Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Cuvier’s History of the Natural Sciences

 | 
Georges Cuvier

7. The Middle Age and Early Renaissance / Le Moyen age et la Pré-Renaissance

20. The Byzantine Empire

Texte intégral

  • 1 [Saint Cyril of Alexandria (born c. 375; died 27 June 444; Western feast day 27 June Eastern feast (...)

1The first of the Byzantine authors is Saint Cyril1, patriarch of Alexandria from 412 to 443. We have his brief work on plants and animals.

  • 2 [This Aëtius is probably Aëtius Amidenus or Aëtius of Amida, court physician of Justinian I, who w (...)

2A physician named Aëtius2 also wrote a short book on natural history. The arrangement of its subject conforms to the order that Genesis gives to the Creation. The author wrote with the theological aim that we have noted in Eustathius and Saint Ambrose; all of his thinking relates to religion. This work is of little importance and scarcely merits being mentioned.

  • 3 [George the Pisidian, Greek Georgios Pisides (fl. early seventh century), Byzantine epic poet, his (...)
  • 4 [Griffin, composite mythological creature with a lion’s body (winged or wingless) and a bird’s hea (...)
  • 5 [Roc, gigantic legendary bird, said to carry off elephants and other large beasts for food. It is (...)

3Towards the middle of the seventh century, a deacon named George Pisides composed a poem of which we possess some 1,800 lines.3 At that time all writings were, in the final analysis, courses in theology. Pisides’s poem is also based on the Creation in six days and can be considered an imitation of the book of Job. With descriptions of real animals, the author, who is actually a compiler, mingles a multitude of fables. After discussing the elephant, the camel, and other real species, he describes the mythical griffin,4 a winged monster so prodigiously strong that it flew away with an ox. For the first time, the bird that the Arabians call the roc is mentioned,5 and its tradition has since remained among them. And he speaks of the silkworm as of an object of contempt: he wonders that men should avail themselves of the apparel of a worm.

  • 6 [Saint Photius (born c. 820, Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey; died probably 6 February 891, B (...)
  • 7 [For the Bibliotheca, see Photius, The library of Photius [translated by Freese John Henri], Londo (...)

4Photius,6 named patriarch of Constantinople in 857 and who died in 886, is one of the most remarkable men produced by the Greek Empire. It was he who affected the schism between the Greek and Latin Churches and made the patriarchs of Constantinople the rivals of the bishops of Rome. It cannot be denied that he was greatly learned; the book he has left us, entitled Bibliotheca,7 is a stunning proof of this. It is a collection of numerous excerpts from the books he had read. He begins each extract with the words I have read a certain book, and for each book he gives carefully detailed selections that are very valuable for ancient literature. The number of authors whose important passages he records comes to a hundred and sixty-seven. A hundred of these authors are known to us and we have thus been able to confirm the accuracy of Photius’s excerpts.

  • 8 [Damatius is apparently Marcus Damatius Urbanus, but we can find no reference to the hippopotamus (...)

5We naturalists have taken very little from the work of this famous patriarch. We are only obliged to him for what is known of the work of Ctesias and Agatharchides, whom I mentioned to you earlier. It is owing to Photius, too, that we have extracts from the narratives of Damatius,8 a Platonist philosopher. This philosopher is of interest to us in that he speaks of the hippopotamus and the crocodile.

  • 9 [Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, also called Constantine VII Flavius Porphyrogenitus (born Septem (...)
  • 10 [Constantine VII’s Administration of the Empire or De administrando imperio treated of the Slavic (...)

6Among the Byzantine authors we find an emperor, Constantine Porphyrogenitus,9 born in the purple, and who owes his surname to such a circumstance, rare in his day. This unfortunate prince was very learned; he was engaged in everything that had to do with useful knowledge. His treatise on The Administration of the Empire10 is very interesting; in it are found many curious details about the provinces that made up this empire, and on the ceremonies then in use. Also in it is extensive information on the Slav peoples who occupied the east of Europe. Without Constantine’s writings, we would not have this knowledge. His treatise contains the story of the first Russian empress’s conversion to Christianity, the baptism of her people, and her first visit to Constantinople.

  • 11 [Cassianus Bassus, called Scholasticus (lawyer), one of the geoponici, a group of writers who focu (...)
  • 12 [The Geoponics of Cassianus Bassus is a collection of agricultural literature, compiled at the end (...)
  • 13 [Mago, also spelled Magon (died c. 203 B.C.), a leading Carthaginian general during the Second Pun (...)
  • 14 [Cassius Dionysius (fl. 88 B.C., Utica, now in Tunisia), ancient North African writer on botany an (...)
  • 15 [Diophanes of Nicaea or Diophanes the Bithynian, an ancient Greek agricultural writer of the first (...)

7Another work carries the name of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, a treatise on agriculture, which he had Cassianus Bassus11 compile. This treatise is entitled Geoponics12 and its arrangement is very like that of the works of Columella and Varro on the same subject. It is merely a compilation but a noteworthy one in that it acquaints us with names and excerpts of more than thirty ancient authors who also wrote on agriculture. The Carthaginian Mago,13 for example, who flourished about 140 B. C., and who wrote twenty-eight books on agriculture, is cited in it. This work was all that Scipio preserved for himself from the spoils of Carthage. The senate had it translated into Latin by Cassius Dionysius,14 a writer from Utica; it was also translated into Greek and abridged by Diophanes of Nicaea15 in Bithynia. These two translations are lost.

  • 16 [Juba II (born c. 50 B.C., died c. A.D. 24), son of Juba I and king of the North African states of (...)

8The treatise by Cassianus Bassus also contains an extract from Juba,16 the king of Mauritania who wrote on various subjects relating to natural history. Cassianus Bassus reports that, among other things, he had written about wine and the harvesting of grapes, olives and their oil, the evergreen trees of the forests, and the raising of animals. He also reports that when Juba was writing about the preparation of food, he mentioned the famous garum, a sauce made from the intestines of certain fishes, especially the mackerel, which were placed between layers of salt and condensed after fermenting.

