On Deconstructing the Majority: Nothing To Do With Islam? Really?
Here is a revealing interview (in Norwegian -- English translation here) with the leading academic Multiculturalist in my country, Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen of the University in Oslo, who has received millions in government funding for his projects and is something of a national celebrity. It's a few months old, but I haven't seen it until now. He says point blank that in his view the most important thing to do right now is to "deconstruct the majority [population] so thoroughly that it can never be called the majority again." End of quote. And this is the agenda of the Multiculturalists in all Western nations. Make no mistake about it. I have honored him with a mention in my book Defeating Eurabia:
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo, heads a multi-million project sponsored by the state trying to envision how the new Multicultural society will work. He is a career Multiculturalist and intellectual celebrity in his country, a frequent contributor to the public debate and lives, according to himself, in a boring, white monocultural part of the city, insulated from the effects of cultural diversity. Hylland Eriksen has proclaimed the death of (Western) nation states as if he derives pleasure from it, and has stated that the Nidaros Cathedral (Nidarosdomen), the most prominent church in the country, should no longer serve as a national symbol in our Multicultural society.
Mr. Eriksen has clashed with Ole Jørgen Anfindsen, who runs the bilingual quality website HonestThinking.org and warns against the effects of uncontrolled mass immigration. According to Hylland Eriksen, "Cosmopolites insist on a world comprising of more colors than black and white. In such a world, the problems presented by Ole-Jørgen Anfindsen are not just petty, but irrelevant."
What are the problems presented by Mr. Anfindsen? Well, he has published calculations indicating that if the current immigration continues, native Norwegians will be a minority in their own country within a couple of generations. Given the fact that ethnic groups who become minorities in their own lands usually have a hard time, and always get persecuted when the newcomers are Muslims, one would assume that this would be interesting information. But for self-proclaimed "Multicultural cosmopolites," it is "petty and irrelevant" to even consider that this could represent a problem. Eriksen calls Anfindsen "stupid and ignorant," and hints that "Maybe Anfindsen's agenda is inspired by a kind of perverted Christianity (he has a Christian background)."
Yes, Anfindsen does have a Christian background. Is that supposed to disqualify a person from worrying about whether his grandchildren will be persecuted? Mr. Eriksen, like other Western Multiculturalists, worries about Islamophobia but is more than willing to mock Christianity. A newspaper essay co-authored by Eriksen states that: "Is he [Anfindsen] asking us to once again repeat the obvious in that the murder of Theo van Gogh, various acts of terrorism and death threats against newspaper editors have nothing to do with Islam?"
Nothing to do with Islam? Really?
Mohammed Bouyeri, born in Amsterdam of Moroccan parents, killed Theo van Gogh as he was cycling in Amsterdam on Nov. 2, 2004, shooting and stabbing before slashing his throat and pinning a note to his body with a knife. "I did what I did purely out my beliefs," he told judges while clutching a Koran. "I want you to know that I acted out of conviction and not that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was Moroccan," but because he believed van Gogh insulted Islam in his film criticizing the treatment of Muslim women.
So a peaceful Christian man is accused of having a dark, secret agenda, while a Muslim murderer who brags about his Islamic motivations has nothing to do with Islam? A Serbian doctor from the former Yugoslavia, where a Multicultural society recently collapsed in a horrific civil war, warned against the effects of unchecked mass immigration to Western Europe. Thomas Hylland Eriksen responded by chastising her for her "lack of visions."
Apparently, your worth as an intellectual is measured in how grandiose your ideas are. The greater your visions, the more dazzling your intellect is and thus the greater prestige should be awarded to you. Whether those visions actually correspond to reality and human nature is of secondary importance. In fact, many a self-proclaimed intellectual will be downright offended by the petty considerations of his more pedestrian fellow citizens, concerned with what effects his ideas will have in real life. The fact that some people could get hurt from his ideas doesn't discourage him. Truly great advances for mankind can only be accomplished though sacrifices, preferably made by others.
A History of Optics, Part 2
Cutting tools made of obsidian a natural form of volcanic glass, have been employed since prehistoric times and were extensively used by Mesoamerican cultures as late as the sixteenth century AD (they knew neither metal tools nor man-made glass). We do not know exactly where or when glass was first artificially created. Some say it happened after 3000 BC, others say it happened earlier than this, maybe by accident at first and perhaps in more than one place. What we do know is that the region we recognize as the Middle East, stretching from Mesopotamia via the Levant to Egypt, played a crucial role in the development of this material for several millennia. Today we primarily think of glass as clear and transparent, but the earliest types of man-made glass were colored and non-transparent. Glass was long regarded as an alternative to pottery or as a way of making replicas of opaque precious stones, to glaze pottery, for jewelry and to make small containers, mainly for liquids.
By the mid-second millennium BC artisans found that incorporating calcium oxide reduced the solubility of the glass. During this period, the Late Bronze Age, there was a vast increase in the number of practical metal tools, and eventually iron came into regular use. The parallel between the increasing use of metal and of glass is probably not coincidental, as both materials are utilized through the controlled use of high temperatures. Anthony Harding writes in The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe, page 314-315:
"Beads of primitive glass (so-called 'faience', actually a glass-like substance fired to a rather low temperature) had been known since the Early Bronze Age, but it was only rarely that the higher firing temperature necessary for the formation of true glass was achieved. When this did happen, practically the only objects created were beads, through in Egypt and the Near East elaborate objects such as vessels and various ornaments were being produced. The discovery of partially and fully formed glass beads, crucibles with glass adhering, and partly fused glass raw materials at Frattesina in the Po valley in northern Italy is of great importance, the more so as the analytical composition of the glass demonstrates that the material is of a local composition type and not brought in by Near Eastern traders….movement of glass is now a well-established phenomenon in the Bronze Age. Production in the barbarian world was on the small scale. True, certain more highly decorated forms were created, as the eye beads and those with twists of different colours (such as the 'Pile dwelling beads' of Switzerland) demonstrate."
The global center of glassmaking was without doubt the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, especially the Levant, i.e. present-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Large-scale glass factories eventually began operating in Egypt, from the Hellenistic era with Alexandria as one of several centers. The glass of the early civilizations was molded, not blown. It was generally cloudy and blue and was a luxury item as rare as precious stones. Glass didn't become a product available to the masses until the invention of glassblowing, which happened after ca. 50 BC, most likely somewhere in Syria or the Levant. This region was by then a part of the emerging Roman Empire, which contributed greatly to the expansion of glassmaking. Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin explain in their fascinating book Glass: A World History,which is about the social and cultural history of glass more than about how to make a vase in a particular shape and color. Page 14:
"With the development of glass blowing it was possible to produce glass vessels cheaply and in large quantities. Glass was such a versatile, clean and beautiful substance that fine pieces became highly priced and symbols of wealth. Its success was so great that it began to undermine its main competitor, ceramics. Glass was principally used for containers of various kinds: dishes, bottles, jugs, cups, plates, spoons, even lamps and inkwells. It was also used for pavements, for coating walls, for forcing frames for seedlings, and even for drainpipes. It is no exaggeration to say that glass was used for a wider range of objects than at any other time in history, including the present. It was especially appreciated for the way it enhanced the attractiveness of the favourite Roman drink, wine. In order to appreciate the colours of wine it was necessary to see through the glass. Thus another development, with great implications for the future, was the realisation that clear glass was both useful and beautiful. In all civilisations up to Rome, and in all other civilisations outside western Eurasia, glass was chiefly valued in its coloured and opaque forms, particularly as an imitation of precious stones."
