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Henry Smith Williams, M.D., LL.D.

Assisted by Edward H. Williams, M.D.
















Should the story that is about to be unfolded be found to lack interest, the writers must stand
convicted of unpardonable lack of art. Nothing but dulness in the telling could mar the story, for
in itself it is the record of the growth of those ideas that have made our race and its civilization
what they are; of ideas instinct with human interest, vital with meaning for our race; fundamental
in their influence on human development; part and parcel of the mechanism of human thought on
the one hand, and of practical civilization on the other. Such a phrase as "fundamental principles"
may seem at first thought a hard saying, but the idea it implies is less repellent than the phrase
itself, for the fundamental principles in question are so closely linked with the present interests of
every one of us that they lie within the grasp of every average man and woman--nay, of every
well-developed boy and girl. These principles are not merely the stepping-stones to culture, the
prerequisites of knowledge--they are, in themselves, an essential part of the knowledge of every
cultivated person.
It is our task, not merely to show what these principles are, but to point out how they have been
discovered by our predecessors. We shall trace the growth of these ideas from their first vague
beginnings. We shall see how vagueness of thought gave way to precision; how a general truth,
once grasped and formulated, was found to be a stepping-stone to other truths. We shall see that
there are no isolated facts, no isolated principles, in nature; that each part of our story is linked
by indissoluble bands with that which goes before, and with that which comes after. For the most
part the discovery of this principle or that in a given sequence is no accident. Galileo and
Keppler must precede Newton. Cuvier and Lyall must come before Darwin;--Which, after all, is
no more than saying that in our Temple of Science, as in any other piece of architecture, the
foundation must precede the superstructure.

We shall best understand our story of the growth of science if we think of each new principle as
a stepping-stone which must fit into its own particular niche; and if we reflect that the entire
structure of modern civilization would be different from what it is, and less perfect than it is, had
not that particular stepping-stone been found and shaped and placed in position. Taken as a
whole, our stepping-stones lead us up and up towards the alluring heights of an acropolis of
knowledge, on which stands the Temple of Modern Science. The story of the building of this
wonderful structure is in itself fascinating and beautiful.

To speak of a prehistoric science may seem like a contradiction of terms. The word prehistoric
seems to imply barbarism, while science, clearly enough, seems the outgrowth of civilization;
but rightly considered, there is no contradiction. For, on the one hand, man had ceased to be a
barbarian long before the beginning of what we call the historical period; and, on the other hand,
science, of a kind, is no less a precursor and a cause of civilization than it is a consequent. To get
this clearly in mind, we must ask ourselves: What, then, is science? The word runs glibly enough
upon the tongue of our every-day speech, but it is not often, perhaps, that they who use it
habitually ask themselves just what it means. Yet the answer is not difficult. A little attention
will show that science, as the word is commonly used, implies these things: first, the gathering of
knowledge through observation; second, the classification of such knowledge, and through this
classification, the elaboration of general ideas or principles. In the familiar definition of Herbert
Spencer, science is organized knowledge.
Now it is patent enough, at first glance, that the veriest savage must have been an observer of the
phenomena of nature. But it may not be so obvious that he must also have been a classifier of his
observations--an organizer of knowledge. Yet the more we consider the case, the more clear it
will become that the two methods are too closely linked together to be dissevered. To observe
outside phenomena is not more inherent in the nature of the mind than to draw inferences from
these phenomena. A deer passing through the forest scents the ground and detects a certain odor.
A sequence of ideas is generated in the mind of the deer. Nothing in the deer's experience can
produce that odor but a wolf; therefore the scientific inference is drawn that wolves have passed
that way. But it is a part of the deer's scientific knowledge, based on previous experience,
individual and racial; that wolves are dangerous beasts, and so, combining direct observation in
the present with the application of a general principle based on past experience, the deer reaches
the very logical conclusion that it may wisely turn about and run in another direction. All this
implies, essentially, a comprehension and use of scientific principles; and, strange as it seems to
speak of a deer as possessing scientific knowledge, yet there is really no absurdity in the
statement. The deer does possess scientific knowledge; knowledge differing in degree only, not
in kind, from the knowledge of a Newton. Nor is the animal, within the range of its intelligence,
less logical, less scientific in the application of that knowledge, than is the man. The animal that
could not make accurate scientific observations of its surroundings, and deduce accurate
scientific conclusions from them, would soon pay the penalty of its lack of logic.
What is true of man's precursors in the animal scale is, of course, true in a wider and fuller sense
of man himself at the very lowest stage of his development. Ages before the time which the
limitations of our knowledge force us to speak of as the dawn of history, man had reached a high
stage of development. As a social being, he had developed all the elements of a primitive
civilization. If, for convenience of classification, we speak of his state as savage, or barbaric, we
use terms which, after all, are relative, and which do not shut off our primitive ancestors from a
tolerably close association with our own ideals. We know that, even in the Stone Age, man had
learned how to domesticate animals and make them useful to him, and that he had also learned to
cultivate the soil. Later on, doubtless by slow and painful stages, he attained those wonderful
elements of knowledge that enabled him to smelt metals and to produce implements of bronze,
and then of iron. Even in the Stone Age he was a mechanic of marvellous skill, as any one of to-
day may satisfy himself by attempting to duplicate such an implement as a chipped arrow-head.
And a barbarian who could fashion an axe or a knife of bronze had certainly gone far in his
knowledge of scientific principles and their practical application. The practical application was,
doubtless, the only thought that our primitive ancestor had in mind; quite probably the question
as to principles that might be involved troubled him not at all. Yet, in spite of himself, he knew
certain rudimentary principles of science, even though he did not formulate them.
Let us inquire what some of these principles are. Such an inquiry will, as it were, clear the
ground for our structure of science. It will show the plane of knowledge on which historical
investigation begins. Incidentally, perhaps, it will reveal to us unsuspected affinities between
ourselves and our remote ancestor. Without attempting anything like a full analysis, we may note
in passing, not merely what primitive man knew, but what he did not know; that at least a vague
notion may be gained of the field for scientific research that lay open for historic man to

It must be understood that the knowledge of primitive man, as we are about to outline it, is
inferential. We cannot trace the development of these principles, much less can we say who
discovered them. Some of them, as already suggested, are man's heritage from non-human
ancestors. Others can only have been grasped by him after he had reached a relatively high stage
of human development. But all the principles here listed must surely have been parts of our
primitive ancestor's knowledge before those earliest days of Egyptian and Babylonian
civilization, the records of which constitute our first introduction to the so-called historical
period. Taken somewhat in the order of their probable discovery, the scientific ideas of primitive
man may be roughly listed as follows:
1. Primitive man must have conceived that the earth is flat and of limitless extent. By this it is
not meant to imply that he had a distinct conception of infinity, but, for that matter, it cannot be
said that any one to-day has a conception of infinity that could be called definite. But, reasoning
from experience and the reports of travellers, there was nothing to suggest to early man the limit
of the earth. He did, indeed, find in his wanderings, that changed climatic conditions barred him
from farther progress; but beyond the farthest reaches of his migrations, the seemingly flat land-
surfaces and water-surfaces stretched away unbroken and, to all appearances, without end. It
would require a reach of the philosophical imagination to conceive a limit to the earth, and while
such imaginings may have been current in the prehistoric period, we can have no proof of them,
and we may well postpone consideration of man's early dreamings as to the shape of the earth
until we enter the historical epoch where we stand on firm ground.
2. Primitive man must, from a very early period, have observed that the sun gives heat and light,
and that the moon and stars seem to give light only and no heat. It required but a slight extension
of this observation to note that the changing phases of the seasons were associated with the
seeming approach and recession of the sun. This observation, however, could not have been
made until man had migrated from the tropical regions, and had reached a stage of mechanical
development enabling him to live in subtropical or temperate zones. Even then it is conceivable
that a long period must have elapsed before a direct causal relation was felt to exist between the
shifting of the sun and the shifting of the seasons; because, as every one knows, the periods of
greatest heat in summer and greatest cold in winter usually come some weeks after the time of
the solstices. Yet, the fact that these extremes of temperature are associated in some way with the
change of the sun's place in the heavens must, in time, have impressed itself upon even a
rudimentary intelligence. It is hardly necessary to add that this is not meant to imply any definite
knowledge of the real meaning of, the seeming oscillations of the sun. We shall see that, even at
a relatively late period, the vaguest notions were still in vogue as to the cause of the sun's
changes of position.

That the sun, moon, and stars move across the heavens must obviously have been among the
earliest scientific observations. It must not be inferred, however, that this observation implied a
necessary conception of the complete revolution of these bodies about the earth. It is unnecessary
to speculate here as to how the primitive intelligence conceived the transfer of the sun from the
western to the eastern horizon, to be effected each night, for we shall have occasion to examine
some historical speculations regarding this phenomenon. We may assume, however, that the idea
of the transfer of the heavenly bodies beneath the earth (whatever the conception as to the form
of that body) must early have presented itself.

It required a relatively high development of the observing faculties, yet a development which
man must have attained ages before the historical period, to note that the moon has a secondary
motion, which leads it to shift its relative position in the heavens, as regards the stars; that the
stars themselves, on the other hand, keep a fixed relation as regards one another, with the notable
exception of two or three of the most brilliant members of the galaxy, the latter being the bodies
which came to be known finally as planets, or wandering stars. The wandering propensities of
such brilliant bodies as Jupiter and Venus cannot well have escaped detection. We may safely
assume, however, that these anomalous motions of the moon and planets found no explanation
that could be called scientific until a relatively late period.
3. Turning from the heavens to the earth, and ignoring such primitive observations as that of the
distinction between land and water, we may note that there was one great scientific law which
must have forced itself upon the attention of primitive man. This is the law of universal
terrestrial gravitation. The word gravitation suggests the name of Newton, and it may excite
surprise to hear a knowledge of gravitation ascribed to men who preceded that philosopher by,
say, twenty-five or fifty thousand years. Yet the slightest consideration of the facts will make it
clear that the great central law that all heavy bodies fall directly towards the earth, cannot have
escaped the attention of the most primitive intelligence. The arboreal habits of our primitive
ancestors gave opportunities for constant observation of the practicalities of this law. And, so
soon as man had developed the mental capacity to formulate ideas, one of the earliest ideas must
have been the conception, however vaguely phrased in words, that all unsupported bodies fall
towards the earth. The same phenomenon being observed to operate on water-surfaces, and no
alteration being observed in its operation in different portions of man's habitat, the most
primitive wanderer must have come to have full faith in the universal action of the observed law
of gravitation. Indeed, it is inconceivable that he can have imagined a place on the earth where
this law does not operate. On the other hand, of course, he never grasped the conception of the
operation of this law beyond the close proximity of the earth. To extend the reach of gravitation
out to the moon and to the stars, including within its compass every particle of matter in the
universe, was the work of Newton, as we shall see in due course. Meantime we shall better
understand that work if we recall that the mere local fact of terrestrial gravitation has been the
familiar knowledge of all generations of men. It may further help to connect us in sympathy with
our primeval ancestor if we recall that in the attempt to explain this fact of terrestrial gravitation
Newton made no advance, and we of to-day are scarcely more enlightened than the man of the
Stone Age. Like the man of the Stone Age, we know that an arrow shot into the sky falls back to
the earth. We can calculate, as he could not do, the arc it will describe and the exact speed of its
fall; but as to why it returns to earth at all, the greatest philosopher of to-day is almost as much in
the dark as was the first primitive bowman that ever made the experiment.
Other physical facts going to make up an elementary science of mechanics, that were
demonstratively known to prehistoric man, were such as these: the rigidity of solids and the
mobility of liquids; the fact that changes of temperature transform solids to liquids and vice
versa--that heat, for example, melts copper and even iron, and that cold congeals water; and the
fact that friction, as illustrated in the rubbing together of two sticks, may produce heat enough to
cause a fire. The rationale of this last experiment did not receive an explanation until about the
beginning of the nineteenth century of our own era. But the experimental fact was so well known
to prehistoric man that he employed this method, as various savage tribes employ it to this day,
for the altogether practical purpose of making a fire; just as he employed his practical knowledge
of the mutability of solids and liquids in smelting ores, in alloying copper with tin to make
bronze, and in casting this alloy in molds to make various implements and weapons. Here, then,
were the germs of an elementary science of physics. Meanwhile such observations as that of the
solution of salt in water may be considered as giving a first lesson in chemistry, but beyond such
altogether rudimentary conceptions chemical knowledge could not have gone--unless, indeed,
the practical observation of the effects of fire be included; nor can this well be overlooked, since
scarcely another single line of practical observation had a more direct influence in promoting the
progress of man towards the heights of civilization.
4. In the field of what we now speak of as biological knowledge, primitive man had obviously
the widest opportunity for practical observation. We can hardly doubt that man attained, at an
early day, to that conception of identity and of difference which Plato places at the head of his
metaphysical system. We shall urge presently that it is precisely such general ideas as these that
were man's earliest inductions from observation, and hence that came to seem the most universal
and "innate" ideas of his mentality. It is quite inconceivable, for example, that even the most
rudimentary intelligence that could be called human could fail to discriminate between living
things and, let us say, the rocks of the earth. The most primitive intelligence, then, must have
made a tacit classification of the natural objects about it into the grand divisions of animate and
inanimate nature. Doubtless the nascent scientist may have imagined life animating many bodies
that we should call inanimate--such as the sun, wandering planets, the winds, and lightning; and,
on the other hand, he may quite likely have relegated such objects as trees to the ranks of the
non-living; but that he recognized a fundamental distinction between, let us say, a wolf and a
granite bowlder we cannot well doubt. A step beyond this--a step, however, that may have
required centuries or millenniums in the taking--must have carried man to a plane of intelligence
from which a primitive Aristotle or Linnaeus was enabled to note differences and resemblances
connoting such groups of things as fishes, birds, and furry beasts. This conception, to be sure, is
an abstraction of a relatively high order. We know that there are savage races to-day whose
language contains no word for such an abstraction as bird or tree. We are bound to believe, then,
that there were long ages of human progress during which the highest man had attained no such
stage of abstraction; but, on the other hand, it is equally little in question that this degree of
mental development had been attained long before the opening of our historical period. The
primeval man, then, whose scientific knowledge we are attempting to predicate, had become,
through his conception of fishes, birds, and hairy animals as separate classes, a scientific
zoologist of relatively high attainments.
In the practical field of medical knowledge, a certain stage of development must have been
reached at a very early day. Even animals pick and choose among the vegetables about them, and
at times seek out certain herbs quite different from their ordinary food, practising a sort of
instinctive therapeutics. The cat's fondness for catnip is a case in point. The most primitive man,
then, must have inherited a racial or instinctive knowledge of the medicinal effects of certain
herbs; in particular he must have had such elementary knowledge of toxicology as would enable
him to avoid eating certain poisonous berries. Perhaps, indeed, we are placing the effect before
the cause to some extent; for, after all, the animal system possesses marvellous powers of
adaption, and there is perhaps hardly any poisonous vegetable which man might not have learned
to eat without deleterious effect, provided the experiment were made gradually. To a certain
extent, then, the observed poisonous effects of numerous plants upon the human system are to be
explained by the fact that our ancestors have avoided this particular vegetable. Certain fruits and
berries might have come to have been a part of man's diet, had they grown in the regions he
inhabited at an early day, which now are poisonous to his system. This thought, however, carries
us too far afield. For practical purposes, it suffices that certain roots, leaves, and fruits possess
principles that are poisonous to the human system, and that unless man had learned in some way
to avoid these, our race must have come to disaster. In point of fact, he did learn to avoid them;
and such evidence implied, as has been said, an elementary knowledge of toxicology.

Coupled with this knowledge of things dangerous to the human system, there must have grown
up, at a very early day, a belief in the remedial character of various vegetables as agents to
combat disease. Here, of course, was a rudimentary therapeutics, a crude principle of an
empirical art of medicine. As just suggested, the lower order of animals have an instinctive
knowledge that enables them to seek out remedial herbs (though we probably exaggerate the
extent of this instinctive knowledge); and if this be true, man must have inherited from his
prehuman ancestors this instinct along with the others. That he extended this knowledge through
observation and practice, and came early to make extensive use of drugs in the treatment of
disease, is placed beyond cavil through the observation of the various existing barbaric tribes,
nearly all of whom practice elaborate systems of therapeutics. We shall have occasion to see that
even within historic times the particular therapeutic measures employed were often crude, and,
as we are accustomed to say, unscientific; but even the crudest of them are really based upon
scientific principles, inasmuch as their application implies the deduction of principles of action
from previous observations. Certain drugs are applied to appease certain symptoms of disease
because in the belief of the medicine-man such drugs have proved beneficial in previous similar
All this, however, implies an appreciation of the fact that man is subject to "natural" diseases,
and that if these diseases are not combated, death may result. But it should be understood that the
earliest man probably had no such conception as this. Throughout all the ages of early
development, what we call "natural" disease and "natural" death meant the onslaught of a
tangible enemy. A study of this question leads us to some very curious inferences. The more we
look into the matter the more the thought forces itself home to us that the idea of natural death, as
we now conceive it, came to primitive man as a relatively late scientific induction. This thought
seems almost startling, so axiomatic has the conception "man is mortal" come to appear. Yet a
study of the ideas of existing savages, combined with our knowledge of the point of view from
which historical peoples regard disease, make it more probable that the primitive conception of
human life did not include the idea of necessary death. We are told that the Australian savage
who falls from a tree and breaks his neck is not regarded as having met a natural death, but as
having been the victim of the magical practices of the "medicine-man" of some neighboring
tribe. Similarly, we shall find that the Egyptian and the Babylonian of the early historical period
conceived illness as being almost invariably the result of the machinations of an enemy. One
need but recall the superstitious observances of the Middle Ages, and the yet more recent belief
in witchcraft, to realize how generally disease has been personified as a malicious agent invoked
by an unfriendly mind. Indeed, the phraseology of our present-day speech is still reminiscent of
this; as when, for example, we speak of an "attack of fever," and the like.
When, following out this idea, we picture to ourselves the conditions under which primitive man
lived, it will be evident at once how relatively infrequent must have been his observation of what
we usually term natural death. His world was a world of strife; he lived by the chase; he saw
animals kill one another; he witnessed the death of his own fellows at the hands of enemies.
Naturally enough, then, when a member of his family was "struck down" by invisible agents, he
ascribed this death also to violence, even though the offensive agent was concealed. Moreover,
having very little idea of the lapse of time--being quite unaccustomed, that is, to reckon events
from any fixed era--primitive man cannot have gained at once a clear conception of age as
applied to his fellows. Until a relatively late stage of development made tribal life possible, it
cannot have been usual for man to have knowledge of his grandparents; as a rule he did not know
his own parents after he had passed the adolescent stage and had been turned out upon the world
to care for himself. If, then, certain of his fellow-beings showed those evidences of infirmity
which we ascribe to age, it did not necessarily follow that he saw any association between such
infirmities and the length of time which those persons had lived. The very fact that some barbaric
nations retain the custom of killing the aged and infirm, in itself suggests the possibility that this
custom arose before a clear conception had been attained that such drags upon the community
would be removed presently in the natural order of things. To a person who had no clear
conception of the lapse of time and no preconception as to the limited period of man's life, the
infirmities of age might very naturally be ascribed to the repeated attacks of those inimical
powers which were understood sooner or later to carry off most members of the race. And
coupled with this thought would go the conception that inasmuch as some people through luck
had escaped the vengeance of all their enemies for long periods, these same individuals might
continue to escape for indefinite periods of the future. There were no written records to tell
primeval man of events of long ago. He lived in the present, and his sweep of ideas scarcely
carried him back beyond the limits of his individual memory. But memory is observed to be
fallacious. It must early have been noted that some people recalled events which other
participants in them had quite forgotten, and it may readily enough have been inferred that those
members of the tribe who spoke of events which others could not recall were merely the ones
who were gifted with the best memories. If these reached a period when their memories became
vague, it did not follow that their recollections had carried them back to the beginnings of their
lives. Indeed, it is contrary to all experience to believe that any man remembers all the things he
has once known, and the observed fallaciousness and evanescence of memory would thus tend to
substantiate rather than to controvert the idea that various members of a tribe had been alive for
an indefinite period.

Without further elaborating the argument, it seems a justifiable inference that the first conception
primitive man would have of his own life would not include the thought of natural death, but
would, conversely, connote the vague conception of endless life. Our own ancestors, a few
generations removed, had not got rid of this conception, as the perpetual quest of the spring of
eternal youth amply testifies. A naturalist of our own day has suggested that perhaps birds never
die except by violence. The thought, then, that man has a term of years beyond which "in the
nature of things," as the saying goes, he may not live, would have dawned but gradually upon the
developing intelligence of successive generations of men; and we cannot feel sure that he would
fully have grasped the conception of a "natural" termination of human life until he had shaken
himself free from the idea that disease is always the result of the magic practice of an enemy.
Our observation of historical man in antiquity makes it somewhat doubtful whether this
conception had been attained before the close of the prehistoric period. If it had, this conception
of the mortality of man was one of the most striking scientific inductions to which prehistoric
man attained. Incidentally, it may be noted that the conception of eternal life for the human body
being a more primitive idea than the conception of natural death, the idea of the immortality of
the spirit would be the most natural of conceptions. The immortal spirit, indeed, would be but a
correlative of the immortal body, and the idea which we shall see prevalent among the Egyptians
that the soul persists only as long as the body is intact--the idea upon which the practice of
mummifying the dead depended--finds a ready explanation. But this phase of the subject carries
us somewhat afield. For our present purpose it suffices to have pointed out that the conception of
man's mortality--a conception which now seems of all others the most natural and "innate"--was
in all probability a relatively late scientific induction of our primitive ancestors.
5. Turning from the consideration of the body to its mental complement, we are forced to admit
that here, also, our primitive man must have made certain elementary observations that underlie
such sciences as psychology, mathematics, and political economy. The elementary emotions
associated with hunger and with satiety, with love and with hatred, must have forced themselves
upon the earliest intelligence that reached the plane of conscious self-observation. The capacity
to count, at least to the number four or five, is within the range of even animal intelligence.
Certain savages have gone scarcely farther than this; but our primeval ancestor, who was forging
on towards civilization, had learned to count his fingers and toes, and to number objects about
him by fives and tens in consequence, before be passed beyond the plane of numerous existing
barbarians. How much beyond this he had gone we need not attempt to inquire; but the relatively
high development of mathematics in the early historical period suggests that primeval man had
attained a not inconsiderable knowledge of numbers. The humdrum vocation of looking after a
numerous progeny must have taught the mother the rudiments of addition and subtraction; and
the elements of multiplication and division are implied in the capacity to carry on even the rudest
form of barter, such as the various tribes must have practised from an early day.
As to political ideas, even the crudest tribal life was based on certain conceptions of ownership,
at least of tribal ownership, and the application of the principle of likeness and difference to
which we have already referred. Each tribe, of course, differed in some regard from other tribes,
and the recognition of these differences implied in itself a political classification. A certain tribe
took possession of a particular hunting- ground, which became, for the time being, its home, and
over which it came to exercise certain rights. An invasion of this territory by another tribe might
lead to war, and the banding together of the members of the tribe to repel the invader implied
both a recognition of communal unity and a species of prejudice in favor of that community that
constituted a primitive patriotism. But this unity of action in opposing another tribe would not
prevent a certain rivalry of interest between the members of the same tribe, which would show
itself more and more prominently as the tribe increased in size. The association of two or more
persons implies, always, the ascendency of some and the subordination of others. Leadership and
subordination are necessary correlatives of difference of physical and mental endowment, and
rivalry between leaders would inevitably lead to the formation of primitive political parties. With
the ultimate success and ascendency of one leader, who secures either absolute power or power
modified in accordance with the advice of subordinate leaders, we have the germs of an elaborate
political system--an embryo science of government.
Meanwhile, the very existence of such a community implies the recognition on the part of its
members of certain individual rights, the recognition of which is essential to communal
harmony. The right of individual ownership of the various articles and implements of every-day
life must be recognized, or all harmony would be at an end. Certain rules of justice-- primitive
laws--must, by common consent, give protection to the weakest members of the community.
Here are the rudiments of a system of ethics. It may seem anomalous to speak of this primitive
morality, this early recognition of the principles of right and wrong, as having any relation to
science. Yet, rightly considered, there is no incongruity in such a citation. There cannot well be a
doubt that the adoption of those broad principles of right and wrong which underlie the entire
structure of modern civilization was due to scientific induction,--in other words, to the belief,
based on observation and experience, that the principles implied were essential to communal
progress. He who has scanned the pageant of history knows how often these principles seem to
be absent in the intercourse of men and nations. Yet the ideal is always there as a standard by
which all deeds are judged.
It would appear, then, that the entire superstructure of later science had its foundation in the
knowledge and practice of prehistoric man. The civilization of the historical period could not
have advanced as it has had there not been countless generations of culture back of it. The new
principles of science could not have been evolved had there not been great basal principles which
ages of unconscious experiment had impressed upon the mind of our race. Due meed of praise
must be given, then, to our primitive ancestor for his scientific accomplishments; but justice
demands that we should look a little farther and consider the reverse side of the picture. We have
had to do, thus far, chiefly with the positive side of accomplishment. We have pointed out what
our primitive ancestor knew, intimating, perhaps, the limitations of his knowledge; but we have
had little to say of one all-important feature of his scientific theorizing. The feature in question is
based on the highly scientific desire and propensity to find explanations for the phenomena of
nature. Without such desire no progress could be made. It is, as we have seen, the generalizing
from experience that constitutes real scientific progress; and yet, just as most other good things
can be overdone, this scientific propensity may be carried to a disastrous excess.
Primeval man did not escape this danger. He observed, he reasoned, he found explanations; but
he did not always discriminate as to the logicality of his reasonings. He failed to recognize the
limitations of his knowledge. The observed uniformity in the sequence of certain events
impressed on his mind the idea of cause and effect. Proximate causes known, he sought remoter
causes; childlike, his inquiring mind was always asking, Why? and, childlike, he demanded an
explicit answer. If the forces of nature seemed to combat him, if wind and rain opposed his
progress and thunder and lightning seemed to menace his existence, he was led irrevocably to
think of those human foes who warred with him, and to see, back of the warfare of the elements,
an inscrutable malevolent intelligence which took this method to express its displeasure. But
every other line of scientific observation leads equally, following back a sequence of events, to
seemingly causeless beginnings. Modern science can explain the lightning, as it can explain a
great number of the mysteries which the primeval intelligence could not penetrate. But the
primordial man could not wait for the revelations of scientific investigation: he must vault at
once to a final solution of all scientific problems. He found his solution by peopling the world
with invisible forces, anthropomorphic in their conception, like himself in their thought and
action, differing only in the limitations of their powers. His own dream existence gave him
seeming proof of the existence of an alter ego, a spiritual portion of himself that could dissever
itself from his body and wander at will; his scientific inductions seemed to tell him of a world of
invisible beings, capable of influencing him for good or ill. From the scientific exercise of his
faculties he evolved the all-encompassing generalizations of invisible and all-powerful causes
back of the phenomena of nature. These generalizations, early developed and seemingly
supported by the observations of countless generations, came to be among the most firmly
established scientific inductions of our primeval ancestor. They obtained a hold upon the
mentality of our race that led subsequent generations to think of them, sometimes to speak of
them, as "innate" ideas. The observations upon which they were based are now, for the most part,
susceptible of other interpretations; but the old interpretations have precedent and prejudice back
of them, and they represent ideas that are more difficult than almost any others to eradicate.
Always, and everywhere, superstitions based upon unwarranted early scientific deductions have
been the most implacable foes to the progress of science. Men have built systems of philosophy
around their conception of anthropomorphic deities; they have linked to these systems of
philosophy the allied conception of the immutability of man's spirit, and they have asked that
scientific progress should stop short at the brink of these systems of philosophy and accept their
dictates as final. Yet there is not to-day in existence, and there never has been, one jot of
scientific evidence for the existence of these intangible anthropomorphic powers back of nature
that is not susceptible of scientific challenge and of more logical interpretation. In despite of
which the superstitious beliefs are still as firmly fixed in the minds of a large majority of our race
as they were in the mind of our prehistoric ancestor. The fact of this baleful heritage must not be
forgotten in estimating the debt of gratitude which historic man owes to his barbaric predecessor.


In the previous chapter we have purposely refrained from referring to any particular tribe or race
of historical man. Now, however, we are at the beginnings of national existence, and we have to
consider the accomplishments of an individual race; or rather, perhaps, of two or more races that
occupied successively the same geographical territory. But even now our studies must for a time
remain very general; we shall see little or nothing of the deeds of individual scientists in the
course of our study of Egyptian culture. We are still, it must be understood, at the beginnings of
history; indeed, we must first bridge over the gap from the prehistoric before we may find
ourselves fairly on the line of march of historical science.
At the very outset we may well ask what constitutes the distinction between prehistoric and
historic epochs --a distinction which has been constantly implied in much that we have said. The
reply savors somewhat of vagueness. It is a distinction having to do, not so much with facts of
human progress as with our interpretation of these facts. When we speak of the dawn of history
we must not be understood to imply that, at the period in question, there was any sudden change
in the intellectual status of the human race or in the status of any individual tribe or nation of
men. What we mean is that modern knowledge has penetrated the mists of the past for the period
we term historical with something more of clearness and precision than it has been able to bring
to bear upon yet earlier periods. New accessions of knowledge may thus shift from time to time
the bounds of the so-called historical period. The clearest illustration of this is furnished by our
interpretation of Egyptian history. Until recently the biblical records of the Hebrew captivity or
service, together with the similar account of Josephus, furnished about all that was known of
Egyptian history even of so comparatively recent a time as that of Ramses II. (fifteenth century
B.C.), and from that period on there was almost a complete gap until the story was taken up by
the Greek historians Herodotus and Diodorus. It is true that the king-lists of the Alexandrian
historian, Manetho, were all along accessible in somewhat garbled copies. But at best they
seemed to supply unintelligible lists of names and dates which no one was disposed to take
seriously. That they were, broadly speaking, true historical records, and most important historical
records at that, was not recognized by modern scholars until fresh light had been thrown on the
subject from altogether new sources.
These new sources of knowledge of ancient history demand a moment's consideration. They are
all-important because they have been the means of extending the historical period of Egyptian
history (using the word history in the way just explained) by three or four thousand years. As just
suggested, that historical period carried the scholarship of the early nineteenth century scarcely
beyond the fifteenth century B.C., but to-day's vision extends with tolerable clearness to about
the middle of the fifth millennium B.C. This change has been brought about chiefly through
study of the Egyptian hieroglyphics. These hieroglyphics constitute, as we now know, a highly
developed system of writing; a system that was practised for some thousands of years, but which
fell utterly into disuse in the later Roman period, and the knowledge of which passed absolutely
from the mind of man. For about two thousand years no one was able to read, with any degree of
explicitness, a single character of this strange script, and the idea became prevalent that it did not
constitute a real system of writing, but only a more or less barbaric system of religious
symbolism. The falsity of this view was shown early in the nineteenth century when Dr. Thomas
Young was led, through study of the famous trilingual inscription of the Rosetta stone, to make
the first successful attempt at clearing up the mysteries of the hieroglyphics.

This is not the place to tell the story of his fascinating discoveries and those of his successors.
That story belongs to nineteenth-century science, not to the science of the Egyptians. Suffice it
here that Young gained the first clew to a few of the phonetic values of the Egyptian symbols,
and that the work of discovery was carried on and vastly extended by the Frenchman
Champollion, a little later, with the result that the firm foundations of the modern science of
Egyptology were laid. Subsequently such students as Rosellini the Italian, Lepsius the German,
and Wilkinson the Englishman, entered the field, which in due course was cultivated by De
Rouge in France and Birch in England, and by such distinguished latter-day workers as Chabas,
Mariette, Maspero, Amelineau, and De Morgan among the Frenchmen; Professor Petrie and Dr.
Budge in England; and Brugsch Pasha and Professor Erman in Germany, not to mention a large
coterie of somewhat less familiar names. These men working, some of them in the field of
practical exploration, some as students of the Egyptian language and writing, have restored to us
a tolerably precise knowledge of the history of Egypt from the time of the first historical king,
Mena, whose date is placed at about the middle of the fifth century B.C. We know not merely the
names of most of the subsequent rulers, but some thing of the deeds of many of them; and, what
is vastly more important, we know, thanks to the modern interpretation of the old literature,
many things concerning the life of the people, and in particular concerning their highest culture,
their methods of thought, and their scientific attainments, which might well have been supposed
to be past finding out. Nor has modern investigation halted with the time of the first kings; the
recent explorations of such archaeologists as Amelineau, De Morgan, and Petrie have brought to
light numerous remains of what is now spoken of as the predynastic period--a period when the
inhabitants of the Nile Valley used implements of chipped stone, when their pottery was made
without the use of the potter's wheel, and when they buried their dead in curiously cramped
attitudes without attempt at mummification. These aboriginal inhabitants of Egypt cannot
perhaps with strict propriety be spoken of as living within the historical period, since we cannot
date their relics with any accuracy. But they give us glimpses of the early stages of civilization
upon which the Egyptians of the dynastic period were to advance.
It is held that the nascent civilization of these Egyptians of the Neolithic, or late Stone Age, was
overthrown by the invading hosts of a more highly civilized race which probably came from the
East, and which may have been of a Semitic stock. The presumption is that this invading people
brought with it a knowledge of the arts of war and peace, developed or adopted in its old home.
The introduction of these arts served to bridge somewhat suddenly, so far as Egypt is concerned,
that gap between the prehistoric and the historic stage of culture to which we have all along
referred. The essential structure of that bridge, let it now be clearly understood, consisted of a
single element. That element is the capacity to make written records: a knowledge of the art of
writing. Clearly understood, it is this element of knowledge that forms the line bounding the
historical period. Numberless mementos are in existence that tell of the intellectual activities of
prehistoric man; such mementos as flint implements, pieces of pottery, and fragments of bone,
inscribed with pictures that may fairly be spoken of as works of art; but so long as no written
word accompanies these records, so long as no name of king or scribe comes down to us, we feel
that these records belong to the domain of archaeology rather than to that of history. Yet it must
be understood all along that these two domains shade one into the other and, it has already been
urged, that the distinction between them is one that pertains rather to modern scholarship than to
the development of civilization itself. Bearing this distinction still in mind, and recalling that the
historical period, which is to be the field of our observation throughout the rest of our studies,
extends for Egypt well back into the fifth millennium B.C., let us briefly review the practical
phases of that civilization to which the Egyptian had attained before the beginning of the
dynastic period. Since theoretical science is everywhere linked with the mechanical arts, this
survey will give us a clear comprehension of the field that lies open for the progress of science in
the long stages of historical time upon which we are just entering.

We may pass over such rudimentary advances in the direction of civilization as are implied in the
use of articulate language, the application of fire to the uses of man, and the systematic making
of dwellings of one sort or another, since all of these are stages of progress that were reached
very early in the prehistoric period. What more directly concerns us is to note that a really high
stage of mechanical development had been reached before the dawnings of Egyptian history
proper. All manner of household utensils were employed; the potter's wheel aided in the
construction of a great variety of earthen vessels; weaving had become a fine art, and weapons of
bronze, including axes, spears, knives, and arrow-heads, were in constant use. Animals had long
been domesticated, in particular the dog, the cat, and the ox; the horse was introduced later from
the East. The practical arts of agriculture were practised almost as they are at the present day in
Egypt, there being, of course, the same dependence then as now upon the inundations of the Nile.

As to government, the Egyptian of the first dynasty regarded his king as a demi-god to be
actually deified after his death, and this point of view was not changed throughout the stages of
later Egyptian history. In point of art, marvellous advances upon the skill of the prehistoric man
had been made, probably in part under Asiatic influences, and that unique style of stilted yet
expressive drawing had come into vogue, which was to be remembered in after times as typically
Egyptian. More important than all else, our Egyptian of the earliest historical period was in
possession of the art of writing. He had begun to make those specific records which were
impossible to the man of the Stone Age, and thus he had entered fully upon the way of historical
progress which, as already pointed out, has its very foundation in written records. From now on
the deeds of individual kings could find specific record. It began to be possible to fix the
chronology of remote events with some accuracy; and with this same fixing of chronologies
came the advent of true history. The period which precedes what is usually spoken of as the first
dynasty in Egypt is one into which the present-day searcher is still able to see but darkly. The
evidence seems to suggest than an invasion of relatively cultured people from the East
overthrew, and in time supplanted, the Neolithic civilization of the Nile Valley. It is impossible
to date this invasion accurately, but it cannot well have been later than the year 5000 B.C., and it
may have been a great many centuries earlier than this. Be the exact dates what they may, we
find the Egyptian of the fifth millennium B.C. in full possession of a highly organized

All subsequent ages have marvelled at the pyramids, some of which date from about the year
4000 B.C., though we may note in passing that these dates must not be taken too literally. The
chronology of ancient Egypt cannot as yet be fixed with exact accuracy, but the disagreements
between the various students of the subject need give us little concern. For our present purpose it
does not in the least matter whether the pyramids were built three thousand or four thousand
years before the beginning of our era. It suffices that they date back to a period long antecedent
to the beginnings of civilization in Western Europe. They prove that the Egyptian of that early
day had attained a knowledge of practical mechanics which, even from the twentieth-century
point of view, is not to be spoken of lightly. It has sometimes been suggested that these mighty
pyramids, built as they are of great blocks of stone, speak for an almost miraculous knowledge
on the part of their builders; but a saner view of the conditions gives no warrant for this thought.
Diodoras, the Sicilian, in his famous World's History, written about the beginning of our era,
explains the building of the pyramids by suggesting that great quantities of earth were piled
against the side of the rising structure to form an inclined plane up which the blocks of stone
were dragged. He gives us certain figures, based, doubtless, on reports made to him by Egyptian
priests, who in turn drew upon the traditions of their country, perhaps even upon written records
no longer preserved. He says that one hundred and twenty thousand men were employed in the
construction of the largest pyramid, and that, notwithstanding the size of this host of workers, the
task occupied twenty years. We must not place too much dependence upon such figures as these,
for the ancient historians are notoriously given to exaggeration in recording numbers; yet we
need not doubt that the report given by Diodorus is substantially accurate in its main outlines as
to the method through which the pyramids were constructed. A host of men putting their added
weight and strength to the task, with the aid of ropes, pulleys, rollers, and levers, and utilizing the
principle of the inclined plane, could undoubtedly move and elevate and place in position the
largest blocks that enter into the pyramids or--what seems even more wonderful--the most
gigantic obelisks, without the aid of any other kind of mechanism or of any more occult power.
The same hands could, as Diodorus suggests, remove all trace of the debris of construction and
leave the pyramids and obelisks standing in weird isolation, as if sprung into being through a
It has been necessary to bear in mind these phases of practical civilization because much that we
know of the purely scientific attainments of the Egyptians is based upon modern observation of
their pyramids and temples. It was early observed, for example, that the pyramids are obviously
oriented as regards the direction in which they face, in strict accordance with some astronomical
principle. Early in the nineteenth century the Frenchman Biot made interesting studies in regard
to this subject, and a hundred years later, in our own time, Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer,
following up the work of various intermediary observers, has given the subject much attention,
making it the central theme of his work on The Dawn of Astronomy.[1] Lockyer's researches
make it clear that in the main the temples of Egypt were oriented with reference to the point at
which the sun rises on the day of the summer solstice. The time of the solstice had peculiar
interest for the Egyptians, because it corresponded rather closely with the time of the rising of
the Nile. The floods of that river appear with very great regularity; the on-rushing tide reaches
the region of Heliopolis and Memphis almost precisely on the day of the summer solstice. The
time varies at different stages of the river's course, but as the civilization of the early dynasties
centred at Memphis, observations made at this place had widest vogue.

Considering the all-essential character of the Nile floods-without which civilization would be
impossible in Egypt--it is not strange that the time of their appearance should be taken as
marking the beginning of a new year. The fact that their coming coincides with the solstice
makes such a division of the calendar perfectly natural. In point of fact, from the earliest periods
of which records have come down to us, the new year of the Egyptians dates from the summer
solstice. It is certain that from the earliest historical periods the Egyptians were aware of the
approximate length of the year. It would be strange were it otherwise, considering the ease with
which a record of days could be kept from Nile flood to Nile flood, or from solstice to solstice.
But this, of course, applies only to an approximate count. There is some reason to believe that in
the earliest period the Egyptians made this count only 360 days. The fact that their year was
divided into twelve months of thirty days each lends color to this belief; but, in any event, the
mistake was discovered in due time and a partial remedy was applied through the interpolation of
a "little month" of five days between the end of the twelfth month and the new year. This nearly
but not quite remedied the matter. What it obviously failed to do was to take account of that
additional quarter of a day which really rounds out the actual year.
It would have been a vastly convenient thing for humanity had it chanced that the earth had so
accommodated its rotary motion with its speed of transit about the sun as to make its annual
flight in precisely 360 days. Twelve lunar months of thirty days each would then have coincided
exactly with the solar year, and most of the complexities of the calendar, which have so puzzled
historical students, would have been avoided; but, on the other hand, perhaps this very simplicity
would have proved detrimental to astronomical science by preventing men from searching the
heavens as carefully as they have done. Be that as it may, the complexity exists. The actual year
of three hundred and sixty-five and (about) one-quarter days cannot be divided evenly into
months, and some such expedient as the intercalation of days here and there is essential, else the
calendar will become absolutely out of harmony with the seasons.

In the case of the Egyptians, the attempt at adjustment was made, as just noted, by the
introduction of the five days, constituting what the Egyptians themselves termed "the five days
over and above the year." These so-called epagomenal days were undoubtedly introduced at a
very early period. Maspero holds that they were in use before the first Thinite dynasty, citing in
evidence the fact that the legend of Osiris explains these days as having been created by the god
Thot in order to permit Nuit to give birth to all her children; this expedient being necessary to
overcome a ban which had been pronounced against Nuit, according to which she could not give
birth to children on any day of the year. But, of course, the five additional days do not suffice
fully to rectify the calendar. There remains the additional quarter of a day to be accounted for.
This, of course, amounts to a full day every fourth year. We shall see that later Alexandrian
science hit upon the expedient of adding a day to every fourth year; an expedient which the
Julian calendar adopted and which still gives us our familiar leap-year. But, unfortunately, the
ancient Egyptian failed to recognize the need of this additional day, or if he did recognize it he
failed to act on his knowledge, and so it happened that, starting somewhere back in the remote
past with a new year's day that coincided with the inundation of the Nile, there was a constantly
shifting maladjustment of calendar and seasons as time went on.

The Egyptian seasons, it should be explained, were three in number: the season of the
inundation, the season of the seed-time, and the season of the harvest; each season being, of
course, four months in extent. Originally, as just mentioned, the season of the inundations began
and coincided with the actual time of inundation. The more precise fixing of new year's day was
accomplished through observation of the time of the so-called heliacal rising of the dog-star,
Sirius, which bore the Egyptian name Sothis. It chances that, as viewed from about the region of
Heliopolis, the sun at the time of the summer solstice occupies an apparent position in the
heavens close to the dog-star. Now, as is well known, the Egyptians, seeing divinity back of
almost every phenomenon of nature, very naturally paid particular reverence to so obviously
influential a personage as the sun-god. In particular they thought it fitting to do homage to him
just as he was starting out on his tour of Egypt in the morning; and that they might know the
precise moment of his coming, the Egyptian astronomer priests, perched on the hill-tops near
their temples, were wont to scan the eastern horizon with reference to some star which had been
observed to precede the solar luminary. Of course the precession of the equinoxes, due to that
axial wobble in which our clumsy earth indulges, would change the apparent position of the
fixed stars in reference to the sun, so that the same star could not do service as heliacal
messenger indefinitely; but, on the other hand, these changes are so slow that observations by
many generations of astronomers would be required to detect the shifting. It is believed by
Lockyer, though the evidence is not quite demonstrative, that the astronomical observations of
the Egyptians date back to a period when Sothis, the dog-star, was not in close association with
the sun on the morning of the summer solstice. Yet, according to the calculations of Biot, the
heliacal rising of Sothis at the solstice was noted as early as the year 3285 B.C., and it is certain
that this star continued throughout subsequent centuries to keep this position of peculiar prestige.
Hence it was that Sothis came to be associated with Isis, one of the most important divinities of
Egypt, and that the day in which Sothis was first visible in the morning sky marked the
beginning of the new year; that day coinciding, as already noted, with the summer solstice and
with the beginning of the Nile flow.
But now for the difficulties introduced by that unreckoned quarter of a day. Obviously with a
calendar of 365 days only, at the end of four years, the calendar year, or vague year, as the
Egyptians came to call it, had gained by one full day upon the actual solar year-- that is to say,
the heliacal rising of Sothis, the dog- star, would not occur on new year's day of the faulty
calendar, but a day later. And with each succeeding period of four years the day of heliacal
rising, which marked the true beginning of the year--and which still, of course, coincided with
the inundation--would have fallen another day behind the calendar. In the course of 120 years an
entire month would be lost; and in 480 years so great would become the shifting that the seasons
would be altogether misplaced; the actual time of inundations corresponding with what the
calendar registered as the seed-time, and the actual seed-time in turn corresponding with the
harvest-time of the calendar.

At first thought this seems very awkward and confusing, but in all probability the effects were by
no means so much so in actual practice. We need go no farther than to our own experience to
know that the names of seasons, as of months and days, come to have in the minds of most of us
a purely conventional significance. Few of us stop to give a thought to the meaning of the words
January, February, etc., except as they connote certain climatic conditions. If, then, our own
calendar were so defective that in the course of 120 years the month of February had shifted back
to occupy the position of the original January, the change would have been so gradual, covering
the period of two life-times or of four or five average generations, that it might well escape
general observation.
Each succeeding generation of Egyptians, then, may not improbably have associated the names
of the seasons with the contemporary climatic conditions, troubling themselves little with the
thought that in an earlier age the climatic conditions for each period of the calendar were quite
different. We cannot well suppose, however, that the astronomer priests were oblivious to the
true state of things. Upon them devolved the duty of predicting the time of the Nile flood; a duty
they were enabled to perform without difficulty through observation of the rising of the solstitial
sun and its Sothic messenger. To these observers it must finally have been apparent that the
shifting of the seasons was at the rate of one day in four years; this known, it required no great
mathematical skill to compute that this shifting would finally effect a complete circuit of the
calendar, so that after (4 X 365 =) 1460 years the first day of the calendar year would again
coincide with the heliacal rising of Sothis and with the coming of the Nile flood. In other words,
1461 vague years or Egyptian calendar years Of 365 days each correspond to 1460 actual solar
years of 365 1/4 days each. This period, measured thus by the heliacal rising of Sothis, is spoken
of as the Sothic cycle.
To us who are trained from childhood to understand that the year consists of (approximately) 365
1/4 days, and to know that the calendar may be regulated approximately by the introduction of an
extra day every fourth year, this recognition of the Sothic cycle seems simple enough. Yet if the
average man of us will reflect how little he knows, of his own knowledge, of the exact length of
the year, it will soon become evident that the appreciation of the faults of the calendar and the
knowledge of its periodical adjustment constituted a relatively high development of scientific
knowledge on the part of the Egyptian astronomer. It may be added that various efforts to reform
the calendar were made by the ancient Egyptians, but that they cannot be credited with a
satisfactory solution of the problem; for, of course, the Alexandrian scientists of the Ptolemaic
period (whose work we shall have occasion to review presently) were not Egyptians in any
proper sense of the word, but Greeks.
Since so much of the time of the astronomer priests was devoted to observation of the heavenly
bodies, it is not surprising that they should have mapped out the apparent course of the moon and
the visible planets in their nightly tour of the heavens, and that they should have divided the stars
of the firmament into more or less arbitrary groups or constellations. That they did so is
evidenced by various sculptured representations of constellations corresponding to signs of the
zodiac which still ornament the ceilings of various ancient temples. Unfortunately the decorative
sense, which was always predominant with the Egyptian sculptor, led him to take various
liberties with the distribution of figures in these representations of the constellations, so that the
inferences drawn from them as to the exact map of the heavens as the Egyptians conceived it
cannot be fully relied upon. It appears, however, that the Egyptian astronomer divided the zodiac
into twenty-four decani, or constellations. The arbitrary groupings of figures, with the aid of
which these are delineated, bear a close resemblance to the equally arbitrary outlines which we
are still accustomed to use for the same purpose.

In viewing this astronomical system of the Egyptians one cannot avoid the question as to just
what interpretation was placed upon it as regards the actual mechanical structure of the universe.
A proximal answer to the question is supplied us with a good deal of clearness. It appears that
the Egyptian conceived the sky as a sort of tangible or material roof placed above the world, and
supported at each of its four corners by a column or pillar, which was later on conceived as a
great mountain. The earth itself was conceived to be a rectangular box, longer from north to
south than from east to west; the upper surface of this box, upon which man lived, being slightly
concave and having, of course, the valley of the Nile as its centre. The pillars of support were
situated at the points of the compass; the northern one being located beyond the Mediterranean
Sea; the southern one away beyond the habitable regions towards the source of the Nile, and the
eastern and western ones in equally inaccessible regions. Circling about the southern side of the,
world was a great river suspended in mid-air on something comparable to mountain cliffs; on
which river the sun-god made his daily course in a boat, fighting day by day his ever-recurring
battle against Set, the demon of darkness. The wide channel of this river enabled the sun-god to
alter his course from time to time, as he is observed to do; in winter directing his bark towards
the farther bank of the channel; in summer gliding close to the nearer bank. As to the stars, they
were similar lights, suspended from the vault of the heaven; but just how their observed motion
of translation across the heavens was explained is not apparent. It is more than probable that no
one explanation was, universally accepted.

In explaining the origin of this mechanism of the heavens, the Egyptian imagination ran riot.
Each separate part of Egypt had its own hierarchy of gods, and more or less its own explanations
of cosmogony. There does not appear to have been any one central story of creation that found
universal acceptance, any more than there was one specific deity everywhere recognized as
supreme among the gods. Perhaps the most interesting of the cosmogonic myths was that which
conceived that Nuit, the goddess of night, had been torn from the arms of her husband, Sibu the
earth-god, and elevated to the sky despite her protests and her husband's struggles, there to
remain supported by her four limbs, which became metamorphosed into the pillars, or
mountains, already mentioned. The forcible elevation of Nuit had been effected on the day of
creation by a new god, Shu, who came forth from the primeval waters. A painting on the
mummy case of one Betuhamon, now in the Turin Museum, illustrates, in the graphic manner so
characteristic of the Egyptians, this act of creation. As Maspero[2] points out, the struggle of
Sibu resulted in contorted attitudes to which the irregularities of the earth's surface are to be
In contemplating such a scheme of celestial mechanics as that just outlined, one cannot avoid
raising the question as to just the degree of literalness which the Egyptians themselves put upon
it. We know how essentially eye-minded the Egyptian was, to use a modern psychological
phrase--that is to say, how essential to him it seemed that all his conceptions should be
visualized. The evidences of this are everywhere: all his gods were made tangible; he believed in
the immortality of the soul, yet he could not conceive of such immortality except in association
with an immortal body; he must mummify the body of the dead, else, as he firmly believed, the
dissolution of the spirit would take place along with the dissolution of the body itself. His world
was peopled everywhere with spirits, but they were spirits associated always with corporeal
bodies; his gods found lodgment in sun and moon and stars; in earth and water; in the bodies of
reptiles and birds and mammals. He worshipped all of these things: the sun, the moon, water,
earth, the spirit of the Nile, the ibis, the cat, the ram, and apis the bull; but, so far as we can
judge, his imagination did not reach to the idea of an absolutely incorporeal deity. Similarly his
conception of the mechanism of the heavens must be a tangibly mechanical one. He must think
of the starry firmament as a substantial entity which could not defy the law of gravitation, and
which, therefore, must have the same manner of support as is required by the roof of a house or
temple. We know that this idea of the materiality of the firmament found elaborate expression in
those later cosmological guesses which were to dominate the thought of Europe until the time of
Newton. We need not doubt, therefore, that for the Egyptian this solid vault of the heavens had a
very real existence. If now and then some dreamer conceived the great bodies of the firmament
as floating in a less material plenum--and such iconoclastic dreamers there are in all ages--no
record of his musings has come down to us, and we must freely admit that if such thoughts
existed they were alien to the character of the Egyptian mind as a whole.
While the Egyptians conceived the heavenly bodies as the abiding-place of various of their
deities, it does not appear that they practised astrology in the later acceptance of that word. This
is the more remarkable since the conception of lucky and unlucky days was carried by the
Egyptians to the extremes of absurdity. "One day was lucky or unlucky," says Erman,[3]
"according as a good or bad mythological incident took place on that day. For instance, the 1st of
Mechir, on which day the sky was raised, and the 27th of Athyr, when Horus and, Set concluded
peace together and divided the world between them, were lucky days; on the other hand, the 14th
of Tybi, on which Isis and Nephthys mourned for Osiris, was an unlucky day. With the unlucky
days, which, fortunately, were less in number than the lucky days, they distinguished different
degrees of ill-luck. Some were very unlucky, others only threatened ill-luck, and many, like the
17th and the 27th Choiakh, were partly good and partly bad according to the time of day. Lucky
days might, as a rule, be disregarded. At most it might be as well to visit some specially
renowned temple, or to 'celebrate a joyful day at home,' but no particular precautions were really
necessary; and, above all, it was said, 'what thou also seest on the day is lucky.' It was quite
otherwise with the unlucky and dangerous days, which imposed so many and such great
limitations on people that those who wished to be prudent were always obliged to bear them in
mind when determining on any course of action. Certain conditions were easy to carry out.
Music and singing were to be avoided on the 14th Tybi, the day of the mourning of Osiris, and
no one was allowed to wash on the 16th Tybi; whilst the name of Set might not be pronounced
on the 24th of Pharmuthi. Fish was forbidden on certain days; and what was still more difficult in
a country so rich in mice, on the 12th of Tybi no mouse might be seen. The most tiresome
prohibitions, however, were those which occurred not infrequently, namely, those concerning
work and going out: for instance, four times in Paophi the people had to 'do nothing at all,' and
five times to sit the whole day or half the day in the house; and the same rule had to be observed
each month. It was impossible to rejoice if a child was born on the 23d of Thoth; the parents
knew it could not live. Those born on the 20th of Choiakh would become blind, and those born
on the 3d of Choiakh, deaf."

Where such conceptions as these pertained, it goes without saying that charms and incantations
intended to break the spell of the unlucky omens were equally prevalent. Such incantations
consisted usually of the recitation of certain phrases based originally, it would appear, upon
incidents in the history of the gods. The words which the god had spoken in connection with
some lucky incident would, it was thought, prove effective now in bringing good luck to the
human supplicant--that is to say, the magician hoped through repeating the words of the god to
exercise the magic power of the god. It was even possible, with the aid of the magical
observances, partly to balk fate itself. Thus the person predestined through birth on an unlucky
day to die of a serpent bite might postpone the time of this fateful visitation to extreme old age.
The like uncertainty attached to those spells which one person was supposed to be able to
exercise over another. It was held, for example, that if something belonging to an individual,
such as a lock of hair or a paring of the nails, could be secured and incorporated in a waxen
figure, this figure would be intimately associated with the personality of that individual. An
enemy might thus secure occult power over one; any indignity practised upon the waxen figure
would result in like injury to its human prototype. If the figure were bruised or beaten, some
accident would overtake its double; if the image were placed over a fire, the human being would
fall into a fever, and so on. But, of course, such mysterious evils as these would be met and
combated by equally mysterious processes; and so it was that the entire art of medicine was
closely linked with magical practices. It was not, indeed, held, according to Maspero, that the
magical spells of enemies were the sole sources of human ailments, but one could never be sure
to what extent such spells entered into the affliction; and so closely were the human activities
associated in the mind of the Egyptian with one form or another of occult influences that purely
physical conditions were at a discount. In the later times, at any rate, the physician was usually a
priest, and there was a close association between the material and spiritual phases of
therapeutics. Erman[4] tells us that the following formula had to be recited at the preparation of
all medicaments: "That Isis might make free, make free. That Isis might make Horus free from
all evil that his brother Set had done to him when he slew his father, Osiris. O Isis, great
enchantress, free me, release me from all evil red things, from the fever of the god, and the fever
of the goddess, from death and death from pain, and the pain which comes over me; as thou hast
freed, as thou hast released thy son Horus, whilst I enter into the fire and come forth from the
water," etc. Again, when the invalid took the medicine, an incantation had to be said which
began thus: "Come remedy, come drive it out of my heart, out of these limbs strong in magic
power with the remedy." He adds: "There may have been a few rationalists amongst the Egyptian
doctors, for the number of magic formulae varies much in the different books. The book that we
have specially taken for a foundation for this account of Egyptian medicine-- the great papyrus
of the eighteenth dynasty edited by Ebers[5]--contains, for instance, far fewer exorcisms than
some later writings with similar contents, probably because the doctor who compiled this book
of recipes from older sources had very little liking for magic."

It must be understood, however--indeed, what has just been said implies as much--that the
physician by no means relied upon incantations alone; on the contrary, he equipped himself with
an astonishing variety of medicaments. He had a particular fondness for what the modern
physician speaks of as a "shot-gun" prescription--one containing a great variety of ingredients.
Not only did herbs of many kinds enter into this, but such substances as lizard's blood, the teeth
of swine, putrid meat, the moisture from pigs' ears, boiled horn, and numerous other even more
repellent ingredients. Whoever is familiar with the formulae employed by European physicians
even so recently as the eighteenth century will note a striking similarity here. Erman points out
that the modern Egyptian even of this day holds closely to many of the practices of his remote
ancestor. In particular, the efficacy of the beetle as a medicinal agent has stood the test of ages of
practice. "Against all kinds of witchcraft," says an ancient formula, "a great scarabaeus beetle;
cut off his head and wings, boil him; put him in oil and lay him out; then cook his head and
wings, put them in snake fat, boil, and let the patient drink the mixture." The modern Egyptian,
says Erman, uses almost precisely the same recipe, except that the snake fat is replaced by
modern oil.
In evidence of the importance which was attached to practical medicine in the Egypt of an early
day, the names of several physicians have come down to us from an age which has preserved
very few names indeed, save those of kings. In reference to this Erman says[6]: "We still know
the names of some of the early body physicians of this time; Sechmetna'eonch, 'chief physician
of the Pharaoh,' and Nesmenan his chief, the 'superintendent of the physicians of the Pharaoh.'
The priests also of the lioness-headed goddess Sechmet seem to have been famed for their
medical wisdom, whilst the son of this goddess, the demi-god Imhotep, was in later times
considered to be the creator of medical knowledge. These ancient doctors of the New Empire do
not seem to have improved upon the older conceptions about the construction of the human

As to the actual scientific attainments of the Egyptian physician, it is difficult to speak with
precision. Despite the cumbersome formulae and the grotesque incantations, we need not doubt
that a certain practical value attended his therapeutics. He practised almost pure empiricism,
however, and certainly it must have been almost impossible to determine which ones, if any, of
the numerous ingredients of the prescription had real efficacy.

The practical anatomical knowledge of the physician, there is every reason to believe, was
extremely limited. At first thought it might seem that the practice of embalming would have led
to the custom of dissecting human bodies, and that the Egyptians, as a result of this, would have
excelled in the knowledge of anatomy. But the actual results were rather the reverse of this.
Embalming the dead, it must be recalled, was a purely religious observance. It took place under
the superintendence of the priests, but so great was the reverence for the human body that the
priests themselves were not permitted to make the abdominal incision which was a necessary
preliminary of the process. This incision, as we are informed by both Herodotus[7] and
Diodorus[8], was made by a special officer, whose status, if we may believe the explicit
statement of Diodorus, was quite comparable to that of the modern hangman. The paraschistas,
as he was called, having performed his necessary but obnoxious function, with the aid of a sharp
Ethiopian stone, retired hastily, leaving the remaining processes to the priests. These, however,
confined their observations to the abdominal viscera; under no consideration did they make other
incisions in the body. It follows, therefore, that their opportunity for anatomical observations was
most limited.
Since even the necessary mutilation inflicted on the corpse was regarded with such horror, it
follows that anything in the way of dissection for a less sacred purpose was absolutely
prohibited. Probably the same prohibition extended to a large number of animals, since most of
these were held sacred in one part of Egypt or another. Moreover, there is nothing in what we
know of the Egyptian mind to suggest the probability that any Egyptian physician would make
extensive anatomical observations for the love of pure knowledge. All Egyptian science is
eminently practical. If we think of the Egyptian as mysterious, it is because of the superstitious
observances that we everywhere associate with his daily acts; but these, as we have already tried
to make clear, were really based on scientific observations of a kind, and the attempt at true
inferences from these observations. But whether or not the Egyptian physician desired
anatomical knowledge, the results of his inquiries were certainly most meagre. The essentials of
his system had to do with a series of vessels, alleged to be twenty-two or twenty-four in number,
which penetrated the head and were distributed in pairs to the various members of the body, and
which were vaguely thought of as carriers of water, air, excretory fluids, etc. Yet back of this
vagueness, as must not be overlooked, there was an all-essential recognition of the heart as the
central vascular organ. The heart is called the beginning of all the members. Its vessels, we are
told, "lead to all the members; whether the doctor lays his finger on the forehead, on the back of
the head, on the hands, on the place of the stomach (?), on the arms, or on the feet, everywhere
he meets with the heart, because its vessels lead to all the members."[9] This recognition of the
pulse must be credited to the Egyptian physician as a piece of practical knowledge, in some
measure off-setting the vagueness of his anatomical theories.

But, indeed, practical knowledge was, as has been said over and over, the essential characteristic
of Egyptian science. Yet another illustration of this is furnished us if we turn to the more abstract
departments of thought and inquire what were the Egyptian attempts in such a field as
mathematics. The answer does not tend greatly to increase our admiration for the Egyptian mind.
We are led to see, indeed, that the Egyptian merchant was able to perform all the computations
necessary to his craft, but we are forced to conclude that the knowledge of numbers scarcely
extended beyond this, and that even here the methods of reckoning were tedious and
cumbersome. Our knowledge of the subject rests largely upon the so- called papyrus Rhind,[10]
which is a sort of mythological hand-book of the ancient Egyptians. Analyzing this document,
Professor Erman concludes that the knowledge of the Egyptians was adequate to all practical
requirements. Their mathematics taught them "how in the exchange of bread for beer the
respective value was to be determined when converted into a quantity of corn; how to reckon the
size of a field; how to determine how a given quantity of corn would go into a granary of a
certain size," and like every-day problems. Yet they were obliged to make some of their simple
computations in a very roundabout way. It would appear, for example, that their mental
arithmetic did not enable them to multiply by a number larger than two, and that they did not
reach a clear conception of complex fractional numbers. They did, indeed, recognize that each
part of an object divided into 10 pieces became 1/10 of that object; they even grasped the idea of
2/3 this being a conception easily visualized; but they apparently did not visualize such a
conception as 3/10 except in the crude form of 1/10 plus 1/10 plus 1/10. Their entire idea of
division seems defective. They viewed the subject from the more elementary stand-point of
multiplication. Thus, in order to find out how many times 7 is contained in 77, an existing
example shows that the numbers representing 1 times 7, 2 times 7, 4 times 7, 8 times 7 were set
down successively and various experimental additions made to find out which sets of these
numbers aggregated 77.
--1 7 --2 14 --4 28 --8 56

A line before the first, second, and fourth of these numbers indicated that it is necessary to
multiply 7 by 1 plus 2 plus 8--that is, by 11, in order to obtain 77; that is to say, 7 goes 11 times
in 77. All this seems very cumbersome indeed, yet we must not overlook the fact that the process
which goes on in our own minds in performing such a problem as this is precisely similar, except
that we have learned to slur over certain of the intermediate steps with the aid of a memorized
multiplication table. In the last analysis, division is only the obverse side of multiplication, and
any one who has not learned his multiplication table is reduced to some such expedient as that of
the Egyptian. Indeed, whenever we pass beyond the range of our memorized multiplication
table-which for most of us ends with the twelves--the experimental character of the trial
multiplication through which division is finally effected does not so greatly differ from the
experimental efforts which the Egyptian was obliged to apply to smaller numbers.
Despite his defective comprehension of fractions, the Egyptian was able to work out problems of
relative complexity; for example, he could determine the answer of such a problem as this: a
number together with its fifth part makes 21; what is the number? The process by which the
Egyptian solved this problem seems very cumbersome to any one for whom a rudimentary
knowledge of algebra makes it simple, yet the method which we employ differs only in that we
are enabled, thanks to our hypothetical x, to make a short cut, and the essential fact must not be
overlooked that the Egyptian reached a correct solution of the problem. With all due desire to
give credit, however, the fact remains that the Egyptian was but a crude mathematician. Here, as
elsewhere, it is impossible to admire him for any high development of theoretical science. First,
last, and all the time, he was practical, and there is nothing to show that the thought of science
for its own sake, for the mere love of knowing, ever entered his head.
In general, then, we must admit that the Egyptian had not progressed far in the hard way of
abstract thinking. He worshipped everything about him because he feared the result of failing to
do so. He embalmed the dead lest the spirit of the neglected one might come to torment him.
Eye-minded as he was, he came to have an artistic sense, to love decorative effects. But he let
these always take precedence over his sense of truth; as, for example, when he modified his lists
of kings at Abydos to fit the space which the architect had left to be filled; he had no historical
sense to show to him that truth should take precedence over mere decoration. And everywhere he
lived in the same happy-go-lucky way. He loved personal ease, the pleasures of the table, the
luxuries of life, games, recreations, festivals. He took no heed for the morrow, except as the
morrow might minister to his personal needs. Essentially a sensual being, he scarcely conceived
the meaning of the intellectual life in the modern sense of the term. He had perforce learned
some things about astronomy, because these were necessary to his worship of the gods; about
practical medicine, because this ministered to his material needs; about practical arithmetic,
because this aided him in every-day affairs. The bare rudiments of an historical science may be
said to be crudely outlined in his defective lists of kings. But beyond this he did not go. Science
as science, and for its own sake, was unknown to him. He had gods for all material functions,
and festivals in honor of every god; but there was no goddess of mere wisdom in his pantheon.
The conception of Minerva was reserved for the creative genius of another people.

Throughout classical antiquity Egyptian science was famous. We know that Plato spent some
years in Egypt in the hope of penetrating the alleged mysteries of its fabled learning; and the
story of the Egyptian priest who patronizingly assured Solon that the Greeks were but babes was
quoted everywhere without disapproval. Even so late as the time of Augustus, we find Diodorus,
the Sicilian, looking back with veneration upon the Oriental learning, to which Pliny also refers
with unbounded respect. From what we have seen of Egyptian science, all this furnishes us with
a somewhat striking commentary upon the attainments of the Greeks and Romans themselves.
To refer at length to this would be to anticipate our purpose; what now concerns us is to recall
that all along there was another nation, or group of nations, that disputed the palm for scientific
attainments. This group of nations found a home in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates. Their
land was named Mesopotamia by the Greeks, because a large part of it lay between the two
rivers just mentioned. The peoples themselves are familiar to every one as the Babylonians and
the Assyrians. These peoples were of Semitic stock--allied, therefore, to the ancient Hebrews and
Phoenicians and of the same racial stem with the Arameans and Arabs.

The great capital of the Babylonians during the later period of their history was the famed city of
Babylon itself; the most famous capital of the Assyrians was Nineveh, that city to which, as
every Bible- student will recall, the prophet Jonah was journeying when he had a much-exploited
experience, the record of which forms no part of scientific annals. It was the kings of Assyria,
issuing from their palaces in Nineveh, who dominated the civilization of Western Asia during the
heyday of Hebrew history, and whose deeds are so frequently mentioned in the Hebrew
chronicles. Later on, in the year 606 B.C., Nineveh was overthrown by the Medes[1] and
Babylonians. The famous city was completely destroyed, never to be rebuilt. Babylon, however,
though conquered subsequently by Cyrus and held in subjection by Darius,[2] the Persian kings,
continued to hold sway as a great world-capital for some centuries. The last great historical event
that occurred within its walls was the death of Alexander the Great, which took place there in the
year 322 B.C.
In the time of Herodotus the fame of Babylon was at its height, and the father of history has left
us a most entertaining account of what he saw when he visited the wonderful capital.
Unfortunately, Herodotus was not a scholar in the proper acceptance of the term. He probably
had no inkling of the Babylonian language, so the voluminous records of its literature were
entirely shut off from his observation. He therefore enlightens us but little regarding the science
of the Babylonians, though his observations on their practical civilization give us incidental
references of no small importance. Somewhat more detailed references to the scientific
attainments of the Babylonians are found in the fragments that have come down to us of the
writings of the great Babylonian historian, Berosus,[3] who was born in Babylon about 330 B.C.,
and who was, therefore, a contemporary of Alexander the Great. But the writings of Berosus
also, or at least such parts of them as have come down to us, leave very much to be desired in
point of explicitness. They give some glimpses of Babylonian history, and they detail at some
length the strange mythical tales of creation that entered into the Babylonian conception of
cosmogony--details which find their counterpart in the allied recitals of the Hebrews. But taken
all in all, the glimpses of the actual state of Chaldean[4] learning, as it was commonly called,
amounted to scarcely more than vague wonder-tales. No one really knew just what interpretation
to put upon these tales until the explorers of the nineteenth century had excavated the ruins of the
Babylonian and Assyrian cities, bringing to light the relics of their wonderful civilization. But
these relics fortunately included vast numbers of written documents, inscribed on tablets, prisms,
and cylinders of terra-cotta. When nineteenth-century scholarship had penetrated the mysteries of
the strange script, and ferreted out the secrets of an unknown tongue, the world at last was in
possession of authentic records by which the traditions regarding the Babylonians and Assyrians
could be tested. Thanks to these materials, a new science commonly spoken of as Assyriology
came into being, and a most important chapter of human history was brought to light. It became
apparent that the Greek ideas concerning Mesopotamia, though vague in the extreme, were
founded on fact. No one any longer questions that the Mesopotamian civilization was fully on a
par with that of Egypt; indeed, it is rather held that superiority lay with the Asiatics. Certainly, in
point of purely scientific attainments, the Babylonians passed somewhat beyond their Egyptian
competitors. All the evidence seems to suggest also that the Babylonian civilization was even
more ancient than that of Egypt. The precise dates are here in dispute; nor for our present
purpose need they greatly concern us. But the Assyrio-Babylonian records have much greater
historical accuracy as regards matters of chronology than have the Egyptian, and it is believed
that our knowledge of the early Babylonian history is carried back, with some certainty, to King
Sargon of Agade,[5] for whom the date 3800 B.C. is generally accepted; while somewhat vaguer
records give us glimpses of periods as remote as the sixth, perhaps even the seventh or eighth
millenniums before our era.

At a very early period Babylon itself was not a capital and Nineveh had not come into existence.
The important cities, such as Nippur and Shirpurla, were situated farther to the south. It is on the
site of these cities that the recent excavations have been made, such as those of the University of
Pennsylvania expeditions at Nippur,[6] which are giving us glimpses into remoter recesses of the
historical period.

Even if we disregard the more problematical early dates, we are still concerned with the records
of a civilization extending unbroken throughout a period of about four thousand years; the actual
period is in all probability twice or thrice that. Naturally enough, the current of history is not an
unbroken stream throughout this long epoch. It appears that at least two utterly different ethnic
elements are involved. A preponderance of evidence seems to show that the earliest civilized
inhabitants of Mesopotamia were not Semitic, but an alien race, which is now commonly spoken
of as Sumerian. This people, of whom we catch glimpses chiefly through the records of its
successors, appears to have been subjugated or overthrown by Semitic invaders, who, coming
perhaps from Arabia (their origin is in dispute), took possession of the region of the Tigris and
Euphrates, learned from the Sumerians many of the useful arts, and, partly perhaps because of
their mixed lineage, were enabled to develop the most wonderful civilization of antiquity. Could
we analyze the details of this civilization from its earliest to its latest period we should of course
find the same changes which always attend racial progress and decay. We should then be able,
no doubt, to speak of certain golden epochs and their periods of decline. To a certain meagre
extent we are able to do this now. We know, for example, that King Khammurabi, who lived
about 2200 B.C., was a great law-giver, the ancient prototype of Justinian; and the epochs of
such Assyrian kings as Sargon II., Asshurnazirpal, Sennacherib, and Asshurbanapal stand out
with much distinctness. Yet, as a whole, the record does not enable us to trace with clearness the
progress of scientific thought. At best we can gain fewer glimpses in this direction than in almost
any other, for it is the record of war and conquest rather than of the peaceful arts that
commanded the attention of the ancient scribe. So in dealing with the scientific achievements of
these peoples, we shall perforce consider their varied civilizations as a unity, and attempt, as best
we may, to summarize their achievements as a whole. For the most part, we shall not attempt to
discriminate as to what share in the final product was due to Sumerian, what to Babylonian, and
what to Assyrian. We shall speak of Babylonian science as including all these elements; and
drawing our information chiefly from the relatively late Assyrian and Babylonian sources,
which, therefore, represent the culminating achievements of all these ages of effort, we shall
attempt to discover what was the actual status of Mesopotamian science at its climax. In so far as
we succeed, we shall be able to judge what scientific heritage Europe received from the Orient;
for in the records of Babylonian science we have to do with the Eastern mind at its best. Let us
turn to the specific inquiry as to the achievements of the Chaldean scientist whose fame so
dazzled the eyes of his contemporaries of the classic world.

