Imágenes de páginas

Under the inspiration of the system of Alexander, and guided by the suggestions of certain great men who had caught the spirit of the times, the Egyptian kings thus created, under their own immediate auspices, the Museum. State policy, operating in the manner I have previously described, furnished them with an additional theological reason for founding this establishment. In the Macedonian campaign a vast amount of engineering and mathematical talent had been necessarily stimulated into existence, for great armies cannot be handled, great marches cannot be made, nor great battles fought without that result. When the period of energetic action was over, and to the military operations succeeded comparative repose and temporary moments of peace, the talent thus called forth found occupation in the way most congenial to it by cultivating mathematical and physical studies. In Alexandria, itself a monument of engineering and architectural skill, soon were to be found men whose names were destined for futurity-Apollonius, Eratosthenes, Manethó.

Of these, one may be selected for the remark that, while

The great speculative philosophers were occupying them- men it proselves with discussions respecting the criterion of truth, and, upon the whole, coming to the conclusion that no such thing existed, and that, if the truth was actually in the possession of man, he had no means of knowing it, Euclid of Alexandria was writing an immortal work, destined to challenge contradiction from the whole human race, and to make good its title as the representative of absolute and undeniable truth-truth not to be gainsaid in any nation or at any time. We still use the geometry of Euclid in our schools.

It is said that Euclid opened a geometrical school in Alexandria about B.C. 300. He occupied himself not only with mathematical, but also with physical investigation. Besides many works of the former class

supposed The writings to have been written by him, as on Fallacies, of Euclid. Conic Sections, Divisions, Porisms, Data, there are imputed to him treatises on Harmonics, Optics, and Catoptrics, the two lattersubjects being discussed, agreeably to the views of those times, on the hypothesis of rays issuing from the eye to the object, instead of passing, as we consider them to do,



[ocr errors]


from the object to the eye. It is, however, on the excellencies of his Elements of Geometry that the durable reputation of Euclid depends; and though the hypercriticism of modern mathematicians has perhaps successfully maintained such objections against them as that they might have been more precise in their axioms, that they sometimes assume what might be proved, that they are occasionally redundant, and their arrangement sometimes imperfect, yet they still maintain their ground as a model of extreme accuracy, of perspicuity, and as a standard of exact demonstration. They were employed universally by the Greeks, and, in subsequent ages, were translated and preserved by the Arabs.

Great as is the fame of Euclid, it is eclipsed by that of The writings

Archimedes the Syracusan, born B.C. 287, whose and works of connection with Egyptian science is not alone

testified by tradition, but also by such facts as his acknowledged friendship with Conon of Alexandria, and his invention of the screw still bearing his name, intended for raising the waters of the Nile. Among his mathematical works, the most interesting, perhaps, in his own estimation, as we may judge from the incident that he directed the diagram thereof to be engraved on his tombstone, was his demonstration that the solid content of a sphere is two-thirds that of its circumscribing cylinder. It was by this mark that Cicero, when Quæstor of Sicily, di vered the tomb of Archimedes grown over with weeds. This theorem was, however, only one of a large number of a like kind, which he treated of in his two books on the sphere and cylinder in an equally masterly manner, and with equal success. His position as a geometer is perhaps better understood from the assertion made respecting him by a modern mathematician, that he came as near to the discovery of the Differential Calculus as can be done without the aid of algebraic transformations. Among the special problems he treated of may be mentioned the quadrature of the circle, his determination of the ratio of the circumference to the diameter being between 3.1428 and 3.1408, the true value, as is now known, being 3.1416 nearly. He also wrote on Conoids and Spheroids, and upon that spiral still passing under his name, the genesis of which