The Romans did not, however, use glass for mirrors and lenses or other optical instruments to any great extent. This was the product of medieval and early modern European civilization. Glass as a tool for obtaining reliable knowledge, in optics or in chemical equipment, was not much developed in Antiquity, but the Romans laid the foundations for later uses of glass.
It is worth pondering the connection between glass and wine. As indicated above, the extensive manufacture of glass, and of clear glass in particular, was mainly concentrated in the western parts of Eurasia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean region and Europe. This also happens to be the region where grape wine was widely grown and – coincidental or not – the region which had arguably the most sophisticated optical traditions in the world by medieval times. In our own time, excellent wines are grown in South America, in Argentina and Chile, in California in North America, in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In all of these cases the production of wine was historically an extension of the European wine- and beer-making traditions. No wine was grown either in the Americas or in Australasia before the European colonial expansion in the early modern era. Alcoholic beverages were consumed in sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America but based on other substances, cacao beans, maize, potatoes etc. Likewise, in East Asia fermented beverages made from grapes were not totally unknown, but never widely consumed until modern times. Scholar Patrick E. McGovern elaborates in Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture:
"The wild Eurasian grapevine has a range that extends over 6000 kilometers from east to west, from Central Asia to Spain, and some 1300 kilometers from north to south, from the Crimea to Northwest Africa….The plasticity of the plant and the inventiveness of humans might appear to argue for multiple domestications. But, if there was more than one domestication event, how does one account for the archaeological and historical evidence that the earliest wine was made in the upland, northern parts of the Near East? From there, according to the best substantiated scenario, it gradually spread to adjacent regions such as Egypt and Lower Mesopotamia (ca. 3500-3000 B.C.). Somewhat later (by 2200 B.C.), it was being enjoyed on Crete. Inexorably, the elixir of the ancient world made its way in temporal succession westward to Rome and its colonies and up the major rivers into Europe. From there, the prolific Eurasian grapevine spread to the New World, where it continues to intertwine itself with emerging economies."
Although there is disagreement over the issue, some scholars claim that the earliest "wine culture" in the world emerged in Transcaucasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, comprising modern Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The ancient Sumerians imported wine to southern Mesopotamia from the Zagros Mountains in Iran. Thousands of wine jars were deposited in the tombs of the first pharaohs of Egypt at Saqqara (Memphis) and Abydos before 3000 BC. The jars appear to have been imported from Southern Palestine and the Levant. Although both the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations consumed beer on an everyday basis, the most prestigious beverage was still wine. McGovern, page 202:
"The city-states of Dor, Tyre, Sarepta, Sidon, Berytus (modern Beirut), Byblos, Tripoli, and Arad hugged the shoreline, and from their well-protected harbors, the Phoenician ships carried wine, their famous textiles dyed purple, and other goods to Egypt, Greece, the far western isles, and beyond the 'Pillars of Hercules' (Gibraltar) to Cornwall and the west coast of Africa. The Phoenicians and their ancestors before them, the Canaanites, deserved their fame as the seafarers of the ancient world: beyond transporting valuable physical commodities from place to place, they were responsible for transmitting the alphabet, new arts and technologies, and the ideology of a 'wine culture' throughout the Mediterranean. Even the opponents of 'Canaanite' culture made an exception when it came to their wine. Hosea, the eighth-century B.C. Israelite prophet, urged his listeners to return to Yahweh, so that 'they will blossom as the vine, [and] their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon' (14:7)."
The first alphabetic scripts may have been inspired by the Egyptian writing system, which included a set of hieroglyphs for single consonants. The letter "A" came from a pictogram of an ox head (the Semitic word for "ox" was aleph), the drawing of a house (the Semitic word for "house" was baytu) represented the sound "B" etc. A cuneiform alphabet existed in the Syrian city of Ugarit ca. 1500-1300 BC, but this version later died out. A modified version of the early alphabet was used for the Semitic languages Hebrew and Aramaic from about the ninth century BC. After the Persians adopted the use of Aramaic in their vast Empire, the concept of the alphabet spread to the Indian subcontinent and from there on to Southeast Asia and other regions of Asia. The Phoenicians exported their Semitic alphabet to the Greeks and eventually the Romans. In the modern era, the Roman/Latin alphabet was then brought by Europeans to the rest of the world. Consequently, all peoples in the world today, except those who use Chinese characters, can ultimately trace their script back to a Semitic-speaking people inspired by a limited number of Egyptian hieroglyphs in the second millennium BC.
Indo-European languages such as Greek and Latin contain more vowels than Semitic ones, so the Greeks invented signs for vowels when they adopted the Phoenician consonantal alphabet. This new script was intimately associated with, and spread together with, wine culture. Some of the earliest known examples of Greek alphabetic writing are scratched onto wine jugs, and the earliest preserved examples of the Etruscan and Roman alphabets are inscriptions on drinking cups and wine containers. The Phoenicians competed with and taught the Greeks, and brought wine to some regions of Spain, Portugal and France, many of the Mediterranean islands as well as Carthage in North Africa. Patrick E. McGovern in Ancient Wine, page 203:
"The Phoenicians competed with another wine-loving people, the Greeks, as both groups plied their ships throughout the Mediterranean and traded their goods. Together, they carved up the world marketplace and planted vineyards as they went. Oenotria ('the land of trained vines'), now Calabria in the toe of southern Italy, illustrates how seriously the Greeks took their task of promoting the 'culture of the vine and wine' elsewhere. By establishing the domesticated grapevine on foreign soil – whether in the Black Sea or at Messenia in eastern Sicily – they stimulated and were better able to supply local demand. Some regions, such as the coastline extending from ancient Etruria up to Massalia (Marseilles), might be contested. The Etruscans, the native Italic peoples, were more than willing to learn about viniculture from the Phoenicians or the Lydians, but they also wanted and got a role in supplying wine to trans-Alpine Burgundy."
