Boo the Cat Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.


Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 13, pp. 165-170.


1. There is not heat in the body of the Sun. 2. Islands before the Flood proved. 3. The seven Ostiaries of Nilus, and its greatness. The greatness of old Rome divers ways proved. Nilus over-flowing, how proper to it: the Crocodiles of Nilus; its inundation regular.

THe Doctor in his subsequent discourses (6 Book c. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) hath many learned Cosmographicall passages collected dextrously out of many approved Authors, against which I have nothing to say; onely he must give me leave to differ from him in his opinion concerning the Suns heat, when he sayes, that if the Sunne had been placed in the lowest spheare where the Moon is, by this vicinity to the earth its heat had been intollerable. What will he say then to that world lately discovered in the Moon by the glasses as fallacious as the opinion is erroneous.1 Surely these people must live uncomfortably where the heat is so intollerable; or else they must have the bodies of Salamanders, or else of those Pyrustæ in the Furnaces of Sicily: but indeed though the Sunne work by the Moon upon sublunary bodies, yet the Moon is not hot, nor capable of it, no more then the line is capable of that stupidity which from the Torpedo is conveyed by the line to the Fishers hands. No celestiall body is capable of heat, because not passive; except we will deny that quintessence, and put no difference between Celestial and Elementary bodies. The Sun then is not the subject but the efficient cause of heat; the prime subject of heat is the element of fire, the prime efficient cause is the Sun, which can produce heat, though he be not hot himself. And this is no more strange then for him to produce life, sense, vegetation, colours, odors, and other qualities in sublunary bodies, which notwithstanding are not in him, though from him. Again, if the Sun be the subject of heat, because he is the original and effect or of it; then Saturn is the subject of cold, the Moon of moisture, and Mars of drinesse, and so we shall place action and passion, and all elementary qualities in the heavens, making a Chaos and confusion of celestial and sublunary bodies. Moreover, if the Suns vicinity causeth the greatest heat, why are the tops of the highest mountains perpetually cold and snowy? Why doe there blow such cold windes under the Line, as Acosta sheweth? We conclude then, that the Sun is the cause of heat, though he be not hot; as he is the cause of generation and corruption, though he be neither generable nor corruptible. Ovid then played the Poet not the Philosopher, when he causeth the Suns vicinity to melt Icarus his waxen wings.

II. He sayes, that Islands before the Flood are with probability denied by very learned authors. Answ. He doth not alledge any one probable reason out of these Authors in maintenance of this opinion. I can give more then probable reasons that there were Islands before the Flood,2 First, the whole earth it selfe was made an Island; therefore the Sea is rightly called Amphitrite, from encompassing the earth; for this cause David saith, That God hath founded the Earth upon the Waters. And though Earth and Sea make but one Globe, yet the Earth onely is the Center of the world, as Clavius demonstrates. 2. The world was in its perfect beauty before the Flood; but Islands in the Sea tend no lesse to the beauty and perfection of the world, then Lakes upon the Land. 3. All the causes of islands were as well before the Flood as since; for there were great Rivers running into the Sea, carrying with them mud, gravell, and weeds, which in time become Islands. There were also Earth-quakes, by which divers islands have been made, the vapour or spirit under the bottome of the Sea thrusting up the ground above the superficies of the water; and who will say, that in the space of 16. hundred years before the Flood there should be no Earth-quakes? Again, in that time the Sea had the same power over the neighboring lands which it hath since the Flood. But we find that Islands were made by the Sea washing away the soft and lower ground in peninsules at this day; there doubtless the Sea wanted not the same force and quality before the Flood: for there were as forcible winds, and as impetuous waves. Lastly, Islands are made when the Sea forsakes some Land which it useth to over-flow; and this property also we cannot deny to have been in the Sea before the Flood; for there were windes to beat off the Sea, & to drive together heaps of sand into some altitude, whereby the water is forced to forsake the land, whence hath proceeded divers isles.

