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Cuvier’s History of the Natural Sciences

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Georges Cuvier

2. The greek world / Le monde grec

6. Socrates and His Disciples

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RUINES OF PERSEPOLIS. Detail of a 1663 engraving by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1667), etcher and engraver from Bohemia. Original format: 26 x 33 cm.

1We have seen that, shortly after its birth in the Greek colonies of Asia Minor, the philosophical spirit produced four great sects or schools more or less opposed to one another. The first, that of Thales, had for the basis of its speculations only vague and obscure ideas about the general physical world. The second or Italic school rose above this in seeking something beyond matter; by assimilating the system of bodies with that of numbers, and by considering the universe as a harmonic whole, it had a glimpse of some of the laws essential to matter. The Eleatic school was completely opposed to Thales; it made an abstraction of matter, denied its existence, and thought that bodies were only various manifestations of mind, assuming it to be the only universal essence. The fourth school, through a natural reaction against the Eleatics, rejected all metaphysical essence and claimed there was only matter and motion in the universe. But Anaxagoras opened a new era by promoting the idea of an intelligence that orders the universe and was thus Greece’s first theist.

  • 1 [Socrates of Athens (born in or about 470 B.C., died in 399?) was the first of the great trio of a (...)
  • 2 [Alcibiades (born c. 450 B.C. at Athens; died 404 at Phrygia, now in Turkey), brilliant but unscru (...)
  • 3 [Plato, see note 14, below.]
  • 4 [Peloponnesian League, also called Spartan Alliance, a military coalition of Greek city-states led (...)
  • 5 [The Thirty Tyrants or the Board of Thirty, an aristocratic body that after the overthrow of democ (...)
  • 6 [Critias, together with Charmides, leaders among the extremists of the oligarchic terror of 404 B. (...)

2Of the disciples of this philosopher, the most famous was Socrates1, the son of a sculptor and a sculptor himself. His mother was a midwife. He was born at Athens in 470 B.C. The most famous men of Greece were his contemporaries. Anaxagoras and Pericles were 30 years older than he; Hippocrates was 10 years older; Alcibiades2, a follower of his, was 16 years younger; Xenophon, who was also his follower, was one year older than Alcibiades; Plato3, the youngest disciple of Socrates, and who tried to defend him against the accusation on account of which he was executed, was 40 years younger than his master. Political circumstances had a powerful influence on the condemnation of Socrates. Athens had succumbed to attacks made by the Peloponnesian League4; thirty tyrants had ruled her with cruelty; Socrates was accused of having been one of their party and of not revering the gods5. The accusation was false. Socrates had been merely a friend of Critias6, one of the thirty tyrants of Athens, before Critias had abused his power, and Socrates had ceased relations with him, which had been occasioned only by love of the sciences, from the beginning of his tyranny, a tyranny in which Socrates did not wish to participate. No one, moreover, before Socrates had understood divinity better than he.

3Unjustly condemned, he had the right to escape death, as his master Anaxagoras had done; every facility was offered him in this regard. But, after having been a model of virtue, he wished still to teach, by his death, the respect that one owes to the laws of one’s country, even when they are unjustly applied. He drank the hemlock with the calm of a wise man.

  • 7 [René Descartes (born on 31 March 1596 in La Haye (now Descartes), France; died on 11 February 165 (...)

4Socrates did not cultivate the physical sciences. His teachings had, as their sole object, ideas about the moral and religious order. However, he contributed much to establishing the more intelligent method used by the sciences not long after him. The Eleatic school, introduced into Athens, in its degeneration had produced there numerous sophists, including Zeno and Parmenides, who held all the philosophy chairs. They were undermining all the principles assumed up till then, and by dint of subtleties they had succeeded in casting doubt on the most undoubted notions. Everything was on the point of being led into the vanity of their doctrine. Socrates strove to combat the sophists, and to do it to some purpose, he obliged them to define the terms they used. Thus he fixed the language, rendered impossible every sophism based on the double meaning of expressions, and procured for the sciences their most indispensable tool. Somewhat as Descartes7 did in the 17th century in the case of the scholastics, he rejected every a priori, every speculation that had been assumed true, and sought to bring metaphysics back to common sense and morality back to inward feeling, to the conscience. His reform may be considered the seed of the experimental method. It had little influence at first; but later, immense results were obtained when Aristotle applied it and developed it.

5The sciences are obliged to Socrates for another advantage. It is he who introduced the principle of final causes, or, as we say now, conditions of existence.

6Socrates admitted that it was from the writings of Anaxagoras that he borrowed the idea of this principle rich in useful results. He said to himself that if the universe is, as Anaxagoras thinks, the work of an intelligent being, all its parts must be related and must be united in a common goal. Each organism must, as a consequence, be connected to other organisms, forming the links of a great chain that extends from divinity down to the simplest being; moreover, each being must include within itself the means of carrying out the role that is its portion.

7Socrates attached such great importance to the principle of final causes, which were for him the basis for the form of beings, that one sees him in Plato expressing regret that he did not possess enough knowledge of the physical world to be able to make detailed applications of it.

8The principle of final causes has sometimes deluded certain speculative minds that imagine that it dispenses them from observing directly; but also we must realize that more often it has led to remarkable discoveries. And it has brought about and sustained researches that perhaps otherwise would have been abandoned on account of their unproductiveness.

  • 8 [Prytaneum, Greek Prytaneion, town hall of a Greek citystate, normally housing the chief magistrat (...)
  • 9 [Megara, modern Greek Mégara, ancient and modern settlement on the Saronic Gulf within Attica nomó (...)

9After the death of Socrates, his students left Athens, where philosophy was being persecuted and certain soothsayers were maintained, with distinction, in the Prytaneum8. They withdrew to Megara9 and several other cities where they founded various philosophical schools. The most important and famous are the Megarics, the Cynics, the Cyrenaics, and finally the Academy, founded by Plato.

