Chap. XIII.

Of the death of Aristotle.

THAT Aristotle drowned himself in Euripus, as dispairing to resolve the cause of its reciprocation, or ebb and flow seven times a day, with this determination, Si quidem ego non capio te, tu capies me, was the assertion of Procopius, Nazianzen, Justin Martyr, and is generally believed amongst us. Wherein, because we perceive men have but an imperfect knowledge, some conceiving Euripus to be a River, others not knowing where or in what part to place it; we first advertise, it generally signifieth any strait, fret, or channel of the Sea, running betweene two shoars, as Julius Pollux hath defined it; as we read of Euripus Hellespontiacus, Pyrrhæus, and this whereof we treat, Euripus Euboicus or Chalcidicus, that is, a narrow passage of Sea dividing Attica, and the Island of Eubœa, now called Golfo de Negroponte, from the name of the Island and chief City thereof; famous in the wars of Antiochus, and taken from the Venetians by Mahomet the Great.

Now that in this Euripe or fret of Negropont, and upon the occasion mentioned, Aristotle drowned himself, as many affirm, and almost all believe, we have some room to doubt. For without any mention of this, we find two ways delivered of his death by Diogenes Laertius, who expresly treateth thereof; the one from Eumolus and Phavorinus, that being accused of impiety for composing an Hymn unto Hermias (upon whose Concubine he begat his son Nichomachus) he withdrew into Chalcis, where drinking poison he died; the Hymn is extant in Laertius, and the fifteenth book of Athenæus. Another by Apollodorus, that he died at Chalcis of a natural death and languishment of stomach, in his sixty third, or great Climacterical year; and answerable hereto is the account of Suidas and Censorinus.[1] And if that were clearly made out, which Rabbi Ben Joseph affirmeth, he found in an Egyptian book of Abraham Sapiens Perizol; that Aristotle acknowledged all that was written in the Law of Moses, and became at last a Proselyte;2 it would also make improbable this received way of his death.

Again, Beside the negative of Authority, it is also deniable by reason; nor will it be easie to obtrude such desperate attempts upon Aristotle, from unsatisfaction of reason, who so often acknowledged the imbecility thereof. Who in matters of difficulty, and such which were not without abstrusities, conceived it sufficient to deliver conjecturalities. And surely he that could sometimes sit down with high improbabilities, that could content himself, and think to satisfie others, that the variegation of Birds was from their living in the Sun, or erection made by deliberation of the Testicles; would not have been dejected unto death with this. He that was so well acquainted with ἣ ὄτι, and πότερον utrum, and An Quia, as we observe in the Queries of his Problems; with ἲσως and ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ, fortasse and plerumque, as is observable through all his Works: had certainly rested with probabilities, and glancing conjectures in this: Nor would his resolutions have ever run into that mortal Antanaclasis, and desperate piece of Rhetorick, to be compriz'd in that he could not comprehend.[3] Nor is it indeed to be made out that he ever endeavoured the particular of Euripus, or so much as to resolve the ebb and flow of the Sea. For, as Vicomercatus and others observe, he hath made no mention hereof in his Works, although the occasion present it self in his Meteors, wherein he disputeth the affections of the Sea: nor yet in his Problems, although in the twenty third Section, there be no less than one and forty Queries of the Sea. Some mention there is indeed in a Work of the propriety of Elements, ascribed unto Aristotle: which notwithstanding is not reputed genuine, and was perhaps the same whence this was urged by Plutarch.4

Lastly, the thing it self whereon the opinion dependeth, that is, the variety of the flux and reflux of Euripus, or whether the same do ebb and flow seven times a day, is not incontrovertible. For, though Pomponius Mela, and after him Solinus and Pliny hath affirmed it, yet I observe Thucydides, who speaketh often of Eubœa, hath omitted it. Pausanias an ancient Writer, who hath left an exact description of Greece, and in as particular a way as Leandro of Italy, or Cambden of great Britain, describing not only the Country Towns, and Rivers; but Hills, Springs and Houses, hath left no mention hereof. Æschines in Ctesiphon only alludeth unto it; and Strabo that accurate Geographer speaks warily of it, that is, ὡς φασὶ, and as men commonly reported.[5] And so doth also Maginus, Velocis ac varii fluctus est mare, ubi quater in die, aut septies, ut alii dicunt, reciprocantur æstus. Botero more plainly, Il mar cresce e cala con un impeto mirabile quatro volte il di, ben che communimente si dica sette volte, &c. This Sea with wondrous impetuosity ebbeth and floweth four times a day, although it be commonly said seven times, and generally opinioned, that Aristotle despairing of the reason, drowned himself therein. In which description by four times a day, it exceeds not in number the motion of other Seas, taking the words properly, that is, twice ebbing and twice flowing in four and twenty hours. And is no more than what Thomaso Porrchacchi affirmeth in his description of famous Islands, that twice a day it hath such an impetuous flood, as is not without wonder. Livy speaks more particularly, Haud facile infestior classi statio est & fretum ipsum Euripi, non septies die (sicut fama fert) temporibus certis reciprocat, sed temere in modum venti, nunc huc nunc illuc verso mari, velut monte præcipiti devolutus torrens rapitur. There is hardly a worse harbour, the fret or channel of Euripus not certainly ebbing or flowing seven times a day, according to common report: but being uncertainly, and in the manner of a wind carried hither and thither, is whirled away as a torrent down a hill. But the experimental testimony of Gillius is most considerable of any: who having beheld the course thereof, and made enquiry of Millers that dwelt upon its shore, received answer, that it ebbed and flowed four times a day, that is, every six hours, according to the Law of the Ocean: but that indeed sometimes it observed not that certain course. And this irregularity, though seldom happening, together with its unruly and tumultuous motion, might afford a beginning unto the common opinion. Thus may the expression in Ctesiphon be made out: And by this may Aristotle be interpreted, when in his Problems he seems to borrow a Metaphor from Euripus: while in the five and twentieth Section he enquireth, why in the upper parts of houses the Air doth Euripize, that is, is whirled hither and thither.

A later and experimental testimony is to be found in the travels of Monsieur Duloir; who about twenty years ago, remained sometime at Negroponte, or old Chalcis, and also passed and repassed this Euripus; who thus expresseth himself. I wonder much at the Error concerning the flux and reflux of Euripus; and I assure you that opinion is false. I gave a Boat-man a Crown, to set me in a convenient place, where for a whole day I might observe the same. It ebbeth and floweth by six hours, even as it doth at Venice, but the course thereof is vehement.

Now that which gave life unto the assertion, might be his death at Chalcis, the chief City of Eubœa, and seated upon Euripus, where tis confessed by all he ended his days. That he emaciated and pined away in the too anxious enquiry of its reciprocations, although not drowned therein, as Rhodiginus relateth, some conceived, was a half confession thereof not justifiable from Antiquity. Surely the Philosophy of flux and reflux was very imperfect of old among the Greeks and Latins; nor could they hold a sufficient theory thereof, who onely observed the Mediterranean, which in some places hath no ebb, and not much in any part. Nor can we affirm our knowledg is at the height, who have now the Theory of the Ocean and narrow Seas beside. While we refer it unto the Moon, we give some satisfaction for the Ocean, but no general salve for Creeks, and Seas which know no flood: nor resolve why it flowes three or four foot at Venice in the bottom of the Gulf, yet scarce at all at Ancona, Durazzo, or Corcyra, which lie but by the way. And therefore old abstrusities have caused new inventions; and some from the Hypotheses of Copernicus, or the Diurnal and annual motion of the earth, endeavour to salve the flows and motions of these Seas, illustrating the same by water in a boal, that rising or falling to either side, according to the motion of the vessel, the conceit is ingenuous, salves some doubts, and is discovered at large by Galileo.[6]

But whether the received principle and undeniable action of the Moon may not be still retained, although in some difference of application, is yet to be perpended;7 that is, not by a simple operation upon the surphace or superiour parts, but excitation of the nitro-sulphureous spirits, and parts disposed to intumescency at the bottom; not by attenuation of the upper part of the Sea, (whereby ships would draw more water at the flow than at the ebb) but inturgescencies caused first at the bottom, and carrying the upper part before them: subsiding and falling again, according to the Motion of the Moon from the Meridian, and languor of the exciting cause: and therefore Rivers and Lakes who want these fermenting parts at the bottom, are not excited unto æstutations; and therefore some Seas flow higher than others, according to the Plenty of these spirits, in their submarine constitutions. And therefore also the periods of flux and reflux are various, nor their increase or decrease equal: according to the temper of the terreous parts at the bottom: who as they are more hardly or easily moved, do variously begin, continue or end their intumescencies.

From the peculiar disposition of the earth at the bottom, wherein quick excitations are made, may arise those Agars[8] and impetuous flows in some æstuaries and Rivers, as is observable about Trent and Humber in England; which may also have some effect in the boisterous tides of Euripus, not only from ebullitions at the bottom, but also from the sides and lateral parts, driving the streams from either side, which arise or fall according to the motion in those parts, and the intent or remiss operations of the first exciting causes, which maintain their activities above and below the Horizon; even as they do in the bodies of plants and animals, and in the commotion of Catarrhes.

However therefore Aristotle died, what was his end, or upon what occasion, although it be not altogether assured, yet that his memory and worthy name shall live, no man will deny, nor grateful Scholar doubt, and if according to the Elogy of Solon, a man may be only said to be happy after he is dead, and ceaseth to be in the visible capacity of beatitude, or if according unto his own Ethicks, sense is not essential unto felicity, but a man may be happy without the apprehension thereof; surely in that sense he is pyramidally happy;[9] nor can he ever perish but in the Euripe of Ignorance, or till the Torrent of Barbarism overwhelm all.

A like conceit there passeth of Melesigenes, alias Homer, the Father Poet, that he pined away upon the Riddle of the fishermen. But Herodotus who wrote his life hath cleared this point;[10] delivering, that passing from Samos unto Athens, he went sick ashore upon the Island Ios, where he died, and was solemnly interred upon the Sea side; and so decidingly concludeth, Ex hac ægritudine extremum diem clausit Homerus in Io, non, ut arbitrantur aliqui, Ænigmatis perplexitate enectus, sed morbo.


* [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 [The Suidas says Aristotle died at 70. Censorinus is also cited in the chapter on the Great Climacteric, Book IV, chap. XII.]

2 Licetus de quæsitis epist.

3 [Antanaclasis, a figure in which a word is used in different (even contradictory) senses, or in which a speaker returns to his matter after a long parenthetical remark. Hence, that Aristotle should be "comprised in that he could not comprehend", or drowned in waters whose nature he could not understand (remembering that comprise is etymologically a past participle of comprehend).]

4 De placitis Philosophorum.

5 [Strabo IX.2.8.]

6 [Wren: And by the Lord Bacon rejected in his booke, De Fluxu et Refluxu Maris.]

7 Rog. Bac. doctiss. Cabeus Met. 2

8 [Tidal bores or eagres. Some rivers, notably the Seine and the Severn, are much affected by this phenomenon, especially in the spring. Needless to say, Browne's peculiar explanation (or rather his sources', especially Cabeus) is to be taken, as it were, with a grain of salt.]

9 [I.e., at least in the monuments — his works — left behind him; cf. Hydriotaphia Chapter V, where to "subsist in bones and be but pyramidally extant is a fallacy in duration".]

10 [In the Libellus de Vita Homeri. It is not by Herodotus.]

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