Reference

We are entering now upon the most important scientific epoch of antiquity. When Aristotle and Theophrastus passed from the scene, Athens ceased to be in any sense the scientific centre of the world. That city still retained its reminiscent glory, and cannot be ignored in the history of culture, but no great scientific leader was ever again to be born or to take up his permanent abode within the confines of Greece proper. With almost cataclysmic suddenness, a new intellectual centre appeared on the south shore of the Mediterranean.

Just about the time when Hipparchus was working out at Rhodes his puzzles of celestial mechanics, there was a man in Alexandria who was exercising a strangely inventive genius over mechanical problems of another sort; a man who, following the example set by Archimedes a century before, was studying the problems of matter and putting his studies to practical application through the invention of weird devices. The man's name was Ctesibius. We know scarcely more of him than that he lived in Alexandria, probably in the first half of the second century B.C.

We have seen that the third century B.C. was a time when Alexandrian science was at its height, but that the second century produced also in Hipparchus at least one investigator of the very first rank; though, to be sure, Hipparchus can be called an Alexandrian only by courtesy. In the ensuing generations the Greek capital at the mouth of the Nile continued to hold its place as the centre of scientific and philosophical thought.

It is a favorite tenet of the modern historian that history is a continuous stream. The contention has fullest warrant. Sharp lines of demarcation are an evidence of man's analytical propensity rather than the work of nature. Nevertheless it would be absurd to deny that the stream of history presents an ever-varying current. There are times when it seems to rush rapidly on; times when it spreads out into a broad—seemingly static—current; times when its catastrophic changes remind us of nothing but a gigantic cataract.

REFERENCE LIST, NOTES, AND BIBLIOGRAPHIES

CHAPTER I. PREHISTORIC SCIENCE

To speak of a prehistoric science may seem like a contradiction of terms. The word prehistoric seems to imply barbarism, while science, clearly enough, seems the outgrowth of civilization; but rightly considered, there is no contradiction. For, on the one hand, man had ceased to be a barbarian long before the beginning of what we call the historical period; and, on the other hand, science, of a kind, is no less a precursor and a cause of civilization than it is a consequent. To get this clearly in mind, we must ask ourselves: What, then, is science?

In the previous chapter we have purposely refrained from referring to any particular tribe or race of historical man. Now, however, we are at the beginnings of national existence, and we have to consider the accomplishments of an individual race; or rather, perhaps, of two or more races that occupied successively the same geographical territory. But even now our studies must for a time remain very general; we shall see little or nothing of the deeds of individual scientists in the course of our study of Egyptian culture.

Throughout classical antiquity Egyptian science was famous. We know that Plato spent some years in Egypt in the hope of penetrating the alleged mysteries of its fabled learning; and the story of the Egyptian priest who patronizingly assured Solon that the Greeks were but babes was quoted everywhere without disapproval. Even so late as the time of Augustus, we find Diodorus, the Sicilian, looking back with veneration upon the Oriental learning, to which Pliny also refers with unbounded respect.

Before we turn specifically to the new world of the west, it remains to take note of what may perhaps be regarded as the very greatest achievement of ancient science. This was the analysis of speech sounds, and the resulting development of a system of alphabetical writing. To comprehend the series of scientific inductions which led to this result, we must go back in imagination and trace briefly the development of the methods of recording thought by means of graphic symbols. In other words, we must trace the evolution of the art of writing.

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