  • 10 He [Euclid] flourished about 400 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Euclid or Eucleides of Megara, Greek philo (...)

10The first, which goes back to Euclid of Megara10, was mostly occupied in perfecting a dialectic modified according to the ideas of the Eleatics and those of Socrates. Its subtleties seem aimed at showing up the difficulties contained in rationalism and empiricism.

  • 11 He [Antisthenes] flourished about 380 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Antisthenes (born c. 445 B.C., died c(...)

11The Cynics, founded by Antisthenes11, proclaimed that the sovereign good was virtue; virtue consisted in privations, which ensure our liberty and place us beyond dependence upon exterior things, and which thus permit us to attain the highest perfection, the most perfect happiness.

  • 12 [Cyrenaics, adherents of a Greek school of moral philosophy, active around the turn of the 3rd cen (...)
  • 13 He [Aristippus] flourished about 380 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Aristippus (born c. 435 B.C. at Cyrene (...)

12The Cyrenaics12, who go back to Aristippus of Cyrene13, a colonial city in Africa, occupied themselves, like the preceding, in searching for true happiness; but they claimed it consisted in the exercise of our natural inclinations, with moderation and freedom of spirit.

  • 14 He [Plato] was born in 430 or 429 B.C. [in Athens, or perhaps in Aegina; he died in 348/347]. [M. (...)
  • 15 [Timaeus of Locri, see Lesson 5, note 19.]
  • 16 [Archytas of Tarentum (fl. 400-350 B.C. at Tarentum, Magna Graecia, now Taranto, Italy), Greek sci (...)

13Plato, the founder of the Academy, was the youngest of Socrates’s disciples. He was only 29 years old14 when his master was brought up on charges. He hurried to the court of justice to defend his master but he was prevented from doing so. After Socrates’s death, he withdrew to Megara where he practiced the dialectic under Euclid, Socrates’s student; then he went to Cyrene and used his fortune, which was considerable, in traveling to various countries. He went first to Egypt where he visited what remained of the ancient sacerdotal castes, oppressed and degraded by the Persians. He became their student in order to learn the vestiges of their sacred sciences. From Egypt he went to Magna Graecia where he studied the Pythagorean doctrines under Timaeus of Locri15 and Archytas of Tarentum16. So, when he returned to Athens to open a new school, he knew all the ideas, all the systems that were able to support his own philosophy.

14Nature had not destined Plato for the sciences of observation and calculation. His genius inclined him to fiction and poetry. And yet, following on his relations with the Pythagoreans, he always held geometry in high regard and thought it should be taught as an introduction to philosophy. It was as a consequence of this opinion that he caused to be inscribed above the door of his school, Let no one enter here who knows not geometry.

15His principles are sometimes difficult to determine, and we know only by conjecture the whole of his system, because he had a secret philosophy. He usually introduces into his works several interlocutors –sophists, statesmen, philosophers– and among the various opinions they express we do not know precisely which one is his own. But as Socrates is usually one of the interlocutors in these writings, we may think with some likelihood that Plato’s personal opinion is the one he has his master maintaining.

16Plato’s metaphysics, although the result of his own labors, has some similarity to that of the Eleatics, the Pythagoreans, and Anaxagoras.

17In some of his dialogues, Plato applies himself to the study of the faculties of our intelligence, and it is this study that serves as basis for the logic of his students. In other dialogues, he treats of the nature of the soul and the origin of ideas. According to him, our soul is an emanation of the divine. This emanation has a recollection of general ideas that it had before becoming separated, and thus the abstract principles that we consider the result of the operations of our intelligence upon the givens furnished by experience are simple recollections. It was when the divine ideas, which are real beings, penetrated matter that particular souls and the universal soul were born.

  • 17 [Plato’s Timaeus is an exposition of cosmology, physics, and biology that first draws the distinct (...)

18This metaphysic could only cause us to neglect observation and lead us down the false and obscure path of a priori deductions. Its results, as regards the natural sciences, are contained in Plato’s Timaeus17. This work is somewhat complex but it rewards examination since it is the earliest of the Greek philosophers’ writings on the sciences of interest to us. Moreover, it was written by Plato himself, whereas, until now, we have not been able to offer you the opinions of the ancients except on the evidence of their students or successors.

  • 18 [Hermocrates (died 408/407 B.C.), leader of the moderate democrats of Syracuse, Sicily; he played (...)

19The interlocutors in the Timaeus are the Pythagorean Timaeus, Socrates, Critias, and Hermocrates18.

  • 19 [Solon (born c. 630 B.C., died c. 560), Athenian statesman, known as one of the Seven Wise Men of (...)

20The dialogue begins with a conversation that Critias supposes to have taken place between Solon19 and a priest in Saïs, a city in Lower Egypt. According to this priest, Athens had been founded by a colony from Saïs led by Cecrops, which conforms generally with received opinion; but he also says that ten thousand years before that, Saïs itself had been built by a colony from Greece. The priest explains his opinion thus: there came to pass, after the establishment of Saïs, numerous floods that destroyed all of men’s monuments and most of mankind. Egypt alone escaped these disasters, and so, the sacerdotal college in Saïs keeps in its archives the annals of the world covering more than ten thousand years. This assertion is absurd, for everyone knows that if any country is susceptible to flooding, it is most certainly Lower Egypt, where the ground is scarcely above sea-level, and which was still a marsh over two thousand years before Christ. But this fable at least proves that, at the time it was conceived, the memory of the great revolutions that convulsed the globe had not been lost. The same proof comes from the fabulous story of Atlantis, which was submerged by the waters, and which, in recent times, we have sought for and believe to have found in the island of Malta, in the Canaries, etc. We doubtless would have possessed many other indications of the upheavals of the globe, if Plato, in following his penchant for fiction, had not masked the original story with ornaments of pure invention. For example, when he recounts the wars undergone by the inhabitants of this island, it is clear he is not writing from the standpoint of a historian or scholar but rather he is submitting to the impulse of his poetic imagination.

