Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.
Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 14, pp. 170-174.
1. The cause of Niles inundation. 2. Lots wife truly transformed into a salt Pillar. 3. Hels fire truly black: brimstone causeth blackness. 4. Philoxenus a glutton, and his wish not absurd: How long necks conduce to modulation.
THe Inundation of Nilus (saith the Doctor1) proceeds from the rains in Æthiopia. This I deny not, because averred by Diodorus, Seneca, Strabo, Herodotus, Pliny, Solinus, and others both ancient and modern Writers: and it stands with reason; for the Springs of Nilus are neere the Tropick of Capricorn, where it is winter when the Sun is with us in Cancer: then doth it rain abundantly in that Southern climat; for though within the Tropicks the Suns vicinity causeth rains, yet without his distance is the occasion thereof: His melting of snow upon the Hils of Æthipia is a cause of this inundation. But Scaliger denies that there is any snow at all; yet I doe not think the high mountains there should be less subject to snow then in Peru under the line, although the people in the low Countries thereof be black, and the windes in the vallies warm. The third cause of Nilus overflowing, are the Etesie, 2 or northerly windes, which blow there every yeare when the Sunne is in Cancer. This winde blowing into the mouth of Nile, keeps it from running into the Mediterranean Sea. Scaliger refutes this reason because at the same time the river Nigir which runs into the Western Ocean, overflows his banks; but to this I can easily answer, That at the same time there be different Etesiæ, or constant windes in different regions of the world; so that whilst the North wind blows against Nilus, the West or Southwest, which also as Acosta saith, is predominant upon the coast of Peru, blowes against the Nigir. As for the original of Nilus, it hath been still held uncertain; Pliny writes that King Jubia found out the springs thereof in the Mauritanian Mountains;3 but since, this river hath been found as far as the lake Zaire, which is in ten degrees of Southerly latitude. The Ægyptian Sultan did spare neither for men nor cost to search ou these springs, but could not find them; therefore4 Virgil calls these streams of Nilus, Latebrosa flumina. Herodotus witnesseth, that neither Ægyptian, Grecian, nor African could resolve him any thing of Nilus springs.5 Hence in Homer Nilus is called διιπετής,6 that is, falling or descending from Jupiter, because God onely knew the original of this river.
The Doctor (book 7. c. 11.) will not question the metamorphosis of Lots wife, whether she were transformed into a reall statue of salt, though some conceive that expression metaphoricall. That the expression is not metaphorical, but the transformation real, is manifest by the testimonies of the Rabbins, by the Thargum of Jerusalem, by the best expositors, by Josephus and Borchardus, in whose times that statue of Salt was yet extant; besides divers reasons doe evince the same: For it was as easie for God to turn her body into a salt Pillar, as to turn Moses rod into a Serpent, Nilus into blood, Nebuchadnezzar into a beast. 2. We see daily transformations in generation, and in our own nutrition. 3. Nature can transform mens flesh into Worms, Calves flesh into Bees, Horses and Asses flesh into Wasps and Hornets. We read also of Birds procreation out of old Timber, of Japonian dogges transformed into fishes, of water turned into stones, and of an Oyster metamorphosed into a Bird, which was presented to Francis the first of France. 4. The Magicians of Egypt transformed divers substances, and the Devil by Gods permission hath often done the like; examples of which may be seen in Spuedanus, Camerarius, Peucerius, and others. 5. The Gentiles who laugh at this transformation are convinced by their own stories or Fables, of Ulysses and his fellowes transformed into beasts; and of Diomedes and his companions metamorphosed into birds; if they can believe these changes, why should they doubt of Lots wifes transmutation?
