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great stretch of the reasoning powers, and the magnificent field they
afford for sublime contemplation. "But," as Sir G. Cornwall Lewis
remarks, "modern astronomy is a science of pure curiosity, and is
directed exclusively to the extension of knowledge in a field which
human interests can never enter. The periodic time of Uranus, the nature
of Saturn's ring, and the occupation of Jupiter's satellites, are as far
removed from the concerns of mankind as the heliacal rising of Sirius,
or the northern position of the Great Bear." This may seem to be a
utilitarian view with which those philosophers, who have cultivated
science for its own sake, finding in the same a sufficient reward, as in
truth and virtue, can have no sympathy.

[Sidenote: Result of ancient investigations.]

The upshot of the scientific attainments of the ancients, in the
magnificent realm of the heavenly bodies, would seem to be that they
laid the foundation of all the definite knowledge which is useful to
mankind; while in the field of abstract calculation they evinced
reasoning and mathematical powers which have never been surpassed.
Eratosthenes, Archimedes, and Hipparchus were geniuses worthy to be
placed by the side of Kepler, Newton, and La Place. And all ages will
reverence their efforts and their memory. It is truly surprising that,
with their imperfect instruments, and the absence of definite data, they
reached a height so sublime and grand. They explained the doctrine of
the sphere and the apparent motions of the planets, but they had no
instruments capable of measuring angular distances. The ingenious
epicycles of Ptolemy prepared the way for the elliptic orbits and laws
of Kepler, which, in turn, conducted Newton to the discovery of the laws
of gravitation - the grandest scientific discovery in the annals of our

[Sidenote: Geometry.]

[Sidenote: Ancient Greek geometers.]

[Sidenote: Euclid.]

[Sidenote: Archimedes.]

Closely connected with astronomical science was geometry, which was
first taught in Egypt, - the nurse and cradle of ancient wisdom. It arose
from the necessity of adjusting the landmarks, disturbed by the
inundations of the Nile. Thales introduced the science to the Greeks. He
applied a circle to the measurement of angles. Anaximander invented the
sphere, the gnomon, and geographical charts, which required considerable
geometrical knowledge. Anaxagoras employed himself in prison in
attempting to square the circle. Pythagoras discovered the important
theorem that in a right-angled triangle the squares on the sides
containing the right angle are together equal to the square on the
opposite side of it. He also discovered that of all figures having the
same boundary, the circle among plane figures and the sphere among
solids, are the most capacious. The theory of the regular solids was
taught in his school, and his disciple, Archytas, was the author of a
solution of the problem of two mean proportionals. Democritus of Abdera
treated of the contact of circles and spheres, and of irrational lines
and solids. Hippocrates treated of the duplication of the cube, and
wrote elements of geometry, and knew that the area of a circle was equal
to a triangle whose base is equal to its circumference, and altitude
equal to its radius. The disciples of Plato invented conic sections, and
discovered the geometrical loci. They also attempted to resolve the
problems of the trisection of an angle and the duplication of a cube. To
Leon is ascribed that part of the solution of a problem, called its
_determination_, which treats of the cases in which the problem is
possible, and of those in which it cannot be resolved. Euclid has almost
given his name to the science of geometry. He was born B.C. 323, and
belonged to the Platonic sect, which ever attached great importance to
mathematics. His "Elements" are still in use, as nearly perfect as any
human production can be. They consist of thirteen books, - the first four
on plane geometry; the fifth is on the theory of proportion, and applies
to magnitude in general; the seventh, eighth, and ninth are on
arithmetic; the tenth on the arithmetical characteristics of the
division of a straight line; the eleventh and twelfth on the elements of
solid geometry; the thirteenth on the regular solids. These "Elements"
soon became the universal study of geometers throughout the civilized
world. They were translated into the Arabic, and through the Arabians
were made known to mediaeval Europe. There can be no doubt that this
work is one of the highest triumphs of human genius, and has been valued
more than any single monument of antiquity. It is still a text-book, in
various English translations, in all our schools. Euclid also wrote
various other works, showing great mathematical talent. But, perhaps, a
greater even than Euclid was Archimedes, born 287 B.C., who wrote on the
sphere and cylinder, which terminate in the discovery that the solidity
and surface of a sphere are respectively two thirds of the solidity and
surface of the circumscribing cylinder. He also wrote on conoids and
spheroids. "The properties of the spiral, and the quadrature of the
parabola were added to ancient geometry by Archimedes, the last being a
great step in the progress of the science, since it was the first
curvilineal space legitimately squared." Modern mathematicians may not
have the patience to go through his investigations, since the
conclusions he arrived at may now be reached by shorter methods, but the
great conclusions of the old geometers were only reached by prodigious
mathematical power. Archimedes is popularly better known as the inventor
of engines of war, and various ingenious machines, than as a
mathematician, great as were his attainments. His theory of the lever
was the foundation of statics, till the discovery of the composition of
forces in the time of Newton, and no essential addition was made to the
principles of the equilibrium of fluids and floating bodies till the
time of Stevin in 1608. He detected the mixture of silver in a crown of
gold which his patron, Hiero of Syracuse, ordered to be made, and he
invented a water-screw for pumping water out of the hold of a great ship
he built. He used also a combination of pulleys, and he constructed an
orrery to represent the movement of the heavenly bodies. He had an
extraordinary inventive genius for discovering new provinces of inquiry,
and new points of view for old and familiar objects. Like Newton, he had
a habit of abstraction from outward things, and would forget to take his
meals. He was killed by Roman soldiers when Syracuse was taken, and the
Sicilians so soon forgot his greatness that in the time of Cicero they
did not know where his tomb was. [Footnote: See article in Smith's
_Dictionary_, by Prof. Darkin, of Oxford.]