The principal means for storing and transporting wine, grains, olive oil and other commodities in Antiquity were ceramic amphoras, but the manufacture of glass products as drinking vessels gradually expanded. Hugh Johnson in The Story of Wine, page 53:
"Wine was first drunk from pottery, occasionally and ceremonially from gold, but by as early as the late Bronze Age, about 1500 BC, also from glass. The technique of firing a glassy or 'vitreous' substance onto solid objects was discovered in about 4000 BC. In about 1500 BC the idea of a hollow glass vessel appeared – possibly in Egypt. It was made by dipping a cloth bag of sand into a crucible of molten glass, then modelling it by rolling it on a marver, a flat stone bench, then when the glass had cooled, emptying out the sand. The technique was known all over the Near East until about 1200 BC, then apparently lost in the first 'Dark Age', to re-emerge in the eighth century BC, with Egypt, Phoenicia, and Syria as glassmaking centres, but also with workshops in Italy and Celtic Europe. The idea of glassblowing originated in Syria in the first century BC. It spread rapidly around the Roman Empire, with Syrian or Alexandrian craftsmen setting up workshops, especially in Italy, Gaul, and the Rhineland. Glassmaking survived the fall of the Empire, with the Rhineland as a continuing centre….Wine glasses remained objects of luxury until the eighteenth century."
An urban, literate money economy with wine and theater was established by the Greeks and popularized by the Romans. It is no exaggeration to say that for the Romans, wine was civilization. Wine was considered a daily necessity and viticulture was spread to every part of the Empire. Most of present-day Germany never became a part of the Roman Empire after Roman troops suffered a devastating defeat to an alliance of Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9, which established the Rhine as the lasting border of the Empire, but Germany's oldest city, Trier, was founded as a Roman garrison next to the river Moselle (Mosel). The Moselle valley still produces quality wine. The city of Cologne (Köln) in the Rhineland developed as the hub of the Roman glassmaking industry in the region. Here at least, glass and wine clearly went hand in hand. It is instructive to compare this example to that of India. Egypt with its fertile Nile Valley was the grain chamber of the Roman Empire, but was also important in other ways with its connections to the Indian Ocean. Scholar David Peacock explains in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, page 425:
"Perhaps one of the strangest and most bizarre aspects of taste among the Roman nobility was the predilection for oriental luxuries: pearls, pepper, silks, frankincense, and myrrh, as well as various other spices and exotic medicines. Egypt articulated this trade, for these goods were brought by ship across the Indian Ocean and thence to the western shores of the Red Sea. Here they were offloaded and dragged across 150 km. of desert to the Nile, whence they were floated to Alexandria and then on to Rome. India benefited from this trade, for in return it received glass, textiles, wine, grain, fine pottery, and precious metals as well as human cargoes, such as singing boys and maidens for the pleasure of Indian potentates." Glass was known in India, but mainly used for decoration. Roman wine was at least occasionally imported and it is possible that Indians imported the knowledge of glassblowing along with it, which gradually spread eastwards in Asia. Indians from the first to the fifth centuries AD made more use of glass than they had before, but then the native glass industry declined almost to the point of non-existence a thousand years later. India never became a center for winemaking, as did western Germany. That could be one of the key differences.
The founder of the Persian Empire in the sixth century BC, Cyrus the Great, was known for his love of wine. However, after the seventh century AD, a very different force came to dominate this region: Islam. The Islamic ban on the consumption of wine and alcoholic beverages was not always upheld. The ruling classes took many liberties, and some of the established vineyards, often run by non-Muslims, managed to survive well into the Islamic era. Nevertheless, in the long run Islam greatly inhibited the ancient traditions of beer- and winemaking in this region. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire were the strictest of all. In contrast, the Christian Church and its network of monasteries in Europe often encouraged the production of beer and wine. Norman Davies tells the tale in Europe: A History, page 77:
"Commercial wine-growing in medieval Europe was pioneered by the Benedictines at Château-Prieuré in the Bordeaux region, and at locations such as the Clos Vougeot on the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. The Cluniacs on the Côte d'Or near Macon, and the Cistercians at Nuits St Georges, extended the tradition. According to Froissart, England's possession of Bordeaux demanded a fleet of 300 vessels to carry the vintage home. Bénédictine (1534) from the Abbey of Fécamp, and Chartreuse (1604) from the Charterhouse in Dauphiné, pioneered the art of fortified wine. Europe's wine zone cuts the Peninsula in two. Its northern reaches pass along a line stretching from the Loire, through Champagne to the Mosel and the Rhineland, and thence eastwards to the slopes of the Danube, and on to Moldavia and Crimea. There are very few wine-growing districts which did not once belong to the Roman Empire. Balkan wines in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece, inhibited by the anti-alcoholic Ottomans, are every bit as ancient as those of Spain, Italy, or France."
Today we see buildings with glass windows in every city in the world, yet most people don't know that the Romans were the first to make glass windows. Their legacy of glassmaking survived the fall of the Empire (although in diminished quantities) and was carried in different directions. Under the influence of Christianity and the Roman Church, the introduction of glazed windows and the development of painted and stained glass manufacture was one of the most decorative uses. It is again interesting to notice how glassmaking and winemaking progressed together under the influence of the Benedictines and others. Here is a quote from the book Glass: A World History by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, page 20:
"There are references to such windows from fifth century France at Tours, and a little later from north-east England, in Sunderland, followed by developments at Monkwearmouth, and in the far north at Jarrow dating to the period between 682 and c.870. By AD 1000 painted glass is mentioned quite frequently in church records, for example in those of the first Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino in 1066. It was the Benedictine order in particular that gave the impetus for window glass. It was they who saw the use of glass as a way of glorifying God through their involvement in its actual production in their monasteries, injecting huge amounts of skill and money into its development. The Benedictines were, in many ways, the transmitters of the great Roman legacy. The particular emphasis on window glass would lead into one of the most powerful forces behind the extraordinary explosion of glass manufacture from the twelfth century."
Often cited as the first Gothic construction, the choir of the Abbey of Saint-Denis, 1140-44, gives an important place to stained glass. In the twelfth century, monks were still the elite class of society in Europe, although urbanization was proceeding rapidly. This story is explored in the book The History of Stained Glass by Virginia Chieffo Raguin, page 63:
"The windows they commissioned reflected not only their erudition but also their method of prayer: gathering several times a day in the choir area of the church to pray communally, primarily by singing psalms. The monks remained in the presence of the works of art they set in these spaces. With the construction of his abbey's new choir, Abbot Suger (1081-1155) of Saint-Denis installed a series of windows exemplary of monastic spirituality and twelfth-century visual thinking. Suger, a man of unusual determination and management skills, was a trusted advisor of Louis VII, who reigned from 1137 to 1180. Responding to the call of Bernard of Clairvaux, Louis embarked on the unsuccessful Second Crusade, 1147-49, leaving Suger to act as regent of France in his absence. The abbot's influence with the monarchy consolidated Saint-Denis's place as the site of burial for French kings and the repository of the regalia – crown, sceptre, spurs, and other ceremonial objects – of coronation (coronations themselves, however, were held in the cathedral of Reims). Suger rebuilt the eastern and western ends of the church around 1141-44, using revolutionary vaulting and construction techniques that proclaimed the new Gothic style."