  • 17 [In Greek mythology, Phyleus was a son of King Augeas of Elis and father of Meges, but we have bee (...)
  • 18 [Michael IX Palaeologus (born c. 1277; died 12 October 1320, Thessalonica, Byzantine Empire), Byza (...)
  • 19 [On the Nature of Animals: we have been unable to identify this work; see note 17, above.]

9The last of the Byzantine authors of the Middle Ages is Manuel Phyleus of Ephesus,17 who lived during the thirteenth century. He wrote a short work, dedicated to Michael Palaeologus,18 entitled On the Nature of Animals.19 This book is composed of a series of short stanzas, in each of which the author writes about a different animal; it is a sort of abridgement in verse of Aelian. This work is almost useless for science.

10We can see from our examination of the Byzantine authors that they added nothing to the knowledge possessed by the ancients.

11However, they had one merit –namely, that of having opened up a new direction for the human spirit by laying the foundations of chemistry, which is today one of the more highly developed branches of physical science.

12We have seen that the ancient Egyptians knew some practical procedures, some formulas for chemical compounds used in the arts. But everything leads us to believe that they had no theory of chemistry, nothing that might be considered formal knowledge of the reciprocal action of the various substances with which they were familiar. If, at the commencement of the Middle Ages, it was believed that the Egyptians had possessed a deep and mysterious science of chemistry, it was mainly because, at that time, the chemical knowledge of ancient Egypt had been completely forgotten. Secondly, because Egypt’s monuments were covered with strange characters and bizarre symbols, the meaning of which seemed forever lost, it was supposed that this country of impenetrable ceremonial language must have possessed a deep understanding of the various branches of human science.

13Under the influence of such beliefs, the first Byzantine authors who obtained new results by studying the reactions of bodies presented their results under the name of Hermes, whom the Egyptians considered the inventor of the sciences, and who is the same as the Thoth of the Greeks and the Mercury of the Latins; they claimed to possess the secret science of the ancient Egyptians and went so far as to ascribe to Hermes himself the works they had written.

14Alchemy was originally designated by the name of hermetical science, and we have seen that the word chemistry indicates the country where that science was first studied, since Chem or Chim is the ancient name for Egypt; but it does not seem that the transmutation of metals into gold was attempted in that country. It is in the Byzantine authors that this is mentioned for the first time; Pliny did not mention it, nor did the other compilers of whom I have spoken. Suidas, who wrote in the tenth century, is the first author who writes of the art of transforming metal, an art that he calls chemia. He claims that this skill was learned from the ancient Egyptians and that they had written down its description in books that Diocletian had caused to be burned; but Suidas is the only one who speaks of these so-called facts. The same author, preoccupied as he is with the loss of the secret of transforming metal, claims that the fabulous Jason’s Golden Fleece was actually a book containing the revelation of the true way of making gold. This is Suidas’s own assertion; nevertheless, it is brought up elsewhere, but not under the name of chemistry.

  • 20 [Johann Christoph Baron von Aretin (born 2 December 1773, Ingolstadt; died 24 December 1824, Munic (...)
  • 21 [Greek fire, a combustible composition the constituents of which are supposed to have been asphalt (...)
  • 22 [Hermetical books or Hermetic writings, also called Hermetica, works of revelation on occult, theo (...)
  • 23 [Agathodemon, also Agathodaimon or Agathodaemon, a good spirit or demon that was worshipped by the (...)
  • 24 [Porphyry, original name Malchus (born c. 234, Tyre [modern Sur, Lebanon] or Batanaea [in modern S (...)
  • 25 [Iamblichus (born c. A.D. 250, Chalcis, Coele Syria, now in Lebanon; died c. 330), Syrian philosop (...)

15It seems that as early as the seventh century the Byzantines began to carry out chemical experiments. A host of works composed at Constantinople on the new science of chemistry was ascribed to Hermes. But their style indicates clearly that they were written by the monks of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. Most of these works still exist as manuscripts in various European libraries; Paris, Vienna, and Munich possess many of them. Baron Aretin20 claims to have found in one of these books at Munich the secret of making Greek fire,21 that dreadful weapon that produced a fire that could not be extinguished except by vinegar and other substances that are not always at hand. Greek fire was of great utility to the Byzantines: with its aid they were able to repulse the Arabians, who had carried their conquests as far as Constantinople and had laid siege to that city. The Byzantines attached great importance to the secret of making Greek fire, and Constantine Porphyrogenitus forbade his son ever to reveal the secret to the Turks. This secret was so well guarded that it was finally lost. To this day we do not know it, for I do not think Baron Aretin left us the formula, which he said he had found in the Hermetical books.22 Of all the manuscripts we possess from this time, there is not one that contains information of any advantage to us today. But this does not mean that the experiments described in these books were of no use to the progress of a science that had just been born, and although it erred in seeking a goal impossible of attainment, the science still provided results valuable for the time. We should preserve as elements of interest for the history of the science the manuscripts containing the research results of the first Byzantine authors; but their publication would be useless, for no advantage would result from it. It is even probable that most of the results recorded in the so-called Hermetical manuscripts are erroneous; for the falsifiers who published them under spurious names probably also imposed spuriousness upon the matter of these books. Most of the titles are strange and reveal either their authors’ superstitious ideas or their intention of deceiving the public. Here are some of the titles: Emerald table, Physical coloring, Coloring of the sun and moon, Coloring of precious stones, etc. Not all such books were published under the name of Hermes: some were ascribed to Agathodemon;23 to Moses, who is represented as a great chemist because he liquefied the golden calf to be drunk by the Israelites; to Democritus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Cleopatra, Porphyry,24 and Iamblichus.25 All these attributions are entirely false, for no passage in these works –nor even a mention of these works– can be found among the ancient writers.

16To the Byzantines alone belongs the search for the transmutation of metal, a secret vainly sought, but the search gave rise to important results, for our metallic chemistry owes its origin to the vain efforts of the alchemists. However, the Arabians are the first to attribute to the substance that was claimed capable of changing metals into gold the much more precious virtue of being a universal panacea, a remedy for all diseases. According to the alchemists, all metals were combinations of one sole substance –the metal itself– and the various foreign bodies that altered its purity. To the extent that these bodies were present, combined in larger or smaller proportions, the metal was more or less base. The Arabians said that, of all the metals, gold was the one in which the heterogeneous admixture was the least. In fact, perhaps for some alchemists gold was the elementary metal, metal pure and simple.