21When Critias ends his narration, Timaeus speaks and sets forth a system of cosmogony according to which the divinity has formed matter, eternal like itself, upon the model of the ideas, the uncreated types of all things. The world is thus the representation of God. In this doctrine of one intelligence that directs or gives the model, of another intelligence that executes in compliance with this model, and of the product, i.e., the world, some people believe they see the Christian Trinity.

22Plato, in positing the eternity of matter, is at any rate in agreement with all the ancient philosophers, even with those who assume a divinity distinct from the physical world. According to him, when the idea-types penetrate matter in order to give form to matter, the soul of the world results, which thus contains the principle of its motion. From the saturation of matter by divinity result all the other particular creatures. The world, like the creatures, possesses all the conditions of existence and constitutes a great animal, the same as in Pythagorean doctrine.

  • 20 [Empedocles, see Lesson 5, note 21.]

23Timaeus next sets forth his physics, and, as it were, his mineralogy. He assumes the four elements of Empedocles20: air, earth, fire, and water, and he explains the form of bodies by the mixing of and the shape of the molecules of these elements. The molecules of water are octahedral, those of fire pyramidal, those of earth cubical, and those of air icosahedral. When the interlocutor remarks that all these forms might be reduced to tetrahedrons, he concludes that the universe is composed of triangular molecules.

24One may see in this doctrine the seed of crystallography; but if one wished to fasten upon such subtle analogies, there would be scarcely a single one of our sciences not found mentioned in some confused way by the philosophers of antiquity. Vague and obscure notions, as the notions of these philosophers nearly always are, are without value and can produce nothing as long as they are not supported by observations and multiple experiments.

25In Timaeus’s doctrine, psychology and physiology, which today seem to us so perfectly distinct, are completely confounded. This was the state of things until Aristotle, who was the first to give rules for the classification of human knowledge and whose own work was an example of their application.

26The soul of the world, according to Timaeus, was the result of the penetration of unformed matter by the ideas, and particular souls were born from what was left over from the mixture. These souls are, relative to the cosmic soul, what droplets suspended from the outside of a vase are, compared with the volume of liquid contained within the vase.

27Human souls were distributed among the various planets; those that had the earth for their portion are in a state of testing. Genies, or gods of an inferior order, were charged with surrounding them with matter, of composing bodies for them, which, until then, were not at all necessary to them.

28Timaeus claims there are three souls in the human body: the rational soul, the sensitive soul, and the vegetative soul. These three souls occupy different areas in man. The head is the seat of the rational soul. This soul is placed here in order to be less distant from heaven, its origin; and the head is round because the circle is the most perfect shape: also, the world and God are round.

29The sensitive soul occupies the breast, and the heart is its principal seat.

30To prevent the sensitive soul from acting too impetuously for the rational soul, which must be imagined as naturally weaker than the sensitive soul, the communication between the two souls have been made difficult by the narrowing of the neck.

  • 21 Monsieur de Montlosier has reproduced approximately this system in his MysteÌres de la Vie humaine(...)

31The vegetative soul, or the coarsest of the three, resides in the abdomen. This soul and the one that presides over the passions, that is, the sensitive soul, each have a moderator. The sensitive soul’s moderator is the lungs, which receive the air destined for refreshing the heart, the seat of the sensitive soul. The liver performs the same function for the vegetative soul; for this purpose it has been placed near the stomach, principal residence of the gross soul. The spleen is placed near the liver so as to receive the impurities that might come to disturb its functions. These ideas are so ridiculous that one might suppose they had an allegorical meaning meant to conceal truths that, if expressed more clearly, would have exposed Plato to persecution21.

32After this singular system, Timaeus develops a zoology that is no less peculiar, and to which some modern philosophers seem to have returned. This zoology rests on a metempsychosis borrowed from Egypt and Pythagoras.

33At first, there were only men; in the first transformation, men who were weak and unjust were changed into women. In the second, men who were frivolous and haughty were metamorphosed into birds; men coarse in their passions into quadrupeds; and the stupid ones and the dirtiest ones –those who, having denied their divine nature, were unworthy of breathing pure air– became fishes.

34By means of this migration of souls, Timaeus explains the resemblance that has been noticed between the various classes of animals; for each soul, in changing its material envelope, always keeps something from its earlier slough. Such a view of the general organization of animals can, however ridiculous, be considered the result of a first attempt at comparative zoology.

35Although animals are transformed men, they have only two souls, the sensitive or passionate and the vegetative. Plants possess only the latter. The word soul, meaning, for the philosophers of ancient times, any internal cause of motion, it is not surprising that they used it to express the cause of quite different phenomena.

36Moreover, the three souls, or three causes of motion, expressed in the Timaeus correspond perfectly to what we subsequently have called organic life, animal life, and intellectual life.

37Plato’s whole physical science has the defect of having been drawn up a priori, and as a consequence, it is no science at all; but his metaphysics could not lead him to any other result. If the ideas in the human mind are, as he says, nothing but memories, the best way of recalling these memories is to isolate oneself from the exterior world and give oneself up to meditation, in preference to observation. This method has especially harmed the development of the natural sciences by being opposed to the prompt adoption of the excellent teachings of Aristotle.

38The great general principles of Plato, analogous to Socrates’s final causes, can be reduced to three:

  1. everything is formed for a particular end and for a special destination;
  2. everything is connected in the universe, from the most imperfect being, to the divine;
  3. and there is no effect without a cause.
  • 22 [Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (born 21 June 1646, at Leipzig; died 14 November 1716, Hanov (...)