[Sidenote: Eratosthenes.]

Eratosthenes was another of the famous geometers of antiquity, and did
much to improve geometrical analysis. He was also a philosopher and
geographer. He gave a solution of the problem of the duplication of the
cube, and applied his geometrical knowledge to the measurement of the
magnitude of the earth - one of the first who brought mathematical
methods to the aid of astronomy, which, in our day, is almost
exclusively the province of the mathematician.

[Sidenote: Apollonius of Perga.]

Apollonius of Perga, probably about forty years younger than Archimedes,
and his equal in mathematical genius, was the most fertile and profound
writer among the ancients who treated of geometry. He was called the
Great Geometer. His most important work is a treatise on conic sections,
regarded with unbounded admiration by contemporaries, and, in some
respects, unsurpassed by any thing produced by modern mathematicians.
He, however, made use of the labors of his predecessors, so that it is
difficult to tell how far he is original. But all men of science must
necessarily be indebted to those who have preceded them. Even Homer, in
the field of poetry, made use of the bards who had sung for a thousand
years before him. In the realms of philosophy the great men of all ages
have built up new systems on the foundations which others have
established. If Plato or Aristotle had been contemporaries with Thales,
would they have matured so wonderful a system of dialectics? and if
Thales had been contemporaneous with Plato, he might have added to his
sublime science even more than Aristotle. So of the great mathematicians
of antiquity; they were all wonderful men, and worthy to be classed with
the Newtons and Keplers of our times. Considering their means, and the
state of science, they made as _great_, though not as _fortunate_
discoveries - discoveries which show patience, genius, and power
of calculation. Apollonius was one of these - one of the master
intellects of antiquity, like Euclid and Archimedes - one of the master
intellects of all ages, like Newton himself. I might mention the
subjects of his various works, but they would not be understood except
by those familiar with mathematics. [Footnote: See Bayle's _Dict_.;
Bossuet, _Essai sur L'Hist. Gen. des Math_.; Simson's _Sectiones

[Sidenote: Cultivation of geometry by the Greeks.]

