Pytheas & the Problem of Phoenician Tin

From Massalia to Alexandria

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From Massalia to Alexandria

Pytheas' statements about his voyage flew in the face of the Greek philosophy and geographic theory of the time and after his death he became thoroughly discredited. Yet we know today that Pytheas was remarkably accurate in his estimations of the circumference of Britain and it is very likely that he made the longest voyage on record in the ancient world. One of the first scholars to give Pytheas credibility was Eratosthenes, who became the chief librarian at the great library at Alexandria in about 255 BC and is sometimes referred to as the "librarian who measured the earth" in recognition of his achievement of being the first human to correctly measure the circumference of the world19. Eratosthenes treated Pytheas’ On the Ocean as a serious work and utilized some of Pytheas’ observations in his own studies20.

Libraries have a natural synergy with the Open Source movement. Library collections, library staff, and even the physical structures themselves are usually widely available to a community of users on a non-profit, publicly funded basis21. Like Eratosthenes, we have the opportunity to boldly recognize and support a movement that is turning a lot of conventional wisdom about how systems should be built on its head. The start of the journey can be as simple as evaluating the use of Open Source solutions in your library. Who knows? It could change your perception of the world.

1 oss4lib is at <>

2 See < >. I thank Kevin S. Clarke ( for this reference.

3 Information on OSDLS and related projects be found at the c

4 I develop this argument a little more strongly in an article for InsideOLITA, see .

6 An entertaining account of Pytheas’ preparations and journey can be found in Frye, Harriet, and Frye, John, North to Thule. Chapel Hill, NC : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1985.

7 Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

8 JDBC information is available at

The EJB spec is available at

9 Castor documentation and source can be found at

11 A good starting point for Web Services and SOAP can be found at

12 LiveConnect is described at

13 This W3C activity is described at

15 See .

16 See the crosswalk at

17 The NACO rules can be found at

18 The W3C recommendation for RDF is at

19 There is a wonderful children’s book on this achievement by Kathryn Lasky. See Lasky, Kathryn, The Librarian who Measured the Earth. Little, Brown and Company. 1994.

20 See Hawkes, C.F.C. “Pytheas: Europe and the Greek Explorers”, The Eight J. L. Myres Memorial Lecture. May, 1975.

21 Eric Lease Morgan ( has explored the strong relationship between libraries and Open Source in a fascinating essay that is available in the Web4Lib archive. See .

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