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A History of Science, Volume 1 by Henry Smith Williams

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A History of Science, Volume 1, by Henry Smith Williams

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A
HISTORY OF SCIENCE by HENRY SMITH WILLIAMS, M.D., LL.D.
ASSISTED BY
EDWARD H. WILLIAMS, M.D.

IN FIVE VOLUMES
VOLUME I.

THE BEGINNINGS OF SCIENCE

BOOK I.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. PREHISTORIC SCIENCE

CHAPTER II. EGYPTIAN SCIENCE

CHAPTER III. SCIENCE OF BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

CHAPTER IV. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ALPHABET

CHAPTER V. THE BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCIENCE

CHAPTER VI. THE EARLY GREEK PHILOSOPHERS IN ITALY

CHAPTER VII. GREEK SCIENCE IN THE EARLY ATTIC PERIOD

CHAPTER VIII. POST-SOCRATIC SCIENCE AT ATHENS

CHAPTER IX. GREEK SCIENCE OF THE ALEXANDRIAN OR HELLENISTIC
PERIOD

CHAPTER X. SCIENCE OF THE ROMAN PERIOD

CHAPTER XI. A RETROSPECTIVE GLANCE AT CLASSICAL SCIENCE

APPENDIX

A HISTORY OF SCIENCE

BOOK I

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.

I. PREHISTORIC SCIENCE

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 cultivate.

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 cases.

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.

II. EGYPTIAN SCIENCE

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 civilization.

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 miracle.

ASTRONOMICAL SCIENCE

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.

IDEAS OF COSMOLOGY

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 ascribed.

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."

CHARMS AND INCANTATIONS

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 body."

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.

ABSTRACT SCIENCE

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.

III. SCIENCE OF BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA

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.

BABYLONIAN ASTRONOMY

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 mankind.

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.

ASTROLOGY

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 empire."[12]

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.

CHALDEAN MAGIC

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

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