Other famous geometers could also be mentioned, but such men as Euclid,
Archimedes, and Apollonius are enough to show that geometry was
cultivated to a great extent by the philosophers of antiquity. It
progressively advanced, like philosophy itself, from the time of Thales,
until it had reached the perfection of which it was capable, when it
became merged into astronomical science. It was cultivated more
particularly by the disciples of Plato, who placed over his school this
inscription, "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." He believed
that the laws by which the universe is governed are in accordance with
the doctrines of mathematics. The same opinion was shared by Pythagoras,
the great founder of the science, whose great formula was, that number
is the essence or first principle of all things. No thinkers ever
surpassed the Greeks in originality and profundity, and mathematics,
being highly prized by them, were carried to the greatest perfection
their method would allow. They did not understand algebra, by the
application of which to geometry modern mathematicians have climbed to
greater heights than the ancients. But then it is all the more
remarkable that, without the aid of algebraic analysis, they were able
to solve such difficult problems as occupied the minds of Archimedes and
Apollonius. No positive science can boast of such rapid development as
geometry for two or three hundred years before Christ, and never was the
intellect of man more severely tasked than by the ancient

[Sidenote: Empirical sciences.]

No empirical science can be carried to perfection by any one nation or
in any particular epoch. It can only expand with the progressive
developments of the human race itself. Nevertheless, in that science
which for three thousand years has been held in the greatest honor, and
which is one of the three great liberal professions of our modern times,
the ancients, especially the Greeks, made considerable advance. The
science of medicine, having in view the amelioration of human misery,
and the prolongation of life itself, was very early cultivated. It was,
indeed, in old times, another word for _physics_, - the science of
nature, - and the _physician_ was the observer and expounder of
physics. The physician was supposed to be acquainted with the secrets of
nature - that is, the knowledge of drugs, of poisons, of antidotes to
them, and the way to administer them. He was also supposed to know the
process of preserving the body after death. Thus Joseph commanded his
physician to embalm the body of his father seventeen hundred years
before the birth of Christ, and the process of embalming was probably
known to the Egyptians beyond the period when history begins. Helen, of
Trojan fame, put into wine a drug that "frees man from grief and anger
and causes oblivion of all ills." [Footnote: _Odyssey_, b. iv.]
Solomon was a great botanist, with which the science of medicine is
indissolubly connected. The "Ayur Veda," written nine hundred years
before Hippocrates was born, sums up the knowledge of previous periods
relating to obstetric surgery, to general pathology, to the treatment of
insanity, to infantile diseases, to toxicology, to personal hygiene, and
to diseases of the generative functions. [Footnote: Wise, _On the
Hindu System of Medicine_, p. 12.] The origin of Hindu medicine is
lost in remote antiquity.

[Sidenote: Hippocrates.]

Thus Hippocrates, the father of European medicine, must have derived his
knowledge, not merely from his own observations, but from the writings
of men unknown to us, and systems practiced for an indefinite period.
The real founders of Greek medicine are fabled characters, like Hercules
and Aesculapius - that is, benefactors whose names have not descended to
us. They are mythical personages, like Hermes and Chiron. One thousand
two hundred years before Christ temples were erected to Aesculapius in
Greece, the priests of which were really physicians, and the temples
themselves were hospitals. In them were practiced rites apparently
mysterious, but which modern science calls by the names of mesmerism,
hydropathy, mineral springs, and other essential elements of empirical
science. And these temples were also medical schools. That of Cos gave
birth to Hippocrates, and it was there that his writings were commenced.
Pythagoras - for those old Grecian philosophers were the fathers of all
wisdom and knowledge, in mathematics and empirical sciences, as well as
philosophy itself - studied medicine in the schools of Egypt, Phoenicia,
Chaldea, and India, and came in conflict with sacerdotal power, which
has ever been antagonistic to new ideas in science. He traveled from
town to town as a teacher or lecturer, establishing communities in which
medicine as well as numbers was taught.