Our first concern naturally is astronomy, this being here, as in Egypt, the first-born and the most
important of the sciences. The fame of the Chaldean astronomer was indeed what chiefly
commanded the admiration of the Greeks, and it was through the results of astronomical
observations that Babylonia transmitted her most important influences to the Western world.
"Our division of time is of Babylonian origin," says Hornmel;[7] "to Babylonia we owe the week
of seven days, with the names of the planets for the days of the week, and the division into hours
and months." Hence the almost personal interest which we of to-day must needs feel in the
efforts of the Babylonian star-gazer.
It must not be supposed, however, that the Chaldean astronomer had made any very
extraordinary advances upon the knowledge of the Egyptian "watchers of the night." After all, it
required patient observation rather than any peculiar genius in the observer to note in the course
of time such broad astronomical conditions as the regularity of the moon's phases, and the
relation of the lunar periods to the longer periodical oscillations of the sun. Nor could the curious
wanderings of the planets escape the attention of even a moderately keen observer. The chief
distinction between the Chaldean and Egyptian astronomers appears to have consisted in the
relative importance they attached to various of the phenomena which they both observed. The
Egyptian, as we have seen, centred his attention upon the sun. That luminary was the abode of
one of his most important gods. His worship was essentially solar. The Babylonian, on the other
hand, appears to have been peculiarly impressed with the importance of the moon. He could not,
of course, overlook the attention-compelling fact of the solar year; but his unit of time was the
lunar period of thirty days, and his year consisted of twelve lunar periods, or 360 days. He was
perfectly aware, however, that this period did not coincide with the actual year; but the relative
unimportance which he ascribed to the solar year is evidenced by the fact that he interpolated an
added month to adjust the calendar only once in six years. Indeed, it would appear that the
Babylonians and Assyrians did not adopt precisely the same method of adjusting the calendar,
since the Babylonians had two intercular months called Elul and Adar, whereas the Assyrians
had only a single such month, called the second Adar.[8] (The Ve'Adar of the Hebrews.) This
diversity further emphasizes the fact that it was the lunar period which received chief attention,
the adjustment of this period with the solar seasons being a necessary expedient of secondary
importance. It is held that these lunar periods have often been made to do service for years in the
Babylonian computations and in the allied computations of the early Hebrews. The lives of the
Hebrew patriarchs, for example, as recorded in the Bible, are perhaps reckoned in lunar "years."
Divided by twelve, the "years" of Methuselah accord fairly with the usual experience of
Yet, on the other hand, the convenience of the solar year in computing long periods of time was
not unrecognized, since this period is utilized in reckoning the reigns of the Assyrian kings. It
may be added that the reign of a king "was not reckoned from the day of his accession, but from
the Assyrian new year's day, either before or after the day of accession. There does not appear to
have been any fixed rule as to which new year's day should be chosen; but from the number of
known cases, it appears to have been the general practice to count the reigning years from the
new year's day nearest the accession, and to call the period between the accession day and the
first new year's day 'the beginning of the reign,' when the year from the new year's day was
called the first year, and the following ones were brought successively from it. Notwithstanding,
in the dates of several Assyrian and Babylonian sovereigns there are cases of the year of
accession being considered as the first year, thus giving two reckonings for the reigns of various
monarchs, among others, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, Nebuchadrezzar."[9] This uncertainty as to
the years of reckoning again emphasizes the fact that the solar year did not have for the Assyrian
chronology quite the same significance that it has for us.
The Assyrian month commenced on the evening when the new moon was first observed, or, in
case the moon was not visible, the new month started thirty days after the last month. Since the
actual lunar period is about twenty-nine and one-half days, a practical adjustment was required
between the months themselves, and this was probably effected by counting alternate months as
Only 29 days in length. Mr. R. Campbell Thompson[10] is led by his studies of the astrological
tablets to emphasize this fact. He believes that "the object of the astrological reports which
related to the appearance of the moon and sun was to help determine and foretell the length of
the lunar month." Mr. Thompson believes also that there is evidence to show that the interculary
month was added at a period less than six years. In point of fact, it does not appear to be quite
clearly established as to precisely how the adjustment of days with the lunar months, and lunar
months with the solar year, was effected. It is clear, however, according to Smith, "that the first
28 days of every month were divided into four weeks of seven days each; the seventh,
fourteenth, twenty-first, twenty-eighth days respectively being Sabbaths, and that there was a
general prohibition of work on these days." Here, of course, is the foundation of the Hebrew
system of Sabbatical days which we have inherited. The sacredness of the number seven itself--
the belief in which has not been quite shaken off even to this day --was deduced by the Assyrian
astronomer from his observation of the seven planetary bodies--namely, Sin (the moon), Samas
(the sun), Umunpawddu (Jupiter), Dilbat (Venus), Kaimanu (Saturn), Gudud (Mercury),
Mustabarru-mutanu (Mars).[11] Twelve lunar periods, making up approximately the solar year,
gave peculiar importance to the number twelve also. Thus the zodiac was divided into twelve
signs which astronomers of all subsequent times have continued to recognize; and the
duodecimal system of counting took precedence with the Babylonian mathematicians over the
more primitive and, as it seems to us, more satisfactory decimal system.
Another discrepancy between the Babylonian and Egyptian years appears in the fact that the
Babylonian new year dates from about the period of the vernal equinox and not from the solstice.
Lockyer associates this with the fact that the periodical inundation of the Tigris and Euphrates
occurs about the equinoctial period, whereas, as we have seen, the Nile flood comes at the time
of the solstice. It is but natural that so important a phenomenon as the Nile flood should make a
strong impression upon the minds of a people living in a valley. The fact that occasional
excessive inundations have led to most disastrous results is evidenced in the incorporation of
stories of the almost total destruction of mankind by such floods among the myth tales of all
peoples who reside in valley countries. The flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates had not, it is
true, quite the same significance for the Mesopotamians that the Nile flood had for the
Egyptians. Nevertheless it was a most important phenomenon, and may very readily be imagined
to have been the most tangible index to the seasons. But in recognizing the time of the
inundations and the vernal equinox, the Assyrians did not dethrone the moon from its
accustomed precedence, for the year was reckoned as commencing not precisely at the vernal
equinox, but at the new moon next before the equinox.

Beyond marking the seasons, the chief interests that actuated the Babylonian astronomer in his
observations were astrological. After quoting Diodorus to the effect that the Babylonian priests
observed the position of certain stars in order to cast horoscopes, Thompson tells us that from a
very early day the very name Chaldean became synonymous with magician. He adds that "from
Mesopotamia, by way of Greece and Rome, a certain amount of Babylonian astrology made its
way among the nations of the west, and it is quite probable that many superstitions which we
commonly record as the peculiar product of western civilization took their origin from those of
the early dwellers on the alluvial lands of Mesopotamia. One Assurbanipal, king of Assyria B.C.
668-626, added to the royal library at Nineveh his contribution of tablets, which included many
series of documents which related exclusively to the astrology of the ancient Babylonians, who
in turn had borrowed it with modifications from the Sumerian invaders of the country. Among
these must be mentioned the series which was commonly called 'the Day of Bel,' and which was
decreed by the learned to have been written in the time of the great Sargon I., king of Agade,
3800 B.C. With such ancient works as these to guide them, the profession of deducing omens
from daily events reached such a pitch of importance in the last Assyrian Empire that a system of
making periodical reports came into being. By these the king was informed of all the occurrences
in the heavens and on earth, and the results of astrological studies in respect to after events. The
heads of the astrological profession were men of high rank and position, and their office was
hereditary. The variety of information contained in these reports is best gathered from the fact
that they were sent from cities as far removed from each other as Assur in the north and Erech in
the south, and it can only be assumed that they were despatched by runners, or men mounted on
swift horses. As reports also came from Dilbat, Kutba, Nippur, and Bursippa, all cities of ancient
foundation, the king was probably well acquainted with the general course of events in his
From certain passages in the astrological tablets, Thompson draws the interesting conclusion that
the Chaldean astronomers were acquainted with some kind of a machine for reckoning time. He
finds in one of the tablets a phrase which he interprets to mean measure-governor, and he infers
from this the existence of a kind of a calculator. He calls attention also to the fact that Sextus
Empiricus[13] states that the clepsydra was known to the Chaldeans, and that Herodotus asserts
that the Greeks borrowed certain measures of time from the Babylonians. He finds further
corroboration in the fact that the Babylonians had a time-measure by which they divided the day
and the night; a measure called kasbu, which contained two hours. In a report relating to the day
of the vernal equinox, it is stated that there are six kasbu of the day and six kasbu of the night.
While the astrologers deduced their omens from all the celestial bodies known to them, they
chiefly gave attention to the moon, noting with great care the shape of its horns, and deducing
such a conclusion as that "if the horns are pointed the king will overcome whatever he goreth,"
and that "when the moon is low at its appearance, the submission (of the people) of a far country
will come."[14] The relations of the moon and sun were a source of constant observation, it
being noted whether the sun and moon were seen together above the horizon; whether one set as
the other rose, and the like. And whatever the phenomena, there was always, of course, a direct
association between such phenomena and the well-being of human kind--in particular the king, at
whose instance, and doubtless at whose expense, the observations were carried out.
From omens associated with the heavenly bodies it is but a step to omens based upon other
phenomena of nature, and we, shall see in a moment that the Babylonian prophets made free use
of their opportunities in this direction also. But before we turn from the field of astronomy, it
will be well to inform ourselves as to what system the Chaldean astronomer had invented in
explanation of the mechanics of the universe. Our answer to this inquiry is not quite as definite
as could be desired, the vagueness of the records, no doubt, coinciding with the like vagueness in
the minds of the Chaldeans themselves. So far as we can interpret the somewhat mystical
references that have come down to us, however, the Babylonian cosmology would seem to have
represented the earth as a circular plane surrounded by a great circular river, beyond which rose
an impregnable barrier of mountains, and resting upon an infinite sea of waters. The material
vault of the heavens was supposed to find support upon the outlying circle of mountains. But the
precise mechanism through which the observed revolution of the heavenly bodies was effected
remains here, as with the Egyptian cosmology, somewhat conjectural. The simple fact would
appear to be that, for the Chaldeans as for the Egyptians, despite their most careful observations
of the tangible phenomena of the heavens, no really satisfactory mechanical conception of the
cosmos was attainable. We shall see in due course by what faltering steps the European
imagination advanced from the crude ideas of Egypt and Babylonia to the relatively clear vision
of Newton and Laplace.
We turn now from the field of the astrologer to the closely allied province of Chaldean magic--a
province which includes the other; which, indeed, is so all- encompassing as scarcely to leave
any phase of Babylonian thought outside its bounds.

The tablets having to do with omens, exorcisms, and the like magic practices make up an
astonishingly large proportion of the Babylonian records. In viewing them it is hard to avoid the
conclusion that the superstitions which they evidenced absolutely dominated the life of the
Babylonians of every degree. Yet it must not be forgotten that the greatest inconsistencies
everywhere exist between the superstitious beliefs of a people and the practical observances of
that people. No other problem is so difficult for the historian as that which confronts him when
he endeavors to penetrate the mysteries of an alien religion; and when, as in the present case, the
superstitions involved have been transmitted from generation to generation, their exact practical
phases as interpreted by any particular generation must be somewhat problematical. The tablets
upon which our knowledge of these omens is based are many of them from the libraries of the
later kings of Nineveh; but the omens themselves are, in such cases, inscribed in the original
Accadian form in which they have come down from remote ages, accompanied by an Assyrian
translation. Thus the superstitions involved had back of them hundreds of years, even thousands
of years, of precedent; and we need not doubt that the ideas with which they are associated were
interwoven with almost every thought and deed of the life of the people. Professor Sayce assures
us that the Assyrians and Babylonians counted no fewer than three hundred spirits of heaven, and
six hundred spirits of earth. "Like the Jews of the Talmud," he says, "they believed that the world
was swarming with noxious spirits, who produced the various diseases to which man is liable,
and might be swallowed with the food and drink which support life." Fox Talbot was inclined to
believe that exorcisms were the exclusive means used to drive away the tormenting spirits. This
seems unlikely, considering the uniform association of drugs with the magical practices among
their people. Yet there is certainly a strange silence of the tablets in regard to medicine. Talbot
tells us that sometimes divine images were brought into the sick-chamber, and written texts taken
from holy books were placed on the walls and bound around the sick man's members. If these
failed, recourse was had to the influence of the mamit, which the evil powers were unable to
resist. On a tablet, written in the Accadian language only, the Assyrian version being taken,
however, was found the following:

1. Take a white cloth. In it place the mamit, 2. in the sick man's right hand. 3. Take a black cloth,
4. wrap it around his left hand. 5. Then all the evil spirits (a long list of them is given) 6. and the
sins which he has committed 7. shall quit their hold of him 8. and shall never return.
The symbolism of the black cloth in the left hand seems evident. The dying man repents of his
former evil deeds, and he puts his trust in holiness, symbolized by the white cloth in his right
hand. Then follow some obscure lines about the spirits:
1. Their heads shall remove from his head. 2. Their heads shall let go his hands. 3. Their feet
shall depart from his feet.
Which perhaps may be explained thus: we learn from another tablet that the various classes of
evil spirits troubled different parts of the body; some injured the head, some the hands and the
feet, etc., therefore the passage before may mean "the spirits whose power is over the hand shall
loose their hands from his," etc. "But," concludes Talbot, "I can offer no decided opinion upon
such obscure points of their superstition."[15]
In regard to evil spirits, as elsewhere, the number seven had a peculiar significance, it being held
that that number of spirits might enter into a man together. Talbot has translated[16] a "wild
chant" which he names "The Song of the Seven Spirits."

1. There are seven! There are seven! 2. In the depths of the ocean there are seven! 3. In the
heights of the heaven there are seven! 4. In the ocean stream in a palace they were born. 5. Male
they are not: female they are not! 6. Wives they have not! Children are not born to them! 7.
Rules they have not! Government they know not! 8. Prayers they hear not! 9. There are seven!
There are seven! Twice over there are seven!

The tablets make frequent allusion to these seven spirits. One starts thus:
1. The god (---) shall stand by his bedside; 2. These seven evil spirits he shall root out and shall
expel them from his body, 3. and these seven shall never return to the sick man again.[17]
Altogether similar are the exorcisms intended to ward off disease. Professor Sayce has published
translations of some of these.[18] Each of these ends with the same phrase, and they differ only
in regard to the particular maladies from which freedom is desired. One reads:
"From wasting, from want of health, from the evil spirit of the ulcer, from the spreading quinsy
of the gullet, from the violent ulcer, from the noxious ulcer, may the king of heaven preserve,
may the king of earth preserve."

Another is phrased thus:

"From the cruel spirit of the head, from the strong spirit of the head, from the head spirit that
departs not, from the head spirit that comes not forth, from the head spirit that will not go, from
the noxious head spirit, may the king of heaven preserve, may the king of earth preserve."
As to omens having to do with the affairs of everyday life the number is legion. For example,
Moppert has published, in the Journal Asiatique,[19] the translation of a tablet which contains on
its two sides several scores of birth-portents, a few of which maybe quoted at random:

"When a woman bears a child and it has the ears of a lion, a strong king is in the country."
"When a woman bears a child and it has a bird's beak, that country is oppressed." "When a
woman bears a child and its right hand is wanting, that country goes to destruction." "When a
woman bears a child and its feet are wanting, the roads of the country are cut; that house is
destroyed." "When a woman bears a child and at the time of its birth its beard is grown, floods
are in the country." "When a woman bears a child and at the time of its birth its mouth is open
and speaks, there is pestilence in the country, the Air-god inundates the crops of the country,
injury in the country is caused."
Some of these portents, it will be observed, are not in much danger of realization, and it is
curious to surmise by what stretch of the imagination they can have been invented. There is, for
example, on the same tablet just quoted, one reference which assures us that "when a sheep bears
a lion the forces march multitudinously; the king has not a rival." There are other omens,
however, that are so easy of realization as to lead one to suppose that any Babylonian who
regarded all the superstitious signs must have been in constant terror. Thus a tablet translated by
Professor Sayce[20] gives a long list of omens furnished by dogs, in which we are assured that:
1. If a yellow dog enters into the palace, exit from that palace will be baleful. 2. If a dog to the
palace goes, and on a throne lies down, that palace is burned. 3. if a black dog into a temple
enters, the foundation of that temple is not stable. 4. If female dogs one litter bear, destruction to
the city.

It is needless to continue these citations, since they but reiterate endlessly the same story. It is
interesting to recall, however, that the observations of animate nature, which were doubtless
superstitious in their motive, had given the Babylonians some inklings of a knowledge of
classification. Thus, according to Menant,[21] some of the tablets from Nineveh, which are
written, as usual, in both the Sumerian and Assyrian languages, and which, therefore, like
practically all Assyrian books, draw upon the knowledge of old Babylonia, give lists of animals,
making an attempt at classification. The dog, lion, and wolf are placed in one category; the ox,
sheep, and goat in another; the dog family itself is divided into various races, as the domestic
dog, the coursing dog, the small dog, the dog of Elan, etc. Similar attempts at classification of
birds are found. Thus, birds of rapid flight, sea-birds, and marsh-birds are differentiated. Insects
are classified according to habit; those that attack plants, animals, clothing, or wood. Vegetables
seem to be classified according to their usefulness. One tablet enumerates the uses of wood
according to its adaptability for timber-work of palaces, or construction of vessels, the making of
implements of husbandry, or even furniture. Minerals occupy a long series in these tablets. They
are classed according to their qualities, gold and silver occupying a division apart; precious
stones forming another series. Our Babylonians, then, must be credited with the development of
a rudimentary science of natural history.

We have just seen that medical practice in the Babylonian world was strangely under the cloud
of superstition. But it should be understood that our estimate, through lack of correct data,
probably does much less than justice to the attainments of the physician of the time. As already
noted, the existing tablets chance not to throw much light on the subject. It is known, however,
that the practitioner of medicine occupied a position of some, authority and responsibility. The
proof of this is found in the clauses relating to the legal status of the physician which are
contained in the now famous code[22] of the Babylonian King Khamurabi, who reigned about
2300 years before our era. These clauses, though throwing no light on the scientific attainments
of the physician of the period, are too curious to be omitted. They are clauses 215 to 227 of the
celebrated code, and are as follows:

215. If a doctor has treated a man for a severe wound with a lancet of bronze and has cured the
man, or has opened a tumor with a bronze lancet and has cured the man's eye, he shall receive
ten shekels of silver.

216. If it was a freedman, he shall receive five shekels of silver.

217. If it was a man's slave, the owner of the slave shall give the doctor two shekels of silver.

218. If a physician has treated a free-born man for a severe wound with a lancet of bronze and
has caused the man to die, or has opened a tumor of the man with a lancet of bronze and has
destroyed his eye, his hands one shall cut off.
219. If the doctor has treated the slave of a freedman for a severe wound with a bronze lancet and
has caused him to die, he shall give back slave for slave.

220. If he has opened his tumor with a bronze lancet and has ruined his eye, he shall pay the half
of his price in money.

221. If a doctor has cured the broken limb of a man, or has healed his sick body, the patient shall
pay the doctor five shekels of silver.

222. If it was a freedman, he shall give three shekels of silver.

223. If it was a man's slave, the owner of the slave shall give two shekels of silver to the doctor.
224. If the doctor of oxen and asses has treated an ox or an ass for a grave wound and has cured
it, the owner of the ox or the ass shall give to the doctor as his pay one-sixth of a shekel of silver.
225. If he has treated an ox or an ass for a severe wound and has caused its death, he shall pay
one-fourth of its price to the owner of the ox or the ass.
226. If a barber-surgeon, without consent of the owner of a slave, has branded the slave with an
indelible mark, one shall cut off the hands of that barber.
227. If any one deceive the surgeon-barber and make him brand a slave with an indelible mark,
one shall kill that man and bury him in his house. The barber shall swear, "I did not mark him
wittingly," and he shall be guiltless.

Before turning from the Oriental world it is perhaps worth while to attempt to estimate somewhat
specifically the world-influence of the name, Babylonian science. Perhaps we cannot better gain
an idea as to the estimate put upon that science by the classical world than through a somewhat
extended quotation from a classical author. Diodorus Siculus, who, as already noted, lived at
about the time of Augustus, and who, therefore, scanned in perspective the entire sweep of
classical Greek history, has left us a striking summary which is doubly valuable because of its
comparisons of Babylonian with Greek influence. Having viewed the science of Babylonia in the
light of the interpretations made possible by the recent study of original documents, we are
prepared to draw our own conclusions from the statements of the Greek historian. Here is his
estimate in the words of the quaint translation made by Philemon Holland in the year 1700:[23]
"They being the most ancient Babylonians, hold the same station and dignity in the Common-
wealth as the Egyptian Priests do in Egypt: For being deputed to Divine Offices, they spend all
their Time in the study of Philosophy, and are especially famous for the Art of Astrology. They
are mightily given to Divination, and foretel future Events, and imploy themselves either by
Purifications, Sacrifices, or other Inchantments to avert Evils, or procure good Fortune and
Success. They are skilful likewise in the Art of Divination, by the flying of Birds, and
interpreting of Dreams and Prodigies: And are reputed as true Oracles (in declaring what will
come to pass) by their exact and diligent viewing the Intrals of the Sacrifices. But they attain not
to this Knowledge in the same manner as the Grecians do; for the Chaldeans learn it by Tradition
from their Ancestors, the Son from the Father, who are all in the mean time free from all other
publick Offices and Attendances; and because their Parents are their Tutors, they both learn
every thing without Envy, and rely with more confidence upon the truth of what is taught them;
and being train'd up in this Learning, from their very Childhood, they become most famous
Philosophers, (that Age being most capable of Learning, wherein they spend much of their time).
But the Grecians for the most part come raw to this study, unfitted and unprepar'd, and are long
before they attain to the Knowledge of this Philosophy: And after they have spent some small
time in this Study, they are many times call'd off and forc'd to leave it, in order to get a
Livelihood and Subsistence. And although some, few do industriously apply themselves to
Philosophy, yet for the sake of Gain, these very Men are opinionative, and ever and anon starting
new and high Points, and never fix in the steps of their Ancestors. But the Barbarians keeping
constantly close to the same thing, attain to a perfect and distinct Knowledge in every particular.
"But the Grecians, cunningly catching at all Opportunities of Gain, make new Sects and Parties,
and by their contrary Opinions wrangling and quarelling concerning the chiefest Points, lead
their Scholars into a Maze; and being uncertain and doubtful what to pitch upon for certain truth,
their Minds are fluctuating and in suspence all the days of their Lives, and unable to give a
certain assent unto any thing. For if any Man will but examine the most eminent Sects of the
Philosophers, he shall find them much differing among themselves, and even opposing one
another in the most weighty parts of their Philosophy. But to return to the Chaldeans, they hold
that the World is eternal, which had neither any certain Beginning, nor shall have any End; but
all agree, that all things are order'd, and this beautiful Fabrick is supported by a Divine
Providence, and that the Motions of the Heavens are not perform'd by chance and of their own
accord, but by a certain and determinate Will and Appointment of the Gods.

"Therefore from a long observation of the Stars, and an exact Knowledge of the motions and
influences of every one of them, wherein they excel all others, they fortel many things that are to
come to pass.
"They say that the Five Stars which some call Planets, but they Interpreters, are most worthy of
Consideration, both for their motions and their remarkable influences, especially that which the
Grecians call Saturn. The brightest of them all, and which often portends many and great Events,
they call Sol, the other Four they name Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter, with our own
Country Astrologers. They give the Name of Interpreters to these Stars, because these only by a
peculiar Motion do portend things to come, and instead of Jupiters, do declare to Men before-
hand the good- will of the Gods; whereas the other Stars (not being of the number of the Planets)
have a constant ordinary motion. Future Events (they say) are pointed at sometimes by their
Rising, and sometimes by their Setting, and at other times by their Colour, as may be experienc'd
by those that will diligently observe it; sometimes foreshewing Hurricanes, at other times
Tempestuous Rains, and then again exceeding Droughts. By these, they say, are often portended
the appearance of Comets, Eclipses of the Sun and Moon, Earthquakes and all other the various
Changes and remarkable effects in the Air, boding good and bad, not only to Nations in general,
but to Kings and Private Persons in particular. Under the course of these Planets, they say are
Thirty Stars, which they call Counselling Gods, half of whom observe what is done under the
Earth, and the other half take notice of the actions of Men upon the Earth, and what is transacted
in the Heavens. Once every Ten Days space (they say) one of the highest Order of these Stars
descends to them that are of the lowest, like a Messenger sent from them above; and then again
another ascends from those below to them above, and that this is their constant natural motion to
continue for ever. The chief of these Gods, they say, are Twelve in number, to each of which
they attribute a Month, and one Sign of the Twelve in the Zodiack.
"Through these Twelve Signs the Sun, Moon, and the other Five Planets run their Course. The
Sun in a Years time, and the Moon in the space of a Month. To every one of the Planets they
assign their own proper Courses, which are perform'd variously in lesser or shorter time
according as their several motions are quicker or slower. These Stars, they say, have a great
influence both as to good and bad in Mens Nativities; and from the consideration of their several
Natures, may be foreknown what will befal Men afterwards. As they foretold things to come to
other Kings formerly, so they did to Alexander who conquer'd Darius, and to his Successors
Antigonus and Seleucus Nicator; and accordingly things fell out as they declar'd; which we shall
relate particularly hereafter in a more convenient time. They tell likewise private Men their
Fortunes so certainly, that those who have found the thing true by Experience, have esteem'd it a
Miracle, and above the reach of man to perform. Out of the Circle of the Zodiack they describe
Four and Twenty Stars, Twelve towards the North Pole, and as many to the South.
"Those which we see, they assign to the living; and the other that do not appear, they conceive
are Constellations for the Dead; and they term them Judges of all things. The Moon, they say, is
in the lowest Orb; and being therefore next to the Earth (because she is so small), she finishes her
Course in a little time, not through the swiftness of her Motion, but the shortness of her Sphear.
In that which they affirm (that she has but a borrow'd light, and that when she is eclips'd, it's
caus'd by the interposition of the shadow of the Earth) they agree with the Grecians.
"Their Rules and Notions concerning the Eclipses of the Sun are but weak and mean, which they
dare not positively foretel, nor fix a certain time for them. They have likewise Opinions
concerning the Earth peculiar to themselves, affirming it to resemble a Boat, and to be hollow, to
prove which, and other things relating to the frame of the World, they abound in Arguments; but
to give a particular Account of 'em, we conceive would be a thing foreign to our History. But this
any Man may justly and truly say, That the Chaldeans far exceed all other Men in the Knowledge
of Astrology, and have study'd it most of any other Art or Science: But the number of years
during which the Chaldeans say, those of their Profession have given themselves to the study of
this natural Philosophy, is incredible; for when Alexander was in Asia, they reckon'd up Four
Hundred and Seventy Thousand Years since they first began to observe the Motions of the

Let us now supplement this estimate of Babylonian influence with another estimate written in
our own day, and quoted by one of the most recent historians of Babylonia and Assyria.[24] The
estimate in question is that of Canon Rawlinson in his Great Oriental Monarchies.[25] Of
Babylonia he says:
"Hers was apparently the genius which excogitated an alphabet; worked out the simpler
problems of arithmetic; invented implements for measuring the lapse of time; conceived the idea
of raising enormous structures with the poorest of all materials, clay; discovered the art of
polishing, boring, and engraving gems; reproduced with truthfulness the outlines of human and
animal forms; attained to high perfection in textile fabrics; studied with success the motions of
the heavenly bodies; conceived of grammar as a science; elaborated a system of law; saw the
value of an exact chronology--in almost every branch of science made a beginning, thus
rendering it comparatively easy for other nations to proceed with the superstructure.... It was
from the East, not from Egypt, that Greece derived her architecture, her sculpture, her science,
her philosophy, her mathematical knowledge--in a word, her intellectual life. And Babylon was
the source to which the entire stream of Eastern civilization may be traced. It is scarcely too
much to say that, but for Babylon, real civilization might not yet have dawned upon the earth."

Considering that a period of almost two thousand years separates the times of writing of these
two estimates, the estimates themselves are singularly in unison. They show that the greatest of
Oriental nations has not suffered in reputation at the hands of posterity. It is indeed almost
impossible to contemplate the monuments of Babylonian and Assyrian civilization that are now
preserved in the European and American museums without becoming enthusiastic. That certainly
was a wonderful civilization which has left us the tablets on which are inscribed the laws of a
Khamurabi on the one hand, and the art treasures of the palace of an Asshurbanipal on the other.
Yet a candid consideration of the scientific attainments of the Babylonians and Assyrians can
scarcely arouse us to a like enthusiasm. In considering the subject we have seen that, so far as
pure science is concerned, the efforts of the Babylonians and Assyrians chiefly centred about the
subjects of astrology and magic. With the records of their ghost-haunted science fresh in mind,
one might be forgiven for a momentary desire to take issue with Canon Rawlinson's words. We
are assured that the scientific attainments of Europe are almost solely to be credited to Babylonia
and not to Egypt, but we should not forget that Plato, the greatest of the Greek thinkers, went to
Egypt and not to Babylonia to pursue his studies when he wished to penetrate the secrets of
Oriental science and philosophy. Clearly, then, classical Greece did not consider Babylonia as
having a monopoly of scientific knowledge, and we of to-day, when we attempt to weigh the
new evidence that has come to us in recent generations with the Babylonian records themselves,
find that some, at least, of the heritages for which Babylonia has been praised are of more than
doubtful value. Babylonia, for example, gave us our seven-day week and our system of
computing by twelves. But surely the world could have got on as well without that magic
number seven; and after some hundreds of generations we are coming to feel that the decimal
system of the Egyptians has advantages over the duodecimal system of the Babylonians. Again,
the Babylonians did not invent the alphabet; they did not even accept it when all the rest of the
world had recognized its value. In grammar and arithmetic, as with astronomy, they seemed not
to have advanced greatly, if at all, upon the Egyptians. One field in which they stand out in
startling pre- eminence is the field of astrology; but this, in the estimate of modern thought, is the
very negation of science. Babylonia impressed her superstitions on the Western world, and when
we consider the baleful influence of these superstitions, we may almost question whether we
might not reverse Canon Rawlinson's estimate and say that perhaps but for Babylonia real
civilization, based on the application of true science, might have dawned upon the earth a score
of centuries before it did. Yet, after all, perhaps this estimate is unjust. Society, like an individual
organism, must creep before it can walk, and perhaps the Babylonian experiments in astrology
and magic, which European civilization was destined to copy for some three or four thousand
years, must have been made a part of the necessary evolution of our race in one place or in
another. That thought, however, need not blind us to the essential fact, which the historian of
science must needs admit, that for the Babylonian, despite his boasted culture, science spelled


Before we turn specifically to the new world of the west, it remains to take note of what may
perhaps be regarded as the very greatest achievement of ancient science. This was the analysis of
speech sounds, and the resulting development of a system of alphabetical writing. To
comprehend the series of scientific inductions which led to this result, we must go back in
imagination and trace briefly the development of the methods of recording thought by means of
graphic symbols. In other words, we must trace the evolution of the art of writing. In doing so we
cannot hold to national lines as we have done in the preceding two chapters, though the efforts of
the two great scientific nations just considered will enter prominently into the story.
The familiar Greek legend assures us that a Phoenician named Kadmus was the first to bring a
knowledge of letters into Europe. An elaboration of the story, current throughout classical times,
offered the further explanation that the Phoenicians had in turn acquired the art of writing from
the Egyptians or Babylonians. Knowledge as to the true origin and development of the art of
writing did not extend in antiquity beyond such vagaries as these. Nineteenth-century studies
gave the first real clews to an understanding of the subject. These studies tended to authenticate
the essential fact on which the legend of Kadmus was founded; to the extent, at least, of making
it probable that the later Grecian alphabet was introduced from Phoenicia--though not, of course,
by any individual named Kadmus, the latter being, indeed, a name of purely Greek origin.
Further studies of the past generation tended to corroborate the ancient belief as to the original
source of the Phoenician alphabet, but divided scholars between two opinions: the one
contending that the Egyptian hieroglyphics were the source upon which the Phoenicians drew;
and the other contending with equal fervor that the Babylonian wedge character must be
conceded that honor.

But, as has often happened in other fields after years of acrimonious controversy, a new
discovery or two may suffice to show that neither contestant was right. After the Egyptologists of
the school of De Rouge[1] thought they had demonstrated that the familiar symbols of the
Phoenician alphabet had been copied from that modified form of Egyptian hieroglyphics known
as the hieratic writing, the Assyriologists came forward to prove that certain characters of the
Babylonian syllabary also show a likeness to the alphabetical characters that seemingly could not
be due to chance. And then, when a settlement of the dispute seemed almost hopeless, it was
shown through the Egyptian excavations that characters even more closely resembling those in
dispute had been in use all about the shores of the Mediterranean, quite independently of either
Egyptian or Assyrian writings, from periods so ancient as to be virtually prehistoric.
Coupled with this disconcerting discovery are the revelations brought to light by the excavations
at the sites of Knossos and other long-buried cities of the island of Crete.[2] These excavations,
which are still in progress, show that the art of writing was known and practised independently in
Crete before that cataclysmic overthrow of the early Greek civilization which archaeologists are
accustomed to ascribe to the hypothetical invasion of the Dorians. The significance of this is that
the art of writing was known in Europe long before the advent of the mythical Kadmus. But
since the early Cretan scripts are not to be identified with the scripts used in Greece in historical
times, whereas the latter are undoubtedly of lineal descent from the Phoenician alphabet, the
validity of the Kadmus legend, in a modified form, must still be admitted.

As has just been suggested, the new knowledge, particularly that which related to the great
antiquity of characters similar to the Phoenician alphabetical signs, is somewhat disconcerting.
Its general trend, however, is quite in the same direction with most of the new archaeological
knowledge of recent decades---that is to say, it tends to emphasize the idea that human
civilization in most of its important elaborations is vastly older than has hitherto been supposed.
It may be added, however, that no definite clews are as yet available that enable us to fix even an
approximate date for the origin of the Phoenician alphabet. The signs, to which reference has
been made, may well have been in existence for thousands of years, utilized merely as property
marks, symbols for counting and the like, before the idea of setting them aside as phonetic
symbols was ever conceived. Nothing is more certain, in the judgment of the present-day
investigator, than that man learned to write by slow and painful stages. It is probable that the
conception of such an analysis of speech sounds as would make the idea of an alphabet possible
came at a very late stage of social evolution, and as the culminating achievement of a long series
of improvements in the art of writing. The precise steps that marked this path of intellectual
development can for the most part be known only by inference; yet it is probable that the main
chapters of the story may be reproduced with essential accuracy.

For the very first chapters of the story we must go back in imagination to the prehistoric period.
Even barbaric man feels the need of self-expression, and strives to make his ideas manifest to
other men by pictorial signs. The cave-dwellers scratched pictures of men and animals on the
surface of a reindeer horn or mammoth tusk as mementos of his prowess. The American Indian
does essentially the same thing to-day, making pictures that crudely record his successes in war
and the chase. The Northern Indian had got no farther than this when the white man discovered
America; but the Aztecs of the Southwest and the Maya people of Yucatan had carried their
picture- making to a much higher state of elaboration.[3] They had developed systems of
pictographs or hieroglyphics that would doubtless in the course of generations have been
elaborated into alphabetical systems, had not the Europeans cut off the civilization of which they
were the highest exponents.
What the Aztec and Maya were striving towards in the sixteenth century A.D., various Oriental
nations had attained at least five or six thousand years earlier. In Egypt at the time of the
pyramid-builders, and in Babylonia at the same epoch, the people had developed systems of
writing that enabled them not merely to present a limited range of ideas pictorially, but to
express in full elaboration and with finer shades of meaning all the ideas that pertain to highly
cultured existence. The man of that time made records of military achievements, recorded the
transactions of every-day business life, and gave expression to his moral and spiritual aspirations
in a way strangely comparable to the manner of our own time. He had perfected highly elaborate
systems of writing.

Of the two ancient systems of writing just referred to as being in vogue at the so-called dawnings
of history, the more picturesque and suggestive was the hieroglyphic system of the Egyptians.
This is a curiously conglomerate system of writing, made up in part of symbols reminiscent of
the crudest stages of picture-writing, in part of symbols having the phonetic value of syllables,
and in part of true alphabetical letters. In a word, the Egyptian writing represents in itself the
elements of the various stages through which the art of writing has developed.[4] We must
conceive that new features were from time to time added to it, while the old features, curiously
enough, were not given up.

Here, for example, in the midst of unintelligible lines and pot-hooks, are various pictures that are
instantly recognizable as representations of hawks, lions, ibises, and the like. It can hardly be
questioned that when these pictures were first used calligraphically they were meant to represent
the idea of a bird or animal. In other words, the first stage of picture-writing did not go beyond
the mere representation of an eagle by the picture of an eagle. But this, obviously, would confine
the presentation of ideas within very narrow limits. In due course some inventive genius
conceived the thought of symbolizing a picture. To him the outline of an eagle might represent
not merely an actual bird, but the thought of strength, of courage, or of swift progress. Such a use
of symbols obviously extends the range of utility of a nascent art of writing. Then in due course
some wonderful psychologist--or perhaps the joint efforts of many generations of psychologists--
made the astounding discovery that the human voice, which seems to flow on in an unbroken
stream of endlessly varied modulations and intonations, may really be analyzed into a
comparatively limited number of component sounds--into a few hundreds of syllables. That
wonderful idea conceived, it was only a matter of time until it would occur to some other
enterprising genius that by selecting an arbitrary symbol to represent each one of these
elementary sounds it would be possible to make a written record of the words of human speech
which could be reproduced--rephonated--by some one who had never heard the words and did
not know in advance what this written record contained. This, of course, is what every child
learns to do now in the primer class, but we may feel assured that such an idea never occurred to
any human being until the peculiar forms of pictographic writing just referred to had been
practised for many centuries. Yet, as we have said, some genius of prehistoric Egypt conceived
the idea and put it into practical execution, and the hieroglyphic writing of which the Egyptians
were in full possession at the very beginning of what we term the historical period made use of
this phonetic system along with the ideographic system already described.
So fond were the Egyptians of their pictorial symbols used ideographically that they clung to
them persistently throughout the entire period of Egyptian history. They used symbols as
phonetic equivalents very frequently, but they never learned to depend upon them exclusively.
The scribe always interspersed his phonetic signs with some other signs intended as graphic aids.
After spelling a word out in full, he added a picture, sometimes even two or three pictures,
representative of the individual thing, or at least of the type of thing to which the word belongs.
Two or three illustrations will make this clear.
Thus qeften, monkey, is spelled out in full, but the picture of a monkey is added as a
determinative; second, qenu, cavalry, after being spelled, is made unequivocal by the
introduction of a picture of a horse; third, temati, wings, though spelled elaborately, has pictures
of wings added; and fourth, tatu, quadrupeds, after being spelled, has a picture of a quadruped,
and then the picture of a hide, which is the usual determinative of a quadruped, followed by three
dashes to indicate the plural number.

It must not be supposed, however, that it was a mere whim which led the Egyptians to the use of
this system of determinatives. There was sound reason back of it. It amounted to no more than
the expedient we adopt when we spell "to," "two," or "too," in indication of a single sound with
three different meanings. The Egyptian language abounds in words having more than one
meaning, and in writing these it is obvious that some means of distinction is desirable. The same
thing occurs even more frequently in the Chinese language, which is monosyllabic. The Chinese
adopt a more clumsy expedient, supplying a different symbol for each of the meanings of a
syllable; so that while the actual word-sounds of their speech are only a few hundreds in number,
the characters of their written language mount high into the thousands.

While the civilization of the Nile Valley was developing this extraordinary system of
hieroglyphics, the inhabitants of Babylonia were practising the art of writing along somewhat
different lines. It is certain that they began with picture-making, and that in due course they
advanced to the development of the syllabary; but, unlike their Egyptian cousins, the men of
Babylonia saw fit to discard the old system when they had perfected a better one.[5] So at a very
early day their writing--as revealed to us now through the recent excavations--had ceased to have
that pictorial aspect which distinguishes the Egyptian script. What had originally been pictures of
objects--fish, houses, and the like--had come to be represented by mere aggregations of wedge-
shaped marks. As the writing of the Babvlonians was chiefly inscribed on soft clay, the
adaptation of this wedge-shaped mark in lieu of an ordinary line was probably a mere matter of
convenience, since the sharp-cornered implement used in making the inscription naturally made
a wedge-shaped impression in the clay. That, however, is a detail. The essential thing is that the
Babylonian had so fully analyzed the speech-sounds that he felt entire confidence in them, and
having selected a sufficient number of conventional characters--each made up of wedge-shaped
lines--to represent all the phonetic sounds of his language, spelled the words out in syllables and
to some extent dispensed with the determinative signs which, as we have seen, played so
prominent a part in the Egyptian writing. His cousins the Assyrians used habitually a system of
writing the foundation of which was an elaborate phonetic syllabary; a system, therefore, far
removed from the old crude pictograph, and in some respects much more developed than the
complicated Egyptian method; yet, after all, a system that stopped short of perfection by the wide
gap that separates the syllabary from the true alphabet.
A brief analysis of speech sounds will aid us in understanding the real nature of the syllabary.
Let us take for consideration the consonantal sound represented by the letter b. A moment's
consideration will make it clear that this sound enters into a large number of syllables. There are,
for example, at least twenty vowel sounds in the English language, not to speak of certain
digraphs; that is to say, each of the important vowels has from two to six sounds. Each of these
vowel sounds may enter into combination with the b sound alone to form three syllables; as ba,
ab, bal, be, eb, bel, etc. Thus there are at least sixty b-sound syllables. But this is not the end, for
other consonantal sounds may be associated in the syllables in such combinations as bad, bed,
bar, bark, cab, etc. As each of the other twenty odd consonantal sounds may enter into similar
combinations, it is obvious that there are several hundreds of fundamental syllables to be taken
into account in any syllabic system of writing. For each of these syllables a symbol must be set
aside and held in reserve as the representative of that particular sound. A perfect syllabary, then,
would require some hundred or more of symbols to represent b sounds alone; and since the
sounds for c, d, f, and the rest are equally varied, the entire syllabary would run into thousands of
characters, almost rivalling in complexity the Chinese system. But in practice the most perfect
syllabary, Such as that of the Babylonians, fell short of this degree of precision through ignoring
the minor shades of sound; just as our own alphabet is content to represent some thirty vowel
sounds by five letters, ignoring the fact that a, for example, has really half a dozen distinct
phonetic values. By such slurring of sounds the syllabary is reduced far below its ideal limits; yet
even so it retains three or four hundred characters.
In point of fact, such a work as Professor Delitzsch's Assyrian Grammar[6] presents signs for
three hundred and thirty-four syllables, together with sundry alternative signs and determinatives
to tax the memory of the would-be reader of Assyrian. Let us take for example a few of the b
sounds. It has been explained that the basis of the Assyrian written character is a simple wedge-
shaped or arrow-head mark. Variously repeated and grouped, these marks make up the syllabic

To learn some four hundred such signs as these was the task set, as an equivalent of learning the
a b c's, to any primer class in old Assyria in the long generations when that land was the culture
Centre of the world. Nor was the task confined to the natives of Babylonia and Assyria alone.
About the fifteenth century B.C., and probably for a long time before and after that period, the
exceedingly complex syllabary of the Babylonians was the official means of communication
throughout western Asia and between Asia and Egypt, as we know from the chance discovery of
a collection of letters belonging to the Egyptian king Khun-aten, preserved at Tel-el-Amarna. In
the time of Ramses the Great the Babylonian writing was in all probability considered by a
majority of the most highly civilized people in the world to be the most perfect script practicable.
Doubtless the average scribe of the time did not in the least realize the waste of energy involved
in his labors, or ever suspect that there could be any better way of writing.
Yet the analysis of any one of these hundreds of syllables into its component phonetic elements--
had any one been genius enough to make such analysis-- ould have given the key to simpler and
better things. But such an analysis was very hard to make, as the sequel shows. Nor is the utility
of such an analysis self-evident, as the experience of the Egyptians proved. The vowel sound is
so intimately linked with the consonant--the con-sonant, implying this intimate relation in its
very name--that it seemed extremely difficult to give it individual recognition. To set off the
mere labial beginning of the sound by itself, and to recognize it as an all-essential element of
phonation, was the feat at which human intelligence so long balked. The germ of great things lay
in that analysis. It was a process of simplification, and all art development is from the complex to
the simple. Unfortunately, however, it did not seem a simplification, but rather quite the reverse.
We may well suppose that the idea of wresting from the syllabary its secret of consonants and
vowels, and giving to each consonantal sound a distinct sign, seemed a most cumbersome and
embarrassing complication to the ancient scholars--that is to say, after the time arrived when any
one gave such an idea expression. We can imagine them saying: "You will oblige us to use four
signs instead of one to write such an elementary syllable as 'bard,' for example. Out upon such
endless perplexity!" Nor is such a suggestion purely gratuitous, for it is an historical fact that the
old syllabary continued to be used in Babylon hundreds of years after the alphabetical system
had been introduced.[7] Custom is everything in establishing our prejudices. The Japanese to-day
rebel against the introduction of an alphabet, thinking it ambiguous.

Yet, in the end, conservatism always yields, and so it was with opposition to the alphabet. Once
the idea of the consonant had been firmly grasped, the old syllabary was doomed, though
generations of time might be required to complete the obsequies--generations of time and the
influence of a new nation. We have now to inquire how and by whom this advance was made.

We cannot believe that any nation could have vaulted to the final stage of the simple alphabetical
writing without tracing the devious and difficult way of the pictograph and the syllabary. It is
possible, however, for a cultivated nation to build upon the shoulders of its neighbors, and,
profiting by the experience of others, to make sudden leaps upward and onward. And this is
seemingly what happened in the final development of the art of writing. For while the
Babylonians and Assyrians rested content with their elaborate syllabary, a nation on either side
of them, geographically speaking, solved the problem, which they perhaps did not even
recognize as a problem; wrested from their syllabary its secret of consonants and vowels, and by
adopting an arbitrary sign for each consonantal sound, produced that most wonderful of human
inventions, the alphabet.
The two nations credited with this wonderful achievement are the Phoenicians and the Persians.
But it is not usually conceded that the two are entitled to anything like equal credit. The Persians,
probably in the time of Cyrus the Great, used certain characters of the Babylonian script for the
construction of an alphabet; but at this time the Phoenician alphabet had undoubtedly been in use
for some centuries, and it is more than probable that the Persian borrowed his idea of an alphabet
from a Phoenician source. And that, of course, makes all the difference. Granted the idea of an
alphabet, it requires no great reach of constructive genius to supply a set of alphabetical
characters; though even here, it may be added parenthetically, a study of the development of
alphabets will show that mankind has all along had a characteristic propensity to copy rather than
to invent.

Regarding the Persian alphabet-maker, then, as a copyist rather than a true inventor, it remains to
turn attention to the Phoenician source whence, as is commonly believed, the original alphabet
which became "the mother of all existing alphabets" came into being. It must be admitted at the
outset that evidence for the Phoenician origin of this alphabet is traditional rather than
demonstrative. The Phoenicians were the great traders of antiquity; undoubtedly they were
largely responsible for the transmission of the alphabet from one part of the world to another,
once it had been invented. Too much credit cannot be given them for this; and as the world
always honors him who makes an idea fertile rather than the originator of the idea, there can be
little injustice in continuing to speak of the Phoenicians as the inventors of the alphabet. But the
actual facts of the case will probably never be known. For aught we know, it may have been
some dreamy-eyed Israelite, some Babylonian philosopher, some Egyptian mystic, perhaps even
some obscure Cretan, who gave to the hard-headed Phoenician trader this conception of a
dismembered syllable with its all-essential, elemental, wonder-working consonant. But it is futile
now to attempt even to surmise on such unfathomable details as these. Suffice it that the analysis
was made; that one sign and no more was adopted for each consonantal sound of the Semitic
tongue, and that the entire cumbersome mechanism of the Egyptian and Babylonian writing
systems was rendered obsolescent. These systems did not yield at once, to be sure; all human
experience would have been set at naught had they done so. They held their own, and much more
than held their own, for many centuries. After the Phoenicians as a nation had ceased to have
importance; after their original script had been endlessly modified by many alien nations; after
the original alphabet had made the conquest of all civilized Europe and of far outlying portions
of the Orient--the Egyptian and Babylonian scribes continued to indite their missives in the same
old pictographs and syllables.

The inventive thinker must have been struck with amazement when, after making the fullest
analysis of speech-sounds of which he was capable, he found himself supplied with only a score
or so of symbols. Yet as regards the consonantal sounds he had exhausted the resources of the
Semitic tongue. As to vowels, he scarcely considered them at all. It seemed to him sufficient to
use one symbol for each consonantal sound. This reduced the hitherto complex mechanism of
writing to so simple a system that the inventor must have regarded it with sheer delight. On the
other hand, the conservative scholar doubtless thought it distinctly ambiguous. In truth, it must
be admitted that the system was imperfect. It was a vast improvement on the old syllabary, but it
had its drawbacks. Perhaps it had been made a bit too simple; certainly it should have had
symbols for the vowel sounds as well as for the consonants. Nevertheless, the vowel-lacking
alphabet seems to have taken the popular fancy, and to this day Semitic people have never
supplied its deficiencies save with certain dots and points.

Peoples using the Aryan speech soon saw the defect, and the Greeks supplied symbols for
several new sounds at a very early day.[8] But there the matter rested, and the alphabet has
remained imperfect. For the purposes of the English language there should certainly have been
added a dozen or more new characters. It is clear, for example, that, in the interest of
explicitness, we should have a separate symbol for the vowel sound in each of the following
syllables: bar, bay, bann, ball, to cite a single illustration.

There is, to be sure, a seemingly valid reason for not extending our alphabet, in the fact that in
multiplying syllables it would be difficult to select characters at once easy to make and
unambiguous. Moreover, the conservatives might point out, with telling effect, that the present
alphabet has proved admirably effective for about three thousand years. Yet the fact that our
dictionaries supply diacritical marks for some thirty vowels sounds to indicate the pronunciation
of the words of our every-day speech, shows how we let memory and guessing do the work that
might reasonably be demanded of a really complete alphabet. But, whatever its defects, the
existing alphabet is a marvellous piece of mechanism, the result of thousands of years of
intellectual effort. It is, perhaps without exception, the most stupendous invention of the human
intellect within historical times--an achievement taking rank with such great prehistoric
discoveries as the use of articulate speech, the making of a fire, and the invention of stone
implements, of the wheel and axle, and of picture-writing. It made possible for the first time that
education of the masses upon which all later progress of civilization was so largely to depend.


Herodotus, the Father of History, tells us that once upon a time--which time, as the modern
computator shows us, was about the year 590 B.C. --a war had risen between the Lydians and the
Medes and continued five years. "In these years the Medes often discomfited the Lydians and the
Lydians often discomfited the Medes (and among other things they fought a battle by night); and
yet they still carried on the war with equally balanced fortitude. In the sixth year a battle took
place in which it happened, when the fight had begun, that suddenly the day became night. And
this change of the day Thales, the Milesian, had foretold to the Ionians, laying down as a limit
this very year in which the change took place. The Lydians, however, and the Medes, when they
saw that it had become night instead of day, ceased from their fighting and were much more
eager, both of them, that peace should be made between them."

This memorable incident occurred while Alyattus, father of Croesus, was king of the Lydians.
The modern astronomer, reckoning backward, estimates this eclipse as occurring probably May
25th, 585 B.C. The date is important as fixing a mile-stone in the chronology of ancient history,
but it is doubly memorable because it is the first recorded instance of a predicted eclipse.
Herodotus, who tells the story, was not born until about one hundred years after the incident
occurred, but time had not dimmed the fame of the man who had performed the necromantic feat
of prophecy. Thales, the Milesian, thanks in part at least to this accomplishment, had been
known in life as first on the list of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, and had passed into history as
the father of Greek philosophy. We may add that he had even found wider popular fame through
being named by Hippolytus, and then by Father aesop, as the philosopher who, intent on
studying the heavens, fell into a well; "whereupon," says Hippolytus, "a maid-servant named
Thratta laughed at him and said, 'In his search for things in the sky he does not see what is at his
feet.' "
Such citations as these serve to bring vividly to mind the fact that we are entering a new epoch of
thought. Hitherto our studies have been impersonal. Among Egyptians and Babylonians alike we
have had to deal with classes of scientific records, but we have scarcely come across a single
name. Now, however, we shall begin to find records of the work of individual investigators. In
general, from now on, we shall be able to trace each great idea, if not to its originator, at least to
some one man of genius who was prominent in bringing it before the world. The first of these
vitalizers of thought, who stands out at the beginnings of Greek history, is this same Thales, of
Miletus. His is not a very sharply defined personality as we look back upon it, and we can by no
means be certain that all the discoveries which are ascribed to him are specifically his. Of his
individuality as a man we know very little. It is not even quite certain as to where he was born;
Miletus is usually accepted as his birthplace, but one tradition makes him by birth a Phenician. It
is not at all in question, however, that by blood he was at least in part an Ionian Greek. It will be
recalled that in the seventh century B.C., when Thales was born--and for a long time thereafter--
the eastern shores of the aegean Sea were quite as prominently the centre of Greek influence as
was the peninsula of Greece itself. Not merely Thales, but his followers and disciples,
Anaximander and Anaximenes, were born there. So also was Herodotas, the Father of History,
not to extend the list. There is nothing anomalous, then, in the fact that Thales, the father of
Greek thought, was born and passed his life on soil that was not geographically a part of Greece;
but the fact has an important significance of another kind. Thanks to his environment, Thales
was necessarily brought more or less in contact with Oriental ideas. There was close commercial
contact between the land of his nativity and the great Babylonian capital off to the east, as also
with Egypt. Doubtless this association was of influence in shaping the development of Thales's
mind. Indeed, it was an accepted tradition throughout classical times that the Milesian
philosopher had travelled in Egypt, and had there gained at least the rudiments of his knowledge
of geometry. In the fullest sense, then, Thales may be regarded as representing a link in the chain
of thought connecting the learning of the old Orient with the nascent scholarship of the new
Occident. Occupying this position, it is fitting that the personality of Thales should partake
somewhat of mystery; that the scene may not be shifted too suddenly from the vague, impersonal
East to the individualism of Europe.

All of this, however, must not be taken as casting any doubt upon the existence of Thales as a
real person. Even the dates of his life--640 to 546 B.C.--may be accepted as at least
approximately trustworthy; and the specific discoveries ascribed to him illustrate equally well the
stage of development of Greek thought, whether Thales himself or one of his immediate
disciples were the discoverer. We have already mentioned the feat which was said to have given
Thales his great reputation. That Thales was universally credited with having predicted the
famous eclipse is beyond question. That he actually did predict it in any precise sense of the
word is open to doubt. At all events, his prediction was not based upon any such precise
knowledge as that of the modern astronomer. There is, indeed, only one way in which he could
have foretold the eclipse, and that is through knowledge of the regular succession of preceding
eclipses. But that knowledge implies access on the part of some one to long series of records of
practical observations of the heavens. Such records, as we have seen, existed in Egypt and even
more notably in Babylonia. That these records were the source of the information which
established the reputation of Thales is an unavoidable inference. In other words, the magical
prevision of the father of Greek thought was but a reflex of Oriental wisdom. Nevertheless, it
sufficed to establish Thales as the father of Greek astronomy. In point of fact, his actual
astronomical attainments would appear to have been meagre enough. There is nothing to show
that he gained an inkling of the true character of the solar system. He did not even recognize the
sphericity of the earth, but held, still following the Oriental authorities, that the world is a flat
disk. Even his famous cosmogonic guess, according to which water is the essence of all things
and the primordial element out of which the earth was developed, is but an elaboration of the
Babylonian conception.

When we turn to the other field of thought with which the name of Thales is associated--namely,
geometry--we again find evidence of the Oriental influence. The science of geometry, Herodotus
assures us, was invented in Egypt. It was there an eminently practical science, being applied, as
the name literally suggests, to the measurement of the earth's surface. Herodotus tells us that the
Egyptians were obliged to cultivate the science because the periodical inundations washed away
the boundary-lines between their farms. The primitive geometer, then, was a surveyor. The
Egyptian records, as now revealed to us, show that the science had not been carried far in the
land of its birth. The Egyptian geometer was able to measure irregular pieces of land only
approximately. He never fully grasped the idea of the perpendicular as the true index of
measurement for the triangle, but based his calculations upon measurements of the actual side of
that figure. Nevertheless, he had learned to square the circle with a close approximation to the
truth, and, in general, his measurement sufficed for all his practical needs. Just how much of the
geometrical knowledge which added to the fame of Thales was borrowed directly from the
Egyptians, and how much he actually created we cannot be sure. Nor is the question raised in
disparagement of his genius. Receptivity is the first prerequisite to progressive thinking, and that
Thales reached out after and imbibed portions of Oriental wisdom argues in itself for the creative
character of his genius. Whether borrower of originator, however, Thales is credited with the
expression of the following geometrical truths:

1. That the circle is bisected by its diameter.

2. That the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal.
3. That when two straight lines cut each other the vertical opposite angles are equal.

4. That the angle in a semicircle is a right angle.

5. That one side and one acute angle of a right-angle triangle determine the other sides of the
It was by the application of the last of these principles that Thales is said to have performed the
really notable feat of measuring the distance of a ship from the shore, his method being precisely
the same in principle as that by which the guns are sighted on a modern man-of-war. Another
practical demonstration which Thales was credited with making, and to which also his
geometrical studies led him, was the measurement of any tall object, such as a pyramid or
building or tree, by means of its shadow. The method, though simple enough, was ingenious. It
consisted merely in observing the moment of the day when a perpendicular stick casts a shadow
equal to its own length. Obviously the tree or monument would also cast a shadow equal to its
own height at the same moment. It remains then but to measure the length of this shadow to
determine the height of the object. Such feats as this evidence the practicality of the genius of
Thales. They suggest that Greek science, guided by imagination, was starting on the high-road of
observation. We are told that Thales conceived for the first time the geometry of lines, and that
this, indeed, constituted his real advance upon the Egyptians. We are told also that he conceived
the eclipse of the sun as a purely natural phenomenon, and that herein lay his advance upon the
Chaldean point of view. But if this be true Thales was greatly in advance of his time, for it will
be recalled that fully two hundred years later the Greeks under Nicias before Syracuse were so
disconcerted by the appearance of an eclipse, which was interpreted as a direct omen and
warning, that Nicias threw away the last opportunity to rescue his army. Thucydides, it is true, in
recording this fact speaks disparagingly of the superstitious bent of the mind of Nicias, but
Thucydides also was a man far in advance of his time.
All that we know of the psychology of Thales is summed up in the famous maxim, "Know
thyself," a maxim which, taken in connection with the proven receptivity of the philosopher's
mind, suggests to us a marvellously rounded personality.
The disciples or successors of Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, were credited with
advancing knowledge through the invention or introduction of the sundial. We may be sure,
however, that the gnomon, which is the rudimentary sundial, had been known and used from
remote periods in the Orient, and the most that is probable is that Anaximander may have
elaborated some special design, possibly the bowl- shaped sundial, through which the shadow of
the gnomon would indicate the time. The same philosopher is said to have made the first sketch
of a geographical map, but this again is a statement which modern researches have shown to be
fallacious, since a Babylonian attempt at depicting the geography of the world is still preserved
to us on a clay tablet. Anaximander may, however, have been the first Greek to make an attempt
of this kind. Here again the influence of Babylonian science upon the germinating Western
thought is suggested.
It is said that Anaximander departed from Thales's conception of the earth, and, it may be added,
from the Babylonian conception also, in that he conceived it as a cylinder, or rather as a
truncated cone, the upper end of which is the habitable portion. This conception is perhaps the
first of these guesses through which the Greek mind attempted to explain the apparent fixity of
the earth. To ask what supports the earth in space is most natural, but the answer given by
Anaximander, like that more familiar Greek solution which transformed the cone, or cylinder,
into the giant Atlas, is but another illustration of that substitution of unwarranted inference for
scientific induction which we have already so often pointed out as characteristic of the primitive
stages of thought.
Anaximander held at least one theory which, as vouched for by various copyists and
commentators, entitles him to be considered perhaps the first teacher of the idea of organic
evolution. According to this idea, man developed from a fishlike ancestor, "growing up as sharks
do until able to help himself and then coming forth on dry land."[1] The thought here expressed
finds its germ, perhaps, in the Babylonian conception that everything came forth from a chaos of
waters. Yet the fact that the thought of Anaximander has come down to posterity through such
various channels suggests that the Greek thinker had got far enough away from the Oriental
conception to make his view seem to his contemporaries a novel and individual one. Indeed,
nothing we know of the Oriental line of thought conveys any suggestion of the idea of
transformation of species, whereas that idea is distinctly formulated in the traditional views of


Diogenes Laertius tells a story about a youth who, clad in a purple toga, entered the arena at the
Olympian games and asked to compete with the other youths in boxing. He was derisively
denied admission, presumably because he was beyond the legitimate age for juvenile contestants.
Nothing daunted, the youth entered the lists of men, and turned the laugh on his critics by
coming off victor. The youth who performed this feat was named Pythagoras. He was the same
man, if we may credit the story, who afterwards migrated to Italy and became the founder of the
famous Crotonian School of Philosophy; the man who developed the religion of the Orphic
mysteries; who conceived the idea of the music of the spheres; who promulgated the doctrine of
metempsychosis; who first, perhaps, of all men clearly conceived the notion that this world on
which we live is a ball which moves in space and which may be habitable on every side.

A strange development that for a stripling pugilist. But we must not forget that in the Greek
world athletics held a peculiar place. The chief winner of Olympian games gave his name to an
epoch (the ensuing Olympiad of four years), and was honored almost before all others in the
land. A sound mind in a sound body was the motto of the day. To excel in feats of strength and
dexterity was an accomplishment that even a philosopher need not scorn. It will be recalled that
aeschylus distinguished himself at the battle of Marathon; that Thucydides, the greatest of Greek
historians, was a general in the Peloponnesian War; that Xenophon, the pupil and biographer of
Socrates, was chiefly famed for having led the Ten Thousand in the memorable campaign of
Cyrus the Younger; that Plato himself was credited with having shown great aptitude in early life
as a wrestler. If, then, Pythagoras the philosopher was really the Pythagoras who won the boxing
contest, we may suppose that in looking back upon this athletic feat from the heights of his
priesthood--for he came to be almost deified--he regarded it not as an indiscretion of his youth,
but as one of the greatest achievements of his life. Not unlikely he recalled with pride that he was
credited with being no less an innovator in athletics than in philosophy. At all events, tradition
credits him with the invention of "scientific" boxing. Was it he, perhaps, who taught the Greeks
to strike a rising and swinging blow from the hip, as depicted in the famous metopes of the
Parthenon? If so, the innovation of Pythagoras was as little heeded in this regard in a subsequent
age as was his theory of the motion of the earth; for to strike a swinging blow from the hip,
rather than from the shoulder, is a trick which the pugilist learned anew in our own day.
But enough of pugilism and of what, at best, is a doubtful tradition. Our concern is with another
"science" than that of the arena. We must follow the purple-robed victor to Italy--if, indeed, we
be not over-credulous in accepting the tradition--and learn of triumphs of a different kind that
have placed the name of Pythagoras high on the list of the fathers of Grecian thought. To Italy?
Yes, to the western limits of the Greek world. Here it was, beyond the confines of actual Greek
territory, that Hellenic thought found its second home, its first home being, as we have seen, in
Asia Minor. Pythagoras, indeed, to whom we have just been introduced, was born on the island
of Samos, which lies near the coast of Asia Minor, but he probably migrated at an early day to
Crotona, in Italy. There he lived, taught, and developed his philosophy until rather late in life,
when, having incurred the displeasure of his fellow-citizens, he suffered the not unusual penalty
of banishment.

Of the three other great Italic leaders of thought of the early period, Xenophanes came rather late
in life to Elea and founded the famous Eleatic School, of which Parmenides became the most
distinguished ornament. These two were Ionians, and they lived in the sixth century before our
era. Empedocles, the Sicilian, was of Doric origin. He lived about the middle of the fifth century
B.C., at a time, therefore, when Athens had attained a position of chief glory among the Greek
states; but there is no evidence that Empedocles ever visited that city, though it was rumored that
he returned to the Peloponnesus to die. The other great Italic philosophers just named, living, as
we have seen, in the previous century, can scarcely have thought of Athens as a centre of Greek
thought. Indeed, the very fact that these men lived in Italy made that peninsula, rather than the
mother-land of Greece, the centre of Hellenic influence. But all these men, it must constantly be
borne in mind, were Greeks by birth and language, fully recognized as such in their own time
and by posterity. Yet the fact that they lived in a land which was at no time a part of the
geographical territory of Greece must not be forgotten. They, or their ancestors of recent
generations, had been pioneers among those venturesome colonists who reached out into distant
portions of the world, and made homes for themselves in much the same spirit in which colonists
from Europe began to populate America some two thousand years later. In general, colonists
from the different parts of Greece localized themselves somewhat definitely in their new homes;
yet there must naturally have been a good deal of commingling among the various families of
pioneers, and, to a certain extent, a mingling also with the earlier inhabitants of the country. This
racial mingling, combined with the well-known vitalizing influence of the pioneer life, led, we
may suppose, to a more rapid and more varied development than occurred among the home-
staying Greeks. In proof of this, witness the remarkable schools of philosophy which, as we have
seen, were thus developed at the confines of the Greek world, and which were presently to
invade and, as it were, take by storm the mother-country itself.
As to the personality of these pioneer philosophers of the West, our knowledge is for the most
part more or less traditional. What has been said of Thales may be repeated, in the main,
regarding Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Empedocles. That they were real persons is not at all in
question, but much that is merely traditional has come to be associated with their names.
Pythagoras was the senior, and doubtless his ideas may have influenced the others more or less,
though each is usually spoken of as the founder of an independent school. Much confusion has
all along existed, however, as to the precise ideas which were to be ascribed to each of the
leaders. Numberless commentators, indeed, have endeavored to pick out from among the
traditions of antiquity, aided by such fragments, of the writing of the philosophers as have come
down to us, the particular ideas that characterized each thinker, and to weave these ideas into
systems. But such efforts, notwithstanding the mental energy that has been expended upon them,
were, of necessity, futile, since, in the first place, the ancient philosophers themselves did not
specialize and systematize their ideas according to modern notions, and, in the second place, the
records of their individual teachings have been too scantily preserved to serve for the purpose of
classification. It is freely admitted that fable has woven an impenetrable mesh of contradictions
about the personalities of these ancient thinkers, and it would be folly to hope that this same
artificer had been less busy with their beliefs and theories. When one reads that Pythagoras
advocated an exclusively vegetable diet, yet that he was the first to train athletes on meat diet;
that he sacrificed only inanimate things, yet that he offered up a hundred oxen in honor of his
great discovery regarding the sides of a triangle, and such like inconsistencies in the same
biography, one gains a realizing sense of the extent to which diverse traditions enter into the
story as it has come down to us. And yet we must reflect that most men change their opinions in
the course of a long lifetime, and that the antagonistic reports may both be true.

True or false, these fables have an abiding interest, since they prove the unique and extraordinary
character of the personality about which they are woven. The alleged witticisms of a Whistler, in
our own day, were doubtless, for the most part, quite unknown to Whistler himself, yet they
never would have been ascribed to him were they not akin to witticisms that he did originate--
were they not, in short, typical expressions of his personality. And so of the heroes of the past.
"It is no ordinary man," said George Henry Lewes, speaking of Pythagoras, "whom fable exalts
into the poetic region. Whenever you find romantic or miraculous deeds attributed, be certain
that the hero was great enough to maintain the weight of the crown of this fabulous glory."[1]
We may not doubt, then, that Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Empedocles, with whose names fable
was so busy throughout antiquity, were men of extraordinary personality. We are here chiefly
concerned, however, neither with the personality of the man nor yet with the precise doctrines
which each one of them taught. A knowledge of the latter would be interesting were it attainable,
but in the confused state of the reports that have come down to us we cannot hope to be able to
ascribe each idea with precision to its proper source. At best we can merely outline, even here
not too precisely, the scientific doctrines which the Italic philosophers as a whole seem to have
First and foremost, there is the doctrine that the earth is a sphere. Pythagoras is said to have been
the first advocate of this theory; but, unfortunately, it is reported also that Parmenides was its
author. This rivalship for the discovery of an important truth we shall see repeated over and over
in more recent times. Could we know the whole truth, it would perhaps appear that the idea of
the sphericity of the earth was originated long before the time of the Greek philosophers. But it
must be admitted that there is no record of any sort to give tangible support to such an
assumption. So far as we can ascertain, no Egyptian or Babylonian astronomer ever grasped the
wonderful conception that the earth is round. That the Italic Greeks should have conceived that
idea was perhaps not so much because they were astronomers as because they were practical
geographers and geometers. Pythagoras, as we have noted, was born at Samos, and, therefore,
made a relatively long sea voyage in passing to Italy. Now, as every one knows, the most simple
and tangible demonstration of the convexity of the earth's surface is furnished by observation of
an approaching ship at sea. On a clear day a keen eye may discern the mast and sails rising
gradually above the horizon, to be followed in due course by the hull. Similarly, on approaching
the shore, high objects become visible before those that lie nearer the water. It is at least a
plausible supposition that Pythagoras may have made such observations as these during the
voyage in question, and that therein may lie the germ of that wonderful conception of the world
as a sphere.
To what extent further proof, based on the fact that the earth's shadow when the moon is eclipsed
is always convex, may have been known to Pythagoras we cannot say. There is no proof that any
of the Italic philosophers made extensive records of astronomical observations as did the
Egyptians and Babylonians; but we must constantly recall that the writings of classical antiquity
have been almost altogether destroyed. The absence of astronomical records is, therefore, no
proof that such records never existed. Pythagoras, it should be said, is reported to have travelled
in Egypt, and he must there have gained an inkling of astronomical methods. Indeed, he speaks
of himself specifically, in a letter quoted by Diogenes, as one who is accustomed to study
astronomy. Yet a later sentence of the letter, which asserts that the philosopher is not always
occupied about speculations of his own fancy, suggesting, as it does, the dreamer rather than the
observer, gives us probably a truer glimpse into the philosopher's mind. There is, indeed, reason
to suppose that the doctrine of the sphericity of the earth appealed to Pythagoras chiefly because
it accorded with his conception that the sphere is the most perfect solid, just as the circle is the
most perfect plane surface. Be that as it may, the fact remains that we have here, as far as we can
trace its origin, the first expression of the scientific theory that the earth is round. Had the Italic
philosophers accomplished nothing more than this, their accomplishment would none the less
mark an epoch in the progress of thought.