had been suggested to him by Conon. In his work entitled “ Psammites” he alludes to the astronomical system subsequently established by Copernicus, whose name has been given to it. He also mentions the attempts which had been made to measure the size of the earth; the chief object of the work being, however, to prove not only that the sands upon the sea-shore can be numbered, but even those required to fill the entire space within the sphere of the fixed stars; the result being, according to our system of arithmetic, a less number than is expressed by unity followed by 63 ciphers. Such a book is the sport of a geometrical giant wantonly amusing himself with his strength. Among his mathematical investigations must not be omitted the quadrature of the parabola. His fame depends, however, not so much on his mathematical triumphs as upon his brilliant discoveries in physics and his mechanical inventions. How, he laid the foundation of Hydrostatics is familiar to everyone, through the story of Hiero's crown. A certain artisan having adulterated the gold given him by King Hiero to form a crown, Archimedes discovered while he was accidentally stepping into a bath, that the falsification might be detected, and thereby invented the method for the determination of specific gravity. From these investigations he was naturally led to the consideration of the equilibrium of floating bodies; but his grand achievement in the mechanical direction was his discovery of the true theory of the lever: his sur; vising merit in these respects is demonstrated by the fact that no advance was made in theoretical mechanics during the eighteen centuries intervening between him and Leonardo da Vinci. . Of minor matters not fewer than forty mechanical inventions have been attributed to him. Among these are the endless screw, the screw pump, a hydraulic organ, and burning mirrors. His genius is well indicated by the saying popularly attributed to him, “ Give me whereon to stand, and I will move the earth," and by the anecdotes told of his exertions against Marcellus during the siege of Syracuse; his invention of catapults and other engines for throwing projectiles, as darts and heavy stones; claws which, reaching over the walls, lifted up into the air ships and


their crews, and then suddenly dropped them into the sea ; burning mirrors, by which, at a great distance, the Roman fieet was set on fire. It is related that Marcellus, honouring his intellect, gave the strictest orders that no harm should be done to him at the taking of the town, and that he was killed, unfortunately, by an ignorant soldier-unfortunately, for Europe was not able to produce his equal for nearly two thousand years.

Eratosthenes was contemporary with Archimedes. He was born at Cyrene, B.C. 276. The care of the library The writings appears to have been committed to him by and works of Euergetes; but his attention was more specially

directed to mathematical, astronomical, geographical, and historical pursuits. The work entitled

Catasterisms,” doubtfully imputed to him, is a catalogue of 475 of the principal stars; but it was probably intended for nothing more than a manual. He also is said to have written a poem upon terrestrial zones. Among his important geographical labours may be mentioned his determination of the interval between the tropics. He found it to be eleven eighty-thirds of the circumference. He also attempted the measurement of the size of the earth by ascertaining the distance between Alexandria and Syene, the difference of latitude between which he had found to be one-fiftieth of the earth's circumference. It was his object to free geography from the legends with which the superstition of ages had adorned and oppressed it. In effecting this he well deserves the tribute paid to him by Humboldt, the modern who of all others could best appreciate his labours. He considered the articulation and expansion of continents; the position of mountain chains; the action of clouds; the geological submersion of lands; the elevation of ancient sea-beds; the opening of the Dardanelles and of the Straits of Gibraltar; the relations of the Euxine Sea; the problem of the equal level of the circumfluous ocean; and the


existence of a mountain chain running through Asia in the diaphragm of Dicæarchus. What an advance is all this beyond the meditations of Thales! Herein we see the practical tendencies of the Macedonian wars. In his astronomical observations he had the advantage of using the armils

and other instruments in the Observatory. He ascer · tained that the direction of terrestrial gravity is not constant, but that the verticals converge. He composed a complete systematic description of the earth in three books-physical, mathematical, historical-accompanied by a map of all the parts then known. Of his skill as a geometer, his solution of the problem of two mean proportionals, still extant, offers ample evidence; and it is only of late years that the fragments remaining of his Chronicles of the Theban Kings have been properly appreciated. He hoped to free history as well as geography from the myths that deform it, a task which the prejudices and interests of man will never permit to be accomplished. Some amusing anecdotes of his opinions in these respects have descended to us. He ventured to doubt the historical truth of the Homeric legends. “I will believe in it when I have been shown the currier who made the wind-bags which Ulysses on his homeward voyage received from Æolus.' It is said that, having attained the age of eighty years, he became weary of life, and put an end to himself by voluntary starvation.

I shall here pause to make a few remarks suggested by the chronological and astronomical works of chronology of Eratosthenes. Our current chronology was the Eratosthenes. offspring of erroneous theological considerations, the nature of which required not only a short historical term for the various nations of antiquity, but even for the existence of man upon the globe. This necessity appears to have been chiefly experienced in the attempt to exalt certain facts in the history of the Hebrews from their subordinate position in human affairs, and, indeed, to give the whole of that history an exaggerated value. This was done in a double way: by elevating Hebrew history from its true grade, and depreciating or falsifying that of other nations. Among those who have been guilty of this literary offence, the name of the celebrated Eusebius, the Bishop of Cæsarea in the time of Constantine, should be designated, since in his chronography and synchronal tables he purposely "perverted chronology for the sake of making synchronisms” (Bunsen). It is true, as Niebuhr asserts, “He is a very dishonest writer.” To a great extent, the

« AnteriorContinuar »