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Cuvier’s History of the Natural Sciences

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Georges Cuvier

1. The Earliest Beginning / Les origines

1. The Antiquity of the Sciences

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1Messieurs,

2The courses of the Collège de France constitute normal instruction, that is, they are meant to guide instruction everywhere in France. The professors who have the responsibility for these courses ought consequently to deal especially with the generalities that can introduce the best method to follow in the study and development of each branch of our knowledge. I shall follow this rule in the exposition that I intend to present of the origin and progress of the natural sciences among the different peoples of the globe.

3There is no science the history of which is useless to the men who pursue it; but the history of the natural sciences is indispensable to naturalists. In fact, the ideas composing these sciences cannot possibly be the result of theories made a priori. They are based on an almost infinite number of facts that cannot be known except through observation. Now, our personal experience is so limited by the brevity of our existence that we would know almost nothing if we knew only that which we are able to learn for ourselves. Therefore, we are obliged to have recourse to history, where are stored the observations of men who have preceded us. But to the history of facts we must join the history of learned men, for the value of their testimony very often depends on the circumstances of place, of time, and of the position in which they found themselves.

4Knowing the history of the sciences is also useful in that it prevents consuming ourselves by superfluous efforts to reproduce facts already stated.

5Finally, two other advantages result from the study of this history, that of generating new ideas that multiply our acquired knowledge, and that of teaching the mode of investigation that leads most surely to discoveries.

6The latter is of the highest importance, for so great is the influence of method in the natural sciences, that during the thirty or forty centuries that have already been spent in their development, all the a priori systems, all the pure hypotheses have mutually destroyed themselves and have left with them in the obscurity of the past the names of those who have thought them up. Whereas, on the contrary, the observations, the facts that have been described with precision and clarity have come down to us and will continue to exist as long as the sciences, accompanied by the names of their authors, to whom they give the right of men’s eternal gratitude. It will be all the more useful to demonstrate this truth once again, as men still frequently substitute hypothesis for observation.

7Man succeeds only by hard and constant labor in penetrating the veils of nature, in understanding her phenomena, which understanding he then applies to the amelioration of his own condition. It must be in the designs of providence, however, that he will succeed, for otherwise he would be one of the most pitiful beings of all creation. Deprived as he is of natural arms for offense or defense, of great speed and superior physical strength, even of coverings to protect him from the inclemency of the seasons, scarcely might he live and propagate his species, had he not received in compensation a special endowment.

  • 1 [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau [born 28 June 1712, Geneva; died 2 July 1778, Ermenonville, France] and se (...)

8These natural gifts that place him at the top of the ladder of beings are the instinct for sociability, the instinct for language,1 and the instinct for abstraction.

9The first of these is the base and origin of society, the second has produced the indispensable tool for all the perfections of this society, and the third is the ability to generalize, to simplify. It is to this last gift that we owe our methods, our rules of reasoning and of conduct.

10The activity made up of these three instincts has produced all the knowledge we possess. The activity has led us through successive labors to the state in which we find ourselves, because whatever is commonplace today, Messieurs, was in earlier times an important discovery and had a marked influence on the social order. Each progressive step of the human species towards civilization is in fact so closely tied to some discovery that humans have made in the natural sciences that one might easily trace the entire history of society by following the history of observations of the natural world.

11Thus, it is the observation of animals, distinguishing those that man can increase and use for his benefit, that has produced the pastoral life, prime source of the idea of ownership and even of more gentle manners, for from this, instead of slaughtering prisoners of war, one came to treat them with the same care required by the flocks.

12Knowledge acquired about the growing of plants, and determining which of these offered to man, and to the animals he held in servitude, the best and most abundant nourishment, gave birth to agriculture, which in turn engendered the idea of territorial property.

13The study of the movements of the stars gave man a means of directing his travel in distant regions.

14The observation of certain hydrostatic facts enabled him to surmount the obstacle to his travel posed by the liquidity of the waves.

15The discovery of the characteristics of the magnet uncovered a New World. That of gunpowder did away with bodily inequality between men; it gave states the means of subduing anything that opposed the unity of their power, and of subjecting with a small number of armed men all the members of the social body to the rule of the laws.

16The printing press has greatly helped the diffusion of enlightened knowledge and has made our discoveries imperishable for all time.

17Upon the knowledge of the properties of fire depend all the metallurgic arts.

18Finally, in our own day, what a change has been brought about by the application of the elastic force of steam in the useful arts: it is not possible to assign a limit to its power!

19But facts, however important, do not constitute a science. To arrive at this result we must coordinate all observations, discover the links among them, deduce their consequences, apply our faculty of abstraction, and thus form a body of doctrine. Therefore, it is speculative minds, men given to thinking, that have formed science.

  • 2 [Brahma, in the late Vedic period of India (c. 800-500 B.C.), one of the major gods of Hinduism; wi (...)
  • 3 [Hermes, Greek god, son of Zeus and Maia; often identified with the Roman Mercury and with Casmilus (...)
  • 4 [Ceres, in Roman religion, goddess of the growth of food plants (i.e., agriculture), worshiped eith (...)

20The first ones who took on this task presented to the people their own discoveries, and those handed down, as if they were inspirations from heaven. Whether their contemporaries considered them to be, in fact, inspired, or whether it was merely the people’s gratitude that honored their memory, we can see that in every country they were deified: Brahma in India,2 Hermes in Egypt,3 Ceres and Triptolemus in Greece,4 and a host of others.

  • 5 I think one ought neither rail against the priests of antiquity, as have done [Marie-Jean-Antoine- (...)

21Let us not hasten to reproach them for the illusion in which they held their fellow men; they would perhaps have been useful without this disguising of the truth.5 In our day, it is only with the aid of religious ideas that missionaries succeed in leading savage peoples to accept useful truths drawn from science, and thus to exchange their wretched life for the more gentle customs of civilized people. It is likely that this was so in the early ages of the world; in order to have an effect upon men whose reason was so little developed, whose customs were still savage, it was necessary to appeal to their passions by introducing the divine. But these well-intentioned lies were promptly followed by abuse.

