Page:Mammals of Australia (Gould), introduction.djvu/19
The ancient Egyptians appear to have been little acquainted with the natural productions of any other country than their own,—at least, we have no evidence that they were; for neither so conspicuous a bird as the Peacock, nor even the Common Fowl, are represented on their lasting monuments. Of the eastern countries Alexander's expedition doubtless greatly increased the knowledge of the Greeks, furnishing materials for the philosophic mind of Aristotle, and certainly extending the knowledge of Pliny, as is evidenced by his 'Historia Naturalis,' the only work which has come down to us of the latter great naturalist. Pliny, standing out as a bright star in zoological science at the period he lived, was doubtless tolerably acquainted with the natural productions of Eastern Europe, Arabia, North-eastern Africa, slightly with those of Persia, and still less so with those of India.
It may be fairly said, that the earliest dawn of natural history commenced with the Christian era,—Aristotle living just before, and Pliny soon after, the advent of our Saviour. This early dawn, however, was for a long period obscured by the dark ages which succeeded; for it was not until the commencement of the 17th century that Aldrovandus, Piso, Marcgrave, and Willughby wrote their works on this branch of science. At this comparatively late period, the productions of Europe were better known; Africa had been for a long time circumnavigated, and its southern fauna partially brought to light; India also in like manner furnished her quota, though sparingly, to the stock of human knowledge. What Alexander's celebrated expedition did for the naturalists Aristotle and Pliny, the discoveries of Columbus did by shedding a new light upon zoological science, and furnishing fresh food to the modern writers above mentioned. Linnaeus, the greatest of all systematists, had a very extended knowledge of the natural productions of the globe, and the information this great man has left behind him in his numerous writings is considerable. Still, the southern land which we designate Australia (the mammalian products of which