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Cuvier’s History of the Natural Sciences

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Georges Cuvier

1. The Earliest Beginning / Les origines

3. The Egyptians Continued

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EGYPTIAN LANDSCAPES. Engraving by Girardet and Sellier displayed in frontispiece of volume 1 of Description de l’Égypte: ou Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’Armée française publié sous les ordres de Napoléon Bonaparte. Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1809.

EGYPTIAN LANDSCAPES. Engraving by Girardet and Sellier displayed in frontispiece of volume 1 of Description de l’Égypte: ou Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’Armée française publié sous les ordres de Napoléon Bonaparte. Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1809.

1We have seen at the end of the preceding lecture that none of the great Egyptian monuments date from before the seventeenth or eighteenth dynasty and that the books of Moses are silent about the architectural marvels of Egypt. It was ascertained also from the complaints of the Jews that before their exodus all the large buildings, instead of being built of granite or sienite, had been built of bricks hardened by fire fueled by straw.

  • 1 Other authors place this invasion in 350 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy].

2From these various facts we conclude that the principal Egyptian monuments were built between 1200-1000 B.C. and 600-550 B.C., which was about the time of the Persian invasion1.

3After that invasion, the Egyptian style of construction was continued, and the result was a profusion of edifices that is still the wonder of the world.

4However, when one thinks of the location of Egypt and considers that monuments built in granite under a pure sky have an almost unlimited duration, one need not suppose that the laws of the country had some extraordinary power, in order to explain the kind of architectural fairyland of which this country offers us numerous proofs.

5Egypt served as a means of communication with many parts of the civilized world; it was the center of all commerce at the time. Consequently, its prosperity was developed rapidly. The narrow valley, surrounded by arid desert sands, that forms its territory did not permit that its wealth be used for gardens and spacious parks. Wealth instead was used in works of architecture, and it seems that a sort of competitiveness was maintained for 600 years in creating, in this field, the spectacular excess that has made Egypt famous.

6What supports us in this opinion is that circumstances like those found in Egypt produced elsewhere the same phenomenon.

  • 2 [Palmyra, also called Tadmur, Tadmor, or Tudmur, ancient Syrian city, now in south-central Syria. (...)

7Thus, on the distant stages of the great panorama of history, we see Palmyra2, a green oasis, which owed to the several springs it possessed in the middle of the desert, the traversing of caravans going from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean. These caravans made its fortune, and like Egypt, the city spent it only on temples and palaces. Its architectural magnificence was even more astonishing than Egypt’s, since there, in a more circumscribed territory, the marvels of the arts were more concentrated.

8At a distance not so far from us, the coast of Genoa, confined by the Apennines and also enriched by commerce, offers us the same profusion of architectural monuments as Egypt and Palmyra. In this respect one might almost say that Genoa is the Egypt of modern times.

9But the Egyptian constructions are more solid than the Italian: built of granite or sandstone, the former would subsist yet in all their integrity if wars and civil disturbance had not destroyed or altered them.

  • 3 [Psammetichus II, or Psamtik II, Egyptian king (ruled 595-589 B.C.) who sponsored a campaign throu (...)
  • 4 [Thales of Miletus, see Lesson 1, note 6.]
  • 5 [Pythagoras (born c. 580 B.C., at Samos, Ionia; died c. 500, at Metapontum, Lucania), Greek philos (...)

10It was especially around 600 B.C. that the tranquility of Egypt was disturbed on account of an oracle that seems to have been carried out in the person of Psammetichus3. Forced to flee, this governor had recourse to foreigners to defend himself. It was the first time, since the conquest by the nomadic kings, that foreigners had been able to penetrate the land of Egypt. The auxiliaries that Psammetichus employed came from Asia Minor, and since they procured for him the defeat of his enemies, from that time on he allowed foreigners, which had been prohibited in Egypt, as they still are in China, to enter freely. The most cultured minds of Greece profited from this right: Thales4, Pythagoras5, and other Greek philosophers were successively instructed in the colleges of the priests, and they brought back a part of the knowledge that had been kept secret up until then.

11In order to appreciate the extent of the instruction that the Greeks were able to add to their own, one must determine what progress the sciences had made in Egypt by then.

