Of adherence unto Antiquity.

BUT the mortallest enemy unto Knowledge, and that which hath done the greatest execution upon truth, hath been a peremptory adhesion unto Authority, and more especially, the establishing of our belief upon the dictates of Antiquity. For (as every capacity may observe) most men of Ages present, so superstitiously do look on Ages past, that the Authorities of the one, exceed the reasons of the other: Whose persons indeed being far removed from our times, their works, which seldom with us pass uncontrouled,[1] either by contemporaries, or immediate successors, are now become out of the distance of Envies; and the farther removed from present times, are conceived to approach the nearer unto truth it self. Now hereby methinks we manifestly delude our selves, and widely walk out of the track of Truth.

For first, Men hereby impose a Thraldom on their Times, which the ingenuity of no Age should endure, or indeed, the presumption of any did ever yet enjoyn. Thus Hippocrates about 2000 years ago, conceived it no injustice, either to examine or refute the Doctrines of his Predecessors: Galen the like, and Aristotle the most of any. Yet did not any of these conceive themselves infallible, or set down their dictates as verities irrefragable, but when they deliver their own Inventions, or reject other men's Opinions, they proceed with Judgment and Ingenuity; establishing their assertion, not only with great solidity, but submitting them also unto the correction of future discovery.

Secondly, Men that adore times past, consider not that those times were once present; that is, as our own are at this instant, and we our selves unto those to come, as they unto us at present, as we relye on them, even so will those on us, and magnifie us hereafter, who at present condemn our selves. Which very absurdity is daily committed amongst us, even in the esteem and censure of our own times. And to speak impartially, old Men, from whom we should expect the greatest example of Wisdom, do most exceed in this point of folly; commending the days of their youth, which they scarce remember, at least well understood not; extolling those times their younger years have heard their Fathers condemn, and condemning those times the gray heads of their posterity shall commend. And thus is it the humour of many heads, to extol the days of their Fore-fathers, and declaim against the wickedness of times present. Which notwithstanding they cannot handsomly do, without the borrowed help and Satyrs of times past; condemning the vices of their own times, by the expressions of vices in times which they commend; which cannot but argue the community of vice in both. Horace therefore, and Juvenal, and Persius were no Prophets, although their lines did seem to indigitate and point at our times. There is a certain list of vices committed in all Ages, and declaimed against by all Authors, which will last as long as human nature; which digested into common places, may serve for any Theme, and never be out of date until Dooms-day.

Thirdly, The Testimonies of Antiquity, and such as pass oraculously amongst us, were not, if we consider them, always so exact, as to examine the doctrine they delivered. For some, and those the acutest of them, have left unto us many things of falsity; controlable, not only by critical and collective reason, but common and Country observation.

Hereof there want not many examples in Aristotle, through all his Book of Animals;[2] we shall instance onely in three of his Problems, and all contained under one Section. The first enquireth, why a Man doth cough, but not an Oxe or Cow; whereas, notwithstanding the contrary is often observed by Husbandmen, and stands confirmed by those who have expresly treated De Re Rustica, and have also delivered divers remedies for it. Why Juments, as Horses, Oxen, and Asses, have no eructation or belching, whereas indeed the contrary is often observed, and also delivered by Columella. And thirdly, Why Man alone hath gray hairs? whereas it cannot escape the eyes, and ordinary observation of all men, as Horses, Dogs, and Foxes, wax gray with age in our Countries;[3] and in the colder Regions, many other Animals without it. And though favourable constructions may somewhat extenuate the rigour of these concessions, yet will scarce any palliate that in the fourth of his Meteors, that Salt is easiest dissolvable in cold water:[4] Nor that of Diascorides, that Quicksilver is best preserved in Vessels of Tin and Lead.

Other Authors write often dubiously, even in matters wherein is expected a strict and definitive truth; extenuating their affirmations, with aiunt, ferunt, fortasse: as Diascorides, Galen, Aristotle, and many more. Others by hear-say; taking upon trust most they have delivered, whose Volumes are meer Collections, drawn from the mouths or leaves of other Authors; as may be observed in Plinie, Elian, Athenæus, and many more. Not a few transcriptively, subscribing their Names unto other mens endeavours, and meerly transcribing almost all they have written. The Latines5 transcribing the Greeks, the Greeks and Latines, each other.