39Later we shall see these principles of the Platonic school applied profoundly by Leibnitz22. We recognize from the form of the dialogue that Plato has expounded his own opinions in the Timaeus. If he sometimes hides behind allegories in his various treatises, it is in order to escape his master’s dangers. Nevertheless, despite this precaution, he was, like his master, accused of impiety. But he succeeded in justifying himself, and taught in Athens until a ripe old age, as he died in 348 B.C. at the age of 81 or 82.

  • 23 [For Ctesias, see note 34, below.]

40Plato’s successor and most famous student is Aristotle. But before going into the works of this giant of Greek science, we shall examine the works of some authors whom we have not yet had the opportunity of mentioning to you, and in whom Aristotle must have found some enlightenment. Some, like Herodotus and Xenophon, were attached to Socrates’s school; others –Hippocrates and Ctesias23– belonged to the medical school or the Asclepiades, who, as I have said, cultivated the sciences solely for the purpose of applying them.

  • 24 Persons who are not naturalists should not conclude from this statement that there exists in Egypt (...)

41Herodotus, the most ancient prose writer whose works have come down to us, was born in 484 at Halicarnassus in Asia Minor. He traveled widely; he visited Egypt, Greece, and a part of the Orient. Preserved in his writings are the first positive facts on natural history. Egyptian science is known only through tradition, and one must not greatly believe in it. But Herodotus inspires much more confidence, for he claims to have seen with his own eyes some of the things he reports. He thus describes with sufficient accuracy the Egyptian crocodile24 and several other productions of that country and of Babylonia. He also describes the hippopotamus, but much less accurately. Aristotle found these various descriptions helpful and sometimes even copied them textually without citing their author.

  • 25 [Xenophon (born 431 B.C., Attica, Greece; died shortly before 350, Attica), Greek historian, autho (...)
  • 26 [Cyrus the Younger (born after 423 B.C., died 401, Cunaxa, Babylonia, now in Iraq), younger son of (...)
  • 27 [Artaxerxes II (fl. late 5th and early 4th centuries B.C.), Achaemenid king of Persia (reigned 404 (...)
  • 28 [Battle of Cunaxa (401 B.C.), battle fought between Cyrus the Younger, satrap of Anatolia, and his (...)
  • 29 [The Retreat of the Ten Thousand, contained within Xenophon’s Anabasis (see notes 25 and 28, above (...)
  • 30 [Xenophon’s Cynegeticus (On Hunting), a short treatise, regarded by some as spurious, contains a w (...)

42Xenophon25, who applied himself to natural history more specifically than did Herodotus, was born about 450 B.C., 15 years after Socrates; he was his student and published a defense of him. He did not consecrate all his time to the study of the natural sciences and he professed no philosophy; he was, for part of his life, a military man and statesman. He was one of the 10,000 auxiliaries sent by Greece to Cyrus the Younger26 to help defend him against his brother Artaxerxes27 in a civil war. At the Battle of Cunaxa28, Cyrus was defeated, and the Greeks had to make their way back to their country. Deprived of their leaders one after another, the command was given to Xenophon, who, by marching along the Euphrates and crossing the mountains of Armenia, succeeded in bringing his compatriots back to Greece. He wrote a well-known history of this perilous retreat under the title of The Retreat of the Ten Thousand29; he also composed various works on ethics and history, as well as a treatise on hunting called Cynegeticus30. Of all his works the latter is the most interesting for naturalists. Xenophon’s aim in this work is to attract the Greeks to hunting, which has many similarities with war and keeps one prepared for war during peace. The author enumerates the many races of dogs and the arms that, in his time, were used in hunting. Among the types of game found in Greece, he names two kinds of hares inhabiting the Peloponnesus. He indicates the usual haunts of wild animals, their means of defense and the tricks they use to escape pursuit. He mentions, as existing in Macedonia and in the north of Greece, the lion, the panther, the jackal, and other animals that today are found only in Africa. Without Xenophon’s book we would not be aware of the extinction of these species in Europe. This idea is the most important one of those that the ancient authors have directly given us on natural history.

43Now we shall run through the works of the two Asclepiades, Hippocrates and Ctesias.

  • 31 [Although little is known of the life of Hippocrates –or, indeed, if he was the only practitioner (...)

44The ideas that Aristotle derived from the school of the Asclepiades are far more important than those he found in Herodotus and Xenophon, because all the experience acquired by the Asclepiades over several centuries is recorded in an admirable work known under the name of Hippocratic Collection.31

45We have already observed that these writings are not the work of one man, and that several physicians bearing the same name participated in gathering them.

  • 32 [Perdiccas (born c. 365 B.C., died 321), general under Alexander the Great who became regent of th (...)
  • 33 [Thucydides (born 460 B.C. or earlier; died after 404 B.C.?), greatest of ancient Greek historians (...)

46The most celebrated of these physicians is the second Hippocrates, seventeenth descendant of Aesculapius, according to his mythological genealogy. He was born at Cos ten years after Socrates and died in Thessaly at the age of 104. His long life enabled him to know Socrates, Plato, and probably Aristotle, who does not mention him but who was living at the court of the Macedonian king when he was summoned there to attend Perdiccas32. Otherwise, the biography of this famous physician is mingled with many fables. It is known from his works that after studying under his father, he traveled widely, but he does not seem to have gone to Egypt. He remained for a long time in Athens where he studied philosophy; there he practiced medicine with great courage during a deadly plague – probably not the one of 430, since Thucydides33 makes no mention of Hippocrates in his account of the ravages of that pestilence. However, it is at this time that Hippocrates is said to have refused gifts from Artaxerxes intended to draw him to Persia where the same plague was raging.

