Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/279

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CIVILIZATION AND SCIENCE.

servation, and though that constellation was of importance to them in determining the seasons.[1] According to Aratus, who nourished under the successors of Alexander, there are only six Pleiades, and it is a vulgar error to admit that they were seven, and that one of them was lost. Hipparchus, however, corrected Aratus, and fixed the number of the Pleiades at seven. Nevertheless, Ovid says of the Pleiades:

"Quæ septem dici, sex tamen esse solent;"[2]

—and the poets went on speaking of a lost Pleiad.[3] But nowadays ordinary observers, with good eyesight, can discern fourteen to sixteen stars in this constellation.

The ancients, then, according to Littrow, described the heavens as imperfectly as though they had been to some extent short-sighted, or as though—but this supposition is negatived by other facts—the discriminating power of the human retina had since become more acute. On the other hand, we cannot sufficiently admire the refinement of their artistic sense in reproducing the forms of the human body. In counting the Pleiades they erred. But the wavy lines of female beauty have never been rendered with greater perfection than by them; and the Borghese Gladiator gives evidence in every one of his quivering muscles of such close observation as to lead to the supposition that in the ancient art-schools there was an esoteric teaching of anatomy.[4] It is customary to attribute the supreme skill of the ancient sculptors in representing the human body to the advantages they enjoyed, as compared with our own artists, who can only study professional models, in frequently viewing the nude in unconstrained action in gymnasia and at the public games. But, with respect to the female figure, the ancient sculptors had no such great advantage over our own, and yet here, too, they have attained unequaled excellence. So, too, our artists have as fair opportunity of studying the breast of a live, nude horse as the ancients had of observing nude athletes; and yet it was said, during the lifetime of Franz Krüger, that he was the only artist who knew how to paint a horse's breast. The truth is, that the ancients had a special inclination for this kind of observation, but it lay altogether outside their habits of thought nicely to determine the limits of a phenomenon as regards space, time, and weight. Hence, in all that concerns artistic forms their eye was very highly developed, but they lacked the training needed for grasping scientific facts.

They were utter strangers to the art of experimentation, wherein methodical observation under arbitrarily determined conditions combines with a fervid inventive imagination and a calm judgment to pro-

  1. Whewell, "History of the Inductive Sciences, vol. i., p. 130, London, 1847.
  2. "Which are said to be seven, though they are but six." Ovid gives two mythological hypotheses for the disappearance of the seventh Pleiad, "Fasti," lib. iv., v. 170-178.
  3. Cf. Byron's "Beppo," stanza xiv.
  4. Salvage, "Anatomie du Gladiateur combattant applicable aux Beaux-Arts," 1812, p. iv.