That Pythagoras was an observer of the heavens is further evidenced by the statement made by
Diogenes, on the authority of Parmenides, that Pythagoras was the first person who discovered or
asserted the identity of Hesperus and Lucifer--that is to say, of the morning and the evening star.
This was really a remarkable discovery, and one that was no doubt instrumental later on in
determining that theory of the mechanics of the heavens which we shall see elaborated presently.
To have made such a discovery argues again for the practicality of the mind of Pythagoras. His,
indeed, would seem to have been a mind in which practical common-sense was strangely
blended with the capacity for wide and imaginative generalization. As further evidence of his
practicality, it is asserted that he was the first person who introduced measures and weights
among the Greeks, this assertion being made on the authority of Aristoxenus. It will be observed
that he is said to have introduced, not to have invented, weights and measures, a statement which
suggests a knowledge on the part of the Greeks that weights and measures were previously
employed in Egypt and Babylonia.
The mind that could conceive the world as a sphere and that interested itself in weights and
measures was, obviously, a mind of the visualizing type. It is characteristic of this type of mind
to be interested in the tangibilities of geometry, hence it is not surprising to be told that
Pythagoras "carried that science to perfection." The most famous discovery of Pythagoras in this
field was that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the squares of the
other sides of the triangle. We have already noted the fable that his enthusiasm over this
discovery led him to sacrifice a hecatomb. Doubtless the story is apocryphal, but doubtless, also,
it expresses the truth as to the fervid joy with which the philosopher must have contemplated the
results of his creative imagination.
No line alleged to have been written by Pythagoras has come down to us. We are told that he
refrained from publishing his doctrines, except by word of mouth. "The Lucanians and the
Peucetians, and the Messapians and the Romans," we are assured, "flocked around him, coming
with eagerness to hear his discourses; no fewer than six hundred came to him every night; and if
any one of them had ever been permitted to see the master, they wrote of it to their friends as if
they had gained some great advantage." Nevertheless, we are assured that until the time of
Philolaus no doctrines of Pythagoras were ever published, to which statement it is added that
"when the three celebrated books were published, Plato wrote to have them purchased for him
for a hundred minas."[2] But if such books existed, they are lost to the modern world, and we are
obliged to accept the assertions of relatively late writers as to the theories of the great Crotonian.
Perhaps we cannot do better than quote at length from an important summary of the remaining
doctrines of Pythagoras, which Diogenes himself quoted from the work of a predecessor.[3]
Despite its somewhat inchoate character, this summary is a most remarkable one, as a brief
analysis of its contents will show. It should be explained that Alexander (whose work is now
lost) is said to have found these dogmas set down in the commentaries of Pythagoras. If this
assertion be accepted, we are brought one step nearer the philosopher himself. The summary is
as follows:
"That the monad was the beginning of everything. From the monad proceeds an indefinite duad,
which is subordinate to the monad as to its cause. That from the monad and the indefinite duad
proceed numbers. And from numbers signs. And from these last, lines of which plane figures
consist. And from plane figures are derived solid bodies. And from solid bodies sensible bodies,
of which last there are four elements--fire, water, earth, and air. And that the world, which is
indued with life and intellect, and which is of a spherical figure, having the earth, which is also
spherical, and inhabited all over in its centre,[4] results from a combination of these elements,
and derives its motion from them; and also that there are antipodes, and that what is below, as
respects us, is above in respect of them.
"He also taught that light and darkness, and cold and heat, and dryness and moisture, were
equally divided in the world; and that while heat was predominant it was summer; while cold had
the mastery, it was winter; when dryness prevailed, it was spring; and when moisture
preponderated, winter. And while all these qualities were on a level, then was the loveliest
season of the year; of which the flourishing spring was the wholesome period, and the season of
autumn the most pernicious one. Of the day, he said that the flourishing period was the morning,
and the fading one the evening; on which account that also was the least healthy time.
"Another of his theories was that the air around the earth was immovable and pregnant with
disease, and that everything in it was mortal; but that the upper air was in perpetual motion, and
pure and salubrious, and that everything in that was immortal, and on that account divine. And
that the sun and the moon and the stars were all gods; for in them the warm principle
predominates which is the cause of life. And that the moon derives its light from the sun. And
that there is a relationship between men and the gods, because men partake of the divine
principle; on which account, also, God exercises his providence for our advantage. Also, that
Fate is the cause of the arrangement of the world both generally and particularly. Moreover, that
a ray from the sun penetrated both the cold aether and the dense aether; and they call the air the
cold aether, and the sea and moisture they call the dense aether. And this ray descends into the
depths, and in this way vivifies everything. And everything which partakes of the principle of
heat lives, on which account, also, plants are animated beings; but that all living things have not
necessarily souls. And that the soul is a something tom off from the aether, both warm and cold,
from its partaking of the cold aether. And that the soul is something different from life. Also, that
it is immortal, because that from which it has been detached is immortal.

"Also, that animals are born from one another by seeds, and that it is impossible for there to be
any spontaneous production by the earth. And that seed is a drop from the brain which contains
in itself a warm vapor; and that when this is applied to the womb it transmits virtue and moisture
and blood from the brain, from which flesh and sinews and bones and hair and the whole body
are produced. And from the vapor is produced the soul, and also sensation. And that the infant
first becomes a solid body at the end of forty days; but, according to the principles of harmony, it
is not perfect till seven, or perhaps nine, or at most ten months, and then it is brought forth. And
that it contains in itself all the principles of life, which are all connected together, and by their
union and combination form a harmonious whole, each of them developing itself at the
appointed time.

"The senses in general, and especially the sight, are a vapor of excessive warmth, and on this
account a man is said to see through air and through water. For the hot principle is opposed by
the cold one; since, if the vapor in the eyes were cold, it would have the same temperature as the
air, and so would be dissipated. As it is, in some passages he calls the eyes the gates of the sun;
and he speaks in a similar manner of hearing and of the other senses.

"He also says that the soul of man is divided into three parts: into intuition and reason and mind,
and that the first and last divisions are found also in other animals, but that the middle one,
reason, is only found in man. And that the chief abode of the soul is in those parts of the body
which are between the heart and the brain. And that that portion of it which is in the heart is the
mind; but that deliberation and reason reside in the brain.

Moreover, that the senses are drops from them; and that the reasoning sense is immortal, but the
others are mortal. And that the soul is nourished by the blood; and that reasons are the winds of
the soul. That it is invisible, and so are its reasons, since the aether itself is invisible. That the
links of the soul are the veins and the arteries and the nerves. But that when it is vigorous, and is
by itself in a quiescent state, then its links are words and actions. That when it is cast forth upon
the earth it wanders about, resembling the body. Moreover, that Mercury is the steward of the
souls, and that on this account he has the name of Conductor, and Commercial, and Infernal,
since it is he who conducts the souls from their bodies, and from earth and sea; and that he
conducts the pure souls to the highest region, and that he does not allow the impure ones to
approach them, nor to come near one another, but commits them to be bound in indissoluble
fetters by the Furies. The Pythagoreans also assert that the whole air is full of souls, and that
these are those which are accounted daemons and heroes. Also, that it is by them that dreams are
sent among men, and also the tokens of disease and health; these last, too, being sent not only to
men, but to sheep also, and other cattle. Also that it is they who are concerned with purifications
and expiations and all kinds of divination and oracular predictions, and things of that kind."[5]
A brief consideration of this summary of the doctrines of Pythagoras will show that it at least
outlines a most extraordinary variety of scientific ideas. (1) There is suggested a theory of
monads and the conception of the development from simple to more complex bodies, passing
through the stages of lines, plain figures, and solids to sensible bodies. (2) The doctrine of the
four elements--fire, water, earth, and air--as the basis of all organisms is put forward. (3) The
idea, not merely of the sphericity of the earth, but an explicit conception of the antipodes, is
expressed. (4) A conception of the sanitary influence of the air is clearly expressed. (5) An idea
of the problems of generation and heredity is shown, together with a distinct disavowal of the
doctrine of spontaneous generation-- a doctrine which, it may be added, remained in vogue,
nevertheless, for some twenty-four hundred years after the time of Pythagoras. (6) A remarkable
analysis of mind is made, and a distinction between animal minds and the human mind is based
on this analysis. The physiological doctrine that the heart is the organ of one department of mind
is offset by the clear statement that the remaining factors of mind reside in the brain. This early
recognition of brain as the organ of mind must not be forgotten in our later studies. It should be
recalled, however, that a Crotonian physician, Alemaean, a younger contemporary of Pythagoras,
is also credited with the same theory. (7) A knowledge of anatomy is at least vaguely
foreshadowed in the assertion that veins, arteries, and nerves are the links of the soul. In this
connection it should be recalled that Pythagoras was a practical physician.

As against these scientific doctrines, however, some of them being at least remarkable guesses at
the truth, attention must be called to the concluding paragraph of our quotation, in which the old
familiar daemonology is outlined, quite after the Oriental fashion. We shall have occasion to say
more as to this phase of the subject later on. Meantime, before leaving Pythagoras, let us note
that his practical studies of humanity led him to assert the doctrine that "the property of friends is
common, and that friendship is equality." His disciples, we are told, used to put all their
possessions together in one store and use them in common. Here, then, seemingly, is the doctrine
of communism put to the test of experiment at this early day. If it seem that reference to this
carries us beyond the bounds of science, it may be replied that questions such as this will not lie
beyond the bounds of the science of the near future.


There is a whimsical tale about Pythagoras, according to which the philosopher was wont to
declare that in an earlier state he had visited Hades, and had there seen Homer and Hesiod
tortured because of the absurd things they had said about the gods. Apocrypbal or otherwise, the
tale suggests that Pythagoras was an agnostic as regards the current Greek religion of his time.
The same thing is perhaps true of most of the great thinkers of this earliest period. But one
among them was remembered in later times as having had a peculiar aversion to the
anthropomorphic conceptions of his fellows. This was Xenophanes, who was born at Colophon
probably about the year 580 B.C., and who, after a life of wandering, settled finally in Italy and
became the founder of the so-called Eleatic School.
A few fragments of the philosophical poem in which Xenophanes expressed his views have
come down to us, and these fragments include a tolerably definite avowal of his faith. "God is
one supreme among gods and men, and not like mortals in body or in mind," says Xenophanes.
Again he asserts that "mortals suppose that the gods are born (as they themselves are), that they
wear man's clothing and have human voice and body; but," he continues, "if cattle or lions had
hands so as to paint with their hands and produce works of art as men do, they would paint their
gods and give them bodies in form like their own--horses like horses, cattle like cattle."
Elsewhere he says, with great acumen: "There has not been a man, nor will there be, who knows
distinctly what I say about the gods or in regard to all things. For even if one chance for the most
part to say what is true, still he would not know; but every one thinks that he knows."[6]
In the same spirit Xenophanes speaks of the battles of Titans, of giants, and of centaurs as
"fictions of former ages." All this tells of the questioning spirit which distinguishes the scientific
investigator. Precisely whither this spirit led him we do not know, but the writers of a later time
have preserved a tradition regarding a belief of Xenophanes that perhaps entitles him to be
considered the father of geology. Thus Hippolytus records that Xenophanes studied the fossils to
be found in quarries, and drew from their observation remarkable conclusions. His words are as
follows: "Xenophanes believes that once the earth was mingled with the sea, but in the course of
time it became freed from moisture; and his proofs are such as these: that shells are found in the
midst of the land and among the mountains, that in the quarries of Syracuse the imprints of a fish
and of seals had been found, and in Paros the imprint of an anchovy at some depth in the stone,
and in Melite shallow impressions of all sorts of sea products. He says that these imprints were
made when everything long ago was covered with mud, and then the imprint dried in the mud.
Further, he says that all men will be destroyed when the earth sinks into the sea and becomes
mud, and that the race will begin anew from the beginning; and this transformation takes place
for all worlds."[7] Here, then, we see this earliest of paleontologists studying the fossil-bearing
strata of the earth, and drawing from his observations a marvellously scientific induction. Almost
two thousand years later another famous citizen of Italy, Leonardo da Vinci, was independently
to think out similar conclusions from like observations. But not until the nineteenth century of
our era, some twenty-four hundred years after the time of Xenophanes, was the old Greek's
doctrine to be accepted by the scientific world. The ideas of Xenophanes were known to his
contemporaries and, as we see, quoted for a few centuries by his successors, then they were
ignored or quite forgotten; and if any philosopher of an ensuing age before the time of Leonardo
championed a like rational explanation of the fossils, we have no record of the fact. The
geological doctrine of Xenophanes, then, must be listed among those remarkable Greek
anticipations of nineteenth -century science which suffered almost total eclipse in the intervening
Among the pupils of Xenophanes was Parmenides, the thinker who was destined to carry on the
work of his master along the same scientific lines, though at the same time mingling his
scientific conceptions with the mysticism of the poet. We have already had occasion to mention
that Parmenides championed the idea that the earth is round; noting also that doubts exist as to
whether he or Pythagoras originated this doctrine. No explicit answer to this question can
possibly be hoped for. It seems clear, however, that for a long time the Italic School, to which
both these philosophers belonged, had a monopoly of the belief in question. Parmenides, like
Pythagoras, is credited with having believed in the motion of the earth, though the evidence
furnished by the writings of the philosopher himself is not as demonstrative as one could wish.
Unfortunately, the copyists of a later age were more concerned with metaphysical speculations
than with more tangible things. But as far as the fragmentary references to the ideas of
Parmenides may be accepted, they do not support the idea of the earth's motion. Indeed,
Parmenides is made to say explicitly, in preserved fragments, that "the world is immovable,
limited, and spheroidal in form."[8]
Nevertheless, some modern interpreters have found an opposite meaning in Parmenides. Thus
Ritter interprets him as supposing "that the earth is in the centre spherical, and maintained in
rotary motion by its equiponderance; around it lie certain rings, the highest composed of the rare
element fire, the next lower a compound of light and darkness, and lowest of all one wholly of
night, which probably indicated to his mind the surface of the earth, the centre of which again he
probably considered to be fire."[9] But this, like too many interpretations of ancient thought,
appears to read into the fragments ideas which the words themselves do not warrant. There
seems no reason to doubt, however, that Parmenides actually held the doctrine of the earth's
sphericity. Another glimpse of his astronomical doctrines is furnished us by a fragment which
tells us that he conceived the morning and the evening stars to be the same, a doctrine which, as
we have seen, was ascribed also to Pythagoras. Indeed, we may repeat that it is quite impossible
to distinguish between the astronomical doctrines of these two philosophers.
The poem of Parmenides in which the cosmogonic speculations occur treats also of the origin of
man. The author seems to have had a clear conception that intelligence depends on bodily
organism, and that the more elaborately developed the organism the higher the intelligence. But
in the interpretation of this thought we are hampered by the characteristic vagueness of
expression, which may best be evidenced by putting before the reader two English translations of
the same stanza. Here is Ritter's rendering, as made into English by his translator, Morrison:
"For exactly as each has the state of his limbs many-jointed, So invariably stands it with men in
their mind and their reason; For the system of limbs is that which thinketh in mankind Alike in
all and in each: for thought is the fulness."[10]
The same stanza is given thus by George Henry Lewes:

"Such as to each man is the nature of his many-jointed limbs, Such also is the intelligence of
each man; for it is The nature of limbs (organization) which thinketh in men, Both in one and in
all; for the highest degree of organization gives the highest degree of thought."[11]
Here it will be observed that there is virtual agreement between the translators except as to the
last clause, but that clause is most essential. The Greek phrase is <gr to gar pleon esti nohma>.
Ritter, it will be observed, renders this, "for thought is the fulness." Lewes paraphrases it, "for
the highest degree of organization gives the highest degree of thought." The difference is
intentional, since Lewes himself criticises the translation of Ritter. Ritter's translation is certainly
the more literal, but the fact that such diversity is possible suggests one of the chief elements of
uncertainty that hamper our interpretation of the thought of antiquity. Unfortunately, the mind of
the commentator has usually been directed towards such subtleties, rather than towards the
expression of precise knowledge. Hence it is that the philosophers of Greece are usually thought
of as mere dreamers, and that their true status as scientific discoverers is so often overlooked.
With these intangibilities we have no present concern beyond this bare mention; for us it suffices
to gain as clear an idea as we may of the really scientific conceptions of these thinkers, leaving
the subtleties of their deductive reasoning for the most part untouched.

The latest of the important pre-Socratic philosophers of the Italic school was Empedocles, who
was born about 494 B.C. and lived to the age of sixty. These dates make Empedocles strictly
contemporary with Anaxagoras, a fact which we shall do well to bear in mind when we come to
consider the latter's philosophy in the succeeding chapter. Like Pythagoras, Empedocles is an
imposing figure. Indeed, there is much of similarity between the personalities, as between the
doctrines, of the two men. Empedocles, like Pythagoras, was a physician; like him also he was
the founder of a cult. As statesman, prophet, physicist, physician, reformer, and poet he showed a
versatility that, coupled with profundity, marks the highest genius. In point of versatility we shall
perhaps hardly find his equal at a later day--unless, indeed, an exception be made of
Eratosthenes. The myths that have grown about the name of Empedocles show that he was a
remarkable personality. He is said to have been an awe-inspiring figure, clothing himself in
Oriental splendor and moving among mankind as a superior being. Tradition has it that he threw
himself into the crater of a volcano that his otherwise unexplained disappearance might lead his
disciples to believe that he had been miraculously translated; but tradition goes on to say that one
of the brazen slippers of the philosopher was thrown up by the volcano, thus revealing his
subterfuge. Another tradition of far more credible aspect asserts that Empedocles retreated from
Italy, returning to the home of his fathers in Peloponnesus to die there obscurely. It seems odd
that the facts regarding the death of so great a man, at so comparatively late a period, should be
obscure; but this, perhaps, is in keeping with the personality of the man himself. His disciples
would hesitate to ascribe a merely natural death to so inspired a prophet.

Empedocles appears to have been at once an observer and a dreamer. He is credited with noting
that the pressure of air will sustain the weight of water in an inverted tube; with divining, without
the possibility of proof, that light has actual motion in space; and with asserting that centrifugal
motion must keep the heavens from falling. He is credited with a great sanitary feat in the
draining of a marsh, and his knowledge of medicine was held to be supernatural. Fortunately,
some fragments of the writings of Empedocles have come down to us, enabling us to judge at
first hand as to part of his doctrines; while still more is known through the references made to
him by Plato, Aristotle, and other commentators. Empedocles was a poet whose verses stood the
test of criticism. In this regard he is in a like position with Parmenides; but in neither case are the
preserved fragments sufficient to enable us fully to estimate their author's scientific attainments.
Philosophical writings are obscure enough at the best, and they perforce become doubly so when
expressed in verse. Yet there are certain passages of Empedocles that are unequivocal and full of
interest. Perhaps the most important conception which the works of Empedocles reveal to us is
the denial of anthropomorphism as applied to deity. We have seen how early the
anthropomorphic conception was developed and how closely it was all along clung to; to shake
the mind free from it then was a remarkable feat, in accomplishing which Empedocles took a
long step in the direction of rationalism. His conception is paralleled by that of another
physician, Alcmaeon, of Proton, who contended that man's ideas of the gods amounted to mere
suppositions at the very most. A rationalistic or sceptical tendency has been the accompaniment
of medical training in all ages.
The words in which Empedocles expresses his conception of deity have been preserved and are
well worth quoting: "It is not impossible," he says, "to draw near (to god) even with the eyes or
to take hold of him with our hands, which in truth is the best highway of persuasion in the mind
of man; for he has no human head fitted to a body, nor do two shoots branch out from the trunk,
nor has he feet, nor swift legs, nor hairy parts, but he is sacred and ineffable mind alone, darting
through the whole world with swift thoughts."[8]

How far Empedocles carried his denial of anthropomorphism is illustrated by a reference of

Aristotle, who asserts "that Empedocles regards god as most lacking in the power of perception;
for he alone does not know one of the elements, Strife (hence), of perishable things." It is
difficult to avoid the feeling that Empedocles here approaches the modern philosophical
conception that God, however postulated as immutable, must also be postulated as unconscious,
since intelligence, as we know it, is dependent upon the transmutations of matter. But to urge this
thought would be to yield to that philosophizing tendency which has been the bane of
interpretation as applied to the ancient thinkers.
Considering for a moment the more tangible accomplishments of Empedocles, we find it alleged
that one of his "miracles" consisted of the preservation of a dead body without putrefaction for
some weeks after death. We may assume from this that he had gained in some way a knowledge
of embalming. As he was notoriously fond of experiment, and as the body in question (assuming
for the moment the authenticity of the legend) must have been preserved without disfigurement,
it is conceivable even that he had hit upon the idea of injecting the arteries. This, of course, is
pure conjecture; yet it finds a certain warrant, both in the fact that the words of Pythagoras lead
us to believe that the arteries were known and studied, and in the fact that Empedocles' own
words reveal him also as a student of the vascular system. Thus Plutarch cites Empedocles as
believing "that the ruling part is not in the head or in the breast, but in the blood; wherefore in
whatever part of the body the more of this is spread in that part men excel."[13] And
Empedocles' own words, as preserved by Stobaeus, assert "(the heart) lies in seas of blood which
dart in opposite directions, and there most of all intelligence centres for men; for blood about the
heart is intelligence in the case of man." All this implies a really remarkable appreciation of the
dependence of vital activities upon the blood.
This correct physiological conception, however, was by no means the most remarkable of the
ideas to which Empedoeles was led by his anatomical studies. His greatest accomplishment was
to have conceived and clearly expressed an idea which the modern evolutionist connotes when
he speaks of homologous parts--an idea which found a famous modern expositor in Goethe, as
we shall see when we come to deal with eighteenth-century science. Empedocles expresses the
idea in these words: "Hair, and leaves, and thick feathers of birds, are the same thing in origin,
and reptile scales too on strong limbs. But on hedgehogs sharp-pointed hair bristles on their
backs."[14] That the idea of transmutation of parts, as well as of mere homology, was in mind is
evidenced by a very remarkable sentence in which Aristotle asserts, "Empedocles says that
fingernails rise from sinew from hardening." Nor is this quite all, for surely we find the germ of
the Lamarckian conception of evolution through the transmission of acquired characters in the
assertion that "many characteristics appear in animals because it happened to be thus in their
birth, as that they have such a spine because they happen to be descended from one that bent
itself backward."[15] Aristotle, in quoting this remark, asserts, with the dogmatism which
characterizes the philosophical commentators of every age, that "Empedocles is wrong," in
making this assertion; but Lamarck, who lived twenty-three hundred years after Empedocles, is
famous in the history of the doctrine of evolution for elaborating this very idea.
It is fair to add, however, that the dreamings of Empedocles regarding the origin of living
organisms led him to some conceptions that were much less luminous. On occasion, Empedocles
the poet got the better of Empedocles the scientist, and we are presented with a conception of
creation as grotesque as that which delighted the readers of Paradise Lost at a later day.
Empedocles assures us that "many heads grow up without necks, and arms were wandering
about, necks bereft of shoulders, and eyes roamed about alone with no foreheads."[16] This
chaotic condition, so the poet dreamed, led to the union of many incongruous parts, producing
"creatures with double faces, offspring of oxen with human faces, and children of men with oxen
heads." But out of this chaos came, finally, we are led to infer, a harmonious aggregation of
parts, producing ultimately the perfected organisms that we see. Unfortunately the preserved
portions of the writings of Empedocles do not enlighten us as to the precise way in which final
evolution was supposed to be effected; although the idea of endless experimentation until natural
selection resulted in survival of the fittest seems not far afield from certain of the poetical
assertions. Thus: "As divinity was mingled yet more with divinity, these things (the various
members) kept coming together in whatever way each might chance." Again: "At one time all
the limbs which form the body united into one by love grew vigorously in the prime of life; but
yet at another time, separated by evil Strife, they wander each in different directions along the
breakers of the sea of life. Just so is it with plants, and with fishes dwelling in watery halls, and
beasts whose lair is in the mountains, and birds borne on wings."[17]
All this is poetry rather than science, yet such imaginings could come only to one who was
groping towards what we moderns should term an evolutionary conception of the origins of
organic life; and however grotesque some of these expressions may appear, it must be admitted
that the morphological ideas of Empedocles, as above quoted, give the Sicilian philosopher a
secure place among the anticipators of the modern evolutionist.


We have travelled rather far in our study of Greek science, and yet we have not until now come
to Greece itself. And even now, the men whose names we are to consider were, for the most part,
born in out- lying portions of the empire; they differed from the others we have considered only
in the fact that they were drawn presently to the capital. The change is due to a most interesting
sequence of historical events. In the day when Thales and his immediate successors taught in
Miletus, when the great men of the Italic school were in their prime, there was no single
undisputed Centre of Greek influence. The Greeks were a disorganized company of petty
nations, welded together chiefly by unity of speech; but now, early in the fifth century B.C.,
occurred that famous attack upon the Western world by the Persians under Darius and his son
and successor Xerxes. A few months of battling determined the fate of the Western world. The
Orientals were hurled back; the glorious memories of Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea stimulated
the patriotism and enthusiasm of all children of the Greek race. The Greeks, for the first time,
occupied the centre of the historical stage; for the brief interval of about half a century the
different Grecian principalities lived together in relative harmony. One city was recognized as
the metropolis of the loosely bound empire; one city became the home of culture and the Mecca
towards which all eyes turned; that city, of course, was Athens. For a brief time all roads led to
Athens, as, at a later date, they all led to Rome. The waterways which alone bound the widely
scattered parts of Hellas into a united whole led out from Athens and back to Athens, as the
spokes of a wheel to its hub. Athens was the commercial centre, and, largely for that reason, it
became the centre of culture and intellectual influence also. The wise men from the colonies
visited the metropolis, and the wise Athenians went out to the colonies. Whoever aspired to
become a leader in politics, in art, in literature, or in philosophy, made his way to the capital, and
so, with almost bewildering suddenness, there blossomed the civilization of the age of Pericles;
the civilization which produced aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus, and Thucydides; the
civilization which made possible the building of the Parthenon.

Sometime during the early part of this golden age there came to Athens a middle-aged man from
Clazomenae, who, from our present stand-point, was a more interesting personality than perhaps
any other in the great galaxy of remarkable men assembled there. The name of this new-comer
was Anaxagoras. It was said in after-time, we know not with what degree of truth, that he had
been a pupil of Anaximenes. If so, he was a pupil who departed far from the teachings of his
master. What we know for certain is that Anaxagoras was a truly original thinker, and that he
became a close friend--in a sense the teacher--of Pericles and of Euripides. Just how long he
remained at Athens is not certain; but the time came when he had made himself in some way
objectionable to the Athenian populace through his teachings. Filled with the spirit of the
investigator, he could not accept the current conceptions as to the gods. He was a sceptic, an
innovator. Such men are never welcome; they are the chief factors in the progress of thought, but
they must look always to posterity for recognition of their worth; from their contemporaries they
receive, not thanks, but persecution. Sometimes this persecution takes one form, sometimes
another; to the credit of the Greeks be it said, that with them it usually led to nothing more severe
than banishment. In the case of Anaxagoras, it is alleged that the sentence pronounced was death;
but that, thanks to the influence of Pericles, this sentence was commuted to banishment. In any
event, the aged philosopher was sent away from the city of his adoption. He retired to
Lampsacus. "It is not I that have lost the Athenians," he said; "it is the Athenians that have lost
The exact position which Anaxagoras had among his contemporaries, and his exact place in the
development of philosophy, have always been somewhat in dispute. It is not known, of a
certainty, that he even held an open school at Athens. Ritter thinks it doubtful that he did. It was
his fate to be misunderstood, or underestimated, by Aristotle; that in itself would have sufficed
greatly to dim his fame--might, indeed, have led to his almost entire neglect had he not been a
truly remarkable thinker. With most of the questions that have exercised the commentators we
have but scant concern. Following Aristotle, most historians of philosophy have been
metaphysicians; they have concerned themselves far less with what the ancient thinkers really
knew than with what they thought. A chance using of a verbal quibble, an esoteric phrase, the
expression of a vague mysticism--these would suffice to call forth reams of exposition. It has
been the favorite pastime of historians to weave their own anachronistic theories upon the scanty
woof of the half- remembered thoughts of the ancient philosophers. To make such cloth of the
imagination as this is an alluring pastime, but one that must not divert us here. Our point of view
reverses that of the philosophers. We are chiefly concerned, not with some vague saying of
Anaxagoras, but with what he really knew regarding the phenomena of nature; with what he
observed, and with the comprehensible deductions that he derived from his observations. In
attempting to answer these inquiries, we are obliged, in part, to take our evidence at second-
hand; but, fortunately, some fragments of writings of Anaxagoras have come down to us. We are
told that he wrote only a single book. It was said even (by Diogenes) that he was the first man
that ever wrote a work in prose. The latter statement would not bear too close an examination,
yet it is true that no extensive prose compositions of an earlier day than this have been preserved,
though numerous others are known by their fragments. Herodotus, "the father of prose," was a
slightly younger contemporary of the Clazomenaean philosopher; not unlikely the two men may
have met at Athens.

Notwithstanding the loss of the greater part of the writings of Anaxagoras, however, a tolerably
precise account of his scientific doctrines is accessible. Diogenes Laertius expresses some of
them in very clear and precise terms. We have already pointed out the uncertainty that attaches to
such evidence as this, but it is as valid for Anaxagoras as for another. If we reject such evidence,
we shall often have almost nothing left; in accepting it we may at least feel certain that we are
viewing the thinker as his contemporaries and immediate successors viewed him. Following
Diogenes, then, we shall find some remarkable scientific opinions ascribed to Anaxagoras. "He
asserted," we are told, "that the sun was a mass of burning iron, greater than Peloponnesus, and
that the moon contained houses and also hills and ravines." In corroboration of this, Plato
represents him as having conjectured the right explanation of the moon's light, and of the solar
and lunar eclipses. He had other astronomical theories that were more fanciful; thus "he said that
the stars originally moved about in irregular confusion, so that at first the pole-star, which is
continually visible, always appeared in the zenith, but that afterwards it acquired a certain
declination, and that the Milky Way was a reflection of the light of the sun when the stars did not
appear. The comets he considered to be a concourse of planets emitting rays, and the shooting-
stars he thought were sparks, as it were, leaping from the firmament."
Much of this is far enough from the truth, as we now know it, yet all of it shows an earnest
endeavor to explain the observed phenomena of the heavens on rational principles. To have
predicated the sun as a great molten mass of iron was indeed a wonderful anticipation of the
results of the modern spectroscope. Nor can it be said that this hypothesis of Anaxagoras was a
purely visionary guess. It was in all probability a scientific deduction from the observed
character of meteoric stones. Reference has already been made to the alleged prediction of the
fall of the famous meteor at aegespotomi by Anaxagoras. The assertion that he actually predicted
this fall in any proper sense of the word would be obviously absurd. Yet the fact that his name is
associated with it suggests that he had studied similar meteorites, or else that he studied this
particular one, since it is not quite clear whether it was before or after this fall that he made the
famous assertion that space is full of falling stones. We should stretch the probabilities were we
to assert that Anaxagoras knew that shooting-stars and meteors were the same, yet there is an
interesting suggestiveness in his likening the shooting-stars to sparks leaping from the
firmament, taken in connection with his observation on meteorites. Be this as it may, the fact that
something which falls from heaven as a blazing light turns out to be an iron-like mass may very
well have suggested to the most rational of thinkers that the great blazing light called the sun has
the same composition. This idea grasped, it was a not unnatural extension to conceive the other
heavenly bodies as having the same composition.
This led to a truly startling thought. Since the heavenly bodies are of the same composition as the
earth, and since they are observed to be whirling about the earth in space, may we not suppose
that they were once a part of the earth itself, and that they have been thrown off by the force of a
whirling motion? Such was the conclusion which Anaxagoras reached; such his explanation of
the origin of the heavenly bodies. It was a marvellous guess. Deduct from it all that recent
science has shown to be untrue; bear in mind that the stars are suns, compared with which the
earth is a mere speck of dust; recall that the sun is parent, not daughter, of the earth, and despite
all these deductions, the cosmogonic guess of Anaxagoras remains, as it seems to us, one of the
most marvellous feats of human intelligence. It was the first explanation of the cosmic bodies
that could be called, in any sense, an anticipation of what the science of our own day accepts as a
true explanation of cosmic origins. Moreover, let us urge again that this was no mere accidental
flight of the imagination; it was a scientific induction based on the only data available; perhaps it
is not too much to say that it was the only scientific induction which these data would fairly
sustain. Of course it is not for a moment to be inferred that Anaxagoras understood, in the
modern sense, the character of that whirling force which we call centrifugal. About two thousand
years were yet to elapse before that force was explained as elementary inertia; and even that
explanation, let us not forget, merely sufficed to push back the barriers of mystery by one other
stage; for even in our day inertia is a statement of fact rather than an explanation.
But however little Anaxagoras could explain the centrifugal force on mechanical principles, the
practical powers of that force were sufficiently open to his observation. The mere experiment of
throwing a stone from a sling would, to an observing mind, be full of suggestiveness. It would be
obvious that by whirling the sling about, the stone which it held would be sustained in its circling
path about the hand in seeming defiance of the earth's pull, and after the stone had left the sling,
it could fly away from the earth to a distance which the most casual observation would prove to
be proportionate to the speed of its flight. Extremely rapid motion, then, might project bodies
from the earth's surface off into space; a sufficiently rapid whirl would keep them there.
Anaxagoras conceived that this was precisely what had occurred. His imagination even carried
him a step farther--to a conception of a slackening of speed, through which the heavenly bodies
would lose their centrifugal force, and, responding to the perpetual pull of gravitation, would fall
back to the earth, just as the great stone at aegespotomi had been observed to do.

Here we would seem to have a clear conception of the idea of universal gravitation, and
Anaxagoras stands before us as the anticipator of Newton. Were it not for one scientific maxim,
we might exalt the old Greek above the greatest of modern natural philosophers; but that maxim
bids us pause. It is phrased thus, "He discovers who proves." Anaxagoras could not prove; his
argument was at best suggestive, not demonstrative. He did not even know the laws which
govern falling bodies; much less could he apply such laws, even had he known them, to sidereal
bodies at whose size and distance he could only guess in the vaguest terms. Still his cosmogonic
speculation remains as perhaps the most remarkable one of antiquity. How widely his
speculation found currency among his immediate successors is instanced in a passage from Plato,
where Socrates is represented as scornfully answering a calumniator in these terms: "He asserts
that I say the sun is a stone and the moon an earth. Do you think of accusing Anaxagoras,
Miletas, and have you so low an opinion of these men, and think them so unskilled in laws, as
not to know that the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenaean are full of these doctrines. And
forsooth the young men are learning these matters from me which sometimes they can buy from
the orchestra for a drachma, at the most, and laugh at Socrates if he pretends they are his-
particularly seeing they are so strange."
The element of error contained in these cosmogonic speculations of Anaxagoras has led critics to
do them something less than justice. But there is one other astronomical speculation for which
the Clazomenaean philosopher has received full credit. It is generally admitted that it was he who
first found out the explanation of the phases of the moon; a knowledge that that body shines only
by reflected light, and that its visible forms, waxing and waning month by month from crescent
to disk and from disk to crescent, merely represent our shifting view of its sun-illumined face. It
is difficult to put ourselves in the place of the ancient observer and realize how little the
appearances suggest the actual fact. That a body of the same structure as the earth should shine
with the radiance of the moon merely because sunlight is reflected from it, is in itself a
supposition seemingly contradicted by ordinary experience. It required the mind of a
philosopher, sustained, perhaps, by some experimental observations, to conceive the idea that
what seems so obviously bright may be in reality dark. The germ of the conception of what the
philosopher speaks of as the noumena, or actualities, back of phenomena or appearances, had
perhaps this crude beginning. Anaxagoras could surely point to the moon in support of his
seeming paradox that snow, being really composed of water, which is dark, is in reality black
and not white--a contention to which we shall refer more at length in a moment.
But there is yet another striking thought connected with this new explanation of the phases of the
moon. The explanation implies not merely the reflection of light by a dark body, but by a dark
body of a particular form. Granted that reflections are in question, no body but a spherical one
could give an appearance which the moon presents. The moon, then, is not merely a mass of
earth, it is a spherical mass of earth. Here there were no flaws in the reasoning of Anaxagoras.
By scientific induction he passed from observation to explanation. A new and most important
element was added to the science of astronomy.
Looking back from the latter-day stand-point, it would seem as if the mind of the philosopher
must have taken one other step: the mind that had conceived sun, moon, stars, and earth to be of
one substance might naturally, we should think, have reached out to the further induction that,
since the moon is a sphere, the other cosmic bodies, including the earth, must be spheres also.
But generalizer as he was, Anaxagoras was too rigidly scientific a thinker to make this
assumption. The data at his command did not, as he analyzed them, seem to point to this
conclusion. We have seen that Pythagoras probably, and Parmenides surely, out there in Italy
had conceived the idea of the earth's rotundity, but the Pythagorean doctrines were not rapidly
taken up in the mother- country, and Parmenides, it must be recalled, was a strict contemporary
of Anaxagoras himself. It is no reproach, therefore, to the Clazomenaean philosopher that he
should have held to the old idea that the earth is flat, or at most a convex disk--the latter being
the Babylonian conception which probably dominated that Milesian school to which Anaxagoras
harked back.
Anaxagoras may never have seen an eclipse of the moon, and even if he had he might have
reflected that, from certain directions, a disk may throw precisely the same shadow as a sphere.
Moreover, in reference to the shadow cast by the earth, there was, so Anaxagoras believed, an
observation open to him nightly which, we may well suppose, was not without influence in
suggesting to his mind the probable shape of the earth. The Milky Way, which doubtless had
puzzled astronomers from the beginnings of history and which was to continue to puzzle them
for many centuries after the day of Anaxagoras, was explained by the Clazomenaean philosopher
on a theory obviously suggested by the theory of the moon's phases. Since the earth- like moon
shines by reflected light at night, and since the stars seem obviously brighter on dark nights,
Anaxagoras was but following up a perfectly logical induction when he propounded the theory
that the stars in the Milky Way seem more numerous and brighter than those of any other part of
the heavens, merely because the Milky Way marks the shadow of the earth. Of course the
inference was wrong, so far as the shadow of the earth is concerned; yet it contained a part truth,
the force of which was never fully recognized until the time of Galileo. This consists in the
assertion that the brightness of the Milky Way is merely due to the glow of many stars. The
shadow- theory of Anaxagoras would naturally cease to have validity so soon as the sphericity of
the earth was proved, and with it, seemingly, fell for the time the companion theory that the
Milky Way is made up of a multitude of stars.

It has been said by a modern critic[1] that the shadow-theory was childish in that it failed to note
that the Milky Way does not follow the course of the ecliptic. But this criticism only holds good
so long as we reflect on the true character of the earth as a symmetrical body poised in space. It
is quite possible to conceive a body occupying the position of the earth with reference to the sun
which would cast a shadow having such a tenuous form as the Milky Way presents. Such a body
obviously would not be a globe, but a long-drawn-out, attenuated figure. There is, to be sure, no
direct evidence preserved to show that Anaxagoras conceived the world to present such a figure
as this, but what we know of that philosopher's close-reasoning, logical mind gives some warrant
to the assumption--gratuitous though in a sense it be-- that the author of the theory of the moon's
phases had not failed to ask himself what must be the form of that terrestrial body which could
cast the tenuous shadow of the Milky Way. Moreover, we must recall that the habitable earth, as
known to the Greeks of that day, was a relatively narrow band of territory, stretching far to the
east and to the west.
Anaxagoras as Meteorologist

The man who had studied the meteorite of aegospotami, and been put by it on the track of such
remarkable inductions, was, naturally, not oblivious to the other phenomena of the atmosphere.
Indeed, such a mind as that of Anaxagoras was sure to investigate all manner of natural
phenomena, and almost equally sure to throw new light on any subject that it investigated. Hence
it is not surprising to find Anaxagoras credited with explaining the winds as due to the
rarefactions of the atmosphere produced by the sun. This explanation gives Anaxagoras full right
to be called "the father of meteorology," a title which, it may be, no one has thought of applying
to him, chiefly because the science of meteorology did not make its real beginnings until some
twenty-four hundred years after the death of its first great votary. Not content with explaining the
winds, this prototype of Franklin turned his attention even to the tipper atmosphere. "Thunder,"
he is reputed to have said, "was produced by the collision of the clouds, and lightning by the
rubbing together of the clouds." We dare not go so far as to suggest that this implies an
association in the mind of Anaxagoras between the friction of the clouds and the observed
electrical effects generated by the friction of such a substance as amber. To make such a
suggestion doubtless would be to fall victim to the old familiar propensity to read into Homer
things that Homer never knew. Yet the significant fact remains that Anaxagoras ascribed to
thunder and to lightning their true position as strictly natural phenomena. For him it was no god
that menaced humanity with thundering voice and the flash of his divine fires from the clouds.
Little wonder that the thinker whose science carried him to such scepticism as this should have
felt the wrath of the superstitious Athenians.
Biological Speculations

Passing from the phenomena of the air to those of the earth itself, we learn that Anaxagoras
explained an earthquake as being produced by the returning of air into the earth. We cannot be
sure as to the exact meaning here, though the idea that gases are imprisoned in the substance of
the earth seems not far afield. But a far more remarkable insight than this would imply was
shown by Anaxagoras when he asserted that a certain amount of air is contained in water, and
that fishes breathe this air. The passage of Aristotle in which this opinion is ascribed to
Anaxagoras is of sufficient interest to be quoted at length:

"Democritus, of Abdera," says Aristotle, "and some others, that have spoken concerning
respiration, have determined nothing concerning other animals, but seem to have supposed that
all animals respire. But Anaxagoras and Diogenes (Apolloniates), who say that all animals
respire, have also endeavored to explain how fishes, and all those animals that have a hard, rough
shell, such as oysters, mussels, etc., respire. And Anaxagoras, indeed, says that fishes, when they
emit water through their gills, attract air from the mouth to the vacuum in the viscera from the
water which surrounds the mouth; as if air was inherent in the water."[2]
It should be recalled that of the three philosophers thus mentioned as contending that all animals
respire, Anaxagoras was the elder; he, therefore, was presumably the originator of the idea. It
will be observed, too, that Anaxagoras alone is held responsible for the idea that fishes respire air
through their gills, "attracting" it from the water. This certainly was one of the shrewdest
physiological guesses of any age, if it be regarded as a mere guess. With greater justice we might
refer to it as a profound deduction from the principle of the uniformity of nature.
In making such a deduction, Anaxagoras was far in advance of his time as illustrated by the fact
that Aristotle makes the citation we have just quoted merely to add that "such things are
impossible," and to refute these "impossible" ideas by means of metaphysical reasonings that
seemed demonstrative not merely to himself, but to many generations of his followers.

We are told that Anaxagoras alleged that all animals were originally generated out of moisture,
heat, and earth particles. Just what opinion he held concerning man's development we are not
informed. Yet there is one of his phrases which suggests--without, perhaps, quite proving--that
he was an evolutionist. This phrase asserts, with insight that is fairly startling, that man is the
most intelligent of animals because he has hands. The man who could make that assertion must,
it would seem, have had in mind the idea of the development of intelligence through the use of
hands-- an idea the full force of which was not evident to subsequent generations of thinkers
until the time of Darwin.
Physical Speculations

Anaxagoras is cited by Aristotle as believing that "plants are animals and feel pleasure and pain,
inferring this because they shed their leaves and let them grow again." The idea is fanciful, yet it
suggests again a truly philosophical conception of the unity of nature. The man who could
conceive that idea was but little hampered by traditional conceptions. He was exercising a rare
combination of the rigidly scientific spirit with the poetical imagination. He who possesses these
gifts is sure not to stop in his questionings of nature until he has found some thinkable
explanation of the character of matter itself. Anaxagoras found such an explanation, and, as good
luck would have it, that explanation has been preserved. Let us examine his reasoning in some
detail. We have already referred to the claim alleged to have been made by Anaxagoras that
snow is not really white, but black. The philosopher explained his paradox, we are told, by
asserting that snow is really water, and that water is dark, when viewed under proper conditions--
as at the bottom of a well. That idea contains the germ of the Clazomenaean philosopher's
conception of the nature of matter. Indeed, it is not unlikely that this theory of matter grew out of
his observation of the changing forms of water. He seems clearly to have grasped the idea that
snow on the one hand, and vapor on the other, are of the same intimate substance as the water
from which they are derived and into which they may be again transformed. The fact that steam
and snow can be changed back into water, and by simple manipulation cannot be changed into
any other substance, finds, as we now believe, its true explanation in the fact that the molecular
structure, as we phrase it--that is to say, the ultimate particle of which water is composed, is not
changed, and this is precisely the explanation which Anaxagoras gave of the same phenomena.
For him the unit particle of water constituted an elementary body, uncreated, unchangeable,
indestructible. This particle, in association with like particles, constitutes the substance which we
call water. The same particle in association with particles unlike itself, might produce totally
different substances--as, for example, when water is taken up by the roots of a plant and
becomes, seemingly, a part of the substance of the plant. But whatever the changed association,
so Anaxagoras reasoned, the ultimate particle of water remains a particle of water still. And what
was true of water was true also, so he conceived, of every other substance. Gold, silver, iron,
earth, and the various vegetables and animal tissues--in short, each and every one of all the
different substances with which experience makes us familiar, is made up of unit particles which
maintain their integrity in whatever combination they may be associated. This implies,
obviously, a multitude of primordial particles, each one having an individuality of its own; each
one, like the particle of water already cited, uncreated, unchangeable, and indestructible.

Fortunately, we have the philosopher's own words to guide us as to his speculations here. The
fragments of his writings that have come down to us (chiefly through the quotations of
Simplicius) deal almost exclusively with these ultimate conceptions of his imagination. In
ascribing to him, then, this conception of diverse, uncreated, primordial elements, which can
never be changed, but can only be mixed together to form substances of the material world, we
are not reading back post-Daltonian knowledge into the system of Anaxagoras. Here are his
words: "The Greeks do not rightly use the terms 'coming into being' and 'perishing.' For nothing
comes into being, nor, yet, does anything perish; but there is mixture and separation of things
that are. So they would do right in calling 'coming into being' 'mixture' and 'perishing'
'separation.' For how could hair come from what is not hair? Or flesh from what is not flesh?"
Elsewhere he tells us that (at one stage of the world's development) "the dense, the moist, the
cold, the dark, collected there where now is earth; the rare, the warm, the dry, the bright,
departed towards the further part of the aether. The earth is condensed out of these things that are
separated, for water is separated from the clouds, and earth from the water; and from the earth
stones are condensed by the cold, and these are separated farther from the water." Here again the
influence of heat and cold in determining physical qualities is kept pre-eminently in mind. The
dense, the moist, the cold, the dark are contrasted with the rare, the warm, the dry, and bright;
and the formation of stones is spoken of as a specific condensation due to the influence of cold.
Here, then, we have nearly all the elements of the Daltonian theory of atoms on the one hand,
and the nebular hypothesis of Laplace on the other. But this is not quite all. In addition to such
diverse elementary particles as those of gold, water, and the rest, Anaxagoras conceived a
species of particles differing from all the others, not merely as they differ from one another, but
constituting a class by themselves; particles infinitely smaller than the others; particles that are
described as infinite, self-powerful, mixed with nothing, but existing alone. That is to say
(interpreting the theory in the only way that seems plausible), these most minute particles do not
mix with the other primordial particles to form material substances in the same way in which
these mixed with one another. But, on the other hand, these "infinite, self-powerful, and
unmixed" particles commingle everywhere and in every substance whatever with the mixed
particles that go to make up the substances.
There is a distinction here, it will be observed, which at once suggests the modern distinction
between physical processes and chemical processes, or, putting it otherwise, between molecular
processes and atomic processes; but the reader must be guarded against supposing that
Anaxagoras had any such thought as this in mind. His ultimate mixable particles can be
compared only with the Daltonian atom, not with the molecule of the modern physicist, and his
"infinite, self- powerful, and unmixable" particles are not comparable with anything but the ether
of the modern physicist, with which hypothetical substance they have many points of
resemblance. But the "infinite, self- powerful, and unmixed" particles constituting thus an ether-
like plenum which permeates all material structures, have also, in the mind of Anaxagoras, a
function which carries them perhaps a stage beyond the province of the modern ether. For these
"infinite, self powerful, and unmixed" particles are imbued with, and, indeed, themselves
constitute, what Anaxagoras terms nous, a word which the modern translator has usually
paraphrased as "mind." Neither that word nor any other available one probably conveys an
accurate idea of what Anaxagoras meant to imply by the word nous. For him the word meant not
merely "mind" in the sense of receptive and comprehending intelligence, but directive and
creative intelligence as well. Again let Anaxagoras speak for himself: "Other things include a
portion of everything, but nous is infinite, and self-powerful, and mixed with nothing, but it
exists alone, itself by itself. For if it were not by itself, but were mixed with anything else, it
would include parts of all things, if it were mixed with anything; for a portion of everything
exists in every thing, as has been said by me before, and things mingled with it would prevent it
from having power over anything in the same way that it does now that it is alone by itself. For it
is the most rarefied of all things and the purest, and it has all knowledge in regard to everything
and the greatest power; over all that has life, both greater and less, nous rules. And nous ruled the
rotation of the whole, so that it set it in rotation in the beginning. First it began the rotation from
a small beginning, then more and more was included in the motion, and yet more will be
included. Both the mixed and the separated and distinct, all things nous recognized. And
whatever things were to be, and whatever things were, as many as are now, and whatever things
shall be, all these nous arranged in order; and it arranged that rotation, according to which now
rotate stars and sun and moon and air and aether, now that they are separated. Rotation itself
caused the separation, and the dense is separated from the rare, the warm from the cold, the
bright from the dark, the dry from the moist. And when nous began to set things in motion, there
was separation from everything that was in motion, all this was made distinct. The rotation of the
things that were moved and made distinct caused them to be yet more distinct."[3]

Nous, then, as Anaxagoras conceives it, is "the most rarefied of all things, and the purest, and it
has knowledge in regard to everything and the greatest power; over all that has life, both greater
and less, it rules." But these are postulants of omnipresence and omniscience. In other words,
nous is nothing less than the omnipotent artificer of the material universe. It lacks nothing of the
power of deity, save only that we are not assured that it created the primordial particles. The
creation of these particles was a conception that for Anaxagoras, as for the modern Spencer, lay
beyond the range of imagination. Nous is the artificer, working with "uncreated" particles. Back
of nous and the particles lies, for an Anaxagoras as for a Spencer, the Unknowable. But nous
itself is the equivalent of that universal energy of motion which science recognizes as operating
between the particles of matter, and which the theologist personifies as Deity. It is Pantheistic
deity as Anaxagoras conceives it; his may be called the first scientific conception of a non-
anthropomorphic god. In elaborating this conception Anaxagoras proved himself one of the most
remarkable scientific dreamers of antiquity. To have substituted for the Greek Pantheon of
anthropomorphic deities the conception of a non-anthropomorphic immaterial and ethereal
entity, of all things in the world "the most rarefied and the purest," is to have performed a feat
which, considering the age and the environment in which it was accomplished, staggers the
imagination. As a strictly scientific accomplishment the great thinker's conception of primordial
elements contained a germ of the truth which was to lie dormant for 2200 years, but which then,
as modified and vitalized by the genius of Dalton, was to dominate the new chemical science of
the nineteenth century. If there are intimations that the primordial element of Anaxagoras and of
Dalton may turn out in the near future to be itself a compound, there will still remain the yet finer
particles of the nous of Anaxagoras to baffle the most subtle analysis of which to-day's science
gives us any pre-vision. All in all, then, the work of Anaxagoras must stand as that of perhaps the
most far-seeing scientific imagination of pre-Socratic antiquity.

But we must not leave this alluring field of speculation as to the nature of matter without
referring to another scientific guess, which soon followed that of Anaxagoras and was destined
to gain even wider fame, and which in modern times has been somewhat unjustly held to eclipse
the glory of the other achievement. We mean, of course, the atomic theory of Leucippus and
Democritus. This theory reduced all matter to primordial elements, called atoms <gr atoma>
because they are by hypothesis incapable of further division. These atoms, making up the entire
material universe, are in this theory conceived as qualitatively identical, differing from one
another only in size and perhaps in shape. The union of different-sized atoms in endless
combinations produces the diverse substances with which our senses make us familiar.
Before we pass to a consideration of this alluring theory, and particularly to a comparison of it
with the theory of Anaxagoras, we must catch a glimpse of the personality of the men to whom
the theory owes its origin. One of these, Leucippus, presents so uncertain a figure as to be almost
mythical. Indeed, it was long questioned whether such a man had actually lived, or whether be
were not really an invention of his alleged disciple, Democritus. Latterday scholarship, however,
accepts him as a real personage, though knowing scarcely more of him than that he was the
author of the famous theory with which his name was associated. It is suggested that he was a
wanderer, like most philosophers of his time, and that later in life he came to Abdera, in Thrace,
and through this circumstance became the teacher of Democritus. This fable answers as well as
another. What we really know is that Democritus himself, through whose writings and teachings
the atomic theory gained vogue, was born in Abdera, about the year 460 B.C.--that is to say, just
about the time when his great precursor, Anaxagoras, was migrating to Athens. Democritus, like
most others of the early Greek thinkers, lives in tradition as a picturesque figure. It is vaguely
reported that he travelled for a time, perhaps in the East and in Egypt, and that then he settled
down to spend the remainder of his life in Abdera. Whether or not he visited Athens in the
course of his wanderings we do not know. At Abdera he was revered as a sage, but his influence
upon the practical civilization of the time was not marked. He was pre-eminently a dreamer and
a writer. Like his confreres of the epoch, he entered all fields of thought. He wrote voluminously,
but, unfortunately, his writings have, for the most part, perished. The fables and traditions of a
later day asserted that Democritus had voluntarily put out his own eyes that he might turn his
thoughts inward with more concentration. Doubtless this is fiction, yet, as usual with such
fictions, it contains a germ of truth; for we may well suppose that the promulgator of the atomic
theory was a man whose mind was attracted by the subtleties of thought rather than by the
tangibilities of observation. Yet the term "laughing philosopher," which seems to have been
universally applied to Democritus, suggests a mind not altogether withdrawn from the world of

So much for Democritus the man. Let us return now to his theory of atoms. This theory, it must
be confessed, made no very great impression upon his contemporaries. It found an expositor, a
little later, in the philosopher Epicurus, and later still the poet Lucretius gave it popular
expression. But it seemed scarcely more than the dream of a philosopher or the vagary of a poet
until the day when modern science began to penetrate the mysteries of matter. When, finally, the
researches of Dalton and his followers had placed the atomic theory on a surer footing as the
foundation of modern chemistry, the ideas of the old laughing philosopher of Abdera, which all
along had been half derisively remembered, were recalled with a new interest. Now it appeared
that these ideas had curiously foreshadowed nineteenth-century knowledge. It appeared that
away back in the fifth century B.C. a man had dreamed out a conception of the ultimate nature of
matter which had waited all these centuries for corroboration. And now the historians of
philosophy became more than anxious to do justice to the memory of Democritus.
It is possible that this effort at poetical restitution has carried the enthusiast too far. There is,
indeed, a curious suggestiveness in the theory of Democritus; there is philosophical allurement in
his reduction of all matter to a single element; it contains, it may be, not merely a germ of the
science of the nineteenth-century chemistry, but perhaps the germs also of the yet undeveloped
chemistry of the twentieth century. Yet we dare suggest that in their enthusiasm for the atomic
theory of Democritus the historians of our generation have done something less than justice to
that philosopher's precursor, Anaxagoras. And one suspects that the mere accident of a name has
been instrumental in producing this result. Democritus called his primordial element an atom;
Anaxagoras, too, conceived a primordial element, but he called it merely a seed or thing; he
failed to christen it distinctively. Modern science adopted the word atom and gave it universal
vogue. It owed a debt of gratitude to Democritus for supplying it the word, but it somewhat
overpaid the debt in too closely linking the new meaning of the word with its old original one.
For, let it be clearly understood, the Daltonian atom is not precisely comparable with the atom of
Democritus. The atom, as Democritus conceived it, was monistic; all atoms, according to this
hypothesis, are of the same substance; one atom differs from another merely in size and shape,
but not at all in quality. But the Daltonian hypothesis conceived, and nearly all the experimental
efforts of the nineteenth century seemed to prove, that there are numerous classes of atoms, each
differing in its very essence from the others.
As the case stands to-day the chemist deals with seventy-odd substances, which he calls
elements. Each one of these substances is, as he conceives it, made up of elementary atoms
having a unique personality, each differing in quality from all the others. As far as experiment
has thus far safely carried us, the atom of gold is a primordial element which remains an atom of
gold and nothing else, no matter with what other atoms it is associated. So, too, of the atom of
silver, or zinc, or sodium--in short, of each and every one of the seventy-odd elements. There
are, indeed, as we shall see, experiments that suggest the dissolution of the atom--that suggest, in
short, that the Daltonian atom is misnamed, being a structure that may, under certain conditions,
be broken asunder. But these experiments have, as yet, the warrant rather of philosophy than of
pure science, and to-day we demand that the philosophy of science shall be the handmaid of

When experiment shall have demonstrated that the Daltonian atom is a compound, and that in
truth there is but a single true atom, which, combining with its fellows perhaps in varying
numbers and in different special relations, produces the Daltonian atoms, then the philosophical
theory of monism will have the experimental warrant which to-day it lacks; then we shall be a
step nearer to the atom of Democritus in one direction, a step farther away in the other. We shall
be nearer, in that the conception of Democritus was, in a sense, monistic; farther away, in that all
the atoms of Democritus, large and small alike, were considered as permanently fixed in size.
Democritus postulated all his atoms as of the same substance, differing not at all in quality; yet
he was obliged to conceive that the varying size of the atoms gave to them varying functions
which amounted to qualitative differences. He might claim for his largest atom the same quality
of substance as for his smallest, but so long as he conceived that the large atoms, when adjusted
together to form a tangible substance, formed a substance different in quality from the substance
which the small atoms would make up when similarly grouped, this concession amounts to the
predication of difference of quality between the atoms themselves. The entire question reduces
itself virtually to a quibble over the word quality, So long as one atom conceived to be
primordial and indivisible is conceded to be of such a nature as necessarily to produce a different
impression on our senses, when grouped with its fellows, from the impression produced by other
atoms when similarly grouped, such primordial atoms do differ among themselves in precisely
the same way for all practical purposes as do the primordial elements of Anaxagoras.
The monistic conception towards which twentieth- century chemistry seems to be carrying us
may perhaps show that all the so-called atoms are compounded of a single element. All the true
atoms making up that element may then properly be said to have the same quality, but none the
less will it remain true that the combinations of that element that go to make up the different
Daltonian atoms differ from one another in quality in precisely the same sense in which such
tangible substances as gold, and oxygen, and mercury, and diamonds differ from one another. In
the last analysis of the monistic philosophy, there is but one substance and one quality in the
universe. In the widest view of that philosophy, gold and oxygen and mercury and diamonds are
one substance, and, if you please, one quality. But such refinements of analysis as this are for the
transcendental philosopher, and not for the scientist. Whatever the allurement of such reasoning,
we must for the purpose of science let words have a specific meaning, nor must we let a mere
word-jugglery blind us to the evidence of facts. That was the rock on which Greek science
foundered; it is the rock which the modern helmsman sometimes finds it difficult to avoid. And
if we mistake not, this case of the atom of Democritus is precisely a case in point. Because
Democritus said that his atoms did not differ in quality, the modern philosopher has seen in his
theory the essentials of monism; has discovered in it not merely a forecast of the chemistry of the
nineteenth century, but a forecast of the hypothetical chemistry of the future. And, on the other
hand, because Anaxagoras predicted a different quality for his primordial elements, the
philosopher of our day has discredited the primordial element of Anaxagoras.
Yet if our analysis does not lead us astray, the theory of Democritus was not truly monistic; his
indestructible atoms, differing from one another in size and shape, utterly incapable of being
changed from the form which they had maintained from the beginning, were in reality as truly
and primordially different as are the primordial elements of Anaxagoras. In other words, the
atom of Democritus is nothing less than the primordial seed of Anaxagoras, a little more tangibly
visualized and given a distinctive name. Anaxagoras explicitly conceived his elements as
invisibly small, as infinite in number, and as made up of an indefinite number of kinds--one for
each distinctive substance in the world. But precisely the same postulates are made of the atom
of Democritus. These also are invisibly small; these also are infinite in number; these also are
made up of an indefinite number of kinds, corresponding with the observed difference of
substances in the world. "Primitive seeds," or "atoms," were alike conceived to be primordial,
un- changeable, and indestructible. Wherein then lies the difference? We answer, chiefly in a
name; almost solely in the fact that Anaxagoras did not attempt to postulate the physical
properties of the elements beyond stating that each has a distinctive personality, while
Democritus did attempt to postulate these properties. He, too, admitted that each kind of element
has its distinctive personality, and he attempted to visualize and describe the characteristics of
the personality.
Thus while Anaxagoras tells us nothing of his elements except that they differ from one another,
Democritus postulates a difference in size, imagines some elements as heavier and some as
lighter, and conceives even that the elements may be provided with projecting hooks, with the
aid of which they link themselves one with another. No one to-day takes these crude visualizings
seriously as to their details. The sole element of truth which these dreamings contain, as
distinguishing them from the dreamings of Anaxagoras, is in the conception that the various
atoms differ in size and weight. Here, indeed, is a vague fore-shadowing of that chemistry of
form which began to come into prominence towards the close of the nineteenth century. To have
forecast even dimly this newest phase of chemical knowledge, across the abyss of centuries, is
indeed a feat to put Democritus in the front rank of thinkers. But this estimate should not blind us
to the fact that the pre-vision of Democritus was but a slight elaboration of a theory which had its
origin with another thinker. The association between Anaxagoras and Democritus cannot be
directly traced, but it is an association which the historian of ideas should never for a moment
forget. If we are not to be misled by mere word-jugglery, we shall recognize the founder of the
atomic theory of matter in Anaxagoras; its expositors along slightly different lines in Leucippus
and Democritus; its re-discoverer of the nineteenth century in Dalton. All in all, then, just as
Anaxagoras preceded Democritus in time, so must he take precedence over him also as an
inductive thinker, who carried the use of the scientific imagination to its farthest reach.

An analysis of the theories of the two men leads to somewhat the same conclusion that might be
reached from a comparison of their lives. Anaxagoras was a sceptical, experimental scientist,
gifted also with the prophetic imagination. He reasoned always from the particular to the general,
after the manner of true induction, and he scarcely took a step beyond the confines of secure
induction. True scientist that he was, he could content himself with postulating different qualities
for his elements, without pretending to know how these qualities could be defined. His elements
were by hypothesis invisible, hence he would not attempt to visualize them. Democritus, on the
other hand, refused to recognize this barrier. Where he could not know, he still did not hesitate to
guess. Just as he conceived his atom of a definite form with a definite structure, even so he
conceived that the atmosphere about him was full of invisible spirits; he accepted the current
superstitions of his time. Like the average Greeks of his day, he even believed in such omens as
those furnished by inspecting the entrails of a fowl. These chance bits of biography are weather-
vanes of the mind of Democritus. They tend to substantiate our conviction that Democritus must
rank below Anaxagoras as a devotee of pure science. But, after all, such comparisons and
estimates as this are utterly futile. The essential fact for us is that here, in the fifth century before
our era, we find put forward the most penetrating guess as to the constitution of matter that the
history of ancient thought has to present to us. In one direction, the avenue of progress is barred;
there will be no farther step that way till we come down the centuries to the time of Dalton.


These studies of the constitution of matter have carried us to the limits of the field of scientific
imagination in antiquity; let us now turn sharply and consider a department of science in which
theory joins hands with practicality. Let us witness the beginnings of scientific therapeutics.

Medicine among the early Greeks, before the time of Hippocrates, was a crude mixture of
religion, necromancy, and mysticism. Temples were erected to the god of medicine, aesculapius,
and sick persons made their way, or were carried, to these temples, where they sought to gain the
favor of the god by suitable offerings, and learn the way to regain their health through remedies
or methods revealed to them in dreams by the god. When the patient had been thus cured, he
placed a tablet in the temple describing his sickness, and telling by what method the god had
cured him. He again made suitable offerings at the temple, which were sometimes in the form of
gold or silver representations of the diseased organ--a gold or silver model of a heart, hand, foot,

Nevertheless, despite this belief in the supernatural, many drugs and healing lotions were
employed, and the Greek physicians possessed considerable skill in dressing wounds and
bandaging. But they did not depend upon these surgical dressings alone, using with them certain
appropriate prayers and incantations, recited over the injured member at the time of applying the

Even the very early Greeks had learned something of anatomy. The daily contact with wounds
and broken bones must of necessity lead to a crude understanding of anatomy in general. The
first Greek anatomist, however, who is recognized as such, is said to have been Alcmaeon. He is
said to have made extensive dissections of the lower animals, and to have described many
hitherto unknown structures, such as the optic nerve and the Eustachian canal--the small tube
leading into the throat from the ear. He is credited with many unique explanations of natural
phenomena, such as, for example, the explanation that "hearing is produced by the hollow bone
behind the ear; for all hollow things are sonorous." He was a rationalist, and he taught that the
brain is the organ of mind. The sources of our information about his work, however, are
Democedes, who lived in the sixth century B.C., is the first physician of whom we have any
trustworthy history. We learn from Herodotus that he came from Croton to aegina, where, in
recognition of his skill, he was appointed medical officer of the city. From aegina he was called
to Athens at an increased salary, and later was in charge of medical affairs in several other Greek
cities. He was finally called to Samos by the tyrant Polycrates, who reigned there from about 536
to 522 B.C. But on the death of Polycrates, who was murdered by the Persians, Democedes
became a slave. His fame as a physician, however, had reached the ears of the Persian monarch,
and shortly after his capture he was permitted to show his skill upon King Darius himself. The
Persian monarch was suffering from a sprained ankle, which his Egyptian surgeons had been
unable to cure. Democedes not only cured the injured member but used his influence in saving
the lives of his Egyptian rivals, who had been condemned to death by the king.

At another time he showed his skill by curing the queen, who was suffering from a chronic
abscess of long standing. This so pleased the monarch that he offered him as a reward anything
he might desire, except his liberty. But the costly gifts of Darius did not satisfy him so long as he
remained a slave; and determined to secure his freedom at any cost, he volunteered to lead some
Persian spies into his native country, promising to use his influence in converting some of the
leading men of his nation to the Persian cause. Laden with the wealth that had been heaped upon
him by Darius, he set forth upon his mission, but upon reaching his native city of Croton he
threw off his mask, renounced his Persian mission, and became once more a free Greek.

While the story of Democedes throws little light upon the medical practices of the time, it shows
that paid city medical officers existed in Greece as early as the fifth and sixth centuries B.C.
Even then there were different "schools" of medicine, whose disciples disagreed radically in their
methods of treating diseases; and there were also specialists in certain diseases, quacks, and
charlatans. Some physicians depended entirely upon external lotions for healing all disorders;
others were "hydrotherapeutists" or "bath- physicians"; while there were a host of physicians
who administered a great variety of herbs and drugs. There were also magicians who pretended
to heal by sorcery, and great numbers of bone-setters, oculists, and dentists.
Many of the wealthy physicians had hospitals, or clinics, where patients were operated upon and
treated. They were not hospitals in our modern understanding of the term, but were more like
dispensaries, where patients were treated temporarily, but were not allowed to remain for any
length of time. Certain communities established and supported these dispensaries for the care of
the poor.
But anything approaching a rational system of medicine was not established, until Hippocrates of
Cos, the "father of medicine," came upon the scene. In an age that produced Phidias, Lysias,
Herodotus, Sophocles, and Pericles, it seems but natural that the medical art should find an
exponent who would rise above superstitious dogmas and lay the foundation for a medical
science. His rejection of the supernatural alone stamps the greatness of his genius. But, besides
this, he introduced more detailed observation of diseases, and demonstrated the importance that
attaches to prognosis.
Hippocrates was born at Cos, about 460 B.C., but spent most of his life at Larissa, in Thessaly.
He was educated as a physician by his father, and travelled extensively as an itinerant
practitioner for several years. His travels in different climates and among many different people
undoubtedly tended to sharpen his keen sense of observation. He was a practical physician as
well as a theorist, and, withal, a clear and concise writer. "Life is short," he says, "opportunity
fleeting, judgment difficult, treatment easy, but treatment after thought is proper and profitable."
His knowledge of anatomy was necessarily very imperfect, and was gained largely from his
predecessors, to whom he gave full credit. Dissections of the human body were forbidden him,
and he was obliged to confine his experimental researches to operations on the lower animals.
His knowledge of the structure and arrangement of the bones, however, was fairly accurate, but
the anatomy of the softer tissues, as he conceived it, was a queer jumbling together of blood-
vessels, muscles, and tendons. He does refer to "nerves," to be sure, but apparently the structures
referred to are the tendons and ligaments, rather than the nerves themselves. He was better
acquainted with the principal organs in the cavities of the body, and knew, for example, that the
heart is divided into four cavities, two of which he supposed to contain blood, and the other two
His most revolutionary step was his divorcing of the supernatural from the natural, and
establishing the fact that disease is due to natural causes and should be treated accordingly. The
effect of such an attitude can hardly be over-estimated. The establishment of such a theory was
naturally followed by a close observation as to the course of diseases and the effects of
treatment. To facilitate this, he introduced the custom of writing down his observations as he
made them--the "clinical history" of the case. Such clinical records are in use all over the world
to-day, and their importance is so obvious that it is almost incomprehensible that they should
have fallen into disuse shortly after the time of Hippocrates, and not brought into general use
again until almost two thousand years later.
But scarcely less important than his recognition of disease as a natural phenomenon was the
importance he attributed to prognosis. Prognosis, in the sense of prophecy, was common before
the time of Hippocrates. But prognosis, as he practised it and as we understand it to-day, is
prophecy based on careful observation of the course of diseases--something more than
superstitious conjecture.
Although Hippocratic medicine rested on the belief in natural causes, nevertheless, dogma and
theory held an important place. The humoral theory of disease was an all-important one, and so
fully was this theory accepted that it influenced the science of medicine all through succeeding
centuries. According to this celebrated theory there are four humors in the body-- blood, phlegm,
yellow bile, and black bile. When these humors are mixed in exact proportions they constitute
health; but any deviations from these proportions produce disease. In treating diseases the aim of
the physician was to discover which of these humors were out of proportion and to restore them
to their natural equilibrium. It was in the methods employed in this restitution, rather than a
disagreement about the humors themselves, that resulted in the various "schools" of medicine.
In many ways the surgery of Hippocrates showed a better understanding of the structure of the
organs than of their functions. Some of the surgical procedures as described by him are followed,
with slight modifications, to-day. Many of his methods were entirely lost sight of until modern
times, and one, the treatment of dislocation of the outer end of the collar-bone, was not revived
until some time in the eighteenth century.
Hippocrates, it seems, like modern physicians, sometimes suffered from the ingratitude of his
patients. "The physician visits a patient suffering from fever or a wound, and prescribes for him,"
he says; "on the next day, if the patient feels worse the blame is laid upon the physician; if, on
the other hand, he feels better, nature is extolled, and the physician reaps no praise." The essence
of this has been repeated in rhyme and prose by writers in every age and country, but the "father
of medicine" cautions physicians against allowing it to influence their attitude towards their


Doubtless it has been noticed that our earlier scientists were as far removed as possible from the
limitations of specialism. In point of fact, in this early day, knowledge had not been classified as
it came to be later on. The philosopher was, as his name implied, a lover of knowledge, and he
did not find it beyond the reach of his capacity to apply himself to all departments of the field of
human investigation. It is nothing strange to discover that Anaximander and the Pythagoreans
and Anaxagoras have propounded theories regarding the structure of the cosmos, the origin and
development of animals and man, and the nature of matter itself. Nowadays, so enormously
involved has become the mass of mere facts regarding each of these departments of knowledge
that no one man has the temerity to attempt to master them all. But it was different in those days
of beginnings. Then the methods of observation were still crude, and it was quite the custom for
a thinker of forceful personality to find an eager following among disciples who never thought of
putting his theories to the test of experiment. The great lesson that true science in the last resort
depends upon observation and measurement, upon compass and balance, had not yet been
learned, though here and there a thinker like Anaxagoras had gained an inkling of it.

For the moment, indeed, there in Attica, which was now, thanks to that outburst of Periclean
culture, the centre of the world's civilization, the trend of thought was to take quite another
direction. The very year which saw the birth of Democritus at Abdera, and of Hippocrates,
marked also the birth, at Athens, of another remarkable man, whose influence it would scarcely
be possible to over-estimate. This man was Socrates. The main facts of his history are familiar to
every one. It will be recalled that Socrates spent his entire life in Athens, mingling everywhere
with the populace; haranguing, so the tradition goes, every one who would listen; inculcating
moral lessons, and finally incurring the disapprobation of at least a voting majority of his fellow-
citizens. He gathered about him a company of remarkable men with Plato at their head, but this
could not save him from the disapprobation of the multitudes, at whose hands he suffered death,
legally administered after a public trial. The facts at command as to certain customs of the
Greeks at this period make it possible to raise a question as to whether the alleged "corruption of
youth," with which Socrates was charged, may not have had a different implication from what
posterity has preferred to ascribe to it. But this thought, almost shocking to the modern mind and
seeming altogether sacrilegious to most students of Greek philosophy, need not here detain us;
neither have we much concern in the present connection with any part of the teaching of the
martyred philosopher. For the historian of metaphysics, Socrates marks an epoch, but for the
historian of science he is a much less consequential figure.