47Hippocrates is, after Herodotus, the first writer to use prose, for it is likely that Plato deferred his writing till a later time. His personal writings are difficult to distinguish, but all those writings known under the name of Hippocrates are notable for a quite advanced knowledge of diseases, their determination or diagnostics, and the proper medicaments for each malady; in this regard, they are still classics. One finds in the Hippocratic Collection another characteristic that one would prefer not to see there, that is, an astonishing ignorance of almost everything relating to anatomy and physiology. The weakness in this regard is nearly equal to that of Plato, and all the more striking since Hippocrates could not, like the author of the Timaeus, confine himself to generalities. What he knew about anatomy did not go beyond the domain of osteology; the practice of amputating and treating the disease of the bones had given him an opportunity of acquiring some knowledge of their conformation.

48It appears that he had also operated on some craniums, for he considered the brain, or, to speak more accurately, the encephalon, to be a spongy organ intended for absorbing the body’s humidity. He did not know the nerves or extensions of the brain – when he used that expression, he meant tendons, ligaments, and all such analogous tissues. The notion of particular organs for sensibility and for the contraction of muscles, which had been observed by painters and sculptors, was absolutely foreign to him. Yet, in his time, it was nearly impossible to acquire any accurate knowledge of the systems in the human body. The religious respect the Greeks had for cadavers was such that any man who dared touch them for any reason other than to render last rites to them would have incurred the penalty of proscription. In Egypt, anatomy, as a result of the practice of embalming, was much more advanced than in Greece; but as I have said, Hippocrates did not visit that country, and his ignorance proves it.

49However, the impossibility of sufficiently observing is not the only reason for the errors presented by the doctor of Cos; one finds others in his writings that have no other source than his imagination. His description of the veins is an irrefragable example of this. According to him, eight veins come from the head: one goes from the forehead to the anterior face of the arm, another goes from the lateral parts of the head towards the posterior part of the same arm, a third one descends to the loins, and so forth; this whole description from start to finish is but an anatomical fiction, and yet it was in conformity with this imagined course of the veins that he carried out his bleedings, for the chosen points of blood-letting were varied by him according to the symptoms displayed by the illnesses.

50His physiology is based on the theory of the four elements of Empedocles and their properties, heat, cold, dry, and moist; it is, like his description of the veins, a work of the imagination, a system constructed entirely a priori.

51One rediscovers the superiority of Hippocrates when one comes to hygiene; in this part of the science he shows himself an excellent observer, expressing reflections as appropriate as they are profound on the influence of nutrition, seasons, and climates.

  • 34 [Ctesias (born c. 416 B.C., Cnidus, Caria), Greek physician and historian of Persia and India whos (...)
  • 35 [Ecbatana, ancient city on the site of which stands the modern city of Hamadan, Iran. Ecbatana was (...)
  • 36 [Photius, see Lesson 20, note 6.]

52Ctesias34 was, like Hippocrates, from the guild of the Asclepiades, but he belonged to the branch established at Cnidus. He followed, as physician, the 10,000 Greeks sent to the aid of Cyrus the Younger and led back home by Xenophon. Less fortunate than these, Ctesias could not return to Greece; taken prisoner at the Battle of Cunaxa, he was detained for seventeen years at the court of Artaxerxes as his physician. After finally returning to Athens, he published a history of Persia and Assyria, and claimed to have delved into documents kept in the archives at Ecbatana35 for his history. He also published an account of travels in India, of which only a few fragments have come down to us, found in the library of Photius36, and which are very curious and of great interest to naturalists. Ctesias gives in them for the first time an accurate description of elephants. Certainly, at the time, the Greeks were using the ivory of these animals; but they did not know its origin, and would not know it until Alexander’s conquests.

53Ctesias is also the first to give a fair description of the parrot. He adds to his description that this animal easily speaks all the languages that it hears, even Greek. Also, he mentions an Indian reed that grows to the height of a ship’s mast and is so thick that two men cannot embrace it. Bamboo is recognizable from this exaggerated description.

  • 37 [The martichore or manticore, a kind of tiger with a human face and three rows of teeth, is the su (...)
  • 38 [Persepolis, an ancient capital of the Achaemenian kings of Iran (Persia), located about 32 miles (...)

54But among some truths, Ctesias tells many stories more or less distant from the reality. Some are altered traditions, others are poorly observed facts or figures poorly interpreted. One of the latter is his story of the martichore37, an animal with the head of a lion, a triple row of teeth, and the tail of a scorpion; its allegorical image is graven on the monuments of Persepolis38. Among fables of this order must be placed that of the unicorn, an animal also often represented in the sculptures at Persepolis, but which is nothing more than a poor approximation of the rhinoceros.

  • 39 [Gum-lac or lac, also spelled lack, sticky, resinous secretion of the tiny lac insect, Laccifer la (...)

55What he reports about an oil floating on the surface of certain lakes, and the yellow amber that some rivers carry along periodically, are poorly interpreted natural facts. The floating oil is naphtha, which covers the surface of several lakes, and the yellow amber is nothing more than gum-lac39 falling from the trees in particles. It is possible to explain in an analogous manner the story of the insects and flowers that give purple dye, and the one about asses that are wild, white, and have horns.

56But Ctesias reports stories that cannot be connected with anything in nature, such as the ones about dog-headed men that expel their excrement through the mouth, women who give birth only once, infants born with all their teeth, men whose hair, contrariwise to nature, is white first and turns dark only with age, griffins that guard gold, and so forth. All fables of this sort that are found again in subsequent authors were imbibed with credulity from the doctor-companion of the Ten Thousand.

57Among the writers from whom Aristotle drew some enlightenment may be mentioned the Pythagoreans Alcmeon, Democritus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and several other authors whom we know of only through citations by Alexander’s tutor.

58In our next meeting we shall embark upon the history of the life and immense works of this great philosopher.