Stained glass developed as a major art form in late medieval Europe and was often used in churches such as Chartres Cathedral and Reims Cathedral in France, Cologne Cathedral in Germany, York Minster in England, Florence Cathedral in Italy and many others. Glass painting, what the Germans call Glasmalerei, gave artists the opportunity to construct large-scale imagery using light, color and line. With stained glass, unlike other graphic media, the artist must be sensitive to translucency as well as form. Raguin, page 10:
"The importance of stained glass and gems may be explained by a prevailing attitude toward light as a metaphor in premodern Europe. In the Old Testament light is associated with good, and darkness with God's displeasure. The very first verses of Genesis announce to the reader that 'the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep', then God created light and 'saw the light, that it was good' (Genesis 1:2-3). Light was associated with knowledge and power, 'the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God's majesty' (Wisdom 7:26). Light also functioned as a symbol of God's protection."
Syria and Egypt, and to some extent Iran and Iraq, remained important glassmaking regions for some centuries into the Islamic period, and created colorful, decorated glass which was exported to other countries. There was some transfer of glassmaking technology from Syria to Venice in medieval times. Glass was also used for scientific instruments in alchemy/chemistry. Mosque lanterns were the closest equivalent to the stained glass in Western European churches. Window glass was not widely made, but this could be for climatic reasons since in warmer countries it was important that air circulated in the hot season. It is clear that the Romans in Mediterranean countries knew how to make windows of glass and occasionally did so, but not to any great extent. Further developments in the manufacture of window glass happened primarily in the colder regions of northern Europe.
All the details regarding glassmaking in the Middle East during medieval times are not fully known. For instance, what effect did the ban on the consumption of wine have? Wine-glass manufacture was important in Italy for the development of fine glass. The destruction brought about by the Mongols and later by Tamerlane, while certainly significant, is sometimes overstated by those who want to blame the subsequent decline of the region on external factors alone. The truth is that some of the best work in theoretical optics, for instance by al-Farisi in Iran, happened after the Mongol conquests, as did the so-called Maragha school of astronomy. In contrast, Egypt was never conquered by the Mongols, yet despite the fact that Alhazen had written his Book of Optics there, optics did not progress any further in Egypt than it did in Iran/Iraq. Whatever the cause, the once-proud glassmaking traditions of the Middle East declined and never fully recovered. Macfarlane and Martin, page 104:
"But what may have made the European development from about 1200 onwards so much more powerful in the end, is that the thinking tools of glass – particularly lenses and prisms, spectacles and mirrors – were emphasised in a way that, at present at least, does not seem to be the case in Islamic glass-making. Double-sided lenses and spectacles, flat planes of glass (as used in Renaissance painting) and very fine mirrors (as produced in Venice) were never developed in the medieval glass traditions of Islam. Is this the crucial difference? The story after 1400 is quite briefly told. A little glass was produced in Turkey under the Ottomans, but glass technology had to be reintroduced from Venice in the later eighteenth century. There is evidence of a little glass made in Turkey in the sixteenth century and in Iran in the seventeenth century, but it was of low quality. There are other instances of minor glass manufacture, but in general there is almost no authenticated glass manufactured in the Middle East between the end of the fourteenth and the nineteenth century."
China was among the world's most advanced civilizations in weaving, metalworking and engineering, yet contributed little to the development of glassmaking. Glass was seen as an inferior substitute for precious substances, less interesting than clay, bamboo or paper. Pottery was cheaper, and with porcelain cups you could drink hot drinks without burning yourself, which was not the case with silverware. Coincidental or not, Europeans widely adopted porcelain just at the time when they started drinking hot non-alcoholic beverages, chocolate, coffee and tea. As for windows, it is clear that with good oiled paper and a warmer climate, certainly in the south, the pressure to make glass windows was largely absent in China. The houses of the Chinese peasantry were anyway not suitable for glass windows and were lit by empty gaps or paper or shell windows. Grand religious or secular buildings built out of stone to last for centuries hardly existed in China. The equivalents of the European cathedrals or noble houses were thus absent. Consequently, glassmaking was more limited in East Asia than it was in the West. Macfarlane and Martin, page 117-118:
"Much of the important development of European glass (in Venice and elsewhere) was in the making of drinking glasses, a continuation of its use in Roman times. Yet in Japan, drinking with glass seems, until the middle of the nineteenth century, to be more or less totally absent. Why? Again there are several obvious reasons. One concerns the nature of the drink. The Venetian glass was developed for the highest-status and ubiquitous cold drink – wine. In northern countries, where beer was the main drink, it was not drunk from glass, but pewter and pottery. Wine and glass seem to go together. One drinks with the eyes, as well as with the lips, and the glass enhances the effect. Certainly, if one is drinking very large quantities of hot drinks, hot tea, hot water, hot sake, then glass is a bad container. It will crack and the situation is made worse by the fact that thick glass (as was early glass) cracks more easily than thin. A second, and obviously related fact, is the development of ceramics. With such fine ceramics and wonderful pottery, who needs glass for drinking vessels? Indeed, glass is hardly needed for any other utensils."
Derk Bodde (1909–2003), one of the most prominent Western Sinologists and historians of China during the twentieth century, elaborates:
"True porcelain is distinguished from ordinary pottery or earthenware by its hardness, whiteness, smoothness, translucence when made in thin pieces, nonporousness, and bell-like sound when tapped. The plates you eat from, even heavy thick ones, have these qualities and are therefore porcelain. A flower pot, on the other hand, or the brown cookie jar kept in the pantry are not porcelain but earthenware….The first description that seems to point definitely to porcelain is that of the famous Arabic traveler, Suleyman, in his account dated 851 of travels in India and China. There he speaks of certain vases made in China out of a very fine clay, which have the transparency of glass bottles. In the centuries following Suleyman's time the southern sea route to China rose to a position of commanding importance. Over it porcelain became by all odds the major export shipped from China to the outside world. Tremendous quantities of porcelain went to Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Indo-China, Siam, Malaya, the East Indies, Ceylon, and adjoining regions. Much porcelain went even farther, crossing the Indian Ocean and passing up the Persian Gulf to reach Persia, Syria, and Egypt."