17This doctrine, although admittedly quite erroneous, relied, like the majority of errors uttered by cultivated men, on the observation of actual facts. Metals are hardly ever found in the ground in the state of purity required for their use in the arts. They are usually extracted from their stratum in the form of ore; in other words, they are combined with various foreign substances from which they must be separated before they can be used. Now, since alchemists were thinking that every ore contained an identical metal, and that if like results were not obtained from every ore, any difference was due to the pure metal’s having been combined in a greater or smaller proportion with foreign matter that altered its original nature, the idea must have occurred to them to look for an agent active enough to refine the various metals completely, whatever their combination, and also to separate from inferior metals the elements that prevented them from being pure gold. Next, they had the idea that a substance capable of isolating matter that altered the purity of metals must also be capable of purging the human body of the morbific principle that disturbed the action of its organs –in a word, it would produce in man healthful effects.

18The Arabian physicians reasoned thus, and their error, although supported only by a mere play upon words, plagued medicine until recent times.

  • 26 [Muhammad, in full, Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim (born c. (...)

19The Arabians, originating in the country that bears their name, from the very beginning led a life of wandering on their wide sandy plains sparsely strewn with oases. However, along the coast, some better-favored valleys contained cities and seaports. It was in one of these cities, of course, that Muhammad26 was born, a speculative soul who had some knowledge of the religions, of Christianity, which had become widespread, of Judaism, which is still there, and of Sabaism, or star worship, the latter being at the time the most widespread of all in the cities of the coast. Christianity seemed to him difficult to understand, and Judaism difficult of observance. Towards the beginning of the seventh century, he established a new religion, disencumbered of all that had seemed to him puerile in the others. At first he was expelled; but he returned triumphant and was soon at the head of an immense army, raised with a swiftness that can only be compared to the alacrity with which the Mogul hordes would be united. On the other hand, nothing is easier than collecting an army from among those nomadic peoples, who have all the qualities necessary for making excellent soldiers.

  • 27 [Rayas, low social ranking, for example, a non-Moslim subject of the Ottoman Empire.]

20Muhammad preached with enthusiasm the religion he said had been revealed to him, and he soon conquered all of Arabia. One of the precepts imposed on those who adopted his religion was the obligation of bringing all peoples under its yoke by the sword. And yet, those who persisted in their ancient beliefs might be permitted free exercise of their worship and the possession of property, provided that they submitted to paying a tax to the true believers and that they accepted the rank of rayas.27 But such as these were soon oppressed, in spite of the guarantees given them. The Arabians, converted to Muhammadanism, extended their dominion with frightening rapidity and seized several provinces of the Byzantine Empire. Their conquests took on a peculiar character that fundamentally distinguished them from conquests by the Germanic nations in the Western Empire. The Germanic peoples were neighboring tribes that were sometimes enemies, sometimes allies, and the empire that they broke up had been growing weak for a long time. The conquerors of the Eastern Empire were savages that, having suddenly left their deserts, rushed upon civilized peoples and invaded them with the suddenness of a flood.

  • 28 [Abu Bakr, also called As-Siddiq (Arabic: “The Upright”) (born c. 573, died 23 August 23, 634), Mu (...)
  • 29 [Charles Martel (born c. 688; died 22 October 741, Quierzy-sur-Oise, France), mayor of the palace (...)
  • 30 [Abul Abbas or Abu al-’Abbas as-Saffah (born 722; died 754, Al-Anbar, Iraq), Islamic caliph (reign (...)
  • 31 [Ali, in full Ali Ibn Abu Talib (born c. 600, Mecca; died January 661, Kufah, Iraq), son-in-law of (...)

21Muhammad retreated to Medina in 622 and died in 632; hence, ten years was all he had needed to conquer the whole of Arabia. Only eight years after his death, that is, by the third caliphate, the empire of the Arabians was immense. These people soon brought their armies under the walls of Constantinople, which, as we have said, saved itself by Greek fire. Under Abu Bakr,28 the successor of Muhammad, they penetrated Syria as far as the fertile plains of Damas. The caliph Omar, who took the title of emperor at the death of Abu Bakr, subjugated the richest lands of Syria, and Mesopotamia, Judea, and Egypt; after bloody battles he entered Persia and began to bring down the throne. In 713, the Arabians conquered Spain; in 714, Georgia; and in 732, they reached France and occupied Languedoc, where they were defeated by Charles Martel.29 That prince’s historic victory saved Europe from their invasions, and after that epoch, the caliphs lost their power. This weakening was especially hastened by an internal revolution that resulted in the caliphate’s passing from the Ommiad dynasty to Abul Abbas,30 founder of the Abbasid dynasty. The latter family and its partisans underwent fearful struggles against the defenders of the dethroned dynasty and followers of Ali.31

22The caliphate was dismembered on all sides. The Saracens of Spain formed a separate empire that was governed by a caliph in Cordova. Independent caliphates also sprang up in Egypt and in various parts of Africa.

  • 32 [Musulmans, an archaic term for Muslims, also Mohammedans or Mohammetans, those who practice the r (...)

23By 832, the caliphs had become completely degenerate. Shut away in their seraglios, they had at their service Tartars who had settled near the Caspian Sea and who did not hesitate to treat them as the Praetorian guard had treated the Roman emperors, giving them power to rule or taking it away from them, according to caprice. Some of the Tartar chiefs were appointed provincial governors and became independent in their province. Such political situations occurred, for example, in Syria and Egypt. Finally, in 933, the last of the caliphs, deposed by the Turkish military, was reduced to begging his bread at the gate of the great mosque in Baghdad. Afterwards, the power of the caliphs of Baghdad was religious only and stayed that way until 1358. The caliphate of Egypt was maintained until the sixteenth century, but then it was utterly destroyed and its power was conferred upon the Grand Turk –by some of the Musulmans,32 at any rate, for they do not all regard this prince as the head of their religion.