Notas

1 [Socrates of Athens (born in or about 470 B.C., died in 399?) was the first of the great trio of ancient Greeks – Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle – who laid the philosophical foundations of Western culture. As Cicero said, Socrates “brought down philosophy from heaven to earth” – that is, from the nature speculation of the Ionian and Italian cosmologists to analyses of the character and conduct of human life, which he assessed in terms of an original theory of the soul. Living during the chaos of the Peloponnesian War, with its erosion of moral values, Socrates felt called to shore up the ethical dimensions of life by the admonition to “know thyself” and by the effort to explore the connotations of moral and humanistic terms.]

2 [Alcibiades (born c. 450 B.C. at Athens; died 404 at Phrygia, now in Turkey), brilliant but unscrupulous Athenian politician and military commander who provoked the sharp political antagonisms at Athens that were the main causes of Athens’ defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.)]

3 [Plato, see note 14, below.]

4 [Peloponnesian League, also called Spartan Alliance, a military coalition of Greek city-states led by Sparta, formed in the 6th century B.C. League policy, usually decisions on questions of war, peace, or alliance, was determined by federal congresses, summoned by the Spartans when they thought fit; each member state had one vote. The league was a major force in Greek affairs, forming the nucleus of resistance to the Persian invasions (480-479) and fighting against Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431-404). Spartan power declined after the defeat at Leuctra (371), and the league disintegrated in 366-365 B.C.]

5 [The Thirty Tyrants or the Board of Thirty, an aristocratic body that after the overthrow of democracy in 404 B.C. usurped the government of Athens and had many people arbitrarily executed. When the oligarchy of the Thirty Tyrants, wishing to implicate honorable men in their proceedings, instructed Socrates and four others to arrest Leon, one of their victims, Socrates disobeyed – he says in Plato’s Apology that this might have cost him his life but for the counterrevolution of the next year (Plato, The Apology of Plato [with a revised text and English notes, and a digest of Platonic idioms, by Riddell James], New York: Arno Press, 1973, 252 p.)]

6 [Critias, together with Charmides, leaders among the extremists of the oligarchic terror of 404 B.C., were, respectively, cousin and brother of Perictione (Plato’s mother); both were friends of Socrates, and through them Plato must have known the philosopher from boyhood.]

7 [René Descartes (born on 31 March 1596 in La Haye (now Descartes), France; died on 11 February 1650 in Stockholm) is known as the father of modern philosophy. A 17th-century
French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher, he was one of the first to oppose scholastic Aristotelianism. He began by methodically doubting knowledge based on authority, the senses, and reason, then found certainty in the intuition that, when he is thinking, he exists; this he expressed in the famous statement “I think, therefore I am.” He developed a dualistic system in which he distinguished radically between mind, the essence of which is thinking, and matter, the essence of which is extension in three dimensions. Descartes’s metaphysical system is intuitionist, derived by reason from innate ideas, but his physics and physiology, based on sensory knowledge, are mechanistic and empiricist.]

8 [Prytaneum, Greek Prytaneion, town hall of a Greek citystate, normally housing the chief magistrate and the common altar or hearth of the community.]

9 [Megara, modern Greek Mégara, ancient and modern settlement on the Saronic Gulf within Attica nomós (department) of Greece. Modern Megara sits on the southern slopes of two hills that served as the acropolises (citadels) of the ancient town.]

10 He [Euclid] flourished about 400 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Euclid or Eucleides of Megara, Greek philosopher, not to be confused with Euclid (fl. c. 300 B.C., Alexandria), the most prominent mathematician of Greco-Roman antiquity.]

11 He [Antisthenes] flourished about 380 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Antisthenes (born c. 445 B.C., died c. 365), Greek philosopher, of Athens, who was a disciple of Socrates and is considered the founder of the Cynic school of philosophy, though Diogenes of Sinope (died c. 320 B.C., probably at Corinth, Greece) often is given that credit.]

12 [Cyrenaics, adherents of a Greek school of moral philosophy, active around the turn of the 3rd century B.C., which held that the pleasure of the moment is the criterion of goodness and that the good life consists in rationally manipulating situations with a view to their hedonistic (or pleasure-producing) utility.]

13 He [Aristippus] flourished about 380 B.C. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Aristippus (born c. 435 B.C. at Cyrene, Libya; died 366 in Athens), philosopher who was one of Socrates’s disciples and the founder of the Cyrenaic school of hedonism, the ethic of pleasure. The first of Socrates’s disciples to demand a salary for teaching philosophy, Aristippus believed that the good life rests upon the belief that among human values pleasure is the highest and pain the lowest (and one that should be avoided). He also warned his students to avoid inflicting as well as suffering pain. Like Socrates, Aristippus took great interest in practical ethics. While he believed that men should dedicate their lives to the pursuit and enjoyment of pleasure, he also believed that they should use good judgment and exercise self-control to temper powerful human desires. His motto was, “I possess, I am not possessed.” None of his writings survives.]

14 He [Plato] was born in 430 or 429 B.C. [in Athens, or perhaps in Aegina; he died in 348/347]. [M. de St.-Agy.] [Plato was the second of the great trio of ancient Greeks –Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle– who between them laid the philosophical foundations of Western culture. Building on the life and thought of Socrates, Plato developed a profound and wideranging system of philosophy. His thought has logical, epistemological, and metaphysical aspects; but its underlying motivation is ethical. It sometimes relies upon conjectures and myth, and it is occasionally mystical in tone; but fundamentally Plato is a rationalist, devoted to the proposition that reason must be followed wherever it leads. Thus the core of Plato’s philosophy is a rationalistic ethics.]

15 [Timaeus of Locri, see Lesson 5, note 19.]

16 [Archytas of Tarentum (fl. 400-350 B.C. at Tarentum, Magna Graecia, now Taranto, Italy), Greek scientist, philosopher, and major Pythagorean mathematician, who is sometimes called the founder of mathematical mechanics. Plato, a close friend, made use of his work in mathematics, and there is evidence that Euclid borrowed from him for Book 8 of his Elements (see Euclid, Euclid’s Elements: all thirteen books complete in one volume [edited by Densmore Dana; translated by Heat Thomas L.], Santa Fe (New Mexico): Green Lion Press, 2007, xxix + 499 p.) Archytas was also an influential figure in public affairs, and he served for seven years as commander in chief of his city.]