22Moreover, being of celestial origin, science and its instruction had to be invariable and so its progress was arrested at the very beginning. The physicians in Egypt could not under pain of death deviate from treatments prescribed by religious law. India still follows the astronomy of the ancients.

23Another obstacle to the progress of the sciences springs from their being inherited, their concentration within a small number of families, which circumstance one can consider the origin of the castes. Such truths were not at the level of the vulgar; but had they been, it would have been necessary for the privileged families to hide some truths in order to preserve the superiority of intelligence that was indispensable for maintaining their high pretensions. And so they did not hand down their sacred trust except in mysterious form and language. Hence the allegories, hieroglyphs, sacred tongues, symbols, the basis and origin of the mythology that, after having deceived and enslaved men, amuse forgetful humanity today.

24If the sciences had continued to pass from one generation to the next like a piece of property, ignorance and slavery would have weighed eternally upon mankind; but, with time, which always brings changes since nothing is ever perfect, science found elsewhere more favorable arrangements.

25It is among the people originating in Egyptian colonies that one sees the sciences beginning to be cultivated for their own sake, without being shut up in temples and veiled by symbols. The first of these colonies is that of the Hebrews, which Moses led out of Egypt. This ancient lawgiver doubtless wished to avoid the harm of allegories when he forbade his colony to make images; and, using this wise measure, he would have contributed powerfully to the propagation and advancement of the natural sciences if his people had found themselves in less unfavorable circumstances. But, soon conquered by barbarous neighboring peoples, the Hebrews were not able to take that leap forward communicated to them by the laws of the author of Genesis.

26Egyptian colonies that were established in Asia Minor and Greece were in a position to accomplish what the Hebrews had not been able to do. The leaders of these colonies did not know the meaning of the Egyptian emblems under which they communicated knowledge. They took these emblems seriously and presented them to their people as real objects of worship. But if the science of the Egyptian priests was at first unknown, its practical results (that is, the arts) passed into society, and later science itself reappeared there, this time leaving the sanctuaries and belonging forever to the human race.

  • 6 [Thales of Miletus (fl. 6th century B.C.), philosopher remembered for his cosmology based on water (...)

27It was not until after a lapse of almost a thousand years that this new appearance of the sciences took place in Greece, when Thales6 upon returning from a voyage to Egypt spoke openly about what he had learned in the mysterious temples of the priests in that country. Despite the distance of time, the wise men of Greece maintained respect from of old for the knowledge possessed by the priests of the mother country, and they made it a duty to go and consult them. These voyages were in fact considered the principal means of instruction at that time. But Greek philosophers had less to learn in Egypt than was imagined by their compatriots. Science, enclosed in the temples and cultivated by a necessarily small number of men, was not able to make great progress there. In fact, science marched in retrograde; the priests who had wanted to make science a mystery and an object of monopoly, themselves lost the meanings of their emblems. They were dupes like the common people of their own fables, and they remained in a shameful ignorance that was punishment for their blameworthy ambition.

28Like the Greeks, the Etruscans and the Romans accepted religious fables that they took for the truth; and again it was not until after a long interval that the sciences came to them disengaged from the mysterious forms that had arrested their progress.

  • 7 [Saint Gregory VII, original name Hildebrand, Italian Ildebrando (born about 1020, near Soana, Papa (...)

29It was reserved for the Christians to bring the sciences to the highest degree of perfection that they have ever attained. Preserved by the clergy after the invasion of the barbarian tribes, the sciences actually became its exclusive portion. When Pope Gregory7 promulgated the celibacy of priests, not only was the inheriting of science effectively stopped, but also this act of ecclesiastical discipline contributed almost immediately to spreading outside the clergy the enlightened knowledge that it alone had possessed. Thus, a great number of clerics, not being able to obtain ecclesiastical employment, embraced another career, the career of professor.

30From what I have just said about the advance of the sciences, it may be seen that their history may be divided into three main periods.

31The first is the religious. In this period, knowledge is secret and the privilege of a few men who transmit it to one another through inheritance. This obscure period begins and ends in the Orient.

32The second is the philosophical. In this period, the sciences are isolated from religion and cultivated as one science by wise men who no longer communicate learning, as did the priests, by means of emblems but who openly convey it to all their pupils. This period dates from Thales and is characteristic of the Occident.

33The third period, which is that of our own time, is especially characterized by the division of labor, or the distribution of the sciences into several branches.

  • 8 [Aristotle, see Lessons 7 and 8, below.]

34One may trace this latest period back to Aristotle,8 for this vast and prodigious genius distinguished very well the overlapping branches of learning; he methodically classed them with an admirable superiority of insight, and he gave excellent rules for studying them. Indeed, several sciences were greatly extended by his discoveries; and he would have given his name to the third period of the history of the sciences if he had had successors able to follow in his swift footsteps.

35But by a fate too often recurring when a wise man is more advanced than his century, Aristotle had no pupils capable of finishing the scientific monument he had started. The school that he founded, called the Peripatetic, even came to be scorned. It was not until the 16th century of our era that his method came into use – namely, that scholars devoted themselves specifically to pure mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, chemistry, physics, etc. – and that the sciences despite some wrong turns made progress rather rapidly.

36Thus, the total number of years that have been devoted to the sciences is far from being equal to the period of time that we are to examine, for, as you see, that total comprises actually only three and a half centuries of work properly directed. But because in such a short space of time the sciences have been raised to the point where we see them now, what new progress can we not expect?

37As for the first period, which I call the religious, it was doubtless much shorter than some people think. Geology and history are in accord to prove it.

  • 9 Traditions, when they are known to be accurate, remove all doubt in this regard; for it is quite c (...)

