language which aims at interpreting abstruse and difficult thoughts.

Having offered these observations on the dialects of early Persia, we will now examine briefly into the state of science and art, as well as the few records handed down from those long past times will allow. It is estimated that the number of mechanical arts now known approaches to three hundred, while the Hindoos counted fifty more and the Persians but very few. Agricultural pursuits for a long time occupied the attention of Persian princes, but no improvements were introduced tending to lighten labor, or to render the soil more yielding of its fruit and seed. Gardening was the species of land-tilling in which taste and ingenuity were displayed, and the spacious terraces around Persepolis, as well as the gardens attached to the residences of the nobles, attest the deep interest taken in the beauties of horticulture. Xenophon makes frequent allusion to those gardens, and describes some of them as possessing features of rare beauty. It is difficult now to determine the precise species of gardening which most pleased the taste of the Persians—whether the figured beds, which must be examined in detail in order to be appreciated, and which, viewed altogether or at a distance, offer no delightful coup d'oeil, or the landscape gardens of the English, which the eye loves to dwell upon and leisurely contemplate.

As a result of this attention to what may be called the beautiful side of agriculture, a taste for botanical studies grew up among the Persians, and a system of botany, as complex if not as logical as that of Linnæus, was known to exist among them. They were well acquainted with the reputed healing properties of plants, and in their poems we find numberless, allusions revealing the widespread use of herbs as healing agents. Indeed, their system of medicine may be said to have consisted solely of lists of medicinal herbs, warranted to cure every disease, from a poisoned bite to a burning fever. In this respect the Persians were far behind the Hindoos, who were acquainted with anatomy, and had a system of medicine purporting to be a revelation from heaven. The Persians, ruled by a doctrine of total depend*ence on the Deity, strove not to avert by the intervention of art what seemed to be a visitation from God, and hence the means of curing disease was sought only in the simple remedies nature seemed to put into their hands.

Architecture and sculpture go hand in hand, and everywhere partake of common characters. This is especially noticeable in the architectural and sculptural works of early Persia, and the peculiarities which pervade them are the result, as we before remarked, of the peculiar metaphysical notions concerning the divinity prevalent in Persia. Divesting their Suprem Being of all human attributes, they regarded him as the abstract idea of power and necessity, and consequently strove to eliminate from their representations of him the elements of humanity. Of course, this they could not accomplish entirely, and hence they succeeded only in infusing into their productions the ideas of severity and power, while they excluded the beautiful as merely human. This we see in the sculptured images on the gates of the ruined temples of Persepolis, and in the numismatic collections of the British Museum. The same defect, due, no doubt, to the same cause, is perceptible in their merely human works, as we see by the statue of Darius found in the ruins of Behistim, and of which Diodorus Siculus speaks at great length. The lower part of the rock on which the image has been sculptured is scarped, and Darius is represented holding his bow, with two state 'officers behind; under his feet lies one rebel, while a line of nine others stand before him, chained one behind the other, with their hands tied. The artist seems to have been engrossed by the desire to make his work typical of great strength and severity, and in this, no doubt, he succeeded, to the utter exclusion of symmetry and proportions, wherein the work is exceedingly lacking. The dualism of the Zendavesta, as well

as the fire-worship of the Sabians, took away from the Persians the means of erecting a standard of human beauty to which their works of art could conform. Humanity was divine as far as real according to Hindoo, Egyptian, and Persian; but it was real only as far as invisible and intangible. Therefore, as far as it was visible and tangible, it was illusory and unreal, and unworthy of our serious contemplation. According to Greek and Roman, divinity was but an exaltation of humanity in its outward form, and it was the attempt to reach the ideal standard of human beauty, as represented by their gods, which inspired the works of Praxiteles and Phidias. We look. in vain, therefore, in Persian works of art for the life, beauty, and grace which everywhere start to view as we dwell upon similar works among the Greeks; and we mourn the desolating influence of eastern pantheism, which dwarfed humanity, and chained the powers

VOL. XI.-N0. XXII. 10

[ocr errors]

of the soul to a malign being, whose baneful rule checked the exercise of every noble faculty. It was not alone in this department of art that the deteriorating influence of this agency was felt, but in every art where the beautiful, as derived from the standard of human beauty, should predominate. Thus, we find that music, the sister of every graceful art, never attained in Persia the degree of perfection which it reached in Greece. Stringed instruments the Persians were but little acquainted with, and for the most part their ears knew but the harsh clanging of cymbals or the loud twang of the horn. Though boasting little knowledge of artistic music, they fully appreciated the moral effect of the simple strains to which they were accustomed to listen, and their poet-philosophers often speak of the soothing influence of music, making it the object-term of most beautiful comparisons. They compare the soft strains of music to a gently welling spring which rises and bathes the dry and weary limbs of those who seek its refreshing influences, or to the rushing of the divine spirit as it overshadows the soul and fills it with its own serenity.

