Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/429

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
425
SIGHT AND SEEING IN ANCIENT TIMES

proper training as a person who never saw a dozen houses together. It is well known, too, that what are sometimes called the lower senses, touch, taste and smell, are often of extraordinary acuteness in civilized man as the result of training. If, therefore, any of the senses of our urban population is feebler than that of the dwellers in the rural districts, it is not due to an inherent weakness, but to improper or injudicious use.

Since it is evident that the ancients, particularly the Greeks, looked upon the external world with emotions very different from the moderns, let us next inquire what means they possessed, if any, for strengthening the sight or aiding defective vision. The problem has been a good deal discussed. Those who believe that some sort of apparatus corresponding to modern eye-glasses has been in use from almost time immemorial rely chiefly upon inference, since hardly any direct evidence is forthcoming. It is held by some investigators that the very large number of seal rings and seal cylinders, both intaglios and cameos, dating from the remotest times found in the Babylonian tombs, must be accepted as proof positive that the art of cutting the hardest precious and other stones was a regular business in that part of the world, and that this could not have been carried on without some kind of magnifying lenses. That work of this sort could be performed only by persons of exceptionally keen eyesight is beyond question: the inference drawn from modern experience is logical. Yet in the absence of objects which might reasonably be expected to be forthcoming, we are constrained to render the verdict 'not proven.' So far as we have direct testimony, it is all adverse, if the expression be admissible. It is generally held that the first mention of magnifying glasses is found in an Arab writer of the eleventh century. Roger Bacon speaks of glasses that correct refraction. The epitaph of a certain Salvinus Armatus in Florence names him as the inventor of spectacles, although it is also said of the monk Alexander of Spina, that he made use of eyeglasses. In the year 1488 makers of spectacles are mentioned in Nuremberg. There is a passage in Scott's 'Quentin Durward' that represents Lord Crawford with spectacles on his nose, and the remark is added that the invention was recent. That artificial aids to sight are modern is also rendered probable from the lack of a word inherited from antiquity to designate the apparatus. The English word 'spectacle' is still used in a sense that differs but little from its Latin parent: it is something to look at, a stage-play, then the theater itself. But the earliest English 'spectacle' is used for spy-glass. It is thence probable that our plural 'spectacles' originally meant a pair of spyglasses, a sort of anticipated binocular. The French spectacle still has its original Latin meaning, the form of the word being but slightly changed. On the other hand, in the German and Scandinavian languages, Spektakel is equivalent to what we call a 'rumpus.' But