Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pliny On Democritus's "Magic" Science

I had no idea that atoms are magical.

"Democritus too, composed a similar work [Causes Affecting Seeds, Plants, and Fruits]. Both of these philosophers [Pythagoras and Democritus] had visited the magicians of Persia, Arabia, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and so astounded were the ancients at their recitals, as to learn to make [scientific] assertions which transcend all belief." -- Pliny the Elder, historian, 77

"There is no doubt that this art [magic] originated in Persia under Zoroaster, this being a point upon which authors are generally agreed; but whether there was only one Zoroaster, or whether in later times there was a second person of that name, is a matter which still remains undecided. Eudoxus, who has endeavored to show that of all branches of philosophy the magic art is the most illustrious and the most beneficial, informs us that this Zoroaster existed six thousand years before the death of Plato, an assertion in which he is supported by Aristotle. Hermippus, again, an author who has written with the greatest exactness on all particulars connected with this art, and has commented upon the two millions of verses left by Zoroaster, besides completing indexes to his several works, has left a statement, that Agonaces was the name of the master from whom Zoroaster derived his doctrines, and that he lived five thousand years before the time of the Trojan War." -- Pliny the Elder, historian, 77

"The first person, so far as I can ascertain, who wrote upon magic, and whose works are still in existence, was Osthanes, who accompanied Xerxes, the Persian king, in his expedition against Greece. It was he who first disseminated, as it were, the germs of this monstrous art, and tainted therewith all parts of the world through which the Persians passed." -- Pliny the Elder, historian, 77

"It was Democritus, too, who first drew attention to Apollobeches of Coptos, to Dardanus, and to Phoenix: the works of Dardanus he sought in the tomb of that personage, and his own were composed in accordance with the doctrines there found. That these doctrines should have been received by any portion of mankind, and transmitted to us by the aid of memory, is to me beyond anything I can conceive. All the particulars there found are so utterly incredible, so utterly revolting, that those even who admire Democritus in other respects, are strong in their denial that these works were really written by him. Their denial, however, is in vain; for it was he, beyond all doubt, who had the greatest share in fascinating men's minds with these attractive chimeras." -- Pliny the Elder, historian, 77

"Democritus and the traditions which are attached to him play a key role in the history of the origins of alchemy." -- Marcellin Berthelot, chemist, 1885

"The atomic theory, adopted later by the Epicureans, came to us, and she is still professed today by the majority of chemists. It thus seems that it is by a kind of natural affinity that the alchemists reported their origins to Democritus." -- Marcellin Berthelot, chemist, 1885

"Some regarded the books on magic ascribed to Democritus as spurious, but Pliny insists that they are genuine." -- Lynn Thorndike, historian, 1958

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -- Arthur C. Clarke, author, 1973

"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced." -- Barry Gehm, biochemist, 1973

"What we can say is that magic anticipated modern science and technology." -- Georg Luck, historian, 1985

"If technology is distinguishable from magic, it is insufficiently advanced." -- Gregory Benford, author, 1997

No comments: