« EelmineJätka »
were probably the first authors of the fables invented of Bacchus, afterwards adopted and embellished by the Greeks. But how came the stories of the Arabs and Greeks to agree so well with those of the Jews?
It is known that the Hebrews never communicated their books to any one, till the time of the Ptolemies; they regarded such communication as a sacrilege: and Josephus, to justify their obstinacy in concealing the Pentateuch from the rest of the world, says, that God punished all foreigners who dared to speak of the Jewish histories. If we are to believe him, the historian Theopompus, for only designing to mention them in his work, became deranged for thirty days, and the tragic poet Theodectes was struck blind for having introduced the name of the Jews into one of his trage. dies. Such are the excuses that Flavius Josephus gives in his answer to Appion, for the history of the Jews being so long unknown.
These books were of such prodigious scarcity, that we only hear of one copy under King Josiah, and this copy had been lost for a long time, and was found in the bottom of a chest, on the report of Shaphan, scribe to the Pontiff Hilkiah, who carried it to the King.
This circumstance happened, according to the second book of Kings, six hundred and twenty-four years before our vulgar era; four hundred years after Homer, and in the most flourishing times of Greece.
The Greeks then scarcely knew that there were any Hebrews in the world. The captivity of the Jews at Babylon still more augmented their ignorance of their own books.
Esdras must have restored them at the end of seventy years, and it was already more than five hundred years that the fable of Bacchus had been current among the Greeks.
If the Greeks had founded their fables on the Jewish history, they would have chosen facts more interesting to mankind; such as the adventures of Abraham, those of Noah, of Methusalem, of Seth, Enoch, Cain, and Eve; of the fatal serpent and of the tree of knowledge; all which names have ever been unknown to them, There was only a slight knowledge of the Jewish people, until a long time after the revolution that Alexander produced in Asia and in Europe; the historian Josephus avows it in formal terms. This is the manner in which he expresses himself in the commencement of his reply to Appion, who (by way of parenthesis) was dead when he answered him; for Appion died under the Emperor Claudius, and Josephus wrote under Vespasian.
“ As the country we inhabit is distant from the sea, we do not apply ourselves to commerce, and have no communication with other nations. We content ourselves with cultivating our lands, which are very fertile, and we labour chiefly to bring up our children properly, because nothing appears to us so necessary as to instruct them in the knowledge of our holy laws, and in true piety, which inspires them with the desire of observing them. The above reasons, added to others already mentioned, and this manner of life which is peculiar to us, show why we have had no communication with the Greeks, like the Egyptians and Phænicians. Is it astonishing that our nation, so distant from the sea, not affecting to write any thing, and living in the way which I have related, has been little known ?''*
After such an authentic avowal from a Jew, the most tenacious of the honour of his nation that has ever written, it will be seen that it is impossible for the ancient Greeks to have taken the fable of Bacchus from the holy books of the Hebrews; any more than the sacrifice of Iphigenia, that of the son of Idomeneus, the labours of Hercules, the adventure of Eurydice, and others. The quantity of ancient tales which resemble each other is prodigious. How is it that the Greeks have put into fables what the Hebrews have put into histories? Was it by the gift of invention; was it by a facility of imitation; or in consequence of the accordance of fine minds? To conclude: God has permitted it-a truth which ought to suffice.
Of what consequence is it that the Arabs and Greeks have said the same things as the Jews. We only read the Old Testament to prepare ourselves for the New; and in neither the one nor the other do we seek any thing but lessons of benevolence, moderation, gentleness, and true charity.
* Answer of Josephus, chap. x,
BACON (ROGER). It is generally thought that Roger Bacon, the famous monk of the thirteenth century, was a very great man, and that he possessed true knowledge, because he was persecuted and condemned to prison by a set of ignoramuses. It is a great prejudice in his favour, I own. But does it not happen every day, that quacks gravely condemn other quacks, and that fools make other fools pay the penalty of folly? This, our world, has for a long time resembled the compact edifices, in which he who believes in the eternal Father anathematizes him who believes in the Holy Ghost; circumstances which are not very rare even in these days. Among the things which render Friar Bacon commendable, we must first reckon his imprisonment, and then the noble boldness with which he declared that all the books of Aristotle were fit only to be burnt, and that at a time when the learned respected Aristotle much more than the Jansenists respect St. Augustine. Has Roger Bacon, however, done anything better than the Poetics, the Rhetoric, and the Logic of Aristotle? These three immortal works clearly prove that Aristotle was a very great and fine genius-penetrating, profound, and methodical; and that he was only a bad natural philosopher, because it was impossible to penetrate into the depths of physical science without the aid of instruments.
Does Roger Bacon, in his best work, in which he treats of light and vision, express himself much more clearly than Aristotle, when he says, light is created by means of multiplying its luminous species, which action is called univocal and conformable to the agent? He also mentions another equivocal multiplication, by which light engenders heat, and heat putrefaction,
Roger Bacon likewise tells us, that life may be prolonged by means of spermaceti, aloes, and dragons flesh, and that the philosopher's stone would render us immortal. It is thought that besides these fine secrets, he possessed all those of judicial astrology, without exception; as he affirms very positively in his “ Opus Majus,” that the head of man is subject to the influences of the Ram, his neck to those of the Bull, and his arms to the power of the Twins. He even demonstrates these fine things from experience, and highly praises a great astrologer at Paris, who says, that he hindered a surgeon from putting a plaister on the leg of an invalid, because the sun was then in the sign of Aquarius, and Aquarius is fatal to legs to which plaisters are applied.
It is an opinion pretty gnerally received, that Roger was the inventor of gunpowder. It is certain that it was in his time that important discovery was made; for I always remark that the spirit of invention is of all times, and that the doctors, or sages, who govern both mind and body, are generally profoundly ignorant, foolishly prejudiced, or at war with common sense. It is usually among obscurè men, that artists are found animated with a superior instinct, who invent admirable things on which the learned afterwards reason.
One thing surprises me much, which is, that Friar Bacon knew not the direction of the magnetic needle, which, in his time, began to be understood in Italy; but in lieu thereof, he was acquainted with the secret of the hazel rod, and many such things, of which he treats in his Dignity of the Experimental Art.
Yet, notwithstanding this pitiable number of ahsurdities and chimeras, it must be confessed that Roger Bacon was an admirable man for his age. What age, you will ask?—that of feudal government,
Voltaire here trauslates a vague passage from the Opus Ma. jus of Bacon, but omnits to notice the celebrated Latin anagram, in which he concealed his discovery of the composition of gun. powiler, of the existence of which fact our author appears ancouscivus in this article.-T.
and of the schoolmen. Figure to yourself Samoieds and Ostiacs, who read Aristotle. Such were we at that time.
Roger Bacon knew a little of geometry and optics, which made him pass for a sorcerer at Rome and Paris. He was, however, really acquainted with the matter contained in the Arabian Alhazen ; for in those days little was known, except through the Arabs. They were the physicians and astrologers of all the Christian kings. The king's fool was always a native,-his doctor, an Arab or a Jew.
Transport this Bacon to the times in which we live, and he would be, no doubt, a very great man.
He was gold, encrusted with the rust of the times in which he lived : this gold would now be quickly purified.
Poor creatures that we are ! how many ages have passed away in acquiring a little reason.
The greatest service perhaps rendered to philosophy by Francis Bacon, has been that of suggesting attraction.
He says, on the close of the sixteenth century, in his “Novum Organum Scientiarum :"
“ It should be inquired, whether there be not a kind of magnetic force, which operates between the earth and heavy bodies; between the moon and the ocean, and between the planets respectively. It must either be, that weighty substances are forced towards the earth, or that they are mutually attracted; and in this last case it is evident, that the nearer falling bodies approach to the earth the more strongly they are attracted. It might be tried, whether a pendulum of the same weight will go quicker on the top of a mountain than at the bottom of a mine. If the force of the weight diminishes on the mountain, and increases in the mine, it would appear that the earth has a true attraction.”
About a hundred years afterwards this attraction, this gravitation, this universal property of matter, this