Similarly regarding Plato, the aristocratic Athenian who sat at the feet of Socrates, and through
whose writings the teachings of the master found widest currency. Some students of philosophy
find in Plato "the greatest thinker and writer of all time."[1] The student of science must
recognize in him a thinker whose point of view was essentially non-scientific; one who tended
always to reason from the general to the particular rather than from the particular to the general.
Plato's writings covered almost the entire field of thought, and his ideas were presented with
such literary charm that successive generations of readers turned to them with unflagging
interest, and gave them wide currency through copies that finally preserved them to our own
time. Thus we are not obliged in his case, as we are in the case of every other Greek philosopher,
to estimate his teachings largely from hearsay evidence. Plato himself speaks to us directly. It is
true, the literary form which he always adopted, namely, the dialogue, does not give quite the
same certainty as to when he is expressing his own opinions that a more direct narrative would
have given; yet, in the main, there is little doubt as to the tenor of his own opinions--except,
indeed, such doubt as always attaches to the philosophical reasoning of the abstract thinker.

What is chiefly significant from our present standpoint is that the great ethical teacher had no
significant message to give the world regarding the physical sciences. He apparently had no
sharply defined opinions as to the mechanism of the universe; no clear conception as to the
origin or development of organic beings; no tangible ideas as to the problems of physics; no
favorite dreams as to the nature of matter. Virtually his back was turned on this entire field of
thought. He was under the sway of those innate ideas which, as we have urged, were among the
earliest inductions of science. But he never for a moment suspected such an origin for these
ideas. He supposed his conceptions of being, his standards of ethics, to lie back of all experience;
for him they were the most fundamental and most dependable of facts. He criticised Anaxagoras
for having tended to deduce general laws from observation. As we moderns see it, such criticism
is the highest possible praise. It is a criticism that marks the distinction between the scientist who
is also a philosopher and the philosopher who has but a vague notion of physical science. Plato
seemed, indeed, to realize the value of scientific investigation; he referred to the astronomical
studies of the Egyptians and Chaldeans, and spoke hopefully of the results that might accrue
were such studies to be taken up by that Greek mind which, as he justly conceived, had the
power to vitalize and enrich all that it touched. But he told here of what he would have others do,
not of what he himself thought of doing. His voice was prophetic, but it stimulated no worker of
his own time.
Plato himself had travelled widely. It is a familiar legend that he lived for years in Egypt,
endeavoring there to penetrate the mysteries of Egyptian science. It is said even that the
rudiments of geometry which he acquired there influenced all his later teachings. But be that as it
may, the historian of science must recognize in the founder of the Academy a moral teacher and
metaphysical dreamer and sociologist, but not, in the modern acceptance of the term, a scientist.
Those wider phases of biological science which find their expression in metaphysics, in ethics, in
political economy, lie without our present scope; and for the development of those subjects with
which we are more directly concerned, Plato, like his master, has a negative significance.

ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.)

When we pass to that third great Athenian teacher, Aristotle, the case is far different. Here was a
man whose name was to be received as almost a synonym for Greek science for more than a
thousand years after his death. All through the Middle Ages his writings were to be accepted as
virtually the last word regarding the problems of nature. We shall see that his followers actually
preferred his mandate to the testimony of their own senses. We shall see, further, that modern
science progressed somewhat in proportion as it overthrew the Aristotelian dogmas. But the
traditions of seventeen or eighteen centuries are not easily set aside, and it is perhaps not too
much to say that the name of Aristotle stands, even in our own time, as vaguely representative in
the popular mind of all that was highest and best in the science of antiquity. Yet, perhaps, it
would not be going too far to assert that something like a reversal of this judgment would be
nearer the truth. Aristotle did, indeed, bring together a great mass of facts regarding animals in
his work on natural history, which, being preserved, has been deemed to entitle its author to be
called the "father of zoology." But there is no reason to suppose that any considerable portion of
this work contained matter that was novel, or recorded observations that were original with
Aristotle; and the classifications there outlined are at best but a vague foreshadowing of the
elaboration of the science. Such as it is, however, the natural history stands to the credit of the
Stagirite. He must be credited, too, with a clear enunciation of one most important scientific
doctrine--namely, the doctrine of the spherical figure of the earth. We have already seen that this
theory originated with the Pythagorean philosophers out in Italy. We have seen, too, that the
doctrine had not made its way in Attica in the time of Anaxagoras. But in the intervening century
it had gained wide currency, else so essentially conservative a thinker as Aristotle would scarcely
have accepted it. He did accept it, however, and gave the doctrine clearest and most precise
expression. Here are his words:[2]
"As to the figure of the earth it must necessarily be spherical.... If it were not so, the eclipses of
the moon would not have such sections as they have. For in the configurations in the course of a
month the deficient part takes all different shapes; it is straight, and concave, and convex; but in
eclipses it always has the line of divisions convex; wherefore, since the moon is eclipsed in
consequence of the interposition of the earth, the periphery of the earth must be the cause of this
by having a spherical form. And again, from the appearance of the stars it is clear, not only that
the earth is round, but that its size is not very large; for when we make a small removal to the
south or the north, the circle of the horizon becomes palpably different, so that the stars overhead
undergo a great change, and are not the same to those that travel in the north and to the south.
For some stars are seen in Egypt or at Cyprus, but are not seen in the countries to the north of
these; and the stars that in the north are visible while they make a complete circuit, there undergo
a setting. So that from this it is manifest, not only that the form of the earth is round, but also that
it is a part of a not very large sphere; for otherwise the difference would not be so obvious to
persons making so small a change of place. Wherefore we may judge that those persons who
connect the region in the neighborhood of the pillars of Hercules with that towards India, and
who assert that in this way the sea is one, do not assert things very improbable. They confirm this
conjecture moreover by the elephants, which are said to be of the same species towards each
extreme; as if this circumstance was a consequence of the conjunction of the extremes. The
mathematicians who try to calculate the measure of the circumference, make it amount to four
hundred thousand stadia; whence we collect that the earth is not only spherical, but is not large
compared with the magnitude of the other stars."
But in giving full meed of praise to Aristotle for the promulgation of this doctrine of the
sphericity of the earth, it must unfortunately be added that the conservative philosopher paused
without taking one other important step. He could not accept, but, on the contrary, he expressly
repudiated, the doctrine of the earth's motion. We have seen that this idea also was a part of the
Pythagorean doctrine, and we shall have occasion to dwell more at length on this point in a
succeeding chapter. It has even been contended by some critics that it was the adverse conviction
of the Peripatetic philosopher which, more than any other single influence, tended to retard the
progress of the true doctrine regarding the mechanism of the heavens. Aristotle accepted the
sphericity of the earth, and that doctrine became a commonplace of scientific knowledge, and so
continued throughout classical antiquity. But Aristotle rejected the doctrine of the earth's motion,
and that doctrine, though promulgated actively by a few contemporaries and immediate
successors of the Stagirite, was then doomed to sink out of view for more than a thousand years.
If it be a correct assumption that the influence of Aristotle was, in a large measure, responsible
for this result, then we shall perhaps not be far astray in assuming that the great founder of the
Peripatetic school was, on the whole, more instrumental in retarding the progress of astronomical
science that any other one man that ever lived.
The field of science in which Aristotle was pre-eminently a pathfinder is zoology. His writings
on natural history have largely been preserved, and they constitute by far the most important
contribution to the subject that has come down to us from antiquity. They show us that Aristotle
had gained possession of the widest range of facts regarding the animal kingdom, and, what is far
more important, had attempted to classify these facts. In so doing he became the founder of
systematic zoology. Aristotle's classification of the animal kingdom was known and studied
throughout the Middle Ages, and, in fact, remained in vogue until superseded by that of Cuvier
in the nineteenth century. It is not to be supposed that all the terms of Aristotle's classification
originated with him. Some of the divisions are too patent to have escaped the observation of his
predecessors. Thus, for example, the distinction between birds and fishes as separate classes of
animals is so obvious that it must appeal to a child or to a savage. But the efforts of Aristotle
extended, as we shall see, to less patent generalizations. At the very outset, his grand division of
the animal kingdom into blood-bearing and bloodless animals implies a very broad and
philosophical conception of the entire animal kingdom. The modern physiologist does not accept
the classification, inasmuch as it is now known that colorless fluids perform the functions of
blood for all the lower organisms. But the fact remains that Aristotle's grand divisions
correspond to the grand divisions of the Lamarckian system--vertebrates and invertebrates--
which every one now accepts. Aristotle, as we have said, based his classification upon
observation of the blood; Lamarck was guided by a study of the skeleton. The fact that such
diverse points of view could direct the observer towards the same result gives, inferentially, a
suggestive lesson in what the modern physiologist calls the homologies of parts of the organism.
Aristotle divides his so-called blood-bearing animals into five classes: (1) Four-footed animals
that bring forth their young alive; (2) birds; (3) egg-laying four- footed animals (including what
modern naturalists call reptiles and amphibians); (4) whales and their allies; (5) fishes. This
classification, as will be observed, is not so very far afield from the modern divisions into
mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes. That Aristotle should have recognized the
fundamental distinction between fishes and the fish- like whales, dolphins, and porpoises proves
the far from superficial character of his studies. Aristotle knew that these animals breathe by
means of lungs and that they produce living young. He recognized, therefore, their affinity with
his first class of animals, even if he did not, like the modern naturalist, consider these affinities
close enough to justify bringing the two types together into a single class.

The bloodless animals were also divided by Aristotle into five classes--namely: (1) Cephalopoda
(the octopus, cuttle-fish, etc.); (2) weak-shelled animals (crabs, etc.); (3) insects and their allies
(including various forms, such as spiders and centipedes, which the modern classifier prefers to
place by themselves); (4) hard-shelled animals (clams, oysters, snails, etc.); (5) a conglomerate
group of marine forms, including star-fish, sea-urchins, and various anomalous forms that were
regarded as linking the animal to the vegetable worlds. This classification of the lower forms of
animal life continued in vogue until Cuvier substituted for it his famous grouping into articulates,
mollusks, and radiates; which grouping in turn was in part superseded later in the nineteenth
What Aristotle did for the animal kingdom his pupil, Theophrastus, did in some measure for the
vegetable kingdom. Theophrastus, however, was much less a classifier than his master, and his
work on botany, called The Natural History of Development, pays comparatively slight attention
to theoretical questions. It deals largely with such practicalities as the making of charcoal, of
pitch, and of resin, and the effects of various plants on the animal organism when taken as foods
or as medicines. In this regard the work of Theophrastus, is more nearly akin to the natural
history of the famous Roman compiler, Pliny. It remained, however, throughout antiquity as the
most important work on its subject, and it entitles Theophrastus to be called the "father of
botany." Theophrastus deals also with the mineral kingdom after much the same fashion, and
here again his work is the most notable that was produced in antiquity.


We are entering now upon the most important scientific epoch of antiquity. When Aristotle and
Theophrastus passed from the scene, Athens ceased to be in any sense the scientific centre of the
world. That city still retained its reminiscent glory, and cannot be ignored in the history of
culture, but no great scientific leader was ever again to be born or to take up his permanent abode
within the confines of Greece proper. With almost cataclysmic suddenness, a new intellectual
centre appeared on the south shore of the Mediterranean. This was the city of Alexandria, a city
which Alexander the Great had founded during his brief visit to Egypt, and which became the
capital of Ptolemy Soter when he chose Egypt as his portion of the dismembered empire of the
great Macedonian. Ptolemy had been with his master in the East, and was with him in Babylonia
when he died. He had therefore come personally in contact with Babylonian civilization, and we
cannot doubt that this had a most important influence upon his life, and through him upon the
new civilization of the West. In point of culture, Alexandria must be regarded as the successor of
Babylon, scarcely less directly than of Greece. Following the Babylonian model, Ptolemy
erected a great museum and began collecting a library. Before his death it was said that he had
collected no fewer than two hundred thousand manuscripts. He had gathered also a company of
great teachers and founded a school of science which, as has just been said, made Alexandria the
culture-centre of the world.
Athens in the day of her prime had known nothing quite like this. Such private citizens as
Aristotle are known to have had libraries, but there were no great public collections of books in
Athens, or in any other part of the Greek domain, until Ptolemy founded his famous library. As is
well known, such libraries had existed in Babylonia for thousands of years. The character which
the Ptolemaic epoch took on was no doubt due to Babylonian influence, but quite as much to the
personal experience of Ptolemy himself as an explorer in the Far East. The marvellous
conquering journey of Alexander had enormously widened the horizon of the Greek geographer,
and stimulated the imagination of all ranks of the people, It was but natural, then, that geography
and its parent science astronomy should occupy the attention of the best minds in this succeeding
epoch. In point of fact, such a company of star-gazers and earth-measurers came upon the scene
in this third century B.C. as had never before existed anywhere in the world. The whole trend of
the time was towards mechanics. It was as if the greatest thinkers had squarely faced about from
the attitude of the mystical philosophers of the preceding century, and had set themselves the
task of solving all the mechanical riddles of the universe, They no longer troubled themselves
about problems of "being" and "becoming"; they gave but little heed to metaphysical subtleties;
they demanded that their thoughts should be gauged by objective realities. Hence there arose a
succession of great geometers, and their conceptions were applied to the construction of new
mechanical contrivances on the one hand, and to the elaboration of theories of sidereal
mechanics on the other.

The wonderful company of men who performed the feats that are about to be recorded did not all
find their home in Alexandria, to be sure; but they all came more or less under the Alexandrian
influence. We shall see that there are two other important centres; one out in Sicily, almost at the
confines of the Greek territory in the west; the other in Asia Minor, notably on the island of
Samos--the island which, it will be recalled, was at an earlier day the birthplace of Pythagoras.
But whereas in the previous century colonists from the confines of the civilized world came to
Athens, now all eyes turned towards Alexandria, and so improved were the facilities for
communication that no doubt the discoveries of one coterie of workers were known to all the
others much more quickly than had ever been possible before. We learn, for example, that the
studies of Aristarchus of Samos were definitely known to Archimedes of Syracuse, out in Sicily.
Indeed, as we shall see, it is through a chance reference preserved in one of the writings of
Archimedes that one of the most important speculations of Aristarchus is made known to us.
This illustrates sufficiently the intercommunication through which the thought of the
Alexandrian epoch was brought into a single channel. We no longer, as in the day of the earlier
schools of Greek philosophy, have isolated groups of thinkers. The scientific drama is now
played out upon a single stage; and if we pass, as we shall in the present chapter, from
Alexandria to Syracuse and from Syracuse to Samos, the shift of scenes does no violence to the
dramatic unities.
Notwithstanding the number of great workers who were not properly Alexandrians, none the less
the epoch is with propriety termed Alexandrian. Not merely in the third century B.C., but
throughout the lapse of at least four succeeding centuries, the city of Alexander and the
Ptolemies continued to hold its place as the undisputed culture-centre of the world. During that
period Rome rose to its pinnacle of glory and began to decline, without ever challenging the
intellectual supremacy of the Egyptian city. We shall see, in a later chapter, that the Alexandrian
influences were passed on to the Mohammedan conquerors, and every one is aware that when
Alexandria was finally overthrown its place was taken by another Greek city, Byzantium or
Constantinople. But that transfer did not occur until Alexandria had enjoyed a longer period of
supremacy as an intellectual centre than had perhaps ever before been granted to any city, with
the possible exception of Babylon.
Our present concern is with that first wonderful development of scientific activity which began
under the first Ptolemy, and which presents, in the course of the first century of Alexandrian
influence, the most remarkable coterie of scientific workers and thinkers that antiquity produced.
The earliest group of these new leaders in science had at its head a man whose name has been a
household word ever since. This was Euclid, the father of systematic geometry. Tradition has
preserved to us but little of the personality of this remarkable teacher; but, on the other hand, his
most important work has come down to us in its entirety. The Elements of Geometry, with which
the name of Euclid is associated in the mind of every school-boy, presented the chief
propositions of its subject in so simple and logical a form that the work remained a textbook
everywhere for more than two thousand years. Indeed it is only now beginning to be superseded.
It is not twenty years since English mathematicians could deplore the fact that, despite certain
rather obvious defects of the work of Euclid, no better textbook than this was available. Euclid's
work, of course, gives expression to much knowledge that did not originate with him. We have
already seen that several important propositions of geometry had been developed by Thales, and
one by Pythagoras, and that the rudiments of the subject were at least as old as Egyptian
civilization. Precisely how much Euclid added through his own investigations cannot be
ascertained. It seems probable that he was a diffuser of knowledge rather than an originator, but
as a great teacher his fame is secure. He is credited with an epigram which in itself might insure
him perpetuity of fame: "There is no royal road to geometry," was his answer to Ptolemy when
that ruler had questioned whether the Elements might not be simplified. Doubtless this, like most
similar good sayings, is apocryphal; but whoever invented it has made the world his debtor.


The catholicity of Ptolemy's tastes led him, naturally enough, to cultivate the biological no less
than the physical sciences. In particular his influence permitted an epochal advance in the field of
medicine. Two anatomists became famous through the investigations they were permitted to
make under the patronage of the enlightened ruler. These earliest of really scientific investigators
of the mechanism of the human body were named Herophilus and Erasistratus. These two
anatomists gained their knowledge by the dissection of human bodies (theirs are the first records
that we have of such practices), and King Ptolemy himself is said to have been present at some
of these dissections. They were the first to discover that the nerve- trunks have their origin in the
brain and spinal cord, and they are credited also with the discovery that these nerve-trunks are of
two different kinds--one to convey motor, and the other sensory impulses. They discovered,
described, and named the coverings of the brain. The name of Herophilus is still applied by
anatomists, in honor of the discoverer, to one of the sinuses or large canals that convey the
venous blood from the head. Herophilus also noticed and described four cavities or ventricles in
the brain, and reached the conclusion that one of these ventricles was the seat of the soul--a
belief shared until comparatively recent times by many physiologists. He made also a careful and
fairly accurate study of the anatomy of the eye, a greatly improved the old operation for cataract.

With the increased knowledge of anatomy came also corresponding advances in surgery, and
many experimental operations are said to have been performed upon condemned criminals who
were handed over to the surgeons by the Ptolemies. While many modern writers have attempted
to discredit these assertions, it is not improbable that such operations were performed. In an age
when human life was held so cheap, and among a people accustomed to torturing condemned
prisoners for comparatively slight offences, it is not unlikely that the surgeons were allowed to
inflict perhaps less painful tortures in the cause of science. Furthermore, we know that
condemned criminals were sometimes handed over to the medical profession to be "operated
upon and killed in whatever way they thought best" even as late as the sixteenth century.
Tertullian[1] probably exaggerates, however, when he puts the number of such victims in
Alexandria at six hundred.

Had Herophilus and Erasistratus been as happy in their deductions as to the functions of the
organs as they were in their knowledge of anatomy, the science of medicine would have been
placed upon a very high plane even in their time. Unfortunately, however, they not only drew
erroneous inferences as to the functions of the organs, but also disagreed radically as to what
functions certain organs performed, and how diseases should be treated, even when agreeing
perfectly on the subject of anatomy itself. Their contribution to the knowledge of the scientific
treatment of diseases holds no such place, therefore, as their anatomical investigations.

Half a century after the time of Herophilus there appeared a Greek physician, Heraclides, whose
reputation in the use of drugs far surpasses that of the anatomists of the Alexandrian school. His
reputation has been handed down through the centuries as that of a physician, rather than a
surgeon, although in his own time he was considered one of the great surgeons of the period.
Heraclides belonged to the "Empiric" school, which rejected anatomy as useless, depending
entirely on the use of drugs. He is thought to have been the first physician to point out the value
of opium in certain painful diseases. His prescription of this drug for certain cases of
"sleeplessness, spasm, cholera, and colic," shows that his use of it was not unlike that of the
modern physician in certain cases; and his treatment of fevers, by keeping the patient's head cool
and facilitating the secretions of the body, is still recognized as "good practice." He advocated a
free use of liquids in quenching the fever patient's thirst--a recognized therapeutic measure to-
day, but one that was widely condemned a century ago.

We do not know just when Euclid died, but as he was at the height of his fame in the time of
Ptolemy I., whose reign ended in the year 285 B.C., it is hardly probable that he was still living
when a young man named Archimedes came to Alexandria to study. Archimedes was born in the
Greek colony of Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, in the year 287 B.C. When he visited
Alexandria he probably found Apollonius of Perga, the pupil of Euclid, at the head of the
mathematical school there. Just how long Archimedes remained at Alexandria is not known.
When he had satisfied his curiosity or completed his studies, he returned to Syracuse and spent
his life there, chiefly under the patronage of King Hiero, who seems fully to have appreciated his

Archimedes was primarily a mathematician. Left to his own devices, he would probably have
devoted his entire time to the study of geometrical problems. But King Hiero had discovered that
his protege had wonderful mechanical ingenuity, and he made good use of this discovery. Under
stress of the king's urgings, the philosopher was led to invent a great variety of mechanical
contrivances, some of them most curious ones. Antiquity credited him with the invention of more
than forty machines, and it is these, rather than his purely mathematical discoveries, that gave his
name popular vogue both among his contemporaries and with posterity. Every one has heard of
the screw of Archimedes, through which the paradoxical effect was produced of making water
seem to flow up hill. The best idea of this curious mechanism is obtained if one will take in hand
an ordinary corkscrew, and imagine this instrument to be changed into a hollow tube, retaining
precisely the same shape but increased to some feet in length and to a proportionate diameter. If
one will hold the corkscrew in a slanting direction and turn it slowly to the right, supposing that
the point dips up a portion of water each time it revolves, one can in imagination follow the flow
of that portion of water from spiral to spiral, the water always running downward, of course, yet
paradoxically being lifted higher and higher towards the base of the corkscrew, until finally it
pours out (in the actual Archimedes' tube) at the top. There is another form of the screw in which
a revolving spiral blade operates within a cylinder, but the principle is precisely the same. With
either form water may be lifted, by the mere turning of the screw, to any desired height. The
ingenious mechanism excited the wonder of the contemporaries of Archimedes, as well it might.
More efficient devices have superseded it in modern times, but it still excites the admiration of
all who examine it, and its effects seem as paradoxical as ever.

Some other of the mechanisms of Archimedes have been made known to successive generations
of readers through the pages of Polybius and Plutarch. These are the devices through which
Archimedes aided King Hiero to ward off the attacks of the Roman general Marcellus, who in
the course of the second Punic war laid siege to Syracuse.

Plutarch, in his life of Marcellus, describes the Roman's attack and Archimedes' defence in much
detail. Incidentally he tells us also how Archimedes came to make the devices that rendered the
siege so famous:
"Marcellus himself, with threescore galleys of five rowers at every bank, well armed and full of
all sorts of artillery and fireworks, did assault by sea, and rowed hard to the wall, having made a
great engine and device of battery, upon eight galleys chained together, to batter the wall:
trusting in the great multitude of his engines of battery, and to all such other necessary provision
as he had for wars, as also in his own reputation. But Archimedes made light account of all his
devices, as indeed they were nothing comparable to the engines himself had invented. This
inventive art to frame instruments and engines (which are called mechanical, or organical, so
highly commended and esteemed of all sorts of people) was first set forth by Architas, and by
Eudoxus: partly to beautify a little the science of geometry by this fineness, and partly to prove
and confirm by material examples and sensible instruments, certain geometrical conclusions,
where of a man cannot find out the conceivable demonstrations by enforced reasons and proofs.
As that conclusion which instructeth one to search out two lines mean proportional, which
cannot be proved by reason demonstrative, and yet notwithstanding is a principle and an
accepted ground for many things which are contained in the art of portraiture. Both of them have
fashioned it to the workmanship of certain instruments, called mesolabes or mesographs, which
serve to find these mean lines proportional, by drawing certain curve lines, and overthwart and
oblique sections. But after that Plato was offended with them, and maintained against them, that
they did utterly corrupt and disgrace, the worthiness and excellence of geometry, making it to
descend from things not comprehensible and without body, unto things sensible and material,
and to bring it to a palpable substance, where the vile and base handiwork of man is to be
employed: since that time, I say, handicraft, or the art of engines, came to be separated from
geometry, and being long time despised by the philosophers, it came to be one of the warlike
"But Archimedes having told King Hiero, his kinsman and friend, that it was possible to remove
as great a weight as he would, with as little strength as he listed to put to it: and boasting himself
thus (as they report of him) and trusting to the force of his reasons, wherewith he proved this
conclusion, that if there were another globe of earth, he was able to remove this of ours, and pass
it over to the other: King Hiero wondering to hear him, required him to put his device in
execution, and to make him see by experience, some great or heavy weight removed, by little
force. So Archimedes caught hold with a book of one of the greatest carects, or hulks of the king
(that to draw it to the shore out of the water required a marvellous number of people to go about
it, and was hardly to be done so) and put a great number of men more into her, than her ordinary
burden: and he himself sitting alone at his ease far off, without any straining at all, drawing the
end of an engine with many wheels and pulleys, fair and softly with his hand, made it come as
gently and smoothly to him, as it had floated in the sea. The king wondering to see the sight, and
knowing by proof the greatness of his art; be prayed him to make him some engines, both to
assault and defend, in all manner of sieges and assaults. So Archimedes made him many engines,
but King Hiero never occupied any of them, because he reigned the most part of his time in
peace without any wars. But this provision and munition of engines, served the Syracusan's turn
marvellously at that time: and not only the provision of the engines ready made, but also the
engineer and work-master himself, that had invented them.

"Now the Syracusans, seeing themselves assaulted by the Romans, both by sea and by land, were
marvellously perplexed, and could not tell what to say, they were so afraid: imagining it was
impossible for them to withstand so great an army. But when Archimedes fell to handling his
engines, and to set them at liberty, there flew in the air infinite kinds of shot, and marvellous
great stones, with an incredible noise and force on the sudden, upon the footmen that came to
assault the city by land, bearing down, and tearing in pieces all those which came against them,
or in what place soever they lighted, no earthly body being able to resist the violence of so heavy
a weight: so that all their ranks were marvellously disordered. And as for the galleys that gave
assault by sea, some were sunk with long pieces of timber like unto the yards of ships, whereto
they fasten their sails, which were suddenly blown over the walls with force of their engines into
their galleys, and so sunk them by their over great weight."

Polybius describes what was perhaps the most important of these contrivances, which was, he
tells us, "a band of iron, hanging by a chain from the beak of a machine, which was used in the
following manner. The person who, like a pilot, guided the beak, having let fall the hand, and
catched hold of the prow of any vessel, drew down the opposite end of the machine that was on
the inside of the walls. And when the vessel was thus raised erect upon its stem, the machine
itself was held immovable; but, the chain being suddenly loosened from the beak by the means
of pulleys, some of the vessels were thrown upon their sides, others turned with the bottom
upwards; and the greatest part, as the prows were plunged from a considerable height into the
sea, were filled with water, and all that were on board thrown into tumult and disorder.
"Marcellus was in no small degree embarrassed," Polybius continues, "when he found himself
encountered in every attempt by such resistance. He perceived that all his efforts were defeated
with loss; and were even derided by the enemy. But, amidst all the anxiety that he suffered, he
could not help jesting upon the inventions of Archimedes. This man, said he, employs our ships
as buckets to draw water: and boxing about our sackbuts, as if they were unworthy to be
associated with him, drives them from his company with disgrace. Such was the success of the
siege on the side of the sea."
Subsequently, however, Marcellus took the city by strategy, and Archimedes was killed,
contrary, it is said, to the express orders of Marcellus. "Syracuse being taken," says Plutarch,
"nothing grieved Marcellus more than the loss of Archimedes. Who, being in his study when the
city was taken, busily seeking out by himself the demonstration of some geometrical proposition
which he had drawn in figure, and so earnestly occupied therein, as he neither saw nor heard any
noise of enemies that ran up and down the city, and much less knew it was taken: he wondered
when he saw a soldier by him, that bade him go with him to Marcellus. Notwithstanding, he
spake to the soldier, and bade him tarry until he had done his conclusion, and brought it to
demonstration: but the soldier being angry with his answer, drew out his sword and killed him.
Others say, that the Roman soldier when he came, offered the sword's point to him, to kill him:
and that Archimedes when he saw him, prayed him to hold his hand a little, that he might not
leave the matter he looked for imperfect, without demonstration. But the soldier making no
reckoning of his speculation, killed him presently. It is reported a third way also, saying that
certain soldiers met him in the streets going to Marcellus, carrying certain mathematical
instruments in a little pretty coffer, as dials for the sun, spheres, and angles, wherewith they
measure the greatness of the body of the sun by view: and they supposing he had carried some
gold or silver, or other precious jewels in that little coffer, slew him for it. But it is most certain
that Marcellus was marvellously sorry for his death, and ever after hated the villain that slew
him, as a cursed and execrable person: and how he had made also marvellous much afterwards of
Archimedes' kinsmen for his sake."

We are further indebted to Plutarch for a summary of the character and influence of Archimedes,
and for an interesting suggestion as to the estimate which the great philosopher put upon the
relative importance of his own discoveries. "Notwithstanding Archimedes had such a great mind,
and was so profoundly learned, having hidden in him the only treasure and secrets of geometrical
inventions: as be would never set forth any book how to make all these warlike engines, which
won him at that time the fame and glory, not of man's knowledge, but rather of divine wisdom.
But he esteeming all kind of handicraft and invention to make engines, and generally all manner
of sciences bringing common commodity by the use of them, to be but vile, beggarly, and
mercenary dross: employed his wit and study only to write things, the beauty and subtlety
whereof were not mingled anything at all with necessity. For all that he hath written, are
geometrical propositions, which are without comparison of any other writings whatsoever:
because the subject where of they treat, doth appear by demonstration, the maker gives them the
grace and the greatness, and the demonstration proving it so exquisitely, with wonderful reason
and facility, as it is not repugnable. For in all geometry are not to be found more profound and
difficult matters written, in more plain and simple terms, and by more easy principles, than those
which he hath invented. Now some do impute this, to the sharpness of his wit and understanding,
which was a natural gift in him: others do refer it to the extreme pains he took, which made these
things come so easily from him, that they seemed as if they had been no trouble to him at all. For
no man living of himself can devise the demonstration of his propositions, what pains soever he
take to seek it: and yet straight so soon as he cometh to declare and open it, every man then
imagineth with himself he could have found it out well enough, he can then so plainly make
demonstration of the thing he meaneth to show. And therefore that methinks is likely to be true,
which they write of him: that he was so ravished and drunk with the sweet enticements of this
siren, which as it were lay continually with him, as he forgot his meat and drink, and was
careless otherwise of himself, that oftentimes his servants got him against his will to the baths to
wash and anoint him: and yet being there, he would ever be drawing out of the geometrical
figures, even in the very imbers of the chimney. And while they were anointing of him with oils
and sweet savours, with his finger he did draw lines upon his naked body: so far was he taken
from himself, and brought into an ecstasy or trance, with the delight he had in the study of
geometry, and truly ravished with the love of the Muses. But amongst many notable things he
devised, it appeareth, that he most esteemed the demonstration of the proportion between the
cylinder (to wit, the round column) and the sphere or globe contained in the same: for he prayed
his kinsmen and friends, that after his death they would put a cylinder upon his tomb, containing
a massy sphere, with an inscription of the proportion, whereof the continent exceedeth the thing

It should be observed that neither Polybius nor Plutarch mentions the use of burning-glasses in
connection with the siege of Syracuse, nor indeed are these referred to by any other ancient
writer of authority. Nevertheless, a story gained credence down to a late day to the effect that
Archimedes had set fire to the fleet of the enemy with the aid of concave mirrors. An experiment
was made by Sir Isaac Newton to show the possibility of a phenomenon so well in accord with
the genius of Archimedes, but the silence of all the early authorities makes it more than doubtful
whether any such expedient was really adopted.
It will be observed that the chief principle involved in all these mechanisms was a capacity to
transmit great power through levers and pulleys, and this brings us to the most important field of
the Syracusan philosopher's activity. It was as a student of the lever and the pulley that
Archimedes was led to some of his greatest mechanical discoveries. He is even credited with
being the discoverer of the compound pulley. More likely he was its developer only, since the
principle of the pulley was known to the old Babylonians, as their sculptures testify. But there is
no reason to doubt the general outlines of the story that Archimedes astounded King Hiero by
proving that, with the aid of multiple pulleys, the strength of one man could suffice to drag the
largest ship from its moorings.
The property of the lever, from its fundamental principle, was studied by him, beginning with the
self- evident fact that "equal bodies at the ends of the equal arms of a rod, supported on its
middle point, will balance each other"; or, what amounts to the same thing stated in another way,
a regular cylinder of uniform matter will balance at its middle point. From this starting-point he
elaborated the subject on such clear and satisfactory principles that they stand to-day practically
unchanged and with few additions. From all his studies and experiments he finally formulated
the principle that "bodies will be in equilibrio when their distance from the fulcrum or point of
support is inversely as their weight." He is credited with having summed up his estimate of the
capabilities of the lever with the well-known expression, "Give me a fulcrum on which to rest or
a place on which to stand, and I will move the earth."
But perhaps the feat of all others that most appealed to the imagination of his contemporaries,
and possibly also the one that had the greatest bearing upon the position of Archimedes as a
scientific discoverer, was the one made familiar through the tale of the crown of Hiero. This
crown, so the story goes, was supposed to be made of solid gold, but King Hiero for some reason
suspected the honesty of the jeweller, and desired to know if Archimedes could devise a way of
testing the question without injuring the crown. Greek imagination seldom spoiled a story in the
telling, and in this case the tale was allowed to take on the most picturesque of phases. The
philosopher, we are assured, pondered the problem for a long time without succeeding, but one
day as he stepped into a bath, his attention was attracted by the overflow of water. A new train of
ideas was started in his ever-receptive brain. Wild with enthusiasm he sprang from the bath, and,
forgetting his robe, dashed along the streets of Syracuse, shouting: "Eureka! Eureka!" (I have
found it!) The thought that had come into his mind was this: That any heavy substance must have
a bulk proportionate to its weight; that gold and silver differ in weight, bulk for bulk, and that the
way to test the bulk of such an irregular object as a crown was to immerse it in water. The
experiment was made. A lump of pure gold of the weight of the crown was immersed in a certain
receptacle filled with water, and the overflow noted. Then a lump of pure silver of the same
weight was similarly immersed; lastly the crown itself was immersed, and of course--for the
story must not lack its dramatic sequel--was found bulkier than its weight of pure gold. Thus the
genius that could balk warriors and armies could also foil the wiles of the silversmith.

Whatever the truth of this picturesque narrative, the fact remains that some, such experiments as
these must have paved the way for perhaps the greatest of all the studies of Archimedes--those
that relate to the buoyancy of water. Leaving the field of fable, we must now examine these with
some precision. Fortunately, the writings of Archimedes himself are still extant, in which the
results of his remarkable experiments are related, so we may present the results in the words of
the discoverer.

Here they are: "First: The surface of every coherent liquid in a state of rest is spherical, and the
centre of the sphere coincides with the centre of the earth. Second: A solid body which, bulk for
bulk, is of the same weight as a liquid, if immersed in the liquid will sink so that the surface of
the body is even with the surface of the liquid, but will not sink deeper. Third: Any solid body
which is lighter, bulk for bulk, than a liquid, if placed in the liquid will sink so deep as to
displace the mass of liquid equal in weight to another body. Fourth: If a body which is lighter
than a liquid is forcibly immersed in the liquid, it will be pressed upward with a force
corresponding to the weight of a like volume of water, less the weight of the body itself. Fifth:
Solid bodies which, bulk for bulk, are heavier than a liquid, when immersed in the liquid sink to
the bottom, but become in the liquid as much lighter as the weight of the displaced water itself
differs from the weight of the solid." These propositions are not difficult to demonstrate, once
they are conceived, but their discovery, combined with the discovery of the laws of statics
already referred to, may justly be considered as proving Archimedes the most inventive
experimenter of antiquity.

Curiously enough, the discovery which Archimedes himself is said to have considered the most
important of all his innovations is one that seems much less striking. It is the answer to the
question, What is the relation in bulk between a sphere and its circumscribing cylinder?
Archimedes finds that the ratio is simply two to three. We are not informed as to how he reached
his conclusion, but an obvious method would be to immerse a ball in a cylindrical cup. The
experiment is one which any one can make for himself, with approximate accuracy, with the aid
of a tumbler and a solid rubber ball or a billiard-ball of just the right size. Another geometrical
problem which Archimedes solved was the problem as to the size of a triangle which has equal
area with a circle; the answer being, a triangle having for its base the circumference of the circle
and for its altitude the radius. Archimedes solved also the problem of the relation of the diameter
of the circle to its circumference; his answer being a close approximation to the familiar 3.1416,
which every tyro in geometry will recall as the equivalent of pi.

Numerous other of the studies of Archimedes having reference to conic sections, properties of
curves and spirals, and the like, are too technical to be detailed here. The extent of his
mathematical knowledge, however, is suggested by the fact that he computed in great detail the
number of grains of sand that would be required to cover the sphere of the sun's orbit, making
certain hypothetical assumptions as to the size of the earth and the distance of the sun for the
purposes of argument. Mathematicians find his computation peculiarly interesting because it
evidences a crude conception of the idea of logarithms. From our present stand-point, the paper
in which this calculation is contained has considerable interest because of its assumptions as to
celestial mechanics. Thus Archimedes starts out with the preliminary assumption that the
circumference of the earth is less than three million stadia. It must be understood that this
assumption is purely for the sake of argument. Archimedes expressly states that he takes this
number because it is "ten times as large as the earth has been supposed to be by certain
investigators." Here, perhaps, the reference is to Eratosthenes, whose measurement of the earth
we shall have occasion to revert to in a moment. Continuing, Archimedes asserts that the sun is
larger than the earth, and the earth larger than the moon. In this assumption, he says, he is
following the opinion of the majority of astronomers. In the third place, Archimedes assumes
that the diameter of the sun is not more than thirty times greater than that of the moon. Here he is
probably basing his argument upon another set of measurements of Aristarchus, to which, also,
we shall presently refer more at length. In reality, his assumption is very far from the truth, since
the actual diameter of the sun, as we now know, is something like four hundred times that of the
moon. Fourth, the circumference of the sun is greater than one side of the thousand- faced figure
inscribed in its orbit. The measurement, it is expressly stated, is based on the measurements of
Aristarchus, who makes the diameter of the sun 1/170 of its orbit. Archimedes adds, however,
that he himself has measured the angle and that it appears to him to be less than 1/164, and
greater than 1/200 part of the orbit. That is to say, reduced to modern terminology, he places the
limit of the sun's apparent size between thirty-three minutes and twenty-seven minutes of arc. As
the real diameter is thirty-two minutes, this calculation is surprisingly exact, considering the
implements then at command. But the honor of first making it must be given to Aristarchus and
not to Archimedes.
We need not follow Archimedes to the limits of his incomprehensible numbers of sand-grains.
The calculation is chiefly remarkable because it was made before the introduction of the so-
called Arabic numerals had simplified mathematical calculations. It will be recalled that the
Greeks used letters for numerals, and, having no cipher, they soon found themselves in
difficulties when large numbers were involved. The Roman system of numerals simplified the
matter somewhat, but the beautiful simplicity of the decimal system did not come into vogue
until the Middle Ages, as we shall see. Notwithstanding the difficulties, however, Archimedes
followed out his calculations to the piling up of bewildering numbers, which the modern
mathematician finds to be the consistent outcome of the problem he had set himself.
But it remains to notice the most interesting feature of this document in which the calculation of
the sand- grains is contained. "It was known to me," says Archimedes, "that most astronomers
understand by the expression 'world' (universe) a ball of which the centre is the middle point of
the earth, and of which the radius is a straight line between the centre of the earth and the sun."
Archimedes himself appears to accept this opinion of the majority,--it at least serves as well as
the contrary hypothesis for the purpose of his calculation,--but he goes on to say: "Aristarchus of
Samos, in his writing against the astronomers, seeks to establish the fact that the world is really
very different from this. He holds the opinion that the fixed stars and the sun are immovable and
that the earth revolves in a circular line about the sun, the sun being at the centre of this circle."
This remarkable bit of testimony establishes beyond question the position of Aristarchus of
Samos as the Copernicus of antiquity. We must make further inquiry as to the teachings of the
man who had gained such a remarkable insight into the true system of the heavens.

It appears that Aristarchus was a contemporary of Archimedes, but the exact dates of his life are
not known. He was actively engaged in making astronomical observations in Samos somewhat
before the middle of the third century B.C.; in other words, just at the time when the activities of
the Alexandrian school were at their height. Hipparchus, at a later day, was enabled to compare
his own observations with those made by Aristarchus, and, as we have just seen, his work was
well known to so distant a contemporary as Archimedes. Yet the facts of his life are almost a
blank for us, and of his writings only a single one has been preserved. That one, however, is a
most important and interesting paper on the measurements of the sun and the moon.
Unfortunately, this paper gives us no direct clew as to the opinions of Aristarchus concerning the
relative positions of the earth and sun. But the testimony of Archimedes as to this is unequivocal,
and this testimony is supported by other rumors in themselves less authoritative.
In contemplating this astronomer of Samos, then, we are in the presence of a man who had
solved in its essentials the problem of the mechanism of the solar system. It appears from the
words of Archimedes that Aristarchus; had propounded his theory in explicit writings.
Unquestionably, then, he held to it as a positive doctrine, not as a mere vague guess. We shall
show, in a moment, on what grounds he based his opinion. Had his teaching found vogue, the
story of science would be very different from what it is. We should then have no tale to tell of a
Copernicus coming upon the scene fully seventeen hundred years later with the revolutionary
doctrine that our world is not the centre of the universe. We should not have to tell of the
persecution of a Bruno or of a Galileo for teaching this doctrine in the seventeenth century of an
era which did not begin till two hundred years after the death of Aristarchus. But, as we know,
the teaching of the astronomer of Samos did not win its way. The old conservative geocentric
doctrine, seemingly so much more in accordance with the every-day observations of mankind,
supported by the majority of astronomers with the Peripatetic philosophers at their head, held its
place. It found fresh supporters presently among the later Alexandrians, and so fully eclipsed the
heliocentric view that we should scarcely know that view had even found an advocate were it not
for here and there such a chance record as the phrases we have just quoted from Archimedes.
Yet, as we now see, the heliocentric doctrine, which we know to be true, had been thought out
and advocated as the correct theory of celestial mechanics by at least one worker of the third
century B.C. Such an idea, we may be sure, did not spring into the mind of its originator except
as the culmination of a long series of observations and inferences. The precise character of the
evolution we perhaps cannot trace, but its broader outlines are open to our observation, and we
may not leave so important a topic without at least briefly noting them.

Fully to understand the theory of Aristarchus, we must go back a century or two and recall that
as long ago as the time of that other great native of Samos, Pythagoras, the conception had been
reached that the earth is in motion. We saw, in dealing with Pythagoras, that we could not be
sure as to precisely what he himself taught, but there is no question that the idea of the world's
motion became from an early day a so-called Pythagorean doctrine. While all the other
philosophers, so far as we know, still believed that the world was flat, the Pythagoreans out in
Italy taught that the world is a sphere and that the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies are
really due to the actual motion of the earth itself. They did not, however, vault to the conclusion
that this true motion of the earth takes place in the form of a circuit about the sun. Instead of that,
they conceived the central body of the universe to be a great fire, invisible from the earth,
because the inhabited side of the terrestrial ball was turned away from it. The sun, it was held, is
but a great mirror, which reflects the light from the central fire. Sun and earth alike revolve about
this great fire, each in its own orbit. Between the earth and the central fire there was, curiously
enough, supposed to be an invisible earthlike body which was given the name of Anticthon, or
counter-earth. This body, itself revolving about the central fire, was supposed to shut off the
central light now and again from the sun or from the moon, and thus to account for certain
eclipses for which the shadow of the earth did not seem responsible. It was, perhaps, largely to
account for such eclipses that the counter-earth was invented. But it is supposed that there was
another reason. The Pythagoreans held that there is a peculiar sacredness in the number ten. Just
as the Babylonians of the early day and the Hegelian philosophers of a more recent epoch saw a
sacred connection between the number seven and the number of planetary bodies, so the
Pythagoreans thought that the universe must be arranged in accordance with the number ten.
Their count of the heavenly bodies, including the sphere of the fixed stars, seemed to show nine,
and the counter-earth supplied the missing body.

The precise genesis and development of this idea cannot now be followed, but that it was
prevalent about the fifth century B.C. as a Pythagorean doctrine cannot be questioned.
Anaxagoras also is said to have taken account of the hypothetical counter-earth in his
explanation of eclipses; though, as we have seen, he probably did not accept that part of the
doctrine which held the earth to be a sphere. The names of Philolaus and Heraclides have been
linked with certain of these Pythagorean doctrines. Eudoxus, too, who, like the others, lived in
Asia Minor in the fourth century B.C., was held to have made special studies of the heavenly
spheres and perhaps to have taught that the earth moves. So, too, Nicetas must be named among
those whom rumor credited with having taught that the world is in motion. In a word, the
evidence, so far as we can garner it from the remaining fragments, tends to show that all along,
from the time of the early Pythagoreans, there had been an undercurrent of opinion in the
philosophical world which questioned the fixity of the earth; and it would seem that the school of
thinkers who tended to accept the revolutionary view centred in Asia Minor, not far from the
early home of the founder of the Pythagorean doctrines. It was not strange, then, that the man
who was finally to carry these new opinions to their logical conclusion should hail from Samos.
But what was the support which observation could give to this new, strange conception that the
heavenly bodies do not in reality move as they seem to move, but that their apparent motion is
due to the actual revolution of the earth? It is extremely difficult for any one nowadays to put
himself in a mental position to answer this question. We are so accustomed to conceive the solar
system as we know it to be, that we are wont to forget how very different it is from what it
seems. Yet one needs but to glance up at the sky, and then to glance about one at the solid earth,
to grant, on a moment's reflection, that the geocentric idea is of all others the most natural; and
that to conceive the sun as the actual Centre of the solar system is an idea which must look for
support to some other evidence than that which ordinary observation can give. Such was the
view of most of the ancient philosophers, and such continued to be the opinion of the majority of
mankind long after the time of Copernicus. We must not forget that even so great an observing
astronomer as Tycho Brahe, so late as the seventeenth century, declined to accept the
heliocentric theory, though admitting that all the planets except the earth revolve about the sun.
We shall see that before the Alexandrian school lost its influence a geocentric scheme had been
evolved which fully explained all the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies. All this, then,
makes us but wonder the more that the genius of an Aristarchus could give precedence to
scientific induction as against the seemingly clear evidence of the senses.
What, then, was the line of scientific induction that led Aristarchus to this wonderful goal?
Fortunately, we are able to answer that query, at least in part. Aristarchus gained his evidence
through some wonderful measurements. First, he measured the disks of the sun and the moon.
This, of course, could in itself give him no clew to the distance of these bodies, and therefore no
clew as to their relative size; but in attempting to obtain such a clew he hit upon a wonderful yet
altogether simple experiment. It occurred to him that when the moon is precisely dichotomized--
that is to say, precisely at the half-the line of vision from the earth to the moon must be precisely
at right angles with the line of light passing from the sun to the moon. At this moment, then, the
imaginary lines joining the sun, the moon, and the earth, make a right angle triangle. But the
properties of the right-angle triangle had long been studied and were well under stood. One acute
angle of such a triangle determines the figure of the triangle itself. We have already seen that
Thales, the very earliest of the Greek philosophers, measured the distance of a ship at sea by the
application of this principle. Now Aristarchus sights the sun in place of Thales' ship, and,
sighting the moon at the same time, measures the angle and establishes the shape of his right-
angle triangle. This does not tell him the distance of the sun, to be sure, for he does not know the
length of his base-line--that is to say, of the line between the moon and the earth. But it does
establish the relation of that base-line to the other lines of the triangle; in other words, it tells him
the distance of the sun in terms of the moon's distance. As Aristarchus strikes the angle, it shows
that the sun is eighteen times as distant as the moon. Now, by comparing the apparent size of the
sun with the apparent size of the moon--which, as we have seen, Aristarchus has already
measured--he is able to tell us that, the sun is "more than 5832 times, and less than 8000" times
larger than the moon; though his measurements, taken by themselves, give no clew to the actual
bulk of either body. These conclusions, be it understood, are absolutely valid inferences--nay,
demonstrations--from the measurements involved, provided only that these measurements have
been correct. Unfortunately, the angle of the triangle we have just seen measured is exceedingly
difficult to determine with accuracy, while at the same time, as a moment's reflection will show,
it is so large an angle that a very slight deviation from the truth will greatly affect the distance at
which its line joins the other side of the triangle. Then again, it is virtually impossible to tell the
precise moment when the moon is at half, as the line it gives is not so sharp that we can fix it
with absolute accuracy. There is, moreover, another element of error due to the refraction of light
by the earth's atmosphere. The experiment was probably made when the sun was near the
horizon, at which time, as we now know, but as Aristarchus probably did not suspect, the
apparent displacement of the sun's position is considerable; and this displacement, it will be
observed, is in the direction to lessen the angle in question.
In point of fact, Aristarchus estimated the angle at eighty-seven degrees. Had his instrument been
more precise, and had he been able to take account of all the elements of error, he would have
found it eighty-seven degrees and fifty-two minutes. The difference of measurement seems
slight; but it sufficed to make the computations differ absurdly from the truth. The sun is really
not merely eighteen times but more than two hundred times the distance of the moon, as
Wendelein discovered on repeating the experiment of Aristarchus about two thousand years
later. Yet this discrepancy does not in the least take away from the validity of the method which
Aristarchus employed. Moreover, his conclusion, stated in general terms, was perfectly correct:
the sun is many times more distant than the moon and vastly larger than that body. Granted, then,
that the moon is, as Aristarchus correctly believed, considerably less in size than the earth, the
sun must be enormously larger than the earth; and this is the vital inference which, more than any
other, must have seemed to Aristarchus to confirm the suspicion that the sun and not the earth is
the centre of the planetary system. It seemed to him inherently improbable that an enormously
large body like the sun should revolve about a small one such as the earth. And again, it seemed
inconceivable that a body so distant as the sun should whirl through space so rapidly as to make
the circuit of its orbit in twenty- four hours. But, on the other hand, that a small body like the
earth should revolve about the gigantic sun seemed inherently probable. This proposition
granted, the rotation of the earth on its axis follows as a necessary consequence in explanation of
the seeming motion of the stars. Here, then, was the heliocentric doctrine reduced to a virtual
demonstration by Aristarchus of Samos, somewhere about the middle of the third century B.C.

It must be understood that in following out the, steps of reasoning by which we suppose
Aristarchus to have reached so remarkable a conclusion, we have to some extent guessed at the
processes of thought- development; for no line of explication written by the astronomer himself
on this particular point has come down to us. There does exist, however, as we have already
stated, a very remarkable treatise by Aristarchus on the Size and Distance of the Sun and the
Moon, which so clearly suggests the methods of reasoning of the great astronomer, and so
explicitly cites the results of his measurements, that we cannot well pass it by without quoting
from it at some length. It is certainly one of the most remarkable scientific documents of
antiquity. As already noted, the heliocentric doctrine is not expressly stated here. It seems to be
tacitly implied throughout, but it is not a necessary consequence of any of the propositions
expressly stated. These propositions have to do with certain observations and measurements and
what Aristarchus believes to be inevitable deductions from them, and he perhaps did not wish to
have these deductions challenged through associating them with a theory which his
contemporaries did not accept. In a word, the paper of Aristarchus is a rigidly scientific
document unvitiated by association with any theorizings that are not directly germane to its
central theme. The treatise opens with certain hypotheses as follows:

"First. The moon receives its light from the sun.

"Second. The earth may be considered as a point and as the centre of the orbit of the moon.

"Third. When the moon appears to us dichotomized it offers to our view a great circle [or actual
meridian] of its circumference which divides the illuminated part from the dark part.
"Fourth. When the moon appears dichotomized its distance from the sun is less than a quarter of
the circumference [of its orbit] by a thirtieth part of that quarter."
That is to say, in modern terminology, the moon at this time lacks three degrees (one thirtieth of
ninety degrees) of being at right angles with the line of the sun as viewed from the earth; or,
stated otherwise, the angular distance of the moon from the sun as viewed from the earth is at
this time eighty-seven degrees--this being, as we have already observed, the fundamental
measurement upon which so much depends. We may fairly suppose that some previous paper of
Aristarchus's has detailed the measurement which here is taken for granted, yet which of course
could depend solely on observation.
"Fifth. The diameter of the shadow [cast by the earth at the point where the moon's orbit cuts that
shadow when the moon is eclipsed] is double the diameter of the moon."
Here again a knowledge of previously established measurements is taken for granted; but,
indeed, this is the case throughout the treatise.
"Sixth. The arc subtended in the sky by the moon is a fifteenth part of a sign" of the zodiac; that
is to say, since there are twenty-four, signs in the zodiac, one-fifteenth of one twenty-fourth, or in
modern terminology, one degree of arc. This is Aristarchus's measurement of the moon to which
we have already referred when speaking of the measurements of Archimedes.

"If we admit these six hypotheses," Aristarchus continues, "it follows that the sun is more than
eighteen times more distant from the earth than is the moon, and that it is less than twenty times
more distant, and that the diameter of the sun bears a corresponding relation to the diameter of
the moon; which is proved by the position of the moon when dichotomized. But the ratio of the
diameter of the sun to that of the earth is greater than nineteen to three and less than forty-three
to six. This is demonstrated by the relation of the distances, by the position [of the moon] in
relation to the earth's shadow, and by the fact that the arc subtended by the moon is a fifteenth
part of a sign."
Aristarchus follows with nineteen propositions intended to elucidate his hypotheses and to
demonstrate his various contentions. These show a singularly clear grasp of geometrical
problems and an altogether correct conception of the general relations as to size and position of
the earth, the moon, and the sun. His reasoning has to do largely with the shadow cast by the
earth and by the moon, and it presupposes a considerable knowledge of the phenomena of
eclipses. His first proposition is that "two equal spheres may always be circumscribed in a
cylinder; two unequal spheres in a cone of which the apex is found on the side of the smaller
sphere; and a straight line joining the centres of these spheres is perpendicular to each of the two
circles made by the contact of the surface of the cylinder or of the cone with the spheres."
It will be observed that Aristarchus has in mind here the moon, the earth, and the sun as spheres
to be circumscribed within a cone, which cone is made tangible and measurable by the shadows
cast by the non-luminous bodies; since, continuing, he clearly states in proposition nine, that
"when the sun is totally eclipsed, an observer on the earth's surface is at an apex of a cone
comprising the moon and the sun." Various propositions deal with other relations of the shadows
which need not detain us since they are not fundamentally important, and we may pass to the
final conclusions of Aristarchus, as reached in his propositions ten to nineteen.
Now, since (proposition ten) "the diameter of the sun is more than eighteen times and less than
twenty times greater than that of the moon," it follows (proposition eleven) "that the bulk of the
sun is to that of the moon in ratio, greater than 5832 to 1, and less than 8000 to 1."

"Proposition sixteen. The diameter of the sun is to the diameter of the earth in greater proportion
than nineteen to three, and less than forty-three to six.
"Proposition seventeen. The bulk of the sun is to that of the earth in greater proportion than 6859
to 27, and less than 79,507 to 216.
"Proposition eighteen. The diameter of the earth is to the diameter of the moon in greater
proportion than 108 to 43 and less than 60 to 19.
"Proposition nineteen. The bulk of the earth is to that of the moon in greater proportion than
1,259,712 to 79,507 and less than 20,000 to 6859."
Such then are the more important conclusions of this very remarkable paper--a paper which
seems to have interest to the successors of Aristarchus generation after generation, since this
alone of all the writings of the great astronomer has been preserved. How widely the exact
results of the measurements of Aristarchus, differ from the truth, we have pointed out as we
progressed. But let it be repeated that this detracts little from the credit of the astronomer who
had such clear and correct conceptions of the relations of the heavenly bodies and who invented
such correct methods of measurement. Let it be particularly observed, however, that all the
conclusions of Aristarchus are stated in relative terms. He nowhere attempts to estimate the
precise size of the earth, of the moon, or of the sun, or the actual distance of one of these bodies
from another. The obvious reason for this is that no data were at hand from which to make such
precise measurements. Had Aristarchus known the size of any one of the bodies in question, he
might readily, of course, have determined the size of the others by the mere application of his
relative scale; but he had no means of determining the size of the earth, and to this extent his
system of measurements remained imperfect. Where Aristarchus halted, however, another
worker of the same period took the task in hand and by an altogether wonderful measurement
determined the size of the earth, and thus brought the scientific theories of cosmology to their
climax. This worthy supplementor of the work of Aristarchus was Eratosthenes of Alexandria.

An altogether remarkable man was this native of Cyrene, who came to Alexandria from Athens
to be the chief librarian of Ptolemy Euergetes. He was not merely an astronomer and a
geographer, but a poet and grammarian as well. His contemporaries jestingly called him Beta the
Second, because he was said through the universality of his attainments to be "a second Plato" in
philosophy, "a second Thales" in astronomy, and so on throughout the list. He was also called
the "surveyor of the world," in recognition of his services to geography. Hipparchus said of him,
perhaps half jestingly, that he had studied astronomy as a geographer and geography as an
astronomer. It is not quite clear whether the epigram was meant as compliment or as criticism.
Similar phrases have been turned against men of versatile talent in every age. Be that as it may,
Eratosthenes passed into history as the father of scientific geography and of scientific
chronology; as the astronomer who first measured the obliquity of the ecliptic; and as the
inventive genius who performed the astounding feat of measuring the size of the globe on which
we live at a time when only a relatively small portion of that globe's surface was known to
civilized man. It is no discredit to approach astronomy as a geographer and geography as an
astronomer if the results are such as these. What Eratosthenes really did was to approach both
astronomy and geography from two seemingly divergent points of attack--namely, from the
stand-point of the geometer and also from that of the poet. Perhaps no man in any age has
brought a better combination of observing and imaginative faculties to the aid of science.
Nearly all the discoveries of Eratosthenes are associated with observations of the shadows cast
by the sun. We have seen that, in the study of the heavenly bodies, much depends on the
measurement of angles. Now the easiest way in which angles can be measured, when solar
angles are in question, is to pay attention, not to the sun itself, but to the shadow that it casts. We
saw that Thales made some remarkable measurements with the aid of shadows, and we have
more than once referred to the gnomon, which is the most primitive, but which long remained the
most important, of astronomical instruments. It is believed that Eratosthenes invented an
important modification of the gnomon which was elaborated afterwards by Hipparchus and
called an armillary sphere. This consists essentially of a small gnomon, or perpendicular post,
attached to a plane representing the earth's equator and a hemisphere in imitation of the earth's
surface. With the aid of this, the shadow cast by the sun could be very accurately measured. It
involves no new principle. Every perpendicular post or object of any kind placed in the sunlight
casts a shadow from which the angles now in question could be roughly measured. The province
of the armillary sphere was to make these measurements extremely accurate.
With the aid of this implement, Eratosthenes carefully noted the longest and the shortest shadows
cast by the gnomon--that is to say, the shadows cast on the days of the solstices. He found that
the distance between the tropics thus measured represented 47 degrees 42' 39" of arc. One-half of
this, or 23 degrees 5,' 19.5", represented the obliquity of the ecliptic--that is to say, the angle by
which the earth's axis dipped from the perpendicular with reference to its orbit. This was a most
important observation, and because of its accuracy it has served modern astronomers well for
comparison in measuring the trifling change due to our earth's slow, swinging wobble. For the
earth, be it understood, like a great top spinning through space, holds its position with relative
but not quite absolute fixity. It must not be supposed, however, that the experiment in question
was quite new with Eratosthenes. His merit consists rather in the accuracy with which he made
his observation than in the novelty of the conception; for it is recorded that Eudoxus, a full
century earlier, had remarked the obliquity of the ecliptic. That observer had said that the
obliquity corresponded to the side of a pentadecagon, or fifteen-sided figure, which is equivalent
in modern phraseology to twenty- four degrees of arc. But so little is known regarding the way in
which Eudoxus reached his estimate that the measurement of Eratosthenes is usually spoken of
as if it were the first effort of the kind.
Much more striking, at least in its appeal to the popular imagination, was that other great feat
which Eratosthenes performed with the aid of his perfected gnomon--the measurement of the
earth itself. When we reflect that at this period the portion of the earth open to observation
extended only from the Straits of Gibraltar on the west to India on the east, and from the North
Sea to Upper Egypt, it certainly seems enigmatical--at first thought almost miraculous--that an
observer should have been able to measure the entire globe. That he should have accomplished
this through observation of nothing more than a tiny bit of Egyptian territory and a glimpse of
the sun's shadow makes it seem but the more wonderful. Yet the method of Eratosthenes, like
many another enigma, seems simple enough once it is explained. It required but the application
of a very elementary knowledge of the geometry of circles, combined with the use of a fact or
two from local geography--which detracts nothing from the genius of the man who could reason
from such simple premises to so wonderful a conclusion.
Stated in a few words, the experiment of Eratosthenes was this. His geographical studies had
taught him that the town of Syene lay directly south of Alexandria, or, as we should say, on the
same meridian of latitude. He had learned, further, that Syene lay directly under the tropic, since
it was reported that at noon on the day of the summer solstice the gnomon there cast no shadow,
while a deep well was illumined to the bottom by the sun. A third item of knowledge, supplied
by the surveyors of Ptolemy, made the distance between Syene and Alexandria five thousand
stadia. These, then, were the preliminary data required by Eratosthenes. Their significance
consists in the fact that here is a measured bit of the earth's arc five thousand stadia in length. If
we could find out what angle that bit of arc subtends, a mere matter of multiplication would give
us the size of the earth. But how determine this all-important number? The answer came through
reflection on the relations of concentric circles. If you draw any number of circles, of whatever
size, about a given centre, a pair of radii drawn from that centre will cut arcs of the same relative
size from all the circles. One circle may be so small that the actual arc subtended by the radii in a
given case may be but an inch in length, while another circle is so large that its corresponding are
is measured in millions of miles; but in each case the same number of so-called degrees will
represent the relation of each arc to its circumference. Now, Eratosthenes knew, as just stated,
that the sun, when on the meridian on the day of the summer solstice, was directly over the town
of Syene. This meant that at that moment a radius of the earth projected from Syene would point
directly towards the sun. Meanwhile, of course, the zenith would represent the projection of the
radius of the earth passing through Alexandria. All that was required, then, was to measure, at
Alexandria, the angular distance of the sun from the zenith at noon on the day of the solstice to
secure an approximate measurement of the arc of the sun's circumference, corresponding to the
arc of the earth's surface represented by the measured distance between Alexandria and Syene.
The reader will observe that the measurement could not be absolutely accurate, because it is
made from the surface of the earth, and not from the earth's centre, but the size of the earth is so
insignificant in comparison with the distance of the sun that this slight discrepancy could be

The way in which Eratosthenes measured this angle was very simple. He merely measured the
angle of the shadow which his perpendicular gnomon at Alexandria cast at mid-day on the day of
the solstice, when, as already noted, the sun was directly perpendicular at Syene. Now a glance at
the diagram will make it clear that the measurement of this angle of the shadow is merely a
convenient means of determining the precisely equal opposite angle subtending an arc of an
imaginary circle passing through the sun; the are which, as already explained, corresponds with
the arc of the earth's surface represented by the distance between Alexandria and Syene. He
found this angle to represent 7 degrees 12', or one-fiftieth of the circle. Five thousand stadia,
then, represent one-fiftieth of the earth's circumference; the entire circumference being,
therefore, 250,000 stadia. Unfortunately, we do not know which one of the various
measurements used in antiquity is represented by the stadia of Eratosthenes. According to the
researches of Lepsius, however, the stadium in question represented 180 meters, and this would
make the earth, according to the measurement of Eratosthenes, about twenty-eight thousand
miles in circumference, an answer sufficiently exact to justify the wonder which the experiment
excited in antiquity, and the admiration with which it has ever since been regarded.
FIG. 1. AF is a gnomon at Alexandria; SB a gnomon at Svene; IS and JK represent the sun's
rays. The angle actually measured by Eratosthenes is KFA, as determined by the shadow cast by
the gnomon AF. This angle is equal to the opposite angle JFL, which measures the sun's distance
from the zenith; and which is also equal to the angle AES--to determine the Size of which is the
real object of the entire measurement.
FIG. 2 shows the form of the gnomon actually employed in antiquity. The hemisphere KA being
marked with a scale, it is obvious that in actual practice Eratosthenes required only to set his
gnomon in the sunlight at the proper moment, and read off the answer to his problem at a glance.
The simplicity of the method makes the result seem all the more wonderful.}

Of course it is the method, and not its details or its exact results, that excites our interest. And
beyond question the method was an admirable one. Its result, however, could not have been
absolutely accurate, because, while correct in principle, its data were defective. In point of fact
Syene did not lie precisely on the same meridian as Alexandria, neither did it lie exactly on the
tropic. Here, then, are two elements of inaccuracy. Moreover, it is doubtful whether Eratosthenes
made allowance, as he should have done, for the semi-diameter of the sun in measuring the angle
of the shadow. But these are mere details, scarcely worthy of mention from our present stand-
point. What perhaps is deserving of more attention is the fact that this epoch-making
measurement of Eratosthenes may not have been the first one to be made. A passage of Aristotle
records that the size of the earth was said to be 400,000 stadia. Some commentators have thought
that Aristotle merely referred to the area of the inhabited portion of the earth and not to the
circumference of the earth itself, but his words seem doubtfully susceptible of this interpretation;
and if he meant, as his words seem to imply, that philosophers of his day had a tolerably precise
idea of the globe, we must assume that this idea was based upon some sort of measurement. The
recorded size, 400,000 stadia, is a sufficient approximation to the truth to suggest something
more than a mere unsupported guess. Now, since Aristotle died more than fifty years before
Eratosthenes was born, his report as to the alleged size of the earth certainly has a suggestiveness
that cannot be overlooked; but it arouses speculations without giving an inkling as to their
solution. If Eratosthenes had a precursor as an earth-measurer, no hint or rumor has come down
to us that would enable us to guess who that precursor may have been. His personality is as
deeply enveloped in the mists of the past as are the personalities of the great prehistoric
discoverers. For the purpose of the historian, Eratosthenes must stand as the inventor of the
method with which his name is associated, and as the first man of whom we can say with
certainty that he measured the size of the earth. Right worthily, then, had the Alexandrian
philosopher won his proud title of "surveyor of the world."


Eratosthenes outlived most of his great contemporaries. He saw the turning of that first and
greatest century of Alexandrian science, the third century before our era. He died in the year 196
B.C., having, it is said, starved himself to death to escape the miseries of blindness;--to the
measurer of shadows, life without light seemed not worth the living. Eratosthenes left no
immediate successor. A generation later, however, another great figure appeared in the
astronomical world in the person of Hipparchus, a man who, as a technical observer, had perhaps
no peer in the ancient world: one who set so high a value upon accuracy of observation as to earn
the title of "the lover of truth." Hipparchus was born at Nicaea, in Bithynia, in the year 160 B.C.
His life, all too short for the interests of science, ended in the year 125 B.C. The observations of
the great astronomer were made chiefly, perhaps entirely, at Rhodes. A misinterpretation of
Ptolemy's writings led to the idea that Hipparchus, performed his chief labors in Alexandria, but
it is now admitted that there is no evidence for this. Delambre doubted, and most subsequent
writers follow him here, whether Hipparchus ever so much as visited Alexandria. In any event
there seems to be no question that Rhodes may claim the honor of being the chief site of his
It was Hipparchus whose somewhat equivocal comment on the work of Eratosthenes we have
already noted. No counter-charge in kind could be made against the critic himself; he was an
astronomer pure and simple. His gift was the gift of accurate observation rather than the gift of
imagination. No scientific progress is possible without scientific guessing, but Hipparchus
belonged to that class of observers with whom hypothesis is held rigidly subservient to fact. It
was not to be expected that his mind would be attracted by the heliocentric theory of Aristarchus.
He used the facts and observations gathered by his great predecessor of Samos, but he declined
to accept his theories. For him the world was central; his problem was to explain, if he could, the
irregularities of motion which sun, moon, and planets showed in their seeming circuits about the
earth. Hipparchus had the gnomon of Eratosthenes--doubtless in a perfected form--to aid him,
and he soon proved himself a master in its use. For him, as we have said, accuracy was
everything; this was the one element that led to all his great successes.

Perhaps his greatest feat was to demonstrate the eccentricity of the sun's seeming orbit. We of to-
day, thanks to Keppler and his followers, know that the earth and the other planetary bodies in
their circuit about the sun describe an ellipse and not a circle. But in the day of Hipparchus,
though the ellipse was recognized as a geometrical figure (it had been described and named
along with the parabola and hyperbola by Apollonius of Perga, the pupil of Euclid), yet it would
have been the rankest heresy to suggest an elliptical course for any heavenly body. A
metaphysical theory, as propounded perhaps by the Pythagoreans but ardently supported by
Aristotle, declared that the circle is the perfect figure, and pronounced it inconceivable that the
motions of the spheres should be other than circular. This thought dominated the mind of
Hipparchus, and so when his careful measurements led him to the discovery that the northward
and southward journeyings of the sun did not divide the year into four equal parts, there was
nothing open to him but to either assume that the earth does not lie precisely at the centre of the
sun's circular orbit or to find some alternative hypothesis.
In point of fact, the sun (reversing the point of view in accordance with modern discoveries) does
lie at one focus of the earth's elliptical orbit, and therefore away from the physical centre of that
orbit; in other words, the observations of Hipparchus were absolutely accurate. He was quite
correct in finding that the sun spends more time on one side of the equator than on the other.
When, therefore, he estimated the relative distance of the earth from the geometrical centre of the
sun's supposed circular orbit, and spoke of this as the measure of the sun's eccentricity, he
propounded a theory in which true data of observation were curiously mingled with a positively
inverted theory. That the theory of Hipparchus was absolutely consistent with all the facts of this
particular observation is the best evidence that could be given of the difficulties that stood in the
way of a true explanation of the mechanism of the heavens.

