers (see logographers). For his date we depend on Herodotus' account of his role in the planning of the Ionian Revolt; his prudent opposition suggests a senior figure.
Besides improving Anaximander's map of the world, which he envisaged as a disc encircled by the river Oceanus, he wrote a pioneering work of systematic geography, ‘Journey round the World’, divided into two books, Europe and Asia (which included Africa). It described the places and peoples to be encountered on a clockwise coastal voyage round the Mediterranean and the Black (Euxine) Sea, starting at the Straits of Gibraltar and finishing on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, with diversions to the islands of the Mediterranean and inland to Scythia, Persia, India, Egypt, and Nubia. It is uncertain how far his information rested on his own observations, as is the extent of Herodotus' debt to his work. We have over 300 fragments.
His mythographic work, Genealogies, occupied at least four books (see genealogy). Our fragments reveal a rationalizing approach to the legends of families claiming a divine origin (including, apparently, his own). He evidently believed that behind the fabulous elaborations of tradition lay historical facts distorted by exaggeration or by literal interpretation of metaphors. His opening proclaims his intellectual independence: ‘Hecataeus of Miletus speaks thus. I write what seems to me to be true; for the Greeks have many tales which, as it appears to me, are absurd.’
Ancient critics regarded his style as clear but much less varied and attractive than that of Herodotus.
Subjects: Classical Studies.