The greatest name in medical science, in ancient or in modern times, -
the man who did the most to advance it; the greatest medical genius of
whom we have record, - is Hippocrates, born on the island of Cos B.C.
460, of the great Aesculapian family, and was instructed by his father.
We know scarcely more of his life than we do of Homer himself, although
he lived in the period of the highest splendor of Athens. And his
writings, like those of Homer, are thought by some to be the work of
different men. They were translated into Arabic, and were no slight
means of giving an impulse to the Saracenic schools of the Middle Ages
in that science in which the Saracens especially excelled. The
Hippocratic collection consists of more than sixty works, which were
held in the highest estimation by the ancient physicians. Hippocrates
introduced a new era in medicine, which, before his time, had been
monopolized by the priests. He carried out a system of severe induction
from the observation of facts, and is as truly the creator of the
inductive method as Bacon himself. He abhorred theories which could not
be established by facts. He was always open to conviction, and candidly
confessed his mistakes. He was conscientious in the practice of his
profession, and valued the success of his art more than silver and gold.
The Athenians revered him for his benevolence as well as genius. The
great principle of his practice was trust in nature. Hence he was
accused of allowing his patients to die; but this principle has many
advocates among scientific men in our day, and some suppose the whole
philosophy of homeopathy rests on the primal principle which Hippocrates
advanced. He had great skill in diagnosis, by which medical genius is
most severely tested. His practice was cautious and timid in contrast
with that of his contemporaries. He is the author of the celebrated
maxim, "Life is short and art is long." He divides the causes of disease
into two principal classes, - the one comprehending the influence of
seasons, climates, and other external forces; the other from the effects
of food and exercise. To the influence of climate he attributes the
conformation of the body and the disposition of the mind. He also
attributes all sorts of disorders to a vicious system of diet. For more
than twenty centuries his pathology was the foundation of all the
medical sects. He was well acquainted with the medicinal properties of
drugs, and was the first to assign three periods to the course of a
malady. He knew, of course, but little of surgery, although he was in
the habit of bleeding, and often employed his knife. He was also
acquainted with cupping, and used violent purgatives. He was not aware
of the importance of the pulse, and confounded the veins with the
arteries. He wrote in the Ionic dialect, and some of his works have gone
through three hundred editions, so highly have they been valued. His
authority passed away, like that of Aristotle, on the revival of
European science. Yet who have been greater ornaments and lights than
these distinguished Greeks?

[Sidenote: Galen.]

The school of Alexandria produced eminent physicians, as well as
mathematicians, after the glory of Greece had departed. So highly was it
esteemed that Galen went there to study five hundred years after its
foundation. It was distinguished for inquiries into scientific anatomy
and physiology, for which Aristotle had prepared the way. He was the
Humboldt of his day, and gave great attention to physics. In eight books
he developed the general principles of natural science known to the
Greeks. On the basis of the Aristotelian researches, the Alexandrian
physicians carried out extensive inquiries in physiology. Herophilus
discovered the fundamental principles of neurology, and advanced the
anatomy of the brain and spinal cord.

[Sidenote: Medical science among the Romans.]

Although the Romans had but little sympathy for science or philosophy,
being essentially political and warlike in their turn of mind, yet when
they had conquered the world, and had turned their attention to arts,
medicine received great attention. The first physicians were Greek
slaves. Of these was Asclepiades, who enjoyed the friendship of Cicero.
It is from him that the popular medical theories as to the "pores" have
descended. He was the inventor of the shower-bath. Celsus wrote a work
on medicine which takes almost equal rank with the Hippocratic writings.
Medical science at Rome culminated in Galen, as it did at Athens in
Hippocrates. He was patronized by Marcus Aurelius, and availed himself
of all the knowledge of preceding naturalists and physicians. He was
born at Pergamus about the year A.D. 165, where he learned, under able
masters, anatomy, pathology, and therapeutics. He finished his studies
at Alexandria, and came to Rome at the invitation of the emperor. Like
his patron, he was one of the brightest ornaments of the heathen world,
and one of the most learned and accomplished men of any age.
"_Medicorum dissertissimus atque doctissimus_." [Footnote: St.
Jerome, _Comment. in Aoms_, c. 5, vol. vi.] He left five hundred
treatises, most of them relating to some branch of medical science,
which give him the merit of being one of the most voluminous of authors.
His celebrity is founded chiefly on his anatomical and physiological
works. He was familiar with practical anatomy, deriving his knowledge
from dissection. His observations about health are practical and useful.
He lays great stress on gymnastic exercises, and recommends the
pleasures of the chase, the cold bath in hot weather, hot baths to old
people, the use of wine, three meals a day, and pork as the best of
animal food. The great principles of his practice were that disease is
to be overcome by that which is contrary to the disease itself, and that
nature is to be preserved by that which has relation with nature. As
disease cannot be overcome so long as its cause exists, that, if
possible, was first to be removed, and the strength of the patient is to
be considered before the treatment is proceeded with. His "Commentaries
on Hippocrates" served as a treasure of medical criticism, from which
succeeding annotators borrowed. No one ever set before the medical
profession a higher standard than Galen, and few have more nearly
approached it. He did not attach himself to any particular school, but
studied the doctrines of each - an eclectic in the fullest sense.
[Footnote: See Leclerc, _Hist. de la Medicine_; Hartt Shoengel,
_Geschichte der Arzneykunde_. W. A. Greenhill, M.D., of Oxford, has
a very learned article in Smith's _Dictionary_.] The works of Galen
constituted the last production of ancient Roman medicine, and from his
day the decline in medical science was rapid, until it was revived among
the Arabs.