It is possible that the invention of porcelain was itself at least partly a geological accident due to the natural presence of two key materials in China. Macfarlane and Martin, page 120-121:
"There were large deposits of kaolin and petuntse near each other. The kaolin provides the body of the object, the petuntse acts as a flux which will cause overglaze colours to vitrify. It was hence possible to make an excellent hard, dense, beautiful, translucent ceramic. Potters were using the clays that were around them and found that they produced a wonderful substance which we call 'china'. The original discovery of porcelain itself was probably the result of the accidental presence of 'natural' porcelain in China. The resulting ceramics were so desirable that Europeans spent immense fortunes on buying chinaware. The makers of such a fine substance had a high status. Meanwhile in western Europe these substances were not available, either in the same high quality or quantity….So it was a matter of luck as to where certain clays were to be found….Rome, and through her medieval Europe, opted for pottery and glass, China and Japan for ceramics and paper. Once the divergence had begun it was self-reinforcing. It became more and more difficult to change track. So if one asks why the Chinese did not develop clear glass, one should equally ask why the Romans did not make porcelain."
Porcelain probably existed by the Tang Dynasty (618–907), which is incidentally just when tea came into widespread use. The Chinese writer Lu Yu (733–804) wrote The Classic of Tea before 780 AD. Camellia sinensis occurs naturally in Burma and in the Chinese Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. Tea had been used as a medicinal herb since ancient times but became a daily drink between the fourth and ninth centuries AD, when its use spread to Japan via Buddhist monks. The elaborate Japanese tea ceremony was codified by Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) in the sixteenth century. Europeans who came to China in the early modern period quickly developed a taste for the beverage, so much so that they spread its use to regions far beyond where it had previously been enjoyed, thus globalizing a Chinese invention and in return introducing American specialties such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and tobacco to Asia. The Dutch East India Company brought tea to Europe in the seventeenth century, and the Dutch later grew tea in their colonies in Indonesia. The British promoted tea culture in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the nineteenth century, when Thomas Lipton (1848–1931) created his famous tea brand.
The date when true porcelain was first made is disputed, but it clearly existed by the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) and possibly before. The relationship between tea and porcelain in China appears to be at least as strong as the relationship between wine and glass in Europe. Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss in The Story of Tea, page 12-13:
"Song emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125) commanded the royal pottery works to create new tea-drinking cups. Known for his aesthetic tastes, he ushered in the creation of luxurious porcelains characterized by refined elegance, underglaze decorations, subtle etched designs, and sensuous glazes. Song porcelains were mostly monochromatic and the most popular type – Qingbai porcelain – had a bluish-white glaze. These cups not only increased tea-drinking pleasure, but they also encouraged awareness and admiration of the tea liquor itself. It was during this point in the development of tea culture that teawares began to be viewed as objects of desire and value and not just as functional tools. At one time Huizong favored deep chocolate-brown, almost black glazed teacups, streaked with fine, thin tan lines. Known as 'rabbit hair glaze,' this style became very popular as it was said that the black glaze pleasingly offset the color of the froth of the whisked tea. These dark glazed cups were favorites in Song tea competitions….This imperial desire for strong but thin vessels that could endure near-boiling liquid was the beginning of the Chinese porcelain trade that would, centuries later, influence the course of ceramics manufacturing throughout Japan and Europe."
The manufacture of porcelain became a major Chinese export industry which employed sophisticated mass-production techniques; a single piece of porcelain could pass through literally dozens of hands during manufacture. Europeans eventually made fine porcelain of their own, starting with the Germans Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651–1708) and Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) and the production of Meissen porcelain from 1710, but its reinvention was directly inspired by European efforts to duplicate Chinese examples.
Chinese teahouses became important places to socialize, conduct business, play board games and gossip. Guo Danying and Wang Jianrong in The Art of Tea in China, page 84:
"Teahouses burgeoned in the Song Dynasty. In the famous painting scroll, Festival of Pure Brightness on the River by the Northern Song (960-1127) painter Zhang Zeduan, teahouses are dotted along the river flowing through the capital. Teahouses were also often the venues for performances of Yuan opera and ping tan (storytelling in the local dialect combined with ballad singing) during the Yuan Dynasty. Thus emerged the tradition of Chinese teahouses hosting small-scale theatrical performances. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, teahouses took on more diversified forms and a more expansive range of functions. Places meant for giving people a chance to quench their thirst and to taste a good beverage originally, teahouses have deviated from their original simple orientation as urban society has evolved. They have become an important socio-cultural arena, welcoming people from all walks of life."
The most common form of tea in Tang times was "tea cakes." In 1391 the Hongwu Emperor, or Taizu (1368-1398), who founded the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and forced the Mongols out of China, decided that making tea cakes was too time-consuming and consequently prohibited it. Loose-leaf tea then gradually replaced tea cakes, leading to a new, diversified array of processed teas such as scented tea, black tea, red tea and green tea as well as utensils more suitable for brewing loose-leaf tea, which eventually led to the invention of teapots.
So what does this have to do with optics, you say? Well, indirectly, quite a bit. In the pre-Columbian Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, the native cultures lacked the technological know-how to make glass. This was clearly not the case with the major Asian nations, who all knew how to make glass and occasionally did so, but rarely to any great extent. The best explanation for this is that they simply didn't need it, as they had other materials at their disposal which suited their needs better. The major use for glass until a couple of hundreds years ago was for containers, but the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indians had excellent containers made of clay. For everyday uses, pottery and porcelain were at least as good as glass, but not for scientific purposes. Clear glass was a superior material for use in many experiments and indispensable for making lenses to microscopes and telescopes. Glass: A World History by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, page 182:
"The use of glass for 'verroterie', that is glass beads, counters, toys and jewellery, is almost universal, at least in Eurasia, though even this was absent in the half of the historical world comprising the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Australasia….There was very little use of glass for vessels in India, China and Japan. Even in the Islamic territories and Russia, the use declined drastically from about the fourteenth century with the Mongol incursions. In relation to China, in particular, this use can be seen as mainly an alternative to pottery and porcelain. The great developers were the Italians, first the Romans, with their extensive use of glass, and then the Venetians with their 'cristallo'. Much of the technical improvement of glass manufacture arose from this and it is particularly associated with wine drinking. Thus we have a phenomenon much more specific in scope, finding its epicentres in Italy and Bohemia. There are various links to science here, for example the fact that the fine glass needed for the earliest microscopes was made from fragments of Venetian wine 'cristallo'. Likewise the development of tubes, retorts and measuring flasks for chemistry, as well as thermometers and barometers, developed out of this."
A History of Optics, part 1
My history of optics will be published in at least five parts here over the coming days. I will look into all aspects of it, from mathematics via glassmaking, eyeglasses/spectacles, microscopes and telescopes to chemistry, photography and the modern electromagnetic understanding of light. All following quotes by the eminent scholar David C. Lindberg, who is widely recognized to be a leading scholar on ancient, medieval and early modern optics, refer to his book Theories of vision – From al-Kindi to Kepler, except when explicitly stated otherwise. I include page references to longer quotes from all relevant book so that others can use the material if they want to.