38The globe everywhere offers proof of many revolutions. Organic remains buried in its layers carry visible characteristics of the different epochs. Accordingly, as formations are more or less distant from the surface of the earth, and consequently more or less ancient, their fossils belong to different species and are more or less changed. If the memory of upheavals, coming earlier than those noted by tradition, has not come down to us, it is probably because the human species was at the time not numerous and lived in areas where the effects were not felt. On the other hand, it may be because those places were completely destroyed and consequently their inhabitants as well, with the exception of a small number. One might even doubt that man existed then,9 for no remains have yet been found in typical layers of the globe.

39The undamaged state of animal remains found in marine layers nearest to the earth’s surface is proof that the latest terrestrial revolution happened in an epoch not long ago; the observation of the crumbling of mountains and that of the growth of dunes and alluvions lead to the same result.

40We have noted for several years the increase in alluvial deposits experienced by certain rivers, and by comparing the quantity observed with the total of past alluvions, results were obtained showing that these alluvions do not go back more than five or six thousand years.

41Similar observations and calculations have been made for mountain talus and it is also recognized that its origin cannot go back further than five or six thousand years.

  • 10 [Nicolas Thomas Brémontier (born 30 July 1738, Quevilly, near Rouen, France; died 16 August 1809, (...)

42The late Monsieur Brémontier, inspector in the department of roads and bridges, who published a memoir on the fixation of dunes, estimated their annual advance at sixty feet and in some places at seventy-two.10 According to his calculations, it would take only two thousand years for them to reach Bordeaux if no obstacle were placed in their way, and according to their present size, they must have begun to form about five thousand years ago.

  • 11 [Muhammad, see Lesson 20, note 26.]
  • 12 [Described by Baron Dominique Vivant] Denon [in his] Voyage en Égypte. [Denon (born 4 January 1747 (...)

43The effects of the wind from the west upon arable land in Egypt are the same sort of phenomenon as the dunes. The barren sands of Libya chased by this wind have, since the Muhammadan conquest of the country,11 invaded towns and villages of Egypt, and their ruins are still visible. One can see piercing through these sands the tops of minarets of several mosques.12 If these sands had been thrown over Egypt for an indefinite period of time, there would be nothing left between the mountains of western Libya and the Nile. Their rapid advance would no doubt have filled in all the narrow parts of the valley.

44Peat bogs, produced generally in the north of Europe by the deposits of sphagnum (peat moss) and other aquatic mosses, can also serve as chronometers. They arise in proportions according to each location, they enclose the small mounds of the ground upon which they form, and some of these mounds have been buried thus in living memory. In other places, peat bogs occur on the slopes of valleys where they advance like glaciers, the only difference being that glaciers melt at their lower margin, whereas peat bogs are stopped by nothing. By sounding them down to solid ground one may determine their antiquity, but it has been found that they cannot date back to an indefinitely early epoch.

45Thus, nature everywhere uses the same language for us; and always tells us that the present order of things has its origin in the not too distant past.

46History, as I have said, confirms the results obtained through the examination of natural phenomena.

47In fact, although the traditions of some ancient peoples seem to contradict the newness of the present world, when one examines more closely these traditions, one soon recognizes that there is nothing historical about them. True history and what has been preserved for us in the actual documents regarding the earliest establishments of nations show such establishments as dating back to an era long since traditional times.

48The chronology of none of the peoples of the Occident dates back without interruption earlier than three thousand years. None of these peoples offer us, before the present era, a rope has no history before its conversion to Christianity. The history of England, Gaul, and Spain does not go back earlier than the Roman conquests. That of northern Italy, before the foundation of Rome, is still almost unknown. The Greeks knew the art of writing only after the Phoenicians taught it to them thirty-three or thirty-four centuries ago. Long after, their history is still full of fables, and they date the first signs of their formation into a body of peoples to only three hundred years before that. Of the history of western Asia we have only a few contradictory extracts that cover scarcely twenty-five centuries in anything like a coherent manner, and accepting as true what remains from ancient times along with a few historical details, one would end up at barely four thousand years.

  • 13 [Herodotus, see Lesson 7, below.]
  • 14 [Aristeas, an official of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (reigned 285-246 B.C., see note 21, below), auth (...)
  • 15 [Homer, the Greek epic poet, 8th century B.C., who according to legend, is the author of the Iliad(...)

49Herodotus,13 the first secular historian whose works are extant, dates from only 2,300 years ago. Earlier historians whose works he was able to consult came only a century before him, and the extravagant stories that we have as extracts from Aristeas of Proconnesus14 and several others permit us to judge of their worth. Before them we had only the poets. Homer,15 the most ancient that we know of, dates only from 2,700 or 2,800 years ago.

  • 16 [Berosus, also spelled Berossus, Berossos, or Berosos, Akkadian Bel-Usur (fl. c. 290 B.C.), Chalde (...)
  • 17 [Seleucus I Nicator (born 358/354 B.C., Europus, Macedonia; died August or September 281, near Lys (...)
  • 18 [Hieronymus of Cardia, Greek general and historian, contemporary of Alexander the Great. He wrote (...)
  • 19 [Antiochus I Soter (born 324 B.C., died 262 or 261), king of the Seleucid kingdom of Syria, ruled (...)
  • 20 [Manetho, see Lesson 2, note 10.]
  • 21 [Ptolemy II Philadelphus (born 308 B.C., at Cos; died 246), king of Egypt (285-246 B.C.), second k (...)

50When these first historians speak of the ancient events of their nation or those of neighboring peoples, they do not cite a written record, but only oral tradition. It was not until a long time afterwards that quotations from the annals of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Babylonians appeared. Berosus16 wrote no earlier than during the reign of Seleucus Nicator,17 about four hundred years before Jesus Christ; Hieronymus18 only during that of Antiochus Soter,19 who is closer to us in time; and Manetho20 only under the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus,21 closer yet to our time.

  • 22 [Sanchuniathon (fl. in the 14th or 13th century B.C.), ancient Phoenician writer. All information (...)
  • 23 [Philo Byblius, born 63 A.D.; died after 141, was a grammarian from Byblus in Phoenicia, a younger (...)
  • 24 [Hadrian, also spelled Adrian, his full Latin name was Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus; his ori (...)