But it is not merely the sun which was observed to vary in the speed of its orbital progress; the
moon and the planets also show curious accelerations and retardations of motion. The moon in
particular received most careful attention from Hipparchus. Dominated by his conception of the
perfect spheres, he could find but one explanation of the anomalous motions which he observed,
and this was to assume that the various heavenly bodies do not fly on in an unvarying arc in their
circuit about the earth, but describe minor circles as they go which can be likened to nothing so
tangibly as to a light attached to the rim of a wagon-wheel in motion. If such an invisible wheel
be imagined as carrying the sun, for example, on its rim, while its invisible hub follows
unswervingly the circle of the sun's mean orbit (this wheel, be it understood, lying in the plane of
the orbit, not at right- angles to it), then it must be obvious that while the hub remains always at
the same distance from the earth, the circling rim will carry the sun nearer the earth, then farther
away, and that while it is traversing that portion of the are which brings it towards the earth, the
actual forward progress of the sun will be retarded notwithstanding the uniform motion of the
hub, just as it will be accelerated in the opposite arc. Now, if we suppose our sun-bearing wheel
to turn so slowly that the sun revolves but once about its imaginary hub while the wheel itself is
making the entire circuit of the orbit, we shall have accounted for the observed fact that the sun
passes more quickly through one-half of the orbit than through the other. Moreover, if we can
visualize the process and imagine the sun to have left a visible line of fire behind him throughout
the course, we shall see that in reality the two circular motions involved have really resulted in
producing an elliptical orbit.
The idea is perhaps made clearer if we picture the actual progress of the lantern attached to the
rim of an ordinary cart-wheel. When the cart is drawn forward the lantern is made to revolve in a
circle as regards the hub of the wheel, but since that hub is constantly going forward, the actual
path described by the lantern is not a circle at all but a waving line. It is precisely the same with
the imagined course of the sun in its orbit, only that we view these lines just as we should view
the lantern on the wheel if we looked at it from directly above and not from the side. The proof
that the sun is describing this waving line, and therefore must be considered as attached to an
imaginary wheel, is furnished, as it seemed to Hipparchus, by the observed fact of the sun's
varying speed.
That is one way of looking at the matter. It is an hypothesis that explains the observed facts--
after a fashion, and indeed a very remarkable fashion. The idea of such an explanation did not
originate with Hipparchus. The germs of the thought were as old as the Pythagorean doctrine that
the earth revolves about a centre that we cannot see. Eudoxus gave the conception greater
tangibility, and may be considered as the father of this doctrine of wheels--epicycles, as they
came to be called. Two centuries before the time of Hipparchus he conceived a doctrine of
spheres which Aristotle found most interesting, and which served to explain, along the lines we
have just followed, the observed motions of the heavenly bodies. Calippus, the reformer of the
calendar, is said to have carried an account of this theory to Aristotle. As new irregularities of
motion of the sun, moon, and planetary bodies were pointed out, new epicycles were invented.
There is no limit to the number of imaginary circles that may be inscribed about an imaginary
centre, and if we conceive each one of these circles to have a proper motion of its own, and each
one to carry the sun in the line of that motion, except as it is diverted by the other motions--if we
can visualize this complex mingling of wheels--we shall certainly be able to imagine the
heavenly body which lies at the juncture of all the rims, as being carried forward in as erratic and
wobbly a manner as could be desired. In other words, the theory of epicycles will account for all
the facts of the observed motions of all the heavenly bodies, but in so doing it fills the universe
with a most bewildering network of intersecting circles. Even in the time of Calippus fifty-five of
these spheres were computed.
We may well believe that the clear-seeing Aristarchus would look askance at such a complex
system of imaginary machinery. But Hipparchus, pre-eminently an observer rather than a
theorizer, seems to have been content to accept the theory of epicycles as he found it, though his
studies added to its complexities; and Hipparchus was the dominant scientific personality of his
century. What he believed became as a law to his immediate successors. His tenets were
accepted as final by their great popularizer, Ptolemy, three centuries later; and so the heliocentric
theory of Aristarchus passed under a cloud almost at the hour of its dawning, there to remain
obscured and forgotten for the long lapse of centuries. A thousand pities that the greatest
observing astronomer of antiquity could not, like one of his great precursors, have approached
astronomy from the stand-point of geography and poetry. Had he done so, perhaps he might have
reflected, like Aristarchus before him, that it seems absurd for our earth to hold the giant sun in
thraldom; then perhaps his imagination would have reached out to the heliocentric doctrine, and
the cobweb hypothesis of epicycles, with that yet more intangible figment of the perfect circle,
might have been wiped away.
But it was not to be. With Aristarchus the scientific imagination had reached its highest flight;
but with Hipparchus it was beginning to settle back into regions of foggier atmosphere and
narrower horizons. For what, after all, does it matter that Hipparchus should go on to measure
the precise length of the year and the apparent size of the moon's disk; that he should make a
chart of the heavens showing the place of 1080 stars; even that he should discover the precession
of the equinox;--what, after all, is the significance of these details as against the all-essential fact
that the greatest scientific authority of his century--the one truly heroic scientific figure of his
epoch--should have lent all the forces of his commanding influence to the old, false theory of
cosmology, when the true theory had been propounded and when he, perhaps, was the only man
in the world who might have substantiated and vitalized that theory? It is easy to overestimate
the influence of any single man, and, contrariwise, to underestimate the power of the Zeitgeist.
But when we reflect that the doctrines of Hipparchus, as promulgated by Ptolemy, became, as it
were, the last word of astronomical science for both the Eastern and Western worlds, and so
continued after a thousand years, it is perhaps not too much to say that Hipparchus, "the lover of
truth," missed one of the greatest opportunities for the promulgation of truth ever vouchsafed to a
devotee of pure science.
But all this, of course, detracts nothing from the merits of Hipparchus as an observing
astronomer. A few words more must be said as to his specific discoveries in this field. According
to his measurement, the tropic year consists of 365 days, 5 hours, and 49 minutes, varying thus
only 12 seconds from the true year, as the modern astronomer estimates it. Yet more remarkable,
because of the greater difficulties involved, was Hipparchus's attempt to measure the actual
distance of the moon. Aristarchus had made a similar attempt before him. Hipparchus based his
computations on studies of the moon in eclipse, and he reached the conclusion that the distance
of the moon is equal to 59 radii of the earth (in reality it is 60.27 radii). Here, then, was the
measure of the base-line of that famous triangle with which Aristarchus had measured the
distance of the sun. Hipparchus must have known of that measurement, since he quotes the work
of Aristarchus in other fields. Had he now but repeated the experiment of Aristarchus, with his
perfected instruments and his perhaps greater observational skill, he was in position to compute
the actual distance of the sun in terms not merely of the moon's distance but of the earth's radius.
And now there was the experiment of Eratosthenes to give the length of that radius in precise
terms. In other words, Hipparchus might have measured the distance of the sun in stadia. But if
he had made the attempt--and, indeed, it is more than likely that he did so--the elements of error
in his measurements would still have kept him wide of the true figures.

The chief studies of Hipparchus were directed, as we have seen, towards the sun and the moon,
but a phenomenon that occurred in the year 134 B.C. led him for a time to give more particular
attention to the fixed stars. The phenomenon in question was the sudden outburst of a new star; a
phenomenon which has been repeated now and again, but which is sufficiently rare and
sufficiently mysterious to have excited the unusual attention of astronomers in all generations.
Modern science offers an explanation of the phenomenon, as we shall see in due course. We do
not know that Hipparchus attempted to explain it, but he was led to make a chart of the heavens,
probably with the idea of guiding future observers in the observation of new stars. Here again
Hipparchus was not altogether an innovator, since a chart showing the brightest stars had been
made by Eratosthenes; but the new charts were much elaborated.

The studies of Hipparchus led him to observe the stars chiefly with reference to the meridian
rather than with reference to their rising, as had hitherto been the custom. In making these studies
of the relative position of the stars, Hipparchus was led to compare his observations with those of
the Babylonians, which, it was said, Alexander had caused to be transmitted to Greece. He made
use also of the observations of Aristarchus and others of his Greek precursors. The result of his
comparisons proved that the sphere of the fixed stars had apparently shifted its position in
reference to the plane of the sun's orbit--that is to say, the plane of the ecliptic no longer seemed
to cut the sphere of the fixed stars at precisely the point where the two coincided in former
centuries. The plane of the ecliptic must therefore be conceived as slowly revolving in such a
way as gradually to circumnavigate the heavens. This important phenomenon is described as the
precession of the equinoxes.

It is much in question whether this phenomenon was not known to the ancient Egyptian
astronomers; but in any event, Hipparchus is to be credited with demonstrating the fact and
making it known to the Western world. A further service was rendered theoretical astronomy by
Hipparchus through his invention of the planosphere, an instrument for the representation of the
mechanism of the heavens. His computations of the properties of the spheres led him also to
what was virtually a discovery of the method of trigonometry, giving him, therefore, a high
position in the field of mathematics. All in all, then, Hipparchus is a most heroic figure. He may
well be considered the greatest star-gazer of antiquity, though he cannot, without injustice to his
great precursors, be allowed the title which is sometimes given him of "father of systematic
Just about the time when Hipparchus was working out at Rhodes his puzzles of celestial
mechanics, there was a man in Alexandria who was exercising a strangely inventive genius over
mechanical problems of another sort; a man who, following the example set by Archimedes a
century before, was studying the problems of matter and putting his studies to practical
application through the invention of weird devices. The man's name was Ctesibius. We know
scarcely more of him than that he lived in Alexandria, probably in the first half of the second
century B.C. His antecedents, the place and exact time of his birth and death, are quite unknown.
Neither are we quite certain as to the precise range of his studies or the exact number of his
discoveries. It appears that he had a pupil named Hero, whose personality, unfortunately, is
scarcely less obscure than that of his master, but who wrote a book through which the record of
the master's inventions was preserved to posterity. Hero, indeed, wrote several books, though
only one of them has been preserved. The ones that are lost bear the following suggestive titles:
On the Construction of Slings; On the Construction of Missiles; On the Automaton; On the
Method of Lifting Heavy Bodies; On the Dioptric or Spying-tube. The work that remains is
called Pneumatics, and so interesting a work it is as to make us doubly regret the loss of its
companion volumes. Had these other books been preserved we should doubtless have a clearer
insight than is now possible into some at least of the mechanical problems that exercised the
minds of the ancient philosophers. The book that remains is chiefly concerned, as its name
implies, with the study of gases, or, rather, with the study of a single gas, this being, of course,
the air. But it tells us also of certain studies in the dynamics of water that are most interesting,
and for the historian of science most important.
Unfortunately, the pupil of Ctesibius, whatever his ingenuity, was a man with a deficient sense of
the ethics of science. He tells us in his preface that the object of his book is to record some
ingenious discoveries of others, together with additional discoveries of his own, but nowhere in
the book itself does he give us the, slightest clew as to where the line is drawn between the old
and the new. Once, in discussing the weight of water, he mentions the law of Archimedes
regarding a floating body, but this is the only case in which a scientific principle is traced to its
source or in which credit is given to any one for a discovery. This is the more to be regretted
because Hero has discussed at some length the theories involved in the treatment of his subject.
This reticence on the part of Hero, combined with the fact that such somewhat later writers as
Pliny and Vitruvius do not mention Hero's name, while they frequently mention the name of his
master, Ctesibius, has led modern critics to a somewhat sceptical attitude regarding the position
of Hero as an actual discoverer.
The man who would coolly appropriate some discoveries of others under cloak of a mere
prefatorial reference was perhaps an expounder rather than an innovator, and had, it is shrewdly
suspected, not much of his own to offer. Meanwhile, it is tolerably certain that Ctesibius was the
discoverer of the principle of the siphon, of the forcing-pump, and of a pneumatic organ. An
examination of Hero's book will show that these are really the chief principles involved in most
of the various interesting mechanisms which he describes. We are constrained, then, to believe
that the inventive genius who was really responsible for the mechanisms we are about to describe
was Ctesibius, the master. Yet we owe a debt of gratitude to Hero, the pupil, for having given
wider vogue to these discoveries, and in particular for the discussion of the principles of
hydrostatics and pneumatics contained in the introduction to his book. This discussion furnishes
us almost our only knowledge as to the progress of Greek philosophers in the field of mechanics
since the time of Archimedes.
The main purpose of Hero in his preliminary thesis has to do with the nature of matter, and
recalls, therefore, the studies of Anaxagoras and Democritus. Hero, however, approaches his
subject from a purely material or practical stand-point. He is an explicit champion of what we
nowadays call the molecular theory of matter. "Every body," he tells us, "is composed of minute
particles, between which are empty spaces less than these particles of the body. It is, therefore,
erroneous to say that there is no vacuum except by the application of force, and that every space
is full either of air or water or some other substance. But in proportion as any one of these
particles recedes, some other follows it and fills the vacant space; therefore there is no
continuous vacuum, except by the application of some force [like suction]--that is to say, an
absolute vacuum is never found, except as it is produced artificially." Hero brings forward some
thoroughly convincing proofs of the thesis he is maintaining. "If there were no void places
between the particles of water," he says, "the rays of light could not penetrate the water;
moreover, another liquid, such as wine, could not spread itself through the water, as it is
observed to do, were the particles of water absolutely continuous." The latter illustration is one
the validity of which appeals as forcibly to the physicists of to-day as it did to Hero. The same is
true of the argument drawn from the compressibility of gases. Hero has evidently made a careful
study of this subject. He knows that an inverted tube full of air may be immersed in water
without becoming wet on the inside, proving that air is a physical substance; but he knows also
that this same air may be caused to expand to a much greater bulk by the application of heat, or
may, on the other hand, be condensed by pressure, in which case, as he is well aware, the air
exerts force in the attempt to regain its normal bulk. But, he argues, surely we are not to believe
that the particles of air expand to fill all the space when the bulk of air as a whole expands under
the influence of heat; nor can we conceive that the particles of normal air are in actual contact,
else we should not be able to compress the air. Hence his conclusion, which, as we have seen, he
makes general in its application to all matter, that there are spaces, or, as he calls them, vacua,
between the particles that go to make up all substances, whether liquid, solid, or gaseous.
Here, clearly enough, was the idea of the "atomic" nature of matter accepted as a fundamental
notion. The argumentative attitude assumed by Hero shows that the doctrine could not be
expected to go unchallenged. But, on the other hand, there is nothing in his phrasing to suggest
an intention to claim originality for any phase of the doctrine. We may infer that in the three
hundred years that had elapsed since the time of Anaxagoras, that philosopher's idea of the
molecular nature of matter had gained fairly wide currency. As to the expansive power of gas,
which Hero describes at some length without giving us a clew to his authorities, we may assume
that Ctesibius was an original worker, yet the general facts involved were doubtless much older
than his day. Hero, for example, tells us of the cupping-glass used by physicians, which he says
is made into a vacuum by burning up the air in it; but this apparatus had probably been long in
use, and Hero mentions it not in order to describe the ordinary cupping-glass which is referred to,
but a modification of it. He refers to the old form as if it were something familiar to all.
Again, we know that Empedocles studied the pressure of the air in the fifth century B.C., and
discovered that it would support a column of water in a closed tube, so this phase of the subject
is not new. But there is no hint anywhere before this work of Hero of a clear understanding that
the expansive properties of the air when compressed, or when heated, may be made available as
a motor power. Hero, however, has the clearest notions on the subject and puts them to the
practical test of experiment. Thus he constructs numerous mechanisms in which the expansive
power of air under pressure is made to do work, and others in which the same end is
accomplished through the expansive power of heated air. For example, the doors of a temple are
made to swing open automatically when a fire is lighted on a distant altar, closing again when the
fire dies out--effects which must have filled the minds of the pious observers with bewilderment
and wonder, serving a most useful purpose for the priests, who alone, we may assume, were in
the secret. There were two methods by which this apparatus was worked. In one the heated air
pressed on the water in a close retort connected with the altar, forcing water out of the retort into
a bucket, which by its weight applied a force through pulleys and ropes that turned the standards
on which the temple doors revolved. When the fire died down the air contracted, the water was
siphoned back from the bucket, which, being thus lightened, let the doors close again through the
action of an ordinary weight. The other method was a slight modification, in which the retort of
water was dispensed with and a leather sack like a large football substitued. The ropes and
pulleys were connected with this sack, which exerted a pull when the hot air expanded, and
which collapsed and thus relaxed its strain when the air cooled. A glance at the illustrations taken
from Hero's book will make the details clear.
Other mechanisms utilized a somewhat different combination of weights, pulleys, and siphons,
operated by the expansive power of air, unheated but under pressure, such pressure being applied
with a force- pump, or by the weight of water running into a closed receptacle. One such
mechanism gives us a constant jet of water or perpetual fountain. Another curious application of
the principle furnishes us with an elaborate toy, consisting of a group of birds which alternately
whistle or are silent, while an owl seated on a neighboring perch turns towards the birds when
their song begins and away from them when it ends. The "singing" of the birds, it must be
explained, is produced by the expulsion of air through tiny tubes passing up through their throats
from a tank below. The owl is made to turn by a mechanism similar to that which manipulates
the temple doors. The pressure is supplied merely by a stream of running water, and the
periodical silence of the birds is due to the fact that this pressure is relieved through the
automatic siphoning off of the water when it reaches a certain height. The action of the siphon, it
may be added, is correctly explained by Hero as due to the greater weight of the water in the
longer arm of the bent tube. As before mentioned, the siphon is repeatedly used in these
mechanisms of Hero. The diagram will make clear the exact application of it in the present most
ingenious mechanism. We may add that the principle of the whistle was a favorite one of Hero.
By the aid of a similar mechanism he brought about the blowing of trumpets when the temple
doors were opened, a phenomenon which must greatly have enhanced the mystification. It is
possible that this principle was utilized also in connection with statues to produce seemingly
supernatural effects. This may be the explanation of the tradition of the speaking statue in the
temple of Ammon at Thebes.
WHEN THE FIRE ON THE ALTAR IS LIGHTED (Air heated in the altar F drives water from
the closed receptacle H through the tube KL into the bucket M, which descends through gravity,
thus opening the doors. When the altar cools, the air contracts, the water is sucked from the
bucket, and the weight and pulley close the doors.)}

{illustration caption = THE STEAM-ENGINE OF HERO (The steam generated in the receptacle
AB passes through the tube EF into the globe, and escapes through the bent tubes H and K,
causing the globe to rotate on the axis LG.)}

The utilization of the properties of compressed air was not confined, however, exclusively to
mere toys, or to produce miraculous effects. The same principle was applied to a practical fire-
engine, worked by levers and force-pumps; an apparatus, in short, altogether similar to that still
in use in rural districts. A slightly different application of the motive power of expanding air is
furnished in a very curious toy called "the dancing figures." In this, air heated in a retort like a
miniature altar is allowed to escape through the sides of two pairs of revolving arms precisely
like those of the ordinary revolving fountain with which we are accustomed to water our lawns,
the revolving arms being attached to a plane on which several pairs of statuettes representing
dancers are placed, An even more interesting application of this principle of setting a wheel in
motion is furnished in a mechanism which must be considered the earliest of steam-engines.
Here, as the name implies, the gas supplying the motive power is actually steam. The apparatus
made to revolve is a globe connected with the steam-retort by a tube which serves as one of its
axes, the steam escaping from the globe through two bent tubes placed at either end of an
equatorial diameter. It does not appear that Hero had any thought of making practical use of this
steam- engine. It was merely a curious toy--nothing more. Yet had not the age that succeeded
that of Hero been one in which inventive genius was dormant, some one must soon have hit upon
the idea that this steam- engine might be improved and made to serve a useful purpose. As the
case stands, however, there was no advance made upon the steam motor of Hero for almost two
thousand years. And, indeed, when the practical application of steam was made, towards the
close of the eighteenth century, it was made probably quite without reference to the experiment
of Hero, though knowledge of his toy may perhaps have given a clew to Watt or his
{illustration caption = THE SLOT-MACHINE OF HERO (The coin introduced at A falls on the
lever R, and by its weight opens the valve S, permitting the liquid to escape through the invisible
tube LM. As the lever tips, the coin slides off and the valve closes. The liquid in tank must of
course be kept above F.)}
In recent times there has been a tendency to give to this steam-engine of Hero something more
than full meed of appreciation. To be sure, it marked a most important principle in the
conception that steam might be used as a motive power, but, except in the demonstration of this
principle, the mechanism of Hero was much too primitive to be of any importance. But there is
one mechanism described by Hero which was a most explicit anticipation of a device, which
presumably soon went out of use, and which was not reinvented until towards the close of the
nineteenth century. This was a device which has become familiar in recent times as the penny-in-
the-slot machine. When towards the close of the nineteenth century some inventive craftsman hit
upon the idea of an automatic machine to supply candy, a box of cigarettes, or a whiff of
perfumery, he may or may not have borrowed his idea from the slot-machine of Hero; but in any
event, instead of being an innovator he was really two thousand years behind the times, for the
slot-machine of Hero is the precise prototype of these modern ones.
The particular function which the mechanism of Hero was destined to fulfil was the distribution
of a jet of water, presumably used for sacramental purposes, which was given out automatically
when a five- drachma coin was dropped into the slot at the top of the machine. The internal
mechanism of the machine was simple enough, consisting merely of a lever operating a valve
which was opened by the weight of the coin dropping on the little shelf at the end of the lever,
and which closed again when the coin slid off the shelf. The illustration will show how simple
this mechanism was. Yet to the worshippers, who probably had entered the temple through doors
miraculously opened, and who now witnessed this seemingly intelligent response of a machine,
the result must have seemed mystifying enough; and, indeed, for us also, when we consider how
relatively crude was the mechanical knowledge of the time, this must seem nothing less than
marvellous. As in imagination we walk up to the sacred tank, drop our drachma in the slot, and
hold our hand for the spurt of holy-water, can we realize that this is the land of the Pharaohs, not
England or America; that the kingdom of the Ptolemies is still at its height; that the republic of
Rome is mistress of the world; that all Europe north of the Alps is inhabited solely by barbarians;
that Cleopatra and Julius Caesar are yet unborn; that the Christian era has not yet begun? Truly,
it seems as if there could be no new thing under the sun.


We have seen that the third century B.C. was a time when Alexandrian science was at its height,
but that the second century produced also in Hipparchus at least one investigator of the very first
rank; though, to be sure, Hipparchus can be called an Alexandrian only by courtesy. In the
ensuing generations the Greek capital at the mouth of the Nile continued to hold its place as the
centre of scientific and philosophical thought. The kingdom of the Ptolemies still flourished with
at least the outward appearances of its old-time glory, and a company of grammarians and
commentators of no small merit could always be found in the service of the famous museum and
library; but the whole aspect of world-history was rapidly changing. Greece, after her brief day
of political supremacy, was sinking rapidly into desuetude, and the hard-headed Roman in the
West was making himself master everywhere. While Hipparchus of Rhodes was in his prime,
Corinth, the last stronghold of the main-land of Greece, had fallen before the prowess of the
Roman, and the kingdom of the Ptolemies, though still nominally free, had begun to come within
the sphere of Roman influence.
Just what share these political changes had in changing the aspect of Greek thought is a question
regarding which difference of opinion might easily prevail; but there can be no question that, for
one reason or another, the Alexandrian school as a creative centre went into a rapid decline at
about the time of the Roman rise to world-power. There are some distinguished names, but, as a
general rule, the spirit of the times is reminiscent rather than creative; the workers tend to collate
the researches of their predecessors rather than to make new and original researches for
themselves. Eratosthenes, the inventive world-measurer, was succeeded by Strabo, the
industrious collator of facts; Aristarchus and Hipparchus, the originators of new astronomical
methods, were succeeded by Ptolemy, the perfecter of their methods and the systematizer of their
knowledge. Meanwhile, in the West, Rome never became a true culture-centre. The great genius
of the Roman was political; the Augustan Age produced a few great historians and poets, but not
a single great philosopher or creative devotee of science. Cicero, Lucian, Seneca, Marcus
Aurelius, give us at best a reflection of Greek philosophy. Pliny, the one world-famous name in
the scientific annals of Rome, can lay claim to no higher credit than that of a marvellously
industrious collector of facts--the compiler of an encyclopaedia which contains not one creative

All in all, then, this epoch of Roman domination is one that need detain the historian of science
but a brief moment. With the culmination of Greek effort in the so-called Hellenistic period we
have seen ancient science at its climax. The Roman period is but a time of transition, marking, as
it were, a plateau on the slope between those earlier heights and the deep, dark valleys of the
Middle Ages. Yet we cannot quite disregard the efforts of such workers as those we have just
named. Let us take a more specific glance at their accomplishments.

The earliest of these workers in point of time is Strabo. This most famous of ancient geographers
was born in Amasia, Pontus, about 63 B.C., and lived to the year 24 A.D., living, therefore, in
the age of Caesar and Augustus, during which the final transformation in the political position of
the kingdom of Egypt was effected. The name of Strabo in a modified form has become
popularized through a curious circumstance. The geographer, it appears, was afflicted with a
peculiar squint of the eyes, hence the name strabismus, which the modern oculist applies to that
particular infirmity.

Fortunately, the great geographer has not been forced to depend upon hearsay evidence for
recognition. His comprehensive work on geography has been preserved in its entirety, being one
of the few expansive classical writings of which this is true. The other writings of Strabo,
however, including certain histories of which reports have come down to us, are entirely lost.
The geography is in many ways a remarkable book. It is not, however, a work in which any
important new principles are involved. Rather is it typical of its age in that it is an elaborate
compilation and a critical review of the labors of Strabo's predecessors. Doubtless it contains a
vast deal of new information as to the details of geography--precise areas and distance, questions
of geographical locations as to latitude and zones, and the like. But however important these
details may have been from a contemporary stand-point, they, of course, can have nothing more
than historical interest to posterity. The value of the work from our present stand-point is chiefly
due to the criticisms which Strabo passes upon his forerunners, and to the incidental historical
and scientific references with which his work abounds. Being written in this closing period of
ancient progress, and summarizing, as it does, in full detail the geographical knowledge of the
time, it serves as an important guide-mark for the student of the progress of scientific thought.
We cannot do better than briefly to follow Strabo in his estimates and criticisms of the work of
his predecessors, taking note thus of the point of view from which he himself looked out upon
the world. We shall thus gain a clear idea as to the state of scientific geography towards the close
of the classical epoch.

"If the scientific investigation of any subject be the proper avocation of the philosopher," says
Strabo, "geography, the science of which we propose to treat, is certainly entitled to a high place;
and this is evident from many considerations. They who first undertook to handle the matter
were distinguished men. Homer, Anaximander the Milesian, and Hecaeus (his fellow-citizen
according to Eratosthenes), Democritus, Eudoxus, Dicaearchus, and Ephorus, with many others,
and after these, Eratosthenes, Polybius, and Posidonius, all of them philosophers. Nor is the great
learning through which alone this subject can be approached possessed by any but a person
acquainted with both human and divine things, and these attainments constitute what is called
philosophy. In addition to its vast importance in regard to social life and the art of government,
geography unfolds to us a celestial phenomena, acquaints us with the occupants of the land and
ocean, and the vegetation, fruits, and peculiarities of the various quarters of the earth, a
knowledge of which marks him who cultivates it as a man earnest in the great problem of life
and happiness."
Strabo goes on to say that in common with other critics, including Hipparchus, he regards Homer
as the first great geographer. He has much to say on the geographical knowledge of the bard, but
this need not detain us. We are chiefly concerned with his comment upon his more recent
predecessors, beginning with Eratosthenes. The constant reference to this worker shows the
important position which he held. Strabo appears neither as detractor nor as partisan, but as one
who earnestly desires the truth. Sometimes he seems captious in his criticisms regarding some
detail, nor is he always correct in his emendations of the labors of others; but, on the whole, his
work is marked by an evident attempt at fairness. In reading his book, however, one is forced to
the conclusion that Strabo is an investigator of details, not an original thinker. He seems more
concerned with precise measurements than with questionings as to the open problems of his
science. Whatever he accepts, then, may be taken as virtually the stock doctrine of the period.

"As the size of the earth," he says, "has been demonstrated by other writers, we shall here take
for granted and receive as accurate what they have advanced. We shall also assume that the earth
is spheroidal, that its surface is likewise spheroidal and, above all, that bodies have a tendency
towards its centre, which latter point is clear to the perception of the most average understanding.
However, we may show summarily that the earth is spheroidal, from the consideration that all
things, however distant, tend to its centre, and that every body is attracted towards its centre by
gravity. This is more distinctly proved from observations of the sea and sky, for here the
evidence of the senses and common observation is alone requisite. The convexity of the sea is a
further proof of this to those who have sailed, for they cannot perceive lights at a distance when
placed at the same level as their eyes, and if raised on high they at once become perceptible to
vision though at the same time farther removed. So when the eye is raised it sees what before
was utterly imperceptible. Homer speaks of this when he says:
" 'Lifted up on the vast wave he quickly beheld afar.'

Sailors as they approach their destination behold the shore continually raising itself to their view,
and objects which had at first seemed low begin to lift themselves. Our gnomons, also, are,
among other things, evidence of the revolution of the heavenly bodies, and common-sense at
once shows us that if the depth of the earth were infinite such a revolution could not take

Elsewhere Strabo criticises Eratosthenes for having entered into a long discussion as to the form
of the earth. This matter, Strabo thinks, "should have been disposed of in the compass of a few
words." Obviously this doctrine of the globe's sphericity had, in the course of 600 years, become
so firmly established among the Greek thinkers as to seem almost axiomatic. We shall see later
on how the Western world made a curious recession from this seemingly secure position under
stimulus of an Oriental misconception. As to the size of the globe, Strabo is disposed to accept
without particular comment the measurements of Eratosthenes. He speaks, however, of "more
recent measurements," referring in particular to that adopted by Posidonius, according to which
the circumference is only about one hundred and eighty thousand stadia. Posidonius, we may
note in passing, was a contemporary and friend of Cicero, and hence lived shortly before the time
of Strabo. His measurement of the earth was based on observations of a star which barely rose
above the southern horizon at Rhodes as compared with the height of the same star when
observed at Alexandria. This measurement of Posidonius, together with the even more famous
measurement of Eratosthenes, appears to have been practically the sole guide as to the size of the
earth throughout the later periods of antiquity, and, indeed, until the later Middle Ages.
As becomes a writer who is primarily geographer and historian rather than astronomer, Strabo
shows a much keener interest in the habitable portions of the globe than in the globe as a whole.
He assures us that this habitable portion of the earth is a great island, "since wherever men have
approached the termination of the land, the sea, which we designate ocean, has been met with,
and reason assures us of the similarity of this place which our senses have not been tempted to
survey." He points out that whereas sailors have not circumnavigated the globe, that they had not
been prevented from doing so by any continent, and it seems to him altogether unlikely that the
Atlantic Ocean is divided into two seas by narrow isthmuses so placed as to prevent
circumnavigation. "How much more probable that it is confluent and uninterrupted. This theory,"
he adds, "goes better with the ebb and flow of the ocean. Moreover (and here his reasoning
becomes more fanciful), the greater the amount of moisture surrounding the earth, the easier
would the heavenly bodies be supplied with vapor from thence." Yet he is disposed to believe,
following Plato, that the tradition "concerning the island of Atlantos might be received as
something more than idle fiction, it having been related by Solon, on the authority of the
Egyptian priests, that this island, almost as large as a continent, was formerly in existence
although now it had disappeared."[2]
In a word, then, Strabo entertains no doubt whatever that it would be possible to sail around the
globe from Spain to India. Indeed, so matter-of-fact an inference was this that the feat of
Columbus would have seemed less surprising in the first century of our era than it did when
actually performed in the fifteenth century. The terrors of the great ocean held the mariner back,
rather than any doubt as to where he would arrive at the end of the voyage.

Coupled with the idea that the habitable portion of the earth is an island, there was linked a
tolerably definite notion as to the shape of this island. This shape Strabo likens to a military
cloak. The comparison does not seem peculiarly apt when we are told presently that the length of
the habitable earth is more than twice its breadth. This idea, Strabo assures us, accords with the
most accurate observations "both ancient and modern." These observations seemed to show that
it is not possible to live in the region close to the equator, and that, on the other hand, the cold
temperature sharply limits the habitability of the globe towards the north. All the civilization of
antiquity clustered about the Mediterranean, or extended off towards the east at about the same
latitude. Hence geographers came to think of the habitable globe as having the somewhat
lenticular shape which a crude map of these regions suggests. We have already had occasion to
see that at an earlier day Anaxagoras was perhaps influenced in his conception of the shape of
the earth by this idea, and the constant references of Strabo impress upon us the thought that this
long, relatively narrow area of the earth's surface is the only one which can be conceived of as

Strabo had much to tell us concerning zones, which, following Posidonius, he believes to have
been first described by Parmenides. We may note, however, that other traditions assert that both
Thales and Pythagoras had divided the earth into zones. The number of zones accepted by Strabo
is five, and he criticises Polybius for making the number six. The five zones accepted by Strabo
are as follows: the uninhabitable torrid zone lying in the region of the equator; a zone on either
side of this extending to the tropic; and then the temperate zones extending in either direction
from the tropic to the arctic regions. There seems to have been a good deal of dispute among the
scholars of the time as to the exact arrangement of these zones, but the general idea that the
north-temperate zone is the part of the earth with which the geographer deals seemed clearly
established. That the south-temperate zone would also present a habitable area is an idea that is
sometimes suggested, though seldom or never distinctly expressed. It is probable that different
opinions were held as to this, and no direct evidence being available, a cautiously scientific
geographer like Strabo would naturally avoid the expression of an opinion regarding it. Indeed,
his own words leave us somewhat in doubt as to the precise character of his notion regarding the
zones. Perhaps we shall do best to quote them:
"Let the earth be supposed to consist of five zones. (1) The equatorial circle described around it.
(2) Another parallel to this, and defining the frigid zone of the northern hemisphere. (3) A circle
passing through the poles and cutting the two preceding circles at right- angles. The northern
hemisphere contains two quarters of the earth, which are bounded by the equator and circle
passing through the poles. Each of these quarters should be supposed to contain a four-sided
district, its northern side being of one-half of the parallel next the pole, its southern by the half of
the equator, and its remaining sides by two segments of the circle drawn through the poles,
opposite to each other, and equal in length. In one of these (which of them is of no consequence)
the earth which we inhabit is situated, surrounded by a sea and similar to an island. This, as we
said before, is evident both to our senses and to our reason. But let any one doubt this, it makes
no difference so far as geography is concerned whether you believe the portion of the earth
which we inhabit to be an island or only admit what we know from experience --namely, that
whether you start from the east or the west you may sail all around it. Certain intermediate
spaces may have been left (unexplored), but these are as likely to be occupied by sea as
uninhabited land. The object of the geographer is to describe known countries. Those which are
unknown he passes over equally with those beyond the limits of the inhabited earth. It will,
therefore, be sufficient for describing the contour of the island we have been speaking of, if we
join by a right line the outmost points which, up to this time, have been explored by voyagers
along the coast on either side."[3]
We may pass over the specific criticisms of Strabo upon various explorations that seem to have
been of great interest to his contemporaries, including an alleged trip of one Eudoxus out into the
Atlantic, and the journeyings of Pytheas in the far north. It is Pytheas, we may add, who was
cited by Hipparchus as having made the mistaken observation that the length of the shadow of
the gnomon is the same at Marseilles and Byzantium, hence that these two places are on the
same parallel. Modern commentators have defended Pytheas as regards this observation,
claiming that it was Hipparchus and not Pytheas who made the second observation from which
the faulty induction was drawn. The point is of no great significance, however, except as
showing that a correct method of determining the problems of latitude had thus early been
suggested. That faulty observations and faulty application of the correct principle should have
been made is not surprising. Neither need we concern ourselves with the details as to the
geographical distances, which Strabo found so worthy of criticism and controversy. But in
leaving the great geographer we may emphasize his point of view and that of his contemporaries
by quoting three fundamental principles which he reiterates as being among the "facts
established by natural philosophers." He tells us that "(1) The earth and heavens are spheroidal.
(2) The tendency of all bodies having weight is towards a centre. (3) Further, the earth being
spheroidal and having the same centre as the heavens, is motionless, as well as the axis that
passes through both it and the heavens. The heavens turn round both the earth and its axis, from
east to west. The fixed stars turn round with it at the same rate as the whole. These fixed stars
follow in their course parallel circles, the principal of which are the equator, two tropics, and the
arctic circles; while the planets, the sun, and the moon describe certain circles comprehended
within the zodiac."[4]

Here, then, is a curious mingling of truth and error. The Pythagorean doctrine that the earth is
round had become a commonplace, but it would appear that the theory of Aristarchus, according
to which the earth is in motion, has been almost absolutely forgotten. Strabo does not so much as
refer to it; neither, as we shall see, is it treated with greater respect by the other writers of the
While Strabo was pursuing his geographical studies at Alexandria, a young man came to Rome
who was destined to make his name more widely known in scientific annals than that of any
other Latin writer of antiquity. This man was Plinius Secundus, who, to distinguish him from his
nephew, a famous writer in another field, is usually spoken of as Pliny the Elder. There is a
famous story to the effect that the great Roman historian Livy on one occasion addressed a
casual associate in the amphitheatre at Rome, and on learning that the stranger hailed from the
outlying Spanish province of the empire, remarked to him, "Yet you have doubtless heard of my
writings even there." "Then," replied the stranger, "you must be either Livy or Pliny."
The anecdote illustrates the wide fame which the Roman naturalist achieved in his own day. And
the records of the Middle Ages show that this popularity did not abate in succeeding times.
Indeed, the Natural History of Pliny is one of the comparatively few bulky writings of antiquity
that the efforts of copyists have preserved to us almost entire. It is, indeed, a remarkable work
and eminently typical of its time; but its author was an industrious compiler, not a creative
genius. As a monument of industry it has seldom been equalled, and in this regard it seems the
more remarkable inasmuch as Pliny was a practical man of affairs who occupied most of his life
as a soldier fighting the battles of the empire. He compiled his book in the leisure hours stolen
from sleep, often writing by the light of the camp-fire. Yet he cites or quotes from about four
thousand works, most of which are known to us only by his references. Doubtless Pliny added
much through his own observations. We know how keen was his desire to investigate, since he
lost his life through attempting to approach the crater of Vesuvius on the occasion of that
memorable eruption which buried the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Doubtless the wandering life of the soldier had given Pliny abundant opportunity for personal
observation in his favorite fields of botany and zoology. But the records of his own observations
are so intermingled with knowledge drawn from books that it is difficult to distinguish the one
from the other. Nor does this greatly matter, for whether as closet-student or field-naturalist,
Pliny's trait of mind is essentially that of the compiler. He was no philosophical thinker, no
generalizer, no path-maker in science. He lived at the close of a great progressive epoch of
thought; in one of those static periods when numberless observers piled up an immense mass of
details which might advantageously be sorted into a kind of encyclopaedia. Such an
encyclopaedia is the so-called Natural History of Pliny. It is a vast jumble of more or less
uncritical statements regarding almost every field of contemporary knowledge. The descriptions
of animals and plants predominate, but the work as a whole would have been immensely
improved had the compiler shown a more critical spirit. As it is, he seems rather disposed to
quote any interesting citation that he comes across in his omnivorous readings, shielding himself
behind an equivocal "it is said," or "so and so alleges." A single illustration will suffice to show
what manner of thing is thought worthy of repetition.
"It is asserted," he says, "that if the fish called a sea-star is smeared with the fox's blood and then
nailed to the upper lintel of the door, or to the door itself, with a copper nail, no noxious spell
will be able to obtain admittance, or, at all events, be productive of any ill effects."

It is easily comprehensible that a work fortified with such practical details as this should have
gained wide popularity. Doubtless the natural histories of our own day would find readier sale
were they to pander to various superstitions not altogether different from that here suggested.
The man, for example, who believes that to have a black cat cross his path is a lucky omen
would naturally find himself attracted by a book which took account of this and similar
important details of natural history. Perhaps, therefore, it was its inclusion of absurdities, quite as
much as its legitimate value, that gave vogue to the celebrated work of Pliny. But be that as it
may, the most famous scientist of Rome must be remembered as a popular writer rather than as
an experimental worker. In the history of the promulgation of scientific knowledge his work is
important; in the history of scientific principles it may virtually be disregarded.
Almost the same thing may be said of Ptolemy, an even more celebrated writer, who was born
not very long after the death of Pliny. The exact dates of Ptolemy's life are not known, but his
recorded observations extend to the year 151 A.D. He was a working astronomer, and he made at
least one original discovery of some significance--namely, the observation of a hitherto
unrecorded irregularity of the moon's motion, which came to be spoken of as the moon's
evection. This consists of periodical aberrations from the moon's regular motion in its orbit,
which, as we now know, are due to the gravitation pull of the sun, but which remained
unexplained until the time of Newton. Ptolemy also made original observations as to the motions
of the planets. He is, therefore, entitled to a respectable place as an observing astronomer; but his
chief fame rests on his writings.
His great works have to do with geography and astronomy. In the former field he makes an
advance upon Strabo, citing the latitude of no fewer than five thousand places. In the field of
astronomy, his great service was to have made known to the world the labors of Hipparchus.
Ptolemy has been accused of taking the star-chart of his great predecessor without due credit, and
indeed it seems difficult to clear him of this charge. Yet it is at least open to doubt whether be
intended any impropriety, inasmuch as be all along is sedulous in his references to his
predecessor. Indeed, his work might almost be called an exposition of the astronomical doctrines
of Hipparchus. No one pretends that Ptolemy is to be compared with the Rhodesian observer as
an original investigator, but as a popular expounder his superiority is evidenced in the fact that
the writings of Ptolemy became practically the sole astronomical text-book of the Middle Ages
both in the East and in the West, while the writings of Hipparchus were allowed to perish.
The most noted of all the writings of Ptolemy is the work which became famous under the
Arabic name of Almagest. This word is curiously derived from the Greek title <gr h megisth
suntazis>, "the greatest construction," a name given the book to distinguish it from a work on
astrology in four books by the same author. For convenience of reference it came to be spoken of
merely as <gr h megisth>, from which the Arabs form the title Tabair al Magisthi, under which
title the book was published in the year 827. From this it derived the word Almagest, by which
Ptolemy's work continued to be known among the Arabs, and subsequently among Europeans
when the book again became known in the West. Ptolemy's book, as has been said, is virtually an
elaboration of the doctrines of Hipparchus. It assumes that the earth is the fixed centre of the
solar system, and that the stars and planets revolve about it in twenty-four hours, the earth being,
of course, spherical. It was not to be expected that Ptolemy should have adopted the heliocentric
idea of Aristarchus. Yet it is much to be regretted that he failed to do so, since the deference
which was accorded his authority throughout the Middle Ages would doubtless have been
extended in some measure at least to this theory as well, had he championed it. Contrariwise, his
unqualified acceptance of the geocentric doctrine sufficed to place that doctrine beyond the range
of challenge.

The Almagest treats of all manner of astronomical problems, but the feature of it which gained it
widest celebrity was perhaps that which has to do with eccentrics and epicycles. This theory was,
of course, but an elaboration of the ideas of Hipparchus; but, owing to the celebrity of the
expositor, it has come to be spoken of as the theory of Ptolemy. We have sufficiently detailed the
theory in speaking of Hipparchus. It should be explained, however, that, with both Hipparchus
and Ptolemy, the theory of epicycles would appear to have been held rather as a working
hypothesis than as a certainty, so far as the actuality of the minor spheres or epicycles is
concerned. That is to say, these astronomers probably did not conceive either the epicycles or the
greater spheres as constituting actual solid substances. Subsequent generations, however, put this
interpretation upon the theory, conceiving the various spheres as actual crystalline bodies. It is
difficult to imagine just how the various epicycles were supposed to revolve without interfering
with the major spheres, but perhaps this is no greater difficulty than is presented by the alleged
properties of the ether, which physicists of to-day accept as at least a working hypothesis. We
shall see later on how firmly the conception of concentric crystalline spheres was held to, and
that no real challenge was ever given that theory until the discovery was made that comets have
an orbit that must necessarily intersect the spheres of the various planets.

Ptolemy's system of geography in eight books, founded on that of Marinus of Tyre, was scarcely
less celebrated throughout the Middle Ages than the Almagest. It contained little, however, that
need concern us here, being rather an elaboration of the doctrines to which we have already
sufficiently referred. None of Ptolemy's original manuscripts has come down to us, but there is
an alleged fifth-century manuscript attributed to Agathadamon of Alexandria which has peculiar
interest because it contains a series of twenty-seven elaborately colored maps that are supposed
to be derived from maps drawn up by Ptolemy himself. In these maps the sea is colored green,
the mountains red or dark yellow, and the land white. Ptolemy assumed that a degree at the
equator was 500 stadia instead of 604 stadia in length. We are not informed as to the grounds on
which this assumption was made, but it has been suggested that the error was at least partially
instrumental in leading to one very curious result. "Taking the parallel of Rhodes," says
Donaldson,[5] "he calculated the longitudes from the Fortunate Islands to Cattigara or the west
coast of Borneo at 180 degrees, conceiving this to be one-half the circumference of the globe.
The real distance is only 125 degrees or 127 degrees, so that his measurement is wrong by one
third of the whole, one-sixth for the error in the measurement of a degree and one-sixth for the
errors in measuring the distance geometrically. These errors, owing to the authority attributed to
the geography of Ptolemy in the Middle Ages, produced a consequence of the greatest
importance. They really led to the discovery of America. For the design of Columbus to sail from
the west of Europe to the east of Asia was founded on the supposition that the distance was less
by one third than it really was." This view is perhaps a trifle fanciful, since there is nothing to
suggest that the courage of Columbus would have balked at the greater distance, and since the
protests of the sailors, which nearly thwarted his efforts, were made long before the distance as
estimated by Ptolemy had been covered; nevertheless it is interesting to recall that the great
geographical doctrines, upon which Columbus must chiefly have based his arguments, had been
before the world in an authoritative form practically unheeded for more than twelve hundred
years, awaiting a champion with courage enough to put them to the test.
There is one other field of scientific investigation to which we must give brief attention before
leaving the antique world. This is the field of physiology and medicine. In considering it we shall
have to do with the very last great scientist of the Alexandrian school. This was Claudius
Galenus, commonly known as Galen, a man whose fame was destined to eclipse that of all other
physicians of antiquity except Hippocrates, and whose doctrines were to have the same force in
their field throughout the Middle Ages that the doctrines of Aristotle had for physical science.
But before we take up Galen's specific labors, it will be well to inquire briefly as to the state of
medical art and science in the Roman world at the time when the last great physician of antiquity
came upon the scene.
The Romans, it would appear, had done little in the way of scientific discoveries in the field of
medicine, but, nevertheless, with their practicality of mind, they had turned to better account
many more of the scientific discoveries of the Greeks than did the discoverers themselves. The
practising physicians in early Rome were mostly men of Greek origin, who came to the capital
after the overthrow of the Greeks by the Romans. Many of them were slaves, as earning money
by either bodily or mental labor was considered beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen. The
wealthy Romans, who owned large estates and numerous slaves, were in the habit of purchasing
some of these slave doctors, and thus saving medical fees by having them attend to the health of
their families.
By the beginning of the Christian era medicine as a profession had sadly degenerated, and in
place of a class of physicians who practised medicine along rational or legitimate lines, in the
footsteps of the great Hippocrates, there appeared great numbers of "specialists," most of them
charlatans, who pretended to possess supernatural insight in the methods of treating certain forms
of disease. These physicians rightly earned the contempt of the better class of Romans, and were
made the object of many attacks by the satirists of the time. Such specialists travelled about from
place to place in much the same manner as the itinerant "Indian doctors" and "lightning tooth-
extractors" do to-day. Eye-doctors seem to have been particularly numerous, and these were
divided into two classes, eye-surgeons and eye-doctors proper. The eye-surgeon performed such
operations as cauterizing for ingrowing eyelashes and operating upon growths about the eyes;
while the eye-doctors depended entirely upon salves and lotions. These eye-salves were
frequently stamped with the seal of the physician who compounded them, something like two
hundred of these seals being still in existence. There were besides these quacks, however,
reputable eye-doctors who must have possessed considerable skill in the treatment of certain
ophthalmias. Among some Roman surgical instruments discovered at Rheims were found also
some drugs employed by ophthalmic surgeons, and an analysis of these show that they
contained, among other ingredients, some that are still employed in the treatment of certain
affections of the eye.
One of the first steps taken in recognition of the services of physicians was by Julius Caesar, who
granted citizenship to all physicians practising in Rome. This was about fifty years before the
Christian era, and from that time on there was a gradual improvement in the attitude of the
Romans towards the members of the medical profession. As the Romans degenerated from a race
of sturdy warriors and became more and more depraved physically, the necessity for physicians
made itself more evident. Court physicians, and physicians-in-ordinary, were created by the
emperors, as were also city and district physicians. In the year 133 A.D. Hadrian granted
immunity from taxes and military service to physicians in recognition of their public services.
The city and district physicians, known as the archiatri populaires, treated and cared for the poor
without remuneration, having a position and salary fixed by law and paid them semi-annually.
These were honorable positions, and the archiatri were obliged to give instruction in medicine,
without pay, to the poor students. They were allowed to receive fees and donations from their
patients, but not, however, until the danger from the malady was past. Special laws were enacted
to protect them, and any person subjecting them to an insult was liable to a fine "not exceeding
one thousand pounds."
An example of Roman practicality is shown in the method of treating hemorrhage, as described
by Aulus Cornelius Celsus (53 B.C. to 7 A.D.). Hippocrates and Hippocratic writers treated
hemorrhage by application of cold, pressure, styptics, and sometimes by actual cauterizing; but
they knew nothing of the simple method of stopping a hemorrhage by a ligature tied around the
bleeding vessel. Celsus not only recommended tying the end of the injured vessel, but describes
the method of applying two ligatures before the artery is divided by the surgeon--a common
practice among surgeons at the present time. The cut is made between these two, and thus
hemorrhage is avoided from either end of the divided vessel.
Another Roman surgeon, Heliodorus, not only describes the use of the ligature in stopping
hemorrhage, but also the practice of torsion--twisting smaller vessels, which causes their lining
membrane to contract in a manner that produces coagulation and stops hemorrhage. It is
remarkable that so simple and practical a method as the use of the ligature in stopping
hemorrhage could have gone out of use, once it had been discovered; but during the Middle Ages
it was almost entirely lost sight of, and was not reintroduced until the time of Ambroise Pare, in
the sixteenth century.
Even at a very early period the Romans recognized the advantage of surgical methods on the
field of battle. Each soldier was supplied with bandages, and was probably instructed in applying
them, something in the same manner as is done now in all modern armies. The Romans also
made use of military hospitals and had established a rude but very practical field-ambulance
service. "In every troop or bandon of two or four hundred men, eight or ten stout fellows were
deputed to ride immediately behind the fighting-line to pick up and rescue the wounded, for
which purpose their saddles had two stirrups on the left side, while they themselves were
provided with water-flasks, and perhaps applied temporary bandages. They were encouraged by
a reward of a piece of gold for each man they rescued. 'Noscomi' were male nurses attached to
the military hospitals, but not inscribed 'on strength' of the legions, and were probably for the
most part of the servile class."[6]
From the time of the early Alexandrians, Herophilus and Erasistratus, whose work we have
already examined, there had been various anatomists of some importance in the Alexandrian
school, though none quite equal to these earlier workers. The best-known names are those of
Celsus (of whom we have already spoken), who continued the work of anatomical investigation,
and Marinus, who lived during the reign of Nero, and Rufus of Ephesus. Probably all of these
would have been better remembered by succeeding generations had their efforts not been
eclipsed by those of Galen. This greatest of ancient anatomists was born at Pergamus of Greek
parents. His father, Nicon, was an architect and a man of considerable ability. Until his fifteenth
year the youthful Galen was instructed at home, chiefly by his father; but after that time he was
placed under suitable teachers for instruction in the philosophical systems in vogue at that
period. Shortly after this, however, the superstitious Nicon, following the interpretations of a
dream, decided that his son should take up the study of medicine, and placed him under the
instruction of several learned physicians.

Galen was a tireless worker, making long tours into Asia Minor and Palestine to improve himself
in pharmacology, and studying anatomy for some time at Alexandria. He appears to have been
full of the superstitions of the age, however, and early in his career made an extended tour into
western Asia in search of the chimerical "jet-stone"--a stone possessing the peculiar qualities of
"burning with a bituminous odor and supposed to possess great potency in curing such diseases
as epilepsy, hysteria, and gout."

By the time he had reached his twenty-eighth year he had perfected his education in medicine
and returned to his home in Pergamus. Even at that time he had acquired considerable fame as a
surgeon, and his fellow-citizens showed their confidence in his ability by choosing him as
surgeon to the wounded gladiators shortly after his return to his native city. In these duties his
knowledge of anatomy aided him greatly, and he is said to have healed certain kinds of wounds
that had previously baffled the surgeons.
In the time of Galen dissections of the human body were forbidden by law, and he was obliged to
confine himself to dissections of the lower animals. He had the advantage, however, of the
anatomical works of Herophilus and Erasistratus, and he must have depended upon them in
perfecting his comparison between the anatomy of men and the lower animals. It is possible that
he did make human dissections surreptitiously, but of this we have no proof.

He was familiar with the complicated structure of the bones of the cranium. He described the
vertebrae clearly, divided them into groups, and named them after the manner of anatomists of
to-day. He was less accurate in his description of the muscles, although a large number of these
were described by him. Like all anatomists before the time of Harvey, he had a very erroneous
conception of the circulation, although he understood that the heart was an organ for the
propulsion of blood, and he showed that the arteries of the living animals did not contain air
alone, as was taught by many anatomists. He knew, also, that the heart was made up of layers of
fibres that ran in certain fixed directions--that is, longitudinal, transverse, and oblique; but he did
not recognize the heart as a muscular organ. In proof of this he pointed out that all muscles
require rest, and as the heart did not rest it could not be composed of muscular tissue.

Many of his physiological experiments were conducted upon scientific principles. Thus he
proved that certain muscles were under the control of definite sets of nerves by cutting these
nerves in living animals, and observing that the muscles supplied by them were rendered useless.
He pointed out also that nerves have no power in themselves, but merely conduct impulses to
and from the brain and spinal-cord. He turned this peculiar knowledge to account in the case of a
celebrated sophist, Pausanias, who had been under the treatment of various physicians for a
numbness in the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand. These physicians had been treating this
condition by applications of poultices to the hand itself. Galen, being called in consultation,
pointed out that the injury was probably not in the hand itself, but in the ulner nerve, which
controls sensation in the fourth and fifth fingers. Surmising that the nerve must have been injured
in some way, he made careful inquiries of the patient, who recalled that he had been thrown from
his chariot some time before, striking and injuring his back. Acting upon this information, Galen
applied stimulating remedies to the source of the nerve itself--that is, to the bundle of nerve-
trunks known as the brachial plexus, in the shoulder. To the surprise and confusion of his fellow-
physicians, this method of treatment proved effective and the patient recovered completely in a
short time.

Although the functions of the organs in the chest were not well understood by Galen, he was well
acquainted with their anatomy. He knew that the lungs were covered by thin membrane, and that
the heart was surrounded by a sac of very similar tissue. He made constant comparisons also
between these organs in different animals, as his dissections were performed upon beasts ranging
in size from a mouse to an elephant. The minuteness of his observations is shown by the fact that
he had noted and described the ring of bone found in the hearts of certain animals, such as the
horse, although not found in the human heart or in most animals.
His description of the abdominal organs was in general accurate. He had noted that the
abdominal cavity was lined with a peculiar saclike membrane, the peritoneum, which also
surrounded most of the organs contained in the cavity, and he made special note that this
membrane also enveloped the liver in a peculiar manner. The exactness of the last observation
seems the more wonderful when we reflect that even to-day the medical, student finds a correct
understanding of the position of the folds of the peritoneum one of the most difficult subjects in
As a practical physician he was held in the highest esteem by the Romans. The Emperor Marcus
Aurelius called him to Rome and appointed him physician-inordinary to his son Commodus, and
on special occasions Marcus Aurelius himself called in Galen as his medical adviser. On one
occasion, the three army surgeons in attendance upon the emperor declared that he was about to
be attacked by a fever. Galen relates how "on special command I felt his pulse, and finding it
quite normal, considering his age and the time of day, I declared it was no fever but a digestive
disorder, due to the food he had eaten, which must be converted into phlegm before being
excreted. Then the emperor repeated three times, 'That's the very thing,' and asked what was to
be done. I answered that I usually gave a glass of wine with pepper sprinkled on it, but for you
kings we only use the safest remedies, and it will suffice to apply wool soaked in hot nard
ointment locally. The emperor ordered the wool, wine, etc., to be brought, and I left the room.
His feet were warmed by rubbing with hot hands, and after drinking the peppered wine, he said
to Pitholaus (his son's tutor), 'We have only one doctor, and that an honest one,' and went on to
describe me as the first of physicians and the only philosopher, for he had tried many before who
were not only lovers of money, but also contentious, ambitious, envious, and malignant."[7]

It will be seen from this that Galen had a full appreciation of his own abilities as a physician, but
inasmuch as succeeding generations for a thousand years concurred in the alleged statement
made by Marcus Aurelius as to his ability, he is perhaps excusable for his open avowal of his
belief in his powers. His faith in his accuracy in diagnosis and prognosis was shown when a
colleague once said to him, "I have used the prognostics of Hippocrates as well as you. Why can
I not prognosticate as well as you?" To this Galen replied, "By God's help I have never been
deceived in my prognosis."[8] It is probable that this statement was made in the heat of
argument, and it is hardly to be supposed that he meant it literally.
His systems of treatment were far in advance of his theories regarding the functions of organs,
causes of disease, etc., and some of them are still first principles with physicians. Like
Hippocrates, he laid great stress on correct diet, exercise, and reliance upon nature. "Nature is the
overseer by whom health is supplied to the sick," he says. "Nature lends her aid on all sides, she
decides and cures diseases. No one can be saved unless nature conquers the disease, and no one
dies unless nature succumbs."

From the picture thus drawn of Galen as an anatomist and physician, one might infer that he
should rank very high as a scientific exponent of medicine, even in comparison with modern
physicians. There is, however, another side to the picture. His knowledge of anatomy was
certainly very considerable, but many of his deductions and theories as to the functions of
organs, the cause of diseases, and his methods of treating them, would be recognized as absurd
by a modern school-boy of average intelligence. His greatness must be judged in comparison
with ancient, not with modern, scientists. He maintained, for example, that respiration and the
pulse-beat were for one and the same purpose--that of the reception of air into the arteries of the
body. To him the act of breathing was for the purpose of admitting air into the lungs, whence it
found its way into the heart, and from there was distributed throughout the body by means of the
arteries. The skin also played an important part in supplying the body with air, the pores
absorbing the air and distributing it through the arteries. But, as we know that he was aware of
the fact that the arteries also contained blood, he must have believed that these vessels contained
a mixture of the two.
Modern anatomists know that the heart is divided into two approximately equal parts by an
impermeable septum of tough fibres. Yet, Galen, who dissected the hearts of a vast number of
the lower animals according to his own account, maintained that this septum was permeable, and
that the air, entering one side of the heart from the lungs, passed through it into the opposite side
and was then transferred to the arteries.
He was equally at fault, although perhaps more excusably so, in his explanation of the action of
the nerves. He had rightly pointed out that nerves were merely connections between the brain
and spinal-cord and distant muscles and organs, and had recognized that there were two kinds of
nerves, but his explanation of the action of these nerves was that "nervous spirits" were carried to
the cavities of the brain by blood-vessels, and from there transmitted through the body along the
In the human skull, overlying the nasal cavity, there are two thin plates of bone perforated with
numerous small apertures. These apertures allow the passage of numerous nerve-filaments which
extend from a group of cells in the brain to the delicate membranes in the nasal cavity. These
perforations in the bone, therefore, are simply to allow the passage of the nerves. But Galen gave
a very different explanation. He believed that impure "animal spirits" were carried to the cavities
of the brain by the arteries in the neck and from there were sifted out through these perforated
bones, and so expelled from the body.
He had observed that the skin played an important part in cooling the body, but he seems to have
believed that the heart was equally active in overheating it. The skin, therefore, absorbed air for
the purpose of "cooling the heart," and this cooling process was aided by the brain, whose
secretions aided also in the cooling process. The heart itself was the seat of courage; the brain the
seat of the rational soul; and the liver the seat of love.
The greatness of Galen's teachings lay in his knowledge of anatomy of the organs; his weakness
was in his interpretations of their functions. Unfortunately, succeeding generations of physicians
for something like a thousand years rejected the former but clung to the latter, so that the
advances he had made were completely overshadowed by the mistakes of his teachings.


It is a favorite tenet of the modern historian that history is a continuous stream. The contention
has fullest warrant. Sharp lines of demarcation are an evidence of man's analytical propensity
rather than the work of nature. Nevertheless it would be absurd to deny that the stream of history
presents an ever-varying current. There are times when it seems to rush rapidly on; times when it
spreads out into a broad--seemingly static--current; times when its catastrophic changes remind
us of nothing but a gigantic cataract. Rapids and whirlpools, broad estuaries and tumultuous
cataracts are indeed part of the same stream, but they are parts that vary one from another in their
salient features in such a way as to force the mind to classify them as things apart and give them
individual names.

So it is with the stream of history; however strongly we insist on its continuity we are none the
less forced to recognize its periodicity. It may not be desirable to fix on specific dates as turning-
points to the extent that our predecessors were wont to do. We may not, for example, be disposed
to admit that the Roman Empire came to any such cataclysmic finish as the year 476 A.D., when
cited in connection with the overthrow of the last Roman Empire of the West, might seem to
indicate. But, on the other hand, no student of the period can fail to realize that a great change
came over the aspect of the historical stream towards the close of the Roman epoch.

The span from Thales to Galen has compassed about eight hundred years--let us say thirty
generations. Throughout this period there is scarcely a generation that has not produced great
scientific thinkers--men who have put their mark upon the progress of civilization; but we shall
see, as we look forward for a corresponding period, that the ensuing thirty generations produced
scarcely a single scientific thinker of the first rank. Eight hundred years of intellectual activity --
thirty generations of greatness; then eight hundred years of stasis--thirty generations of
mediocrity; such seems to be the record as viewed in perspective. Doubtless it seemed far
different to the contemporary observer; it is only in reasonable perspective that any scene can be
viewed fairly. But for us, looking back without prejudice across the stage of years, it seems
indisputable that a great epoch came to a close at about the time when the barbarian nations of
Europe began to sweep down into Greece and Italy. We are forced to feel that we have reached
the limits of progress of what historians are pleased to call the ancient world. For about eight
hundred years Greek thought has been dominant, but in the ensuing period it is to play a quite
subordinate part, except in so far as it influences the thought of an alien race. As we leave this
classical epoch, then, we may well recapitulate in brief its triumphs. A few words will suffice to
summarize a story the details of which have made up our recent chapters.

In the field of cosmology, Greek genius has demonstrated that the earth is spheroidal, that the
moon is earthlike in structure and much smaller than our globe, and that the sun is vastly larger
and many times more distant than the moon. The actual size of the earth and the angle of its axis
with the ecliptic have been measured with approximate accuracy. It has been shown that the sun
and moon present inequalities of motion which may be theoretically explained by supposing that
the earth is not situated precisely at the centre of their orbits. A system of eccentrics and
epicycles has been elaborated which serves to explain the apparent motions of the heavenly
bodies in a manner that may be called scientific even though it is based, as we now know, upon a
false hypothesis. The true hypothesis, which places the sun at the centre of the planetary system
and postulates the orbital and axial motions of our earth in explanation of the motions of the
heavenly bodies, has been put forward and ardently championed, but, unfortunately, is not
accepted by the dominant thinkers at the close of our epoch. In this regard, therefore, a vast
revolutionary work remains for the thinkers of a later period. Moreover, such observations as the
precession of the equinoxes and the moon's evection are as yet unexplained, and measurements
of the earth's size, and of the sun's size and distance, are so crude and imperfect as to be in one
case only an approximation, and in the other an absurdly inadequate suggestion. But with all
these defects, the total achievement of the Greek astronomers is stupendous. To have clearly
grasped the idea that the earth is round is in itself an achievement that marks off the classical
from the Oriental period as by a great gulf.
In the physical sciences we have seen at least the beginnings of great things. Dynamics and
hydrostatics may now, for the first time, claim a place among the sciences. Geometry has been
perfected and trigonometry has made a sure beginning. The conception that there are four
elementary substances, earth, water, air, and fire, may not appear a secure foundation for
chemistry, yet it marks at least an attempt in the right direction. Similarly, the conception that all
matter is made up of indivisible particles and that these have adjusted themselves and are
perhaps held in place by a whirling motion, while it is scarcely more than a scientific dream, is,
after all, a dream of marvellous insight.
In the field of biological science progress has not been so marked, yet the elaborate garnering of
facts regarding anatomy, physiology, and the zoological sciences is at least a valuable
preparation for the generalizations of a later time.

If with a map before us we glance at the portion of the globe which was known to the workers of
the period now in question, bearing in mind at the same time what we have learned as to the seat
of labors of the various great scientific thinkers from Thales to Galen, we cannot fail to be struck
with a rather startling fact, intimations of which have been given from time to time--the fact,
namely, that most of the great Greek thinkers did not live in Greece itself. As our eye falls upon
Asia Minor and its outlying islands, we reflect that here were born such men as Thales,
Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Aristarchus,
Hipparchus, Eudoxus, Philolaus, and Galen. From the northern shores of the aegean came
Lucippus, Democritus, and Aristotle. Italy, off to the west, is the home of Pythagoras and
Xenophanes in their later years, and of Parmenides and Empedocles, Zeno, and Archimedes.
Northern Africa can claim, by birth or by adoption, such names as Euclid, Apollonius of Perga,
Herophilus, Erasistratus, Aristippus, Eratosthenes, Ctesibius, Hero, Strabo, and Ptolemy. This is
but running over the list of great men whose discoveries have claimed our attention. Were we to
extend the list to include a host of workers of the second rank, we should but emphasize the same
All along we are speaking of Greeks, or, as they call themselves, Hellenes, and we mean by these
words the people whose home was a small jagged peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean at the
southeastern extremity of Europe. We think of this peninsula as the home of Greek culture, yet of
all the great thinkers we have just named, not one was born on this peninsula, and perhaps not
one in five ever set foot upon it. In point of fact, one Greek thinker of the very first rank, and one
only, was born in Greece proper; that one, however, was Plato, perhaps the greatest of them all.
With this one brilliant exception (and even he was born of parents who came from the
provinces), all the great thinkers of Greece had their origin at the circumference rather than the
centre of the empire. And if we reflect that this circumference of the Greek world was in the
nature of the case the widely circling region in which the Greek came in contact with other
nations, we shall see at once that there could be no more striking illustration in all history than
that furnished us here of the value of racial mingling as a stimulus to intellectual progress.

But there is one other feature of the matter that must not be overlooked. Racial mingling gives
vitality, but to produce the best effect the mingling must be that of races all of which are at a
relatively high plane of civilization. In Asia Minor the Greek mingled with the Semite, who had
the heritage of centuries of culture; and in Italy with the Umbrians, Oscans, and Etruscans, who,
little as we know of their antecedents, have left us monuments to testify to their high
development. The chief reason why the racial mingling of a later day did not avail at once to give
new life to Roman thought was that the races which swept down from the north were barbarians.
It was no more possible that they should spring to the heights of classical culture than it would,
for example, be possible in two or three generations to produce a racer from a stock of draught
horses. Evolution does not proceed by such vaults as this would imply. Celt, Goth, Hun, and Slav
must undergo progressive development for many generations before the population of northern
Europe can catch step with the classical Greek and prepare to march forward. That, perhaps, is
one reason why we come to a period of stasis or retrogression when the time of classical activity
is over. But, at best, it is only one reason of several.

The influence of the barbarian nations will claim further attention as we proceed. But now, for
the moment, we must turn our eyes in the other direction and give attention to certain phases of
Greek and of Oriental thought which were destined to play a most important part in the
development of the Western mind--a more important part, indeed, in the early mediaeval period
than that played by those important inductions of science which have chiefly claimed our
attention in recent chapters. The subject in question is the old familiar one of false inductions or
pseudoscience. In dealing with the early development of thought and with Oriental science, we
had occasion to emphasize the fact that such false inductions led everywhere to the prevalence of
superstition. In dealing with Greek science, we have largely ignored this subject, confining
attention chiefly to the progressive phases of thought; but it must not be inferred from this that
Greek science, with all its secure inductions, was entirely free from superstition. On the contrary,
the most casual acquaintance with Greek literature would suffice to show the incorrectness of
such a supposition. True, the great thinkers of Greece were probably freer from this thraldom. of
false inductions than any of their predecessors. Even at a very early day such men as
Xenophanes, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Plato attained to a singularly rationalistic conception
of the universe.

We saw that "the father of medicine," Hippocrates, banished demonology and conceived disease
as due to natural causes. At a slightly later day the sophists challenged all knowledge, and
Pyrrhonism became a synonym for scepticism in recognition of the leadership of a master
doubter. The entire school of Alexandrians must have been relatively free from superstition, else
they could not have reasoned with such effective logicality from their observations of nature. It is
almost inconceivable that men like Euclid and Archimedes, and Aristarchus and Eratosthenes,
and Hipparchus and Hero, could have been the victims of such illusions regarding occult forces
of nature as were constantly postulated by Oriental science. Herophilus and Erasistratus and
Galen would hardly have pursued their anatomical studies with equanimity had they believed
that ghostly apparitions watched over living and dead alike, and exercised at will a malign
Doubtless the Egyptian of the period considered the work, of the Ptolemaic anatomists an
unspeakable profanation, and, indeed, it was nothing less than revolutionary--so revolutionary
that it could not be sustained in subsequent generations. We have seen that the great Galen, at
Rome, five centuries after the time of Herophilus, was prohibited from dissecting the human
subject. The fact speaks volumes for the attitude of the Roman mind towards science. Vast
audiences made up of every stratum of society thronged the amphitheatre, and watched
exultingly while man slew his fellow-man in single or in multiple combat. Shouts of frenzied joy
burst from a hundred thousand throats when the death-stroke was given to a new victim. The
bodies of the slain, by scores, even by hundreds, were dragged ruthlessly from the arena and
hurled into a ditch as contemptuously as if pity were yet unborn and human life the merest
bauble. Yet the same eyes that witnessed these scenes with ecstatic approval would have been
averted in pious horror had an anatomist dared to approach one of the mutilated bodies with the
scalpel of science. It was sport to see the blade of the gladiator enter the quivering, living flesh of
his fellow-gladiator; it was joy to see the warm blood spurt forth from the writhing victim while
he still lived; but it were sacrilegious to approach that body with the knife of the anatomist, once
it had ceased to pulsate with life. Life itself was held utterly in contempt, but about the realm of
death hovered the threatening ghosts of superstition. And such, be it understood, was the attitude
of the Roman populace in the early and the most brilliant epoch of the empire, before the
Western world came under the influence of that Oriental philosophy which was presently to
encompass it.

In this regard the Alexandrian world was, as just intimated, far more advanced than the Roman,
yet even there we must suppose that the leaders of thought were widely at variance with the
popular conceptions. A few illustrations, drawn from Greek literature at various ages, will
suggest the popular attitude. In the first instance, consider the poems of Homer and of Hesiod.
For these writers, and doubtless for the vast majority of their readers, not merely of their own but
of many subsequent generations, the world is peopled with a multitude of invisible apparitions,
which, under title of gods, are held to dominate the affairs of man. It is sometimes difficult to
discriminate as to where the Greek imagination drew the line between fact and allegory; nor need
we attempt to analyse the early poetic narratives to this end. It will better serve our present
purpose to cite three or four instances which illustrate the tangibility of beliefs based upon
pseudo-scientific inductions.
Let us cite, for example, the account which Herodotus gives us of the actions of the Greeks at
Plataea, when their army confronted the remnant of the army of Xerxes, in the year 479 B.C.
Here we see each side hesitating to attack the other, merely because the oracle had declared that
whichever side struck the first blow would lose the conflict. Even after the Persian soldiers, who
seemingly were a jot less superstitious or a shade more impatient than their opponents, had
begun the attack, we are told that the Greeks dared not respond at first, though they were falling
before the javelins of the enemy, because, forsooth, the entrails of a fowl did not present an
auspicious appearance. And these were Greeks of the same generation with Empedocles and
Anaxagoras and aeschylus; of the same epoch with Pericles and Sophocles and Euripides and
Phidias. Such was the scientific status of the average mind--nay, of the best minds--with here and
there a rare exception, in the golden age of Grecian culture.
Were we to follow down the pages of Greek history, we should but repeat the same story over
and over. We should, for example, see Alexander the Great balked at the banks of the Hyphasis,
and forced to turn back because of inauspicious auguries based as before upon the dissection of a
fowl. Alexander himself, to be sure, would have scorned the augury; had he been the prey of
such petty superstitions he would never have conquered Asia. We know how he compelled the
oracle at Delphi to yield to his wishes; how he cut the Gordian knot; how he made his
dominating personality felt at the temple of Ammon in Egypt. We know, in a word, that he
yielded to superstitions only in so far as they served his purpose. Left to his own devices, he
would not have consulted an oracle at the banks of the Hyphasis; or, consulting, would have
forced from the oracle a favorable answer. But his subordinates were mutinous and he had no
choice. Suffice it for our present purpose that the oracle was consulted, and that its answer turned
the conqueror back.
One or two instances from Roman history may complete the picture. Passing over all those
mythical narratives which virtually constitute the early history of Rome, as preserved to us by
such historians as Livy and Dionysius, we find so logical an historian as Tacitus recording a
miraculous achievement of Vespasian without adverse comment. "During the months when
Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria for the periodical season of the summer winds, and a safe
navigation, many miracles occurred by which the favor of Heaven and a sort of bias in the
powers above towards Vespasian were manifested." Tacitus then describes in detail the cure of
various maladies by the emperor, and relates that the emperor on visiting a temple was met there,
in the spirit, by a prominent Egyptian who was proved to be at the same time some eighty miles
distant from Alexandria.