Speculations about the rainbow can be traced almost as far back as written records go. In China, a systematic analysis of shadows and reflection existed by the fourth century BC. I will concentrate mainly on the Greek, Middle Eastern and European optical traditions here, but will say a few words about Chinese ideas later. The theories of vision of the atomists Democritus and Epicurus, of Plato and his predecessors, of the Stoics and of Galen and Aristotle were almost entirely devoid of mathematics. The first Greek exposition of a mathematical theory of vision was in the Optica by the great mathematician Euclid, author of the Elements, perhaps the most influential textbook in the history of mathematics. Scholar Victor J. Katz in A History of Mathematics, second edition, page 58:
"The most important mathematical text of Greek times, and probably of all time, the Elements of Euclid, written about 2300 years ago, has appeared in more editions than any work other than the Bible….Yet to the modern reader the work is incredibly dull...There are simply definitions, axioms, theorems, and proofs. Nevertheless, the book has been intensively studied. Biographies of many famous mathematicians indicate that Euclid's work provided their initial introduction into mathematics, that it in fact exited them and motivated them to become mathematicians. It provided them with a model of how 'pure mathematics' should be written, with well-thought-out axioms, precise definitions, carefully stated theorems, and logically coherent proofs. Although there were earlier version of Elements before that of Euclid, his is the only one to survive, perhaps because it was the first one written after both the foundations of proportion theory and the theory of irrationals had been developed in Plato's school and the careful distinctions always to be made between number and magnitude had been propounded by Aristotle. It was therefore both 'complete' and well organized."
The Elements is a compendium organized from many previously existing texts, but Euclid did give the work an overarching structure. Sadly, almost nothing is known about him personally, but he lived in the early Hellenistic period and was probably born a few years before Archimedes of Syracuse (ca. 287-212 BC). Katz, page 58:
"In any case, it is generally assumed that Euclid taught and wrote at the Museum and Library at Alexandria. This complex was founded around 300 B.C.E. by Ptolemy I Soter, the Macedonian general of Alexander the Great who became ruler of Egypt after the death of Alexander in 323 B.C.E. 'Museum' here means a 'Temple of the Muses,' that is, a location where scholars meet and discuss philosophical and literary ideas. The Museum was to be, in effect, a government research establishment. The Fellows of the Museum received stipends and free board and were exempt from taxation. In this way, Ptolemy I and his successors hoped that men of eminence would be attracted there from the entire Greek world. In fact, the Museum and Library soon became a focal point of the highest developments in Greek scholarship, both in the humanities and the sciences."
Even though other, similar works had existed before, Euclid's version was greatly successful. Copies of it were made for centuries, sometimes with new additions. Katz, page 59:
"In particular, Theon of Alexandria (fourth century C.E.) was responsible for one important new edition. Most of the extant manuscripts of Euclid's Elements are copies of this edition. The earliest such copy now in existence is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and dates from 888. There is, however, one manuscript in the Vatican Library, dating from the tenth century, which is not a copy of Theon's edition but of an earlier version. It was from a detailed comparison of this manuscript with several old manuscript copies of Theon's version that the Danish scholar J. L. Heiberg compiled a definitive Greek version in the 1880s, as close to the Greek original as possible. (Heiberg did the same for several other important Greek mathematical texts.) The extracts to be discussed here are all adapted from Thomas Heath's 1908 English translation of Heiberg's Greek. Euclid's Elements is a work in thirteen books, but it is certainly not a unified work."
Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1854-1928), philologist and historian of mathematics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, inspected a manuscript in Constantinople in 1906 which contained previously unknown mathematical works by Archimedes. It is worth noting here that manuscripts from the Byzantine Middle Ages containing very important works could be found in Constantinople (Istanbul), now under Turkish control, yet Turkish Muslims did not show much interest in discovering this.
Archimedes was the first mathematician to derive quantitative results from the creation of mathematical models of physical problems on earth. He was responsible for the first proof of the law of the lever as well as of the basic principle of hydrostatics. The principle of the lever was known before this, but as far as we know no-one had created a mathematical model for it before Archimedes. His genius as an engineer of various military devices kept the Roman invasion forces at bay for months. He was allegedly killed by a Roman soldier after the capture of Syracuse (212 BC), even though the commander Marcellus wanted to spare his life.
Another prominent Greek mathematician was Apollonius. Again, the cited dates of his birth conflict, apart from the fact that he was active in the years before and slightly after 200 BC. Victor J. Katz in A History of Mathematics, page 118:
"Apollonius was born in Perge, a town in southern Asia Minor, but few details are known about his life. Most of the reliable information comes from the prefaces to the various books of his magnum opus, the Conics. These indicate that he went to Alexandria as a youth to study with successors of Euclid and probably remained there for most of his life, studying, teaching, and writing. He became famous in ancient times first for his work on astronomy, but later for his mathematical work, most of which is known today only by titles and summaries in works of later authors. Fortunately, seven of the eight books of the Conics do survive, and these represent in some sense the culmination of Greek mathematics. It is difficult for us today to comprehend how Apollonius could discover and prove the hundreds of beautiful and difficult theorems without modern algebraic symbolism. Nevertheless, he did so, and there is no record of any later Greek mathematical work that approaches the complexity or intricacy of the Conics."
The number of original scientific works declined during Roman times. Hero or Heron of Alexandria did some optical work, but the greatest optician of antiquity was undoubtedly Claudius Ptolemy, astronomer, mathematician and geographer who flourished in Alexandria during the second century AD. He extended Euclid's mathematical analysis of vision, and enlarged it to include additional physical and physiological elements. After Ptolemy, the legacy of Greek Antiquity was passed on to medieval times, to the Middle East and to Europe.
According to scholar F. R. Rosenthal: "Islamic rational scholarship, which we have mainly in mind when we speak of the greatness of Muslim civilisation, depends in its entirety on classical antiquity…in Islam as in every civilisation, what is really important is not the individual elements but the synthesis that combines them into a living organism of its own…Islamic civilisation as we know it would simply not have existed without the Greek heritage."
Greek knowledge was of vital importance to Muslim scholars in all disciplines, especially in optics. Al-Kindi (d. 873 AD), or Alkindus as he was known in Europe, lived in Baghdad in the ninth century and was close to several Abbasid Caliphs. He was one of the first to attempt reconciling Islam with Greek philosophy, especially with Aristotle, a project that was to last for several centuries and ultimately prove unsuccessful due to religious resistance. In the book How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs, De Lacy O'Leary states that "Aristotelian study proper began with Abu Yusuf Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (d. after 873), commonly known as 'the Philosopher of the Arabs.' It is significant that almost all the great scientists and philosophers of the Arabs were classed as Aristotelians tracing their intellectual descent from al-Kindi and al-Farabi."
