X. SCIENCE OF THE ROMAN PERIOD
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. The kingdom of the Ptolemies still flourished with at least the outward appearances of its old-time glory, and a company of grammarians and commentators of no small merit could always be found in the service of the famous museum and library; but the whole aspect of world-history was rapidly changing. Greece, after her brief day of political supremacy, was sinking rapidly into desuetude, and the hard-headed Roman in the West was making himself master everywhere. While Hipparchus of Rhodes was in his prime, Corinth, the last stronghold of the main-land of Greece, had fallen before the prowess of the Roman, and the kingdom of the Ptolemies, though still nominally free, had begun to come within the sphere of Roman influence.
Just what share these political changes had in changing the aspect of Greek thought is a question regarding which difference of opinion might easily prevail; but there can be no question that, for one reason or another, the Alexandrian school as a creative centre went into a rapid decline at about the time of the Roman rise to world-power. There are some distinguished names, but, as a general rule, the spirit of the times is reminiscent rather than creative; the workers tend to collate the researches of their predecessors rather than to make new and original researches for themselves. Eratosthenes, the inventive world-measurer, was succeeded by Strabo, the industrious collator of facts; Aristarchus and Hipparchus, the originators of new astronomical methods, were succeeded by Ptolemy, the perfecter of their methods and the systematizer of their knowledge. Meanwhile, in the West, Rome never became a true culture-centre. The great genius of the Roman was political; the Augustan Age produced a few great historians and poets, but not a single great philosopher or creative devotee of science. Cicero, Lucian, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, give us at best a reflection of Greek philosophy. Pliny, the one world-famous name in the scientific annals of Rome, can lay claim to no higher credit than that of a marvellously industrious collector of facts—the compiler of an encyclopaedia which contains not one creative touch.
All in all, then, this epoch of Roman domination is one that need detain the historian of science but a brief moment. With the culmination of Greek effort in the so-called Hellenistic period we have seen ancient science at its climax. The Roman period is but a time of transition, marking, as it were, a plateau on the slope between those earlier heights and the deep, dark valleys of the Middle Ages. Yet we cannot quite disregard the efforts of such workers as those we have just named. Let us take a more specific glance at their accomplishments.
STRABO THE GEOGRAPHER
The earliest of these workers in point of time is Strabo. This most famous of ancient geographers was born in Amasia, Pontus, about 63 B.C., and lived to the year 24 A.D., living, therefore, in the age of Caesar and Augustus, during which the final transformation in the political position of the kingdom of Egypt was effected. The name of Strabo in a modified form has become popularized through a curious circumstance. The geographer, it appears, was afflicted with a peculiar squint of the eyes, hence the name strabismus, which the modern oculist applies to that particular infirmity.
Fortunately, the great geographer has not been forced to depend upon hearsay evidence for recognition. His comprehensive work on geography has been preserved in its entirety, being one of the few expansive classical writings of which this is true. The other writings of Strabo, however, including certain histories of which reports have come down to us, are entirely lost. The geography is in many ways a remarkable book. It is not, however, a work in which any important new principles are involved. Rather is it typical of its age in that it is an elaborate compilation and a critical review of the labors of Strabo's predecessors. Doubtless it contains a vast deal of new information as to the details of geography—precise areas and distance, questions of geographical locations as to latitude and zones, and the like. But however important these details may have been from a contemporary stand-point, they, of course, can have nothing more than historical interest to posterity. The value of the work from our present stand-point is chiefly due to the criticisms which Strabo passes upon his forerunners, and to the incidental historical and scientific references with which his work abounds. Being written in this closing period of ancient progress, and summarizing, as it does, in full detail the geographical knowledge of the time, it serves as an important guide-mark for the student of the progress of scientific thought. We cannot do better than briefly to follow Strabo in his estimates and criticisms of the work of his predecessors, taking note thus of the point of view from which he himself looked out upon the world. We shall thus gain a clear idea as to the state of scientific geography towards the close of the classical epoch.