It must be admitted that Tacitus, in relating that Vespasian caused the blind to see and the lame
to walk, qualifies his narrative by asserting that "persons who are present attest the truth of the
transaction when there is nothing to be gained by falsehood." Nor must we overlook the fact that
a similar belief in the power of royalty has persisted almost to our own day. But no such savor of
scepticism attaches to a narrative which Dion Cassius gives us of an incident in the life of
Marcus Aurelius--an incident that has become famous as the episode of The Thundering Legion.
Xiphilinus has preserved the account of Dion, adding certain picturesque interpretations of his
own. The original narrative, as cited, asserts that during one of the northern campaigns of Marcus
Aurelius, the emperor and his army were surrounded by the hostile Quadi, who had every
advantage of position and who presently ceased hostilities in the hope that heat and thirst would
deliver their adversaries into their hands without the trouble of further fighting. "Now," says
Dion, "while the Romans, unable either to combat or to retreat, and reduced to the last extremity
by wounds, fatigue, heat, and thirst, were standing helplessly at their posts, clouds suddenly
gathered in great number and rain descended in floods--certainly not without divine intervention,
since the Egyptian Maege Arnulphis, who was with Marcus Antoninus, is said to have invoked
several genii by the aerial mercury by enchantment, and thus through them had brought down

Here, it will be observed, a supernatural explanation is given of a natural phenomenon. But the
narrator does not stop with this. If we are to accept the account of Xiphilinus, Dion brings
forward some striking proofs of divine interference. Xiphilinus gives these proofs in the
following remarkable paragraph:

"Dion adds that when the rain began to fall every soldier lifted his head towards heaven to
receive the water in his mouth; but afterwards others hold out their shields or their helmets to
catch the water for themselves and for their horses. Being set upon by the barbarians . . . while
occupied in drinking, they would have been seriously incommoded had not heavy hail and
numerous thunderbolts thrown consternation into the ranks of the enemy. Fire and water were
seen to mingle as they left the heavens. The fire, however, did not reach the Romans, but if it did
by chance touch one of them it was immediately extinguished, while at the same time the rain,
instead of comforting the barbarians, seemed merely to excite like oil the fire with which they
were being consumed. Some barbarians inflicted wounds upon themselves as though their blood
had power to extinguish flames, while many rushed over to the side of the Romans, hoping that
there water might save them."

We cannot better complete these illustrations of pagan credulity than by adding the comment of
Xiphilinus himself. That writer was a Christian, living some generations later than Dion. He
never thought of questioning the facts, but he felt that Dion's interpretation of these facts must
not go unchallenged. As he interprets the matter, it was no pagan magician that wrought the
miracle. He even inclines to the belief that Dion himself was aware that Christian interference,
and not that of an Egyptian, saved the day. "Dion knew," he declares, "that there existed a legion
called The Thundering Legion, which name was given it for no other reason than for what came
to pass in this war," and that this legion was composed of soldiers from Militene who were all
professed Christians. "During the battle," continues Xiphilinus, "the chief of the Pretonians , had
set at Marcus Antoninus, who was in great perplexity at the turn events were taking, representing
to him that there was nothing the people called Christians could not obtain by their prayers, and
that among his forces was a troop composed wholly of followers of that religion. Rejoiced at this
news, Marcus Antoninus demanded of these soldiers that they should pray to their god, who
granted their petition on the instant, sent lightning among the enemy and consoled the Romans
with rain. Struck by this wonderful success, the emperor honored the Christians in an edict and
named their legion The Thundering. It is even asserted that a letter existed by Marcus Antoninus
on this subject. The pagans well knew that the company was called The Thunderers, having
attested the fact themselves, but they revealed nothing of the occasion on which the leader
received the name."[1]
Peculiar interest attaches to this narrative as illustrating both credulousness as to matters of fact
and pseudo-scientific explanation of alleged facts. The modern interpreter may suppose that a
violent thunderstorm came up during the course of a battle between the Romans and the so-
called barbarians, and that owing to the local character of the storm, or a chance discharge of
lightning, the barbarians suffered more than their opponents. We may well question whether the
philosophical emperor himself put any other interpretation than this upon the incident. But, on
the other hand, we need not doubt that the major part of his soldiers would very readily accept
such an explanation as that given by Dion Cassius, just as most readers of a few centuries later
would accept the explanation of Xiphilinus. It is well to bear this thought in mind in considering
the static period of science upon which we are entering. We shall perhaps best understand this
period, and its seeming retrogressions, if we suppose that the average man of the Middle Ages
was no more credulous, no more superstitious, than the average Roman of an earlier period or
than the average Greek; though the precise complexion of his credulity had changed under the
influence of Oriental ideas, as we have just seen illustrated by the narrative of Xiphilinus.



Length of the Prehistoric Period.--It is of course quite impossible to reduce the prehistoric period
to any definite number of years. There are, however, numerous bits of evidence that enable an
anthropologist to make rough estimates as to the relative lengths of the different periods into
which prehistoric time is divided. Gabriel de Mortillet, one of the most industrious students of
prehistoric archaeology, ventured to give a tentative estimate as to the numbers of years involved
in each period. He of course claimed for this nothing more than the value of a scientific guess. It
is, however, a guess based on a very careful study of all data at present available. Mortillet
divides the prehistoric period, as a whole, into four epochs. The first of these is the preglacial,
which he estimates as comprising seventy-eight thousand years; the second is the glacial,
covering one hundred thousand years; then follows what he terms the Solutreen, which numbers
eleven thousand years; and, finally, the Magdalenien, comprising thirty-three thousand years.
This gives, for the prehistoric period proper, a term of about two hundred and twenty-two
thousand years. Add to this perhaps twelve thousand years ushering in the civilization of Egypt,
and the six thousand years of stable, sure chronology of the historical period, and we have
something like two hundred and thirty thousand or two hundred and forty thousand years as the
age of man.
"These figures," says Mortillet, "are certainly not exaggerated. It is even probable that they are
below the truth. Constantly new discoveries are being made that tend to remove farther back the
date of man's appearance." We see, then, according to this estimate, that about a quarter of a
million years have elapsed since man evolved to a state that could properly be called human.
This guess is as good as another, and it may advantageously be kept in mind, as it will enable us
all along to understand better than we might otherwise be able to do the tremendous force of
certain prejudices and preconceptions which recent man inherited from his prehistoric ancestor.
Ideas which had passed current as unquestioned truths for one hundred thousand years or so are
not easily cast aside.

In going back, in imagination, to the beginning of the prehistoric period, we must of course
reflect, in accordance with modern ideas on the subject, that there was no year, no millennium
even, when it could be said expressly: "This being was hitherto a primate, he is now a man." The
transition period must have been enormously long, and the changes from generation to
generation, even from century to century, must have been very slight. In speaking of the extent
of the age of man this must be borne in mind: it must be recalled that, even if the period were not
vague for other reasons, the vagueness of its beginning must make it indeterminate.

Bibliographical Notes.--A great mass of literature has been produced in recent years dealing with
various phases of the history of prehistoric man. No single work known to the writer deals
comprehensively with the scientific attainments of early man; indeed, the subject is usually
ignored, except where practical phases of the mechanical arts are in question. But of course any
attempt to consider the condition of primitive man talies into account, by inference at least, his
knowledge and attainments. Therefore, most works on anthropology, ethnology, and primitive
culture may be expected to throw some light on our present subject. Works dealing with the
social and mental conditions of existing savages are also of importance, since it is now an
accepted belief that the ancestors of civilized races evolved along similar lines and passed
through corresponding stages of nascent culture. Herbert Spencer's Descriptive Sociology
presents an unequalled mass of facts regarding existing primitive races, but, unfortunately, its
inartistic method of arrangement makes it repellent to the general reader. E. B. Tyler's Primitive
Culture and Anthropology; Lord Avebury's Prehistoric Times, The Origin of Civilization, and
The Primitive Condition of Man; W. Boyd Dawkin's Cave-Hunting and Early Man in Britain;
and Edward Clodd's Childhood of the World and Story of Primitive Man are deservedly popular.
Paul Topinard's Elements d'Anthropologie Generale is one of the best-known and most
comprehensive French works on the technical phases of anthropology; but Mortillet's Le
Prehistorique has a more popular interest, owing to its chapters on primitive industries, though
this work also contains much that is rather technical. Among periodicals, the Revue de l'Ecole
d'Anthropologie de Paris, published by the professors, treats of all phases of anthropology, and
the American Anthropologist, edited by F. W. Hodge for the American Anthropological
Association, and intended as "a medium of communication between students of all branches of
anthropology," contains much that is of interest from the present stand-point. The last-named
journal devotes a good deal of space to Indian languages.


1 (p. 34). Sir J. Norman Lockyer, The Dawn of Astronomy; a study of the temple worship and
mythology of the ancient Egyptians, London, 1894.

2 (p. 43). G. Maspero, Histoire Ancie-nne des Peuples de l'Orient Classique, Paris, 1895.
Translated as (1) The Dawn of Civilization, (2) The Struggle of the Nations, (3) The Passing of
the Empires, 3 vols., London and New York, 1894-1900. Professor Maspero is one of the most
famous of living Orientalists. His most important special studies have to do with Egyptology, but
his writings cover the entire field of Oriental antiquity. He is a notable stylist, and his works are
at once readable and authoritative.
3 (p. 44). Adolf Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt, London, 1894, p. 352. (Translated from the
original German work entitled Aegypten und aegyptisches Leben in Alterthum, Tilbigen, 1887.)
An altogether admirable work, full of interest for the general reader, though based on the most
erudite studies.
4 (p. 47). Erman, op. cit., pp. 356, 357.

5 (p. 48). Erman, op. cit., p. 357. The work on Egyptian medicine here referred to is Georg
Ebers' edition of an Egyptian document discovered by the explorer whose name it bears. It
remains the most important source of our knowledge of Egyptian medicine. As mentioned in the
text, this document dates from the eighteenth dynasty--that is to say, from about the fifteenth or
sixteenth century, B.C., a relatively late period of Egyptian history.

6 (p. 49). Erman, op. cit., p. 357.

7 (p. 50). The History of Herodotus, pp. 85-90. There are numerous translations of the famous
work of the "father of history," one of the most recent and authoritative being that of G. C.
Macaulay, M.A., in two volumes, Macmillan & Co., London and New York, 1890.
8 (p. 50). The Historical Library of Diodorus the Sicilian, London, 1700. This most famous of
ancient world histories is difficult to obtain in an English version. The most recently published
translation known to the writer is that of G. Booth, London, 1814.

9 (p. 51). Erman, op. cit., p. 357.

10 (p. 52). The Papyrus Rhind is a sort of mathematical hand-book of the ancient Egyptians; it
was made in the time of the Hyksos Kings (about 2000 B.C.), but is a copy of an older book. It is
now preserved in the British Museum.
The most accessible recent sources of information as to the social conditions of the ancient
Egyptians are the works of Maspero and Erman, above mentioned; and the various publications
of W. M. Flinders Petrie, The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, London, 1883; Tanis I., London,
1885; Tanis H., Nebesheh, and Defe-nnel, London, 1887; Ten Years' Diggings, London, 1892;
Syria and Egypt from the Tel-el-Amar-na Letters, London, 1898, etc. The various works of
Professor Petrie, recording his explorations from year to year, give the fullest available insight
into Egyptian archaeology.

1 (p. 57). The Medes. Some difference of opinion exists among historians as to the exact ethnic
relations of the conquerors; the precise date of the fall of Nineveh is also in doubt.

2 (p. 57). Darius. The familiar Hebrew narrative ascribes the first Persian conquest of Babylon to
Darius, but inscriptions of Cyrus and of Nabonidus, the Babylonian king, make it certain that
Cyrus was the real conqueror. These inscriptions are preserved on cylinders of baked clay, of the
type made familiar by the excavation of the past fifty years, and they are invaluable historical

3 (p. 58). Berosus. The fragments of Berosus have been translated by L. P. Cory, and included in
his Ancient Fragments of Phenician, Chaldean, Egyptian, and Other Writers, London, 1826,
second edition, 1832.
4 (p. 58). Chaldean learning. Recent writers reserve the name Chaldean for the later period of
Babylonian history-- the time when the Greeks came in contact with the Mesopotamians--in
contradistinction to the earlier periods which are revealed to us by the archaeological records.
5 (p. 59) King Sargon of Agade. The date given for this early king must not be accepted as
absolute; but it is probably approximately correct.
6 (p. 59). Nippur. See the account of the early expeditions as recorded by the director, Dr. John
P. Peters, Nippur, or explorations and adventures, etc., New York and London, 1897.
7 (p. 62). Fritz Hommel, Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens, Berlin, 1885.
8 (p. 63). R. Campbell Thompson, Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and
Babylon, London, 1900, p. xix.
9 (p. 64). George Smith, The Assyrian Canon, p. 21.

10 (p. 64). Thompson, op. cit., p. xix.

11 (p. 65). Thompson, op. cit., p. 2.

12 (p. 67). Thompson, op. cit., p. xvi.

13 (p. 68). Sextus Empiricus, author of Adversus Mathematicos, lived about 200 A.D.

14 (p. 68). R. Campbell Thompson, op. cit., p. xxiv.

15 (p. 72). Records of the Past (editor, Samuel Birch), Vol. III., p. 139.
16 (p. 72). Ibid., Vol. V., p. 16.

17 (p. 72). Quoted in Records of the Past, Vol. III., p. 143, from the Translations of the Society
of Biblical Archeology, vol. II., p. 58.

18 (p. 73). Records of the Past, vol. L, p. 131.

19 (p. 73). Ibid., vol. V., p. 171.

20 (p. 74). Ibid., vol. V., p. 169.

21 (p. 74). Joachim Menant, La Bibliotheque du Palais de Ninive, Paris, 188o.
22 (p. 76). Code of Khamurabi. This famous inscription is on a block of black diorite nearly
eight feet in height. It was discovered at Susa by the French expedition under M. de Morgan, in
December, 1902. We quote the translation given in The Historians' History of the World, edited
by Henry Smith Williams, London and New York, 1904, Vol. I, p. 510.
23 (p. 77). The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus, p. 519.

24 (p. 82). George S. Goodspeed, Ph.D., History of the Babylonians and Assyrians, New York,
25 (p. 82). George Rawlinson, Great Oriental Monarchies, (second edition, London, 1871), Vol.
III., pp. 75 ff.
Of the books mentioned above, that of Hommel is particularly full in reference to culture
development; Goodspeed's small volume gives an excellent condensed account; the original
documents as translated in the various volumes of Records of the Past are full of interest; and
Menant's little book is altogether admirable. The work of excavation is still going on in old
Babylonia, and newly discovered texts add from time to time to our knowledge, but A. H.
Layard's Nineveh and its Remains (London, 1849) still has importance as a record of the most
important early discoveries. The general histories of Antiquity of Duncker, Lenormant, Maspero,
and Meyer give full treatment of Babylonian and Assyrian development. Special histories of
Babylonia and Assyria, in addition to these named above, are Tiele's Babylonisch-Assyrische
Geschichte (Zwei Tiele, Gotha, 1886-1888); Winckler's Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens
(Berlin, 1885-1888), and Rogers' History of Babylonia and Assyria, New York and London,
1900, the last of which, however, deals almost exclusively with political history. Certain phases
of science, particularly with reference to chronology and cosmology, are treated by Edward
Meyer (Geschichte des Alterthum, Vol. I., Stuttgart, 1884), and by P. Jensen (Die Kosmologie
der Babylonier, Strassburg, 1890), but no comprehensive specific treatment of the subject in its
entirety has yet been attempted.


1 (p. 87). Vicomte E. de Rouge, Memoire sur l'Origine Egyptienne de l'Alphabet Phinicien,
Paris, 1874.

2 (p. 88). See the various publications of Mr. Arthur Evans.

3 (p. 80). Aztec and Maya writing. These pictographs are still in the main undecipherable, and
opinions differ as to the exact stage of development which they represent.
4 (p. 90). E. A. Wallace Budge's First Steps in Egyptian, London, 1895, is an excellent
elementary work on the Egyptian writing. Professor Erman's Egyptian Grammar, London, 1894,
is the work of perhaps the foremost living Egyptologist.
5 (P. 93). Extant examples of Babylonian and Assyrian writing give opportunity to compare
earlier and later systems, so the fact of evolution from the pictorial to the phonetic system rests
on something more than mere theory.

6 (p. 96). Friedrich Delitzsch, Assyrischc Lesestucke mit grammatischen Tabellen und
vollstdndigem Glossar einfiihrung in die assyrische und babylonische Keilschrift-litteratur bis
hinauf zu Hammurabi, Leipzig, 1900.
7 (p. 97). It does not appear that the Babylonians thcmselves ever gave up the old system of
writing, so long as they retained political autonomy.

8 (p. 101). See Isaac Taylor's History of the Alphabet; an Account of the origin and
Development of Letters, new edition, 2 vols., London, 1899.

For facsimiles of the various scripts, see Henry Smith Williams' History of the Art Of Writing, 4
vols, New York and London, 1902-1903.


1 (p. III). Anaximander, as recorded by Plutarch, vol. VIII-. See Arthur Fairbanks'First
Philosophers of Greece: an Edition and Translation of the Remaining Fragments of the Pre-
Socratic Philosophers, together with a Translation of the more Important Accounts of their
Opinions Contained in the Early Epitomcs of their Works, London, 1898. This highly scholarly
and extremely useful book contains the Greek text as well as translations.

1 (p. 117). George Henry Lewes, A Biographical History of Philosophy from its Origin in
Greece down to the Present Day, enlarged edition, New York, 1888, p. 17.
2 (p. 121). Diogenes Laertius, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, C. D. Yonge's
translation, London, 1853, VIII., p. 153.
3 (p. 121). Alexander, Successions of Philosophers.

4 (p. 122). "All over its centre." Presumably this is intended to refer to the entire equatorial

5 (p. 125). Laertius, op. cit., pp. 348-351.

6 (p. 128). Arthur Fairbanks, The First Philosophers of Greece London, 1898, pp. 67-717.
7 (p. 129). Ibid., p. 838.

8 (p. 130). Ibid., p. 109.

9 (p. 130). Heinrich Ritter, The History of Ancient Philosophy, translated from the German by A.
J. W. Morrison, 4 vols., London, 1838, vol, I., p. 463.
10 (p. 131). Ibid., p. 465.

11 (p. 132). George Henry Lewes, op. cit., p. 81.

12 (p. 135). Fairbanks, op. cit., p. 201.
13 (p. 136). Ibid., P. 234.

14 (p. 137). Ibid., p. 189.

15 (p. 137). Ibid., P. 220.

16 (p. 138). Ibid., p. 189.

17 (p. 138). Ibid., p. 191.


1 (p. 150). Theodor Gomperz, Greek Thinkers: a History of Ancient Philosophy (translated from
the German by Laurie Magnes), New York, 190 1, pp. 220, 221.

2 (p. 153). Aristotle's Treatise on Respiration, ch. ii.

3 (p. 159). Fairbanks' translation of the fragments of Anaxagoras, in The First Philosophers of
Greece, pp. 239-243.

1 (p. 180). Alfred William Bern, The Philosophy of Greece Considered in Relation to the
Character and History of its People, London, 1898, p. 186.
2 (p. 183). Aristotle, quoted in William Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences (second
edition, London, 1847), Vol. II., p. 161.

1 (p. 195). Tertullian's Apologeticus.

2 (p. 205). We quote the quaint old translation of North, printed in 1657.


1 (p. 258). The Geography of Strabo, translated by H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer, 3 vols.,
London, 1857, Vol. I, pp. 19, 20.
2 (p. 260). Ibid., p. 154.
3 (p. 263). Ibid., pp. 169, 170.

4 (p. 264) Ibid., pp. 166, 167.

5 (p. 271). K. 0. Miller and John W. Donaldson, The History of the Literature of Greece, 3 vols.,
London, Vol. III., p. 268.
6 (p. 276). E. T. Withington, Medical History fron., the Earliest Times, London, 1894, p. 118.

7 (p. 281). Ibid.

8 (p. 281). Johann Hermann Bass, History of Medicine, New York, 1889.

(p. 298). Dion Cassius, as preserved by Xiphilinus. Our extract is quoted from the translation
given in The Historians' History of the World (edited by Henry Smith Williams), 25 vols.,
London and New York, 1904, Vol. VI., p. 297 ff.
[For further bibliographical notes, the reader is referred to the Appendix of volume V.]


Henry Smith Williams, M.D., LL.D.

Assisted by Edward H. Williams, M.D.



















The studies of the present book cover the progress of science from the close of the Roman period
in the fifth century A.D. to about the middle of the eighteenth century. In tracing the course of
events through so long a period, a difficulty becomes prominent which everywhere besets the
historian in less degree--a difficulty due to the conflict between the strictly chronological and the
topical method of treatment. We must hold as closely as possible to the actual sequence of
events, since, as already pointed out, one discovery leads on to another. But, on the other hand,
progressive steps are taken contemporaneously in the various fields of science, and if we were to
attempt to introduce these in strict chronological order we should lose all sense of topical
Our method has been to adopt a compromise, following the course of a single science in each
great epoch to a convenient stopping-point, and then turning back to bring forward the story of
another science. Thus, for example, we tell the story of Copernicus and Galileo, bringing the
record of cosmical and mechanical progress down to about the middle of the seventeenth
century, before turning back to take up the physiological progress of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries. Once the latter stream is entered, however, we follow it without interruption to the
time of Harvey and his contemporaries in the middle of the seventeenth century, where we leave
it to return to the field of mechanics as exploited by the successors of Galileo, who were also the
predecessors and contemporaries of Newton.
In general, it will aid the reader to recall that, so far as possible, we hold always to the same
sequences of topical treatment of contemporary events; as a rule we treat first the cosmical, then
the physical, then the biological sciences. The same order of treatment will be held to in
succeeding volumes.

Several of the very greatest of scientific generalizations are developed in the period covered by
the present book: for example, the Copernican theory of the solar system, the true doctrine of
planetary motions, the laws of motion, the theory of the circulation of the blood, and the
Newtonian theory of gravitation. The labors of the investigators of the early decades of the
eighteenth century, terminating with Franklin's discovery of the nature of lightning and with the
Linnaean classification of plants and animals, bring us to the close of our second great epoch; or,
to put it otherwise, to the threshold of the modern period,


An obvious distinction between the classical and mediaeval epochs may be found in the fact that
the former produced, whereas the latter failed to produce, a few great thinkers in each generation
who were imbued with that scepticism which is the foundation of the investigating spirit; who
thought for themselves and supplied more or less rational explanations of observed phenomena.
Could we eliminate the work of some score or so of classical observers and thinkers, the classical
epoch would seem as much a dark age as does the epoch that succeeded it.

But immediately we are met with the question: Why do no great original investigators appear
during all these later centuries? We have already offered a part explanation in the fact that the
borders of civilization, where racial mingling naturally took place, were peopled with semi-
barbarians. But we must not forget that in the centres of civilization all along there were many
men of powerful intellect. Indeed, it would violate the principle of historical continuity to
suppose that there was any sudden change in the level of mentality of the Roman world at the
close of the classical period. We must assume, then, that the direction in which the great minds
turned was for some reason changed. Newton is said to have alleged that he made his discoveries
by "intending" his mind in a certain direction continuously. It is probable that the same
explanation may be given of almost every great scientific discovery. Anaxagoras could not have
thought out the theory of the moon's phases; Aristarchus could not have found out the true
mechanism of the solar system; Eratosthenes could not have developed his plan for measuring
the earth, had not each of these investigators "intended" his mind persistently towards the
problems in question.

Nor can we doubt that men lived in every generation of the dark age who were capable of
creative thought in the field of science, bad they chosen similarly to "intend" their minds in the
right direction. The difficulty was that they did not so choose. Their minds had a quite different
bent. They were under the spell of different ideals; all their mental efforts were directed into
different channels. What these different channels were cannot be in doubt--they were the
channels of oriental ecclesiasticism. One all-significant fact speaks volumes here. It is the fact
that, as Professor Robinson[1] points out, from the time of Boethius (died 524 or 525 A.D.) to
that of Dante (1265-1321 A.D.) there was not a single writer of renown in western Europe who
was not a professional churchman. All the learning of the time, then, centred in the priesthood.
We know that the same condition of things pertained in Egypt, when science became static there.
But, contrariwise, we have seen that in Greece and early Rome the scientific workers were
largely physicians or professional teachers; there was scarcely a professional theologian among
Similarly, as we shall see in the Arabic world, where alone there was progress in the mediaeval
epoch, the learned men were, for the most part, physicians. Now the meaning of this must be
self-evident. The physician naturally "intends" his mind towards the practicalities. His
professional studies tend to make him an investigator of the operations of nature. He is usually a
sceptic, with a spontaneous interest in practical science. But the theologian "intends" his mind
away from practicalities and towards mysticism. He is a professional believer in the supernatural;
he discounts the value of merely "natural" phenomena. His whole attitude of mind is
unscientific; the fundamental tenets of his faith are based on alleged occurrences which inductive
science cannot admit--namely, miracles. And so the minds "intended" towards the supernatural
achieved only the hazy mysticism of mediaeval thought. Instead of investigating natural laws,
they paid heed (as, for example, Thomas Aquinas does in his Summa Theologia) to the "acts of
angels," the "speaking of angels," the "subordination of angels," the "deeds of guardian angels,"
and the like. They disputed such important questions as, How many angels can stand upon the
point of a needle? They argued pro and con as to whether Christ were coeval with God, or
whether he had been merely created "in the beginning," perhaps ages before the creation of the
world. How could it be expected that science should flourish when the greatest minds of the age
could concern themselves with problems such as these?

Despite our preconceptions or prejudices, there can be but one answer to that question. Oriental
superstition cast its blight upon the fair field of science, whatever compensation it may or may
not have brought in other fields. But we must be on our guard lest we overestimate or incorrectly
estimate this influence. Posterity, in glancing backward, is always prone to stamp any given age
of the past with one idea, and to desire to characterize it with a single phrase; whereas in reality
all ages are diversified, and any generalization regarding an epoch is sure to do that epoch
something less or something more than justice. We may be sure, then, that the ideal of
ecclesiasticism is not solely responsible for the scientific stasis of the dark age. Indeed, there was
another influence of a totally different character that is too patent to be overlooked--the
influence, namely, of the economic condition of western Europe during this period. As I have
elsewhere pointed out,[2] Italy, the centre of western civilization, was at this time impoverished,
and hence could not provide the monetary stimulus so essential to artistic and scientific no less
than to material progress. There were no patrons of science and literature such as the Ptolemies
of that elder Alexandrian day. There were no great libraries; no colleges to supply opportunities
and afford stimuli to the rising generation. Worst of all, it became increasingly difficult to secure
This phase of the subject is often overlooked. Yet a moment's consideration will show its
importance. How should we fare to-day if no new scientific books were being produced, and if
the records of former generations were destroyed? That is what actually happened in Europe
during the Middle Ages. At an earlier day books were made and distributed much more
abundantly than is sometimes supposed. Bookmaking had, indeed, been an important profession
in Rome, the actual makers of books being slaves who worked under the direction of a publisher.
It was through the efforts of these workers that the classical works in Greek and Latin were
multiplied and disseminated. Unfortunately the climate of Europe does not conduce to the
indefinite preservation of a book; hence very few remnants of classical works have come down
to us in the original from a remote period. The rare exceptions are certain papyrus fragments,
found in Egypt, some of which are Greek manuscripts dating from the third century B.C. Even
from these sources the output is meagre; and the only other repository of classical books is a
single room in the buried city of Herculaneum, which contained several hundred manuscripts,
mostly in a charred condition, a considerable number of which, however, have been unrolled and
found more or less legible. This library in the buried city was chiefly made up of philosophical
works, some of which were quite unknown to the modern world until discovered there.
But this find, interesting as it was from an archaeological stand-point, had no very important
bearing on our knowledge of the literature of antiquity. Our chief dependence for our knowledge
of that literature must still be placed in such copies of books as were made in the successive
generations. Comparatively few of the extant manuscripts are older than the tenth century of our
era. It requires but a momentary consideration of the conditions under which ancient books were
produced to realize how slow and difficult the process was before the invention of printing. The
taste of the book-buying public demanded a clearly written text, and in the Middle Ages it
became customary to produce a richly ornamented text as well. The script employed being the
prototype of the modern printed text, it will be obvious that a scribe could produce but a few
pages at best in a day. A large work would therefore require the labor of a scribe for many
months or even for several years. We may assume, then, that it would be a very flourishing
publisher who could produce a hundred volumes all told per annum; and probably there were not
many publishers at any given time, even in the period of Rome's greatest glory, who had
anything like this output.
As there was a large number of authors in every generation of the classical period, it follows that
most of these authors must have been obliged to content themselves with editions numbering
very few copies; and it goes without saying that the greater number of books were never
reproduced in what might be called a second edition. Even books that retained their popularity
for several generations would presently fail to arouse sufficient interest to be copied; and in due
course such works would pass out of existence altogether. Doubtless many hundreds of books
were thus lost before the close of the classical period, the names of their authors being quite
forgotten, or preserved only through a chance reference; and of course the work of elimination
went on much more rapidly during the Middle Ages, when the interest in classical literature sank
to so low an ebb in the West. Such collections of references and quotations as the Greek
Anthology and the famous anthologies of Stobaeus and Athanasius and Eusebius give us
glimpses of a host of writers--more than seven hundred are quoted by Stobaeus--a very large
proportion of whom are quite unknown except through these brief excerpts from their lost works.
Quite naturally the scientific works suffered at least as largely as any others in an age given over
to ecclesiastical dreamings. Yet in some regards there is matter for surprise as to the works
preserved. Thus, as we have seen, the very extensive works of Aristotle on natural history, and
the equally extensive natural history of Pliny, which were preserved throughout this period, and
are still extant, make up relatively bulky volumes. These works seem to have interested the
monks of the Middle Ages, while many much more important scientific books were allowed to
perish. A considerable bulk of scientific literature was also preserved through the curious
channels of Arabic and Armenian translations. Reference has already been made to the Almagest
of Ptolemy, which, as we have seen, was translated into Arabic, and which was at a later day
brought by the Arabs into western Europe and (at the instance of Frederick II of Sicily) translated
out of their language into mediaeval Latin.

It remains to inquire, however, through what channels the Greek works reached the Arabs
themselves. To gain an answer to this question we must follow the stream of history from its
Roman course eastward to the new seat of the Roman empire in Byzantium. Here civilization
centred from about the fifth century A.D., and here the European came in contact with the
civilization of the Syrians, the Persians, the Armenians, and finally of the Arabs. The Byzantines
themselves, unlike the inhabitants of western Europe, did not ignore the literature of old Greece;
the Greek language became the regular speech of the Byzantine people, and their writers made a
strenuous effort to perpetuate the idiom and style of the classical period. Naturally they also
made transcriptions of the classical authors, and thus a great mass of literature was preserved,
while the corresponding works were quite forgotten in western Europe.
Meantime many of these works were translated into Syriac, Armenian, and Persian, and when
later on the Byzantine civilization degenerated, many works that were no longer to be had in the
Greek originals continued to be widely circulated in Syriac, Persian, Armenian, and, ultimately,
in Arabic translations. When the Arabs started out in their conquests, which carried them through
Egypt and along the southern coast of the Mediterranean, until they finally invaded Europe from
the west by way of Gibraltar, they carried with them their translations of many a Greek classical
author, who was introduced anew to the western world through this strange channel.

We are told, for example, that Averrhoes, the famous commentator of Aristotle, who lived in
Spain in the twelfth century, did not know a word of Greek and was obliged to gain his
knowledge of the master through a Syriac translation; or, as others alleged (denying that he knew
even Syriac), through an Arabic version translated from the Syriac. We know, too, that the
famous chronology of Eusebius was preserved through an Armenian translation; and reference
has more than once been made to the Arabic translation of Ptolemy's great work, to which we
still apply its Arabic title of Almagest.

The familiar story that when the Arabs invaded Egypt they burned the Alexandrian library is
now regarded as an invention of later times. It seems much more probable that the library bad
been largely scattered before the coming of the Moslems. Indeed, it has even been suggested that
the Christians of an earlier day removed the records of pagan thought. Be that as it may, the
famous Alexandrian library had disappeared long before the revival of interest in classical
learning. Meanwhile, as we have said, the Arabs, far from destroying the western literature, were
its chief preservers. Partly at least because of their regard for the records of the creative work of
earlier generations of alien peoples, the Arabs were enabled to outstrip their contemporaries. For
it cannot be in doubt that, during that long stretch of time when the western world was ignoring
science altogether or at most contenting itself with the casual reading of Aristotle and Pliny, the
Arabs had the unique distinction of attempting original investigations in science. To them were
due all important progressive steps which were made in any scientific field whatever for about a
thousand years after the time of Ptolemy and Galen. The progress made even by the Arabs
during this long period seems meagre enough, yet it has some significant features. These will
now demand our attention.
The successors of Mohammed showed themselves curiously receptive of the ideas of the western
people whom they conquered. They came in contact with the Greeks in western Asia and in
Egypt, and, as has been said, became their virtual successors in carrying forward the torch of
learning. It must not be inferred, however, that the Arabian scholars, as a class, were comparable
to their predecessors in creative genius. On the contrary, they retained much of the conservative
oriental spirit. They were under the spell of tradition, and, in the main, what they accepted from
the Greeks they regarded as almost final in its teaching. There were, however, a few notable
exceptions among their men of science, and to these must be ascribed several discoveries of
some importance.
The chief subjects that excited the interest and exercised the ingenuity of the Arabian scholars
were astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. The practical phases of all these subjects were
given particular attention. Thus it is well known that our so-called Arabian numerals date from
this period. The revolutionary effect of these characters, as applied to practical mathematics, can
hardly be overestimated; but it is generally considered, and in fact was admitted by the Arabs
themselves, that these numerals were really borrowed from the Hindoos, with whom the Arabs
came in contact on the east. Certain of the Hindoo alphabets, notably that of the Battaks of
Sumatra, give us clews to the originals of the numerals. It does not seem certain, however, that
the Hindoos employed these characters according to the decimal system, which is the prime
element of their importance. Knowledge is not forthcoming as to just when or by whom such
application was made. If this was an Arabic innovation, it was perhaps the most important one
with which that nation is to be credited. Another mathematical improvement was the introduction
into trigonometry of the sine--the half-chord of the double arc--instead of the chord of the arc
itself which the Greek astronomers had employed. This improvement was due to the famous
Albategnius, whose work in other fields we shall examine in a moment.
Another evidence of practicality was shown in the Arabian method of attempting to advance
upon Eratosthenes' measurement of the earth. Instead of trusting to the measurement of angles,
the Arabs decided to measure directly a degree of the earth's surface--or rather two degrees.
Selecting a level plain in Mesopotamia for the experiment, one party of the surveyors progressed
northward, another party southward, from a given point to the distance of one degree of arc, as
determined by astronomical observations. The result found was fifty-six miles for the northern
degree, and fifty-six and two-third miles for the southern. Unfortunately, we do not know the
precise length of the mile in question, and therefore cannot be assured as to the accuracy of the
measurement. It is interesting to note, however, that the two degrees were found of unequal
lengths, suggesting that the earth is not a perfect sphere--a suggestion the validity of which was
not to be put to the test of conclusive measurements until about the close of the eighteenth
century. The Arab measurement was made in the time of Caliph Abdallah al-Mamun, the son of
the famous Harun-al-Rashid. Both father and son were famous for their interest in science.
Harun-al-Rashid was, it will be recalled, the friend of Charlemagne. It is said that he sent that
ruler, as a token of friendship, a marvellous clock which let fall a metal ball to mark the hours.
This mechanism, which is alleged to have excited great wonder in the West, furnishes yet
another instance of Arabian practicality.

Perhaps the greatest of the Arabian astronomers was Mohammed ben Jabir Albategnius, or El-
batani, who was born at Batan, in Mesopotamia, about the year 850 A.D., and died in 929.
Albategnius was a student of the Ptolemaic astronomy, but he was also a practical observer. He
made the important discovery of the motion of the solar apogee. That is to say, he found that the
position of the sun among the stars, at the time of its greatest distance from the earth, was not
what it had been in the time of Ptolemy. The Greek astronomer placed the sun in longitude 65
degrees, but Albategnius found it in longitude 82 degrees, a distance too great to be accounted
for by inaccuracy of measurement. The modern inference from this observation is that the solar
system is moving through space; but of course this inference could not well be drawn while the
earth was regarded as the fixed centre of the universe.

In the eleventh century another Arabian discoverer, Arzachel, observing the sun to be less
advanced than Albategnius had found it, inferred incorrectly that the sun had receded in the mean
time. The modern explanation of this observation is that the measurement of Albategnius was
somewhat in error, since we know that the sun's motion is steadily progressive. Arzachel,
however, accepting the measurement of his predecessor, drew the false inference of an
oscillatory motion of the stars, the idea of the motion of the solar system not being permissible.
This assumed phenomenon, which really has no existence in point of fact, was named the
"trepidation of the fixed stars," and was for centuries accepted as an actual phenomenon.
Arzachel explained this supposed phenomenon by assuming that the equinoctial points, or the
points of intersection of the equator and the ecliptic, revolve in circles of eight degrees' radius.
The first points of Aries and Libra were supposed to describe the circumference of these circles
in about eight hundred years. All of which illustrates how a difficult and false explanation may
take the place of a simple and correct one. The observations of later generations have shown
conclusively that the sun's shift of position is regularly progressive, hence that there is no
"trepidation" of the stars and no revolution of the equinoctial points.
If the Arabs were wrong as regards this supposed motion of the fixed stars, they made at least
one correct observation as to the inequality of motion of the moon. Two inequalities of the
motion of this body were already known. A third, called the moon's variation, was discovered by
an Arabian astronomer who lived at Cairo and observed at Bagdad in 975, and who bore the
formidable name of Mohammed Aboul Wefaal-Bouzdjani. The inequality of motion in question,
in virtue of which the moon moves quickest when she is at new or full, and slowest at the first
and third quarter, was rediscovered by Tycho Brahe six centuries later; a fact which in itself
evidences the neglect of the Arabian astronomer's discovery by his immediate successors.

In the ninth and tenth centuries the Arabian city of Cordova, in Spain, was another important
centre of scientific influence. There was a library of several hundred thousand volumes here, and
a college where mathematics and astronomy were taught. Granada, Toledo, and Salamanca were
also important centres, to which students flocked from western Europe. It was the proximity of
these Arabian centres that stimulated the scientific interests of Alfonso X. of Castile, at whose
instance the celebrated Alfonsine tables were constructed. A familiar story records that Alfonso,
pondering the complications of the Ptolemaic cycles and epicycles, was led to remark that, had
he been consulted at the time of creation, he could have suggested a much better and simpler
plan for the universe. Some centuries were to elapse before Copernicus was to show that it was
not the plan of the universe, but man's interpretation of it, that was at fault.
Another royal personage who came under Arabian influence was Frederick II. of Sicily--the
"Wonder of the World," as he was called by his contemporaries. The Almagest of Ptolemy was
translated into Latin at his instance, being introduced to the Western world through this curious
channel. At this time it became quite usual for the Italian and Spanish scholars to understand
Arabic although they were totally ignorant of Greek.
In the field of physical science one of the most important of the Arabian scientists was Alhazen.
His work, published about the year 1100 A.D., had great celebrity throughout the mediaeval
period. The original investigations of Alhazen had to do largely with optics. He made particular
studies of the eye itself, and the names given by him to various parts of the eye, as the vitreous
humor, the cornea, and the retina, are still retained by anatomists. It is known that Ptolemy had
studied the refraction of light, and that he, in common with his immediate predecessors, was
aware that atmospheric refraction affects the apparent position of stars near the horizon. Alhazen
carried forward these studies, and was led through them to make the first recorded scientific
estimate of the phenomena of twilight and of the height of the atmosphere. The persistence of a
glow in the atmosphere after the sun has disappeared beneath the horizon is so familiar a
phenomenon that the ancient philosophers seem not to have thought of it as requiring an
explanation. Yet a moment's consideration makes it clear that, if light travels in straight lines and
the rays of the sun were in no wise deflected, the complete darkness of night should instantly
succeed to day when the sun passes below the horizon. That this sudden change does not occur,
Alhazen explained as due to the reflection of light by the earth's atmosphere.
Alhazen appears to have conceived the atmosphere as a sharply defined layer, and, assuming that
twilight continues only so long as rays of the sun reflected from the outer surface of this layer
can reach the spectator at any given point, he hit upon a means of measurement that seemed to
solve the hitherto inscrutable problem as to the atmospheric depth. Like the measurements of
Aristarchus and Eratosthenes, this calculation of Alhazen is simple enough in theory. Its defect
consists largely in the difficulty of fixing its terms with precision, combined with the further fact
that the rays of the sun, in taking the slanting course through the earth's atmosphere, are really
deflected from a straight line in virtue of the constantly increasing density of the air near the
earth's surface. Alhazen must have been aware of this latter fact, since it was known to the later
Alexandrian astronomers, but he takes no account of it in the present measurement. The diagram
will make the method of Alhazen clear.
His important premises are two: first, the well-recognized fact that, when light is reflected from
any surface, the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection; and, second, the much
more doubtful observation that twilight continues until such time as the sun, according to a
simple calculation, is nineteen degrees below the horizon. Referring to the diagram, let the inner
circle represent the earth's surface, the outer circle the limits of the atmosphere, C being the
earth's centre, and RR radii of the earth. Then the observer at the point A will continue to receive
the reflected rays of the sun until that body reaches the point S, which is, according to the
hypothesis, nineteen degrees below the horizon line of the observer at A. This horizon line, being
represented by AH, and the sun's ray by SM, the angle HMS is an angle of nineteen degrees. The
complementary angle SMA is, obviously, an angle of (180-19) one hundred and sixty-one
degrees. But since M is the reflecting surface and the angle of incidence equals the angle of
reflection, the angle AMC is an angle of one-half of one hundred and sixty-one degrees, or
eighty degrees and thirty minutes. Now this angle AMC, being known, the right-angled triangle
MAC is easily resolved, since the side AC of that triangle, being the radius of the earth, is a
known dimension. Resolution of this triangle gives us the length of the hypotenuse MC, and the
difference between this and the radius (AC), or CD, is obviously the height of the atmosphere
(h), which was the measurement desired. According to the calculation of Alhazen, this h, or the
height of the atmosphere, represents from twenty to thirty miles. The modern computation
extends this to about fifty miles. But, considering the various ambiguities that necessarily
attended the experiment, the result was a remarkably close approximation to the truth.

Turning from physics to chemistry, we find as perhaps the greatest Arabian name that of Geber,
who taught in the College of Seville in the first half of the eighth century. The most important
researches of this really remarkable experimenter had to do with the acids. The ancient world had
had no knowledge of any acid more powerful than acetic. Geber, however, vastly increased the
possibilities of chemical experiment by the discovery of sulphuric, nitric, and nitromuriatic acids.
He made use also of the processes of sublimation and filtration, and his works describe the water
bath and the chemical oven. Among the important chemicals which he first differentiated is
oxide of mercury, and his studies of sulphur in its various compounds have peculiar interest. In
particular is this true of his observation that, tinder certain conditions of oxidation, the weight of
a metal was lessened.
From the record of these studies in the fields of astronomy, physics, and chemistry, we turn to a
somewhat extended survey of the Arabian advances in the field of medicine.

The influence of Arabian physicians rested chiefly upon their use of drugs rather than upon
anatomical knowledge. Like the mediaeval Christians, they looked with horror on dissection of
the human body; yet there were always among them investigators who turned constantly to
nature herself for hidden truths, and were ready to uphold the superiority of actual observation to
mere reading. Thus the physician Abd el-Letif, while in Egypt, made careful studies of a mound
of bones containing more than twenty thousand skeletons. While examining these bones he
discovered that the lower jaw consists of a single bone, not of two, as had been taught by Galen.
He also discovered several other important mistakes in Galenic anatomy, and was so impressed
with his discoveries that he contemplated writing a work on anatomy which should correct the
great classical authority's mistakes.
It was the Arabs who invented the apothecary, and their pharmacopoeia, issued from the hospital
at Gondisapor, and elaborated from time to time, formed the basis for Western pharmacopoeias.
Just how many drugs originated with them, and how many were borrowed from the Hindoos,
Jews, Syrians, and Persians, cannot be determined. It is certain, however, that through them
various new and useful drugs, such as senna, aconite, rhubarb, camphor, and mercury, were
handed down through the Middle Ages, and that they are responsible for the introduction of
alcohol in the field of therapeutics.
In mediaeval Europe, Arabian science came to be regarded with superstitious awe, and the works
of certain Arabian physicians were exalted to a position above all the ancient writers. In modern
times, however, there has been a reaction and a tendency to depreciation of their work. By some
they are held to be mere copyists or translators of Greek books, and in no sense original
investigators in medicine. Yet there can be little doubt that while the Arabians did copy and
translate freely, they also originated and added considerably to medical knowledge. It is certain
that in the time when Christian monarchs in western Europe were paying little attention to
science or education, the caliphs and vizirs were encouraging physicians and philosophers,
building schools, and erecting libraries and hospitals. They made at least a creditable effort to
uphold and advance upon the scientific standards of an earlier age.
The first distinguished Arabian physician was Harets ben Kaladah, who received his education in
the Nestonian school at Gondisapor, about the beginning of the seventh century. Notwithstanding
the fact that Harets was a Christian, he was chosen by Mohammed as his chief medical adviser,
and recommended as such to his successor, the Caliph Abu Bekr. Thus, at the very outset, the
science of medicine was divorced from religion among the Arabians; for if the prophet himself
could employ the services of an unbeliever, surely others might follow his example. And that this
example was followed is shown in the fact that many Christian physicians were raised to
honorable positions by succeeding generations of Arabian monarchs. This broad-minded view of
medicine taken by the Arabs undoubtedly assisted as much as any one single factor in upbuilding
the science, just as the narrow and superstitious view taken by Western nations helped to destroy
The education of the Arabians made it natural for them to associate medicine with the natural
sciences, rather than with religion. An Arabian savant was supposed to be equally well educated
in philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, mathematics, and medicine, and to practise law,
theology, and medicine with equal skill upon occasion. It is easy to understand, therefore, why
these religious fanatics were willing to employ unbelieving physicians, and their physicians
themselves to turn to the scientific works of Hippocrates and Galen for medical instruction,
rather than to religious works. Even Mohammed himself professed some knowledge of medicine,
and often relied upon this knowledge in treating ailments rather than upon prayers or
incantations. He is said, for example, to have recommended and applied the cautery in the case
of a friend who, when suffering from angina, had sought his aid.
The list of eminent Arabian physicians is too long to be given here, but some of them are of such
importance in their influence upon later medicine that they cannot be entirely ignored. One of the
first of these was Honain ben Isaac (809-873 A.D.), a Christian Arab of Bagdad. He made
translations of the works of Hippocrates, and practised the art along the lines indicated by his
teachings and those of Galen. He is considered the greatest translator of the ninth century and
one of the greatest philosophers of that period.

Another great Arabian physician, whose work was just beginning as Honain's was drawing to a
close, was Rhazes (850-923 A.D.), who during his life was no less noted as a philosopher and
musician than as a physician. He continued the work of Honain, and advanced therapeutics by
introducing more extensive use of chemical remedies, such as mercurial ointments, sulphuric
acid, and aqua vitae. He is also credited with being the first physician to describe small-pox and
measles accurately.
While Rhazes was still alive another Arabian, Haly Abbas (died about 994), was writing his
famous encyclopaedia of medicine, called The Royal Book. But the names of all these great
physicians have been considerably obscured by the reputation of Avicenna (980-1037), the
Arabian "Prince of Physicians," the greatest name in Arabic medicine, and one of the most
remarkable men in history. Leclerc says that "he was perhaps never surpassed by any man in
brilliancy of intellect and indefatigable activity." His career was a most varied one. He was at all
times a boisterous reveller, but whether flaunting gayly among the guests of an emir or biding in
some obscure apothecary cellar, his work of philosophical writing was carried on steadily. When
a friendly emir was in power, he taught and wrote and caroused at court; but between times,
when some unfriendly ruler was supreme, he was hiding away obscurely, still pouring out his
great mass of manuscripts. In this way his entire life was spent.
By his extensive writings he revived and kept alive the best of the teachings of the Greek
physicians, adding to them such observations as he had made in anatomy, physiology, and
materia medica. Among his discoveries is that of the contagiousness of pulmonary tuberculosis.
His works for several centuries continued to be looked upon as the highest standard by
physicians, and he should undoubtedly be credited with having at least retarded the decline of
mediaeval medicine.

But it was not the Eastern Arabs alone who were active in the field of medicine. Cordova, the
capital of the western caliphate, became also a great centre of learning and produced several
great physicians. One of these, Albucasis (died in 1013 A.D.), is credited with having published
the first illustrated work on surgery, this book being remarkable in still another way, in that it
was also the first book, since classical times, written from the practical experience of the
physician, and not a mere compilation of ancient authors. A century after Albucasis came the
great physician Avenzoar (1113-1196), with whom he divides about equally the medical honors
of the western caliphate. Among Avenzoar's discoveries was that of the cause of "itch"--a little
parasite, "so small that he is hardly visible." The discovery of the cause of this common disease
seems of minor importance now, but it is of interest in medical history because, had Avenzoar's
discovery been remembered a hundred years ago, "itch struck in" could hardly have been
considered the cause of three-fourths of all diseases, as it was by the famous Hahnemann.
The illustrious pupil of Avenzoar, Averrhoes, who died in 1198 A.D., was the last of the great
Arabian physicians who, by rational conception of medicine, attempted to stem the flood of
superstition that was overwhelming medicine. For a time he succeeded; but at last the Moslem
theologians prevailed, and he was degraded and banished to a town inhabited only by the
despised Jews.

To early Christians belong the credit of having established the first charitable institutions for
caring for the sick; but their efforts were soon eclipsed by both Eastern and Western
Mohammedans. As early as the eighth century the Arabs had begun building hospitals, but the
flourishing time of hospital building seems to have begun early in the tenth century. Lady Seidel,
in 918 A.D., opened a hospital at Bagdad, endowed with an amount corresponding to about three
hundred pounds sterling a month. Other similar hospitals were erected in the years immediately
following, and in 977 the Emir Adad-adaula established an enormous institution with a staff of
twenty-four medical officers. The great physician Rhazes is said to have selected the site for one
of these hospitals by hanging pieces of meat in various places about the city, selecting the site
near the place at which putrefaction was slowest in making its appearance. By the middle of the
twelfth century there were something like sixty medical institutions in Bagdad alone, and these
institutions were free to all patients and supported by official charity.
The Emir Nureddin, about the year 1160, founded a great hospital at Damascus, as a thank-
offering for his victories over the Crusaders. This great institution completely overshadowed all
the earlier Moslem hospitals in size and in the completeness of its equipment. It was furnished
with facilities for teaching, and was conducted for several centuries in a lavish manner,
regardless of expense. But little over a century after its foundation the fame of its methods of
treatment led to the establishment of a larger and still more luxurious institution--the Mansuri
hospital at Cairo. It seems that a certain sultan, having been cured by medicines from the
Damascene hospital, determined to build one of his own at Cairo which should eclipse even the
great Damascene institution.
In a single year (1283-1284) this hospital was begun and completed. No efforts were spared in
hurrying on the good work, and no one was exempt from performing labor on the building if he
chanced to pass one of the adjoining streets. It was the order of the sultan that any person passing
near could be impressed into the work, and this order was carried out to the letter, noblemen and
beggars alike being forced to lend a hand. Very naturally, the adjacent thoroughfares became
unpopular and practically deserted, but still the holy work progressed rapidly and was shortly
This immense structure is said to have contained four courts, each having a fountain in the
centre; lecture-halls, wards for isolating certain diseases, and a department that corresponded to
the modern hospital's "out-patient" department. The yearly endowment amounted to something
like the equivalent of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. A novel feature was a hall
where musicians played day and night, and another where story-tellers were employed, so that
persons troubled with insomnia were amused and melancholiacs cheered. Those of a religious
turn of mind could listen to readings of the Koran, conducted continuously by a staff of some
fifty chaplains. Each patient on leaving the hospital received some gold pieces, that he need not
be obliged to attempt hard labor at once.

In considering the astonishing tales of these sumptuous Arabian institutions, it should be borne in
mind that our accounts of them are, for the most part, from Mohammedan sources. Nevertheless,
there can be little question that they were enormous institutions, far surpassing any similar
institutions in western Europe. The so-called hospitals in the West were, at this time, branches of
monasteries under supervision of the monks, and did not compare favorably with the Arabian
But while the medical science of the Mohammedans greatly overshadowed that of the Christians
during this period, it did not completely obliterate it. About the year 1000 A.D. came into
prominence the Christian medical school at Salerno, situated on the Italian coast, some thirty
miles southeast of Naples. Just how long this school had been in existence, or by whom it was
founded, cannot be determined, but its period of greatest influence was the eleventh, twelfth, and
thirteenth centuries. The members of this school gradually adopted Arabic medicine, making use
of many drugs from the Arabic pharmacopoeia, and this formed one of the stepping-stones to the
introduction of Arabian medicine all through western Europe.

It was not the adoption of Arabian medicines, however, that has made the school at Salerno
famous both in rhyme and prose, but rather the fact that women there practised the healing art.
Greatest among them was Trotula, who lived in the eleventh century, and whose learning is
reputed to have equalled that of the greatest physicians of the day. She is accredited with a work
on Diseases of Women, still extant, and many of her writings on general medical subjects were
quoted through two succeeding centuries. If we may judge from these writings, she seemed to
have had many excellent ideas as to the proper methods of treating diseases, but it is difficult to
determine just which of the writings credited to her are in reality hers. Indeed, the uncertainty is
even greater than this implies, for, according to some writers, "Trotula" is merely the title of a
book. Such an authority as Malgaigne, however, believed that such a woman existed, and that the
works accredited to her are authentic. The truth of the matter may perhaps never be fully
established, but this at least is certain--the tradition in regard to Trotula could never have arisen
had not women held a far different position among the Arabians of this period from that
accorded them in contemporary Christendom.


We have previously referred to the influence of the Byzantine civilization in transmitting the
learning of antiquity across the abysm of the dark age. It must be admitted, however, that the
importance of that civilization did not extend much beyond the task of the common carrier.
There were no great creative scientists in the later Roman empire of the East any more than in
the corresponding empire of the West. There was, however, one field in which the Byzantine
made respectable progress and regarding which their efforts require a few words of special
comment. This was the field of medicine.

The Byzantines of this time could boast of two great medical men, Aetius of Amida (about 502-
575 A.D.) and Paul of Aegina (about 620-690). The works of Aetius were of value largely
because they recorded the teachings of many of his eminent predecessors, but he was not entirely
lacking in originality, and was perhaps the first physician to mention diphtheria, with an allusion
to some observations of the paralysis of the palate which sometimes follows this disease.
Paul of Aegina, who came from the Alexandrian school about a century later, was one of those
remarkable men whose ideas are centuries ahead of their time. This was particularly true of Paul
in regard to surgery, and his attitude towards the supernatural in the causation and treatment of
diseases. He was essentially a surgeon, being particularly familiar with military surgery, and
some of his descriptions of complicated and difficult operations have been little improved upon
even in modern times. In his books he describes such operations as the removal of foreign bodies
from the nose, ear, and esophagus; and he recognizes foreign growths such as polypi in the air-
passages, and gives the method of their removal. Such operations as tracheotomy, tonsellotomy,
bronchotomy, staphylotomy, etc., were performed by him, and he even advocated and described
puncture of the abdominal cavity, giving careful directions as to the location in which such
punctures should be made. He advocated amputation of the breast for the cure of cancer, and
described extirpation of the uterus. Just how successful this last operation may have been as
performed by him does not appear; but he would hardly have recommended it if it had not been
sometimes, at least, successful. That he mentions it at all, however, is significant, as this difficult
operation is considered one of the great triumphs of modern surgery.
But Paul of Aegina is a striking exception to the rule among Byzantine surgeons, and as he was
their greatest, so he was also their last important surgeon. The energies of all Byzantium were so
expended in religious controversies that medicine, like the other sciences, was soon relegated to
a place among the other superstitions, and the influence of the Byzantine school was presently
replaced by that of the conquering Arabians.

The thirteenth century marks the beginning of a gradual change in medicine, and a tendency to
leave the time-worn rut of superstitious dogmas that so long retarded the progress of science. It is
thought that the great epidemics which raged during the Middle Ages acted powerfully in
diverting the medical thought of the times into new and entirely different channels. It will be
remembered that the teachings of Galen were handed through mediaeval times as the highest and
best authority on the subject of all diseases. When, however, the great epidemics made their
appearance, the medical men appealed to the works of Galen in vain for enlightenment, as these
works, having been written several centuries before the time of the plagues, naturally contained
no information concerning them. It was evident, therefore, that on this subject, at least, Galen
was not infallible; and it would naturally follow that, one fallible point having been revealed,
others would be sought for. In other words, scepticism in regard to accepted methods would be
aroused, and would lead naturally, as such scepticism usually does, to progress. The devastating
effects of these plagues, despite prayers and incantations, would arouse doubt in the minds of
many as to the efficacy of superstitious rites and ceremonies in curing diseases. They had seen
thousands and tens of thousands of their fellow-beings swept away by these awful scourges.
They had seen the ravages of these epidemics continue for months or even years,
notwithstanding the fact that multitudes of God-fearing people prayed hourly that such ravages
might be checked. And they must have observed also that when even very simple rules of
cleanliness and hygiene were followed there was a diminution in the ravages of the plague, even
without the aid of incantations. Such observations as these would have a tendency to awaken a
suspicion in the minds of many of the physicians that disease was not a manifestation of the
supernatural, but a natural phenomenon, to be treated by natural methods.
But, be the causes what they may, it is a fact that the thirteenth century marks a turning-point, or
the beginning of an attitude of mind which resulted in bringing medicine to a much more rational
position. Among the thirteenth-century physicians, two men are deserving of special mention.
These are Arnald of Villanova (1235-1312) and Peter of Abano (1250-1315). Both these men
suffered persecution for expressing their belief in natural, as against the supernatural, causes of
disease, and at one time Arnald was obliged to flee from Barcelona for declaring that the "bulls"
of popes were human works, and that "acts of charity were dearer to God than hecatombs." He
was also accused of alchemy. Fleeing from persecution, he finally perished by shipwreck.
Arnald was the first great representative of the school of Montpellier. He devoted much time to
the study of chemicals, and was active in attempting to re-establish the teachings of Hippocrates
and Galen. He was one of the first of a long line of alchemists who, for several succeeding
centuries, expended so much time and energy in attempting to find the "elixir of life." The Arab
discovery of alcohol first deluded him into the belief that the "elixir" had at last been found; but
later he discarded it and made extensive experiments with brandy, employing it in the treatment
of certain diseases--the first record of the administration of this liquor as a medicine. Arnald also
revived the search for some anaesthetic that would produce insensibility to pain in surgical
operations. This idea was not original with him, for since very early times physicians had
attempted to discover such an anaesthetic, and even so early a writer as Herodotus tells how the
Scythians, by inhalation of the vapors of some kind of hemp, produced complete insensibility. It
may have been these writings that stimulated Arnald to search for such an anaesthetic. In a book
usually credited to him, medicines are named and methods of administration described which
will make the patient insensible to pain, so that "he may be cut and feel nothing, as though he
were dead." For this purpose a mixture of opium, mandragora, and henbane is to be used. This
mixture was held at the patient's nostrils much as ether and chloroform are administered by the
modern surgeon. The method was modified by Hugo of Lucca (died in 1252 or 1268), who
added certain other narcotics, such as hemlock, to the mixture, and boiled a new sponge in this
decoction. After boiling for a certain time, this sponge was dried, and when wanted for use was
dipped in hot water and applied to the nostrils.
Just how frequently patients recovered from the administration of such a combination of
powerful poisons does not appear, but the percentage of deaths must have been very high, as the
practice was generally condemned. Insensibility could have been produced only by swallowing
large quantities of the liquid, which dripped into the nose and mouth when the sponge was
applied, and a lethal quantity might thus be swallowed. The method was revived, with various
modifications, from time to time, but as often fell into disuse. As late as 1782 it was sometimes
attempted, and in that year the King of Poland is said to have been completely anaesthetized and
to have recovered, after a painless amputation had been performed by the surgeons.
Peter of Abano was one of the first great men produced by the University of Padua. His fate
would have been even more tragic than that of the shipwrecked Arnald had he not cheated the
purifying fagots of the church by dying opportunely on the eve of his execution for heresy. But if
his spirit had cheated the fanatics, his body could not, and his bones were burned for his heresy.
He had dared to deny the existence of a devil, and had suggested that the case of a patient who
lay in a trance for three days might help to explain some miracles, like the raising of Lazarus.

His great work was Conciliator Differentiarum, an attempt to reconcile physicians and
philosophers. But his researches were not confined to medicine, for he seems to have had an
inkling of the hitherto unknown fact that air possesses weight, and his calculation of the length of
the year at three hundred and sixty-five days, six hours, and four minutes, is exceptionally
accurate for the age in which he lived. He was probably the first of the Western writers to teach
that the brain is the source of the nerves, and the heart the source of the vessels. From this it is
seen that he was groping in the direction of an explanation of the circulation of the blood, as
demonstrated by Harvey three centuries later.
The work of Arnald and Peter of Abano in "reviving" medicine was continued actively by
Mondino (1276-1326) of Bologna, the "restorer of anatomy," and by Guy of Chauliac: (born
about 1300), the "restorer of surgery." All through the early Middle Ages dissections of human
bodies had been forbidden, and even dissection of the lower animals gradually fell into disrepute
because physicians detected in such practices were sometimes accused of sorcery. Before the
close of the thirteenth century, however, a reaction had begun, physicians were protected, and
dissections were occasionally sanctioned by the ruling monarch. Thus Emperor Frederick H.
(1194-1250 A.D.)--whose services to science we have already had occasion to mention--ordered
that at least one human body should be dissected by physicians in his kingdom every five years.
By the time of Mondino dissections were becoming more frequent, and he himself is known to
have dissected and demonstrated several bodies. His writings on anatomy have been called
merely plagiarisms of Galen, but in all probability be made many discoveries independently, and
on the whole, his work may be taken as more advanced than Galen's. His description of the heart
is particularly accurate, and he seems to have come nearer to determining the course of the blood
in its circulation than any of his predecessors. In this quest he was greatly handicapped by the
prevailing belief in the idea that blood-vessels must contain air as well as blood, and this led him
to assume that one of the cavities of the heart contained "spirits," or air. It is probable, however,
that his accurate observations, so far as they went, were helpful stepping-stones to Harvey in his
discovery of the circulation.
Guy of Chauliac, whose innovations in surgery reestablished that science on a firm basis, was
not only one of the most cultured, but also the most practical surgeon of his time. He had great
reverence for the works of Galen, Albucasis, and others of his noted predecessors; but this
reverence did not blind him to their mistakes nor prevent him from using rational methods of
treatment far in advance of theirs. His practicality is shown in some of his simple but useful
inventions for the sick-room, such as the device of a rope, suspended from the ceiling over the
bed, by which a patient may move himself about more easily; and in some of his improvements
in surgical dressings, such as stiffening bandages by dipping them in the white of an egg so that
they are held firmly. He treated broken limbs in the suspended cradle still in use, and introduced
the method of making "traction" on a broken limb by means of a weight and pulley, to prevent
deformity through shortening of the member. He was one of the first physicians to recognize the
utility of spectacles, and recommended them in cases not amenable to treatment with lotions and
eye-waters. In some of his surgical operations, such as trephining for fracture of the skull, his
technique has been little improved upon even in modern times. In one of these operations he
successfully removed a portion of a man's brain.

Surgery was undoubtedly stimulated greatly at this period by the constant wars. Lay physicians,
as a class, had been looked down upon during the Dark Ages; but with the beginning of the
return to rationalism, the services of surgeons on the battle-field, to remove missiles from
wounds, and to care for wounds and apply dressings, came to be more fully appreciated. In
return for his labors the surgeon was thus afforded better opportunities for observing wounds and
diseases, which led naturally to a gradual improvement in surgical methods.

The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had seen some slight advancement in the science of
medicine; at least, certain surgeons and physicians, if not the generality, had made advances; but
it was not until the fifteenth century that the general revival of medical learning became assured.
In this movement, naturally, the printing-press played an all-important part. Medical books,
hitherto practically inaccessible to the great mass of physicians, now became common, and this
output of reprints of Greek and Arabic treatises revealed the fact that many of the supposed true
copies were spurious. These discoveries very naturally aroused all manner of doubt and
criticism, which in turn helped in the development of independent thought.
A certain manuscript of the great Cornelius Celsus, the De Medicine, which had been lost for
many centuries, was found in the church of St. Ambrose, at Milan, in 1443, and was at once put
into print. The effect of the publication of this book, which had lain in hiding for so many
centuries, was a revelation, showing the medical profession how far most of their supposed true
copies of Celsus had drifted away from the original. The indisputable authenticity of this
manuscript, discovered and vouched for by the man who shortly after became Pope Nicholas V.,
made its publication the more impressive. The output in book form of other authorities followed
rapidly, and the manifest discrepancies between such teachers as Celsus, Hippocrates, Galen, and
Pliny heightened still more the growing spirit of criticism.
These doubts resulted in great controversies as to the proper treatment of certain diseases, some
physicians following Hippocrates, others Galen or Celsus, still others the Arabian masters. One
of the most bitter of these contests was over the question of "revulsion," and "derivation"--that is,
whether in cases of pleurisy treated by bleeding, the venesection should be made at a point
distant from the seat of the disease, as held by the "revulsionists," or at a point nearer and on the
same side of the body, as practised by the "derivationists." That any great point for discussion
could be raised in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries on so simple a matter as it seems to-day
shows how necessary to the progress of medicine was the discovery of the circulation of the
blood made by Harvey two centuries later. After Harvey's discovery no such discussion could
have been possible, because this discovery made it evident that as far as the general effect upon
the circulation is concerned, it made little difference whether the bleeding was done near a
diseased part or remote from it. But in the sixteenth century this question was the all-absorbing
one among the doctors. At one time the faculty of Paris condemned "derivation"; but the
supporters of this method carried the war still higher, and Emperor Charles V. himself was
appealed to. He reversed the decision of the Paris faculty, and decided in favor of "derivation."
His decision was further supported by Pope Clement VII., although the discussion dragged on
until cut short by Harvey's discovery.

But a new form of injury now claimed the attention of the surgeons, something that could be
decided by neither Greek nor Arabian authors, as the treatment of gun-shot wounds was, for
obvious reasons, not given in their writings. About this time, also, came the great epidemics, "the
sweating sickness" and scurvy; and upon these subjects, also, the Greeks and Arabians were
silent. John of Vigo, in his book, the Practica Copiosa, published in 1514, and repeated in many
editions, became the standard authority on all these subjects, and thus supplanted the works of
the ancient writers.

According to Vigo, gun-shot wounds differed from the wounds made by ordinary weapons--that
is, spear, arrow, sword, or axe--in that the bullet, being round, bruised rather than cut its way
through the tissues; it burned the flesh; and, worst of all, it poisoned it. Vigo laid especial stress
upon treating this last condition, recommending the use of the cautery or the oil of elder, boiling
hot. It is little wonder that gun-shot wounds were so likely to prove fatal. Yet, after all, here was
the germ of the idea of antisepsis.

We have dwelt thus at length on the subject of medical science, because it was chiefly in this
field that progress was made in the Western world during the mediaeval period, and because
these studies furnished the point of departure for the revival all along the line. It will be
understood, however, from what was stated in the preceding chapter, that the Arabian influences
in particular were to some extent making themselves felt along other lines. The opportunity
afforded a portion of the Western world--notably Spain and Sicily --to gain access to the
scientific ideas of antiquity through Arabic translations could not fail of influence. Of like
character, and perhaps even more pronounced in degree, was the influence wrought by the
Byzantine refugees, who, when Constantinople began to be threatened by the Turks, migrated to
the West in considerable numbers, bringing with them a knowledge of Greek literature and a
large number of precious works which for centuries had been quite forgotten or absolutely
ignored in Italy. Now Western scholars began to take an interest in the Greek language, which
had been utterly neglected since the beginning of the Middle Ages. Interesting stories are told of
the efforts made by such men as Cosmo de' Medici to gain possession of classical manuscripts.
The revival of learning thus brought about had its first permanent influence in the fields of
literature and art, but its effect on science could not be long delayed. Quite independently of the
Byzantine influence, however, the striving for better intellectual things had manifested itself in
many ways before the close of the thirteenth century. An illustration of this is found in the almost
simultaneous development of centres of teaching, which developed into the universities of Italy,
France, England, and, a little later, of Germany.
The regular list of studies that came to be adopted everywhere comprised seven nominal
branches, divided into two groups--the so-called quadrivium, comprising music, arithmetic,
geometry, and astronomy; and the trivium comprising grammar, rhetoric, and logic. The
vagueness of implication of some of these branches gave opportunity to the teacher for the
promulgation of almost any knowledge of which he might be possessed, but there can be no
doubt that, in general, science had but meagre share in the curriculum. In so far as it was given
representation, its chief field must have been Ptolemaic astronomy. The utter lack of scientific
thought and scientific method is illustrated most vividly in the works of the greatest men of that
period--such men as Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and the hosts of other
scholastics of lesser rank. Yet the mental awakening implied in their efforts was sure to extend to
other fields, and in point of fact there was at least one contemporary of these great scholastics
whose mind was intended towards scientific subjects, and who produced writings strangely at
variance in tone and in content with the others. This anachronistic thinker was the English monk,
Roger Bacon.
Bacon was born in 1214 and died in 1292. By some it is held that he was not appreciated in his
own time because he was really a modern scientist living in an age two centuries before modern
science or methods of modern scientific thinking were known. Such an estimate, however, is a
manifest exaggeration of the facts, although there is probably a grain of truth in it withal. His
learning certainly brought him into contact with the great thinkers of the time, and his writings
caused him to be imprisoned by his fellow-churchmen at different times, from which
circumstances we may gather that he was advanced thinker, even if not a modern scientist.
Although Bacon was at various times in durance, or under surveillance, and forbidden to write,
he was nevertheless a marvellously prolific writer, as is shown by the numerous books and
unpublished manuscripts of his still extant. His master-production was the Opus Majus. In Part
IV. of this work he attempts to show that all sciences rest ultimately on mathematics; but Part V.,
which treats of perspective, is of particular interest to modern scientists, because in this he
discusses reflection and refraction, and the properties of mirrors and lenses. In this part, also, it is
evident that he is making use of such Arabian writers as Alkindi and Alhazen, and this is of
especial interest, since it has been used by his detractors, who accuse him of lack of originality,
to prove that his seeming inventions and discoveries were in reality adaptations of the Arab
scientists. It is difficult to determine just how fully such criticisms are justified. It is certain,
however, that in this part he describes the anatomy of the eye with great accuracy, and discusses
mirrors and lenses.

The magnifying power of the segment of a glass sphere had been noted by Alhazen, who had
observed also that the magnification was increased by increasing the size of the segment used.
Bacon took up the discussion of the comparative advantages of segments, and in this discussion
seems to show that he understood how to trace the progress of the rays of light through a
spherical transparent body, and how to determine the place of the image. He also described a
method of constructing a telescope, but it is by no means clear that he had ever actually
constructed such an instrument. It is also a mooted question as to whether his instructions as to
the construction of such an instrument would have enabled any one to construct one. The
vagaries of the names of terms as he uses them allow such latitude in interpretation that modern
scientists are not agreed as to the practicability of Bacon's suggestions. For example, he
constantly refers to force under such names as virtus, species, imago, agentis, and a score of
other names, and this naturally gives rise to the great differences in the interpretations of his
writings, with corresponding differences in estimates of them.
The claim that Bacon originated the use of lenses, in the form of spectacles, cannot be proven.
Smith has determined that as early as the opening years of the fourteenth century such lenses
were in use, but this proves nothing as regards Bacon's connection with their invention. The
knowledge of lenses seems to be very ancient, if we may judge from the convex lens of rock
crystal found by Layard in his excavations at Nimrud. There is nothing to show, however, that
the ancients ever thought of using them to correct defects of vision. Neither, apparently, is it
feasible to determine whether the idea of such an application originated with Bacon.

Another mechanical discovery about which there has been a great deal of discussion is Bacon's
supposed invention of gunpowder. It appears that in a certain passage of his work he describes
the process of making a substance that is, in effect, ordinary gunpowder; but it is more than
doubtful whether he understood the properties of the substance he describes. It is fairly well
established, however, that in Bacon's time gunpowder was known to the Arabs, so that it should
not be surprising to find references made to it in Bacon's work, since there is reason to believe
that he constantly consulted Arabian writings.

The great merit of Bacon's work, however, depends on the principles taught as regards
experiment and the observation of nature, rather than on any single invention. He had the all-
important idea of breaking with tradition. He championed unfettered inquiry in every field of
thought. He had the instinct of a scientific worker--a rare instinct indeed in that age. Nor need we
doubt that to the best of his opportunities he was himself an original investigator.

