Europe, Asia, and Africa are the three continents into which, by ancient tradition, the world was divided. A clear and simple description is provided by the Roman writer Pliny in his Natural History:
The whole circuit of the earth is divided into three parts, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The starting point is in the West, at the Straits of Gibraltar, where the Atlantic Ocean bursts in and spreads out into the inland sea. On the right as you enter from the ocean is Africa, and on the left Europe, with Asia between them; the boundaries are the river Don and the river Nile.
This description clearly comes from a society whose world was defined by the Mediterranean, its shores, and its hinterland. It derives, like most Roman science and philosophy, from Greek writings, many of which are still extant.1 Indeed, all the ancient texts in which the three names of Europe, Asia, and Africa occur are, without exception, Latin or Greek—that is to say, European. In the by-now considerable body of writings that have come down to us from the ancient civilizations of Asia and Africa, there is not so far a single occurrence of these names.
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