Thus hath Justine borrowed all from Trogus Pompeius, and Julius Solinus, in a manner transcribed Plinie. Thus have Lucian and Apuleius served Lucius Pratensis ; men both living in the same time, and both transcribing the same Author, in those famous Books, Entituled Lucius by the one, and Aureus Asinus by the other. In the same measure hath Simocrates[6] in his Tract De Nilo, dealt with Diodorus Siculus, as may be observed in that work annexed unto Herodotus, and translated by Jungermannus. Thus Eratosthenes wholly translated Timotheus de Insulis, not reserving the very Preface. The same doth Strabo report of Eudorus,[7] and Ariston, in a Treatise entituled De Nilo. Clemens Alexandrinus hath observed many examples hereof among the Greeks; and Pliny speaketh very plainly in his Preface, that conferring his Authors, and comparing their works together, he generally found those that went before verbatim transcribed, by those that followed after, and their Originals never so much as mentioned.[8] To omit how much of the wittiest piece of Ovid9 is beholden unto Parthenius Chius; even the magnified Virgil hath borrowed, almost in all his Works;[10] his Eclogues from Theocritus, his Georgicks from Hesiod and Aratus, his Aeneads from Homer, the second Book whereof containing the exploits of Sinon and the Trojan Horse (as Macrobius observeth) he hath verbatim derived from Pisander. Our own Profession is not excusable herein. Thus Oribasius, Ætius, and Ægineta, have in a manner transcribed Galen. But Marcellus Empericus, who hath left a famous Work De Medicamentis, hath word for word transcribed all Scribonius Largus, De Compositione Medicamentorum, and not left out his very Peroration. Thus may we perceive the Ancients were but men, even like our selves.[11] The practice of transcription in our days, was no Monster in theirs: Plagiarie had not its Nativity with Printing, but began in times when thefts were difficult, and the paucity of Books scarce wanted that Invention.

Nor did they only make large use of other Authors, but often without mention of their names. Aristotle, who seems to have borrowed many things from Hippocrates, in the most favourable construction, makes mention but once of him,12 and that by the by, and without reference unto his present Doctrine. Virgil, so much beholding unto Homer, hath not his name in all his Works: and Plinie, who seems to borrow many Authors out of Dioscorides, hath taken no notice of him.[13] I wish men were not still content to plume themselves with others Feathers. Fear of discovery, not single ingenuity affords Quotations rather than Transcriptions; wherein notwithstanding the Plagiarisme of many makes little consideration, whereof though great Authors may complain, small ones cannot but take notice.

Fourthly, While we so eagerly adhere unto Antiquity, and the accounts of elder times, we are to consider the fabulous condition thereof. And that we shall not deny, if we call to mind the Mendacity of Greece, from whom we have received most relations, and that a considerable part of ancient Times, was by the Greeks themselves termed μύθικον, that is, made up or stuffed out with Fables.[14] And surely the fabulous inclination of those days, was greater then any since; which swarmed so with Fables, and from such slender grounds, took hints for fictions, poysoning the World ever after; wherein how far they exceeded, may be exemplified from Palephatus,15 in his Book of Fabulous Narrations. That Fable of Orpheus, who, by the melody of his Musick, made Woods and Trees to follow him, was raised upon a slender foundation; for there were a crew of mad women, retired unto a Mountain from whence being pacified by his Musick, they descended with boughs in their hands, which unto the fabulosity of those times proved a sufficient ground to celebrate unto all posterity the Magick of Orpheus Harp, and its power to attract the sensless Trees about it. That Medea the famous Sorceress could renew youth, and make old men young again, was nothing else, but that from the knowledge of Simples she had a Receit to make white hair black, and reduce old heads, into the tincture of youth again. The Fable of Gerion and Cerberus with three heads, was this: Gerion was of the City of Tricarinia, that is, of three heads, and Cerberus of the same place was one of his Dogs, which running into a Cave upon pursuit of his Masters Oxen, Hercules perforce drew him out of that place, from whence the conceits of those days affirmed no less, then that Hercules descended into Hell, and brought up Cerberus into the habitation of the living. Upon the like grounds was raised the figment of Briareus, who dwelling in a City called Hecatonchiria, the fansies of those times assigned him an hundred hands. 'Twas ground enough to fansie wings unto Dædalus, in that he stole out of a Window from Minos, and sailed away with his son Icarus: who steering his course wisely, escaped; but his son carrying too high a sail was drowned. That Niobe weeping over her children, was turned into a Stone, was nothing else, but that during her life she erected over their Sepultures a Marble Tomb of her own. When Acteon had undone himself with Dogs, and the prodigal attendants of hunting, they made a solemn story how he was devoured by his Hounds. And upon the like grounds was raised the Anthropophagie16 of Diomedes his horses. Upon as slender foundation was built the Fable of the Minotaure; for one Taurus a servant of Minos gat his Mistris Pasiphae with child, from whence the Infant was named Minotaurus. Now this unto the fabulosity of those times was thought sufficient to accuse Pasiphae of Beastiality, or admitting conjunction with a Bull; and in succeeding ages gave a hint of depravity unto Domitian to act the Fable into reality.[17] In like manner, as Diodorus plainly delivereth, the famous Fable of Charon had its Nativity; who being no other but the common Ferry-man of Egypt, that wafted over the dead bodies from Memphis, was made by the Greeks to be the Ferry-man of Hell, and solemn stories raised after of him. Lastly, we shall not need to enlarge, if that be true which grounded the generation of Castor and Helen out of an Egg, because they were born and brought up in an upper room, according unto the word ὦον, which with the Lacædemonians had also that signification.[18]

Fifthly, We applaud many things delivered by the Ancients, which are in themselves but ordinary, and come short of our own Conceptions. Thus we usually extol, and our Orations cannot escape the sayings of the wise men of Greece. Nosce teipsum, of Thales: Nosce tempus, of Pittacus: Nihil nimis, of Cleobulus; which notwithstanding to speak indifferently, are but vulgar precepts in Morality, carrying with them nothing above the line, or beyond the extemporary sententiosity of common conceits with us.{19} Thus we magnifie the Apothegms or reputed replies of Wisdom, whereof many are to be seen in Laertius, more in Lycosthenes, not a few in the second Book of Macrobius, in the sals of Cicero, Augustus, and the Comical wits of those times: in most whereof there is not much to admire, and are methinks exceeded, not only in the replies of wise men, but the passages of society, and urbanities of our times. And thus we extol their Adages, or Proverbs; and Erasmus hath taken great pains to make collections of them,[20] whereof notwithstanding, the greater part will, I believe, unto indifferent Judges be esteemed no extraordinaries; and may be parallel'd, if not exceeded, by those of more unlearned Nations, and many of our own.

Sixthly, We urge Authorities in points that need not, and introduce the testimony of ancient Writers, to confirm things evidently believed, and whereto no reasonable hearer but would assent without them; such as are, Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. Virtute nil præstantius, nil pulchrius. Omnia vincit amor. Præclarum quiddam veritas.[21] All which, although things known and vulgar, are frequently urged by many men, and though trivial verities in our mouths, yet, noted from Plato, Ovid, or Cicero, they become reputed elegancies. For many hundred to instance but in one we meet with while we are writing. Antonius Guevera[22] that elegant Spaniard, in his Book entituled, The Dial of Princes, beginneth his Epistle thus. Apolonius Thyaneus, disputing with the Scholars of Hiarchas, said, that among all the affections of nature, nothing was more natural, then the desire all have to preserve life. Which being a confessed Truth, and a verity acknowledged by all, it was a superfluous affectation to derive its Authority from Apolonius, or seek a confirmation thereof as far as India, and the learned Scholars of Hiarchas. Which whether it be not all one to strengthen common Dignities and Principles known by themselves, with the Authority of Mathematicians; or think a man should believe, the whole is greater then its parts, rather upon the Authority of Euclide, then if it were propounded alone; I leave unto the second and wiser cogitations of all men. 'Tis sure a Practice that savours much of Pedantry; a reserve of Puerility we have not shaken off from School; where being seasoned with Minor sentences, by a neglect of higher Enquiries, they prescribe upon our riper ears, and are never worn but with our memories.

Lastly, While we so devoutly adhere unto Antiquity in some things, we do not consider we have deserted them in several others. For they indeed have not onely been imperfect, in the conceit of some things, but either ignorant or erroneous in many more. They understood not the motion of the eighth sphear from West to East, and so conceived the longitude of the Stars invariable. They conceived the torrid Zone unhabitable, and so made frustrate the goodliest part of the Earth. But we now know 'tis very well empeopled, and the habitation thereof esteemed so happy, that some have made it the proper seat of Paradise; and been so far from judging it unhabitable, that they have made it the first habitation of all. Many of the Ancients denied the Antipodes, and some unto the penalty of contrary affirmations; but the experience of our enlarged navigations, can now assert them beyond all dubitation. Having thus totally relinquisht them in some things, it may not be presumptuous, to examine them in others: but surely most unreasonable to adhere to them in all, as though they were infallible, or could not err in any.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 ["Control" retains its "French" meaning in Browne: to look for faults in, to question, observe, correct, etc.]

2 [Book III of Pseudodoxia deals more largely with animals. The texts of Aristotle's works on animals are available from the MIT Classics Archives, for example, The History of Animals. The text of the Problemata, which is probably not by Aristotle, is not yet on line.]

3 [In his work on animals, Aristotle states that Man's gray hair is more observable than that of other animals, except perhaps the horse, and that birds do not gray, except the crane. From personal observation, I would add the chicken and the parrot to the list.]

4 [The argument is somewhat complicated; earlier, Aristotle distinctly says that warm water dissolves more salt than cold. In the passage in question, he is not speaking of temperature: water is "cold-moist" and will dissolve Natron and Salt even if it is warm; oil, for instance, is not "cold-moist" and will not dissolve salt. Says Aristotle.]

5 [The 1686 reading of "The Arabs" would seem to give this sentence a bit more meaning. It could as well mean, however, "The Romans copied the Greeks, and copied other Romans as well; and the Greeks copied other Greeks."]

6 [For Simocrates sc. Simocates, Theophylactus Simocatta.]

7 [Strabo XVII.1.5.]

8 [Pliny HN Preface xxii. (or in Holland's English translation).]

9 His Metamorphosis.

10 [See Macrobius, Saturnalia V, especially ii. Macrobius is borrowing (with attribution) from Eustathius.]

11 [In a typical Browne joke, practically the whole of this paragraph is drawn from unnamed sources, with errors thrown in. Macrobius: see Saturnalia V.ii.4 ff.]

12 In his Politicks. [1326a: "one would judge Hippocrates greater than another man, as a physician, even though he were a smaller man physically".]

13 [Quite possibly Pliny did not know even of the existence of Dioscorides, as they were contemporaries. And to accuse an author of plagiarizing plagiarism is going a bit far, especially in the case of Pliny, who is very careful, and seems even very proud, to give all his authorities for each chapter — the first author we know to have done so.]

14 [On the (legendary) mendacity of the Greeks: cf. Juvenal X 'Græcia mendax'; on the mythic period of history, Censorinus De Die Natali, xxii (the first part, tenebrous or uncertain, up to the deluge; from the deluge to the first Olympicon, "mythicon", the second period of history).]

15 An Ancient Author who writ Περὶ ἀπίσων, sive de incredibilibus, whereof some part is yet extant.

16 Eating of Mans Flesh.

17 [According to Martial, de Spectaculis V:

Iunctam Pasiphaen Dictaeo credit tauro:
uidimus, accepit fabula prisca fidem.
Nec se miretur, Caesar, longaeua uetustas:
quidquid fama canit, praestat harena tibi.

Suetonius: De Vita Caesarum--Nero xii tells a similar story of Nero.]

18 [According to Athenaeus.]

19 {1672 reads "or beyond the extemporary sententiosity of common conceit is with us"; but 1646 reads "or beyond the extemporall sententiosity of common conceits with us", and 1686 reads "or beyond the extemporary sententiosity of common conceits with us", which is here represented.}

20 [In his Chiliades, or Adagia.]

21 [Nemo ... sapit: Pliny VII.xl.131 (englished by Holland, Chap. XL). Virtute ... pulchrius: Seneca Epistulae Morales, Liber VII: lxvii:16. Omnia vincit amor: Virgil Eclogue X:69. Præclarum quiddam veritas: ? Although the thought is of course, as Browne is saying, common: cf. "For truth is precious and divine", Hudibras II.ii.257; "Beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies" in Milton's The Reason of Church Government, Book II. 1 Esdras iv.41 has "Great is truth, and mighty above all things", Vulgate "magna veritas et praevalet", but it is unlikely that Browne would go so far as to accuse the Author of the Bible of platitidunizing.]

22 [Sc. Guevara.]

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