12We know that knowledge of hydraulics was already quite advanced, because the Egyptians practiced with some skill the art of digging canals. They also had rather extensive knowledge of mechanics, for, without very powerful machines, it would have been impossible for them to raise their obelisks, and to lift the enormous monoliths that contribute to the composition of some of their monuments. Also they had nearly perfect graphic and stereotomic procedures: the precision one sees in the cutting of stones used in the construction of their buildings is proof of this. Finally, we know that they were fine land-surveyors, because, after the Nile withdrew, they reestablished the boundaries of properties as they had existed before the inundation.

13From all these facts, one might conclude that mathematical theories were fairly advanced in Egypt.

  • 6 [Hecatomb, in ancient Mesopotamia, a large-scale sacrifice, often of many retainers who followed t (...)

14However, some historical documents contradict this conclusion. It is reported that it was from Thales that the Egyptian priests learned to measure the height of the pyramids from the length of the shadow they projected. History tells us also that Pythagoras immolated a hecatomb6 when he discovered the theorem of the square on the hypotenuse. Therefore, he did not receive this proof in the priestly colleges of Egypt, and consequently, those people who were so lauded were actually ignorant about geometry since they did not even know its primary elements. One might be justified in believing that their geometry was entirely practical, somewhat like that of our field surveyors.

15At the time of the first emigrations out of Egypt into Greece, astronomy was at a low level of development in the former country, since the lunar year was the only year known. But the need to predict with certainty the return of the inundation of the Nile led the Egyptians to study astronomy in a consistent manner. Their progress was swift enough that the Greeks, when allowed under the reign of Psammetichus to travel in Egypt, would find them using the solar year of 365 days. Shortly afterwards, they even added a quarter day to their year, and thus they came very close to the true duration of the revolution of the earth around the sun. But this latter solar year was followed only for civil uses, and for that reason was called the civil year. The former solar year was called the religious year because it continued to be used for fixing feasts, although it was observed that feasts thus fixed became further and further away from the sidereal times established for them. It was not until after a period of more than 1,900 years that the two years would coincide and that religious feasts would be celebrated in the same season as that of their origin. The Egyptians called this period of 1,900 years the great year or the year of Syrius. Their respect for all things religious prevented them from abandoning the religious year for the civil year, that is, for the year of 365 and a quarter days. It is the same respect for rites that later made the Greeks continue to use the Julian year despite the advantages of the Gregorian year.

  • 7 [Heliacal, pertaining to, or near, the sun; said especially of the last setting of a star before, (...)
  • 8 [Gnomon, probably the earliest known device for indicating the time of day, dating from about 3500 (...)

16Presumably the Egyptians had not even the simplest astronomical instrument, no precise way of making observations, and it was only by the heliacal7 rising and setting of the principal stars that they succeeded in discovering the approximate length of the year. Also, we do not know whether they had any instrument other than the gnomon8 for measuring the sun’s altitude.

  • 9 [Herodotus was born about 484 B.C. and died 430-420; see Lesson 7.]

17The Egyptians’ ideas about certain areas of geology were much more exact than their astronomical observations. Living in a country formed by alluvions, they readily arrived at an explanation for the superposition of terrestrial strata; in the time of Herodotus9, they could give an account for the stratification of the Delta just as we do today. The Egyptians also knew of the existence of fossils in loose ground and in rocks where elements are strongly aggregated. Thus it would appear that Thales was only generalizing the opinion of the Egyptian priests, who had said that the earth had come from water, when he taught the Greeks that water was the first principle of all things.

  • 10 [Syene, modern Aswan, Egypt.]

18The Egyptians were no less knowledgeable about minerals than they were about the laws of alluvial accretion. The disposition of the soil also particularly facilitated this study. The walls of the Nile valley presented mineral masses laid bare and close by, which elsewhere are dispersed in the mountains. At the base of these walls was the limestone used in constructing the pyramids, higher up was sandstone, and towards Syene10 were granite and porphyry. The valley of the Nile thus formed a sort of mineralogical gallery set up by nature for the benefit of the Egyptians, already specially privileged in other regards.

  • 11 [Frédéric Cailliaud, French explorer, was born at Nantes in 1787. In 1815, he was commissioned to (...)

