Dionysius, Periegetes

, was an ancient poet and geographer, concerning whom we have no certain information but what we derive from the elder Pliny. Pliny, speaking of the Persian Alexandria, afterwards called Antioch, and at last Charrax, could not miss the opportunity of paying his respects to a person who had so much obliged him, and whom he professes to follow above all men in the geographical part of his work. He tells us, that *' Dionysius was a native of this Alexandria, and that he had the honour to be sent by Augustus to survey the eastern part of the world, and to make reports and observations about its state and condition, for the use of the emperor’s eldest son, who was at that time preparing an expedition into Armenia, Parthia, and Arabia.“This passage, though seemingly explicit enough, has not been thought sufficient by the critics to determine the time when Dionysius lived, whether under the first Augustus Caesar, or under some of the later emperors, who assumed his name: Vossius and others are of opinion, that the former is the emperor meant by Pliny; but Scaliger and Salmasius think he lived under Severus, or Marcus | Aurelias, about A. D. 130 or 150. Dionysius wrote a great number of pieces, enumerated by Suidas and his commentator Eustathius: but his” Periegesis," or survey of the world, is the only one we have remaining; and it would be superfluous to say, that this is one of the most exact systems of ancient geography, when it has been already observed, that Pliny himself proposed it for his pattern. It is written in Greek hexameters; but some think that Dionysius is no more to be reckoned a poet, than any of those authors who have included precepts in numbers, for the sake of assisting the memory. Yet, although his book is more valuable for matter than manner, it has been thought that he had a genius capable of more sublime undertakings, and that he constantly made the Muses the companions, though not the guides, of his travels. As proofs of this, we are referred to his descriptions of the island of Lucca, inhabited by departed heroes; of the monstrous and terrible whales in Taprobana; of the poor Scythians that dwelt by the Meotic lake; to the account of himself, when he comes to describe the Caspian sea, and of the swans and bacchanals on the banks of Cayster, which shew him to have possessed no small share of poetic spirit.

The “Periegesis” has been published several times with and without the commentaries of Eustathius; but the neatest edition is that printed by Thwaites, at Oxford in 1697; the best and most useful that enlarged and improved with notes and illustrations by Hill, Lond. 1688 and 1708. Dr. Wells’s “Dionysii Geographia emendata,1707, 8vo, has been often reprinted, and is held in estimation; Dr. John Free translated it in his “Tyrocinium Geographicum Londinense.1


Vossius de Hist. Græc. Dodwell’s Dissert de Dionysio, in vol. IV. Geog. Minor. Hudsoni. Fabr. Bibl. Græc. —Saxii Onomast.