The relative infertility of Bacon's thought is shown by the fact that he founded no school and left
no trace of discipleship. The entire century after his death shows no single European name that
need claim the attention of the historian of science. In the latter part of the fifteenth century,
however, there is evidence of a renaissance of science no less than of art. The German Muller
became famous under the latinized named of Regio Montanus (1437-1472), although his actual
scientific attainments would appear to have been important only in comparison with the utter
ignorance of his contemporaries. The most distinguished worker of the new era was the famous
Italian Leonardo da Vinci--a man who has been called by Hamerton the most universal genius
that ever lived. Leonardo's position in the history of art is known to every one. With that, of
course, we have no present concern; but it is worth our while to inquire at some length as to the
famous painter's accomplishments as a scientist.
From a passage in the works of Leonardo, first brought to light by Venturi,[1] it would seem that
the great painter anticipated Copernicus in determining the movement of the earth. He made
mathematical calculations to prove this, and appears to have reached the definite conclusion that
the earth does move--or what amounts to the same thing, that the sun does not move. Muntz is
authority for the statement that in one of his writings he declares, "Il sole non si mouve"--the sun
does not move.[2]

Among his inventions is a dynamometer for determining the traction power of machines and
animals, and his experiments with steam have led some of his enthusiastic partisans to claim for
him priority to Watt in the invention of the steam-engine. In these experiments, however,
Leonardo seems to have advanced little beyond Hero of Alexandria and his steam toy. Hero's
steam-engine did nothing but rotate itself by virtue of escaping jets of steam forced from the bent
tubes, while Leonardo's "steam-engine" "drove a ball weighing one talent over a distance of six
stadia." In a manuscript now in the library of the Institut de France, Da Vinci describes this
engine minutely. The action of this machine was due to the sudden conversion of small quantities
of water into steam ("smoke," as he called it) by coming suddenly in contact with a heated
surface in a proper receptacle, the rapidly formed steam acting as a propulsive force after the
manner of an explosive. It is really a steam-gun, rather than a steam-engine, and it is not unlikely
that the study of the action of gunpowder may have suggested it to Leonardo.

It is believed that Leonardo is the true discoverer of the camera-obscura, although the Neapolitan
philosopher, Giambattista Porta, who was not born until some twenty years after the death of
Leonardo, is usually credited with first describing this device. There is little doubt, however, that
Da Vinci understood the principle of this mechanism, for he describes how such a camera can be
made by cutting a small, round hole through the shutter of a darkened room, the reversed image
of objects outside being shown on the opposite wall.
Like other philosophers in all ages, he had observed a great number of facts which he was unable
to explain correctly. But such accumulations of scientific observations are always interesting, as
showing how many centuries of observation frequently precede correct explanation. He observed
many facts about sounds, among others that blows struck upon a bell produced sympathetic
sounds in a bell of the same kind; and that striking the string of a lute produced vibration in
corresponding strings of lutes strung to the same pitch. He knew, also, that sounds could be
heard at a distance at sea by listening at one end of a tube, the other end of which was placed in
the water; and that the same expedient worked successfully on land, the end of the tube being
placed against the ground.
The knowledge of this great number of unexplained facts is often interpreted by the admirers of
Da Vinci, as showing an almost occult insight into science many centuries in advance of his
time. Such interpretations, however, are illusive. The observation, for example, that a tube placed
against the ground enables one to hear movements on the earth at a distance, is not in itself
evidence of anything more than acute scientific observation, as a similar method is in use among
almost every race of savages, notably the American Indians. On the other hand, one is inclined to
give credence to almost any story of the breadth of knowledge of the man who came so near
anticipating Hutton, Lyell, and Darwin in his interpretation of the geological records as he found
them written on the rocks.
It is in this field of geology that Leonardo is entitled to the greatest admiration by modern
scientists. He had observed the deposit of fossil shells in various strata of rocks, even on the tops
of mountains, and he rejected once for all the theory that they had been deposited there by the
Deluge. He rightly interpreted their presence as evidence that they had once been deposited at the
bottom of the sea. This process he assumed bad taken hundreds and thousands of centuries, thus
tacitly rejecting the biblical tradition as to the date of the creation.

Notwithstanding the obvious interest that attaches to the investigations of Leonardo, it must be
admitted that his work in science remained almost as infertile as that of his great precursor,
Bacon. The really stimulative work of this generation was done by a man of affairs, who knew
little of theoretical science except in one line, but who pursued that one practical line until he
achieved a wonderful result. This man was Christopher Columbus. It is not necessary here to tell
the trite story of his accomplishment. Suffice it that his practical demonstration of the rotundity
of the earth is regarded by most modern writers as marking an epoch in history. With the year of
his voyage the epoch of the Middle Ages is usually regarded as coming to an end. It must not be
supposed that any very sudden change came over the aspect of scholarship of the time, but the
preliminaries of great things had been achieved, and when Columbus made his famous voyage in
1492, the man was already alive who was to bring forward the first great vitalizing thought in the
field of pure science that the Western world had originated for more than a thousand years. This
man bore the name of Kopernik, or in its familiar Anglicized form, Copernicus. His life work
and that of his disciples will claim our attention in the succeeding chapter.

We have seen that the Ptolemaic astronomy, which was the accepted doctrine throughout the
Middle Ages, taught that the earth is round. Doubtless there was a popular opinion current which
regarded the earth as flat, but it must be understood that this opinion had no champions among
men of science during the Middle Ages. When, in the year 1492, Columbus sailed out to the west
on his memorable voyage, his expectation of reaching India had full scientific warrant, however
much it may have been scouted by certain ecclesiastics and by the average man of the period.
Nevertheless, we may well suppose that the successful voyage of Columbus, and the still more
demonstrative one made about thirty years later by Magellan, gave the theory of the earth's
rotundity a certainty it could never previously have had. Alexandrian geographers had measured
the size of the earth, and had not hesitated to assert that by sailing westward one might reach
India. But there is a wide gap between theory and practice, and it required the voyages of
Columbus and his successors to bridge that gap.

After the companions of Magellan completed the circumnavigation of the globe, the general
shape of our earth would, obviously, never again be called in question. But demonstration of the
sphericity of the earth had, of course, no direct bearing upon the question of the earth's position
in the universe. Therefore the voyage of Magellan served to fortify, rather than to dispute, the
Ptolemaic theory. According to that theory, as we have seen, the earth was supposed to lie
immovable at the centre of the universe; the various heavenly bodies, including the sun,
revolving about it in eccentric circles. We have seen that several of the ancient Greeks, notably
Aristarchus, disputed this conception, declaring for the central position of the sun in the universe,
and the motion of the earth and other planets about that body. But this revolutionary theory
seemed so opposed to the ordinary observation that, having been discountenanced by Hipparchus
and Ptolemy, it did not find a single important champion for more than a thousand years after the
time of the last great Alexandrian astronomer.

The first man, seemingly, to hark back to the Aristarchian conception in the new scientific era
that was now dawning was the noted cardinal, Nikolaus of Cusa, who lived in the first half of the
fifteenth century, and was distinguished as a philosophical writer and mathematician. His De
Docta Ignorantia expressly propounds the doctrine of the earth's motion. No one, however, paid
the slightest attention to his suggestion, which, therefore, merely serves to furnish us with
another interesting illustration of the futility of propounding even a correct hypothesis before the
time is ripe to receive it--particularly if the hypothesis is not fully fortified by reasoning based on
experiment or observation.
The man who was destined to put forward the theory of the earth's motion in a way to command
attention was born in 1473, at the village of Thorn, in eastern Prussia. His name was Nicholas
Copernicus. There is no more famous name in the entire annals of science than this, yet posterity
has never been able fully to establish the lineage of the famous expositor of the true doctrine of
the solar system. The city of Thorn lies in a province of that border territory which was then
under control of Poland, but which subsequently became a part of Prussia. It is claimed that the
aspects of the city were essentially German, and it is admitted that the mother of Copernicus
belonged to that race. The nationality of the father is more in doubt, but it is urged that
Copernicus used German as his mother-tongue. His great work was, of course, written in Latin,
according to the custom of the time; but it is said that, when not employing that language, he
always wrote in German. The disputed nationality of Copernicus strongly suggests that he came
of a mixed racial lineage, and we are reminded again of the influences of those ethnical
minglings to which we have previously more than once referred. The acknowledged centres of
civilization towards the close of the fifteenth century were Italy and Spain. Therefore, the
birthplace of Copernicus lay almost at the confines of civilization, reminding us of that earlier
period when Greece was the centre of culture, but when the great Greek thinkers were born in
Asia Minor and in Italy.
As a young man, Copernicus made his way to Vienna to study medicine, and subsequently he
journeyed into Italy and remained there many years, About the year 1500 he held the chair of
mathematics in a college at Rome. Subsequently he returned to his native land and passed his
remaining years there, dying at Domkerr, in Frauenburg, East Prussia, in the year 1543.

It would appear that Copernicus conceived the idea of the heliocentric system of the universe
while he was a comparatively young man, since in the introduction to his great work, which he
addressed to Pope Paul III., he states that he has pondered his system not merely nine years, in
accordance with the maxim of Horace, but well into the fourth period of nine years. Throughout
a considerable portion of this period the great work of Copernicus was in manuscript, but it was
not published until the year of his death. The reasons for the delay are not very fully established.
Copernicus undoubtedly taught his system throughout the later decades of his life. He himself
tells us that he had even questioned whether it were not better for him to confine himself to such
verbal teaching, following thus the example of Pythagoras. Just as his life was drawing to a
close, he decided to pursue the opposite course, and the first copy of his work is said to have
been placed in his hands as he lay on his deathbed.

The violent opposition which the new system met from ecclesiastical sources led subsequent
commentators to suppose that Copernicus had delayed publication of his work through fear of
the church authorities. There seems, however, to be no direct evidence for this opinion. It has
been thought significant that Copernicus addressed his work to the pope. It is, of course, quite
conceivable that the aged astronomer might wish by this means to demonstrate that he wrote in
no spirit of hostility to the church. His address to the pope might have been considered as a
desirable shield precisely because the author recognized that his work must needs meet with
ecclesiastical criticism. Be that as it may, Copernicus was removed by death from the danger of
attack, and it remained for his disciples of a later generation to run the gauntlet of criticism and
suffer the charges of heresy.

The work of Copernicus, published thus in the year 1543 at Nuremberg, bears the title De
Orbium Coelestium Revolutionibus.

It is not necessary to go into details as to the cosmological system which Copernicus advocated,
since it is familiar to every one. In a word, he supposed the sun to be the centre of all the
planetary motions, the earth taking its place among the other planets, the list of which, as known
at that time, comprised Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The fixed stars
were alleged to be stationary, and it was necessary to suppose that they are almost infinitely
distant, inasmuch as they showed to the observers of that time no parallax; that is to say, they
preserved the same apparent position when viewed from the opposite points of the earth's orbit.
But let us allow Copernicus to speak for himself regarding his system, His exposition is full of
interest. We quote first the introduction just referred to, in which appeal is made directly to the

"I can well believe, most holy father, that certain people, when they hear of my attributing
motion to the earth in these books of mine, will at once declare that such an opinion ought to be
rejected. Now, my own theories do not please me so much as not to consider what others may
judge of them. Accordingly, when I began to reflect upon what those persons who accept the
stability of the earth, as confirmed by the opinion of many centuries, would say when I claimed
that the earth moves, I hesitated for a long time as to whether I should publish that which I have
written to demonstrate its motion, or whether it would not be better to follow the example of the
Pythagoreans, who used to hand down the secrets of philosophy to their relatives and friends
only in oral form. As I well considered all this, I was almost impelled to put the finished work
wholly aside, through the scorn I had reason to anticipate on account of the newness and
apparent contrariness to reason of my theory.
"My friends, however, dissuaded me from such a course and admonished me that I ought to
publish my book, which had lain concealed in my possession not only nine years, but already
into four times the ninth year. Not a few other distinguished and very learned men asked me to
do the same thing, and told me that I ought not, on account of my anxiety, to delay any longer in
consecrating my work to the general service of mathematicians.
"But your holiness will perhaps not so much wonder that I have dared to bring the results of my
night labors to the light of day, after having taken so much care in elaborating them, but is
waiting instead to hear how it entered my mind to imagine that the earth moved, contrary to the
accepted opinion of mathematicians--nay, almost contrary to ordinary human understanding.
Therefore I will not conceal from your holiness that what moved me to consider another way of
reckoning the motions of the heavenly bodies was nothing else than the fact that the
mathematicians do not agree with one another in their investigations. In the first place, they are
so uncertain about the motions of the sun and moon that they cannot find out the length of a full
year. In the second place, they apply neither the same laws of cause and effect, in determining
the motions of the sun and moon and of the five planets, nor the same proofs. Some employ only
concentric circles, others use eccentric and epicyclic ones, with which, however, they do not
fully attain the desired end. They could not even discover nor compute the main thing--namely,
the form of the universe and the symmetry of its parts. It was with them as if some should, from
different places, take hands, feet, head, and other parts of the body, which, although very
beautiful, were not drawn in their proper relations, and, without making them in any way
correspond, should construct a monster instead of a human being.
"Accordingly, when I had long reflected on this uncertainty of mathematical tradition, I took the
trouble to read again the books of all the philosophers I could get hold of, to see if some one of
them had not once believed that there were other motions of the heavenly bodies. First I found in
Cicero that Niceties had believed in the motion of the earth. Afterwards I found in Plutarch,
likewise, that some others had held the same opinion. This induced me also to begin to consider
the movability of the earth, and, although the theory appeared contrary to reason, I did so
because I knew that others before me had been allowed to assume rotary movements at will, in
order to explain the phenomena of these celestial bodies. I was of the opinion that I, too, might
be permitted to see whether, by presupposing motion in the earth, more reliable conclusions than
hitherto reached could not be discovered for the rotary motions of the spheres. And thus, acting
on the hypothesis of the motion which, in the following book, I ascribe to the earth, and by long
and continued observations, I have finally discovered that if the motion of the other planets be
carried over to the relation of the earth and this is made the basis for the rotation of every star,
not only will the phenomena of the planets be explained thereby, but also the laws and the size of
the stars; all their spheres and the heavens themselves will appear so harmoniously connected
that nothing could be changed in any part of them without confusion in the remaining parts and
in the whole universe. I do not doubt that clever and learned men will agree with me if they are
willing fully to comprehend and to consider the proofs which I advance in the book before us. In
order, however, that both the learned and the unlearned may see that I fear no man's judgment, I
wanted to dedicate these, my night labors, to your holiness, rather than to any one else, because
you, even in this remote corner of the earth where I live, are held to be the greatest in dignity of
station and in love for all sciences and for mathematics, so that you, through your position and
judgment, can easily suppress the bites of slanderers, although the proverb says that there is no
remedy against the bite of calumny."
In chapter X. of book I., "On the Order of the Spheres," occurs a more detailed presentation of
the system, as follows:
"That which Martianus Capella, and a few other Latins, very well knew, appears to me extremely
noteworthy. He believed that Venus and Mercury revolve about the sun as their centre and that
they cannot go farther away from it than the circles of their orbits permit, since they do not
revolve about the earth like the other planets. According to this theory, then, Mercury's orbit
would be included within that of Venus, which is more than twice as great, and would find room
enough within it for its revolution.

"If, acting upon this supposition, we connect Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars with the same centre,
keeping in mind the greater extent of their orbits, which include the earth's sphere besides those
of Mercury and Venus, we cannot fail to see the explanation of the regular order of their
motions. He is certain that Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are always nearest the earth when they rise
in the evening--that is, when they appear over against the sun, or the earth stands between them
and the sun--but that they are farthest from the earth when they set in the evening--that is, when
we have the sun between them and the earth. This proves sufficiently that their centre belongs to
the sun and is the same about which the orbits of Venus and Mercury circle. Since, however, all
have one centre, it is necessary for the space intervening between the orbits of Venus and Mars
to include the earth with her accompanying moon and all that is beneath the moon; for the moon,
which stands unquestionably nearest the earth, can in no way be separated from her, especially as
there is sufficient room for the moon in the aforesaid space. Hence we do not hesitate to claim
that the whole system, which includes the moon with the earth for its centre, makes the round of
that great circle between the planets, in yearly motion about the sun, and revolves about the
centre of the universe, in which the sun rests motionless, and that all which looks like motion in
the sun is explained by the motion of the earth. The extent of the universe, however, is so great
that, whereas the distance of the earth from the sun is considerable in comparison with the size of
the other planetary orbits, it disappears when compared with the sphere of the fixed stars. I hold
this to be more easily comprehensible than when the mind is confused by an almost endless
number of circles, which is necessarily the case with those who keep the earth in the middle of
the universe. Although this may appear incomprehensible and contrary to the opinion of many, I
shall, if God wills, make it clearer than the sun, at least to those who are not ignorant of

"The order of the spheres is as follows: The first and lightest of all the spheres is that of the fixed
stars, which includes itself and all others, and hence is motionless as the place in the universe to
which the motion and position of all other stars is referred.

"Then follows the outermost planet, Saturn, which completes its revolution around the sun in
thirty years; next comes Jupiter with a twelve years' revolution; then Mars, which completes its
course in two years. The fourth one in order is the yearly revolution which includes the earth
with the moon's orbit as an epicycle. In the fifth place is Venus with a revolution of nine months.
The sixth place is taken by Mercury, which completes its course in eighty days. In the middle of
all stands the sun, and who could wish to place the lamp of this most beautiful temple in another
or better place. Thus, in fact, the sun, seated upon the royal throne, controls the family of the
stars which circle around him. We find in their order a harmonious connection which cannot be
found elsewhere. Here the attentive observer can see why the waxing and waning of Jupiter
seems greater than with Saturn and smaller than with Mars, and again greater with Venus than
with Mercury. Also, why Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are nearer to the earth when they rise in the
evening than when they disappear in the rays of the sun. More prominently, however, is it seen in
the case of Mars, which when it appears in the heavens at night, seems to equal Jupiter in size,
but soon afterwards is found among the stars of second magnitude. All of this results from the
same cause--namely, from the earth's motion. The fact that nothing of this is to be seen in the
case of the fixed stars is a proof of their immeasurable distance, which makes even the orbit of
yearly motion or its counterpart invisible to us."[1]
The fact that the stars show no parallax had been regarded as an important argument against the
motion of the earth, and it was still so considered by the opponents of the system of Copernicus.
It had, indeed, been necessary for Aristarchus to explain the fact as due to the extreme distance
of the stars; a perfectly correct explanation, but one that implies distances that are altogether
inconceivable. It remained for nineteenth-century astronomers to show, with the aid of
instruments of greater precision, that certain of the stars have a parallax. But long before this
demonstration had been brought forward, the system of Copernicus had been accepted as a part
of common knowledge.

While Copernicus postulated a cosmical scheme that was correct as to its main features, he did
not altogether break away from certain defects of the Ptolemaic hypothesis. Indeed, he seems to
have retained as much of this as practicable, in deference to the prejudice of his time. Thus he
records the planetary orbits as circular, and explains their eccentricities by resorting to the theory
of epicycles, quite after the Ptolemaic method. But now, of course, a much more simple
mechanism sufficed to explain the planetary motions, since the orbits were correctly referred to
the central sun and not to the earth.

Needless to say, the revolutionary conception of Copernicus did not meet with immediate
acceptance. A number of prominent astronomers, however, took it up almost at once, among
these being Rhaeticus, who wrote a commentary on the evolutions; Erasmus Reinhold, the author
of the Prutenic tables; Rothmann, astronomer to the Landgrave of Hesse, and Maestlin, the
instructor of Kepler. The Prutenic tables, just referred to, so called because of their Prussian
origin, were considered an improvement on the tables of Copernicus, and were highly esteemed
by the astronomers of the time. The commentary of Rhaeticus gives us the interesting
information that it was the observation of the orbit of Mars and of the very great difference
between his apparent diameters at different times which first led Copernicus to conceive the
heliocentric idea. Of Reinhold it is recorded that he considered the orbit of Mercury elliptical,
and that he advocated a theory of the moon, according to which her epicycle revolved on an
elliptical orbit, thus in a measure anticipating one of the great discoveries of Kepler to which we
shall refer presently. The Landgrave of Hesse was a practical astronomer, who produced a
catalogue of fixed stars which has been compared with that of Tycho Brahe. He was assisted by
Rothmann and by Justus Byrgius. Maestlin, the preceptor of Kepler, is reputed to have been the
first modern observer to give a correct explanation of the light seen on portions of the moon not
directly illumined by the sun. He explained this as not due to any proper light of the moon itself,
but as light reflected from the earth. Certain of the Greek philosophers, however, are said to have
given the same explanation, and it is alleged also that Leonardo da Vinci anticipated Maestlin in
this regard.[2]

While, various astronomers of some eminence thus gave support to the Copernican system,
almost from the beginning, it unfortunately chanced that by far the most famous of the
immediate successors of Copernicus declined to accept the theory of the earth's motion. This was
Tycho Brahe, one of the greatest observing astronomers of any age. Tycho Brahe was a Dane,
born at Knudstrup in the year 1546. He died in 1601 at Prague, in Bohemia. During a
considerable portion of his life he found a patron in Frederick, King of Denmark, who assisted
him to build a splendid observatory on the Island of Huene. On the death of his patron Tycho
moved to Germany, where, as good luck would have it, he came in contact with the youthful
Kepler, and thus, no doubt, was instrumental in stimulating the ambitions of one who in later
years was to be known as a far greater theorist than himself. As has been said, Tycho rejected the
Copernican theory of the earth's motion. It should be added, however, that he accepted that part
of the Copernican theory which makes the sun the centre of all the planetary motions, the earth
being excepted. He thus developed a system of his own, which was in some sort a compromise
between the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems. As Tycho conceived it, the sun revolves
about the earth, carrying with it the planets-Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, which
planets have the sun and not the earth as the centre of their orbits. This cosmical scheme, it
should be added, may be made to explain the observed motions of the heavenly bodies, but it
involves a much more complex mechanism than is postulated by the Copernican theory.
Various explanations have been offered of the conservatism which held the great Danish
astronomer back from full acceptance of the relatively simple and, as we now know, correct
Copernican doctrine. From our latter-day point of view, it seems so much more natural to accept
than to reject the Copernican system, that we find it difficult to put ourselves in the place of a
sixteenth-century observer. Yet if we recall that the traditional view, having warrant of
acceptance by nearly all thinkers of every age, recorded the earth as a fixed, immovable body,
we shall see that our surprise should be excited rather by the thinker who can break away from
this view than by the one who still tends to cling to it.

Moreover, it is useless to attempt to disguise the fact that something more than a mere vague
tradition was supposed to support the idea of the earth's overshadowing importance in the
cosmical scheme. The sixteenth-century mind was overmastered by the tenets of ecclesiasticism,
and it was a dangerous heresy to doubt that the Hebrew writings, upon which ecclesiasticism
based its claim, contained the last word regarding matters of science. But the writers of the
Hebrew text had been under the influence of that Babylonian conception of the universe which
accepted the earth as unqualifiedly central--which, indeed, had never so much as conceived a
contradictory hypothesis; and so the Western world, which had come to accept these writings as
actually supernatural in origin, lay under the spell of Oriental ideas of a pre-scientific era. In our
own day, no one speaking with authority thinks of these Hebrew writings as having any scientific
weight whatever. Their interest in this regard is purely antiquarian; hence from our changed
point of view it seems scarcely credible that Tycho Brahe can have been in earnest when he
quotes the Hebrew traditions as proof that the sun revolves about the earth. Yet we shall see that
for almost three centuries after the time of Tycho, these same dreamings continued to be cited in
opposition to those scientific advances which new observations made necessary; and this
notwithstanding the fact that the Oriental phrasing is, for the most part, poetically ambiguous and
susceptible of shifting interpretations, as the criticism of successive generations has amply

As we have said, Tycho Brahe, great observer as he was, could not shake himself free from the
Oriental incubus. He began his objections, then, to the Copernican system by quoting the adverse
testimony of a Hebrew prophet who lived more than a thousand years B.C. All of this shows
sufficiently that Tycho Brahe was not a great theorist. He was essentially an observer, but in this
regard he won a secure place in the very first rank. Indeed, he was easily the greatest observing
astronomer since Hipparchus, between whom and himself there were many points of
resemblance. Hipparchus, it will be recalled, rejected the Aristarchian conception of the universe
just as Tycho rejected the conception of Copernicus.
But if Tycho propounded no great generalizations, the list of specific advances due to him is a
long one, and some of these were to prove important aids in the hands of later workers to the
secure demonstration of the Copernican idea. One of his most important series of studies had to
do with comets. Regarding these bodies there had been the greatest uncertainty in the minds of
astronomers. The greatest variety of opinions regarding them prevailed; they were thought on the
one hand to be divine messengers, and on the other to be merely igneous phenomena of the
earth's atmosphere. Tycho Brahe declared that a comet which he observed in the year 1577 had
no parallax, proving its extreme distance. The observed course of the comet intersected the
planetary orbits, which fact gave a quietus to the long-mooted question as to whether the
Ptolemaic spheres were transparent solids or merely imaginary; since the comet was seen to
intersect these alleged spheres, it was obvious that they could not be the solid substance that they
were commonly imagined to be, and this fact in itself went far towards discrediting the Ptolemaic
system. It should be recalled, however, that this supposition of tangible spheres for the various
planetary and stellar orbits was a mediaeval interpretation of Ptolemy's theory rather than an
interpretation of Ptolemy himself, there being nothing to show that the Alexandrian astronomer
regarded his cycles and epicycles as other than theoretical.
An interesting practical discovery made by Tycho was his method of determining the latitude of
a place by means of two observations made at an interval of twelve hours. Hitherto it had been
necessary to observe the sun's angle on the equinoctial days, a period of six months being
therefore required. Tycho measured the angle of elevation of some star situated near the pole,
when on the meridian, and then, twelve hours later, measured the angle of elevation of the same
star when it again came to the meridian at the opposite point of its apparent circle about the
polestar. Half the sum of these angles gives the latitude of the place of observation.
As illustrating the accuracy of Tycho's observations, it may be noted that he rediscovered a third
inequality of the moon's motion at its variation, he, in common with other European astronomers,
being then quite unaware that this inequality had been observed by an Arabian astronomer.
Tycho proved also that the angle of inclination of the moon's orbit to the ecliptic is subject to
slight variation.
The very brilliant new star which shone forth suddenly in the constellation of Cassiopeia in the
year 1572, was made the object of special studies by Tycho, who proved that the star had no
sensible parallax and consequently was far beyond the planetary regions. The appearance of a
new star was a phenomenon not unknown to the ancients, since Pliny records that Hipparchus
was led by such an appearance to make his catalogue of the fixed stars. But the phenomenon is
sufficiently uncommon to attract unusual attention. A similar phenomenon occurred in the year
1604, when the new star--in this case appearing in the constellation of Serpentarius--was
explained by Kepler as probably proceeding from a vast combustion. This explanation--in which
Kepler is said to have followed. Tycho--is fully in accord with the most recent theories on the
subject, as we shall see in due course. It is surprising to hear Tycho credited with so startling a
theory, but, on the other hand, such an explanation is precisely what should be expected from the
other astronomer named. For Johann Kepler, or, as he was originally named, Johann von Kappel,
was one of the most speculative astronomers of any age. He was forever theorizing, but such was
the peculiar quality of his mind that his theories never satisfied him for long unless he could put
them to the test of observation. Thanks to this happy combination of qualities, Kepler became the
discoverer of three famous laws of planetary motion which lie at the very foundation of modern
astronomy, and which were to be largely instrumental in guiding Newton to his still greater
generalization. These laws of planetary motion were vastly important as corroborating the
Copernican theory of the universe, though their position in this regard was not immediately
recognized by contemporary thinkers. Let us examine with some detail into their discovery,
meantime catching a glimpse of the life history of the remarkable man whose name they bear.

Johann Kepler was born the 27th of December, 1571, in the little town of Weil, in Wurtemburg.
He was a weak, sickly child, further enfeebled by a severe attack of small-pox. It would seem
paradoxical to assert that the parents of such a genius were mismated, but their home was not a
happy one, the mother being of a nervous temperament, which perhaps in some measure
accounted for the genius of the child. The father led the life of a soldier, and finally perished in
the campaign against the Turks. Young Kepler's studies were directed with an eye to the
ministry. After a preliminary training he attended the university at Tubingen, where he came
under the influence of the celebrated Maestlin and became his life-long friend.
Curiously enough, it is recorded that at first Kepler had no taste for astronomy or for
mathematics. But the doors of the ministry being presently barred to him, he turned with
enthusiasm to the study of astronomy, being from the first an ardent advocate of the Copernican
system. His teacher, Maestlin, accepted the same doctrine, though he was obliged, for theological
reasons, to teach the Ptolemaic system, as also to oppose the Gregorian reform of the calendar.

The Gregorian calendar, it should be explained, is so called because it was instituted by Pope
Gregory XIII., who put it into effect in the year 1582, up to which time the so-called Julian
calendar, as introduced by Julius Caesar, had been everywhere accepted in Christendom. This
Julian calendar, as we have seen, was a great improvement on preceding ones, but still lacked
something of perfection inasmuch as its theoretical day differed appreciably from the actual day.
In the course of fifteen hundred years, since the time of Caesar, this defect amounted to a
discrepancy of about eleven days. Pope Gregory proposed to correct this by omitting ten days
from the calendar, which was done in September, 1582. To prevent similar inaccuracies in the
future, the Gregorian calendar provided that once in four centuries the additional day to make a
leap-year should be omitted, the date selected for such omission being the last year of every
fourth century. Thus the years 1500, 1900, and 2300, A.D., would not be leap-years. By this
arrangement an approximate rectification of the calendar was effected, though even this does not
make it absolutely exact.
Such a rectification as this was obviously desirable, but there was really no necessity for the
omission of the ten days from the calendar. The equinoctial day had shifted so that in the year
1582 it fell on the 10th of March and September. There was no reason why it should not have
remained there. It would greatly have simplified the task of future historians had Gregory
contented himself with providing for the future stability of the calendar without making the
needless shift in question. We are so accustomed to think of the 21st of March and 21st of
September as the natural periods of the equinox, that we are likely to forget that these are purely
arbitrary dates for which the 10th might have been substituted without any inconvenience or
But the opposition to the new calendar, to which reference has been made, was not based on any
such considerations as these. It was due, largely at any rate, to the fact that Germany at this time
was under sway of the Lutheran revolt against the papacy. So effective was the opposition that
the Gregorian calendar did not come into vogue in Germany until the year 1699. It may be added
that England, under stress of the same manner of prejudice, held out against the new reckoning
until the year 1751, while Russia does not accept it even now.

As the Protestant leaders thus opposed the papal attitude in a matter of so practical a character as
the calendar, it might perhaps have been expected that the Lutherans would have had a leaning
towards the Copernican theory of the universe, since this theory was opposed by the papacy.
Such, however, was not the case. Luther himself pointed out with great strenuousness, as a final
and demonstrative argument, the fact that Joshua commanded the sun and not the earth to stand
still; and his followers were quite as intolerant towards the new teaching as were their
ultramontane opponents. Kepler himself was, at various times, to feel the restraint of
ecclesiastical opposition, though he was never subjected to direct persecution, as was his friend
and contemporary, Galileo. At the very outset of Kepler's career there was, indeed, question as to
the publication of a work he had written, because that work took for granted the truth of the
Copernican doctrine. This work appeared, however, in the year 1596. It bore the title Mysterium
Cosmographium, and it attempted to explain the positions of the various planetary bodies.
Copernicus had devoted much time to observation of the planets with reference to measuring
their distance, and his efforts had been attended with considerable success. He did not, indeed,
know the actual distance of the sun, and, therefore, was quite unable to fix the distance of any
planet; but, on the other hand, he determined the relative distance of all the planets then known,
as measured in terms of the sun's distance, with remarkable accuracy.

With these measurements as a guide, Kepler was led to a very fanciful theory, according to
which the orbits of the five principal planets sustain a peculiar relation to the five regular solids
of geometry. His theory was this: "Around the orbit of the earth describe a dodecahedron--the
circle comprising it will be that of Mars; around Mars describe a tetrahedron--the circle
comprising it will be that of Jupiter; around Jupiter describe a cube--the circle comprising it will
be that of Saturn; now within the earth's orbit inscribe an icosahedron--the inscribed circle will
be that of Venus; in the orbit of Venus inscribe an octahedron --the circle inscribed will be that
of Mercury."[3]
Though this arrangement was a fanciful one, which no one would now recall had not the
theorizer obtained subsequent fame on more substantial grounds, yet it evidenced a philosophical
spirit on the part of the astronomer which, misdirected as it was in this instance, promised well
for the future. Tycho Brahe, to whom a copy of the work was sent, had the acumen to recognize
it as a work of genius. He summoned the young astronomer to be his assistant at Prague, and no
doubt the association thus begun was instrumental in determining the character of Kepler's future
work. It was precisely the training in minute observation that could avail most for a mind which,
like Kepler's, tended instinctively to the formulation of theories. When Tycho Brahe died, in
1601, Kepler became his successor. In due time he secured access to all the unpublished
observations of his great predecessor, and these were of inestimable value to him in the progress
of his own studies.

Kepler was not only an ardent worker and an enthusiastic theorizer, but he was an indefatigable
writer, and it pleased him to take the public fully into his confidence, not merely as to his
successes, but as to his failures. Thus his works elaborate false theories as well as correct ones,
and detail the observations through which the incorrect guesses were refuted by their originator.
Some of these accounts are highly interesting, but they must not detain us here. For our present
purpose it must suffice to point out the three important theories, which, as culled from among a
score or so of incorrect ones, Kepler was able to demonstrate to his own satisfaction and to that
of subsequent observers. Stated in a few words, these theories, which have come to bear the
name of Kepler's Laws, are the following:

1. That the planetary orbits are not circular, but elliptical, the sun occupying one focus of the

2. That the speed of planetary motion varies in different parts of the orbit in such a way that an
imaginary line drawn from the sun to the planet--that is to say, the radius vector of the planet's
orbit--always sweeps the same area in a given time.

These two laws Kepler published as early as 1609. Many years more of patient investigation
were required before he found out the secret of the relation between planetary distances and
times of revolution which his third law expresses. In 1618, however, he was able to formulate
this relation also, as follows:

3. The squares of the distance of the various planets from the sun are proportional to the cubes of
their periods of revolution about the sun.

All these laws, it will be observed, take for granted the fact that the sun is the centre of the
planetary orbits. It must be understood, too, that the earth is constantly regarded, in accordance
with the Copernican system, as being itself a member of the planetary system, subject to
precisely the same laws as the other planets. Long familiarity has made these wonderful laws of
Kepler seem such a matter of course that it is difficult now to appreciate them at their full value.
Yet, as has been already pointed out, it was the knowledge of these marvellously simple relations
between the planetary orbits that laid the foundation for the Newtonian law of universal
gravitation. Contemporary judgment could not, of course, anticipate this culmination of a later
generation. What it could understand was that the first law of Kepler attacked one of the most
time-honored of metaphysical conceptions--namely, the Aristotelian idea that the circle is the
perfect figure, and hence that the planetary orbits must be circular. Not even Copernicus had
doubted the validity of this assumption. That Kepler dared dispute so firmly fixed a belief, and
one that seemingly had so sound a philosophical basis, evidenced the iconoclastic nature of his
genius. That he did not rest content until he had demonstrated the validity of his revolutionary
assumption shows how truly this great theorizer made his hypotheses subservient to the most
rigid inductions.

While Kepler was solving these riddles of planetary motion, there was an even more famous man
in Italy whose championship of the Copernican doctrine was destined to give the greatest
possible publicity to the new ideas. This was Galileo Galilei, one of the most extraordinary
scientific observers of any age. Galileo was born at Pisa, on the 18th of February (old style),
1564. The day of his birth is doubly memorable, since on the same day the greatest Italian of the
preceding epoch, Michael Angelo, breathed his last. Persons fond of symbolism have found in
the coincidence a forecast of the transit from the artistic to the scientific epoch of the later
Renaissance. Galileo came of an impoverished noble family. He was educated for the profession
of medicine, but did not progress far before his natural proclivities directed him towards the
physical sciences. Meeting with opposition in Pisa, he early accepted a call to the chair of natural
philosophy in the University of Padua, and later in life he made his home at Florence. The
mechanical and physical discoveries of Galileo will claim our attention in another chapter. Our
present concern is with his contribution to the Copernican theory.

Galileo himself records in a letter to Kepler that he became a convert to this theory at an early
day. He was not enabled, however, to make any marked contribution to the subject, beyond the
influence of his general teachings, until about the year 1610. The brilliant contributions which he
made were due largely to a single discovery--namely, that of the telescope. Hitherto the
astronomical observations had been made with the unaided eye. Glass lenses had been known
since the thirteenth century, but, until now, no one had thought of their possible use as aids to
distant vision. The question of priority of discovery has never been settled. It is admitted,
however, that the chief honors belong to the opticians of the Netherlands.
As early as the year 1590 the Dutch optician Zacharias Jensen placed a concave and a convex
lens respectively at the ends of a tube about eighteen inches long, and used this instrument for
the purpose of magnifying small objects--producing, in short, a crude microscope. Some years
later, Johannes Lippershey, of whom not much is known except that he died in 1619,
experimented with a somewhat similar combination of lenses, and made the startling observation
that the weather-vane on a distant church-steeple seemed to be brought much nearer when
viewed through the lens. The combination of lenses he employed is that still used in the
construction of opera-glasses; the Germans still call such a combination a Dutch telescope.
Doubtless a large number of experimenters took the matter up and the fame of the new
instrument spread rapidly abroad. Galileo, down in Italy, heard rumors of this remarkable
contrivance, through the use of which it was said "distant objects might be seen as clearly as
those near at hand." He at once set to work to construct for himself a similar instrument, and his
efforts were so far successful that at first he "saw objects three times as near and nine times
enlarged." Continuing his efforts, he presently so improved his glass that objects were enlarged
almost a thousand times and made to appear thirty times nearer than when seen with the naked
eye. Naturally enough, Galileo turned this fascinating instrument towards the skies, and he was
almost immediately rewarded by several startling discoveries. At the very outset, his magnifying-
glass brought to view a vast number of stars that are invisible to the naked eye, and enabled the
observer to reach the conclusion that the hazy light of the Milky Way is merely due to the
aggregation of a vast number of tiny stars.
Turning his telescope towards the moon, Galileo found that body rough and earth-like in contour,
its surface covered with mountains, whose height could be approximately measured through
study of their shadows. This was disquieting, because the current Aristotelian doctrine supposed
the moon, in common with the planets, to be a perfectly spherical, smooth body. The
metaphysical idea of a perfect universe was sure to be disturbed by this seemingly rough
workmanship of the moon. Thus far, however, there was nothing in the observations of Galileo
to bear directly upon the Copernican theory; but when an inspection was made of the planets the
case was quite different. With the aid of his telescope, Galileo saw that Venus, for example,
passes through phases precisely similar to those of the moon, due, of course, to the same cause.
Here, then, was demonstrative evidence that the planets are dark bodies reflecting the light of the
sun, and an explanation was given of the fact, hitherto urged in opposition to the Copernican
theory, that the inferior planets do not seem many times brighter when nearer the earth than
when in the most distant parts of their orbits; the explanation being, of course, that when the
planets are between the earth and the sun only a small portion of their illumined surfaces is
visible from the earth.

On inspecting the planet Jupiter, a still more striking revelation was made, as four tiny stars were
observed to occupy an equatorial position near that planet, and were seen, when watched night
after night, to be circling about the planet, precisely as the moon circles about the earth. Here,
obviously, was a miniature solar system--a tangible object-lesson in the Copernican theory. In
honor of the ruling Florentine house of the period, Galileo named these moons of Jupiter,
Medicean stars.
Turning attention to the sun itself, Galileo observed on the surface of that luminary a spot or
blemish which gradually changed its shape, suggesting that changes were taking place in the
substance of the sun--changes obviously incompatible with the perfect condition demanded by
the metaphysical theorists. But however disquieting for the conservative, the sun's spots served a
most useful purpose in enabling Galileo to demonstrate that the sun itself revolves on its axis,
since a given spot was seen to pass across the disk and after disappearing to reappear in due
course. The period of rotation was found to be about twenty-four days.

It must be added that various observers disputed priority of discovery of the sun's spots with
Galileo. Unquestionably a sun-spot had been seen by earlier observers, and by them mistaken for
the transit of an inferior planet. Kepler himself had made this mistake. Before the day of the
telescope, he had viewed the image of the sun as thrown on a screen in a camera-obscura, and
had observed a spot on the disk which be interpreted as representing the planet Mercury, but
which, as is now known, must have been a sun-spot, since the planetary disk is too small to have
been revealed by this method. Such observations as these, however interesting, cannot be
claimed as discoveries of the sun-spots. It is probable, however, that several discoverers (notably
Johann Fabricius) made the telescopic observation of the spots, and recognized them as having to
do with the sun's surface, almost simultaneously with Galileo. One of these claimants was a
Jesuit named Scheiner, and the jealousy of this man is said to have had a share in bringing about
that persecution to which we must now refer.
There is no more famous incident in the history of science than the heresy trial through which
Galileo was led to the nominal renunciation of his cherished doctrines. There is scarcely another
incident that has been commented upon so variously. Each succeeding generation has put its own
interpretation on it. The facts, however, have been but little questioned. It appears that in the year
1616 the church became at last aroused to the implications of the heliocentric doctrine of the
universe. Apparently it seemed clear to the church authorities that the authors of the Bible
believed the world to be immovably fixed at the centre of the universe. Such, indeed, would
seem to be the natural inference from various familiar phrases of the Hebrew text, and what we
now know of the status of Oriental science in antiquity gives full warrant to this interpretation.
There is no reason to suppose that the conception of the subordinate place of the world in the
solar system had ever so much as occurred, even as a vague speculation, to the authors of
Genesis. In common with their contemporaries, they believed the earth to be the all-important
body in the universe, and the sun a luminary placed in the sky for the sole purpose of giving light
to the earth. There is nothing strange, nothing anomalous, in this view; it merely reflects the
current notions of Oriental peoples in antiquity. What is strange and anomalous is the fact that
the Oriental dreamings thus expressed could have been supposed to represent the acme of
scientific knowledge. Yet such a hold had these writings taken upon the Western world that not
even a Galileo dared contradict them openly; and when the church fathers gravely declared the
heliocentric theory necessarily false, because contradictory to Scripture, there were probably few
people in Christendom whose mental attitude would permit them justly to appreciate the humor
of such a pronouncement. And, indeed, if here and there a man might have risen to such an
appreciation, there were abundant reasons for the repression of the impulse, for there was
nothing humorous about the response with which the authorities of the time were wont to meet
the expression of iconoclastic opinions. The burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno, in the year
1600, was, for example, an object-lesson well calculated to restrain the enthusiasm of other
similarly minded teachers.
Doubtless it was such considerations that explained the relative silence of the champions of the
Copernican theory, accounting for the otherwise inexplicable fact that about eighty years elapsed
after the death of Copernicus himself before a single text-book expounded his theory. The text-
book which then appeared, under date of 1622, was written by the famous Kepler, who perhaps
was shielded in a measure from the papal consequences of such hardihood by the fact of
residence in a Protestant country. Not that the Protestants of the time favored the heliocentric
doctrine--we have already quoted Luther in an adverse sense--but of course it was characteristic
of the Reformation temper to oppose any papal pronouncement, hence the ultramontane
declaration of 1616 may indirectly have aided the doctrine which it attacked, by making that
doctrine less obnoxious to Lutheran eyes. Be that as it may, the work of Kepler brought its
author into no direct conflict with the authorities. But the result was quite different when, in
1632, Galileo at last broke silence and gave the world, under cover of the form of dialogue, an
elaborate exposition of the Copernican theory. Galileo, it must be explained, had previously been
warned to keep silent on the subject, hence his publication doubly offended the authorities. To be
sure, he could reply that his dialogue introduced a champion of the Ptolemaic system to dispute
with the upholder of the opposite view, and that, both views being presented with full array of
argument, the reader was left to reach a verdict for himself, the author having nowhere pointedly
expressed an opinion. But such an argument, of course, was specious, for no one who read the
dialogue could be in doubt as to the opinion of the author. Moreover, it was hinted that
Simplicio, the character who upheld the Ptolemaic doctrine and who was everywhere worsted in
the argument, was intended to represent the pope himself--a suggestion which probably did no
good to Galileo's cause.

The character of Galileo's artistic presentation may best be judged from an example, illustrating
the vigorous assault of Salviati, the champion of the new theory, and the feeble retorts of his
conservative antagonist:
"Salviati. Let us then begin our discussion with the consideration that, whatever motion may be
attributed to the earth, yet we, as dwellers upon it, and hence as participators in its motion,
cannot possibly perceive anything of it, presupposing that we are to consider only earthly things.
On the other hand, it is just as necessary that this same motion belong apparently to all other
bodies and visible objects, which, being separated from the earth, do not take part in its motion.
The correct method to discover whether one can ascribe motion to the earth, and what kind of
motion, is, therefore, to investigate and observe whether in bodies outside the earth a perceptible
motion may be discovered which belongs to all alike. Because a movement which is perceptible
only in the moon, for instance, and has nothing to do with Venus or Jupiter or other stars, cannot
possibly be peculiar to the earth, nor can its seat be anywhere else than in the moon. Now there is
one such universal movement which controls all others--namely, that which the sun, moon, the
other planets, the fixed stars--in short, the whole universe, with the single exception of the earth--
appears to execute from east to west in the space of twenty-four hours. This now, as it appears at
the first glance anyway, might just as well be a motion of the earth alone as of all the rest of the
universe with the exception of the earth, for the same phenomena would result from either
hypothesis. Beginning with the most general, I will enumerate the reasons which seem to speak
in favor of the earth's motion. When we merely consider the immensity of the starry sphere in
comparison with the smallness of the terrestrial ball, which is contained many million times in
the former, and then think of the rapidity of the motion which completes a whole rotation in one
day and night, I cannot persuade myself how any one can hold it to be more reasonable and
credible that it is the heavenly sphere which rotates, while the earth stands still.
"Simplicio. I do not well understand how that powerful motion may be said to as good as not
exist for the sun, the moon, the other planets, and the innumerable host of fixed stars. Do you call
that nothing when the sun goes from one meridian to another, rises up over this horizon and sinks
behind that one, brings now day, and now night; when the moon goes through similar changes,
and the other planets and fixed stars in the same way?
"Salviati. All the changes you mention are such only in respect to the earth. To convince yourself
of it, only imagine the earth out of existence. There would then be no rising and setting of the
sun or of the moon, no horizon, no meridian, no day, no night--in short, the said motion causes
no change of any sort in the relation of the sun to the moon or to any of the other heavenly
bodies, be they planets or fixed stars. All changes are rather in respect to the earth; they may all
be reduced to the simple fact that the sun is first visible in China, then in Persia, afterwards in
Egypt, Greece, France, Spain, America, etc., and that the same thing happens with the moon and
the other heavenly bodies. Exactly the same thing happens and in exactly the same way if,
instead of disturbing so large a part of the universe, you let the earth revolve about itself. The
difficulty is, however, doubled, inasmuch as a second very important problem presents itself. If,
namely, that powerful motion is ascribed to the heavens, it is absolutely necessary to regard it as
opposed to the individual motion of all the planets, every one of which indubitably has its own
very leisurely and moderate movement from west to east. If, on the other hand, you let the earth
move about itself, this opposition of motion disappears.
"The improbability is tripled by the complete overthrow of that order which rules all the
heavenly bodies in which the revolving motion is definitely established. The greater the sphere is
in such a case, so much longer is the time required for its revolution; the smaller the sphere the
shorter the time. Saturn, whose orbit surpasses those of all the planets in size, traverses it in thirty
years. Jupiter[4] completes its smaller course in twelve years, Mars in two; the moon performs
its much smaller revolution within a month. Just as clearly in the Medicean stars, we see that the
one nearest Jupiter completes its revolution in a very short time--about forty-two hours; the next
in about three and one-half days, the third in seven, and the most distant one in sixteen days. This
rule, which is followed throughout, will still remain if we ascribe the twenty-four-hourly motion
to a rotation of the earth. If, however, the earth is left motionless, we must go first from the very
short rule of the moon to ever greater ones--to the two-yearly rule of Mars, from that to the
twelve-yearly one of Jupiter, from here to the thirty-yearly one of Saturn, and then suddenly to
an incomparably greater sphere, to which also we must ascribe a complete rotation in twenty-
four hours. If, however, we assume a motion of the earth, the rapidity of the periods is very well
preserved; from the slowest sphere of Saturn we come to the wholly motionless fixed stars. We
also escape thereby a fourth difficulty, which arises as soon as we assume that there is motion in
the sphere of the stars. I mean the great unevenness in the movement of these very stars, some of
which would have to revolve with extraordinary rapidity in immense circles, while others moved
very slowly in small circles, since some of them are at a greater, others at a less, distance from
the pole. That is likewise an inconvenience, for, on the one hand, we see all those stars, the
motion of which is indubitable, revolve in great circles, while, on the other hand, there seems to
be little object in placing bodies, which are to move in circles, at an enormous distance from the
centre and then let them move in very small circles. And not only are the size of the different
circles and therewith the rapidity of the movement very different in the different fixed stars, but
the same stars also change their orbits and their rapidity of motion. Therein consists the fifth
inconvenience. Those stars, namely, which were at the equator two thousand years ago, and
hence described great circles in their revolutions, must to-day move more slowly and in smaller
circles, because they are many degrees removed from it. It will even happen, after not so very
long a time, that one of those which have hitherto been continually in motion will finally
coincide with the pole and stand still, but after a period of repose will again begin to move. The
other stars in the mean while, which unquestionably move, all have, as was said, a great circle
for an orbit and keep this unchangeably.

"The improbability is further increased--this may be considered the sixth inconvenience--by the
fact that it is impossible to conceive what degree of solidity those immense spheres must have, in
the depths of which so many stars are fixed so enduringly that they are kept revolving evenly in
spite of such difference of motion without changing their respective positions. Or if, according to
the much more probable theory, the heavens are fluid, and every star describes an orbit of its
own, according to what law then, or for what reason, are their orbits so arranged that, when
looked at from the earth, they appear to be contained in one single sphere? To attain this it seems
to me much easier and more convenient to make them motionless instead of moving, just as the
paving-stones on the market-place, for instance, remain in order more easily than the swarms of
children running about on them.
"Finally, the seventh difficulty: If we attribute the daily rotation to the higher region of the
heavens, we should have to endow it with force and power sufficient to carry with it the
innumerable host of the fixed stars --every one a body of very great compass and much larger
than the earth--and all the planets, although the latter, like the earth, move naturally in an
opposite direction. In the midst of all this the little earth, single and alone, would obstinately and
wilfully withstand such force--a supposition which, it appears to me, has much against it. I could
also not explain why the earth, a freely poised body, balancing itself about its centre, and
surrounded on all sides by a fluid medium, should not be affected by the universal rotation. Such
difficulties, however, do not confront us if we attribute motion to the earth--such a small,
insignificant body in comparison with the whole universe, and which for that very reason cannot
exercise any power over the latter.

"Simplicio. You support your arguments throughout, it seems to me, on the greater ease and
simplicity with which the said effects are produced. You mean that as a cause the motion of the
earth alone is just as satisfactory as the motion of all the rest of the universe with the exception
of the earth; you hold the actual event to be much easier in the former case than in the latter. For
the ruler of the universe, however, whose might is infinite, it is no less easy to move the universe
than the earth or a straw balm. But if his power is infinite, why should not a greater, rather than a
very small, part of it be revealed to me?

"Salviati. If I had said that the universe does not move on account of the impotence of its ruler, I
should have been wrong and your rebuke would have been in order. I admit that it is just as easy
for an infinite power to move a hundred thousand as to move one. What I said, however, does
not refer to him who causes the motion, but to that which is moved. In answer to your remark
that it is more fitting for an infinite power to reveal a large part of itself rather than a little, I
answer that, in relation to the infinite, one part is not greater than another, if both are finite.
Hence it is unallowable to say that a hundred thousand is a larger part of an infinite number than
two, although the former is fifty thousand times greater than the latter. If, therefore, we consider
the moving bodies, we must unquestionably regard the motion of the earth as a much simpler
process than that of the universe; if, furthermore, we direct our attention to so many other
simplifications which may be reached only by this theory, the daily movement of the earth must
appear much more probable than the motion of the universe without the earth, for, according to
Aristotle's just axiom, 'Frustra fit per plura, quod potest fieri per p auciora' (It is vain to expend
many means where a few are sufficient)."[2]
The work was widely circulated, and it was received with an interest which bespeaks a wide-
spread undercurrent of belief in the Copernican doctrine. Naturally enough, it attracted
immediate attention from the church authorities. Galileo was summoned to appear at Rome to
defend his conduct. The philosopher, who was now in his seventieth year, pleaded age and
infirmity. He had no desire for personal experience of the tribunal of the Inquisition; but the
mandate was repeated, and Galileo went to Rome. There, as every one knows, he disavowed any
intention to oppose the teachings of Scripture, and formally renounced the heretical doctrine of
the earth's motion. According to a tale which so long passed current that every historian must
still repeat it though no one now believes it authentic, Galileo qualified his renunciation by
muttering to himself, "E pur si muove" (It does move, none the less), as he rose to his feet and
retired from the presence of his persecutors. The tale is one of those fictions which the dramatic
sense of humanity is wont to impose upon history, but, like most such fictions, it expresses the
spirit if not the letter of truth; for just as no one believes that Galileo's lips uttered the phrase, so
no one doubts that the rebellious words were in his mind.
After his formal renunciation, Galileo was allowed to depart, but with the injunction that he
abstain in future from heretical teaching. The remaining ten years of his life were devoted chiefly
to mechanics, where his experiments fortunately opposed the Aristotelian rather than the Hebrew
teachings. Galileo's death occurred in 1642, a hundred years after the death of Copernicus.
Kepler had died thirteen years before, and there remained no astronomer in the field who is
conspicuous in the history of science as a champion of the Copernican doctrine. But in truth it
might be said that the theory no longer needed a champion. The researches of Kepler and Galileo
had produced a mass of evidence for the Copernican theory which amounted to demonstration. A
generation or two might be required for this evidence to make itself everywhere known among
men of science, and of course the ecclesiastical authorities must be expected to stand by their
guns for a somewhat longer period. In point of fact, the ecclesiastical ban was not technically
removed by the striking of the Copernican books from the list of the Index Expurgatorius until
the year 1822, almost two hundred years after the date of Galileo's dialogue. But this, of course,
is in no sense a guide to the state of general opinion regarding the theory. We shall gain a true
gauge as to this if we assume that the greater number of important thinkers had accepted the
heliocentric doctrine before the middle of the seventeenth century, and that before the close of
that century the old Ptolemaic idea had been quite abandoned. A wonderful revolution in man's
estimate of the universe had thus been effected within about two centuries after the birth of

After Galileo had felt the strong hand of the Inquisition, in 1632, he was careful to confine his
researches, or at least his publications, to topics that seemed free from theological implications.
In doing so he reverted to the field of his earliest studies --namely, the field of mechanics; and
the Dialoghi delle Nuove Scienze, which he finished in 1636, and which was printed two years
later, attained a celebrity no less than that of the heretical dialogue that had preceded it. The later
work was free from all apparent heresies, yet perhaps it did more towards the establishment of
the Copernican doctrine, through the teaching of correct mechanical principles, than the other
work had accomplished by a more direct method.

Galileo's astronomical discoveries were, as we have seen, in a sense accidental; at least, they
received their inception through the inventive genius of another. His mechanical discoveries, on
the other hand, were the natural output of his own creative genius. At the very beginning of his
career, while yet a very young man, though a professor of mathematics at Pisa, he had begun that
onslaught upon the old Aristotelian ideas which he was to continue throughout his life. At the
famous leaning tower in Pisa, the young iconoclast performed, in the year 1590, one of the most
theatrical demonstrations in the history of science. Assembling a multitude of champions of the
old ideas, he proposed to demonstrate the falsity of the Aristotelian doctrine that the velocity of
falling bodies is proportionate to their weight. There is perhaps no fact more strongly illustrative
of the temper of the Middle Ages than the fact that this doctrine, as taught by the Aristotelian
philosopher, should so long have gone unchallenged. Now, however, it was put to the test;
Galileo released a half-pound weight and a hundred-pound cannon-ball from near the top of the
tower, and, needless to say, they reached the ground together. Of course, the spectators were but
little pleased with what they saw. They could not doubt the evidence of their own senses as to the
particular experiment in question; they could suggest, however, that the experiment involved a
violation of the laws of nature through the practice of magic. To controvert so firmly established
an idea savored of heresy. The young man guilty of such iconoclasm was naturally looked at
askance by the scholarship of his time. Instead of being applauded, he was hissed, and he found
it expedient presently to retire from Pisa.
Fortunately, however, the new spirit of progress had made itself felt more effectively in some
other portions of Italy, and so Galileo found a refuge and a following in Padua, and afterwards in
Florence; and while, as we have seen, he was obliged to curb his enthusiasm regarding the
subject that was perhaps nearest his heart--the promulgation of the Copernican theory--yet he
was permitted in the main to carry on his experimental observations unrestrained. These
experiments gave him a place of unquestioned authority among his contemporaries, and they
have transmitted his name to posterity as that of one of the greatest of experimenters and the
virtual founder of modern mechanical science. The experiments in question range over a wide
field; but for the most part they have to do with moving bodies and with questions of force, or, as
we should now say, of energy. The experiment at the leaning tower showed that the velocity of
falling bodies is independent of the weight of the bodies, provided the weight is sufficient to
overcome the resistance of the atmosphere. Later experiments with falling bodies led to the
discovery of laws regarding the accelerated velocity of fall. Such velocities were found to bear a
simple relation to the period of time from the beginning of the fall. Other experiments, in which
balls were allowed to roll down inclined planes, corroborated the observation that the pull of
gravitation gave a velocity proportionate to the length of fall, whether such fall were direct or in
a slanting direction.
These studies were associated with observations on projectiles, regarding which Galileo was the
first to entertain correct notions. According to the current idea, a projectile fired, for example,
from a cannon, moved in a straight horizontal line until the propulsive force was exhausted, and
then fell to the ground in a perpendicular line. Galileo taught that the projectile begins to fall at
once on leaving the mouth of the cannon and traverses a parabolic course. According to his idea,
which is now familiar to every one, a cannon-ball dropped from the level of the cannon's muzzle
will strike the ground simultaneously with a ball fired horizontally from the cannon. As to the
paraboloid course pursued by the projectile, the resistance of the air is a factor which Galileo
could not accurately compute, and which interferes with the practical realization of his theory.
But this is a minor consideration. The great importance of his idea consists in the recognition that
such a force as that of gravitation acts in precisely the same way upon all unsupported bodies,
whether or not such bodies be at the same time acted upon by a force of translation.

Out of these studies of moving bodies was gradually developed a correct notion of several
important general laws of mechanics--laws a knowledge of which was absolutely essential to the
progress of physical science. The belief in the rotation of the earth made necessary a clear
conception that all bodies at the surface of the earth partake of that motion quite independently of
their various observed motions in relation to one another. This idea was hard to grasp, as an oft-
repeated argument shows. It was asserted again and again that, if the earth rotates, a stone
dropped from the top of a tower could not fall at the foot of the tower, since the earth's motion
would sweep the tower far away from its original position while the stone is in transit.
This was one of the stock arguments against the earth's motion, yet it was one that could be
refuted with the greatest ease by reasoning from strictly analogous experiments. It might readily
be observed, for example, that a stone dropped from a moving cart does not strike the ground
directly below the point from which it is dropped, but partakes of the forward motion of the cart.
If any one doubt this he has but to jump from a moving cart to be given a practical demonstration
of the fact that his entire body was in some way influenced by the motion of translation.
Similarly, the simple experiment of tossing a ball from the deck of a moving ship will convince
any one that the ball partakes of the motion of the ship, so that it can be manipulated precisely as
if the manipulator were standing on the earth. In short, every-day experience gives us
illustrations of what might be called compound motion, which makes it seem altogether plausible
that, if the earth is in motion, objects at its surface will partake of that motion in a way that does
not interfere with any other movements to which they may be subjected. As the Copernican
doctrine made its way, this idea of compound motion naturally received more and more
attention, and such experiments as those of Galileo prepared the way for a new interpretation of
the mechanical principles involved.
The great difficulty was that the subject of moving bodies had all along been contemplated from
a wrong point of view. Since force must be applied to an object to put it in motion, it was
perhaps not unnaturally assumed that similar force must continue to be applied to keep the object
in motion. When, for example, a stone is thrown from the hand, the direct force applied
necessarily ceases as soon as the projectile leaves the hand. The stone, nevertheless, flies on for a
certain distance and then falls to the ground. How is this flight of the stone to be explained? The
ancient philosophers puzzled more than a little over this problem, and the Aristotelians reached
the conclusion that the motion of the hand had imparted a propulsive motion to the air, and that
this propulsive motion was transmitted to the stone, pushing it on. Just how the air took on this
propulsive property was not explained, and the vagueness of thought that characterized the time
did not demand an explanation. Possibly the dying away of ripples in water may have furnished,
by analogy, an explanation of the gradual dying out of the impulse which propels the stone.

All of this was, of course, an unfortunate maladjustment of the point of view. As every one
nowadays knows, the air retards the progress of the stone, enabling the pull of gravitation to drag
it to the earth earlier than it otherwise could. Were the resistance of the air and the pull of
gravitation removed, the stone as projected from the hand would fly on in a straight line, at an
unchanged velocity, forever. But this fact, which is expressed in what we now term the first law
of motion, was extremely difficult to grasp. The first important step towards it was perhaps
implied in Galileo's study of falling bodies. These studies, as we have seen, demonstrated that a
half-pound weight and a hundred-pound weight fall with the same velocity. It is, however, matter
of common experience that certain bodies, as, for example, feathers, do not fall at the same rate
of speed with these heavier bodies. This anomaly demands an explanation, and the explanation is
found in the resistance offered the relatively light object by the air. Once the idea that the air may
thus act as an impeding force was grasped, the investigator of mechanical principles had entered
on a new and promising course.

Galileo could not demonstrate the retarding influence of air in the way which became familiar a
generation or two later; he could not put a feather and a coin in a vacuum tube and prove that the
two would there fall with equal velocity, because, in his day, the air-pump had not yet been
invented. The experiment was made only a generation after the time of Galileo, as we shall see;
but, meantime, the great Italian had fully grasped the idea that atmospheric resistance plays a
most important part in regard to the motion of falling and projected bodies. Thanks largely to his
own experiments, but partly also to the efforts of others, he had come, before the end of his life,
pretty definitely to realize that the motion of a projectile, for example, must be thought of as
inherent in the projectile itself, and that the retardation or ultimate cessation of that motion is due
to the action of antagonistic forces. In other words, he had come to grasp the meaning of the first
law of motion. It remained, however, for the great Frenchman Descartes to give precise
expression to this law two years after Galileo's death. As Descartes expressed it in his Principia
Philosophiae, published in 1644, any body once in motion tends to go on in a straight line, at a
uniform rate of speed, forever. Contrariwise, a stationary body will remain forever at rest unless
acted on by some disturbing force.
This all-important law, which lies at the very foundation of all true conceptions of mechanics,
was thus worked out during the first half of the seventeenth century, as the outcome of
numberless experiments for which Galileo's experiments with failing bodies furnished the
foundation. So numerous and so gradual were the steps by which the reversal of view regarding
moving bodies was effected that it is impossible to trace them in detail. We must be content to
reflect that at the beginning of the Galilean epoch utterly false notions regarding the subject were
entertained by the very greatest philosophers--by Galileo himself, for example, and by Kepler--
whereas at the close of that epoch the correct and highly illuminative view had been attained.

We must now consider some other experiments of Galileo which led to scarcely less-important
results. The experiments in question had to do with the movements of bodies passing down an
inclined plane, and with the allied subject of the motion of a pendulum. The elaborate
experiments of Galileo regarding the former subject were made by measuring the velocity of a
ball rolling down a plane inclined at various angles. He found that the velocity acquired by a ball
was proportional to the height from which the ball descended regardless of the steepness of the
incline. Experiments were made also with a ball rolling down a curved gutter, the curve
representing the are of a circle. These experiments led to the study of the curvilinear motions of a
weight suspended by a cord; in other words, of the pendulum.
Regarding the motion of the pendulum, some very curious facts were soon ascertained. Galileo
found, for example, that a pendulum of a given length performs its oscillations with the same
frequency though the arc described by the pendulum be varied greatly.[1] He found, also, that the
rate of oscillation for pendulums of different lengths varies according to a simple law. In order
that one pendulum shall oscillate one-half as fast as another, the length of the pendulums must be
as four to one. Similarly, by lengthening the pendulums nine times, the oscillation is reduced to
one-third, In other words, the rate of oscillation of pendulums varies inversely as the square of
their length. Here, then, is a simple relation between the motions of swinging bodies which
suggests the relation which Kepler bad discovered between the relative motions of the planets.
Every such discovery coming in this age of the rejuvenation of experimental science had a
peculiar force in teaching men the all-important lesson that simple laws lie back of most of the
diverse phenomena of nature, if only these laws can be discovered.
Galileo further observed that his pendulum might be constructed of any weight sufficiently
heavy readily to overcome the atmospheric resistance, and that, with this qualification, neither
the weight nor the material had any influence upon the time of oscillation, this being solely
determined by the length of the cord. Naturally, the practical utility of these discoveries was not
overlooked by Galileo. Since a pendulum of a given length oscillates with unvarying rapidity,
here is an obvious means of measuring time. Galileo, however, appears not to have met with any
great measure of success in putting this idea into practice. It remained for the mechanical
ingenuity of Huyghens to construct a satisfactory pendulum clock.

As a theoretical result of the studies of rolling and oscillating bodies, there was developed what
is usually spoken of as the third law of motion--namely, the law that a given force operates upon
a moving body with an effect proportionate to its effect upon the same body when at rest. Or, as
Whewell states the law: "The dynamical effect of force is as the statical effect; that is, the
velocity which any force generates in a given time, when it puts the body in motion, is
proportional to the pressure which this same force produces in a body at rest."[2] According to
the second law of motion, each one of the different forces, operating at the same time upon a
moving body, produces the same effect as if it operated upon the body while at rest.
It appears, then, that the mechanical studies of Galileo, taken as a whole, were nothing less than
revolutionary. They constituted the first great advance upon the dynamic studies of Archimedes,
and then led to the secure foundation for one of the most important of modern sciences. We shall
see that an important company of students entered the field immediately after the time of Galileo,
and carried forward the work he had so well begun. But before passing on to the consideration of
their labors, we must consider work in allied fields of two men who were contemporaries of
Galileo and whose original labors were in some respects scarcely less important than his own.
These men are the Dutchman Stevinus, who must always be remembered as a co-laborer with
Galileo in the foundation of the science of dynamics, and the Englishman Gilbert, to whom is
due the unqualified praise of first subjecting the phenomenon of magnetism to a strictly scientific
Stevinus was born in the year 1548, and died in 1620. He was a man of a practical genius, and he
attracted the attention of his non-scientific contemporaries, among other ways, by the
construction of a curious land-craft, which, mounted on wheels, was to be propelled by sails like
a boat. Not only did he write a book on this curious horseless carriage, but he put his idea into
practical application, producing a vehicle which actually traversed the distance between
Scheveningen and Petton, with no fewer than twenty-seven passengers, one of them being Prince
Maurice of Orange. This demonstration was made about the year 1600. It does not appear,
however, that any important use was made of the strange vehicle; but the man who invented it
put his mechanical ingenuity to other use with better effect. It was he who solved the problem of
oblique forces, and who discovered the important hydrostatic principle that the pressure of fluids
is proportionate to their depth, without regard to the shape of the including vessel.
The study of oblique forces was made by Stevinus with the aid of inclined planes. His most
demonstrative experiment was a very simple one, in which a chain of balls of equal weight was
hung from a triangle; the triangle being so constructed as to rest on a horizontal base, the oblique
sides bearing the relation to each other of two to one. Stevinus found that his chain of balls just
balanced when four balls were on the longer side and two on the shorter and steeper side. The
balancing of force thus brought about constituted a stable equilibrium, Stevinus being the first to
discriminate between such a condition and the unbalanced condition called unstable equilibrium.
By this simple experiment was laid the foundation of the science of statics. Stevinus had a full
grasp of the principle which his experiment involved, and he applied it to the solution of oblique
forces in all directions. Earlier investigations of Stevinus were published in 1608. His collected
works were published at Leyden in 1634.
This study of the equilibrium of pressure of bodies at rest led Stevinus, not unnaturally, to
consider the allied subject of the pressure of liquids. He is to be credited with the explanation of
the so-called hydrostatic paradox. The familiar modern experiment which illustrates this paradox
is made by inserting a long perpendicular tube of small caliber into the top of a tight barrel. On
filling the barrel and tube with water, it is possible to produce a pressure which will burst the
barrel, though it be a strong one, and though the actual weight of water in the tube is
comparatively insignificant. This illustrates the fact that the pressure at the bottom of a column
of liquid is proportionate to the height of the column, and not to its bulk, this being the
hydrostatic paradox in question. The explanation is that an enclosed fluid under pressure exerts
an equal force upon all parts of the circumscribing wall; the aggregate pressure may, therefore,
be increased indefinitely by increasing the surface. It is this principle, of course, which is utilized
in the familiar hydrostatic press. Theoretical explanations of the pressure of liquids were
supplied a generation or two later by numerous investigators, including Newton, but the practical
refoundation of the science of hydrostatics in modern times dates from the experiments of


Experiments of an allied character, having to do with the equilibrium of fluids, exercised the
ingenuity of Galileo. Some of his most interesting experiments have to do with the subject of
floating bodies. It will be recalled that Archimedes, away back in the Alexandrian epoch, had
solved the most important problems of hydrostatic equilibrium. Now, however, his experiments
were overlooked or forgotten, and Galileo was obliged to make experiments anew, and to combat
fallacious views that ought long since to have been abandoned. Perhaps the most illuminative
view of the spirit of the times can be gained by quoting at length a paper of Galileo's, in which he
details his own experiments with floating bodies and controverts the views of his opponents. The
paper has further value as illustrating Galileo's methods both as experimenter and as speculative

The current view, which Galileo here undertakes to refute, asserts that water offers resistance to
penetration, and that this resistance is instrumental in determining whether a body placed in
water will float or sink. Galileo contends that water is non-resistant, and that bodies float or sink
in virtue of their respective weights. This, of course, is merely a restatement of the law of
Archimedes. But it remains to explain the fact that bodies of a certain shape will float, while
bodies of the same material and weight, but of a different shape, will sink. We shall see what
explanation Galileo finds of this anomaly as we proceed.

In the first place, Galileo makes a cone of wood or of wax, and shows that when it floats with
either its point or its base in the water, it displaces exactly the same amount of fluid, although the
apex is by its shape better adapted to overcome the resistance of the water, if that were the cause
of buoyancy. Again, the experiment may be varied by tempering the wax with filings of lead till
it sinks in the water, when it will be found that in any figure the same quantity of cork must be
added to it to raise the surface.
"But," says Galileo, "this silences not my antagonists; they say that all the discourse hitherto
made by me imports little to them, and that it serves their turn; that they have demonstrated in
one instance, and in such manner and figure as pleases them best --namely, in a board and in a
ball of ebony--that one when put into the water sinks to the bottom, and that the other stays to
swim on the top; and the matter being the same, and the two bodies differing in nothing but in
figure, they affirm that with all perspicuity they have demonstrated and sensibly manifested what
they undertook. Nevertheless, I believe, and think I can prove, that this very experiment proves
nothing against my theory. And first, it is false that the ball sinks and the board not; for the board
will sink, too, if you do to both the figures as the words of our question require; that is, if you put
them both in the water; for to be in the water implies to be placed in the water, and by Aristotle's
own definition of place, to be placed imports to be environed by the surface of the ambient body;
but when my antagonists show the floating board of ebony, they put it not into the water, but
upon the water; where, being detained by a certain impediment (of which more anon), it is
surrounded, partly with water, partly with air, which is contrary to our agreement, for that was
that bodies should be in the water, and not part in the water, part in the air.

"I will not omit another reason, founded also upon experience, and, if I deceive not myself,
conclusive against the notion that figure, and the resistance of the water to penetration, have
anything to do with the buoyancy of bodies. Choose a piece of wood or other matter, as, for
instance, walnut-wood, of which a ball rises from the bottom of the water to the surface more
slowly than a ball of ebony of the same size sinks, so that, clearly, the ball of ebony divides the
water more readily in sinking than the ball of wood does in rising. Then take a board of walnut-
tree equal to and like the floating one of my antagonists; and if it be true that this latter floats by
reason of the figure being unable to penetrate the water, the other of walnut-tree, without a
question, if thrust to the bottom, ought to stay there, as having the same impeding figure, and
being less apt to overcome the said resistance of the water. But if we find by experience that not
only the thin board, but every other figure of the same walnut-tree, will return to float, as
unquestionably we shall, then I must desire my opponents to forbear to attribute the floating of
the ebony to the figure of the board, since the resistance of the water is the same in rising as in
sinking, and the force of ascension of the walnut-tree is less than the ebony's force for going to
the bottom.