19Their need to travel through the small valleys leading to the Red Sea caused them to discover, between the sea and the Upper Egyptian shore facing it, other minerals of groups that are still scarce compared with granite. It was principally emeralds that fed the love of splendor in antiquity, the mines for which Monsieur Cailliaud11 has discovered quite recently. The Egyptians’ exploitation of these mines removes any doubt that metallurgy had been rather highly developed. In fact, they must have known the art of fabricating and tempering cutting implements in order to carve the fine stones and the great quantity of granite and porphyry that are extant. Today, it is only by means of emery and a great deal of time that we are able to give the latter mineral a form proper for our use. Although Egyptian towns and tombs have revealed to our research but few objects made of iron, we must not conclude that this metal was rare in Egypt; rather, this fact is satisfactorily explained by the rapid oxidation of iron. Moreover, many objects in bronze, and some in gold of an extreme purity, have been discovered in Egyptian towns and tombs.

20They also knew most of the applications of chemistry that we make today to the arts. The Egyptians made enamel like ours, in addition to faience and porcelain, and knew how to compound the most solid and most brilliant colors – one finds even ultramarine pigment on their most ancient tombs. The Greeks and the Romans are very far from ever having been as advanced as the Egyptians in the chemical arts. In spite of this rather remarkable development in science, it seems they did not go so far as to derive a theory about all the chemical facts known to them. The lack of books and of frequent communication no doubt limited their progress in this regard.

  • 12 See the Description de l’Égypte compiled under the auspices of Napoleon [Description de l’Égypte: (...)
  • 13 [Nubia, ancient region in northeastern Africa, extending approximately from the Nile River valley (...)
  • 14 [Cailliaud (see note 11, above), Voyage à Méroé (1823), vol. 2, pl. 75, paintings from the ancient (...)

21We have seen that in Egypt, zoology owed its development to the custom of raising sacred animals in the temples and painting or sculpting them on certain parts of these temples or on other monuments. I have examined more than fifty of these representations relating to different classes of vertebrates – mammals, birds, reptiles, etc. – and I was always readily able to recognize the species they belonged to, even when the figures were small in scale and consisted only of the outline of the animal. In this way I have distinguished with ease the great antelope, the giraffe, the great hare of Egypt, the sparrow hawk, the vulture, the Egyptian goose, the lapwing, the ibis, etc.12 Monsieur Gau in his work on Nubia13 has made a copy of a bas-relief depicting the triumphal parade of an Egyptian king; one sees the vanquished peoples presenting gifts to the monarch of the various animals that their land produces; it is easy to recognize that these animals are the giraffe, the tiger (tigre chasseur), the asp, the crocodile, etc. True, these representations do not express zoological characteristics, but the general posture and the overall appearance of the animal are so well represented that it leaves the naturalist in no doubt, even when it is a question of insects and fishes. Relative to the latter, Monsieur Cailliaud also describes in his work a painting of the fishes of the Nile in which one may distinguish at first glance at least twenty fish species, such as for example catfishes, minnows, and other individuals of curious shape14.

  • 15 [Galen of Pergamum, see Lesson 16, below.]

22Anatomy was better known in Egypt than anywhere else, since, as we have seen, Galen15 traveled there expressly to see the human skeleton that had been fashioned in bronze.

  • 16 In Egypt medicine could make no progress. A physician could treat only one kind of illness, nor co (...)

23Medicine, which cannot exist without anatomy, was also practiced in Egypt and is even thought to have originated there16.

  • 17 Because this belief was universal in Egypt, it is likely that it had been, at least for a while, t (...)

24General natural philosophy seems to be the science that was developed with the least success in this country: fire was thought to be an all-devouring animal. Perhaps we may suppose this to be the opinion only of the masses and not at all subscribed to by the educated caste; but we have no proof of such a benevolent supposition17.

  • 18 This way, religion would take credit for all scientific discoveries and interpret them in its own (...)

25Likewise we do not know the name of the authors of various discoveries made in Egypt. The custom of the country was for the learned to publish all their works under Hermes’s name18.

  • 19 [Cambyses II, see Lesson 2, note 6.]

26To summarize, the Egyptians possessed, in spite of many errors, a rather large body of knowledge; and it is difficult to believe that people who had so often successfully observed nature did not compare the facts of various kinds that they had gathered in order to deduce general laws. It is likely that there existed in the priestly colleges in addition to philosophical and religious theories, special theories about physical science. Internal wars and the suppression of the sacerdotal caste during the disastrous conquest by Cambyses19 were no doubt the reason for the disappearance of such theories. After these events, Egyptian priestly science regressed constantly to such a degree that under Roman rule the priests sank to the lowest social rank.