24The sciences were long uncultivated by the Arabians; only the eight or ten Abbasid caliphs protected the sciences; the Ommiads, who reigned before them, were too busy with their conquests to attend to the sciences, and later, when the conquests were ended, they were too weak to aid in the development of the human spirit.

  • 33 [Nestorius (born late fourth century A.D., Germanicia, Syria Euphratensis, Asia Minor, now Maras, (...)

25The Arabians had found education widespread in Egypt and in some parts of Persia. As early as the third century, a medical school, founded by the Greeks, was flourishing in Persia; but it was especially on account of the persecution carried out against the Nestorians that the sciences had been spread in the latter country. Nestorius33 was bishop of Constantinople about the year 428. He professed that Mary was the mother of Christ but refused to consider her the mother of God. His followers were many, but after his opinion was condemned in 431, he and his followers were persecuted and were forced to leave their homeland. They took refuge in Persia, for that was the only country where they might escape persecution. The rigorous measures taken against them did not succeed, for there are still many Nestorians throughout Asia. During their Persian exile, the Nestorians founded many schools, which were highly successful and which the Arabians found flourishing when they made their conquest of Persia.

  • 34 [Hermias of Atarneus, Aristotle’s father-in-law. He is first mentioned as a slave to Eubulus, a By (...)
  • 35 [Eulalius (died 423), antipope from December 418 to April 419. He was an archdeacon set up against (...)
  • 36 [Priscian, Latin in full Priscianus Caesariensis (fl. c. A.D. 500, born Caesarea, Mauritania, now (...)
  • 37 [Damascius (born c. A.D. 480, died c. 550), Greek Neoplatonist philosopher and last in the success (...)
  • 38 [Isidore of Alexandria, Greek philosopher and one of the last of the Neoplatonists, who lived in A (...)
  • 39 [King Chosroes or Khosrow I, byname Khosrow Anushirvan (Persian: “Khosrow of the Immortal Soul”), (...)

26In 529, new inroads by the sciences took place in the East. When Justinian abolished the philosophical schools of Athens and Alexandria and was persecuting the pagans, the Platonists decided to leave the empire, and they retired to Persia: Seven philosophers –Diogenes, Hermias,34 Eulalius,35 Priscian,36 Damascius,37 Isidore,38 and Simplicius– united in friendship and adhering to the ancient beliefs, went to King Chosroes39 and asked for protection.

27Among the scientific establishments founded in Persia by the Nestorians, their medical schools are especially noteworthy in that they served as models for all those that exist today in Europe. Before the founding of these schools, the medical profession had been completely free and anyone believing himself capable of practicing the profession could do so without opposition by the government. In the public schools established by the Nestorians, the students took courses and submitted to obligatory examinations. These schools alone had the right to grant a certificate, without which no one could practice medicine.

  • 40 [We have not been able to identify Hareth-ebn Keldat.]

28Muhammad himself praised the knowledge of the Nestorians; his physician and friend, Hareth-ebn Keldat,40 was a Nestorian. It was also the Nestorians who separated medicine from pharmaceutics; in antiquity, as you know, physicians were also pharmacists and surgeons. The Nestorians, by creating pharmacists as such, set up a code that was to serve as a rule for preparing medicines; thus, it is entirely to them that we are obliged for the first seeds of the medical policy that exists in our time.

29The Nestorians did not remain in Persia; they became spread throughout the East and penetrated even into China. The proof of their sojourn in the latter country is in an inscription that the Jesuits found there, the authenticity of which was mistakenly denied in the past century.

  • 41 [Syriac, a writing system used by the Syriac Christians from the first century A.D. until about th (...)
  • 42 [Saint Albertus Magnus, see Lesson 23, note 1.]

30The Nestorians are undoubtedly the principal teachers of the Arabians. They translated into Syriac41 the most important works of antiquity, notably those by Aristotle and Galen. Syriac was more accessible to the Arabians than Greek, since Syriac is an Arabic dialect. Several of these Syriac versions were then translated into Arabic by order of the early Abbasids; but such translations of translations are liable to cause many errors, and in fact they are rife with inaccuracies. Further alterations were produced later by Albertus Magnus42 and other authors of the thirteenth century, when they retranslated for Western nations Arabic versions already so remote from the originals. Owing to such diverse translations, the West’s knowledge of Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Galen was at fourth hand, while the true text of these authors was rotting in abbatial libraries.

  • 43 [Almanzor is Abu Ja’far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur (born 712, died 775), the second Abbasid C (...)
  • 44 [We have not been able to identify George Batiseka.]

31Almanzor,43 who reigned from 753 to 775 and founded Baghdad, established a university in that city and made it the center of the sciences. In the execution of his projects he followed the advice of his physician, George Batiseka,44 a Nestorian from Syria. Baghdad harbored at this time more than six thousand scholars.

  • 45 [Harun ar-Rashid, in full Harun ar-Rashid ibn Muhammad al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur al-’Abbasi (born Feb (...)

32The most famous of the successors of Muhammad, Harun ar-Rashid,45 who was caliph from 786 to 809, kept artists at his court that were far superior to those of his contemporary, Charlemagne, for whom he professed the greatest respect. He sent embassies to this king of France, and made a gift to him of the first wheeled clock seen in the West; he also sent him the first elephant in France. This elephant was put to great use by naturalists, who for a long time stubbornly denied the existence of fossil bones: every time elephant bones were uncovered in France, they said that the bones were those of the animal sent by Harun; if this were the case, the caliph’s elephant would have had to be multiplied like the Five Loaves.

  • 46 [Mamum or al-Ma’mun, in full Abu al-’Abbas ‘Abd Allah al-Ma’ Mun ibn ar-Rashid (born 786, Baghdad; (...)

33From 813 to 833, Mamum,46 one of Harun’s sons, carried the love of science to the point of making war on the emperor of Constantinople in order to force him to send professors and written works. It was under the reign of this caliph that the Arabians became versed in all the sciences known to the Greeks.

  • 47 [For Motawakhel or Mutawwakil (died 861), caliph of Baghdad, see Kennedy (Hugh), When Baghdad rule (...)
  • 48 [Abdalla-Tif, Abdallatif, or Abd-UI-Latif (born 1162, Baghdad; died 1231, Baghdad), a celebrated p (...)