The physical sciences, it must be confessed, were not carried by the
ancients to any such length as geometry and astronomy. In physical
geography they were particularly deficient. Yet even this branch of
knowledge can boast of some eminent names. When men sailed timidly on
the coasts, and dared not explore distant seas, the true position of
countries could not be ascertained with the definiteness that it is at
present. But geography was not utterly neglected, nor was natural

[Sidenote: Physical geography.]

Herodotus gives us most valuable information respecting the manners and
customs of oriental and barbarous nations, and Pliny has written a
natural history, in thirty-seven books, which is compiled from upwards
of two thousand volumes, and refers to twenty thousand matters of
importance. He was born A.D. 23, and was fifty-three when the eruption
of Vesuvius took place which caused his death. Pliny cannot be called a
scientific genius, in the sense understood by modern savants; nor was he
an original observer. His materials are drawn up second hand, like a
modern encyclopedia. Nor did he evince great judgment in his selection.
He had a great love of the marvelous, and is often unintelligible. But
his work is a wonderful monument of human industry. It treats of every
thing in the natural world - of the heavenly bodies, of the elements, of
thunder and lightning, of the winds and seasons, of the changes and
phenomena of the earth, of countries and nations, seas and rivers, of
men, animals, birds, fishes, and plants, of minerals and medicines and
precious stones, of commerce and the fine arts. He is full of errors;
but his work is among the most valuable productions of antiquity. Buffon
pronounced his natural history to contain an infinity of knowledge in
every department of human occupation, conveyed in a dress ornate and
brilliant. It is a literary rather than a scientific monument, and as
such it is wonderful - a compilation from one hundred and sixty volumes
of notes. In strict scientific value, it is inferior to the works of
modern research; but there are few minds, even in these times, who have
directed inquiries to such a variety of subjects.

[Sidenote: Strabo.]

[Sidenote: Construction of maps.]

[Sidenote: Ptolemy.]

Geographical knowledge was advanced by Strabo, who lived in the Augustan
era; but researches were chiefly confined to the Roman empire. Strabo
was, like Herodotus, a great traveler, and much of his geographical
information is the result of his own observations. It is probable he is
much indebted to Eratosthenes, who preceded him by three centuries, and
who was the first systematic writer on geography. The authorities of
Strabo are chiefly Greek, but his work is defective, from the imperfect
notions which the ancients had of astronomy; so that the determination
of the earth's figure by the measure of latitude and longitude, the
essential foundations of geographical description, was unknown. The
enormous strides, which all forms of physical science have made since
the discovery of America, throw all ancient descriptions and
investigations into the shade, and Strabo appears at as great
disadvantage as Pliny or Ptolemy; yet the work of Strabo, considering
his means, and the imperfect knowledge of the earth's surface, and
astronomical science, was really a great achievement of industry. He
treats of the form and magnitude of the earth, and devotes eight books
to Europe, six to Asia, and one to Africa. His great authorities are
Eratosthenes, Polybius, Aristotle, Antiochus of Syracuse, Posidonius,
Theopompus, Artemidorus Ephorus, Herodotus, Anaximenes, Thucydides, and
Aristo, chiefly historians and philosophers. Whatever may be said of the
accuracy of the great geographer of antiquity, it cannot be denied that

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 31 of 50)