III. He saith (Book 6. c. 4.)3 there were more then seven Ostiaries of Nilus. Answ. There were but seven of note, the other four were of no account, but passed as inconsiderable: Hence they were called yeudosomata; therfore the stream of all waters sum upon seven; So Virgil, septem discurrit in ora.4 And Æn. 6.5 septem gemini turbant trepida ostia Nili. Ovid calls the River6 Septemfluus; by others it is named Septemplex;7 by Valerius, septem cones; Claudius gives it, septem cornu; Manilius, septem fauces; Ovid, septem portus; Statius septem hiemes; Dionysius Afer, epta isomata.8 These seven mouthes have their particular names given them by Mela and other Geographers,9 and so the Scripture gives it seven streams, Isaiah 11.15.10 at this day there are but foure left, two of which are of little use; therefore the Doctor needed not to have troubled himselfe so much as he doth, because so frequently this is called the seven-mouthed river; for it is usuall to give denominations not from the exact number, but from the most eminent and major part of the number. He may as wel except against Moses, who in divers11 places reckons but seventy souls which went down into Ægypt, and yet Saint Steven in the Acts mentions 75 souls. Again, he dislikes the title given by Ortelius to Nilus when he calls it the greatest river of the world. But Ortelius was not mistaken in calling it so; for it is the greatest, though not perhaps in length, because it may be some are longer, the which are not certainly known; yet in breadth when it overflowes the whole Countrey;12 and so it was called by the Ancients, as Pior Valerius sheweth. Nile, saith Basil, is liker a Sea tthen a River, and some esteem the length of it 1 thousand German miles, or 35. degrees, having Summer at the springs thereof, and Winter at the other end the same time. It is also the greatest in regard of use and benefit; for no River doth so much enrich a Countrey as Nilus doth Egipt. It is the greatest also in fame; for no River is so renowned in Writers. By the world also is meant so much as is known to us; for the Rivers of America are known rather by hearsay then otherwise. The greatness of this River was of old Hieroglyphicall expressed by the vast body of a Giant. There is a Statue of Nilus in the Vatican,13 the picture whereof is in Sands his Travels, the greatest of Poets, by way of excellency calls this the Great River, in magno mærentem corpore Nilum. Again the Doctor will have Rome (magnified by the Latines for the greatest of the earth) to be lesser then Cairo; and Quinsay to exceed both. But he is much mistaken; for Cairo, as Sands tells us who was there, is not above 5. Italian miles in length with the suburbs, and in bredth scarce one and a halfe; whereas Rome was almost fifty miles in compasse within the walls, and the circuit of the suburbs much more, as Lipsius (de mag. Rom. l. 3. c. 2.) hath collected out of divers Authors: He shewes the greatenesse of it also by the number of the people therein; for there were three and twenty thousand poor which was maintained upon the publick charge; then if we reckon the multitude of rich men, and their train, which was not small: (for divers of the great persons; maintainedfamilies of foure hundred persons;) if we look upon the multitude of Artificers, of Souldiers, of courriers, of strangers from all parts flocking thither, as to the great Metropolis and shop of the World, we shall find there were no lesse then four millions, or fourty hundred thousand people, which is more then can be found in many large provinces. Heliogabolus collected the greatness of this City by the Cobwebs found in it, which being gathered together, did weigh ten thousand pound.14 Another argument of its greatness may be collected out of Eusebius his Chronicle, who reckons that for many days together there were buried of the plague ten thousand daily. Not without cause then was Rome called the Epitome of the world; by Aristides ergasthrion thV ghV the Earths workhouse,15 and akropoliV, the worlds Citadel, or Castle; by Saint John, the great Citie, and the great Babylon;16 by Virgil, Maximum rerum. And it stood with reason that Rome should be greatest of Cities, being the Queen and Mistress of the greatest Empire, of such large Territories, and full of people, Cities and Nations. Rome then was every way the greatest Citie, both in extent, in power, in people, in glory, in magnificence. What Citie ever had that multitude of stately Palaces, Temples, Theaters, Olisks,17 triumphant Arches, Baths, and other public buildings, as Laurus sheweth? As for Quinsay in China, we have a fabulous narration in M. Paulus Venetus, that is an hundred miles in compasse; but his narrations have been found erroneous, and if the Kingdome of China comes far short of the greatnesse of the Roman Empire, surely Quinsay must fall short of Rome, which as the Poet saith,18

Inter alias tantum caput extulit urbes,
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.

