Boo the Cat Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.


Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 19, pp. 193-198.


1. The Navigation of the Ancients by the stars: they knew not the compass. 2. Goats bloud softneth the Adamant. Gold loseth its vertue and gravity with its substance. Iron may grow hot with motion. Coral is soft under water, and hardned by the air. Viscum or Missletoe, how it grows. The shade of the Ash-tree, pernicious to Serpents.

IT is not probable (saith the Doctor) that the long and sundry voyages of elder times, were performed by the help of Starres.1 It is so farre from being improbable, that there was a necessity they should be directed by the Starres, wanting the use of the Compasse; therefore Palinurus in the Prince of Poets, is still described observing the stares in his Navigation, Sydera cuncta notat tacito labentia coelo, Æneid. 3. And, Oculosque sub astra tenebat, Æneid. 5.2 And in his Georgicks, he sheweth, That the Sea-men were the first that made use of the starres, and gave them names, Novita tum stellis numeros & nomina fecit, Pleiades, Hiados, clarumque Lycaonis Arcton.3 So Seneca sheweth, That before Navigation, there was no use of Astronomy, Nondum quisquam sidera norat. 4 And Flaccus tells us, that Typhis directed his course altogether by the starres. Pervigil Arcadeo Typhis pendebat ab astro: Agniades Foelix stellis qui segnibus usus. 5 So Horace wisheth, that Venus, Castor, and Pollux, those cleare starres, might direct the ship in which Virgil was, Sic te diva potens Cypri, &c.6 The lesser Beare, called Arctophylax by the Grecians, and Cynosura, or dogs tail; and by some Phœnice, was altogether observed by the Sidonians, or Phœnicians, the first and chiefest Navigators we read of, the greater bare called Helice, directed the Græcians in their Navigation. The grounds and rudiments of this art was first laid by Noah, 7 afterward his posterity perfected it by industry and observation, marking how fishes did swim, and birds flie, ruling their motion with their tails, and furthering it with their wings and finns, whence we have the use of Helms and Oars, or sails; therefore in Hebrew triim signifieth both a bird and ship, and in Latin n put to avis, makes navis. 8 The perfection of this art is now in this last age attained to by means of the compass unknown to the ancients whose Navigation was along the Coast, as we know by the voiages of Æneas and Paul, who for want of the compass durst not venture into the Ocean, as we do. In the voiage of Jonas, and others, we find they used Oars most commonly; by the Navigation of Paul, we learn that sounding the coast was used; yet we read that the ancients sailed in the Ocean: but by this word we must understand the Mediterranean sea, called by the Psalmist the great and wide sea, and by Virgil, mare magnum, Æn. 5. or else the skirts and brim of the Ocean; for they knew no other Navigation, then along the coast, as we see by the voiage of Hanno, from Calez to Arabia, and of Eudoxus from the bay of Arabia to Calez, and the Fleet of Augustus which sailed Northward; for they neither durst, nor could with safety venture too far into the Ocean, without the compasse, the want of which, made Solomons ships spend three years in their voiage, which might have been effected in three moneths; they entred also into most Creeks and Harbors by the way, to finde out rarities for Solomon.9 This admirable sea-guide was found out by one Flavius at Melphis, in the kingdome of Naples, above three hundred years ago, as Blondus, Pancerol, and others affirm. Pliny speaketh of the Magnes, or loadstone, but makes no mention of this vertue to turn the iron touched therewith to the pole, nor in reciting the instruments of Navigation, doth he speak a word of this. In no ancient Writer do we find this vertue mentioned, nor so much as a name for it in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, neither do they mention the touching of their sun-dials with it; besides, Pliny saith, the Islanders of Taproban or Sumatra, because they cannot see the North, carry with them in their ships certain small birds, which being let loose, by naturall instinct fly to the Land, whether the Mariners direct their course after these guides;10 this sheweth they were ignorant of the compass, as Acosta, Gomara, Pancerol, Salmuth, and others do prove. The Phœnicians and Sidonians were anciently the expertest Navigators of the world, yet we find not that they had any knowledge of the compass: the Carthagineans indeed by sea viewed all the coast of Mauritania, yet they kept close by the shore; and though ingenious men did live in old times, and were inventors of many rarities, yet some things they have left for posterity to finde, whereof they were ignorant, as Clocks, Guns, Printing, &c., therefore the reasons of Lemnius are weak, who thinks the Ancients knew the compass, and no less infirm is the argument of Pineda, taken from Solomons knowledge of all things; for this word (all) in Scripture, is taken for many, and many is taken for all: So Christ cured all diseases, in S. Matthew, that is, many; so all of those that sleep in the dust of the earth, saith Daniel, shall arise, that is, many.11 Solomon then knew all things, that is, most things and more then other men; but I do not think he knew the compasse or all the species of animals, vegitables, minerals, people and places, that are found at this day in America, nor all the arts invented since, nor all the supernaturall works of God. His chief knowledge was politicall, for government; he knew not the future contingencies, nor all the secrets in the earth and seas; if he knew the polar verticity of the Loadstone, then Adam also knew it, for his knowledge far exceeded Solomons, he gave names to all the creatures according to their natures; he lived 930. years, a fair time to get experience; yet though Adam knew this, it will not follow that the compass was used in his time, or in Solomons either, who knew that Copper and Brass did sound well, yet Bels of Copper were not used in his time; and whereas Pineda saith, that God would not have so useful a thing as the compass, hid from man so long. I answer, that Printing is no less useful, which was not known till of late. What was more usefull then the Preaching of the Gospel, and Incarnation of Christ, and yet hid many thousand years from the world? God hath his own times to bestow his gifts on men; for that fable of ships built without iron, for fear they should be staied in the sailing by the great store of Loadstones neer Calicut, is ridiculous; for our European ships are continually tracking that way, and they perceive no such things. To conclude then, ships of old were guided, being out of sight of Land, not by the compasse, but partly by the Tides, partly by the Windes, and partly by the Stars, and Sea-birds; and when all these failed, they wandred up and down, not knowing where they were, as we see in Æneas his Navigation, cæcis erramus in undis, nec meminisse viæ media Palinurus in unda;12 the like we may read in Saint Paules vojage.