51Sanchuniathon,22 a Phoenician author, real or supposed, was unknown before Philo of Byblos23 produced a translation of his work under Hadrian24 in the 2nd century A.D. Once known, however, he, like all authors of that era, was found to offer nothing about ancient times but a puerile theogony or a metaphysic difficult to comprehend because it is so disguised by allegory.

  • 25 [Cyrus I (fl. late 7th century B.C.), Achaemenian king, the son of Teispes and grandfather of Cyru (...)

52Only one people left us written annals, in prose, before the era of Cyrus25 the Jews.

53The first five books of the Bible, which we call the Pentateuch, have most certainly existed in their present form for more than 2,800 years, since the Samaritans received them as well as the Jews.

54Attributing the writing of Genesis to Moses himself, which nothing prevents, makes it 500 years older, that is, thirty-three centuries ago; one need only read it to realize that it was composed in part by pieces of earlier works. Thus, there is no doubt but that this is the most ancient writing that the Western world possesses.

55Now this work and others that have appeared since, however foreign their authors were to Moses and his people, present the nations bordering the Mediterranean as new. The writings show them as being still half-savage some centuries before and they all speak of a general catastrophe, an irruption of waters that occasioned a nearly total regeneration of mankind.

  • 26 [Septuagint, the earliest extant Greek translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, (...)
  • 27 [Ogyges or Ogygus, in Greek mythology, the first king of Thebes, during whose reign came a great d (...)

56The Hebrew text of Genesis dates the Deluge at 4,174 years ago; the Samaritan text, at 4,869 years ago; and the translation by the seventy-two men that is called the Septuagint,26 at 5,345 years ago. The poetic traditions of the Greeks, source of all our secular history for these ancient times, accord with the Jewish annals: they place the deluge in Ogyges’s27 time at 2376 B. C., or 4,206 years ago.

  • 28 [The Veda is the product of the Aryan invaders of the Indian subcontinent and their descendants, a (...)

57The Vedas, or sacred books of India,28 which were composed at about the same time as Genesis, place the beginning of what they call the Age of Misfortune, that is, the present time, at 4,932 years ago, which is within a few years of the epoch indicated in the Samaritan text.

  • 29 [Shu Ching (“Classic of History”), one of the Five Classics (Wu Ching) of Chinese antiquity. The S (...)
  • 30 [Confucius, the famous Sage of China, was born in the twenty-second year of the reign of Duke Hsia (...)
  • 31 [Yao, formally T’ang Ti Yao, in Chinese mythology, a legendary emperor (c. 24th century B.C.) of t (...)
  • 32 [Originating from the] French translation of the Shu Ching [see note 29, above].
  • 33 The difference between the dates given in the Pentateuch and in the Septuagint version [see note 2 (...)

58The Shu Ching,29 the most authentic book of the Chinese, and which is affirmed to have been written by Confucius,30 along with fragments of earlier writings, about 2,255 years ago, begins the history of China with an emperor named Yao31 represented as busy draining off waters that had risen to the heavens, still bathing the foot of the highest mountains, covering the lower hills, and rendering the plains impassable.32 This Yao, according to several authors, dates from 4,175 years ago. It is, as one can see, the same date assigned to the deluge in the Hebrew text. And finally, the deluge of the Assyrians goes back to 2200 B.C., or 4,030 years ago.33

  • 34 It was mentioned by Confucius in his book Ch’un-ch’iu. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Chinese chronology can be (...)
  • 35 [Chaldeans, originating from Chaldea in southern Babylonia (modern southern Iraq), frequently ment (...)

59It was not until long after this great disaster that the sciences began to take shape. Astronomy, the oldest of all sciences, which came into being at several places in the world almost at the same time, has left us no incontestable observation earlier than the 8th century B.C. The earliest observation of an eclipse, by the Chinese, dates from the year 776 B.C.34 The Chaldeans,35 who also were early observers of the sky, have left no authentic record of observation earlier than 721 B.C.

  • 36 [Simplicius of Cilicia (fl. c. 530), Greek philosopher whose learned commentaries on Aristotle’s D (...)
  • 37 [Alexander the Great, see Lesson 7, below.]
  • 38 [Callisthenes, see Lesson 7, below.]
  • 39 Le Globe, Le Temps, and other good journals have Monsieur Cuvier saying that it is in [the works of (...)

60Simplicius,36 one of the commentators on Aristotle’s four books on the heavens, says that Alexander the Great37 had found in Babylon observations of eclipses made by the Chaldeans covering a period of 1,900 years, and that these observations were sent to Greece by Callisthenes38 upon the express recommendation of Aristotle. But no other author speaks of this supposed fact, and what utterly destroys Simplicius’s assertion is that Aristotle makes no mention of it.39

  • 40 [Tcheou-Kong, a Chinese astronomer (fl. about 1100 B.C.) who some claim invented the mariner’s com (...)
  • 41 See Delambre [Jean-Baptiste-Joseph] [Lesson 2, note 17], Histoire de l’astronomie ancienne [Paris: (...)

61Mention has been made of an observation of the noonday shadow cast by the sun, made in China by Tcheou-Kong,40 about eleven centuries B. C. But it is recognized that this observation lacked precision;41 besides, including it would not change the age of the world.

  • 42 [The temples of Dendera and Esneh; see notes 44 and 47, below.]

62There has been recourse to arguments of another kind. It was claimed that the ancient peoples of Asia and Africa had left monuments that indicated, in representing the sky at the time of their construction, a fixed and very early date. The zodiacs sculpted in two temples of Upper Egypt have especially been thought to furnish irrefutable proof of this assertion.42

  • 43 [Jean-François Champollion, see Lesson 2, note 27.]
  • 44 [Temple of Dendera, also spelled Dandarah, dedicated to the sky and fertility goddess Hathor, is o (...)
  • 45 See [Antoine-Jean] Letronne [born 1787; died 1848], Recherches pour servir à l’histoire de l’Égypt (...)
  • 46 [For Nero, see Lesson 12, note 2.]
  • 47 [Temple of Esneh or Esnè, a small temple, part of the Dendera complex; see note 44, above.]
  • 48 [Antoninus is Marcus Aurelius, see Lesson 11, note 72.]

63But the discoveries of Monsieur Champollion43 about hieroglyphs have destroyed these errors. We now know, among other facts, that the temples in which these zodiacs were carved were built during Roman rule. The portico of the Temple of Dendera,44 according to a Greek inscription on its principal face, was dedicated to the health of Tiberius.45 On the planisphere of this same temple is found the title of Autocrat, written in hieroglyphic characters, probably referring to Nero.46 The small Temple of Esneh,47 reckoned to have been built between 2,700 and 3,000 years B.C., has a column carved and painted in the tenth year of Antoninus,48 A.D. 147, and the style of painting and sculpting is the same as that of the zodiac nearby.

  • 49 [Cecrops, traditionally the first king of Attica in ancient Greece. He was said to have instituted (...)

64Thus, invariably, early peoples did not begin to cultivate the sciences until an era rather near our own time. One may even follow the development of their knowledge by the development of the colonies they successively established. For example, when Cecrops49 and his colony left Egypt in 1556 B.C., the Egyptian priests still had knowledge only of the lunar year. The Hebrew colonists led by Moses, who departed in 1491 B.C., also knew only that inexact year. A thousand years later, Herodotus, on his travels, found Egypt using the solar year; but their solar year contained only 365 days, and it was not until later that a year was known to have 365 ¼ days.

65Using this method, we can judge the level of science among the Egyptians, who have left us not a single book.

66We shall determine in the same manner the state of the sciences in India. This history of the sciences in India and Egypt will be the subject of the next lecture.

Notes

1 [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau [born 28 June 1712, Geneva; died 2 July 1778, Ermenonville, France] and several other philosophers –who could not explain to themselves how it happened that, before knowing how to speak, men had come upon the conventions necessitated by the creation of a language– accepted as true that man had appeared on earth with ready-formed language [see Rousseau (Jean-Jacques), The first and second discourses together with the replies to critics and Essay on the origin of languages [edited, translated, and annotated by Gourevitch Victor], New York: Perennial Library, c. 1986, ix + 390 p.] The expression instinct for language used by Monsieur Cuvier implies the opposite opinion, that man formed a primitive language bit by bit. I say a primitive language because, as will be seen further on, Monsieur Cuvier hypothesizes a people that is also primitive. [M. de St.-Agy.]

2 [Brahma, in the late Vedic period of India (c. 800-500 B.C.), one of the major gods of Hinduism; with the rise of sectarian worship, he was gradually eclipsed by Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma (a masculine form not to be confused with Brahman, the neuter gender, which is the supreme power, or ultimate reality, of the universe) is associated with the Vedic creator god Prajapati, whose identity he came to assume. Brahma is said to have been born from a golden egg and in turn to have created the Earth and all things on it. Later sectarian myths describe him as having come forth from a lotus that issued from Vishnu’s navel.]

3 [Hermes, Greek god, son of Zeus and Maia; often identified with the Roman Mercury and with Casmilus or Cadmilus, one of the Cabeiri. His name is probably derived from herma, the Greek word for a heap of stones, such as was used in the country to indicate boundaries or as a landmark. The earliest center of his cult was probably Arcadia, where Mt. Cyllene was reputed to be his birthplace. There he was especially worshipped as the god of fertility.]

4 [Ceres, in Roman religion, goddess of the growth of food plants (i.e., agriculture), worshiped either alone or in association with the earth goddess Tellus. Triptolemus was the first priest of Demeter and the inventor of agriculture, said in some legends to be the son of Polymnia, in Greek religion, one of the nine Muses, patron of dancing or geometry; and of Celeus, king of Eleusis, or of Cheimarrhus, son of Ares, god of war.]

5 I think one ought neither rail against the priests of antiquity, as have done [Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat] the Marquis de Condorcet [born 17 September 1743, Ribemont, France; died 29 March 1794, Bourg-la-Reine; French philosopher of the Enlightenment and advocate of educational reform (for his collected works, see Condorcet (Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat), Œuvres de Condorcet-publiées par A. Condorcet, A. O’Connor & M.F. Arago, Paris: Firmin Didot frères, 1847-1849, 12 vols)] and most of the other writers of the 18th century, nor seek to excuse them, as it seems to me that Monsieur Cuvier does, for their conduct is the result of man’s very nature. In fact, give a certain number of any sort of men an interest different from the general interest: these men, united by a particular bond, will be by that bond separated from everything that is not their corporation, their caste. They will regard it a legitimate and meritorious act to subject all to the influence of that caste. Gather them about a flag, and you will have soldiers; about an altar, and you will have priests. [M. de St.-Agy.]

6 [Thales of Miletus (fl. 6th century B.C.), philosopher remembered for his cosmology based on water as the essence of all matter. According to the Greek thinker Apollodorus (fl. 140 B.C.; Greek scholar of wide interests who is best known for his Chronicle of Greek history; see Hornblower (Simon) & Spawforth (Antony) (eds), «Apollodorus of Athens», The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 124), he was born in 624; the Greek historian Diogenes Laërtius (fl. 3rd century; Greek author noted for his history of Greek philosophy) placed his death in the 58th Olympiad (548-545) at the age of 78. No writings by Thales survive, and no contemporary sources exist; thus, his achievements are difficult to assess. Inclusion of his name in the canon of the legendary Seven Wise Men led to his idealization, and numerous acts and sayings, many of them no doubt spurious, were attributed to him.]

7 [Saint Gregory VII, original name Hildebrand, Italian Ildebrando (born about 1020, near Soana, Papal States; died 25 May 1085, Salerno, Principality of Salerno; canonized 1606; feast day May 25), was one of the great reform popes of the Middle Ages (reigned 1073-1085). Mainly a spiritual rather than a political leader, he attacked various abuses in the church. From 1075 onward he was engrossed in a contest with Emperor Henry IV over lay investiture (the right of lay rulers to grant church officials the symbols of their authority).]