III. To conceive a general blacknesse in hell, and yet therein the material flames of sulphur, is no Philosophical conception, nor will it consist with the real effects of its nature.7 Answ. What though this were no Philosophical conception, nor consisting with the effects of Nature, is it therefore untrue? God is not subject to Philosophical conceptions, nor to the lawes of nature who could make fire to burn, but not consume the bush, and make the fiery furnace burn the Chaldeans, and yet not sindge a haire of the three childrenss cloathes; the same power can make blacknesse and the flames of sulphur dwel together in hell; and which is more, he can make fire, which naturally is accompanied with light, to be the subject of darkness in Hell. But the Doctor is deceived by his experiments, who thinks that sulphur affords no blacking smoak; for I know the contrary by blacking paper with the smoak thereof. Besides, both Philosophers and experience tell us, that the sulphureous vapours which in thundring and lightning break through the clouds, do make black the things touched with them; so saith Aristotle, Pliny, and others: And though Brimstone make red Roses and Tiffany white, it wil not therfore follow that it will make any thing white; the Sun beams which whiteneth the Linnen, tawns the skin; and if the whitning of things by sulphur, proceeds as he saith from its drying and penetrating quality, much more would all things be whitened by the Sun and fire, whose heat is more penetrating and drying; but we see how many things by them are blackned; and the very heat of the fire will induce blacknesse upon paper, though there come no smoke at all to it. He therefore who long since destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone, will with the same materials punish the wicked in hell, where shall be in stead of light, blackness and darkness.
IV. Philoxenus the Musician desired a Crains neck, not for any pleasure at meat, but fancying thereby an advantage in singing, (Book 7. c. 14.) Answ. That this Philoxenus was a glutton, ancient Historians do affirme, and that he wished a Cranes neck to enjoy the longer pleasure of meat and drink, is asserted by Aristotle, Athenæus, Machon the Comick, Ælian and others: Machon sayes, that he wished a neck of three cubits long. He was a great Fish eater, therefore was nick-named Phylichthys, and Solenistra from Solenes, a kind of Oysters which he delighted in. Being one day at Table with Dionysius the tyrant, he had a small mullet set before him, which he takes up in his hand, and holds to his eare; Dionysius asks what he meant by that? He answers, that he had asked advice of Galatæa, but she sayd that she was too young to advise him; and that he were best to consult with the old Galatæa in Dionysius his dish: At which the Tyrant laughing, gave him the great Mullet that he had before him, which was very pleasing to the glutton. This story is recorded by Cælius Rhodiginus, and doubtless that proverb, Collaria cadavera, that is long necked carcasses, which Erasmus borrowes from Aristophanes, hath relation to this wish of Philoxenus; for by it are meant Gluttons and Drunkards, who being buried in sleep and wine, are little better then dead carcasses with long necks, as this Philoxenus was, whose belly was his god; of whom it is recorded, that when he saw a dish of good meat, he would spit upon it, that he might enjoy it all alone: Yet the Doctor denies this wish upon no other ground, but because it was absurd. Sure this was no ground at all; for it was no unusuall thing with Gluttons and Drunkards, both to wish and doe absurdly. His wish was not so absurd as that of Midas, who wished all he touched might become gold; or that of Heliogabalus, who wished and longed that he might eat the Phoenix, being the onely sinle bird in the word.8 Again, this wish of Philoxenus was not so absurd as the Doctor thinks: for though the Tongue be the organ of tast, yet the Oesophagus cannot be altogether tastelesse, seeing there is one common membrane which is nervous to it and the tongue. Now the membrane of the Tongue is the medium of tast: will any man say then, There is no tast or pleasure in deglutition? We find by experience, how unpleasant to the throat is the discent of bitter pills, or potions; so that I could never yet swallow a bitter pill, be it never so small. That there is much pleasure in deglutition of sweet meats and drinks, is plain by the practice of those who to supply the want of long necks, used to suck their drink out of small Canes, or Quils, or glasses with long narrow snouts: And others for want of these will tipple leasurely, and let their liquor glide down the throat gently and by degrees: therefore doubtless Philoxenus knew that a long neck conduced much to the pleasure of eating and drinking, which made him wish for a Cranes neck, that he might enjoy for some longer time the relish of his delicate viands, which gave the name afterward to dainties and sweet meats; for they were termed Placontæ Philoxeniæ.9 Again, when he saith, That it had been more reasonable if Philoxenus had wished himselfe a Horse; because in this animall the appetite is more vehement; he is deceived, for the vehemency of the appetite is no pleasure, but pain; there is no pleasure in hunger and thirst, but in eating and drinking. And indeed there is no reason that he who loved fish and sweet meats so well should wish himselfe a Horse, who must content himselfe with Oats and Hay, and sometimes with dry straw, without any sawce; he should rather have wished himself to have been Apuleius his Asse, who sometimes filled his belly with good pies, and other dainties. Lastly, when he saith, That canorous birds have short necks, and that long necked birds are not musicall. I answer, It is not the length of the neck that hinders medulation, but the widenesse thereof: For which cause youth before puberty, women, & Eunuchs, have more melodious voyces then men, whose aspera arteria, with other vessels, are dilated by the heat of the Testicles: For otherwise10 we find that the length of the neck is a help to singing: hence birds thrust out their necks when they chant, which the Poet intimates when he saith,11
Longa canoros dant per colla modos.