II. The ancients held that Goats bloud could soften the Adamant, and yet resist the hardest hammers; this is denied by the Doctor (2 Book c. 5, 6, 7.13) and his Lapidaries: but their argument is not Logical; our Diamonds are not softned by Goats bloud, but are mastered by hammers; therefore the Ancients Adamants were such. All Adamants are not of the same kind, for Pliny as we have already said,14 reckoneth six sorts of them; and I think it is no greater wonder for bloud to soften a stone, then for water to harden a piece of Leather, or a stick into a stone. 2. He saith, [that though the substance of gold be not sensibly immuted, or its gravity at all decreased, yet from thence vertue may proceed; for a body may emit vertue without abatement of weight, as is evident in the Loadstone. ] Answ. An accident without a miracle, if it be the same numerically, cannot pass without the substance in which it is inherent, nor can the substance be diminished but the gravity must also be abated. Therefore if Gold in the Patients body loseth nothing of its substance and gravity, it loseth no part of its vertue: if the loss be insensible, the vertue communicated to the patient is insensible also; and so he that swallows gold receives no good by it: For where there is a cure, there must be a sense and feeling of the cure. As for the Loadstone, if it imparts its vertue, it parts also with its substance, but in so small a quantity that its scarce perceptible; but the gold ought to impart much vertue to cure the disease, and consequently much of its substance, which would be seen by the weight and the cure; but neither is sensible, and therefore no deperdition, but imaginary.15 3. He cannot apprehend how an iron should grow red hot by motion, since in swinging a red hot iron, it will grow cold. Answ. That violent motions will excite heat and fire in hard bodies, we have already shewed in divers examples; Aristotle proves it by the example of Arrows, whose Lead will melt with the heat and motion thereof, in that part of the air, which is near the fire (de coelo, l. 2. c. 7.)16 Virgil confirms the same, speaking of that Arrow which Acestes shot, that it took fire in the motion. Namque volans liquidis in nubibus arsit arundo, signavitque viam flammis, Æn. 517 but when he saith that hot iron will grow cold by swinging, I grant it, because that heat in the iron is meerly accidental, and from an external principle, it wants pabulous aliment in the iron to maintain it; therefore no wonder, if encountring with the cold air, it extinguish: but take a bran or stick of fire, and swing it about, it will grow redder, hotter, and more fiery, because there is not the bare accident of heat; but the substance of fire, which is animated and quickned by the motion of the air; neither is it strange if the violent motion of an Arrow in hot weather, and in that part of the aire which is neer the fiery element, take fire, where we see so many fiery Meteors ingendred. But he saith, that a bullet shot at paper or linen, will not set them on fire; it may be so, because the bullet is not hot enough, having moved but a little way, and a smal time; you cannot in a long time make paper or linen burn, be these never so hot, except they touch the flame. 