Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Romans and Greeks in Ancient America by Martin Ingham Townsend 1895

The Romans and Greeks in Ancient America by Martin Ingham Townsend 1895

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In the earlier existence of the Greek and Roman peoples, knowledge was extremely limited. These peoples were without any mode of perpetuating or transmitting knowledge until the days, a little more than a thousand years before the Christian Era, when Cadmus brought from Phœnecia the letters which had been invented and adopted there for the representation and expression of articulate sounds; and by the combination of these letters to transmit and perpetuate human ideas. There is scarce a race of savages in our day where the mass of the body politic are as profoundly ignorant as were the great body of the Greek people a thousand years before Christ.

Even those men who made such acquisitions of knowledge as were possible in that day, could only learn from the lips of their imperfectly trained teacher, and by travel to those countries which the barbarous condition of the world allowed them to visit; and even after the learned men of the Greek Islands came to know the power of letters, how small must have been the amount of knowledge existing in the world, and how slow must have been its spread amongst the untaught commonalty of the then Greek world? In the day when the Phœnician ship Argo made a voyage to Colchis, at the east end of the Black Sea, it so fired the imagination of the Greek poets that they dreamed of the voyage and composed poems about it for centuries.

Indeed it was not until the Romans, just before the Christian Era, had subdued all the borders of the historic Mediterranean Sea, that free intercourse amongst the inhabitants prevailed. Up to that period every people, as a rule, carefully guarded all knowledge of their own wealth, and of their own acts and possessions from the rest of mankind, instead of making public expositions to attract the attention of the outside world to their useful achievements, and they sometimes passed laws for inflicting the severest punishments upon citizens who should reveal to the outside world the locations, nature, or extent, or value of their possessions.

Still, we glean from the ancient writers the following announcements.

1. That ancient book entitled “The Book of Wonders,” ascribed to Aristotle, contains the following: “When the Carthagenians, who were masters of the western ocean, observed that many traders and other men, attracted by the fertility of the soil and the pleasant climate, had fixed there their homes, they feared that the knowledge of this land should reach other nations, a great concourse to it of men from the various lands of the earth would follow, that the conditions of life, then so happy on that island, would not only be unfavorably affected, but the Carthagenian Empire itself suffer injury, and the dominion of the sea be wrested from their hands; and so they issued a decree that no one, under penalty of death, should thereafter sail thither.” This passage is quoted, not merely with a claim that it refers to the Continent of America, but for the purpose of showing how carefully the Phœnician people, whether Asiatic, Carthagenian, or Spanish, guarded from the great world the foreign discoveries which they had made, and where their kindred were enjoying prosperity; and to enable us to see how little likely their discoveries would be to come to the knowledge of the great mass of mankind.

2. Let us look for a moment at some of the things which the ancient Greek and Latin authors have said indicating their knowledge of the existence of a western continent. Crates, a commentator on Homer, is quoted by authority of Strabo, a very learned author of the century before Christ, as saying that Homer means in his account of the western Ethiopians the inhabitants of the Atlantis or the Hesperides, as the unknown world of the west was then variously called.

3. Pliny also 6: 31-36, locates the western Ethiopians somewhere in the Atlantic. This shows that Crates and Pliny believed that the great poet Homer believed in the existence of a great continent on the western shore of the Atlantic ocean.

4. Plato says in his Timaeus, Chapter VI.: “The sea” (the Atlantic ocean), “was indeed navigable and had an island fronting the mouth which you in your tongue call the Pillars of Hercules, and this island is larger than Libya and Asia put together, and there is a passage hence for travelers of that day to the rest of the islands, as well as from those islands to the whole opposite continent that surrounds the real sea.

5. Humboldt quotes that Anaxagoras, who was born five hundred years B. C., and was a most eminent Greek philosopher, speaks of the grand division of the world beyond the ocean.

6. Aelian in his Variæ Historiæ, Book 3, Chapter 18, cites Theopompus, an eminent Greek historian, born about three hundred years B. C., as stating that the Meropians inhabit a large continent beyond the ocean, in comparison with which the known world was but an island.

7. Aristotle says in Chapters 84 and 85: “Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, they say that an inhabited island was discovered by the Carthagenians, which abounded in forests and navigable rivers and fruits of all kinds, distant from the continent many days’ sail. And while the Carthagenians were engaged in making voyages to this land, and some had even settled there on account of the fertility of the soil, the Senate decreed that no one thereafter, under penalty of death, should voyage thither.” Aristotle was born three hundred and eighty-four years before Christ.

8. Diodorus of Sicily, who lived in the century preceding the Christian Era, says in his Book 5,—19 and 20, that it was the “Phœnicians instead of the Carthagenians who were cast upon a most fertile island opposite Africa, where the climate was that of perpetual spring, and that the land was the proper habitation for gods rather than men.”

He speaks of the continent, however, at length and with great detail, enumerating its fertile valleys and navigable rivers, its rich and abundant fruits and supply of game, its valuable forests and its genial climate.

9. Pliny quotes Statius Sebosus, in his volume 2, page 106, Bohn, as saying that the two Hesperides are forty-two days’ sail from the coast of Africa.

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