Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/145

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137
POPULAR MISCELLANY.

In those days, when the temperatures were above the point of decomposition of many of the carbon-nitrogen compounds, a silicon-aluminum series may have presented cycles of complicated syntheses, decompositions, and oxidations essentially parallel to those that underlie our own vital phenomena. The case is at least fascinatingly plausible. If we are to admit the possibility that the chemical accompaniments of life were rehearsed long ago and at far higher temperatures by elements now inert, it is not such a very long step from this, an English essayist suggests, to the supposition that vital, subconscious, and conscious developments may have accompanied such a rehearsal. One is startled toward fantastic imaginings by such a suggestion: Why not silicon-aluminum men at once—wandering through an atmosphere of gaseous sulphur, let us say, by the shores of a sea of liquid iron some thousand degrees or so above the temperature of a blast furnace? But that, of course, is merely a dream. Who will discover a silicon-aluminum fossil?

 

A Study of Maya Hieroglyphics.—American students have not made as much progress in Central American archæology as those of Europe; and it is only recently that the Peabody Museum of Harvard University has undertaken to carry on extensive and exhaustive researches in what Mr. Marshall H. Saville styles the most prolific source of hieroglyphic inscriptions of which we have knowledge. The ancient inhabitants of Copan, Honduras, Mr. Saville says, in his his paper read before the American Association, appear to have been more literary in character than even those of Palenque. There have been found there twenty-four stelæ, all of which have inscriptions, besides altars, slabs, and hieroglyphic steps in large numbers. Pottery vessels and potsherds have been found bearing glyphs, either painted or engraved. These potsherds have been found in such quantities as to show that thousands of their vessels had hieroglyphic inscriptions. The inscriptions are intimately connected with the symbolism almost invariably found with them, and an understanding of the symbolic marks and ornaments will largely aid in deciphering the glyphs. One glyph is found so often repeated on the potsherds as to become significant, and this is the special subject of the author's present study. It is at the head of most of the graven inscriptions of Copan, Palenque, Quirigua, Jikul, and Menche, and of the three tablets of Palenque, and is named by the author the Pax glyph. The heading indicated by this glyph is found on analysis to represent the month Pax, surmounted either by a serpent's head, a mask, or a human face, associated with a vegetal form, or rarely a fish, above the whole of which is a scroll. Having in view the ideas and the nature of the festivals associated with this month, the author concludes that the inscriptions beginning with this heading relate to ceremonies taking place at that time to the god Kukulcan. The occurrence of the Pax glyph in the text, with the hand sowing seed, and again with a flower with seeds, also bears out this conclusion, and it may be inferred that the inscriptions, so far as these single glyphs are concerned, relate to the ceremonies of planting.

 

Chinese Ideas of War.—M. Léon de Remy has made a curious communication respecting the ideas of the Chinese concerning war. Although it has often been necessary for the Chinese to engage in war, the military art has never been in good repute among them. In their view, every war is a misfortune, if not a sin. They avoid talking to their children of laurels, crowns, and triumphs won in war, but teach in their schools that the most glorious battles are at bottom simply homicides, abominable disasters to both parties. An emperor who decides to sacrifice numerous existences on a field of slaughter is reputed an unwise and unjust prince. A general who has won a battle ought to wear mourning for the quantity of blood his success has cost. These doctrines are not gross or immoral, but in the existing conditions of society generous thoughts are not without some inconveniences; and it is easy to understand how, with such ideas concerning war, the Middle Kingdom has been conquered sometimes by peoples of no great importance and not very well armed. Nevertheless, it is a curious ethnographical fact that whenever the Chinese people have been conquered they have absorbed their conquerors to their almost entire disappearance.