4. He will not believe that Coral is soft under water, and hard in the air,18 because one who went down a hundred fathom into the sea, returned with Coral in each hand, affirming it was as hard at the bottom, as in the air. Answ. Boetius in his second Book of stones and gems, c. 153. tels us, that Coral doth not harden or grow stony till it be dead; it seems then, whilst it is alive, its soft under water, and therefore this Diver lighted upon a dead Coral; but because that was hard it will not follow that all Coral under water is hard, except all under water be dead. There is also a difference between old and young plants, the older the plant grows, the harder it is; perhaps this was not only dead but also an old plant: Its no wonder then if Coral petrifie when taken out of the sea, for then it dieth being separated from its matrix and element, in which it had life and vegetation; and it seems by the same Boetius, that the substance of Coral at first is wood, for he saw some which was partly wood and partly stone, not being throughly petrified, which might proceed from some internal impediment it is therefore no more wonder for a sea-plant to petrifie in the air, then for a land-plant to petrifie in the sea, or other waters. This is called in Greek liqodenron, as you would say ston-tree, or stone-plant, and kwralion, quasi ceiralion, because it perisheth when it is touched by the hands,19 and because the Gorgons were turned into stones, therefore in Pliny, Coral is called Gorgonia. 20 5. He likes not the opinion of the Ancients, concerning the generation of Viscum or Missletoe, to wit, that it is bred upon trees from seeds let fall there by thrushes, and ring-dove; his reasons are,21 because it grows only upon some trees, and not in Ferrara, where those birds are found, and because the seed thereof being sown, it will not grow again, and in some trees it groweth downwards under the boughs, where seed cannot remain. Answ. That Viscum is begot of seeds let fall by birds, as the Ancients thought, may be true, and that it is an excrescence of viscous or superfluous sap, as Scaliger writes, may be true also. Many things are procreated both with and without seeds; there is an equivocall generation both in vegitables and animals, which the learned Poet knew when he writ of this Viscum, saying,22 Solet fronde vivere nova quod non sua seminat arbos. Now the reason why it groweth not upon all trees, and in all Countries, is because, as the same Poet saith,23 Non omnia fert omnia tellus, there is not a disposition in the matter of all trees to receive this form, nor in the climate or soile to animate this seed. Yet Mathiolus observes, that in Heruria, where is greatest store of Thrushes, there is greatest plenty of Misseltoe, which shews, that this plant hath its originall from the seeds mixed with the excrements of those birds; and therefore the old proverb was not untrue, Turdus sibi malum cacat, even in the literall sense; and so where this Viscum is meerly an excrescence, it may grow downwards under boughes, where no seeds can come or remain. 6. He can deny that a Snake will not endure the shade of an Ash24 Pliny and other ancients affirm it,25 perhaps upon surer grounds then the Doctor denies it; for though here in these cold Countries our Snakes may accord with our Ashes, yet it may be otherwise in hot Regions, where the Serpents are more venemous, and the Ash-leaves more powerfull: why may there not be somewhat in the shade of an Ash repugnant to the Serpent, whereas the leaves and juice thereof are such Antidotes against poyson, as Dioscorides and Mathiolus shew? Cardan tels us, That in Sardinia the shadow of the Rododaphne is pernicious to those that sleep under it, making them mad. He instanceth the dangerous qualities proceeding from the shadowes of some other trees; and Lucretius affirms, That the shade of some other trees procure pains in the head, and other dangerous effects,26