8 [Aristotle, see Lessons 7 and 8, below.]

9 Traditions, when they are known to be accurate, remove all doubt in this regard; for it is quite clear that one remembers only what one has seen. [M. de St.-Agy.]

10 [Nicolas Thomas Brémontier (born 30 July 1738, Quevilly, near Rouen, France; died 16 August 1809, Paris), French engineer and author of Mémoire sur les dunes, et particulieÌrement sur celles qui se trouvent entre Bayonne et la pointe de Grave, à l’embouchure de la Gironde, Paris: De l’imprimerie de la République, an V [1797], 73 p. He also wrote Recherches sur le Mouvement des Ondes, Paris: Firmin Didot, 1809, VIII + 122 p. an early work on the formation of waves and their causes, methods of measuring the height of waves, and their effects on beaches.]

11 [Muhammad, see Lesson 20, note 26.]

12 [Described by Baron Dominique Vivant] Denon [in his] Voyage en Égypte. [Denon (born 4 January 1747, Chalon-sur-Saône, France; died 27 April 1825, Paris) was a French artist, archaeologist, and museum official who played an important role in the development of the Louvre collection. In 1798 he accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte (born 15 August 1769, Ajaccio, Corsica; died 5 May 1821, Saint Helena) on the latter’s expedition to Egypt and there made numerous sketches of the ancient monuments, sometimes under the very fire of the enemy. The results were published in his Voyage dans la basse et la haute Égypte pendant les campagnes du général Bonaparte, Paris: Didot, 1802 (322 p. + atlas); an English edition appeared in 1803: Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, in Company With Several Division of the French Army, During the Campaigns of General Bonaparte in the Country; and Published Under His Immediate Patronage [tr. by Aikin Arthur], London: T. N. Longman, O. Rees & Richard Phillips, 3 vols). In 1804 Napoleon made Denon director general of museums, a post he retained until 1815.]

13 [Herodotus, see Lesson 7, below.]

14 [Aristeas, an official of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (reigned 285-246 B.C., see note 21, below), author of a famous letter addressed to his brother Philocrates that gives an account of the translation of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) into Greek, by order of Ptolemy. According to the legend, reflected in the letter, the translation was made by 72 elders, brought from Jerusalem, in 72 days. The letter, in reality written by an Alexandrian Jew about 100 B.C., attempts to show the superiority of Judaism both as religion and as philosophy. It also contains interesting descriptions of Palestine, of Jerusalem with its Temple, and of the royal gifts to the Temple.]

15 [Homer, the Greek epic poet, 8th century B.C., who according to legend, is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey (Homer, The Odyssey [tr. by Lawrence T. E. under the pseudonym of Shaw T. E.], New York: Oxford University Press, 1932); see Lesson 4, below.]

16 [Berosus, also spelled Berossus, Berossos, or Berosos, Akkadian Bel-Usur (fl. c. 290 B.C.), Chaldean priest of Bel in Babylon who wrote a work in three books (in Greek) on the history and culture of Babylonia; it was widely used by later Greek compilers, whose versions in turn were quoted by religious historians such as Eusebius and Josephus. Thus Berosus, though his work survives only in fragmentary citations, is remembered for his passing on knowledge of the origins of Babylon to the ancient Greeks (see Verbrugghe (Gerald P.) & Wickersham (John M.), Berossos and Manetho Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996, x + 239 p.)]

17 [Seleucus I Nicator (born 358/354 B.C., Europus, Macedonia; died August or September 281, near Lysimachia, Thrace), was a Macedonian army officer, founder of the Seleucid kingdom. In the struggles following the death of Alexander the Great, he rose from governor of Babylon to king of an empire centering on Syria and Iran.]

18 [Hieronymus of Cardia, Greek general and historian, contemporary of Alexander the Great. He wrote a history of the Diadochi and their descendants, from the death of Alexander to the war with Pyrrhus (323-272 B.C.), which was used by Diodorus Siculus and by Plutarch in his life of Pyrrhus. He made use of official papers and was careful in his investigation of facts, but no significant amount of his work has survived. He died at the court of Antigonus Gonatas at the age of 104.]

19 [Antiochus I Soter (born 324 B.C., died 262 or 261), king of the Seleucid kingdom of Syria, ruled about 292-281 B.C. in the east and 281-261 over the whole kingdom. Under great external pressures, he consolidated his kingdom and encouraged the founding of cities.]

20 [Manetho, see Lesson 2, note 10.]

21 [Ptolemy II Philadelphus (born 308 B.C., at Cos; died 246), king of Egypt (285-246 B.C.), second king of the Ptolemaic dynasty, who extended his power by skillful diplomacy, developed agriculture and commerce, and made Alexandria a leading center of the arts and sciences.]

22 [Sanchuniathon (fl. in the 14th or 13th century B.C.), ancient Phoenician writer. All information about him is derived from the works of Philo of Byblos (fl. A.D. 100; see note 23, below). Excavations at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) in Syria in 1929 revealed Phoenician documents supporting much of Sanchuniathon’s information on Phoenician mythology and religious beliefs. Schaeffer discussed the tablets in Schaeffer (Claude F. A.), The cuneiform texts of Ras Shamra-Ugarit, by Claude F. A. Schaeffer..., London: Oxford University Press, 1939, xv + 100 p.]