34Motawakhel,47 who established a library at Alexandria, seems to have been the last Arabian leader who had a liking for the sciences and was favorable towards them. They underwent great development, but two essential things were lacking –dissection and drawing. In the eyes of the Musulmen, it was a crime to touch a corpse other than to bury it; they believed that the soul escaped from the body gradually as the body became decomposed, and so they rejected with horror an activity such as dissection that violently detached the soul from the body. The most zealous claimed it was a sin to draw a portrait of any man or woman, and even of an animal: “What shalt thou say to this fish,” said they, “on the day of judgment when it asks thee for its soul?” Thus, the Arabians knew nothing of anatomy except what they learned from the translations of Galen. However, one of their authors, Abdalla-Tif,48 happened to see an entombed skeleton that had been exposed by a landslide, and it occurred to him to rectify two erroneous opinions of Galen about the number of bones composing the jaw and about the sternum.

35Chemistry, which, unlike anatomy and zoology, was not hindered by religious prejudices, made rather remarkable progress among the Arabians. They enriched this science with a number of valuable data. They also made progress in botany, medicine, and even geography, since they explored regions that had been unknown to the Greeks. Finally, if astronomy were not outside our plan of study, we would discuss several discoveries made in this science by the Arabians.

Notes

1 [Saint Cyril of Alexandria (born c. 375; died 27 June 444; Western feast day 27 June Eastern feast day 9 June), Christian theologian and bishop active in the complex doctrinal struggles of the fifth century. He is chiefly known for his campaign against Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, whose views on Christ’s nature were to be declared heretical. Cyril was named a doctor of the church in 1882.]

2 [This Aëtius is probably Aëtius Amidenus or Aëtius of Amida, court physician of Justinian I, who wrote a medical encyclopedia called the Sixteen Medical Books or Tetrabibloi (see Aëtius, The gynaecology and obstetrics of the 6th century, A.D. [translated from the Latin edition of Cornarius, 1542, and fully annotated by Ricci James V.], Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1950, xiii + 215 p.; Aetii medici graeci Contractae ex veteribus medicinae tetrabiblos, hoc est quaternio, id est libri universales quatuor, singuli quatuor sermones complecte[n] tes, ut sint in summa quatuor sermonum quaterniones, id est sermones XVI. per Janum Cornarium..., Basileae: [impensis Hier. Frobenii, et Nic. Episcopii], 1542, [6] + 932 + [30] f.), which documents the medical knowledge of the Late Antique period, drawing on previous medical authors, including Galen (see Lesson 16, above) and the encyclopedia of Oribasius (born c. 320, died c. 400; a Greek medical writer and the personal physician of the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate; see Oribasius, Dieting for an emperor [a translation of books 1 and 4 of Oribasius’s Medical compilations with an introduction and commentary by Grant Mark], Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997, xii + 388 p.)]

3 [George the Pisidian, Greek Georgios Pisides (fl. early seventh century), Byzantine epic poet, historian, and cleric whose classically structured verse was acclaimed as a model for medieval Greek poetry, but whose arid, bombastic tone manifested Hellenism’s cultural decline. George’s major work, the Hexaëmeron (“Of Six Days”), a rhapsody on the beauty of creation and the Creator’s wisdom, was popularized through translations into Armenian and Slavic languages (see George the Pisidian, Patrologiae cursus completus [edited by Migne Jacques Paul & Hamman Adalbert-Gautier], Paris: Garnier Frères, 1958, 5 vols (Series Latina; Supplementum)). Other writings included the moralistic elegy De vanitate vitae (“On the Vanity of Life”), in the manner of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes; a “Hymn to the Resurrection,” celebrating Christ’s triumph over life and death; and, to support Heraclius’s religious politics, a metrical polemic, “Against Wicked Severus,” attacking the patriarch of Antioch and leader of the independent Syrian Monophysite Church. With his impeccable style and fluidity of expression, George was compared to the fifth-century-B.C. Greek tragedian Euripides. Although he enjoyed the reputation of being perhaps the outstanding Byzantine poet of the iambic form, his obvious imitation of classical Greek authors and his pretentious imagery evoked negative reactions from later critics.]

4 [Griffin, composite mythological creature with a lion’s body (winged or wingless) and a bird’s head, usually that of an eagle. The griffin was a favorite decorative motif in the ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean lands. Probably originating in the Levant in the second millennium B.C., the griffin had spread throughout western Asia and into Greece by the fourteenth century B.C. The Asiatic griffin had a crested head, whereas the Minoan and Greek griffin usually had a mane of spiral curls. It was shown either recumbent or seated on its haunches, often paired with the sphinx; its function may have been protective.]

5 [Roc, gigantic legendary bird, said to carry off elephants and other large beasts for food. It is mentioned in the famous collection of Arabic tales, The Thousand and One Nights, and by the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, who referred to it in describing Madagascar and other islands off the coast of eastern Africa. According to Marco Polo, Kublai Khan inquired in those parts about the roc and was brought what was claimed to be a roc’s feather, which may really have been a Raphia palm frond.]

6 [Saint Photius (born c. 820, Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey; died probably 6 February 891, Bordi, Armenia; canonized in the tenth century; feast day 6 February), patriarch of Constantinople (858-867 and 877-886), defender of the autonomous traditions of his church against Rome and leading figure of the ninth-century Byzantine renascence.]

7 [For the Bibliotheca, see Photius, The library of Photius [translated by Freese John Henri], London: Society for promoting Christian knowledge; New York: Macmillan Co, 1920, 243 p.]

8 [Damatius is apparently Marcus Damatius Urbanus, but we can find no reference to the hippopotamus or crocodile attributable to him in the works of Photius.]

9 [Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, also called Constantine VII Flavius Porphyrogenitus (born September 905, Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey; died 9 November 959), Byzantine emperor from 913 to 959. His writings are one of the best sources of information on the Byzantine Empire and neighboring areas.]