Therefore the proportionable length of wind-instruments doth conduce to modulation.
1. In Pseudodoxia Epidemica VI.8 Browne reviews the various sources of the Nile alleged by writers.
2. Or Etesian winds; a yearly wind from the northwest (in Greece). Herodotus, among other ancients, says that the Etesian wind is not the source of the Nile's flood, noting that the wind fails in some years and in other years does not coincide with the inundations.
3. Not exactly; Juba speaks of the Nile, though not in Mauretania and not to say that, in V.59. He also speaks of the Nile in VI.177, but not in connection with Mauretania either. Seventeenth-century (and come to that, Roman) ideas of African geography were hazy in the extreme. "Mauritanian" mountains could be nearly anywhere outside of Europe.
4. Not, presumably, because the "Ægyptian Sultan" could not find its source. Virgil Aen. VIII :713. Ross's interpretation is (just on the edge of the) possible, but the line is usually taken to mean that Nile afforded refuge, rather than it hid itself. "Latebrosa" = "full of lurking-places, crannies, secret holes"; the sense is pejorative.
5. Herodotus II.xxviii.1, "except for one", he says,
the recorder of the sacred treasures of Athena in the Egyptian city of Saïs. I thought he was joking when he said that he had exact knowledge, but this was his story. Between the city of Syene in the Thebaid and Elephantine, there are two hills with sharp peaks, one called Crophi and the other Mophi. The springs of the Nile, which are bottomless, rise between these hills; half the water flows north towards Egypt, and the other half south towards Ethiopia. He said that Psammetichus king of Egypt had put to the test whether the springs are bottomless: for he had a rope of many thousand fathoms' length woven and let down into the spring, but he could not reach to the bottom. This recorder, then, if he spoke the truth, showed, I think, that there are strong eddies and an upward flow of water, such that with the stream rushing against the hills the sounding-line when let down cannot reach bottom.
6. Homer, Odyssey 477: διιπετέος ποταμοῖο.
7. Pseudodoxia VI.12. Ross misunderstands both the argument's procedure and its end. Perhaps it is greater charity to say that he takes the argument and uses it for his own ends, not caring what the Doctor actually writes. But as his ends are idiotic in themselves, that is perhaps no greater charity: in the one case he is an idiot, in the other, a malicious idiot.
8. Yes, it was more absurd. Ross is really becoming tiresome. It is certainly more absurd to wish to disfigure yourself for no reason than to wish, loving gold, that all you touch become gold; or, loving novelty, that you could eat something of which only one exists. But worse is to come, so I shall attempt to quell my annoyance.
9. Presumably placentæ Philoxeniæ, although I've given up attempting to guess what Ross may mean and where he may have obtained his sometimes peculiar ideas.
10. Page 174 begins "therwise", but the catchword on 173 is "otherwise".
11. Virgil: Aeneid VII: 700-701. The birds "thrust out their necks" because they are flying, not because they are "chanting". In general, birds do not elongate their necks when singing, as a few minutes' observation would have informed Ross. Even if they did, it would not affect Browne's point: that long-necked (not extended-necked) birds are not as likely to be musical as short-necked birds. As for the concluding point, we would ask the reader to consider whether a flute or a tuba is more "melodious".
This page is by James Eason