Arboribus primum certus gravis umbra tributa est
Usque adeo capitis faciant ut sæpe dolores,
Si quis eas subter jacuit prostratus in herbis.




1. Pseudodoxia II.2. Browne says exactly the opposite, that it is "not improbable" (in all editions): "As for the long expeditions and sundry voyages of elder times, which might confirm the Antiquity of this invention, it is not improbable they were performed by the help of Stars". He has just written that the ancients did not use the compass. (It is in this context that Browne introduces the argument concerning the Plautic word "versoria" taken up by Ross in the previous chapter.) Of the remainder of Ross's commentary, almost all of what is true or accurate is in Browne's text.

2. Virgil, Aeneid III.515; V.853, although the point of the latter seems rather that the steersman was very tired and trying to stay awake.

3. Virgil: Georgics I.137-138.

4. Seneca: Medea, 309. Scarcely a primary historical source, but there it is.

5. V. Flaccus, Argonautica I.480-481.

6. Horace: Odes I.iii. Although, as a point of strict accuracy, asking a star to direct a ship is not the same thing as directing a ship by a star.

7. Why? Noah wasn't going anywhere.

8. This passage (which is full of broken type) is difficult to reconcile with sense.

9. On Jonas, see Jonah 1:13. It is to be noted that this is in the middle of a great tempest, when sails, if sails there were, would have been counter-indicated; and that it seems to be unusual. On Paul, see Acts 27:28; not sounding, however, for navigation. Ps. 104:25, "his great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts". Virgil, Aeneid V: 628. Hanno, see The Voyage of Hanno, King of the Carthaginians. The voyage of Eudoxus is described by Cornelius Nepos, as Pliny writes, HN II.169 (or in Holland's English). Augustus sailed north "in the Ocean", but not very far: Res Gestae I:26. Solomon's (or Hiram's) navy made the voyage from Tarshish once every three years (1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chron. 9:21), which does not mean that the voyage took three years.

10. Pliny HN XXXII.142-143.

11. Matthew 9:35, "every disease", translating the Greek paV; usually understood (in the Bible) as "one of every sort", and often thus translated. Cf. Mt. 3:5-6. The various Old Testament phrases translated "all things" are usually paraphrases of collectives: as we might say, either "feathered creatures" or "birds" or "all things with feathers". On the knowledge of "all things", thus translated, see 2 Sam. 14:20 (referring to David) and Pr. 28:5; see also 2 Chron. 10-12, 1 Kings 4:31. Daniel 12:2 (which in fact has "many of them", not "all of them").

12. Virgil: Aeneid III, 200-202 (skipping 201). Perhaps "navigation" would not be the mot juste for what's going on at this particular moment in Aeneas's adventures.

13. Browne refutes the fantastic story of the goat's blood is in Pseudodoxia II.v; the other references are proleptic; Ross will deal with them later in this section. (It is the diamond, not the blood, that resists the hardest hammers.)

14. In the previous chapter.

15. Browne does not say that gold has any healing powers; he says simply that the fact that its weight does not abate does not preclude any healing vertue, adducing the magnet as an example of an item that has clear physical effects without clear physical changes in itself. In fact, there are changes in the loadstone's physical state, but not in its weight (or its gravity, as Ross calls it), or at least not such as could be measured by any normal means.

16. More a statement that a "proof"; On the Heavens II:7.

17. Virgil: Aeneid V, 525-526.

18. Pseudodoxia II.v.

19. This is patently absurd.

20. Pliny, HN 37.164; a fanciful name. The Gorgons weren't turned into stones, of course; they turned others into stones.

21. Pseudodoxia Browne, for once, is very much wrong, although his questions (which Ross rehearses, with his habitual inaccuracy) are good ones. Ross, for the second time in this book, has caught Browne in an error and cannot himself reach the proper answer.

22. (Edited from) Virgil: Aeneid VI, 205-206.

23. Virgil: Eclogue IV, by implication; in the ideal world, "omnis feret omnia tellus".

24. Pseudodoxia II.vii.

25. More or less; Pliny HN XVI.64.

26. Lucretius: De rerum natura VI, 792-794.

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