Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/284

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entirely checked for a long time the progress of natural science which under the ancients had been tardy enough.

With the fall of Roman power came, at the same time, the fall of polytheism, a system dating from the anthropomorphic period of the Philosophy of Nature. Christianity now came into possession of Olympus, crowded with barbaric gods, and banished its denizens to the region of demons and ghosts. Nor was it content with such purification of the temple as this. Sprung itself from Judaism, which possessed neither art nor science, but which was already characterized by an exclusive estimate of the value of moral effort, the new creed restricted the circle of ideas, which alone it recognized as profitable to man, within the categories of good and bad, and the relations between the sinful creature and his creator. In opposition to heathenism, which was languishing from sensuous excess, it enjoined on its adherents self-denial and contempt of earthly life, and bade them to tremble in constant expectation of the judgment which was to come both for them and for the whole world. This earth, with all its glory, appeared henceforth to man as a resting-place unworthy of notice, where the soul must prepare for a better state to come. Our body, given to us in love by father and mother, this crown and masterpiece of creation, Christianity despised as the perishable shell of the soul which alone was akin to God; nay, it hated the body as the accursed source of sin. Only with fear and trembling could the believer pluck the fruit of the tree of life. A celibate life within the walls of a cloister, and entirely occupied with prayer and penances, was held to be the best way, and the one most pleasing to God, of spending the time of trial here below; in recompense, the elect were assured of sempiternal beatitude post mortem.

That this new mode of looking at the universe was little favorable to natural science is obvious. Still it is only with difficulty that we can form to ourselves an idea of the attitude of the human mind toward Nature during the middle ages. A passage from the life of Francesco Petrarca will serve to throw light upon this point.

Petrarca, in whom the reminiscences of classic antiquity awoke and were strangely blended with the beliefs of his own day, daily had in sight, from Avignon, Mont Ventoux, that uttermost spur of the maritime Alps, swept by the mistral. Long had he wished to stand upon its summit. His longing was stimulated on reading in Livy that Philip of Macedon (the enemy of the Romans) ascended Mount Hæmus, in Thrace,[1] in order to view simultaneously the Adriatic and the Euxine. At last, on the 26th of April, 1336, the plan was carried into execution, and, as the weather was very favorable, Petrarca and his younger brother, Gherardo, enjoyed the broad prospect. The clouds beneath his feet proved to him the possibility of what he had often read of before with incredulity with regard to Athos and Olympus. The distant chain

  1. Titi Livii, "Hist. Rom.," lib. xxx., 21, 22. Petrarca falls into the error, not before noted, as far as I am aware, of planting Mount Hæmus (the Balkans) in Thessaly.