23 [Philo Byblius, born 63 A.D.; died after 141, was a grammarian from Byblus in Phoenicia, a younger contemporary of Plutarch, whose works, if extant in a complete form, would have furnished important contributions to the history and mythology of the ancient Phoenicians. Philo, a native of Byblos, at the foot of Mount Lebanon, obtained a considerable reputation as a learned grammarian at the end of the first and at the beginning of the 2nd century of our era. He was born, it seems, in the reign of Nero, and lived long enough to write about Hadrian. It is probable that he was established at Rome, as a client of Severus Herennius, who obtained the consulship, probably as consul suffectus, about the year 124 A.D.; for Philo bore the name of Herennius, and is apparently confused with this noble Roman by Suidas or one of his authorities. Besides works on history, rhetoric, and local celebrities, he engaged in labors not unlike those of Manetho and Berosus, and made known to the literary world in general the contents of the historical books of his own nation. Eusebius, in the epochal work in which he endeavors to show that all the heathen nations borrowed their traditional learning from the Jews, gives an account of the ancient mythology of the Phoenicians, on the authority of a translation in nine books by Philo of Byblos from the Phoenician history of Sanchuniathon of Berytus, who was placed in the time of Semiramis and before the Trojan war (fragments collected by Müller (Karl Otfried) & Müller (Theodor) (eds), Fragmenta historicorum graecorum: Apollodori Bibliotheca cum fragmentis/auxerunt, notis et prolegomenis illustrarunt, indice plenissimo instruxerunt Car. et Theod. Mulleri; accedunt Marmora Parium et Rosettanum, hoc cum Letronnii, illud com C. Mulleri commentariis, Paris: Firmin Didot, 1841-1870, 5 vols).]

24 [Hadrian, also spelled Adrian, his full Latin name was Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus; his original name (until A.D. 117) was Publius Aelius Hadrianus (born 24 January A.D. 76, apparently at Italica, Baetica, now in Spain; died 10 July 138, Baiae, near Naples), Roman emperor (A.D. 117-138), the emperor Trajan’s nephew and successor, who was a cultivated admirer of Greek civilization and who unified and consolidated Rome’s vast empire.]

25 [Cyrus I (fl. late 7th century B.C.), Achaemenian king, the son of Teispes and grandfather of Cyrus II the Great (see Lesson 6, note 26).]

26 [Septuagint, the earliest extant Greek translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, presumably made for the use of the Jewish community in Egypt when Greek was the lingua franca throughout the region (see Dines (Jennifer M.), The Septuagint [ed. by Knibb Michael A.], London; New York: T & T Clark, 2005, XVII + 196 p.) Analysis of the language has established that the Torah, or Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), was translated near the middle of the 3rd century B.C. and that the rest of the Old Testament was translated in the 2nd century B.C. The name Septuagint (from the Latin septuaginta, meaning “70”) was derived later from the legend that there were 72 translators, six from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, who worked in separate cells, translating the whole, and in the end all their versions were identical. In fact there are large differences in style and usage between the Septuagint’s translation of the Torah and its translations of the later books in the Old Testament.]

27 [Ogyges or Ogygus, in Greek mythology, the first king of Thebes, during whose reign came a great deluge, one of the two Greek versions of the widespread flood-legend. Ogyges is variously described as a Boeotian autochthon, as the son of Cadmus (see Lesson 4, note 1) or of Poseidon.]

28 [The Veda is the product of the Aryan invaders of the Indian subcontinent and their descendants, although the original inhabitants may very well have exerted an influence on the final product. The Veda represents the particular interests of two classes of Aryan society, the priests (Brahmans) and the warrior-kings (Ksatriyas), who together ruled over the far more numerous peasants (Vaishyas). Vedic literature ranges from the Rigveda (or Rgveda, c. 1400 B.C.) to the Upanishads (or Upanisads, c. 1000-500 B.C.) This literature provides the sole documentation for all Indian religion before Buddhism and the early texts of classical Hinduism (see Shrava (Satya), A comprehensive history of Vedic literature, New Delhi: Pranava Prakashan, 1977, 5 vols). The most important texts are the four collections (Samhitas) known as the Veda or Vedas (i.e., “Books of Knowledge”): the Rigveda (“Wisdom of the Verses”), the Yajurveda (“Wisdom of the Sacrificial Formulas”), the Samaveda (“Wisdom of the Chants”), and the Atharvaveda (“Wisdom of the Atharvan Priests”). Of these, the Rigveda is the oldest.]

29 [Shu Ching (“Classic of History”), one of the Five Classics (Wu Ching) of Chinese antiquity. The Shu Ching is a compilation of documentary records related to events in China’s ancient history. Though it has been demonstrated that certain chapters are forgeries, the authentic parts constitute the oldest Chinese writing of its kind (see The Sacred books of China: The texts of Confucianism [translated by Legge James], 2nd ed., Delhi (India): Motilal Banarsidass, 1988, 6 vols).]

30 [Confucius, the famous Sage of China, was born in the twenty-second year of the reign of Duke Hsiang of Lu (551 B.C.) in Ch’ü-fu in the small feudal state of Lu in what is now Shantung Province. He served in minor government posts managing stables and keeping books for granaries before he married a woman of similar background when he was 19. It is not known who his teachers were, but he made a conscientious effort to find the right masters to teach him, among other things, ritual and music. His mastery of the six arts – ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic – and his familiarity with the classical traditions, notably poetry and history, enabled him to start a brilliant teaching career in his 30s. Confucius is known as the first teacher in China who wanted to make education available to all men and who was instrumental in establishing the art of teaching as a vocation, indeed as a way of life. Before Confucius, aristocratic families had hired tutors to educate their sons in specific arts, and government officials had instructed their subordinates in the necessary techniques, but Confucius was the first person to devote his whole life to learning and teaching for the purpose of transforming and improving society. In his late 40s and early 50s, he served first as a magistrate, then as an assistant minister of public works, and eventually as minister of justice in the state of Lu. His political career was, however, short-lived. His loyalty to the King alienated him from the power holders of the time, the large Chi families; and his moral rectitude did not sit well with the King’s inner circle, who enraptured the King with sensuous delight. At 56, when he realized that his superiors were uninterested in his policies, Confucius left the country in an attempt to find another feudal state to which he could render his service. Despite his political frustration he was accompanied by an expanding circle of students during this self-imposed exile of almost 12 years. His reputation as a man of vision and mission spread, perceived as the heroic conscience who knew realistically that he might not succeed but, fired by a righteous passion, continuously did the best he could. At the age of 67, he returned home to teach and to preserve his cherished classical traditions by writing and editing (for a literal translation of works attributed to Confucius, see The Analects of Confucius [original title: lunyu; translation with introd. and notes by Huang Chichung], New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, viii + 216 p.) He died in 479 B.C. at the age of 73.]

