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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0004

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-04

Monday. October 4th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography this morning as usual. After breakfast also, I attended Mr. Everett’s Lecture. He commenced today with the third class of those who preceded Homer and under whom Poetry was formed into an entirely distinct art. We have among these Olen, Thamyris and Tiresias. The [first] of these was a Lycian by birth and a quotation is mentioned from Callimachus in which he is mentioned. It is given in the synopsis. His origin agrees also with what we know already of ancient Lycia, and it’s early refinement; Pausanias makes him a Hyperborean. In the early times, when men had but indistinct notions of Geography, they supposed the earth flat and that beyond the Northern regions was situated the residence of perfect happiness. On this account they were called Hyperborean. The second, Thamyris, is mentioned by Homer for his contest with the Muses and is called a Thracian by him, which country seems to have the priority in advancement. Thamyris was reported to be blind. It is rather a singular thing that in ancient times almost every man who was distinguished for talent was said to be blind. If we can consider it worth our inquiring, we should ascribe it to the known superiority of the blind in memory. He then went on to consider two prose writers who are said to be authors of the present age of which we speak and of whom we have fragments. The first is Sanconiathon. He is called a native of Berytus by some, others suppose him a Tyrian. He wrote, it is said, in the language of Carthage or the Punic. According to Eusebius, the writings of this author were translated into Greek and he has preserved fragments of it. Authors { 355 } have supposed that this Philo Biblius, who was the translator, compiled these fragments from ancient genuine manuscripts and added interpolations of his own, which is probably the correct opinion. They contain a version of the Jewish system of the formation of the world and the Platonist doctrines of the middle ages, and he made a quotation to illustrate with. These fragments were translated by Bishop Cumberland and notes were added and a commentary who [which?] attempted to prove that these fragments contained in themselves a series of profane history for three thousand years from the creation. His object, it was said, was to prevent the growth of popery. The work is never read now and it is only to be regretted that he, being so learned a man, should have so mispent his time. (Poor man, he was only doing what a thousand men are doing every day. Who shall decide what is [a] wise pursuit or what is not? “Vanity of vanities all is vanity.”)
The next work is evidently one of a later age but the extravagance of ancient authors compells us to put it before the Trojan War. This work is the Periplus or navigation of Hanno, a Carthaginian Prince who made a voyage of discovery beyond the columns of Hercules. He wrote down what happened and this is the result. It is supposed that he introduced many of the fables which were ever after told in Greece and elsewhere. Some have said that he had written a full account of which the work in two folio pages is an abstract, this latter is all we have. Fabricius however has supposed that this is all the work and with reason. He is said to have gone with 60 sail and thirty thousand men which in the commencement renders his account exceedingly improbable, but when we recollect how extremely liable ancient manuscripts are to be incorrect in numbers, we are prepared to make large allowances for them, and as there is only a small mark as a distinction between three thousand and thirty thousand, it is very probable the latter was placed there instead of the former which is about the correct number. There is some of the marvellous in the account but not more than we are prepared to find in any work of travellers who are liable to be incorrectly impressed. When going along the coast of Africa, he says he saw some blazing mountains. Now although we have no instance of mountains of that sort in our day yet we have blazing mountains nearer home which ancients would not believe. And they may have ceased burning as the volcanic matter became exhausted. Travellers he will1 had made the Patagonians at different times twelve, nine and seven feet and a half when it is not probable that in fact they are much larger than Indians generally. It is impos• { 356 } sible that the theory of Vossius2 as to his being of the Ante Homeric age. It is improbable as no works have been written at that early period in prose. This itself is a convincing argument so far, but the antiquity of the ancient researches in navigation are proved from the knowledge that the Carthaginians sailed round the strait of the Mediterranean. They knew a course also by which they sailed in the Boristhenes, thence by a short land carriage, they got to the Vistula and so they went round through the straits. In these times the doctrine was that the earth was surrounded by the sea but this they imagined to mean a river only, conveying a very different meaning from ours to us. There is a passage in Tacitus in which he mentions that Ambre was obtained in abundance among the Germans with whom it was most common and who called it Glasium from whence evidently the derivation of glass.
There is also a question as to the next person, Orpheus, who has some works ascribed to him as an Ante Homeric author, whether he was really a man, but this was fully answered in a former lecture. A quotation of Aristotle’s opinion in Cicero was considered as favouring the assertion that he was not. It has since however been considered as meaning that the works under his name are not really his and not that he did not live. Neither Homer nor Hesiod have mentioned him which is accounted for because he formed the mysteries for which he is distinguished which were not organized until after them.
Returning home I read Astronomy, attended recitation, and heard some remarks from Mr. Farrar upon the four new Planets and Herschel.3 A little I might wish to have noted but I have not the time. He merely stated the way they were named, first called by the Patrons of the different discoveries, afterwards after they themselves,4 and finally they obtained the regular names of the ancient mythology. After dinner, I read Paley but did not get my lesson well although I attempted a great deal. In the Evening, I gave a drill to my company after which I did not attend Mr. Ticknor’s lecture tonight but sat down at Otis’s and the Lyceum played a game of whist after which I had some conversation with Otis and then retired. XI.
1. Thus in MS, for “said”?
2. Sentence scrambled in MS.
3. Sir William Herschel (1738–1822), the English astronomer who discovered Uranus.
4. Thus in MS.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.