17 [Plato’s Timaeus is an exposition of cosmology, physics, and biology that first draws the distinction between eternal being and temporal becoming and insists that it is only of the former that one can have exact and final knowledge (Plato, Timaeus, Critias, Cleitophon, Menexenus [and] Epistles [with an English translation by Bury Robert Gregg], Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard University Press, 1966, 635 p.) The visible, mutable world had a beginning; it is the work of God, who had its Forms before him as eternal models in terms of which he molded the world as an imitation. God first formed its soul out of three constituents: identity, difference, being. The world soul was placed in the circles of the heavenly bodies, and the circles were animated with movements. Subsequently the various subordinate gods and the immortal and rational element in the human soul were formed. The human body and the lower components of its soul were generated through the intermediacy of the “created gods” (i.e., the stars).]

18 [Hermocrates (died 408/407 B.C.), leader of the moderate democrats of Syracuse, Sicily; he played an important role in saving the city from conquest by the Athenians between 415 and 413 B.C.]

19 [Solon (born c. 630 B.C., died c. 560), Athenian statesman, known as one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. He ended exclusive aristocratic control of the government, substituted a system of control by the wealthy, and introduced a new and more humane law code. He was also a noted poet.]

20 [Empedocles, see Lesson 5, note 21.]

21 Monsieur de Montlosier has reproduced approximately this system in his MysteÌres de la Vie humaine [see Montlosier (François Dominique Raynaud de), Des mysteÌres de la vie humaine [précédés d’une notice sur la vie de l’auteur par M. F. de Montrol.], Paris: Pichon & Didier, 1829, 238 p.] [M. de St.-Agy.] [François Dominique de Reynaud, Comte de Montlosier, French politician and spy, was born at Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) on 16 April 1755, the youngest of a large family belonging to the poorer nobility. His most famous work is Mémoires sur la Révolution française, le Consulat, l’Empire, la Restoration, et les principaux éveÌnements qui l’ont suivie, Paris: Dufay, 1830, 2 vols, 420 p. + 426 p. He died at Blois on 9 December 1838.]

22 [Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (born 21 June 1646, at Leipzig; died 14 November 1716, Hanover), one of the most profound philosopher-scientists of modern times, but probably best known as Isaac Newton’s antagonist in an ill-fated priority battle over the invention of the differential calculus. A philosopher of the Enlightenment, he put great stress on the importance of pure reason, and thought that by it man could transcend the material universe.]

23 [For Ctesias, see note 34, below.]

24 Persons who are not naturalists should not conclude from this statement that there exists in Egypt only one species of crocodile. Monsieur [Étienne] Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire [(born 15 April 1772 at Étampes, France; died 19 June 1844 at Paris), French naturalist who established the principle of “unity of composition,” postulating a single consistent structural plan basic to all animals as a major tenet of comparative anatomy, and who founded teratology, the study of animal malformation] has written a report in which he proves that Egypt produces several species of crocodiles, and that the sacred crocodile, for example, constitutes a particular species [Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (Étienne), “Description de deux crocodiles qui existent dans le Nil, comparés au crocodile de Saint-Domingue”, Annales du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, vol. 10, 1807, pp. 67-86; “Détermination des pièces qui composent le crane des crocodiles”, Annales du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, vol. 10, 1807, pp. 249-264; “Recherches sur l’Organisation des Gavials”, Mémoires du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, vol. 12, 1825, pp. 97-155; “De l’état de l’histoire naturelle chez les Égyptiens avant Hérodote, principalement en ce qui concerne le crocodile”, Séance générale des Académies de l’Institut, 1828, pp. 21-38; see also Le Guyader (Hervé), Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1772-1844: a visionary naturalist, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, 302 p.] [M. de St.-Agy.]

25 [Xenophon (born 431 B.C., Attica, Greece; died shortly before 350, Attica), Greek historian, author of the Anabasis (see Xenophon, Anabasis [with an English translation by Brownson Carleton L.; revised by Dillery John], Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard University Press, 1998, 666 p.), an account in seven books of the campaign of Cyrus the Younger against his brother Artaxerxes II (see note 27, below). Its prose was highly regarded by literary critics in antiquity and had strong influence on Latin literature (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).]

26 [Cyrus the Younger (born after 423 B.C., died 401, Cunaxa, Babylonia, now in Iraq), younger son of the Achaemenian king Darius II and his wife, Parysatis (see notes 27 and 28, below).]

27 [Artaxerxes II (fl. late 5th and early 4th centuries B.C.), Achaemenid king of Persia (reigned 404-359/358). He was the son and successor of Darius II and was surnamed (in Greek) Mnemon, meaning “the mindful.” When Artaxerxes took the Persian throne, the power of Athens had been broken in the Peloponnesian War (431-404), and the Greek towns across the Aegean Sea in Ionia were again subjects of the Achaemenid Empire. In 404, however, Artaxerxes lost Egypt, and in the following year his brother Cyrus the Younger began preparations for his rebellion. Although Cyrus was defeated and killed at Cunaxa (401), the rebellion had dangerous repercussions, for it not only demonstrated the superiority of the Greek hoplites used by Cyrus but also led the Greeks to believe that Persia was vulnerable.]

28 [Battle of Cunaxa (401 B.C.), battle fought between Cyrus the Younger, satrap of Anatolia, and his brother-Artaxerxes II over the Achaemenian throne. Attempting to overthrow Artaxerxes, Cyrus massed his forces and marched inland from Sardis against his brother. The two armies met unexpectedly at Cunaxa, on the left bank of the Euphrates River north of Babylon. Greek mercenaries under Clearchus, nearly 13,000 strong and the best trained and equipped troops in Cyrus’s army, routed the Persian left with few casualties, while Cyrus himself charged Artaxerxes’s center with 600 cavalry. Cyrus succeeded in wounding his brother but was killed. When the Greeks returned, they found that the rest of Cyrus’s troops had been routed and his camp plundered. They formed ranks again, thus discouraging Artaxerxes from attacking them, and, in their famous “Retreat of the Ten Thousand” under Xenophon, they succeeded in marching through hostile country to the Black Sea.]

29 [The Retreat of the Ten Thousand, contained within Xenophon’s Anabasis (see notes 25 and 28, above).]

30 [Xenophon’s Cynegeticus (On Hunting), a short treatise, regarded by some as spurious, contains a wealth of technical information and seeks to justify hunting as a training for war and for all that requires quick thinking and quick action (Godolphin (Francis Richard Borroum) (ed.), The Greek historians, op. cit.)]

31 [Although little is known of the life of Hippocrates –or, indeed, if he was the only practitioner of the time using this name– a body of manuscripts, called the Hippocratic Collection (Corpus Hippocraticum), survived until modern times (Hippocrates, The genuine works of Hippocrates [translated from the Greek, with a preliminary discourse and annotations, by Adams Francis], London: Printed for the Sydenham society, 1849, 2 vols). In addition to containing information on medical matters, the collection embodied a code of principles for the teachers of medicine and for their students. This code, or a fragment of it, has been handed down in various versions through generations of physicians as the Hippocratic oath (Hippocrates, On Ancient Medicine [translated, with introduction and commentary by Schiefsky Mark J.], Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2005, 415 p.) The text of the oath itself is divided into two major sections. The first sets out the obligations of the physician to students of medicine and the duties of pupil to teacher. In the second section the physician pledges to prescribe only beneficial treatments, according to his abilities and judgment; to refrain from causing harm or hurt; and to live an exemplary personal and professional life.]

32 [Perdiccas (born c. 365 B.C., died 321), general under Alexander the Great who became regent of the Macedonian empire after Alexander’s death (323).]

33 [Thucydides (born 460 B.C. or earlier; died after 404 B.C.?), greatest of ancient Greek historians and author of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the struggle between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century B.C. His work was the first recorded political and moral analysis of a nation’s war policies (see Thucydides, The Complete Writings of Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War [The unabridged Crawley translation; with an introduction by Gavorse Joseph], New York: The Modern Library, 1934, xxviii + 516 p.)]

34 [Ctesias (born c. 416 B.C., Cnidus, Caria), Greek physician and historian of Persia and India whose works were the only historical writings of his time based on official Persian sources. Ctesias traveled to the Persian court, where he remained as physician for 17 years under the rulers Darius II and Artaxerxes Mnemon. He apparently accompanied the latter to the Battle of Cunaxa in 401. Returning to Greece in 398, Ctesias began writing his Persica, a history of Assyria-Babylonia in 23 books covering the period of the ancient Assyrian monarchy, the founding of the Persian kingdom, and the history of Persia down to 398 B.C. Although his material was gathered from Persian archives and state records, its credibility is dubious because of its legendary quality and the fact that Ctesias was writing expressly to contradict the chronology of the Greek historian Herodotus. The work no longer exists, except in an abstract compiled by the patriarch Photius of Constantinople (fl. c. 860; see Photius, The library of Photius [translated by Freese John Henri], London: Society for promoting Christian knowledge; NewYork: Macmillan Co, 1920, 243 p.) Ctesias also wrote a history of India based on reports of Persian visitors and of Indian merchants and envoys to the Persian court (Ctesias, La Perse; L’Inde; Autres fragments, Ctésias de Cnide [edited and translated in French by Lenfant Dominique], Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2004, CCVII + 399 p.) Although legendary and fabulous, it was the only systematic account of India until Alexander the Great’s invasion of that country.]

35 [Ecbatana, ancient city on the site of which stands the modern city of Hamadan, Iran. Ecbatana was the capital of Media and was subsequently the summer residence of the Achaemenian kings and one of the residences of the Parthian kings.]

36 [Photius, see Lesson 20, note 6.]

37 [The martichore or manticore, a kind of tiger with a human face and three rows of teeth, is the subject of only one of several fables that originate with Ctesias –others include the Cynoscephalae, a mountain tribe of people with dog’s heads, probably stemming from a translation of the Indian word svapâka, meaning people who live and eat with the dogs, an indication of people belonging to a very low caste; a people with one big foot, probably a misunderstanding of the practice of certain holy men who stand in unusual poses for a long time, usually on one foot; and the Pygmees, who are 90 centimeters high, have large genitals, and very long beards, which they use as coat –all fairy-tale beings who were later to become popular in ancient and medieval bestiaries.]

38 [Persepolis, an ancient capital of the Achaemenian kings of Iran (Persia), located about 32 miles (51 km) northeast of Shiraz in the region of Fars in southwestern Iran. The site lies near the confluence of the small river Pulvar (Rudkhaneh-ye Sivand) with the Rud-e Kor.]

39 [Gum-lac or lac, also spelled lack, sticky, resinous secretion of the tiny lac insect, Laccifer lacca, a species of scale insect. This insect deposits lac on the twigs and young branches of several varieties of soapberry and acacia trees and particularly on the sacred fig, Ficus religiosa, in India, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The lac is harvested predominantly for the production of shellac and lac dye, a red dye widely used in India and other Asian countries. Forms of lac, including shellac, are the only commercial resins of animal origin.]

Índice de ilustraciones

Leyenda RUINES OF PERSEPOLIS. Detail of a 1663 engraving by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1667), etcher and engraver from Bohemia. Original format: 26 x 33 cm.
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