Saturday 31 August 2013

Strabo – Where Did Terry Brooke’s Dragon of Landover Get His Name?

A statue of Strabo the geographer stands
in Amaseia. This looks like a place where
you might meet a dragon. Image by Erturac.
CC BY-SA 3.0.

Is Strabo, Terry Brook’s dragon of Landover, named after the Greek historian and geographer Strabo of Amaseia? Other main characters in the Landover books aren’t named after ancient scholars so there’s no compelling reason to assume that he is. On the other hand, there is a long tradition of dragons in Greek mythology. Brooks’ Strabo is very very old, and Strabo of Amaseia lived about 2000 years ago, so in that sense, the name fits.

Strabo, the Geographer of Landover

Does Strabo of Landover have anything in common with Strabo of Amaseia other than being ancient? The dragon could, indeed, be considered a bit of a geographer. Capable of moving about quickly and searching the whole of Landover from the air, he is also uniquely capable of moving between worlds through the fairy mists. He probably knows more geography than any other inhabitant of Landover.

Strabo of Amaseia, likewise, was aware of lands outside the boundaries of his native Pontus (in present-day Turkey), and his work Geographia is a vital ancient reference of the geographical knowledge of his day. Delightfully, the Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford, 1996) relates that he understood “the lack of profit to be had from lands on the fringes of the inhabited world.” Here, man and dragon would agree: Strabo the dragon greatly resents being forced to hunt on the fringes of Landover instead of taking his pick of the livestock that graze the Greensward.


Strabo Means Cross-eyed 

Interestingly, the name Strabo was used by the Romans to describe people who were cross-eyed, or whose eyes didn’t otherwise coordinate with each other (strabismus). I don’t think Brooks’ Strabo has this problem (one can’t help wondering whether a cross-eyed dragon would be more comic or terrifying).

The term strabo, however, also gave rise to the Latin phrase inter caecos regnat strabo. The phrase is roughly translated as “the person with poor vision has power among the blind.” Strabo the dragon may have his weaknesses, but he is the last dragon standing.

Pompeius Strabo, a Roman Traitor

There was another Strabo who was, without question, more like a dragon than Strabo the geographer, and that was the Roman Pompeius Strabo, father of Pompey, who lived a little earlier. This Strabo seems to have turned on everyone, including his own commanders and relatives, and didn’t hesitate to play both sides of a conflict for his own gain – a strategy any treacherous dragon would admire. In a sense, he was more treacherous than Strabo of Landover, because the dragon actually has a code of honor and always keeps his promises.

Pompeius Strabo had power but he was not well liked. “His death,” according to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, “was thought fit punishment and his body was dragged through the streets.” No one in Landover, of course, expects to like Strabo: after all, he’s a dragon with no loyalty to anyone. He may not have been named after either Strabo of Amaseia or Pompeius Strabo, but in many ways, he lives up to the name.

The fire springs, Strabo's home in Landover, seems like the magic kingdom's
version of Hell. Landover has an even worse Hell however: Abaddon and its
demons. Image by Sébastien Morin: Pîton de la Fournaise, Reunion Island
(France). CC BY-SA 3.0. 


NNDB: Tracking the Entire World. “Strabo.” Accessed Aug 30, 2013. 

Hornblower, S., and Spawforth, A. Eds. 1996. Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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