10 [Constantine VII’s Administration of the Empire or De administrando imperio treated of the Slavic and Turkic peoples (see Constantine VII, De administrando imperio/Constantine Porphyregenitus [new revised edition; Greek text edited by Moravcsik Gy; english translation by Jenkins R. J. H.], Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1985, ix + 341 p.) He also wrote De ceremoniis aulae Byzantinae, a description of the elaborate ceremonies that made the Byzantine emperors priestly symbols of the state (Constantine VII, Le Livre des ceremonies / Constantin VII PorphyrogéneÌte [texte établi et traduit par Vogt Albert], Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1967, 4 vols.)]

11 [Cassianus Bassus, called Scholasticus (lawyer), one of the geoponici, a group of writers who focused on agricultural subjects, who lived at the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. The original Greek texts of his writings have been lost, but some of the contents have survived as part of a collection entitled Geoponica, completed about the year 950 and dedicated to the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (see note 9, above). In addition, a seventh century Middle Persian translation and two different Arabic language translations of the eighth and ninth centuries, respectively, have also survived.]

12 [The Geoponics of Cassianus Bassus is a collection of agricultural literature, compiled at the end of the sixth or beginning of the seventh century. Revised about 950 by as unknown writer, it was later translated and published in 1805-1806.]

13 [Mago, also spelled Magon (died c. 203 B.C.), a leading Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.) against Rome. He was the youngest of the three sons of the Carthaginian statesman and general Hamilcar Barca. In the Second Punic War Mago accompanied his brother Hannibal on the invasion of Italy and held key commands in the great victories of the first three years of that conflict. After the Carthaginian triumph at the Battle of Cannae (216), he was sent to Spain to fight alongside his other brother, Hasdrubal. There, in a battle at Ilipa (206), Mago was defeated by the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio (later known as Scipio Africanus). He stayed for several months in Gades (now Cádiz) before carrying the war into Liguria in Italy. In 203 he was finally defeated in Cisalpine Gaul. He died of wounds on the return voyage to Carthage.]

14 [Cassius Dionysius (fl. 88 B.C., Utica, now in Tunisia), ancient North African writer on botany and medicinal substances, best known for his Greek translation of the great 28-volume treatise on agriculture by the Carthaginian Mago (Columella, called Mago; sometimes described as the father of agriculture). The work was highly esteemed and widely used by the Romans in a Latin translation prepared after the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. Cassius reduced the work to 20 volumes and added material from Greek sources. The Punic and Latin texts of Mago’s treatise are lost, and the contents of this work are now known only by surviving fragments of Cassius’translation (see Mahaffy (John Pentland), “The work of Mago on agriculture”, Hermathena, vol. 7, 1890, pp. 29-35). Cassius also wrote an original treatise on roots, and an illustrated pharmacopoeia is ascribed to him.]

15 [Diophanes of Nicaea or Diophanes the Bithynian, an ancient Greek agricultural writer of the first century B.C., native of or associated with the city of Nicaea in Bithynia (northwestern Anatolia).]

16 [Juba II (born c. 50 B.C., died c. A.D. 24), son of Juba I and king of the North African states of Numidia (29-25 B.C.) and Mauritania (25 B.C.-A.D. 24). Juba also was a prolific writer in Greek on a variety of subjects, including history, geography, grammar, and the theatre.]

17 [In Greek mythology, Phyleus was a son of King Augeas of Elis and father of Meges, but we have been unable to identify this thirteenth-century Manuel Phyleus of Ephesus.]

18 [Michael IX Palaeologus (born c. 1277; died 12 October 1320, Thessalonica, Byzantine Empire), Byzantine co-emperor with his father, Andronicus II, from 1295 who, despite his efforts in fighting the Turks and in resisting the encroachments of the Catalan mercenaries, was unable to reverse the decline of the empire. In 1303, Byzantium employed as mercenaries the Catalan Company, led by Roger de Flor, which soon began attacking and robbing Byzantines and Turks alike. Hoping to get rid of them, Michael arranged the murder of Roger de Flor in the imperial palace in April 1305. The Catalans then rebelled and ravaged the countryside of Thrace for several years before moving on to Thessaly. Michael died before his father and, thus, never reigned as sole emperor.]

19 [On the Nature of Animals: we have been unable to identify this work; see note 17, above.]

20 [Johann Christoph Baron von Aretin (born 2 December 1773, Ingolstadt; died 24 December 1824, Munich), German journalist, historian, librarian and lawyer, and one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of ninteenth century Bavaria. He was a member of the academies in both Munich and Göttingen, an aggressive anti-Austrian, and anti-Prussian pamphletist. A notorious womanizer in his student days in Wetzlar, he had already made a name for himself as a firebrand and sympathizer both of the French Revolution and the radical Illuminati before coming to the Court Library in Munich in 1802.]

21 [Greek fire, a combustible composition the constituents of which are supposed to have been asphalt, niter, and sulfur. It would burn on or under water, and was used with great effect in war by the Greeks of the Eastern Empire, who kept its composition secret for several hundred years. Upon the conquest of Constantinople the secret came into the possession of the Mohammedans, to whom it rendered repeated and valuable service.]

22 [Hermetical books or Hermetic writings, also called Hermetica, works of revelation on occult, theological, and philosophical subjects ascribed to the Egyptian god Thoth (Greek: Hermes Trismegistos or Hermes the Thrice-Greatest), who was believed to be the inventor of writing and the patron of all the arts dependent on writing. The collection, written in Greek and Latin, probably dates from the middle of the first to the end of the third century A.D. It was written in the form of Platonic dialogues and falls into two main classes: “popular” Hermetism, which deals with astrology and the other occult sciences; and “learned” Hermetism, which is concerned with theology and philosophy.]

23 [Agathodemon, also Agathodaimon or Agathodaemon, a good spirit or demon that was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, with the shape of a serpent and a human head. The flying serpents or dragons venerated by ancient peoples were also called Agathodemons, or good genies.]

