Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

D'Arcy W. Thompson 
Aristotle's Natural Science

From, D'Arcy W. Thompson, Natural Science,
in R.W. Livingstone (ed.), The Legacy of Greece, Oxford University Press, 1921.

Page 2

As Schiller puts it, the Greeks looked on Nature with their minds more than with their hearts, nor ever clung to her with outspoken admiration and affection. And Humboldt, asserting (as I would do) that the portrayal of nature, for her own sake and in all her manifold diversity, was foreign to the Greek idea, declares that the landscape is always the mere background of their picture, while their foreground is filled with the affairs and actions and thoughts of men. But all the while, as in some old Italian picture—of Domenichino or Albani or Leonardo himself—the subordinated background is delicately traced and exquisitely beautiful; and sometimes we come to value it in the end more than all the rest of the composition.

Deep down in the love of Nature, whether it be of the sensual or intellectual kind, and in the art of observation which is its outcome and first expression, lie the roots of all our Natural Science. All the world over these are the heritage of all men, though the inheritance be richer or poorer here and there: they are shown forth in the lore and wisdom of hunter and fisherman, of shepherd and husbandman, of artist and poet. The natural history of the ancients is not enshrined in Aristotle and Pliny. It pervades the vast literature of classical antiquity. For all we may say of the reticence with which, the Greeks proclaim it, it greets us nobly in Homer, it sings to us in Anacreon, Sicilian shepherds tune their pipes to it in Theocritus: and anon in Virgil we dream of it to the coo of doves and the sound of bees' industrious murmur.

Not only from such great names as these do we reach the letter and the spirit of ancient Natural History. We must go a-wandering into the by-ways of literature. We must eke out the scientific treatises of Aristotle and Pliny by help of the fragments which remain of the works of such naturalists as Speusippus or Alexander the Myndian; add to the familiar stories of Herodotus the Indian tales of Ctesias and Megasthenes; sit with Athenaeus and his friends at the supper table, gleaning from cook and epicure, listening to the merry idle troop of convivial gentlemen capping verses and spinning yarns; read Xenophon's treatise on Hunting, study the didactic poems, the Cynegetica and Halieutica, of Oppian and of Ovid. And then again we may hark back to the greater world of letters, wherein poet and scholar, from petty fabulist to the great dramatists, from Homer's majesty to Lucian's wit, share in the love of Nature and enliven the delicate background of their story with allusions to beast and bird.

First Page ||| Next Page

Cf. A History of Greek Mathematics and Astronomy * Greek Literature * Greek History Resources
Murray: Greek is the higher life of man * Aristotle Anthology and Resources

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Greek Literature - Ancient, Medieval, Modern

Learned Freeware

Reference address :