As for Quiinsay now it is not thirty miles in compasse, as Nicolas de Contu sheweth who was there. Again he saith, That this anuall overflowing is not proper unto Nile, being common to many currents in Africa. 19 I answer, It is so proper to Nile, that no other River doth so orderly, so frequently, so fully, overflow their banks as this doth. Crocodiles (saith he) are not proper to Nile. Answ. They are so proper, that no river either in Africk, Asia, or America, hath such Crocodiles as Nilus, if either we consider the magnitude, multitude, or fiercenesse of them; Other Crocodiles, chiefly the American, are gentle, the Ægyptian fierce and cruel, which is the cause that Dogges are so afraid to drink out of Nilus, when arose that proverb, Canis ad Nilum. The greatest Indian Crocodiles exceed not twenty foot in length, as Scaliger shewes; but those of Nile are three hundred foot long, whose jawes are so wide, that one of them can contain a whole heifer at a time: some have been found there of 25, and above 26. cubits in bigness, as Ælian reports. The Romans to shew how proper this beast was to Nile, represented Ægypt by a Crocodile in that Coin on which Augustus stampt a Crocodile tied to a palm-tree, with this Inscription, Primus relegavit; for he subdued Ægypt, and restored peace to them.20 Again he saith, That the Causes of Niles inundation are variable, unstable, and irregular, because some yeares there hath been no increase at all. Answ. He may as well say, that the causes of all natural effects are variable, because sometimes they faile: but all naturall causes operate for an end; therefore are constant, regular, and stable, so are not Chance and Fortune, which Aristotle excludes from naturall causes: Are the causes of rain, and storms irregular, variable, and unstable; because sometimes it rains more in Summer then in Winter?21 Or is generation irregular, because sometimes women miscarry? Naturall causes alwayes produce their effects, or for the most part so, that they faile but seldome, and that upon the interposition of some impediment, whereas fortuitall causes produce their effects seldome: The causes then of Niles overflowing, are not contingent, but certain, constant, regular, and stable; because they never faile, or but seldom upon some impediment in the production of that effect. As for the Ægyptian raines I have spoken elsewhere, (animad. on Sir Walt. Raleigh,) Now because of this regular, constant, and beneficial inundation of Nilus, it was called Jupiter Ægiptius, and divine honours were given to it, its annual festival was kept about the Summer Solstitial, when it overflows the land. This was called by the Greeks, ta Neilwa the Priests used to carry the water of Nile on their shoulders with great solemnity to their temples, falling down on their knees, and lifting up their hands, gave solemne thanks to Jupiter Nilus, to whose honour they dedicated a certain piece of coin with this Inscription, Deo Sancto Nilo.22




1. Either a printing error, or Ross has finally gone off his rocker, a conclusion the ensuing discussion goes a long way to support. Referring, in any case, to Pseudodoxia VI.5.

2. Pseudodoxia VI.6. The point is not important to Browne. We might add a note on the impossibility of providing "more than probable" reasons on this question, short of a scriptural reference to islands before the flood, which does not exist and which would in any case probably serve only to provoke further arguments.

3. Pseudodoxia VI.viii in the 1672 edition. Ross pays no attention in this section to Browne's text, and little to historical, geographical, or linguistic fact.

4. Virgil: Georgics IV: 292. Given Ross's apology for "poetic expressions" in previous chapters, it is astounding that he should use poetry so frequently as proof of his positions, but there, as we have said before, it is.

5. Virgil: Aeneid VI: 800.

6. Ovid. Metam. I:800.

7. E.g., Ovid (not really "other", but this is Ross), ibid. V:187.

8. Valerius, "Claudius", Manilius, Ovid, Statius, Dionysius Afer.

9. Pomponius Mela, de chor. I sect. 51.

10. "And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod." This is a prophecy; in the next sentence, Ross says that there are "but four" mouths of the Nile left in his day; so that, if the text refers to mouths of the Nile, there will presumably have to be a restoration of three (and no more than three) of the mouths.

11. 1652: "ind ivers"

12. Not even then; compare the Amazon, even far up its course, in Colombia, even in normal times, let alone in floods.

13. Of which there is a picture online at Statue of Nile, Vatican Museum.

14. See the Historia Augusta, Elagabalus, XXVI.6-7.

15. This could also be a euphemism for "the earth's whore-house".

16. Rev. 14:8, 16:19, 17:5, etc., assuming that Rome = Babylon.

17. Presumably obelisks is meant. As to the argument that the greatness of the empire = the greatness of its (political) capital, one need only consider Washington.

18. Virgil: Eclogue I, 24-25.

19. For Ross's "proper" read Browne's "peculiar". Ross's arguments amount to "'tain't so" without even the pretense of support.

20. The image is very common on Roman coins, with the legend normally "COL NEM", referring to Nîmes, a city greatly enamored of the crocodile; see, e.g., Coin. As for Augustus's restoring peace to Egypt, we shall make no comment, but chalk up another black mark in the Book Against Ross.

21. Yes, they are. Saying "something always happens, unless it doesn't" is certainly not useful and furthermore has nothing to do with Browne's text.

22. As in this coin of Maximinus II, downloaded from a website now (alas!) lost:

Coin with Nile

This page is by James Eason