27To end this examination of the condition of the sciences in Egypt, we are going to see what the Egyptian emigrants and a few other Mediterranean peoples knew.

  • 20 Moses was the son-in-law of an Egyptian priest [M. de St.-Agy].
  • 21 Some authors attribute to the Jews this result of our ability to compare and to abstract; others d (...)

28The leading Egyptian emigrants possessed in general only a superficial knowledge of the sciences that were the province of the priestly caste; they brought away with them only the practical results of these sciences, namely, the arts. Only Moses was better educated. Raised by the priests20, he knew not only their arts but also the hidden meaning of their philosophical doctrines. Witness to the troubles arising from the use of symbols, he had forbidden his colonists the cult of images so that he might destroy the odious idolatry that it produced. This wise proscription impeded the development of the graphic arts among the Jews; for the cultivation of the arts is the indispensable condition of their improvement and even of their preservation. But the Jews derived from this the advantage of maintaining in all its abstract purity the idea of the one God21.

29The laws of Moses were of a nature to produce many other useful results, but the unfavorable circumstances in which the Jews constantly found themselves prevented the laws from having their natural effect.

  • 22 [Jean André Deluc (born 8 February 1727 at Geneva, Switzerland; died 7 November 1817, at Windsor, (...)

30What we naturalists find most remarkable in the books of Moses is his cosmogony, which is very much superior to that of the Egyptians’, and which Deluc22 thought so perfect that he based upon this cosmogony his belief in the reality of a revelation received by Moses. According to Genesis, as everyone knows, after the heavens and the earth were created and were made manifest by light, plants received their being, and after them the animals and finally man.

  • 23 It is incontestable that some passages in Genesis are to a certain point in agreement with our sec (...)

31Now, this Biblical order of the different creations is precisely the order that geology assigns to them23. In earliest formed rocks, and consequently lying deepest, one finds no remains of organic beings. The earth was then without inhabitants, or at least without visible inhabitants. But as one ascends from the primitive soils to the surface of the globe, one encounters vestiges or fragments of animals and plants, their organization becoming more complex from the simplest mollusks and acotyledons to the most complicated quadrupeds and plants.

32Never – to our knowledge, at least – have human bones been found in typical layers of the globe, as bones belonging to quadrupeds have been encountered. Human remains that have been discovered were lying either in soft ground, or in caves where they might have been carried by carnivorous animals, or in osseous pits, in the crevices of rocks where probably they had been trapped by landslides or by other accidents. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that man did not appear on earth until after the other species of mammals, as is written in Moses’s book.

  • 24 [Tyre, modern Sur, a coastal town in southern Lebanon. It was a major Phoenician seaport from abou (...)

33The Phoenicians, who came from the Mediterranean, must have possessed, like the Egyptians, rather extensive knowledge. They were navigators and traders, and must have had some notion of mechanics, geometry, arithmetic, and astronomy. Their discovery of purple dye is evidence that they had made observations of animal products. The heavy trade they conducted in salted fish, and which Carthage continued after them, confirms our belief that they had made observations on the different species of fishes. Now, these observations had been generalized, they had given rise to some general principles, some theories, since facts are not learned as isolated instances in nature; their attendant circumstances, their causes are more or less apparent and serve as a basis for doctrines. These doctrines were in part communicated to the Greeks who preserved the memory of them for us; but we have nothing more, since nothing remains of the books or monuments of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. The destruction of Tyre24 annihilated Phoenician knowledge, as the destruction of Jerusalem put an end to the scientific development of the Hebrews.

  • 25 [Chaldeans, see Lesson 1, note 35.]

34Also there remain for us very few things about the Chaldeans25; their astronomy is all that we have, and it was not very advanced.

  • 26 In a note on page 19 of the first lesson, I [the editor, M. de St.-Agy] remarked that Monsieur Cuv (...)

35In the next session, we shall discuss the state of the sciences in Greece and its colonies26.