Al-Kindi's De aspectibus was based upon Euclid's Optica, but was also critical of it in some cases. Al-Kindi's book on optics influenced the Islamic world for centuries. He was a younger contemporary of al-Khwarizmi (d. ca 850 AD), who also worked in Baghdad, and together they provided an early introduction to the Middle East of the decimal numeral system with the zero which was gradually spreading from India.
The Baghdad-centered Abbasid dynasty, which replaced the Damascus-centered Umayyad dynasty after 750 AD, was closer to Persian culture and was clearly influenced by the pre-Islamic Sassanid Zoroastrian practice of translating works and creating great libraries. Even Dimitri Gutas admits this in his book Greek Thought, Arab Culture. There was still a large number of Persian Zoroastrians as well as Christians and Jews, and they played a disproportionate role in the translation of scholarly works. For instance, the talented mathematician Thabit ibn Qurra (836–901), a member of the Sabian sect, was fluent in Greek, Syriac or Syro-Aramaic as well as in Arabic. Perhaps the most famous translator of all was Hunayn or Hunain ibn Ishaq (808-873), called Johannitius in Latin.
Hunain was a Nestorian (Assyrian) Christian who had studied Greek by living in Greek lands, presumably in the Byzantine Empire, and eventually settled in Baghdad. Since he was a contemporary of al-Kindi in Baghdad and employed by the same patrons, they were probably acquainted. Soon he, his son and his nephew had made available in Arabic and Syriac Galen's medical treatises as well as Hippocrates and texts by Aristotle, Plato and others. In some cases, he apparently translated a work into Syriac and his son Ishaq translated this further into Arabic. Hunain wrote as well as translated scientific works, and his own compositions include two on ophthalmology: the Ten Treatises on the Eye and the Book of the Questions on the Eye. His books were influential in the Islamic world and in Europe, but he transmitted an essentially pure Galenic theory of vision.
By far the most important optical work to appear during the Middle Ages was the Book of Optics (Kitab al-Manazir in the original Arabic; De Aspectibus in Latin translation). It was written during the first quarter of the eleventh century by Ibn al-Haytham (965–ca. 1039), who was born in present-day Iraq but spent much of his career in Egypt. He is known as Alhazen in Western literature. David C. Lindberg, page 60:
"Abu 'Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (known in medieval Europe as Alhazen or Alhacen) was born in Basra about 965 A.D. The little we know of his life comes from the biobibliographical sketches of Ibn al-Qifti and Ibn Abi Usaibi'a, who report that Alhazen was summoned to Egypt by the Fatimid Khalif, al-Hakim (996-1021), who had heard of Alhazen's great learning and of his boast that he knew how to regulate the flow of the Nile River. Although his scheme for regulating the Nile proved unworkable, Alhazen remained in Egypt for the rest of his life, patronized by al-Hakim (and, for a time, feigning madness in order to be free of his patron). He died in Cairo in 1039 or shortly after. Alhazen was a prolific writer on all aspects of science and natural philosophy. More than two hundred works are attributed to him by Ibn Abi Usaibi'a, including ninety of which Alhazen himself acknowledged authorship. The latter group, whose authenticity is beyond question, includes commentaries on Euclid's Elements and Ptolemy's Almagest, an analysis of the optical works of Euclid and Ptolemy, a resume of the Conics of Apollonius of Perga, and analyses of Aristotle's Physics, De anima, and Meteorologica."
Alhazen did work in many scholarly disciplines but is mostly remembered for his contributions in optics. He read Hippocrates and Galen on medicine, Plato and Aristotle on philosophy, was familiar with the major works in Greek mathematics and wrote commentaries on Apollonius, Euclid, Ptolemy and Archimedes' On the Sphere and Cylinder. As for optical sources, he was probably familiar with al-Kindi's De aspectibus and Hunain ibn Ishaq's Ten Treatises. He had the resources to develop a theory of vision which incorporated elements from all the optical traditions of the past. Although he relied heavily on the Greek scientific tradition, the synthesis which he made was new. Lindberg, page 85:
"Alhazen's essential achievement, it appears to me, was to obliterate the old battle lines. Alhazen was neither Euclidean nor Galenist nor Aristotelian – or else he was all of them. Employing physical and physiological argument, he convincingly demolished the extramission theory; but the intromission theory he erected in its place, while satisfying physical and physiological criteria, also incorporated the entire mathematical framework of Euclid, Ptolemy, and al-Kindi. Alhazen thus drew together the mathematical, medical, and physical traditions and created a single comprehensive theory."
Curiously enough the Book of Optics was not widely known and used in the Islamic world. There were a few notable exceptions, prominent among them the Persian natural philosopher Kamal al-Din al-Farisi (1267-ca.1320) in Iran, who made the first mathematically satisfactory explanation of the rainbow. Similar ideas were articulated at roughly the same time by the German theologian and physicist Theodoric of Freiberg (ca. 1250 –1310). These two scholars apparently had nothing in common, apart from the fact that both were inspired by Alhazen. Here is David C. Lindberg in The Beginnings of Western Science, second edition, page 184:
"Kamal al-Din used a water-filled glass sphere to simulate a droplet of moisture on which solar rays were allowed to fall. Driven by his observations to abandon the notion that reflection alone was responsible for the rainbow (the traditional view, going back to Aristotle), Kamal al-Din concluded that the primary rainbow was formed by a combination of reflection and refraction. The rays that produced the colors of the rainbow, he observed, were refracted upon entering his glass sphere, underwent a total internal reflection at the back surface of the sphere (which sent them back toward the observer), and experienced a second refraction as they exited the sphere. This occurred in each droplet within a mist to produce a rainbow. Two internal reflections, he concluded, produced the secondary rainbow. Location and differentiation of the colored bands of the rainbow were determined by the angular relations between sun, observer, and droplets of mist. Kamal's theory was substantially identical to that of his contemporary in Western Europe, Theodoric of Freiberg. It became a permanent part of meteorological knowledge after publication by René Descartes in the first half of the seventeenth century."
Alhazen personally should be credited with being one of the greatest scholars of his age, yet his scientific mindset wasn't always appreciated by his contemporaries. Here is how his writings were received by fellow Muslims, as quoted in Ibn Warraq's modern classic Why I Am Not a Muslim, page 274:
"A disciple of Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, relates that he was in Baghdad on business, when the library of a certain philosopher (who died in 1214) was burned there. The preacher, who conducted the execution of the sentence, threw into the flames, with his own hands, an astronomical work of Ibn al-Haitham, after he had pointed to a delineation therein given of the sphere of the earth, as an unhappy symbol of impious Atheism."