31 [Yao, formally T’ang Ti Yao, in Chinese mythology, a legendary emperor (c. 24th century B.C.) of the golden age of antiquity, exalted by Confucius as an inspiration and perennial model of virtue, righteousness, and unselfish devotion.]

32 [Originating from the] French translation of the Shu Ching [see note 29, above].

33 The difference between the dates given in the Pentateuch and in the Septuagint version [see note 26, above] arises from the difference in age attributed to some of the patriarchs when their children were born. The differences found among the other dates cited by Monsieur Cuvier are not surprising when one considers that for a long time these dates were not handed down except by oral tradition. [M. de St.-Agy.]

34 It was mentioned by Confucius in his book Ch’un-ch’iu. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Chinese chronology can be confirmed accurately by eclipses from the 8th century B.C. (during the Chou dynasty) onward. The Ch’un-ch’iu (“Spring and Autumn Annals”), a chronicle covering the period from 722 to 481 B.C., notes the occurrence of 36 solar eclipses during this interval. This is the earliest surviving series of eclipse observations from any part of the world.]

35 [Chaldeans, originating from Chaldea in southern Babylonia (modern southern Iraq), frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking, the name should be applied to the land bordering the head of the Persian Gulf between the Arabian Desert and the Euphrates delta. “Chaldean” was used by several ancient authors to denote the priests and other persons educated in the classical Babylonian literature, especially in traditions of astronomy and astrology.]

36 [Simplicius of Cilicia (fl. c. 530), Greek philosopher whose learned commentaries on Aristotle’s De caelo (“On the Heavens”), Physics, De anima (“On the Soul”), and Categories are considered important, both for their original content and for the fact that they contain many valuable fragments of pre-Socratic philosophers (Simplicius, On Epictetus’[transl. by Brennan Tad & Brittain Charles], London: Duckworth; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002, 2 vols [vol. 1: Handbook 1-26, 184 p.; vol. 2: Handbook 27-53, 240 p.])]

37 [Alexander the Great, see Lesson 7, below.]

38 [Callisthenes, see Lesson 7, below.]

39 Le Globe, Le Temps, and other good journals have Monsieur Cuvier saying that it is in [the works of] Synesius [of Cyrene (born c. 373, died c. 414), a pupil of Hypatia (born c. 370, Alexandria, Egypt; died March 415, Alexandria; mathematician and philosopher who became the recognized head of the Neoplatonist school of philosophy at Alexandria) and later (after 410) bishop of Ptolemais] that mention is found of these 1,900 years of astronomical observations. If in fact Monsieur Cuvier said this, it must have been by inadvertence; for he very well knows that it is Simplicius [see note 36, above] who reports the so-called fact according to a work by Porphyry [the Phoenician; born c. 234, died c. 305] that is no longer extant. The proof of this is in Cuvier’s discourse on the Révolutions de la surface du globe [1825], p. 232. However, there the number is 2,200 instead of 1,900. I have the Greek edition [of Simplicius] before me, dated Venice, 1526, which says on page 123 that the observations sent by Callisthenes were for a period of 1,903 years. Perhaps Monsieur Cuvier consulted a different edition, or his copyists perhaps changed his numbers. [M. de St.-Agy.]

40 [Tcheou-Kong, a Chinese astronomer (fl. about 1100 B.C.) who some claim invented the mariner’s compass (see Biot (Jean-Baptiste), Études sur l’astronomie indienne et sur l’astronomie chinoise, Paris: Michel Lévy frères, 1862, LII + 398 p.)]

41 See Delambre [Jean-Baptiste-Joseph] [Lesson 2, note 17], Histoire de l’astronomie ancienne [Paris: Courcier, 1817], vol. 1, pp. 391 ff. [M. de St.-Agy.]

42 [The temples of Dendera and Esneh; see notes 44 and 47, below.]

43 [Jean-François Champollion, see Lesson 2, note 27.]

44 [Temple of Dendera, also spelled Dandarah, dedicated to the sky and fertility goddess Hathor, is one of the best preserved in Egypt, located at Dendera, an agricultural town on the west bank of the Nile, in Qina muhafazah (governorate), Upper Egypt (Brockedon 1842-1849). The present building dates to the Ptolemaic Period (305-330 B.C.) and was com pleted by the Roman emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), but it rests on the foundations of earlier buildings dating back at least as far as Khufu (Cheops; second king of the fourth dynasty, c. 2613-2494 B.C.)]

45 See [Antoine-Jean] Letronne [born 1787; died 1848], Recherches pour servir à l’histoire de l’Égypte [... pendant la domination des Grecs et des Romains, tirées des inscriptions grecques et latines, Paris: Chez Boulland-Tardieu, 1823, 524 p.] [M. de St.-Agy.] [Tiberius, in full Tiberius Caesar Augustus, or Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus (born 16 November 42 B.C.; died 16 March A.D. 37, Capreae [Capri], near Naples), second Roman emperor, the son of Tiberius Claudius Nero (c. 85-33 B.C.), and adopted son of Augustus whose imperial institutions and imperial boundaries he sought to preserve. In his last years he became a tyrannical recluse, inflicting a reign of terror against the major personages of Rome.]

46 [For Nero, see Lesson 12, note 2.]

47 [Temple of Esneh or Esnè, a small temple, part of the Dendera complex; see note 44, above.]

48 [Antoninus is Marcus Aurelius, see Lesson 11, note 72.]

49 [Cecrops, traditionally the first king of Attica in ancient Greece. He was said to have instituted the laws of marriage and property and a new form of worship. The introduction of bloodless sacrifice, the burial of the dead, and the invention of writing were also attributed to him. He acted as arbiter during the dispute between the deities Athena and Poseidon for the possession of Attica. As one of the aborigines of Attica, Cecrops was represented as human in the upper part of his body, while the lower part was shaped like a snake.]

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