"Monsieur Newton croit avoir decouvert assez clairement que les Anciens comme Pythagore, Platon, &c, avoient toutes les demonstrations qu'il donne du veritable Systeme du Monde...." -- Nicolas Fatio de Duiller, mathematician, February 5th 1691/2
"This [heliocentrism] was the philosophy taught of old by Philolaus, Aristarchus of Samos, Plato in his riper years, the whole sect of Pythagoreans, and that wisest king of the Romans, Numa Pompilius." -- Isaac Newton, mathematician, 1694
"...the Egyptians...concealed mysteries that were above the common herd under the veil of religious rites and hieroglyphic symbols." -- Isaac Newton, mathematician, 1694
"...the Corpus Hermeticum -- Greek and Latin translations of supposedly ancient Egyptian concepts -- Newton regarded the stream of such writings as an expression of the prisca sapientia, as it was called in Renaissance times, i.e., the wisdom of the ancients." -- I.M. Oderberg, writer, 1986
"This question of measurement is only one example of Newton's faith in the prisca sapientia of Ancient Egypt. He was also convinced that atomic theory, heliocentricity and gravitation had been known there [See McGuire and Rattansi (1966, p. 110)]." -- Martin Bernal, historian, 1987
"There's a tradition of scholarship that was very popular in the Renaissance called the prisca sapientia, the primal wisdom. It claimed that there was a secret wisdom that was first transmitted by an archetypical figure—say, for example, Moses—and then passed down through a line of successors, usually including Pythagoras, Plato, and so forth, and that this wisdom was really the ultimate tool for understanding the universe. Newton clearly believed that." -- Bill Newman, historian, November 15th 2005
MathPages.Com: Prisca Sapientia.
It's ironic that most of the men who participated in the "scientific revolution", whose contributions seem (to us) so original and innovative, were themselves convinced that they were merely re-discovering the vast body of pristine knowledge (prisca sapientia) that had been possessed by the ancients, but somehow lost and forgotten during the centuries that came to be called the "dark ages" of western civilization. This was not an entirely unreasonable belief, because the great works, both material and intellectual, of the classical civilizations were (and to some extent still are) very imposing. The intellectual culture of Western Europe really did decline during the fall of Rome, and the institutions for preserving and passing along knowledge, as well as the inclination to do so, were severely diminished. Then, after so long an absence, when the ancient texts were re-discovered, the scholars of the Renasiance and later periods were acutely aware of their intellectual inferiority vis-a-vis "the ancients". Also, the fact that many of the ancient texts were now available only in fragmentary form, often in third-hand translations, and many of the references were to works totally unknown and presumably lost, contributed to the impression that the ancients had known far MORE, if we could only find it out.Well, it's not hard for me anyway. I recognize the ancients were centuries (if not millenia) more scientifically and technologically advanced than we are today.
This attitude toward the past is, in some ways, the exact opposite of our usual view today, which is of a totally ordered sequence of eras progressing from less knowledge in the past to more knowledge in the future. It's hard for us to imagine, today, the intellectual climate among people who believed (knew) they were scientifically and mathematically inferior to their ancestors in the distant past.