Notes

1 Other authors place this invasion in 350 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy].

2 [Palmyra, also called Tadmur, Tadmor, or Tudmur, ancient Syrian city, now in south-central Syria. The name Palmyra is the Greek and Latin form of Tadmur, Tadmor, or Tudmur, the pre-Semitic name of the site, which is still in use in modern times. The city attained prominence in the 3rd century B.C., when the Seleucids probably made the road through Palmyra one of the routes of east-west trade. The city lay approximately halfway between the Mediterranean Sea (west) and the Euphrates River (east) and helped connect the Roman world with Mesopotamia and the East.]

3 [Psammetichus II, or Psamtik II, Egyptian king (ruled 595-589 B.C.) who sponsored a campaign through the Napatan kingdom involving the use of Greek and Carian mercenaries who left their inscriptions at Abu Simbel; at the same time, the names of the long-dead Cushite rulers were erased from their monuments in Egypt. Psammetichus II also made an expedition to Phoenicia accompanied by priests; whether it was a military or a goodwill mission is unknown.]

4 [Thales of Miletus, see Lesson 1, note 6.]

5 [Pythagoras (born c. 580 B.C., at Samos, Ionia; died c. 500, at Metapontum, Lucania), Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the Pythagorean brotherhood that, although religious in nature, formulated principles that influenced the thought of Plato and Aristotle and contributed to the development of mathematics and Western rational philosophy.]

6 [Hecatomb, in ancient Mesopotamia, a large-scale sacrifice, often of many retainers who followed their king and queen to the grave.]

7 [Heliacal, pertaining to, or near, the sun; said especially of the last setting of a star before, and its first rising after, invisibility due to conjunction with the sun.]

8 [Gnomon, probably the earliest known device for indicating the time of day, dating from about 3500 B.C. It consisted of a vertical stick or pillar; the length of the shadow that it cast gave an indication of the time of day. By the 8th century B.C., more precise devices were in use; the earliest known sundial still preserved is an Egyptian shadow clock of green schist dating at least from this period. It consists of a straight base with a raised crosspiece at one end. The base, on which is inscribed a scale of six time divisions, is placed in an eastwest direction with the crosspiece at the east end in the morning and the west end in the afternoon. The shadow of the crosspiece on this base indicates the time. Clocks of this kind are still in use in primitive parts of Egypt.]

9 [Herodotus was born about 484 B.C. and died 430-420; see Lesson 7.]

10 [Syene, modern Aswan, Egypt.]

11 [Frédéric Cailliaud, French explorer, was born at Nantes in 1787. In 1815, he was commissioned to explore the deserts to the east and west of the Nile. Departing from Edfou, he went towards the Red Sea, and in the desert found the emerald mines of Mount Labarah, then returned to Egypt by the ancient route of Coptos to Berenice. In June 1818, he visited the Great Oasis, where he made some important archaeological discoveries; then he explored all the known oases to the west of Egypt and ascended the Nile to 10 degrees north latitude. Soon afterward, he returned to France taking residence in his native city of Nantes where he became conservator of the city’s museum, and where he died in 1869 (see Cailliaud (Frédéric), Voyage à Méroé, au fleuve blanc, au delà de Fâzoql dans le midi du Royaume de Sennâr, à Syouah et dans cinq autres oasis; fait dans les années 1819, 1820, 1821 et 1822 [plates only], Paris: Imprimerie de Rignoux, 1823, 2 vols in 1; Voyage à Méroé, au fleuve blanc, au delà de Fâzoql dans le midi du Royaume de Sennâr, à Syouah et dans cinq autres oasis; fait dans les années 1819, 1820, 1821 et 1822 [text only], [Paris]: Par autorisation du Roi, Imprimerie royale, 1826-1827, 4 vols].

12 See the Description de l’Égypte compiled under the auspices of Napoleon [Description de l’Égypte: ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’armée française-publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l’empereur Napoléon le Grand [Edited by Jomard Edme François; historical preface by Fourier Jean-Baptiste-Joseph], Paris: Imprimerie Impériale, 1809-1822, text, 9 vols; atlas, 11 vols] [M. de St.-Agy].

13 [Nubia, ancient region in northeastern Africa, extending approximately from the Nile River valley (near the first cataract in Upper Egypt) eastward to the shores of the Red Sea, southward to about Khartoum (in what is now The Sudan), and westward to the Libyan Desert. Gau is François Chrétien Gau (born 15 June 1790, at Cologne; died January 1854 at Paris), architect and archaeologist who, in 1809, entered the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and in 1815 visited Italy and Sicily. In 1817 he went to Nubia, and while there he made drawings and measurements of all the more important monuments of that country, his ambition being to produce a work that should supplement the great work of the French expedition in Egypt. The result of his labors appeared in a folio volume titled Antiquités de la Nubie, ou, Monumens inédits des bords du Nil, situés entre la premieÌre et la seconde cataracte, dessinés et mesurés, en 1819-par F. C. Gau..., Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1822, consisting of sixty-eight plates, of plans, sections, and views. His next publication was the completion of Charles François Mazois’s (1783-1826) work on the ruins of Pompeii (Mazois (Charles-François), Les ruines de Pompéi, Paris: F. Didot, 1824-1838, 4 vols). In 1825 Gau was naturalized as a French citizen, and later became architect to the city of Paris. He directed the restoration of the churches of Sain-Julien-le-Pauvre, and Saint-Séverin, and built the great prison of La Roquette, etc. With his name also is associated the revival of Gothic architecture in Paris – he having designed and commenced, in 1846, the erection of the church of Sainte-Clotilde, the first modern church erected in the capital in that style. Illness compelled him to relinquish the care of supervising the work, and he died before its completion.]

14 [Cailliaud (see note 11, above), Voyage à Méroé (1823), vol. 2, pl. 75, paintings from the ancient tombs of Gournah at Thebes, showing scenes of hunting, fishing, harvesting, music, etc.; for further explanation of the plate, see Cailliaud (Frédéric), op. cit., vol. 3, p. 292.]

15 [Galen of Pergamum, see Lesson 16, below.]

16 In Egypt medicine could make no progress. A physician could treat only one kind of illness, nor could he apply to that illness but one treatment over and over. If he changed the legitimate treatment and the patient died, he was put to death. Moreover, physicians, like our priests, were paid by the public treasury, which was another reason for not seeking to be innovative. Finally, according to Diodorus [Siculus, in his Bibliotheca historica; see Lesson 12, note 26] (vol. 1, p. 81), any discoveries were forbidden in Egypt as being sacrilegious [see Diodorus Siculus, Diodorus “On Egypt”: Bibliotheca historica, Book I [translated from the ancient Greek by Murphy Edwin], London; Jefferson (North Carolina): McFarland, 1985, xiv + 178 p.] Degraded by this servitude, physicians in Egypt descended to the rank of tricksters. Their science was composed of incantations, conjurations, and prayers. Predicting diseases, attributing them to the influence of the stars, to the malevolence of demons (Origen, Contra Celsus, vol. 8 [translation with an introd. & notes by Chadwick Henry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953, xl + 530 p.]), the physicians begged for miraculous cures from Isis, who appeared, it was said, to sick people while they slept. Darius’s physicians were not able to deliver this prince in seven days from a sickness that the Greek Democedes [Greek physician, born at Crotona, Magna Graecia (Italy), lived in the second half of the 6th century B.C.] did in one hour (Herodotus, vol. 3, p. 129; [Godolphin (Francis Richard Borroum) (ed.), The Greek historians [The complete and unabridged historical works of Herodotus, translated by Rawlinson George; Thucydides, translated by Jowett Benjamin; Xenophon, translated by Dakyns Henry G. [and] Arrian, translated by Chinnock Edward J.; edited, with an introduction, revisions and additional notes, by Godolphin Francis R. B.], New York: Random house, [1942], 2 vols]).
Well, when one has the courage to read [Jacques-Bénigne] Bossuet’s [born 25 September 1627, Dijon, France; died 12 April 1704, Paris] History of the Egyptians [see Bossuet (Jacques-Bénigne), Discourse on Universal History [translated by Forster Elborg, edited with an introduction by Ranum Orest], Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976, 422 p.], one finds the whole organization of Egypt vaunted as a model of perfection. But Bossuet was a priest, and a priest usually loves Ammonium and Heliopolis [cities in ancient Egypt], as a soldier usually prefers a government by the military to all others [M. de St.-Agy].

17 Because this belief was universal in Egypt, it is likely that it had been, at least for a while, that of the priests, for almost all popular errors are recorded in the writings of some of the savants, that is, of men less ignorant than their contemporaries [M. de St.-Agy].

18 This way, religion would take credit for all scientific discoveries and interpret them in its own way (see Iamblichus [On the Pythagorean life [translated, with notes and introduction by Clark Gillian], Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989, xxi + 122 p.]) [M. de St.-Agy].

