This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
1 "affixa mundo." The peculiar use of the word mundus in this passage is worthy of remark, in connexion with note1, ch. 1. page 13.
2 We have many references in Pliny to the influence of the stars upon the earth and its inhabitants, constituting what was formerly regarded as so important a science, judicial astrology. Ptolemy has drawn up a regular code of it in his "Centum dicta," or "Centiloquiums." We have a highly interesting account of the supposed science, its origin, progress, and general principles, in Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences, p. 293 et seq. I may also refer to the same work for a sketch of the history of astronomy among the Greeks and the other nations of antiquity.
3 There are certain metaphorical expressions, which have originated from this opinion, adopted by the moderns; "his star is set;" "the star of his fortune," &c.
4 Ovid, when he compares Phaëton to a falling star, remarks, concerning this meteor,—
"Etsi non cecidit, potuit ceeidisse videri." Metam. ii. 322.
5 Manilius supposes that comets are produced and rendered luminous by an operation very similar to the one described in the text; i. 815 et seq. Seneca, in the commencement of his Nat. Quæst., and in other parts of the same treatise, refers to this subject. His remarks may be worth perusing by those who are curious to learn the hypotheses of the ancients on subjects of natural science. We may remark, that Seneca's opinions are, on many points, more correct than our author's.
6 The author probably refers to that part of his work in which he treats on agriculture, particularly to the 17th and 18th books.
7 The æra of the Olympiads commenced in the year 776 before Christ; each olympiad consists of 4 years; the 58th olympiad will therefore include the interval 548 to 544 B.C. The 21st vol. of the "Universal History" consists entirely of a "chronological table," and we have a useful table of the same kind in Brewster's Encycl., article "Chronology."
8 "rerum fores aperuisse....traditur." An account of the astronomy of Anaximander is contained in Brewster's Encycl., article "Astronomy," p. 587, and in the article "Anaximander" in the supplement to the same work by Scott of Aberdeen. I may remark, that these two accounts do not quite agree in their estimate of his merits; the latter author considers his opinions more correct. We have also an account of Anaximander in Stanley, pt. 2. p. 1 et seq., and in Enfield, i. 154 et seq.
9 In the translation of Ajasson, ii. 261–7, we have some valuable observations by Marcus, respecting the origin and progress of astronomy among the Greeks, and the share which the individuals mentioned in the text respectively had in its advancement; also some interesting remarks on the history of Atlas. Diodorus Siculus says, that "he was the first that discovered the knowledge of the sphere; whence arose the common opinion, that he carried the world upon his shoulders." Booth's trans. p. 115.
10 "nune relicto mundi ipsius corpore, reliqua inter cœlum terrasque tractentur." I have already had occasion to remark upon the various modes in which the author uses the word mundius; by cœlum, in this passage, he means the body or region beyond the planets, which is conceived to contain the fixed stars. Sphœra, in the preceding sentence, may be supposed to mean the celestial globe.
11 "ac trigesimo anno ad brevissima sedis suæ principia regredi;" I confess myself unable to offer any literal explanation of this passage; nor do the remarks of the commentators appear to me satisfactory; see Hardouin and Alexandre in Lemaire, ii. 241, 2. It is translated by Ajasson "en trente ans il reviens à l'espace minime d'où il est parti." The period of the sidereal revolutions of the planets, as stated by Mrs. Somerville, in her "Mechanism of the Heavens," and by Sir J. Herschel, in his "Treatise on Astronomy," are respectively as follows:—
|Somerville, p. 358.||Herschel, p. 416.|
12 "'mundo;' hoc est, cælo inerrantium stellarum." Hardouin, in Lemaire, ii. 242.
13 Our author supposes, that the spectator has his face directed towards the south, as is the case with the modern observers. We are, however, informed by Hardouin, that this was not the uniform practice among the ancients; see the remarks of Alexandre in Lemaire, ii. 242, and of Marcus in Ajasson, ii. 269.
14 The constant revolution refers to the apparent daily motion; the opposite direction to their annual course through the zodiac. Ptolemy gives an account of this double motion in his Magna Constructio, i. 7.
