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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/427

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423
SIGHT AND SEEING IN ANCIENT TIMES

of his own head.' If it be alleged in extenuation that the circumstances under which his notes were taken were ill suited to the careful study of external nature, it is to be said in reply that he observed and recorded what most interested him. His itinerary is so inaccurately, or at least so sparingly, marked that no modern explorer has been able to follow or trace it. In view of the fact that the ancients did not receive as much pleasure from the contemplation of scenery as we moderns, it is probable that they did not regard blindness or failing sight as a very serious misfortune. In Schiller's Tell we have a notable passage describing the frightful misfortune of blindness:

Oh! 'tis a noble gift of Heaven,
The gift of sight, each being lives on light,
And all creation feels its gladding power!
The plants themselves turn joyfull to the light:
To die—is nothing—nothing! but to live,
And not to see—is misery indeed!

The Greeks believed that the power of internal vision was enhanced by lack of bodily sight. This belief was in accordance with the law of compensation held by them. Fortune, good or ill, is always outweighed by its opposite. 'The blind old man of Scio's rocky isle' was supposed to have been blind because his intellectual insight was preternaturally acute and accurate. Tiresias, the most famous seer in Greek legend, is always spoken of as blind. We do not know whether this preternatural acumen was the result of his want of sight or whether the latter was a condition precedent to the former. One of the favorite characters of Greek mythology was Œdipus, spending the sunset of his life in dignified retirement near Athens under the care of his daughter Antigone. In early years he had blinded himself after discovering that he had unwittingly been guilty of incest. The Greeks did but little by artificial light. They were early risers and all reputable people were supposed to retire early. Plato, in his Laws, says the master and mistress of the household should be the first to rise in the morning in order to show a good example to the other members. He further says: "Magistrates who keep awake at night are terrible to the bad whether enemies or citizens and are honored and revered by the temperate, and are useful to themselves." Throughout the entire ancient, medieval and modern world, until within comparatively recent times, the badly lighted or totally dark streets made it a matter of prudence for honest people to go abroad as little as possible after nightfall, especially if they carried or were supposed to carry articles of value. The comparative sameness in the style of clothing gave the footpad the opportunity to replenish his wardrobe at the expense of his fellow without saying, 'By your leave.' We are not told that the man who went down to Jericho was attacked in the night, but we are informed that he was stripped. That the ancients placed a much higher value on worn garments than is done by the moderns is shown by the statement