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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/389

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373
HISTORY OF SCIENTIFIC INSTRUCTION.

among the peoples occupying the Kile Valley and Chaldea, say 6000 b. c.

But this study had to do with the fixing of the length of the year, and the determination of those times in it in which the various agricultural operations had to be performed. These were related strictly to the rise of the Nile in one country and of the Euphrates in the other. All human activity was, in fact, tied up with the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. These, then, became the gods of those early peoples, and the astronomers, the seers, were the first priests; revered by the people because as interpreters of the celestial powers they were the custodians of the knowledge which was the most necessary for the purposes of life.

Eudemus of Rhodes, one of the principal pupils of Aristotle, in his History of Geometry, attributes the origin of geometry to the Egyptians, "who were obliged to invent it in order to restore the landmarks which had been destroyed by the inundation of the Nile," and observes "that it is by no means strange that the invention of the sciences should have originated in practical needs."[1] The new geometry was brought from Egypt to Greece by Thales three hundred years before Aristotle was born.

When to astronomy and geometry we add the elements of medicine and surgery, which it is known were familiar to the ancient Egyptians, it will be conceded that we are, in those early times, face to face with the cultivation of the most useful branches of science.

Now, although the evidence is increasing day by day that Greek science was Egyptian in its origin, there is no doubt that its cultivation in Greece was more extended, and that it was largely developed there. One of the most useful and prolific writers on philosophy and science who has ever lived, Aristotle, was born in the fourth century b. c. From him, it may be said, dates a general conception of science based on observation as differing from experiment. If you wish to get an idea of the science of those times, read his writings on Physics and on the Classification of Animals. All sought in Aristotle the basis of knowledge, but they only read his philosophy; Dante calls him the "master of those who know."[2]

Why was Aristotle so careful, to treat science as well as philosophy, with which his master, Plato, had dealt almost exclusively?

The answer to this question is of great interest to our present subject. The late Lord Playfair[3] in a pregnant passage suggests the reason, and the later history of Europe shows, I think, that he is right.

"We find that just as early nations became rich and prosperous,


  1. Greek Geometry from Thales to Euclid, p. 2. Allman.
  2. Inferno, canto iv, p. 130 et seq.
  3. Subjects of Social Welfare, p. 206.