Leaving, then, Persian art as something hopelessly oppressed by Persian theology, let us see what progress they made in science. Of science among the early Persians we know but little, since Greek historians, through ignorance or jealousy, have given us but very meagre information, and the accounts contained in Persian Tarikhs are very unreliable, if not entirely fabulous. Khondemir, the Froissart of Ancient Persia, relates that, during the reign of Caikaus, son and successor of Caicobad, the first monarch of the Caianian dynasty, two astronomical observatories were erected in Iran, one near the river Euphrates, and another near the T'igris, not far from the present site of Bagdad. Thither resorted all the learned men of the East, and many important astronomical discoveries were made, though in the Tarikh recitals, they assume the characters of astrology. This first account of the study of astronomy dates back to the twilight period where history begins to emerge from fable, and is a proof with what unremitting ardor the study of this sublime science was pursued among the Persians. No sage would presume to bear the name who could not trace the course of the planets in the heavens, and predict human events by the movement of the stars. From its birth astronomy was hampered by the false science of astrology, and modern writers are prone to accord no credit to the genuine

astronomical knowledge of the ancients, but to sneer at the pretensions of astrology. We doubt not that, had the ruthTess Mussulman not destroyed every vestige of early Persian literature, many would entertain a higher opinion of the character of Persian astronomy than they now do, and would regard astrology as a fungus that had fastened on a healthy trunk. At any rate, there is no period in Persian history during which we are not informed of the works and studies of astronomers, and no doubt it was this ardent devotion to astronomcial science which finally led to Sabianism or worship of the heavenly hosts.

The same love of the mysterious which led to the nightly contemplation of the heavens induced many Persians to explore the secrets of the mineral kingdom, and chemistry and alchemy sprang into existence. Dr. Hyde vindicates for the Persians the title of successful chemists* and certain it is that the neighboring nations borrowed from the Persians what knowledge they possessed of the physical and chemica. properties of mineral substances. The kindred delusions of alchemy and astrology, however, prevented a full and open study and discussion of the sciences to which they respectively clung. So we have no enunciation of the fundamental principles of those sciences. Not so, however, in natural philosophy, or physics. Here there was no personal interest to be subserved by secrecy, so every discovery was freely revealed, and every law or principle loudly proclaimed. One extract from a work of the Sufis, or wise men of Persia, will serve to show how rational was the method they pursued, and how nearly they approached the law of universal gravitation, the discovery of which constitutes Newton's greatest title to glory." There is a strong propensity which dances through every atom and attracts ihe minntest particle to some particular object; search this universe from its base to its summit, from fire to air, from water to earth, from all below the moon to all above the celestial spheres, and thou wilt not find a corpuscle destitute of that natural attractibility. The very point of the first thread in this apparently tangled skein is no other than such a principle of attraction, and all principles besides, are void of real basis. From such a propensity arises every motion perceived in heavenly or in terrestrial bodies. It is a disposition to be attracted which taught hard steel to rush from

[merged small][ocr errors]

its place, and rivet itself on the magnet ; it is the same disposition which impels the light straw to attach itself firmly on amber ; it is this quality which gives every substance in nature a tendency towards another, and an inclination forcibly directed to a determinate point.” The same doctrine is contained in the Vedas of the Hindoos, and surely we cannot but be struck by the wonderful resemblance between these views and one of the grandest discoveries of modern times.

Owing to the total destruction of Persian literature at the time of the Mahomedan subjugation, we have lost nearly all old Persian records, and as the Greeks have given us no information touching the state of the natural science among them we must only infer from the little which has reached us that many valuable discoveries were made by a people who devoted themselves so assiduously to the study of nature. It is hard to account for the complete silence of Greek historians on this subject, unless we suppose that jealousy prevented them from giving credit to their enemies for an advancement in those arts which constituted their chief boast and glory. This seems the more strange when we reflect that Xenophon has furnished us with a highly elaborate and finished account of the mode of administration of the Persian empire, and the management of Persian affairs, at the time of Cyrus, a period whereat we would naturally expect the Persians had reached the highest degree of perfection in the various arts wherein they excelled. We know that Cyrus was the great patron of the arts, and strove to shape the tastes of his people to a love of agriculture and commerce, arts which involved the knowledge and cultivation of the physical sciences. We know that by mechanical appliances he had overcome obstacles to the victorious progress of his arms, which neither valor nor numbers ever oould have surmounted; yet Xenophon, in his detailed account of the life of Cyrus, alludes to none of those things. Instead, however, of such information, he has given us the earliest Grecian account of the Persian empire, and has thrown a steady light on the history of Persia's greatest king.

Xenophon is the chief historian of Cyrus, though his Cyropædia is more intended as a reflex of the virtues and presonal endowments of that great man than as a history of his wars and exploits. The latter are related at more length by Persian writers. How much fiction Xenophon may have interwoven with the truth in his Cyropædia it is hard to

« VorigeDoorgaan »