24 [Porphyry, original name Malchus (born c. 234, Tyre [modern Sur, Lebanon] or Batanaea [in modern Syria]; died c. 305, Rome?), Neoplatonist Greek philosopher, important both as an editor and as a biographer of the philosopher Plotinus and for his commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, which set the stage for medieval developments of logic and the problem of universals (see Porphyry, On Aristotle’s categories [translated by Strange Steven K.], London: Duckworth, 1992, 185 p.; Neoplatonic saints: the lives of Plotinus and Proclus by their students [translated with a commentary by Edwards Mark], Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000, lx + 150 p.) Boethius’s (Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, born A.D. 470-475, died 524; Roman scholar, Christian philosopher, and statesman) Latin translation of the introduction (Eisagoge) became a standard medieval textbook (Porphyry, Porphyry introduction [translated with a commentary by Barnes Jonathan], Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, xxvi + 415 p.)]

25 [Iamblichus (born c. A.D. 250, Chalcis, Coele Syria, now in Lebanon; died c. 330), Syrian philosopher, a major figure in the philosophical school of Neoplatonism and the founder of its Syrian branch.]

26 [Muhammad, in full, Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim (born c. 570, Mecca; died 8 June 632, Medina), the founder of Islam and regarded by Muslims as the last messenger and prophet of God. Muslims do not believe that he was the creator of a new religion, but the restorer of the original, uncorrupted monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham, and others. They see him as the last and the greatest in a series of prophets.]

27 [Rayas, low social ranking, for example, a non-Moslim subject of the Ottoman Empire.]

28 [Abu Bakr, also called As-Siddiq (Arabic: “The Upright”) (born c. 573, died 23 August 23, 634), Muhammad’s closest companion and adviser, who succeeded to the Prophet’s political and administrative functions, thereby initiating the office of the caliphate. On Muhammad’s death (8 June 632), the Muslims of Medina resolved the crisis of succession by accepting Abu Bakr as the first khalifat rasul Allah (“successor of the Prophet of God,” or caliph). In his rule (632-634), he suppressed the tribal political and religious uprisings known as the riddah (“apostasy”), thereby bringing central Arabia under Muslim control. Then by undertaking direct expansion from Arabia into Iraq and Syria, he began the Muslim conquests.]

29 [Charles Martel (born c. 688; died 22 October 741, Quierzy-sur-Oise, France), mayor of the palace of Austrasia (the eastern part of the Frankish kingdom) from 715 to 741. He reunited and ruled the entire Frankish realm and stemmed the Muslim invasion at Poitiers in 732. His byname, Martel, means “the hammer.”]

30 [Abul Abbas or Abu al-’Abbas as-Saffah (born 722; died 754, Al-Anbar, Iraq), Islamic caliph (reigned 749-754), first of the Abbasid dynasty, which was to rule over eastern Islam for approximately the next 500 years. The Abbasids were descended from an uncle of Muhammad and were cousins to the ruling Umayyad (or Ommiad) dynasty. The Umayyads were weakened by decadence and an unclear line of succession, and they enjoyed little popular support, prompting the Abbasids to declare open revolt in 747. When Abu al-’Abbas assumed the caliphate in 749, he began a campaign of extermination against the Umayyads, the Alids, other Abbasid leaders who had become too popular, and all other claimants to power. He named himself as-Saffah, “the blood-shedder,” because of his savage attacks. He established a firm legal and dynastic base for the Abbasids. His successor moved the caliphate to Baghdad.]

31 [Ali, in full Ali Ibn Abu Talib (born c. 600, Mecca; died January 661, Kufah, Iraq), son-in-law of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and fourth caliph (successor to Muhammad), reigning from 656 to 661. The question of his right to the caliphate resulted in the only major split in Islam (into Sunnah and Shi’ah branches). He is revered by the Shi’ah as the only true successor to the Prophet.]

32 [Musulmans, an archaic term for Muslims, also Mohammedans or Mohammetans, those who practice the religion of Islam.]

33 [Nestorius (born late fourth century A.D., Germanicia, Syria Euphratensis, Asia Minor, now Maras, Turkey; died c. 451, Panopolis, Egypt), early bishop of Constantinople whose views on the nature and person of Christ led to the calling of the Council of Ephesus in 431 and to Nestorianism, one of the major Christian heresies. A few small Nestorian churches still exist.]

34 [Hermias of Atarneus, Aristotle’s father-in-law. He is first mentioned as a slave to Eubulus, a Bythnian banker who ruled Atarneus (an ancient city in the region of Aeolis, Asia Minor). Hermias eventually won his freedom and inherited the rule of Atarneus. Due to his policies, his control expanded to other neighboring cities such as Assos, in Asia Minor. In his youth, Hermias had studied philosophy in Plato’s Academy. It was there, that he first met Aristotle. After Plato’s death in 347 BC, Xenocrates and Aristotle traveled to Assos under the patronage of Hermias. Aristotle founded his first philosophical school there and eventually married Pythias, Hermias’s daughter or niece. After Hermias’s death, Aristotle dedicated a statue in Delphi and composed a hymn to virtue in Hermias’s honor.]

35 [Eulalius (died 423), antipope from December 418 to April 419. He was an archdeacon set up against Pope St. Boniface I by a clerical faction. The rivalry that ensued led to the first interference of the temporal authorities in papal elections. Both the Pope and the Antipope were asked by Emperor Honorius to leave Rome pending a council’s decision, but Eulalius (the imperial favorite) imprudently returned to perform the Holy Week services at the Lateran. For this defiance of the Emperor’s orders, he was rejected and exiled to the Campania, where he died in obscurity.]

36 [Priscian, Latin in full Priscianus Caesariensis (fl. c. A.D. 500, born Caesarea, Mauritania, now Cherchell, Algeria), the best known of all the Latin grammarians, author of the Institutiones grammaticae, which had a profound influence on the teaching of Latin and indeed of grammar generally in Europe (see Luhtala (Anneli), Grammar and Philosophy in Late Antiquity, a study of Priscian’s sources, Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2005, x + 171 p.)]

37 [Damascius (born c. A.D. 480, died c. 550), Greek Neoplatonist philosopher and last in the succession of Platonic scholars at the Greek Academy at Athens, which was founded by Plato about 387 B.C. A pupil and close friend of the Greek philosopher Isidore of Alexandria, whose biography he wrote, Damascius became head of the Academy about 520 and was still in office when the Christian emperor Justinian closed it, along with other pagan schools, in 529. Damascius, with six other members of the Academy, went to Persia to serve the court of King Khosrow I. By a clause in the treaty of 533 between Justinian and Khosrow, however, the scholars were allowed to return to Athens, where they found the attitude toward philosophy to be more congenial than at the Persian court.]

38 [Isidore of Alexandria, Greek philosopher and one of the last of the Neoplatonists, who lived in Athens and Alexandria toward the end of the fifth century A.D. He became head of the school in Athens in succession to Marinus, who followed Proclus. His views alienated the chief members of the school and he was compelled to resign his position to Hegias. He is known principally as the teacher of Damascius the Syrian (Neoplatonist philosopher, born c. 480, died c. 550), whose testimony in his Life of Isidorus presents Isidorus in a very favourable light as a man and a thinker (see Damascius, Das Leben des Philosophen Isidoros von Damaskios aus Damaskos [Wiederhergestellt, übersetzt, und erklärt von Rudolf Asmus], Leipzig: Meiner, 1911, xvi + 224 p.) It is generally admitted, however, that he was rather an enthusiast than a thinker; reasoning with him was subsidiary to inspiration, and he preferred the theories of Pythagoras and Plato to the unimaginative logic and the practical ethics of the Stoics and Aristotelians. He seems to have given loose rein to theosophical speculation and attached great importance to dreams and waking visions, on which he used to expatiate in his public discourses.]

39 [King Chosroes or Khosrow I, byname Khosrow Anushirvan (Persian: “Khosrow of the Immortal Soul”), or Khosrow the Just (died A.D. 579), Persian king who ruled the Sasanian empire from 531 to 579 and was remembered as a great reformer and patron of the arts and scholarship.]

40 [We have not been able to identify Hareth-ebn Keldat.]

41 [Syriac, a writing system used by the Syriac Christians from the first century A.D. until about the fourteenth century. A Semitic alphabet, Syriac was an offshoot of a cursive Aramaic script. It had 22 letters, all representing consonants, and was generally written from right to left, although occasionally vertically downward. Diacritical marks to represent vowels were introduced in the last half of the first millennium A.D.; several systems of vocalization existed, some patterned after that of Arabic, some using small Greek letters above or below the line.]

42 [Saint Albertus Magnus, see Lesson 23, note 1.]

43 [Almanzor is Abu Ja’far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur (born 712, died 775), the second Abbasid Caliph. He was born at al-Humaymah, the home of the ‘Abbasid family after their emigration from the Hejaz in 687-688. In 762, he founded as new imperial residence and palace city Madinat as-Salam, which became the core of the Imperial capital Baghdad.]

44 [We have not been able to identify George Batiseka.]

45 [Harun ar-Rashid, in full Harun ar-Rashid ibn Muhammad al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur al-’Abbasi (born February 766/March 763, Rayy, Iran; died 24 March 809, Tus), fifth caliph of the Abbasid dynasty (786-809), who ruled Islam at the zenith of its empire with a luxury in Baghdad memorialized in The Thousand and One Nights (a collection of stories compiled over thousands of years by various authors, translators, and scholars; see The thousand and one nights; or, Arabian nights entertainments [translated by Lane Edward William, with wood engravings from original designs by Harvey William], New York: C. Scribner’s sons 1930, viii + 1388 p.)]

46 [Mamum or al-Ma’mun, in full Abu al-’Abbas ‘Abd Allah al-Ma’ Mun ibn ar-Rashid (born 786, Baghdad; died August 833, Tarsus, Cilicia), seventh Abbasid caliph (813-833), known for his attempts to end sectarian rivalry in Islam and to impose upon his subjects a rationalist Muslim creed.]

47 [For Motawakhel or Mutawwakil (died 861), caliph of Baghdad, see Kennedy (Hugh), When Baghdad ruled the Muslim world: the rise and fall of Islam’s greatest dynasty, Cambridge (Massachusetts): Da Capo, 2005, 376 p.]

48 [Abdalla-Tif, Abdallatif, or Abd-UI-Latif (born 1162, Baghdad; died 1231, Baghdad), a celebrated physician and traveler, and one of the most voluminous writers of the East. A memoir of Abdalla-Tif, written by himself, has been preserved with additions by Ibn-Abu-Osaiba (Ibn abī Usaibia), a contemporary. From that work we learn that the higher education of the youth of Baghdad consisted principally in a minute and careful study of the rules and principles of grammar, and in their committing to memory the whole of the Koran, a treatise or two on philology and jurisprudence, and the choicest Arabian poetry. After attaining to great proficiency in that kind of learning, Abdalla-Tif applied himself to natural philosophy and medicine. To enjoy the society of the learned, he went first to Mosul (1189), and afterwards to Damascus. With letters of recommendation from Saladin’s vizier, he visited Egypt, where the wish he had long cherished to converse with Maimonides, “the Eagle of the Doctors,” was gratified. He afterwards formed one of the circle of learned men whom Saladin gathered around him at Jerusalem. He taught medicine and philosophy at Cairo and at Damascus for a number of years, and afterwards, for a shorter period, at Aleppo. His love of travel led him in his old age to visit different parts of Armenia and Asia Minor, and he was setting out on a pilgrimage to Mecca when he died at Bagdad in 1231. Abdalla-Tif was undoubtedly a man of great knowledge and of an inquisitive and penetrating mind. Of the numerous works (mostly on medicine) ascribed to him, one only, his graphic and detailed Account of Egypt (in two parts), has survived. The manuscript, discovered by Edward Pococke the Orientalist, and preserved in the Bodleian Library, contains a vivid description of a famine caused, during the author’s residence in Egypt, by the Nile failing to overflow its banks. It was translated into Latin by Professor White of Oxford in 1800, and into French, with valuable notes, by Silvestre de Sacy in 1810 (see Abd al Latif, Relation de l’Égypte, par Abd-Allatif (suivie de) divers extraits d’écrivains orientaux, (et d’un) État des provinces et des villages de l’Égypte dans le xive sieÌcle: le tout traduit de l’arabe et enrichi de notes historiques et critiques, par M. Silvestre de Sacy, Paris: Imprimerie impériale, chez Treuttel et Würtz, 1810, xxiv + 752 p.)]

© Publications scientifiques du Muséum, 2012

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540