"Now let us return to the thin plate of gold or silver, or the thin board of ebony, and let us lay it
lightly upon the water, so that it may stay there without sinking, and carefully observe the effect.
It will appear clearly that the plates are a considerable matter lower than the surface of the water,
which rises up and makes a kind of rampart round them on every side. But if it has already
penetrated and overcome the continuity of the water, and is of its own nature heavier than the
water, why does it not continue to sink, but stop and suspend itself in that little dimple that its
weight has made in the water? My answer is, because in sinking till its surface is below the
water, which rises up in a bank round it, it draws after and carries along with it the air above it,
so that that which, in this case, descends in the water is not only the board of ebony or the plate
of iron, but a compound of ebony and air, from which composition results a solid no longer
specifically heavier than the water, as was the ebony or gold alone. But, gentlemen, we want the
same matter; you are to alter nothing but the shape, and, therefore, have the goodness to remove
this air, which may be done simply by washing the surface of the board, for the water having
once got between the board and the air will run together, and the ebony will go to the bottom;
and if it does not, you have won the day.
"But methinks I hear some of my antagonists cunningly opposing this, and telling me that they
will not on any account allow their boards to be wetted, because the weight of the water so
added, by making it heavier than it was before, draws it to the bottom, and that the addition of
new weight is contrary to our agreement, which was that the matter should be the same.
"To this I answer, first, that nobody can suppose bodies to be put into the water without their
being wet, nor do I wish to do more to the board than you may do to the ball. Moreover, it is not
true that the board sinks on account of the weight of the water added in the washing; for I will
put ten or twenty drops on the floating board, and so long as they stand separate it shall not sink;
but if the board be taken out and all that water wiped off, and the whole surface bathed with one
single drop, and put it again upon the water, there is no question but it will sink, the other water
running to cover it, being no longer hindered by the air. In the next place, it is altogether false
that water can in any way increase the weight of bodies immersed in it, for water has no weight
in water, since it does not sink. Now just as he who should say that brass by its own nature sinks,
but that when formed into the shape of a kettle it acquires from that figure the virtue of lying in
water without sinking, would say what is false, because that is not purely brass which then is put
into the water, but a compound of brass and air; so is it neither more nor less false that a thin
plate of brass or ebony swims by virtue of its dilated and broad figure. Also, I cannot omit to tell
my opponents that this conceit of refusing to bathe the surface of the board might beget an
opinion in a third person of a poverty of argument on their side, especially as the conversation
began about flakes of ice, in which it would be simple to require that the surfaces should be kept
dry; not to mention that such pieces of ice, whether wet or dry, always float, and so my
antagonists say, because of their shape.

"Some may wonder that I affirm this power to be in the air of keeping plate of brass or silver
above water, as if in a certain sense I would attribute to the air a kind of magnetic virtue for
sustaining heavy bodies with which it is in contact. To satisfy all these doubts I have contrived
the following experiment to demonstrate how truly the air does support these bodies; for I have
found, when one of these bodies which floats when placed lightly on the water is thoroughly
bathed and sunk to the bottom, that by carrying down to it a little air without otherwise touching
it in the least, I am able to raise and carry it back to the top, where it floats as before. To this
effect, I take a ball of wax, and with a little lead make it just heavy enough to sink very slowly to
the bottom, taking care that its surface be quite smooth and even. This, if put gently into the
water, submerges almost entirely, there remaining visible only a little of the very top, which, so
long as it is joined to the air, keeps the ball afloat; but if we take away the contact of the air by
wetting this top, the ball sinks to the bottom and remains there. Now to make it return to the
surface by virtue of the air which before sustained it, thrust into the water a glass with the mouth
downward, which will carry with it the air it contains, and move this down towards the ball until
you see, by the transparency of the glass, that the air has reached the top of it; then gently draw
the glass upward, and you will see the ball rise, and afterwards stay on the top of the water, if
you carefully part the glass and water without too much disturbing it."[3]

It will be seen that Galileo, while holding in the main to a correct thesis, yet mingles with it some
false ideas. At the very outset, of course, it is not true that water has no resistance to penetration;
it is true, however, in the sense in which Galileo uses the term--that is to say, the resistance of the
water to penetration is not the determining factor ordinarily in deciding whether a body sinks or
floats. Yet in the case of the flat body it is not altogether inappropriate to say that the water
resists penetration and thus supports the body. The modern physicist explains the phenomenon as
due to surface-tension of the fluid. Of course, Galileo's disquisition on the mixing of air with the
floating body is utterly fanciful. His experiments were beautifully exact; his theorizing from
them was, in this instance, altogether fallacious. Thus, as already intimated, his paper is
admirably adapted to convey a double lesson to the student of science.


It will be observed that the studies of Galileo and Stevinus were chiefly concerned with the force
of gravitation. Meanwhile, there was an English philosopher of corresponding genius, whose
attention was directed towards investigation of the equally mysterious force of terrestrial
magnetism. With the doubtful exception of Bacon, Gilbert was the most distinguished man of
science in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He was for many years court physician,
and Queen Elizabeth ultimately settled upon him a pension that enabled him to continue his
researches in pure science.
His investigations in chemistry, although supposed to be of great importance, are mostly lost; but
his great work, De Magnete, on which he labored for upwards of eighteen years, is a work of
sufficient importance, as Hallam says, "to raise a lasting reputation for its author." From its first
appearance it created a profound impression upon the learned men of the continent, although in
England Gilbert's theories seem to have been somewhat less favorably received. Galileo freely
expressed his admiration for the work and its author; Bacon, who admired the author, did not
express the same admiration for his theories; but Dr. Priestley, later, declared him to be "the
father of modern electricity."

Strangely enough, Gilbert's book had never been translated into English, or apparently into any
other language, until recent years, although at the time of its publication certain learned men,
unable to read the book in the original, had asked that it should be. By this neglect, or oversight,
a great number of general readers as well as many scientists, through succeeding centuries, have
been deprived of the benefit of writings that contained a good share of the fundamental facts
about magnetism as known to-day.

Gilbert was the first to discover that the earth is a great magnet, and he not only gave the name of
"pole" to the extremities of the magnetic needle, but also spoke of these "poles" as north and
south pole, although he used these names in the opposite sense from that in which we now use
them, his south pole being the extremity which pointed towards the north, and vice versa. He was
also first to make use of the terms "electric force," "electric emanations," and "electric
It is hardly necessary to say that some of the views taken by Gilbert, many of his theories, and
the accuracy of some of his experiments have in recent times been found to be erroneous. As a
pioneer in an unexplored field of science, however, his work is remarkably accurate. "On the
whole," says Dr. John Robinson, "this performance contains more real information than any
writing of the age in which he lived, and is scarcely exceeded by any that has appeared since."[4]

In the preface to his work Gilbert says: "Since in the discovery of secret things, and in the
investigation of hidden causes, stronger reasons are obtained from sure experiments and
demonstrated arguments than from probable conjectures and the opinions of philosophical
speculators of the common sort, therefore, to the end of that noble substance of that great
loadstone, our common mother (the earth), still quite unknown, and also that the forces
extraordinary and exalted of this globe may the better be understood, we have decided, first, to
begin with the common stony and ferruginous matter, and magnetic bodies, and the part of the
earth that we may handle and may perceive with senses, and then to proceed with plain magnetic
experiments, and to penetrate to the inner parts of the earth."[5]
Before taking up the demonstration that the earth is simply a giant loadstone, Gilbert
demonstrated in an ingenious way that every loadstone, of whatever size, has definite and fixed
poles. He did this by placing the stone in a metal lathe and converting it into a sphere, and upon
this sphere demonstrated how the poles can be found. To this round loadstone he gave the name
of terrella--that is, little earth.

"To find, then, poles answering to the earth," he says, "take in your hand the round stone, and lay
on it a needle or a piece of iron wire: the ends of the wire move round their middle point, and
suddenly come to a standstill. Now, with ochre or with chalk, mark where the wire lies still and
sticks. Then move the middle or centre of the wire to another spot, and so to a third and fourth,
always marking the stone along the length of the wire where it stands still; the lines so marked
will exhibit meridian circles, or circles like meridians, on the stone or terrella; and manifestly
they will all come together at the poles of the stone. The circle being continued in this way, the
poles appear, both the north and the south, and betwixt these, midway, we may draw a large
circle for an equator, as is done by the astronomer in the heavens and on his spheres, and by the
geographer on the terrestrial globe."[6]

Gilbert had tried the familiar experiment of placing the loadstone on a float in water, and
observed that the poles always revolved until they pointed north and south, which he explained
as due to the earth's magnetic attraction. In this same connection he noticed that a piece of
wrought iron mounted on a cork float was attracted by other metals to a slight degree, and he
observed also that an ordinary iron bar, if suspended horizontally by a thread, assumes invariably
a north and south direction. These, with many other experiments of a similar nature, convinced
him that the earth "is a magnet and a loadstone," which he says is a "new and till now unheard-of
view of the earth."
Fully to appreciate Gilbert's revolutionary views concerning the earth as a magnet, it should be
remembered that numberless theories to explain the action of the electric needle had been
advanced. Columbus and Paracelsus, for example, believed that the magnet was attracted by
some point in the heavens, such as a magnetic star. Gilbert himself tells of some of the beliefs
that had been held by his predecessors, many of whom he declares "wilfully falsify." One of his
first steps was to refute by experiment such assertions as that of Cardan, that "a wound by a
magnetized needle was painless"; and also the assertion of Fracastoni that loadstone attracts
silver; or that of Scalinger, that the diamond will attract iron; and the statement of Matthiolus
that "iron rubbed with garlic is no longer attracted to the loadstone."
Gilbert made extensive experiments to explain the dipping of the needle, which had been first
noticed by William Norman. His deduction as to this phenomenon led him to believe that this
was also explained by the magnetic attraction of the earth, and to predict where the vertical dip
would be found. These deductions seem the more wonderful because at the time he made them
the dip had just been discovered, and had not been studied except at London. His theory of the
dip was, therefore, a scientific prediction, based on a preconceived hypothesis. Gilbert found the
dip to be 72 degrees at London; eight years later Hudson found the dip at 75 degrees 22' north
latitude to be 89 degrees 30'; but it was not until over two hundred years later, in 1831, that the
vertical dip was first observed by Sir James Ross at about 70 degrees 5' north latitude, and 96
degrees 43' west longitude. This was not the exact point assumed by Gilbert, and his scientific
predictions, therefore, were not quite correct; but such comparatively slight and excusable errors
mar but little the excellence of his work as a whole.
A brief epitome of some of his other important discoveries suffices to show that the exalted
position in science accorded him by contemporaries, as well as succeeding generations of
scientists, was well merited. He was first to distinguish between magnetism and electricity,
giving the latter its name. He discovered also the "electrical charge," and pointed the way to the
discovery of insulation by showing that the charge could be retained some time in the excited
body by covering it with some non-conducting substance, such as silk; although, of course,
electrical conduction can hardly be said to have been more than vaguely surmised, if understood
at all by him. The first electrical instrument ever made, and known as such, was invented by him,
as was also the first magnetometer, and the first electrical indicating device. Although three
centuries have elapsed since his death, the method of magnetizing iron first introduced by him is
in common use to-day.
He made exhaustive experiments with a needle balanced on a pivot to see how many substances
he could find which, like amber, on being rubbed affected the needle. In this way he discovered
that light substances were attracted by alum, mica, arsenic, sealing-wax, lac sulphur, slags, beryl,
amethyst, rock-crystal, sapphire, jet, carbuncle, diamond, opal, Bristol stone, glass, glass of
antimony, gum-mastic, hard resin, rock-salt, and, of course, amber. He discovered also that
atmospheric conditions affected the production of electricity, dryness being unfavorable and
moisture favorable.
Galileo's estimate of this first electrician is the verdict of succeeding generations. "I extremely
admire and envy this author," he said. "I think him worthy of the greatest praise for the many
new and true observations which he has made, to the disgrace of so many vain and fabling

We have seen that Gilbert was by no means lacking in versatility, yet the investigations upon
which his fame is founded were all pursued along one line, so that the father of magnetism may
be considered one of the earliest of specialists in physical science. Most workers of the time, on
the other band, extended their investigations in many directions. The sum total of scientific
knowledge of that day had not bulked so large as to exclude the possibility that one man might
master it all. So we find a Galileo, for example, making revolutionary discoveries in astronomy,
and performing fundamental experiments in various fields of physics. Galileo's great
contemporary, Kepler, was almost equally versatile, though his astronomical studies were of
such pre-eminent importance that his other investigations sink into relative insignificance. Yet he
performed some notable experiments in at least one department of physics. These experiments
had to do with the refraction of light, a subject which Kepler was led to investigate, in part at
least, through his interest in the telescope.

We have seen that Ptolemy in the Alexandrian time, and Alhazen, the Arab, made studies of
refraction. Kepler repeated their experiments, and, striving as always to generalize his
observations, he attempted to find the law that governed the observed change of direction which
a ray of light assumes in passing from one medium to another. Kepler measured the angle of
refraction by means of a simple yet ingenious trough-like apparatus which enabled him to
compare readily the direct and refracted rays. He discovered that when a ray of light passes
through a glass plate, if it strikes the farther surface of the glass at an angle greater than 45
degrees it will be totally refracted instead of passing through into the air. He could not well fail
to know that different mediums refract light differently, and that for the same medium the
amount of light valies with the change in the angle of incidence. He was not able, however, to
generalize his observations as he desired, and to the last the law that governs refraction escaped
him. It remained for Willebrord Snell, a Dutchman, about the year 1621, to discover the law in
question, and for Descartes, a little later, to formulate it. Descartes, indeed, has sometimes been
supposed to be the discoverer of the law. There is reason to believe that he based his
generalizations on the experiment of Snell, though he did not openly acknowledge his
indebtedness. The law, as Descartes expressed it, states that the sine of the angle of incidence
bears a fixed ratio to the sine of the angle of refraction for any given medium. Here, then, was
another illustration of the fact that almost infinitely varied phenomena may be brought within the
scope of a simple law. Once the law had been expressed, it could be tested and verified with the
greatest ease; and, as usual, the discovery being made, it seems surprising that earlier
investigators--in particular so sagacious a guesser as Kepler--should have missed it.

Galileo himself must have been to some extent a student of light, since, as we have seen, he
made such notable contributions to practical optics through perfecting the telescope; but he
seems not to have added anything to the theory of light. The subject of heat, however, attracted
his attention in a somewhat different way, and he was led to the invention of the first contrivance
for measuring temperatures. His thermometer was based on the afterwards familiar principle of
the expansion of a liquid under the influence of heat; but as a practical means of measuring
temperature it was a very crude affair, because the tube that contained the measuring liquid was
exposed to the air, hence barometric changes of pressure vitiated the experiment. It remained for
Galileo's Italian successors of the Accademia del Cimento of Florence to improve upon the
apparatus, after the experiments of Torricelli--to which we shall refer in a moment--had thrown
new light on the question of atmospheric pressure. Still later the celebrated Huygens hit upon the
idea of using the melting and the boiling point of water as fixed points in a scale of
measurements, which first gave definiteness to thermometric tests.
In the closing years of his life Galileo took into his family, as his adopted disciple in science, a
young man, Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647), who proved himself, during his short lifetime, to
be a worthy follower of his great master. Not only worthy on account of his great scientific
discoveries, but grateful as well, for when he had made the great discovery that the "suction"
made by a vacuum was really nothing but air pressure, and not suction at all, he regretted that so
important a step in science might not have been made by his great teacher, Galileo, instead of by
himself. "This generosity of Torricelli," says Playfair, "was, perhaps, rarer than his genius: there
are more who might have discovered the suspension of mercury in the barometer than who
would have been willing to part with the honor of the discovery to a master or a friend."
Torricelli's discovery was made in 1643, less than two years after the death of his master. Galileo
had observed that water will not rise in an exhausted tube, such as a pump, to a height greater
than thirty-three feet, but he was never able to offer a satisfactory explanation of the principle.
Torricelli was able to demonstrate that the height at which the water stood depended upon
nothing but its weight as compared with the weight of air. If this be true, it is evident that any
fluid will be supported at a definite height, according to its relative weight as compared with air.
Thus mercury, which is about thirteen times more dense than water, should only rise to one-
thirteenth the height of a column of water--that is, about thirty inches. Reasoning in this way,
Torricelli proceeded to prove that his theory was correct. Filling a long tube, closed at one end,
with mercury, he inverted the tube with its open orifice in a vessel of mercury. The column of
mercury fell at once, but at a height of about thirty inches it stopped and remained stationary, the
pressure of the air on the mercury in the vessel maintaining it at that height. This discovery was a
shattering blow to the old theory that had dominated that field of physics for so many centuries.
It was completely revolutionary to prove that, instead of a mysterious something within the tube
being responsible for the suspension of liquids at certain heights, it was simply the ordinary
atmospheric pressure mysterious enough, it is true--pushing upon them from without. The
pressure exerted by the atmosphere was but little understood at that time, but Torricelli's
discovery aided materially in solving the mystery. The whole class of similar phenomena of air
pressure, which had been held in the trammel of long-established but false doctrines, was now
reduced to one simple law, and the door to a solution of a host of unsolved problems thrown
It had long been suspected and believed that the density of the atmosphere varies at certain times.
That the air is sometimes "heavy" and at other times "light" is apparent to the senses without
scientific apparatus for demonstration. It is evident, then, that Torricelli's column of mercury
should rise and fall just in proportion to the lightness or heaviness of the air. A short series of
observations proved that it did so, and with those observations went naturally the observations as
to changes in the weather. It was only necessary, therefore, to scratch a scale on the glass tube,
indicating relative atmospheric pressures, and the Torricellian barometer was complete.

Such a revolutionary theory and such an important discovery were, of course, not to be accepted
without controversy, but the feeble arguments of the opponents showed how untenable the old
theory had become. In 1648 Pascal suggested that if the theory of the pressure of air upon the
mercury was correct, it could be demonstrated by ascending a mountain with the mercury tube.
As the air was known to get progressively lighter from base to summit, the height of the column
should be progressively lessened as the ascent was made, and increase again on the descent into
the denser air. The experiment was made on the mountain called the Puy-de-Dome, in Auvergne,
and the column of mercury fell and rose progressively through a space of about three inches as
the ascent and descent were made.

This experiment practically sealed the verdict on the new theory, but it also suggested something
more. If the mercury descended to a certain mark on the scale on a mountain-top whose height
was known, why was not this a means of measuring the heights of all other elevations? And so
the beginning was made which, with certain modifications and corrections in details, is now the
basis of barometrical measurements of heights.

In hydraulics, also, Torricelli seems to have taken one of the first steps. He did this by showing
that the water which issues from a hole in the side or bottom of a vessel does so at the same
velocity as that which a body would acquire by falling from the level of the surface of the water
to that of the orifice. This discovery was of the greatest importance to a correct understanding of
the science of the motions of fluids. He also discovered the valuable mechanical principle that if
any number of bodies be connected so that by their motion there is neither ascent nor descent of
their centre of gravity, these bodies are in equilibrium.

Besides making these discoveries, he greatly improved the microscope and the telescope, and
invented a simple microscope made of a globule of glass. In 1644 he published a tract on the
properties of the cycloid in which he suggested a solution of the problem of its quadrature. As
soon as this pamphlet appeared its author was accused by Gilles Roberval (1602-1675) of having
appropriated a solution already offered by him. This led to a long debate, during which Torricelli
was seized with a fever, from the effects of which he died, in Florence, October 25, 1647. There
is reason to believe, however, that while Roberval's discovery was made before Torricelli's, the
latter reached his conclusions independently.

In recent chapters we have seen science come forward with tremendous strides. A new era is
obviously at hand. But we shall misconceive the spirit of the times if we fail to understand that in
the midst of all this progress there was still room for mediaeval superstition and for the pursuit of
fallacious ideals. Two forms of pseudo-science were peculiarly prevalent --alchemy and
astrology. Neither of these can with full propriety be called a science, yet both were pursued by
many of the greatest scientific workers of the period. Moreover, the studies of the alchemist may
with some propriety be said to have laid the foundation for the latter-day science of chemistry;
while astrology was closely allied to astronomy, though its relations to that science are not as
intimate as has sometimes been supposed.

Just when the study of alchemy began is undetermined. It was certainly of very ancient origin,
perhaps Egyptian, but its most flourishing time was from about the eighth century A.D. to the
eighteenth century. The stories of the Old Testament formed a basis for some of the strange
beliefs regarding the properties of the magic "elixir," or "philosopher's stone." Alchemists
believed that most of the antediluvians, perhaps all of them, possessed a knowledge of this stone.
How, otherwise, could they have prolonged their lives to nine and a half centuries? And Moses
was surely a first-rate alchemist, as is proved by the story of the Golden Calf.[1] After Aaron had
made the calf of gold, Moses performed the much more difficult task of grinding it to powder
and "strewing it upon the waters," thus showing that he had transmuted it into some lighter
But antediluvians and Biblical characters were not the only persons who were thought to have
discovered the coveted. "elixir." Hundreds of aged mediaeval chemists were credited with having
made the discovery, and were thought to be living on through the centuries by its means. Alaies
de Lisle, for example, who died in 1298, at the age of 110, was alleged to have been at the point
of death at the age of fifty, but just at this time he made the fortunate discovery of the magic
stone, and so continued to live in health and affluence for sixty years more. And De Lisle was
but one case among hundreds.
An aged and wealthy alchemist could claim with seeming plausibility that he was prolonging his
life by his magic; whereas a younger man might assert that, knowing the great secret, he was
keeping himself young through the centuries. In either case such a statement, or rumor, about a
learned and wealthy alchemist was likely to be believed, particularly among strangers; and as
such a man would, of course, be the object of much attention, the claim was frequently made by
persons seeking notoriety. One of the most celebrated of these impostors was a certain Count de
Saint-Germain, who was connected with the court of Louis XV. His statements carried the more
weight because, having apparently no means of maintenance, he continued to live in affluence
year after year--for two thousand years, as he himself admitted--by means of the magic stone. If
at any time his statements were doubted, he was in the habit of referring to his valet for
confirmation, this valet being also under the influence of the elixir of life.
"Upon one occasion his master was telling a party of ladies and gentlemen, at dinner, some
conversation he had had in Palestine, with King Richard I., of England, whom he described as a
very particular friend of his. Signs of astonishment and incredulity were visible on the faces of
the company, upon which Saint-Germain very coolly turned to his servant, who stood behind his
chair, and asked him if he had not spoken the truth. 'I really cannot say,' replied the man, without
moving a muscle; 'you forget, sir, I have been only five hundred years in your service.' 'Ah, true,'
said his master, 'I remember now; it was a little before your time!' "[2]
In the time of Saint-Germain, only a little over a century ago, belief in alchemy had almost
disappeared, and his extraordinary tales were probably regarded in the light of amusing stories.
Still there was undoubtedly a lingering suspicion in the minds of many that this man possessed
some peculiar secret. A few centuries earlier his tales would hardly have been questioned, for at
that time the belief in the existence of this magic something was so strong that the search for it
became almost a form of mania; and once a man was seized with it, lie gambled away health,
position, and life itself in pursuing the coveted stake. An example of this is seen in Albertus
Magnus, one of the most learned men of his time, who it is said resigned his position as bishop
of Ratisbon in order that he might pursue his researches in alchemy.
If self-sacrifice was not sufficient to secure the prize, crime would naturally follow, for there
could be no limit to the price of the stakes in this game. The notorious Marechal de Reys, failing
to find the coveted stone by ordinary methods of laboratory research, was persuaded by an
impostor that if he would propitiate the friendship of the devil the secret would be revealed. To
this end De Reys began secretly capturing young children as they passed his castle and
murdering them. When he was at last brought to justice it was proved that he had murdered
something like a hundred children within a period of three years. So, at least, runs one version of
the story of this perverted being.

Naturally monarchs, constantly in need of funds, were interested in these alchemists. Even sober
England did not escape, and Raymond Lully, one of the most famous of the thirteenth and
fourteenth century alchemists, is said to have been secretly invited by King Edward I. (or II.) to
leave Milan and settle in England. According to some accounts, apartments were assigned to his
use in the Tower of London, where he is alleged to have made some six million pounds sterling
for the monarch, out of iron, mercury, lead, and pewter.
Pope John XXII., a friend and pupil of the alchemist Arnold de Villeneuve, is reported to have
learned the secrets of alchemy from his master. Later he issued two bulls against "pretenders" in
the art, which, far from showing his disbelief, were cited by alchemists as proving that he
recognized pretenders as distinct from true masters of magic.
To moderns the attitude of mind of the alchemist is difficult to comprehend. It is, perhaps,
possible to conceive of animals or plants possessing souls, but the early alchemist attributed the
same thing--or something kin to it--to metals also. Furthermore, just as plants germinated from
seeds, so metals were supposed to germinate also, and hence a constant growth of metals in the
ground. To prove this the alchemist cited cases where previously exhausted gold-mines were
found, after a lapse of time, to contain fresh quantities of gold. The "seed" of the remaining
particles of gold had multiplied and increased. But this germinating process could only take
place under favorable conditions, just as the seed of a plant must have its proper surroundings
before germinating; and it was believed that the action of the philosopher's stone was to hasten
this process, as man may hasten the growth of plants by artificial means. Gold was looked upon
as the most perfect metal, and all other metals imperfect, because not yet "purified." By some
alchemists they were regarded as lepers, who, when cured of their leprosy, would become gold.
And since nature intended that all things should be perfect, it was the aim of the alchemist to
assist her in this purifying process, and incidentally to gain wealth and prolong his life.
By other alchemists the process of transition from baser metals into gold was conceived to be
like a process of ripening fruit. The ripened product was gold, while the green fruit, in various
stages of maturity, was represented by the base metals. Silver, for example, was more nearly ripe
than lead; but the difference was only one of "digestion," and it was thought that by further
"digestion" lead might first become silver and eventually gold. In other words, Nature had not
completed her work, and was wofully slow at it at best; but man, with his superior faculties, was
to hasten the process in his laboratories--if he could but hit upon the right method of doing so.
It should not be inferred that the alchemist set about his task of assisting nature in a haphazard
way, and without training in the various alchemic laboratory methods. On the contrary, he
usually served a long apprenticeship in the rudiments of his calling. He was obliged to learn, in a
general way, many of the same things that must be understood in either chemical or alchemical
laboratories. The general knowledge that certain liquids vaporize at lower temperatures than
others, and that the melting-points of metals differ greatly, for example, was just as necessary to
alchemy as to chemistry. The knowledge of the gross structure, or nature, of materials was much
the same to the alchemist as to the chemist, and, for that matter, many of the experiments in
calcining, distilling, etc., were practically identical.

To the alchemist there were three principles--salt, sulphur, and mercury--and the sources of these
principles were the four elements--earth, water, fire, and air. These four elements were
accountable for every substance in nature. Some of the experiments to prove this were so
illusive, and yet apparently so simple, that one is not surprised that it took centuries to disprove
them. That water was composed of earth and air seemed easily proven by the simple process of
boiling it in a tea-kettle, for the residue left was obviously an earthy substance, whereas the
steam driven off was supposed to be air. The fact that pure water leaves no residue was not
demonstrated until after alchemy had practically ceased to exist. It was possible also to
demonstrate that water could be turned into fire by thrusting a red-hot poker under a bellglass
containing a dish of water. Not only did the quantity of water diminish, but, if a lighted candle
was thrust under the glass, the contents ignited and burned, proving, apparently, that water had
been converted into fire. These, and scores of other similar experiments, seemed so easily
explained, and to accord so well with the "four elements" theory, that they were seldom
questioned until a later age of inductive science.

But there was one experiment to which the alchemist pinned his faith in showing that metals
could be "killed" and "revived," when proper means were employed. It had been known for
many centuries that if any metal, other than gold or silver, were calcined in an open crucible, it
turned, after a time, into a peculiar kind of ash. This ash was thought by the alchemist to
represent the death of the metal. But if to this same ash a few grains of wheat were added and
heat again applied to the crucible, the metal was seen to "rise from its ashes" and resume its
original form--a well-known phenomenon of reducing metals from oxides by the use of carbon,
in the form of wheat, or, for that matter, any other carbonaceous substance. Wheat was,
therefore, made the symbol of the resurrection of the life eternal. Oats, corn, or a piece of
charcoal would have "revived" the metals from the ashes equally well, but the mediaeval
alchemist seems not to have known this. However, in this experiment the metal seemed actually
to be destroyed and revivified, and, as science had not as yet explained this striking phenomenon,
it is little wonder that it deceived the alchemist.
Since the alchemists pursued their search of the magic stone in such a methodical way, it would
seem that they must have some idea of the appearance of the substance they sought. Probably
they did, each according to his own mental bias; but, if so, they seldom committed themselves to
writing, confining their discourses largely to speculations as to the properties of this illusive
substance. Furthermore, the desire for secrecy would prevent them from expressing so important
a piece of information. But on the subject of the properties, if not on the appearance of the
"essence," they were voluminous writers. It was supposed to be the only perfect substance in
existence, and to be confined in various substances, in quantities proportionate to the state of
perfection of the substance. Thus, gold being most nearly perfect would contain more, silver less,
lead still less, and so on. The "essence" contained in the more nearly perfect metals was thought
to be more potent, a very small quantity of it being capable of creating large quantities of gold
and of prolonging life indefinitely.
It would appear from many of the writings of the alchemists that their conception of nature and
the supernatural was so confused and entangled in an inexplicable philosophy that they
themselves did not really understand the meaning of what they were attempting to convey. But it
should not be forgotten that alchemy was kept as much as possible from the ignorant general
public, and the alchemists themselves had knowledge of secret words and expressions which
conveyed a definite meaning to one of their number, but which would appear a meaningless
jumble to an outsider. Some of these writers declared openly that their writings were intended to
convey an entirely erroneous impression, and were sent out only for that purpose.

However, while it may have been true that the vagaries of their writings were made purposely,
the case is probably more correctly explained by saying that the very nature of the art made
definite statements impossible. They were dealing with something that did not exist--could not
exist. Their attempted descriptions became, therefore, the language of romance rather than the
language of science.
But if the alchemists themselves were usually silent as to the appearance of the actual substance
of the philosopher's stone, there were numberless other writers who were less reticent. By some
it was supposed to be a stone, by others a liquid or elixir, but more commonly it was described as
a black powder. It also possessed different degrees of efficiency according to its degrees of
purity, certain forms only possessing the power of turning base metals into gold, while others
gave eternal youth and life or different degrees of health. Thus an alchemist, who had made a
partial discovery of this substance, could prolong life a certain number of years only, or,
possessing only a small and inadequate amount of the magic powder, he was obliged to give up
the ghost when the effect of this small quantity had passed away.

This belief in the supernatural power of the philosopher's stone to prolong life and heal diseases
was probably a later phase of alchemy, possibly developed by attempts to connect the power of
the mysterious essence with Biblical teachings. The early Roman alchemists, who claimed to be
able to transmute metals, seem not to have made other claims for their magic stone.

By the fifteenth century the belief in the philosopher's stone had become so fixed that
governments began to be alarmed lest some lucky possessor of the secret should flood the
country with gold, thus rendering the existing coin of little value. Some little consolation was
found in the thought that in case all the baser metals were converted into gold iron would then
become the "precious metal," and would remain so until some new philosopher's stone was
found to convert gold back into iron--a much more difficult feat, it was thought. However, to be
on the safe side, the English Parliament, in 1404, saw fit to pass an act declaring the making of
gold and silver to be a felony. Nevertheless, in 1455, King Henry VI. granted permission to
several "knights, citizens of London, chemists, and monks" to find the philosopher's stone, or
elixir, that the crown might thus be enabled to pay off its debts. The monks and ecclesiastics
were supposed to be most likely to discover the secret process, since "they were such good artists
in transubstantiating bread and wine."

In Germany the emperors Maximilian I., Rudolf II., and Frederick II. gave considerable attention
to the search, and the example they set was followed by thousands of their subjects. It is said that
some noblemen developed the unpleasant custom of inviting to their courts men who were
reputed to have found the stone, and then imprisoning the poor alchemists until they had made a
certain quantity of gold, stimulating their activity with tortures of the most atrocious kinds. Thus
this danger of being imprisoned and held for ransom until some fabulous amount of gold should
be made became the constant menace of the alchemist. It was useless for an alchemist to plead
poverty once it was noised about that he had learned the secret. For how could such a man be
poor when, with a piece of metal and a few grains of magic powder, he was able to provide
himself with gold? It was, therefore, a reckless alchemist indeed who dared boast that he had
made the coveted discovery.
The fate of a certain indiscreet alchemist, supposed by many to have been Seton, a Scotchman,
was not an uncommon one. Word having been brought to the elector of Saxony that this
alchemist was in Dresden and boasting of his powers, the elector caused him to be arrested and
imprisoned. Forty guards were stationed to see that he did not escape and that no one visited him
save the elector himself. For some time the elector tried by argument and persuasion to penetrate
his secret or to induce him to make a certain quantity of gold; but as Seton steadily refused, the
rack was tried, and for several months he suffered torture, until finally, reduced to a mere
skeleton, be was rescued by a rival candidate of the elector, a Pole named Michael Sendivogins,
who drugged the guards. However, before Seton could be "persuaded" by his new captor, he died
of his injuries.
But Sendivogins was also ambitious in alchemy, and, since Seton was beyond his reach, he took
the next best step and married his widow. From her, as the story goes, he received an ounce of
black powder--the veritable philosopher's stone. With this he manufactured great quantities of
gold, even inviting Emperor Rudolf II. to see him work the miracle. That monarch was so
impressed that he caused a tablet to be inserted in the wall of the room in which he had seen the
gold made.

Sendivogins had learned discretion from the misfortune of Seton, so that he took the precaution
of concealing most of the precious powder in a secret chamber of his carriage when he travelled,
having only a small quantity carried by his steward in a gold box. In particularly dangerous
places, he is said to have exchanged clothes with his coachman, making the servant take his
place in the carriage while he mounted the box.
About the middle of the seventeenth century alchemy took such firm root in the religious field
that it became the basis of the sect known as the Rosicrucians. The name was derived from the
teaching of a German philosopher, Rosenkreutz, who, having been healed of a dangerous illness
by an Arabian supposed to possess the philosopher's stone, returned home and gathered about
him a chosen band of friends, to whom he imparted the secret. This sect came rapidly into
prominence, and for a short time at least created a sensation in Europe, and at the time were
credited with having "refined and spiritualized" alchemy. But by the end of the seventeenth
century their number had dwindled to a mere handful, and henceforth they exerted little

Another and earlier religious sect was the Aureacrucians, founded by Jacob Bohme, a
shoemaker, born in Prussia in 1575. According to his teachings the philosopher's stone could be
discovered by a diligent search of the Old and the New Testaments, and more particularly the
Apocalypse, which contained all the secrets of alchemy. This sect found quite a number of
followers during the life of Bohme, but gradually died out after his death; not, however, until
many of its members had been tortured for heresy, and one at least, Kuhlmann, of Moscow,
burned as a sorcerer.
The names of the different substances that at various times were thought to contain the large
quantities of the "essence" during the many centuries of searching for it, form a list of practically
all substances that were known, discovered, or invented during the period. Some believed that
acids contained the substance; others sought it in minerals or in animal or vegetable products;
while still others looked to find it among the distilled "spirits"--the alcoholic liquors and distilled
products. On the introduction of alcohol by the Arabs that substance became of all-absorbing
interest, and for a long time allured the alchemist into believing that through it they were soon to
be rewarded. They rectified and refined it until "sometimes it was so strong that it broke the
vessels containing it," but still it failed in its magic power. Later, brandy was substituted for it,
and this in turn discarded for more recent discoveries.

There were always, of course, two classes of alchemists: serious investigators whose honesty
could not be questioned, and clever impostors whose legerdemain was probably largely
responsible for the extended belief in the existence of the philosopher's stone. Sometimes an
alchemist practised both, using the profits of his sleight-of-hand to procure the means of carrying
on his serious alchemical researches. The impostures of some of these jugglers deceived even the
most intelligent and learned men of the time, and so kept the flame of hope constantly burning.
The age of cold investigation had not arrived, and it is easy to understand how an unscrupulous
mediaeval Hermann or Kellar might completely deceive even the most intelligent and thoughtful
scholars. In scoffing at the credulity of such an age, it should not be forgotten that the "Keely
motor" was a late nineteenth-century illusion.
But long before the belief in the philosopher's stone had died out, the methods of the legerdemain
alchemist had been investigated and reported upon officially by bodies of men appointed to make
such investigations, although it took several generations completely to overthrow a superstition
that had been handed down through several thousand years. In April of 1772 Monsieur Geoffroy
made a report to the Royal Academy of Sciences, at Paris, on the alchemic cheats principally of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In this report he explains many of the seemingly
marvellous feats of the unscrupulous alchemists. A very common form of deception was the use
of a double-bottomed crucible. A copper or brass crucible was covered on the inside with a layer
of wax, cleverly painted so as to resemble the ordinary metal. Between this layer of wax and the
bottom of the crucible, however, was a layer of gold dust or silver. When the alchemist wished to
demonstrate his power, he had but to place some mercury or whatever substance he chose in the
crucible, heat it, throw in a grain or two of some mysterious powder, pronounce a few equally
mysterious phrases to impress his audience, and, behold, a lump of precious metal would be
found in the bottom of his pot. This was the favorite method of mediocre performers, but was, of
course, easily detected.
An equally successful but more difficult way was to insert surreptitiously a lump of metal into
the mixture, using an ordinary crucible. This required great dexterity, but was facilitated by the
use of many mysterious ceremonies on the part of the operator while performing, just as the
modern vaudeville performer diverts the attention of the audience to his right hand while his left
is engaged in the trick. Such ceremonies were not questioned, for it was the common belief that
the whole process "lay in the spirit as much as in the substance," many, as we have seen,
regarding the whole process as a divine manifestation.
Sometimes a hollow rod was used for stirring the mixture in the crucible, this rod containing
gold dust, and having the end plugged either with wax or soft metal that was easily melted.
Again, pieces of lead were used which had been plugged with lumps of gold carefully covered
over; and a very simple and impressive demonstration was making use of a nugget of gold that
had been coated over with quicksilver and tarnished so as to resemble lead or some base metal.
When this was thrown into acid the coating was removed by chemical action, leaving the shining
metal in the bottom of the vessel. In order to perform some of these tricks, it is obvious that the
alchemist must have been well supplied with gold, as some of them, when performing before a
royal audience, gave the products to their visitors. But it was always a paying investment, for
once his reputation was established the gold-maker found an endless variety of ways of turning
his alleged knowledge to account, frequently amassing great wealth.

Some of the cleverest of the charlatans often invited royal or other distinguished guests to bring
with them iron nails to be turned into gold ones. They were transmuted in the alchemist's
crucible before the eyes of the visitors, the juggler adroitly extracting the iron nail and inserting a
gold one without detection. It mattered little if the converted gold nail differed in size and shape
from the original, for this change in shape could be laid to the process of transmutation; and even
the very critical were hardly likely to find fault with the exchange thus made. Furthermore, it was
believed that gold possessed the property of changing its bulk under certain conditions, some of
the more conservative alchemists maintaining that gold was only increased in bulk, not
necessarily created, by certain forms of the magic stone. Thus a very proficient operator was
thought to be able to increase a grain of gold into a pound of pure metal, while one less expert
could only double, or possibly treble, its original weight.
The actual number of useful discoveries resulting from the efforts of the alchemists is
considerable, some of them of incalculable value. Roger Bacon, who lived in the thirteenth
century, while devoting much of his time to alchemy, made such valuable discoveries as the
theory, at least, of the telescope, and probably gunpowder. Of this latter we cannot be sure that
the discovery was his own and that he had not learned of it through the source of old
manuscripts. But it is not impossible nor improbable that he may have hit upon the mixture that
makes the explosives while searching for the philosopher's stone in his laboratory. "Von
Helmont, in the same pursuit, discoverd the properties of gas," says Mackay; "Geber made
discoveries in chemistry, which were equally important; and Paracelsus, amid his perpetual
visions of the transmutation of metals, found that mercury was a remedy for one of the most
odious and excruciating of all the diseases that afflict humanity."' As we shall see a little farther
on, alchemy finally evolved into modern chemistry, but not until it had passed through several
important transitional stages.
In a general way modern astronomy may be considered as the outgrowth of astrology, just as
modern chemistry is the result of alchemy. It is quite possible, however, that astronomy is the
older of the two; but astrology must have developed very shortly after. The primitive astronomer,
having acquired enough knowledge from his observations of the heavenly bodies to make correct
predictions, such as the time of the coming of the new moon, would be led, naturally, to believe
that certain predictions other than purely astronomical ones could be made by studying the
heavens. Even if the astronomer himself did not believe this, some of his superstitious admirers
would; for to the unscientific mind predictions of earthly events would surely seem no more
miraculous than correct predictions as to the future movements of the sun, moon, and stars.
When astronomy had reached a stage of development so that such things as eclipses could be
predicted with anything like accuracy, the occult knowledge of the astronomer would be
unquestioned. Turning this apparently occult knowledge to account in a mercenary way would
then be the inevitable result, although it cannot be doubted that many of the astrologers, in all
ages, were sincere in their beliefs.
Later, as the business of astrology became a profitable one, sincere astronomers would find it
expedient to practise astrology as a means of gaining a livelihood. Such a philosopher as Kepler
freely admitted that he practised astrology "to keep from starving," although he confessed no
faith in such predictions. "Ye otherwise philosophers," he said, "ye censure this daughter of
astronomy beyond her deserts; know ye not that she must support her mother by her charms."
Once astrology had become an established practice, any considerable knowledge of astronomy
was unnecessary, for as it was at best but a system of good guessing as to future events, clever
impostors could thrive equally well without troubling to study astronomy. The celebrated
astrologers, however, were usually astronomers as well, and undoubtedly based many of their
predictions on the position and movements of the heavenly bodies. Thus, the casting of a
horoscope that is, the methods by which the astrologers ascertained the relative position of the
heavenly bodies at the time of a birth--was a simple but fairly exact procedure. Its basis was the
zodiac, or the path traced by the sun in his yearly course through certain constellations. At the
moment of the birth of a child, the first care of the astrologer was to note the particular part of
the zodiac that appeared on the horizon. The zodiac was then divided into "houses"--that is, into
twelve spaces--on a chart. In these houses were inserted the places of the planets, sun, and moon,
with reference to the zodiac. When this chart was completed it made a fairly correct diagram of
the heavens and the position of the heavenly bodies as they would appear to a person standing at
the place of birth at a certain time.
Up to this point the process was a simple one of astronomy. But the next step--the really
important one--that of interpreting this chart, was the one which called forth the skill and
imagination of the astrologer. In this interpretation, not in his mere observations, lay the secret of
his success. Nor did his task cease with simply foretelling future events that were to happen in
the life of the newly born infant. He must not only point out the dangers, but show the means
whereby they could be averted, and his prophylactic measures, like his predictions, were alleged
to be based on his reading of the stars.
But casting a horoscope at the time of births was, of course, only a small part of the astrologer's
duty. His offices were sought by persons of all ages for predictions as to their futures, the
movements of an enemy, where to find stolen goods, and a host of everyday occurrences. In such
cases it is more than probable that the astrologers did very little consulting of the stars in making
their predictions. They became expert physiognomists and excellent judges of human nature, and
were thus able to foretell futures with the same shrewdness and by the same methods as the
modern "mediums," palmists, and fortune-tellers. To strengthen belief in their powers, it became
a common thing for some supposedly lost document of the astrologer to be mysteriously
discovered after an important event, this document purporting to foretell this very event. It was
also a common practice with astrologers to retain, or have access to, their original charts,
cleverly altering them from time to time to fit conditions.
The dangers attendant upon astrology were of such a nature that the lot of the astrologer was
likely to prove anything but an enviable one. As in the case of the alchemist, the greater the
reputation of an astrologer the greater dangers he was likely to fall into. If he became so famous
that he was employed by kings or noblemen, his too true or too false prophecies were likely to
bring him into disrepute--even to endanger his life.

Throughout the dark age the astrologers flourished, but the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
were the golden age of these impostors. A skilful astrologer was as much an essential to the
government as the highest official, and it would have been a bold monarch, indeed, who would
undertake any expedition of importance unless sanctioned by the governing stars as interpreted
by these officials.

It should not be understood, however, that belief in astrology died with the advent of the
Copernican doctrine. It did become separated from astronomy very shortly after, to be sure, and
undoubtedly among the scientists it lost much of its prestige. But it cannot be considered as
entirely passed away, even to-day, and even if we leave out of consideration street-corner
"astrologers" and fortune-tellers, whose signs may be seen in every large city, there still remains
quite a large class of relatively intelligent people who believe in what they call "the science of
astrology." Needless to say, such people are not found among the scientific thinkers; but it is
significant that scarcely a year passes that some book or pamphlet is not published by some
ardent believer in astrology, attempting to prove by the illogical dogmas characteristic of
unscientific thinkers that astrology is a science. The arguments contained in these pamphlets are
very much the same as those of the astrologers three hundred years ago, except that they lack the
quaint form of wording which is one of the features that lends interest to the older documents.
These pamphlets need not be taken seriously, but they are interesting as exemplifying how
difficult it is, even in an age of science, to entirely stamp out firmly established superstitions.
Here are some of the arguments advanced in defence of astrology, taken from a little brochure
entitled "Astrology Vindicated," published in 1898: It will be found that a person born when the
Sun is in twenty degrees Scorpio has the left ear as his exceptional feature and the nose
(Sagittarius) bent towards the left ear. A person born when the Sun is in any of the latter degrees
of Taurus, say the twenty-fifth degree, will have a small, sharp, weak chin, curved up towards
Gemini, the two vertical lines on the upper lip."[4] The time was when science went out of its
way to prove that such statements were untrue; but that time is past, and such writers are usually
classed among those energetic but misguided persons who are unable to distinguish between
logic and sophistry.

In England, from the time of Elizabeth to the reign of William and Mary, judicial astrology was
at its height. After the great London fire, in 1666, a committee of the House of Commons
publicly summoned the famous astrologer, Lilly, to come before Parliament and report to them
on his alleged prediction of the calamity that had befallen the city. Lilly, for some reason best
known to himself, denied having made such a prediction, being, as he explained, "more
interested in determining affairs of much more importance to the future welfare of the country."
Some of the explanations of his interpretations will suffice to show their absurdities, which,
however, were by no means regarded as absurdities at that time, for Lilly was one of the greatest
astrologers of his day. He said that in 1588 a prophecy had been printed in Greek characters
which foretold exactly the troubles of England between the years 1641. and 1660. "And after him
shall come a dreadful dead man," ran the prophecy, "and with him a royal G of the best blood in
the world, and he shall have the crown and shall set England on the right way and put out all
heresies. His interpretation of this was that, "Monkery being extinguished above eighty or ninety
years, and the Lord General's name being Monk, is the dead man. The royal G or C (it is gamma
in the Greek, intending C in the Latin, being the third letter in the alphabet) is Charles II., who,
for his extraction, may be said to be of the best blood of the world."[5]

This may be taken as a fair sample of Lilly's interpretations of astrological prophesies, but many
of his own writings, while somewhat more definite and direct, are still left sufficiently vague to
allow his skilful interpretations to set right an apparent mistake. One of his famous documents
was "The Starry Messenger," a little pamphlet purporting to explain the phenomenon of a
"strange apparition of three suns" that were seen in London on November 19, 1644---the
anniversary of the birth of Charles I., then the reigning monarch. This phenomenon caused a
great stir among the English astrologers, coming, as it did, at a time of great political disturbance.
Prophecies were numerous, and Lilly's brochure is only one of many that appeared at that time,
most of which, however, have been lost. Lilly, in his preface, says: "If there be any of so
prevaricate a judgment as to think that the apparition of these three Suns doth intimate no
Novelle thing to happen in our own Climate, where they were manifestly visible, I shall lament
their indisposition, and conceive their brains to be shallow, and voyde of understanding
humanity, or notice of common History."
Having thus forgiven his few doubting readers, who were by no means in the majority in his day,
he takes up in review the records of the various appearances of three suns as they have occurred
during the Christian era, showing how such phenomena have governed certain human events in a
very definite manner. Some of these are worth recording.

"Anno 66. A comet was seen, and also three Suns: In which yeer, Florus President of the Jews
was by them slain. Paul writes to Timothy. The Christians are warned by a divine Oracle, and
depart out of Jerusalem. Boadice a British Queen, killeth seventy thousand Romans. The
Nazareni, a scurvie Sect, begun, that boasted much of Revelations and Visions. About a year
after Nero was proclaimed enemy to the State of Rome."
Again, "Anno 1157, in September, there were seen three Suns together, in as clear weather as
could be: And a few days after, in the same month, three Moons, and, in the Moon that stood in
the middle, a white Crosse. Sueno, King of Denmark, at a great Feast, killeth Canutus: Sueno is
himself slain, in pursuit of Waldemar. The Order of Eremites, according to the rule of Saint
Augustine, begun this year; and in the next, the Pope submits to the Emperour: (was not this
miraculous?) Lombardy was also adjudged to the Emperour."

Continuing this list of peculiar phenomena he comes down to within a few years of his own time.
"Anno 1622, three Suns appeared at Heidelberg. The woful Calamities that have ever since fallen
upon the Palatinate, we are all sensible of, and of the loss of it, for any thing I see, for ever, from
the right Heir. Osman the great Turk is strangled that year; and Spinola besiegeth Bergen up
Zoom, etc."

Fortified by the enumeration of these past events, he then proceeds to make his deductions.
"Only this I must tell thee," he writes, "that the interpretation I write is, I conceive, grounded
upon probable foundations; and who lives to see a few years over his head, will easily perceive I
have unfolded as much as was fit to discover, and that my judgment was not a mile and a half
from truth."
There is a great significance in this "as much as was fit to discover"--a mysterious something that
Lilly thinks it expedient not to divulge. But, nevertheless, one would imagine that he was about
to make some definite prediction about Charles I., since these three suns appeared upon his
birthday and surely must portend something concerning him. But after rambling on through
many pages of dissertations upon planets and prophecies, he finally makes his own indefinite

"O all you Emperors, Kings, Princes, Rulers and Magistrates of Europe, this unaccustomed
Apparition is like the Handwriting in Daniel to some of you; it premonisheth you, above all other
people, to make your peace with God in time. You shall every one of you smart, and every one
of you taste (none excepted) the heavie hand of God, who will strengthen your subjects with
invincible courage to suppress your misgovernments and Oppressions in Church or Common-
wealth; . . . Those words are general: a word for my own country of England. . . . Look to
yourselves; here's some monstrous death towards you. But to whom? wilt thou say. Herein we
consider the Signe, Lord thereof, and the House; The Sun signifies in that Royal Signe, great
ones; the House signifies captivity, poison, Treachery: From which is derived thus much, That
some very great man, what King, Prince, Duke, or the like, I really affirm I perfectly know not,
shall, I say, come to some such untimely end."[6]

Here is shown a typical example of astrological prophecy, which seems to tell something or
nothing, according to the point of view of the reader. According to a believer in astrology, after
the execution of Charles I., five years later, this could be made to seem a direct and exact
prophecy. For example, he says: "You Kings, Princes, etc., ... it premonisheth you ... to make
your peace with God.... Look to yourselves; here's some monstrous death towards you. ... That
some very great man, what King, Prince, . shall, I say, come to such untimely end."
But by the doubter the complete prophecy could be shown to be absolutely indefinite, and
applicable as much to the king of France or Spain as to Charles I., or to any king in the future,
since no definite time is stated. Furthermore, Lilly distinctly states, "What King, Prince, Duke, or
the like, I really affirm I perfectly know not"--which last, at least, was a most truthful statement.
The same ingenuity that made "Gen. Monk" the "dreadful dead man," could easily make such a
prediction apply to the execution of Charles I. Such a definite statement that, on such and such a
day a certain number of years in the future, the monarch of England would be beheaded--such an
exact statement can scarcely be found in any of the works on astrology. It should be borne in
mind, also, that Lilly was of the Cromwell party and opposed to the king.
After the death of Charles I., Lilly admitted that the monarch had given him a thousand pounds
to cast his horoscope. "I advised him," says Lilly, "to proceed eastwards; he went west, and all
the world knows the result." It is an unfortunate thing for the cause of astrology that Lilly failed
to mention this until after the downfall of the monarch. In fact, the sudden death, or decline in
power, of any monarch, even to-day, brings out the perennial post-mortem predictions of

We see how Lilly, an opponent of the king, made his so-called prophecy of the disaster of the
king and his army. At the same time another celebrated astrologer and rival of Lilly, George
Wharton, also made some predictions about the outcome of the eventful march from Oxford.
Wharton, unlike Lilly, was a follower of the king's party, but that, of course, should have had no
influence in his "scientific" reading of the stars. Wharton's predictions are much less verbose
than Lilly's, much more explicit, and, incidentally, much more incorrect in this particular
instance. "The Moon Lady of the 12," he wrote, "and moving betwixt the 8 degree, 34 min., and
21 degree, 26 min. of Aquarius, gives us to understand that His Majesty shall receive much
contentment by certain Messages brought him from foreign parts; and that he shall receive some
sudden and unexpected supply of . . . by the means of some that assimilate the condition of his
Enemies: And withal this comfort; that His Majesty shall be exceeding successful in Besieging
Towns, Castles, or Forts, and in persuing the enemy.

"Mars his Sextile to the Sun, Lord of the Ascendant (which happeneth the 18 day of May) will
encourage our Soldiers to advance with much alacrity and cheerfulness of spirit; to show
themselves gallant in the most dangerous attempt.... And now to sum up all: It is most apparent
to every impartial and ingenuous judgment; That although His Majesty cannot expect to be
secured from every trivial disaster that may befall his army, either by the too much Presumption,
Ignorance, or Negligence of some particular Persons (which is frequently incident and
unavoidable in the best of Armies), yet the several positions of the Heavens duly considered and
compared among themselves, as well in the prefixed Scheme as at the Quarterly Ingresses, do
generally render His Majesty and his whole Army unexpectedly victorious and successful in all
his designs; Believe it (London), thy Miseries approach, they are like to be many, great, and
grievous, and not to be diverted, unless thou seasonably crave Pardon of God for being Nurse to
this present Rebellion, and speedily submit to thy Prince's Mercy; Which shall be the daily
Prayer of Geo. Wharton."[7]
In the light of after events, it is probable that Wharton's stock as an astrologer was not greatly
enhanced by this document, at least among members of the Royal family. Lilly's book, on the
other hand, became a favorite with the Parliamentary army.

After the downfall and death of Napoleon there were unearthed many alleged authentic
astrological documents foretelling his ruin. And on the death of George IV., in 1830, there
appeared a document (unknown, as usual, until that time) purporting to foretell the death of the
monarch to the day, and this without the astrologer knowing that his horoscope was being cast
for a monarch. A full account of this prophecy is told, with full belief, by Roback, a nineteenth-
century astrologer. He says:
"In the year 1828, a stranger of noble mien, advanced in life, but possessing the most bland
manners, arrived at the abode of a celebrated astrologer in London," asking that the learned man
foretell his future. "The astrologer complied with the request of the mysterious visitor, drew forth
his tables, consulted his ephemeris, and cast the horoscope or celestial map for the hour and the
moment of the inquiry, according to the established rules of his art.
"The elements of his calculation were adverse, and a feeling of gloom cast a shade of serious
thought, if not dejection, over his countenance.
" 'You are of high rank,' said the astrologer, as he calculated and looked on the stranger, 'and of
illustrious title.' The stranger made a graceful inclination of the head in token of
acknowledgment of the complimentary remarks, and the astrologer proceeded with his mission.
"The celestial signs were ominous of calamity to the stranger, who, probably observing a sudden
change in the countenance of the astrologer, eagerly inquired what evil or good fortune had been
assigned him by the celestial orbs.

'To the first part of your inquiry,' said the astrologer, 'I can readily reply. You have been a
favorite of fortune; her smiles on you have been abundant, her frowns but few; you have had,
perhaps now possess, wealth and power; the impossibility of their accomplishment is the only
limit to the fulfilment of your desires.' "
" 'You have spoken truly of the past,' said the stranger. 'I have full faith in your revelations of the
future: what say you of my pilgrimage in this life--is it short or long?'
" 'I regret,' replied the astrologer, in answer to this inquiry, 'to be the herald of ill, though TRUE,
fortune; your sojourn on earth will be short.'
" 'How short?' eagerly inquired the excited and anxious stranger.

" 'Give me a momentary truce,' said the astrologer; 'I will consult the horoscope, and may
possibly find some mitigating circumstances.'
"Having cast his eyes over the celestial map, and paused for some moments, he surveyed the
countenance of the stranger with great sympathy, and said, 'I am sorry that I can find no
planetary influences that oppose your destiny--your death will take place in two years.'

"The event justified the astrologic prediction: George IV. died on May 18, 1830, exactly two
years from the day on which he had visited the astrologer."[8]

This makes a very pretty story, but it hardly seems like occult insight that an astrologer should
have been able to predict an early death of a man nearly seventy years old, or to have guessed
that his well-groomed visitor "had, perhaps now possesses, wealth and power." Here again,
however, the point of view of each individual plays the governing part in determining the
importance of such a document. To the scientist it proves nothing; to the believer in astrology,
everything. The significant thing is that it appeared shortly AFTER the death of the monarch.
On the Continent astrologers were even more in favor than in England. Charlemagne, and some
of his immediate successors, to be sure, attempted to exterminate them, but such rulers as Louis
XI. and Catherine de' Medici patronized and encouraged them, and it was many years after the
time of Copernicus before their influence was entirely stamped out even in official life. There
can be no question that what gave the color of truth to many of the predictions was the fact that
so many of the prophecies of sudden deaths and great conflagrations were known to have come
true--in many instances were made to come true by the astrologer himself. And so it happened
that when the prediction of a great conflagration at a certain time culminated in such a
conflagration, many times a second but less-important burning took place, in which the
ambitious astrologer, or his followers, took a central part about a stake, being convicted of
incendiarism, which they had committed in order that their prophecies might be fulfilled.

But, on the other hand, these predictions were sometimes turned to account by interested friends
to warn certain persons of approaching dangers.
For example, a certain astrologer foretold the death of Prince Alexander de' Medici. He not only
foretold the death, but described so minutely the circumstances that would attend it, and gave
such a correct description of the assassin who should murder the prince, that he was at once
suspected of having a hand in the assassination. It developed later, however, that such was
probably not the case; but that some friend of Prince Alexander, knowing of the plot to take his
life, had induced the astrologer to foretell the event in order that the prince might have timely
warning and so elude the conspirators.
The cause of the decline of astrology was the growing prevalence of the new spirit of
experimental science. Doubtless the most direct blow was dealt by the Copernican theory. So
soon as this was established, the recognition of the earth's subordinate place in the universe must
have made it difficult for astronomers to be longer deceived by such coincidences as had sufficed
to convince the observers of a more credulous generation. Tycho Brahe was, perhaps, the last
astronomer of prominence who was a conscientious practiser of the art of the astrologer.

In the year 1526 there appeared a new lecturer on the platform at the University at Basel--a
small, beardless, effeminate-looking person--who had already inflamed all Christendom with his
peculiar philosophy, his revolutionary methods of treating diseases, and his unparalleled success
in curing them. A man who was to be remembered in after-time by some as the father of modern
chemistry and the founder of modern medicine; by others as madman, charlatan, impostor; and
by still others as a combination of all these. This soft-cheeked, effeminate, woman-hating man,
whose very sex has been questioned, was Theophrastus von Hohenheim, better known as
Paracelsus (1493-1541).
To appreciate his work, something must be known of the life of the man. He was born near
Maria-Einsiedeln, in Switzerland, the son of a poor physician of the place. He began the study of
medicine under the instruction of his father, and later on came under the instruction of several
learned churchmen. At the age of sixteen he entered the University of Basel, but, soon becoming
disgusted with the philosophical teachings of the time, he quitted the scholarly world of dogmas
and theories and went to live among the miners in the Tyrol, in order that he might study nature
and men at first hand. Ordinary methods of study were thrown aside, and he devoted his time to
personal observation--the only true means of gaining useful knowledge, as he preached and
practised ever after. Here he became familiar with the art of mining, learned the physical
properties of minerals, ores, and metals, and acquired some knowledge of mineral waters. More
important still, he came in contact with such diseases, wounds, and injuries as miners are subject
to, and he tried his hand at the practical treatment of these conditions, untrammelled by the
traditions of a profession in which his training had been so scant.

Having acquired some empirical skill in treating diseases, Paracelsus set out wandering from
place to place all over Europe, gathering practical information as he went, and learning more and
more of the medicinal virtues of plants and minerals. His wanderings covered a period of about
ten years, at the end of which time he returned to Basel, where he was soon invited to give a
course of lectures in the university.
These lectures were revolutionary in two respects--they were given in German instead of time-
honored Latin, and they were based upon personal experience rather than upon the works of such
writers as Galen and Avicenna. Indeed, the iconoclastic teacher spoke with open disparagement
of these revered masters, and openly upbraided his fellow-practitioners for following their tenets.
Naturally such teaching raised a storm of opposition among the older physicians, but for a time
the unparalleled success of Paracelsus in curing diseases more than offset his unpopularity.
Gradually, however, his bitter tongue and his coarse personality rendered him so unpopular, even
among his patients, that, finally, his liberty and life being jeopardized, he was obliged to flee
from Basel, and became a wanderer. He lived for brief periods in Colmar, Nuremberg,
Appenzell, Zurich, Pfeffers, Augsburg, and several other cities, until finally at Salzburg his
eventful life came to a close in 1541. His enemies said that he had died in a tavern from the
effects of a protracted debauch; his supporters maintained that he had been murdered at the
instigation of rival physicians and apothecaries.
But the effects of his teachings had taken firm root, and continued to spread after his death. He
had shown the fallibility of many of the teachings of the hitherto standard methods of treating
diseases, and had demonstrated the advantages of independent reasoning based on observation.
In his Magicum he gives his reasons for breaking with tradition. "I did," he says, "embrace at the
beginning these doctrines, as my adversaries (followers of Galen) have done, but since I saw that
from their procedures nothing resulted but death, murder, stranglings, anchylosed limbs,
paralysis, and so forth, that they held most diseases incurable. . . . therefore have I quitted this
wretched art, and sought for truth in any other direction. I asked myself if there were no such
thing as a teacher in medicine, where could I learn this art best? Nowhere better than the open
book of nature, written with God's own finger." We shall see, however, that this "book of nature"
taught Paracelsus some very strange lessons. Modesty was not one of these. "Now at this time,"
he declares, "I, Theophrastus Paracelsus, Bombast, Monarch of the Arcana, was endowed by
God with special gifts for this end, that every searcher after this supreme philosopher's work may
be forced to imitate and to follow me, be he Italian, Pole, Gaul, German, or whatsoever or
whosoever he be. Come hither after me, all ye philosophers, astronomers, and spagirists. . . . I
will show and open to you ... this corporeal regeneration."[1]

Paracelsus based his medical teachings on four "pillars" --philosophy, astronomy, alchemy, and
virtue of the physician--a strange-enough equipment surely, and yet, properly interpreted, not
quite so anomalous as it seems at first blush. Philosophy was the "gate of medicine," whereby the
physician entered rightly upon the true course of learning; astronomy, the study of the stars, was
all-important because "they (the stars) caused disease by their exhalations, as, for instance, the
sun by excessive heat"; alchemy, as he interpreted it, meant the improvement of natural
substances for man's benefit; while virtue in the physician was necessary since "only the virtuous
are permitted to penetrate into the innermost nature of man and the universe."
All his writings aim to promote progress in medicine, and to hold before the physician a grand
ideal of his profession. In this his views are wide and far-reaching, based on the relationship
which man bears to nature as a whole; but in his sweeping condemnations he not only rejected
Galenic therapeutics and Galenic anatomy, but condemned dissections of any kind. He laid the
cause of all diseases at the door of the three mystic elements--salt, sulphur, and mercury. In
health he supposed these to be mingled in the body so as to be indistinguishable; a slight
separation of them produced disease; and death he supposed to be the result of their complete
separation. The spiritual agencies of diseases, he said, had nothing to do with either angels or
devils, but were the spirits of human beings.
He believed that all food contained poisons, and that the function of digestion was to separate the
poisonous from the nutritious. In the stomach was an archaeus, or alchemist, whose duty was to
make this separation. In digestive disorders the archaeus failed to do this, and the poisons thus
gaining access to the system were "coagulated" and deposited in the joints and various other
parts of the body. Thus the deposits in the kidneys and tartar on the teeth were formed; and the
stony deposits of gout were particularly familiar examples of this. All this is visionary enough,
yet it shows at least a groping after rational explanations of vital phenomena.
Like most others of his time, Paracelsus believed firmly in the doctrine of "signatures"--a belief
that every organ and part of the body had a corresponding form in nature, whose function was to
heal diseases of the organ it resembled. The vagaries of this peculiar doctrine are too numerous
and complicated for lengthy discussion, and varied greatly from generation to generation. In
general, however, the theory may be summed up in the words of Paracelsus: "As a woman is
known by her shape, so are the medicines." Hence the physicians were constantly searching for
some object of corresponding shape to an organ of the body. The most natural application of this
doctrine would be the use of the organs of the lower animals for the treatment of the
corresponding diseased organs in man. Thus diseases of the heart were to be treated with the
hearts of animals, liver disorders with livers, and so on. But this apparently simple form of
treatment had endless modifications and restrictions, for not all animals were useful. For
example, it was useless to give the stomach of an ox in gastric diseases when the indication in
such cases was really for the stomach of a rat. Nor were the organs of animals the only
"signatures" in nature. Plants also played a very important role, and the herb-doctors devoted
endless labor to searching for such plants. Thus the blood-root, with its red juice, was supposed
to be useful in blood diseases, in stopping hemorrhage, or in subduing the redness of an

Paracelsus's system of signatures, however, was so complicated by his theories of astronomy and
alchemy that it is practically beyond comprehension. It is possible that he himself may have
understood it, but it is improbable that any one else did--as shown by the endless discussions that
have taken place about it. But with all the vagaries of his theories he was still rational in his
applications, and he attacked to good purpose the complicated "shot-gun" prescriptions of his
contemporaries, advocating more simple methods of treatment.
The ever-fascinating subject of electricity, or, more specifically, "magnetism," found great favor
with him, and with properly adjusted magnets he claimed to be able to cure many diseases. In
epilepsy and lockjaw, for example, one had but to fasten magnets to the four extremities of the
body, and then, "when the proper medicines were given," the cure would be effected. The easy
loop-hole for excusing failure on the ground of improper medicines is obvious, but Paracelsus
declares that this one prescription is of more value than "all the humoralists have ever written or
Since Paracelsus condemned the study of anatomy as useless, he quite naturally regarded surgery
in the same light. In this he would have done far better to have studied some of his predecessors,
such as Galen, Paul of Aegina, and Avicenna. But instead of "cutting men to pieces," he taught
that surgeons would gain more by devoting their time to searching for the universal panacea
which would cure all diseases, surgical as well as medical. In this we detect a taint of the popular
belief in the philosopher's stone and the magic elixir of life, his belief in which have been stoutly
denied by some of his followers. He did admit, however, that one operation alone was perhaps
permissible--lithotomy, or the "cutting for stone."
His influence upon medicine rests undoubtedly upon his revolutionary attitude, rather than on
any great or new discoveries made by him. It is claimed by many that he brought prominently
into use opium and mercury, and if this were indisputably proven his services to medicine could
hardly be overestimated. Unfortunately, however, there are good grounds for doubting that he
was particularly influential in reintroducing these medicines. His chief influence may perhaps be
summed up in a single phrase--he overthrew old traditions.

To Paracelsus's endeavors, however, if not to the actual products of his work, is due the credit of
setting in motion the chain of thought that developed finally into scientific chemistry. Nor can
the ultimate aim of the modern chemist seek a higher object than that of this sixteenth-century
alchemist, who taught that "true alchemy has but one aim and object, to extract the quintessence
of things, and to prepare arcana, tinctures, and elixirs which may restore to man the health and
soundness he has lost."

About the beginning of the sixteenth century, while Paracelsus was scoffing at the study of
anatomy as useless, and using his influence against it, there had already come upon the scene the
first of the great anatomists whose work was to make the century conspicuous in that branch of
The young anatomist Charles etienne (1503-1564) made one of the first noteworthy discoveries,
pointing out for the first time that the spinal cord contains a canal, continuous throughout its
length. He also made other minor discoveries of some importance, but his researches were
completely overshadowed and obscured by the work of a young Fleming who came upon the
scene a few years later, and who shone with such brilliancy in the medical world that he
obscured completely the work of his contemporary until many years later. This young physician,
who was destined to lead such an eventful career and meet such an untimely end as a martyr to
science, was Andrew Vesalius (1514-1564), who is called the "greatest of anatomists." At the
time he came into the field medicine was struggling against the dominating Galenic teachings
and the theories of Paracelsus, but perhaps most of all against the superstitions of the time. In
France human dissections were attended with such dangers that the young Vesalius transferred
his field of labors to Italy, where such investigations were covertly permitted, if not openly
From the very start the young Fleming looked askance at the accepted teachings of the day, and
began a series of independent investigations based upon his own observations. The results of
these investigations he gave in a treatise on the subject which is regarded as the first
comprehensive and systematic work on human anatomy. This remarkable work was published in
the author's twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth year. Soon after this Vesalius was invited as imperial
physician to the court of Emperor Charles V. He continued to act in the same capacity at the
court of Philip II., after the abdication of his patron. But in spite of this royal favor there was at
work a factor more powerful than the influence of the monarch himself--an instrument that did
so much to retard scientific progress, and by which so many lives were brought to a premature
Vesalius had received permission from the kinsmen of a certain grandee to perform an autopsy.
While making his observations the heart of the outraged body was seen to palpitate--so at least it
was reported. This was brought immediately to the attention of the Inquisition, and it was only
by the intervention of the king himself that the anatomist escaped the usual fate of those accused
by that tribunal. As it was, he was obliged to perform a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While
returning from this he was shipwrecked, and perished from hunger and exposure on the island of
At the very time when the anatomical writings of Vesalius were startling the medical world,
there was living and working contemporaneously another great anatomist, Eustachius (died
1574), whose records of his anatomical investigations were ready for publication only nine years
after the publication of the work of Vesalius. Owing to the unfortunate circumstances of the
anatomist, however, they were never published during his lifetime--not, in fact, until 1714. When
at last they were given to the world as Anatomical Engravings, they showed conclusively that
Eustachius was equal, if not superior to Vesalius in his knowledge of anatomy. It has been said
of this remarkable collection of engravings that if they had been published when they were made
in the sixteenth century, anatomy would have been advanced by at least two centuries. But be
this as it may, they certainly show that their author was a most careful dissector and observer.

Eustachius described accurately for the first time certain structures of the middle ear, and
rediscovered the tube leading from the ear to the throat that bears his name. He also made careful
studies of the teeth and the phenomena of first and second dentition. He was not baffled by the
minuteness of structures and where he was unable to study them with the naked eye he used
glasses for the purpose, and resorted to macerations and injections for the study of certain
complicated structures. But while the fruit of his pen and pencil were lost for more than a century
after his death, the effects of his teachings were not; and his two pupils, Fallopius and Columbus,
are almost as well known to-day as their illustrious teacher. Columbus (1490-1559) did much in
correcting the mistakes made in the anatomy of the bones as described by Vesalius. He also
added much to the science by giving correct accounts of the shape and cavities of the heart, and
made many other discoveries of minor importance. Fallopius (1523-1562) added considerably to
the general knowledge of anatomy, made several discoveries in the anatomy of the ear, and also
several organs in the abdominal cavity.
At this time a most vitally important controversy was in progress as to whether or not the veins
of the bodies were supplied with valves, many anatomists being unable to find them. etienne had
first described these structures, and Vesalius had confirmed his observations. It would seem as if
there could be no difficulty in settling the question as to the fact of such valves being present in
the vessels, for the demonstration is so simple that it is now made daily by medical students in all
physiological laboratories and dissecting-rooms. But many of the great anatomists