15 For the exact period, according to Somerville and Herschel, see note3, p. 27.
16 Aristotle informs us, that Mars was also called Hercules or Pyrosis; De Mundo, cap. ii. p. 602. See also Apuleius, De Mundo, § 710. Hyginus is said by Hardouin to give the name of Hercules to the planet Mars, but this appears to be an inaccuracy; he describes the planet under its ordinary appellation; lib. ii. p. 62; and ii. 78, 9.
17 Cicero, speaking of the period of Mars, says, "Quatuor et viginti mensibus, sex, ut opinor, diebus minus;" De Nat. Deor. For the exact period, see note3, p. 27.
18 "Sed ut observatio umbrarum ejus redeat ad notas." According to the interpretation ot Hardouin, "Ad easdem lineas in solari horologio." Lemaire, ii. 243.
19 This is an example of the mode of computation which we meet with among the ancients, where, in speaking of the period of a revolution, both the time preceding and that following the interval are included.
20 The division of the planets into superior and inferior was not known to Aristotle, De Mundo, cap. ii. p. 602, to Plato, Timæus, p. 318, 319, or the older Greek astronomers. It was first made by the Egyptians, and was transferred from them to the Romans. It is one of the points in which our author differs from Aristotle. See the remarks of Marcus in Ajasson, ii. 242 et seq. Marcus notices the various points which prove the deficiency of Pliny's knowledge of astronomy; he particularizes the four following :—his ignorance of the true situation of the constellations; his erroneous opinion respecting the cause of the seasons; his account of the phases of the moon, and of the position of the cardinal points. He appears not to have been aware, that certain astronomical phænomena undergo a regular progression, but supposed that they remained, at the time when he wrote, in the same state as in the age of Hipparchus or the original observers. Columella, when treating on these subjects, describes the phænomena according to the ancient calculation, but he informs us, that he adopts it, because it was the one in popular use, and better known by the farmers (De Re Rust. ix. 14), while Pliny appears not to have been aware of the inaccuracy.
21 "Modo solem antegrediens, modo subsequens." Hardouin in Lemaire, ii. 243.
22 It was not known to the earlier writers that Lucifer and Vesper were the same star, differently situated with respect to the Sun. Playfair remarks, that Venus is the only planet mentioned in the sacred writings, and in the most ancient poets, such as Hesiod and Homer; Outlines, ii. 156.
23 There has been much discussion among the commentators respecting the correctness of the figures in the text; according to the sera of the olympiads, the date referred to will be between the years 750 and 754 B.C.; the foundation of Rome is commonly referred to the year 753 B.C. See the remarks of Marcus in Ajasson, ii. 278, 9.
24 Aristotle informs us, that it was called either Phosphorus, Juno, or Venus; De Mundo, cap. 2. t. i. p. 602. See also Hyginus, Poet. Astr. lib. iii. p. 76, 7; and Apuleius, De Mundo, § 710.
25 It will be scarcely necessary to refer the reader to the well-known commencement of Lucretius's poem for the illustration of this passage; it is remarkable that Pliny does not refer to this writer.
26 The periodical revolution of Venus is 224ċ7 days, see note3, p. 27. Its greatest elongation is 47°1′; Somerville, § 641. p. 391.
27 According to Aristotle, this planet had the three appellations of Stilbon, Mercury, and Apollo; De Mundo, cap. 2. p. 602; see also Apuleius, De Mundo, § 710. Cicero inverts the order of the planets; he places Mercury next to Mars, and says of Venus, that it is "infima quinque errantium, terræque proxima;" De Nat. Deor. ii. 53. Aristotle places the stars in the same order, ubi supra, and he is followed in this by Apuleius, ubi supra; this appears to have been the case with the Stoics generally; see Enfield's Phil. i. 339.
28 For the periodical revolution of Mercury see note3, p. 27. Its greatest elongation, according to Playfair, p. 160, is 28 °. Mrs. Somerville, p. 386, states it to be 28°8′. Ptolemy supposed it to be 26ċ5 degrees; Almagest, ix. 7. We learn from Hardouin, Lemaire, i. 246, that there is considerable variation in the MSS. with respect to the greatest elongation of Mercury.
29 Sosigenes was an Egyptian mathematician and astronomer, who is said to have assisted Cæsar in the formation of his Kalendar, as our author informs us in a subsequent part of his work, xviii. 25; see also Aikin, Gen. Biog., in loco; Enfield's Phil. ii. 96; Whewell, p. 210; and Hardouin's "Index Auctorum," in Lemaire, i. 213.
30 Concerning the "magnus annus" Cicero remarks, "efficitur cum solis et lunæ et quinque errantium ad eandem inter se comparationem, confectis omnibus spatiis, est facta conversio." De Nat. Deor. ii. 51. See the remarks of Marcus in Ajasson, ii. 281–3.
31 For the various appellations which the moon has received in the ancient and modern languages, and their relation to each other, the reader is referred to the learned remarks of Marcus in Ajasson, ii. 283–5.
32 Marcus conceives that the epithet maculosa does not refer to what are called the spots on the moon, but to the circumstance of the edge of the disc being not illuminated when it is near the full; Ajasson, ii. 286. But, from the way in which the word is employed at the end of the chapter, and from the explanation which is given of the cause of the "maculæ," I think it ought to be referred to the spotted appearance of the face of the moon.
33 "Quum laborare non creditur." It was a vulgar notion among the ancients, that when the moon is eclipsed, she is suffering from the influence of magicians and enchanters, who are endeavouring to draw her down to the earth, in order to aid them in their superstitious ceremonies. It was conceived that she might be relieved from her sufferings by loud noises of various kinds which should drown the songs of the magicians. Allusion is frequently made to this custom by the ancient poets, as Virgil, Æn. i. 742, Manilius, i. 227, and Juvenal, vi. 444; and the language has been transferred to the moderns, as in Beattie's Minstrel, ii. 47, "To ease of fancied pangs the labouring moon."
34 We have some interesting remarks by Marcus respecting Endymion, and also on the share which Solon and Thales had in correcting the lunar observations; Ajasson, ii. 288–290.
35 "Lucem nobis aperuere in hac luce."
37 Astronomers describe two different revolutions or periods of the moon; the synodical and the sidereal. The synodical marks the time in which the moon passes from one conjunction with the sun to the next conjunction, or other similar position with respect to the sun. The sidereal period is the time in which the moon returns to the same position with respect to the stars, or in which it makes a complete revolution round the earth. These numbers are, for the synodical period, 29d 12h 44m 287s, and for the sidereal, 27d 7h 43m 11ċ5s; Herschel, pp. 213, 224.
38 Our author, as Marcus remarks, "a compté par nombres ronds;" Ajasson, ii. 291; the correct number may be found in the preceding note.
39 It was a general opinion among the ancients, and one which was entertained until lately by many of the moderns, that the moon possessed the power of evaporating the water of the ocean. This opinion appears to have been derived, at least in part, from the effect which the moon produces on the tides.
40 "quantum ex sole ipsa concipiat;" from this passage, taken singly, it might be concluded, that the author supposed the quantity of light received by the moon to differ at different times; but the succeeding sentence seems to prove that this is not the case; see the remarks of Alexandre in Lemaire, ii. 249. Marcus, however, takes a different view of the subject; Ajasson, ii. 291, 292. He had previously pointed out Pliny's opinion respecting the phases of the moon, as one of the circumstances which indicate his ignorance of astronomy, ut supra, ii. 245, 246.
41 This doctrine is maintained by Seneca, Quæst. Nat. lib. ii. § 5. p. 701, 702. From the allusion which is made to it by Anacreon, in his 19th ode, we may presume that it was the current opinion among the ancients.
42 I may remark, that Poinsinet, in this passage, substitutes "umbra" for "umbræque," contrary to the authority of all the MSS., merely because it accords better with his ideas of correct reasoning. Although it may be of little consequence in this particular sentence, yet, as such liberties are not unfrequently taken, I think it necessary to state my opinion, that this mode of proceeding is never to be admitted, and that it has proved a source of serious injury to classical literature. In this account of the astronomical phenomena, as well as in all the other scientific dissertations that occur in our author, my aim has been to transfer into our language the exact sense of the original, without addition or correction. Our object in reading Pliny is not to acquire a knowledge of natural philosophy, which might be better learned from the commonest elementary work of the present day, but to ascertain what were the opinions of the learned on such subjects when Pliny wrote. I make this remark, because I have seldom if ever perused a translation of any classical author, where, on scientific topics, the translator has not endeavoured, more or less, to correct the mistakes of the original, and to adapt his translation to the state of modern science.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.