Thursday, November 26, 2009


Ancient Protests Against Deforestation

Russell Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 377:
The losses of forest to flood, fire, and agriculture during our period were serious, but barely significant compared with the cutting-down of trees to satisfy the demand for wood, which increased with the growth of population and the rising standards of public and private building. Although Plato describes the permanent damage to the environment that can be done by deforestation, there is very little evidence elsewhere in Greek or Latin literature of consciences disturbed by an excessive exploitation of forests. The only complaint known to me is a mild protest in the late Roman Empire against overcutting in the Apennine forests (p. 255).
Id. p. 255:
There is also a hint in an obsequious poem by Sidonius in honor of Majorian, who was building a fleet with timber from both faces of the Apennines in the middle of the fifth century, that there had for a long time been too much timber taken from them.
The passage from Plato is Critias 111 a-d (on the deforestation of Attica, tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
[a] Consequently, since many great convulsions took place during the 9000 years—for such was the number of years [b] from that time to this—the soil which has kept breaking away from the high lands during these ages and these disasters, forms no pile of sediment worth mentioning, as in other regions, but keeps sliding away ceaselessly and disappearing in the deep. And, just as happens in small islands, what now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left. But at that epoch the country was unimpaired, and for its mountains it had [c] high arable hills, and in place of the "moorlands," as they are now called, it contained plains full of rich soil; and it had much forestland in its mountains, of which there are visible signs even to this day; for there are some mountains which now have nothing but food for bees, but they had trees no very long time ago, and the rafters from those felled there to roof the largest buildings are still sound. And besides, there were many lofty trees of cultivated species; and it produced boundless pasturage for flocks. Moreover, it was enriched by the yearly rains from Zeus, [d] which were not lost to it, as now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea; but the soil; it had was deep, and therein it received the water, storing it up in the retentive loamy soil and by drawing off into the hollows from the heights the water that was there absorbed, it provided all the various districts with abundant supplies of springwaters and streams, whereof the shrines which still remain even now, at the spots where the fountains formerly existed, are signs which testify that our present description of the land is true.

[a] πολλῶν οὖν γεγονότων καὶ μεγάλων κατακλυσμῶν ἐν τοῖς ἐνακισχιλίοις ἔτεσι ‑ τοσαῦτα γὰρ πρὸς τὸν νῦν ἀπ' ἐκείνου τοῦ χρόνου [b] γέγονεν ἔτη ‑ τὸ τῆς γῆς ἐν τούτοις τοῖς χρόνοις καὶ πάθεσιν ἐκ τῶν ὑψηλῶν ἀπορρέον οὔτε χῶμα, ὡς ἐν ἄλλοις τόποις, προχοῖ λόγου ἄξιον ἀεί τε κύκλῳ περιρρέον εἰς βάθος ἀφανίζεται· λέλειπται δή, καθάπερ ἐν ταῖς σμικραῖς νήσοις, πρὸς τὰ τότε τὰ νῦν οἷον νοσήσαντος σώματος ὀστᾶ, περιερρυηκυίας τῆς γῆς ὅση πίειρα καὶ μαλακή, τοῦ λεπτοῦ σώματος τῆς χώρας μόνου λειφθέντος. τότε δὲ ἀκέραιος [c] οὖσα τά τε ὄρη γηλόφους ὑψηλοὺς εἶχε, καὶ τὰ φελλέως νῦν ὀνομασθέντα πεδία πλήρη γῆς πιείρας ἐκέκτητο, καὶ πολλὴν ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν ὕλην εἶχεν, ἧς καὶ νῦν ἔτι φανερὰ τεκμήρια· τῶν γὰρ ὀρῶν ἔστιν ἃ νῦν μὲν ἔχει μελίτταις μόναις τροφήν, χρόνος δ' οὐ πάμπολυς ὅτε δένδρων αὐτόθεν εἰς οἰκοδομήσεις τὰς μεγίστας ἐρεψίμων τμηθέντων στεγάσματ' ἐστὶν ἔτι σᾶ. πολλὰ δ' ἦν ἄλλ' ἥμερα ὑψηλὰ δένδρα, νομὴν δὲ βοσκήμασιν ἀμήχανον ἔφερεν. καὶ δὴ καὶ [d] τὸ κατ' ἐνιαυτὸν ὕδωρ ἐκαρποῦτ' ἐκ Διός, οὐχ ὡς νῦν ἀπολλῦσα ῥέον ἀπὸ ψιλῆς τῆς γῆς εἰς θάλατταν, ἀλλὰ πολλὴν ἔχουσα καὶ εἰς αὐτὴν καταδεχομένη, τῇ κεραμίδι στεγούσῃ γῇ διαταμιευομένη, τὸ καταποθὲν ἐκ τῶν ὑψηλῶν ὕδωρ εἰς τὰ κοῖλα ἀφιεῖσα κατὰ πάντας τοὺς τόπους παρείχετο ἄφθονα κρηνῶν καὶ ποταμῶν νάματα, ὧν καὶ νῦν ἔτι ἐπὶ ταῖς πηγαῖς πρότερον οὔσαις ἱερὰ λελειμμένα ἐστὶν σημεῖα ὅτι περὶ αὐτῆς ἀληθῆ λέγεται τὰ νῦν.
The passage from Sidonius is 5.441-445 (tr. W.B. Anderson):
Meanwhile thou buildest on the two shores fleets for the Upper and the Lower Sea. Down into the water falls every forest of the Apennines; for many a long day there is hewing on both slopes of those mountains so rich in ships' timber, mountains that send down to the sea as great an abundance of wood as of waters.

interea duplici texis dum litore classem
inferno superoque mari, cadit omnis in aequor
silva tibi nimiumque diu per utrumque recisus,
Appennine, latus, navali qui arbore dives
non minus in pelagus nemorum quam mittis aquarum.
The "mild protest" is obscured in Anderson's translation for many a long day there is hewing on both slopes for the Latin nimiumque diu per utrumque recisus...latus. The adverb nimium ("excessively") could modify either the adverb diu ("for a long time") or the verb recisus sc. es ("you have been cut down," addressing the Apennine mountain range). In other words, either hewing has been going on for too long a time, or too much hewing has been going on for a long time.

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