Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/118

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thoughts only were real, and all attempts to gain the secrets of Nature were considered useless and contemptible. And, strange as it may seem, the authority appealed to in support of these views was Aristotle himself—not the Aristotle as he was known in Greece and as he has come to be known later, but the Aristotle as he appeared under a double Arabian and Latin disguise. His commentators had no hesitation in ascribing to him just the contrary to what he had advanced. He was to be made orthodox at any price.

All knowledge of Nature that was accidentally unearthed was made to bear a theological import. Even the philosopher's stone was made a theological agent. It was supposed to be able to free man from sin. The search for the stone was commended, since God had promised it to all good Christians, and that passage from Revelation, "To the conqueror I will give a white stone," was quoted in support of this view. Even zoölogy was obstructed with miracles and legends, as witness the wide-spread popularity for centuries throughout Europe of that curious book the Physiologus, or the Beastiary. Without a doubt this book contains a greater number of errors to the page than any other treatise on natural history ever published. It had its origin in the early Christian centuries, when the tendency was to interpret the Bible in an allegorical method, especially resorted to in the earlier commentaries on the account of creation in Genesis.

Among the most astonishing of the statements of this remarkable authority on natural history are the following: "The lion (footprints rubbed out with the tail; sleeps with eyes open, cubs receive life only three days after birth by their father's breath); the sun-lizard (restores its sight by looking at the sun); the pelican (recalls its young to life by its own blood); the eagle (renews its youth by sunlight and bathing in a fountain); the phœnix (revives from fire); the viper (born at the cost of both its parents' death); the serpent (sheds its skin; puts aside its venom before drinking; is afraid of man in a state of nudity; hides its head and abandons the rest of the body); the hedgehog (pricks grapes upon its quills); the panther (spotted skin; enmity to the dragon; sleeps for three days after meals; allures its prey by sweet odor); the sea-tortoise (mistaken by sailors for an island); the hyena (a hermaphrodite); the otter (enters the crocodile's mouth to kill it); the salamader (quenches fire); the tree called peridexion (protects pigeons from the serpent by its shadow); the fire-flints (of two sexes; combine to produce fire)."

It was not because there was nothing better than this book that it gained such a popularity, for there were the works of Pliny and those of Aristotle, though abridged and perverted from their original meaning by commentators. It was because the mind of