19 [Cambyses II, see Lesson 2, note 6.]

20 Moses was the son-in-law of an Egyptian priest [M. de St.-Agy].

21 Some authors attribute to the Jews this result of our ability to compare and to abstract; others deny this – e. g., [Charles François] Dupuis [1742-1809; see Lesson 2, note 19] in his great work on the origin of the cults [Origines de tous les cultes; ou Religion universelle, Paris: H. Agasse, An III [1795], 3 vols.] [M. de St.-Agy].

22 [Jean André Deluc (born 8 February 1727 at Geneva, Switzerland; died 7 November 1817, at Windsor, Berkshire, England), Swiss-born British geologist and meteorologist whose theoretical work was influential on 19th-century writing about meteorology (see Deluc (Jean-André), Idées sur la métérologie, Paris: chez la veuve Duchesne, 1787, 2 vols). Deluc’s keenest personal interest was his quest to reconcile the Creation story of Genesis with the evidence of geology, and to this end he interpreted each day of the Creation as an epoch.]

23 It is incontestable that some passages in Genesis are to a certain point in agreement with our secular sciences. But it cannot be denied that there are other passages that at present are destitute of scientific proof. For example, according to Moses’s book, light was created first (Fiat lux, the Vulgate [the Latin Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church, primarily translated by St. Jerome] says), then heaven and earth, then the sea, the planets, the sun, the moon, etc.; now, science is not yet able to prove that nature’s light could exist without the sun, but which would be the case if one adopted Moses’s cosmogony, since the sun, according to this cosmogony, was not created until four days after the light.
Moreover, we can criticize Moses only with a great deal of caution, since his books were destroyed several times – namely, during the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity – and were rewritten from memory by the priests, one of whom was Esdras, and we cannot be sure that some errors did not slip into his books: “Esdras, priest of God, restored the law, which had been burned by the Chaldeans in the temple archives” [quote translated from the Latin] (St. Augustine, On Miracles, Book 2, Kings, 4, 25: 9 [cited from the Douay-Rheims Bible, an English translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible produced by Roman Catholic scholars in exile from England at the English College in Douai. The New Testament translation was published in 1582 at Rheims, where the English College had temporarily relocated in 1578 (see Bible, The New Testament of Jesus Christ, faithfully translated into English out of the authentic Latin. Diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greek and other Editions in Diverse Languages, Rheims: John Fogny, 1582). The Old Testament was translated shortly afterward but was not published until 1609-1610, in Douai; see The Holie Bible, faithfully translated into English out of the authentic Latin. Diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greek and other Editions in Diverse Languages, Douai: Lawrence Kellam, 2 vols]) [M. de St.-Agy].

24 [Tyre, modern Sur, a coastal town in southern Lebanon. It was a major Phoenician seaport from about 2000 B.C. onwards through the Roman period. Probably the most famous episode in the history of Tyre was its resistance to the army of the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, who took it after a seven-month siege in 332 B.C., using floating batteries and building a causeway to gain access to the island. After its capture, 10,000 of the inhabitants were put to death, and 30,000 were sold into slavery.]

25 [Chaldeans, see Lesson 1, note 35.]

26 In a note on page 19 of the first lesson, I [the editor, M. de St.-Agy] remarked that Monsieur Cuvier, in his discussion on the revolution of the surface of the globe [Cuvier (Georges), Discours sur les révolutions de la surface du globe, et sur les changemens qu’elles ont produits dans le reÌgne animal, 3rd ed., Paris: Chez G. Dufour & Ed. d’Ocagne, 1825, 400 p. + 6 pl. + tabl.], referring to the astronomical observations that Callisthenes sent from Babylon to Greece, gave the number 2,200 instead of 1,903. Subsequently, I have read [again] the sentence containing Monsieur Cuvier’s number and realized that this learned naturalist was referring to the era before Christ, to which the Chaldean observations go back, whereas I had given the number of years covered by these observations. It follows that we are both correct [M. de St.-Agy].

Table des illustrations

Titre EGYPTIAN LANDSCAPES. Engraving by Girardet and Sellier displayed in frontispiece of volume 1 of Description de l’Égypte: ou Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’Armée française publié sous les ordres de Napoléon Bonaparte. Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1809.
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