Alhazen's groundbreaking Book of Optics survives to us in Latin translation. Muslims had access to ideas but failed to appreciate them and exploit their potential. It was in the West that Alhazen had his greatest influence. The book was translated into Latin and had a significant impact on the English scholar Roger Bacon (ca. 1220–1292) and others in the thirteenth century. Bacon was educated at Oxford and lectured on Aristotle at the University of Paris. He wrote about many subjects and was among the first persons to argue that lenses could be used for the correction of eyesight, which was eventually done in the late 1200s in Europe. His teacher, the English bishop and scholar Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1170–1253), was an early proponent of validating theory through experimentation. Grosseteste played an important role in shaping Oxford University in the first half of the thirteenth century, with great intellectual powers and administrative skills. As John North says in God's Clockmaker, page 30:
"Robert Grosseteste was the most influential Oxford theologian of the thirteenth century. Like [Alexander] Neckham he applied his scientific knowledge to theological questions, but – unlike Neckham – he had a very original scientific mind. He had much astronomical and optical knowledge; and, without having a very profound knowledge of mathematics, he appreciated its importance to the physical sciences. There was nothing especially new in this, although it was a principle that had been largely overlooked in the West. It did no harm to have the principle proclaimed repeatedly by Grosseteste's leading advocate after his death, the Franciscan Roger Bacon, lecturer in both Oxford and Paris."
Directly or indirectly, the Book of Optics inspired much of the activity in optics that occurred between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries, including Bacon, Witelo, John Pecham and the Italian scholars Giambattista della Porta (1535-1615), who helped popularize the camera obscura, and Francesco Maurolico (1494-1575), a mathematician, astronomer and monk who did work on the refraction of light and studied the camera obscura.
Pecham and Witelo had access to a number of works, including those of Bacon and Alhazen, and contributed considerably to the dissemination of their ideas. Witelo (born ca. 1220, died after 1280) was a Polish scholar and friend of the Flemish scholar William of Moerbeke (ca. 1215-1286 AD), the translator of Aristotle's works from the original Greek. Witelo's major surviving work on optics, Perspectiva, completed in the 1270s (and deeply inspired by Alhazen), was dedicated to William. The Englishman John Pecham (d. 1292 AD), Archbishop of Canterbury, studied optics and astronomy and was influenced by Bacon's work.
Late medieval optical theory was incorporated into the university curriculum. What is unique about optics in Europe is that it was also applied to art, something which was entirely absent in the Islamic world. David C. Lindberg in Theories of vision – From al-Kindi to Kepler, page 147-148:
"About 1303, a little more than a decade after the deaths of Roger Bacon and John Pecham, Giotto di Bondone (ca. 1266-1337) began work on the frescoes of the Arena Chapel in Padua – paintings that later generations would view as the first statement of a new understanding of the relationship between visual space and its representation on a two-dimensional surface. What Giotto did was to eliminate some of the flat, stylized qualities that had characterized medieval painting by endowing his figures with a more human, three-dimensional, lifelike quality; by introducing oblique views and foreshortening into his architectural representations, thereby creating a sense of depth and solidity; and by adjusting the perspective of the frescoes to the viewpoint of an observer standing at the center of the chapel. This was the beginning of a search for 'visual truth,' an 'endeavor to imitate nature,' which would culminate a century later in the theory of linear perspective. Historians of art are unanimous in crediting the invention of linear perspective to the Florentine Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). Although Brunelleschi left no written record of his achievement, his disciple Antonio Manetti gives us an account in his Vita di Brunelleschi."
The techniques that Brunelleschi used were given a theoretical expression in the treatise Della pittura, written about 1435 by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) and dedicated to Brunelleschi. Significantly, at about this time, new flat glass mirrors were available and replaced the older flat metal and hemispherical glass mirrors. Giotto painted with the aid of a mirror, and Brunelleschi used a plane mirror in his perspective demonstration. Lindberg, page 152:
"What is beyond conjecture is that the creators of linear perspective knew and utilized ancient and medieval optical theory. Alessandro Parronchi has argued that Brunelleschi's friend Paolo Toscanelli brought a copy of Blasius of Parma's Questiones super perspectivam to Florence when he returned from Padua in 1424 and that Brunelleschi could also have had access to the works of Alhazen, Bacon, Witelo, and Pecham. He argues, moreover, that these works may have played a decisive role in the working out of Brunelleschi's perspective demonstration. We are on much surer ground with Alberti, whose description of the visual pyramid clearly reveals knowledge of the perspectivist tradition. Moreover, Alberti's reference to the central ray of the visual pyramid as that through which certainty is achieved can only come from Alhazen or the Baconian tradition."
Renaissance Europe became the first civilization to institute the regular use of human dissection for scientific purposes. This was integrated into the medical education. The Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) performed dissections in order to gain a better grasp of anatomy, and famously displayed his studies of the proportions of the human body in drawings such as the Vitruvian Man. He did make use of optical treatises, but he was isolated and without influence in the field. Most of his manuscripts were in private hands until 1636 and were not seriously studied until the late eighteenth century.
Friedrich Risner (d. 1580), a German mathematician who spent most of his scholarly career at the University of Paris, published a well-edited printed edition of the works of Alhazen and Witelo in 1572, the Opticae thesaurus, which benefited leading seventeenth-century figures such as Kepler, Huygens and Descartes. Allegedly, Risner was among the first to suggest the use of a portable camera obscura in the form of a lightweight wooden hut. Previously, a camera obscura (Latin: "dark chamber") was the size of a room, with a tiny hole in the wall or the roof. Kepler tested a tent-size portable camera obscura for astronomical observations in the early 1600s, but the earliest reference to a small portable box camera came in the second half of that century. The use of the camera obscura as an aid to painters and artists was virtually nonexistent in the Islamic world, but indirectly led to the development of box cameras used for photography in nineteenth century Europe.
The German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) became seriously interested in optics even before the telescope had been invented. He worked with the last of the great pre-telescopic observers, the Dane Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), and had probably received an introduction to the subject at the university. Kepler, like Alhazen before him, was primarily a mathematician and did not study the anatomy of the eye, but his description does not contain any major errors. He had as much anatomical knowledge as he needed to develop his theory of the retinal image. Lindberg, page 202:
"He has painstakingly demonstrated that all the radiation from a point in the visual field entering the eye must be returned to a point of focus on the retina. If all the radiation entering the eye must be taken into account (and who could gainsay that proposition after reflecting on Kepler's argument?), and if the requirement of a one-to-one correspondence between the point sources of rays in the visual field and points in the eye stimulated by those rays is accepted, then Kepler's theory appears to be established beyond serious dispute. An inverted picture is painted on the retina, as on the back of the camera obscura, reproducing all the visual features of the scene before the eye. The fact that Kepler's geometrical scheme perfectly complemented Platter's teaching about the sensitivity of the retina surely helped to confirm this conclusion. It is perhaps significant that Kepler employed the term pictura in discussing the inverted retinal image, for this is the first genuine instance in the history of visual theory of a real optical image within the eye – a picture, having an existence independent of the observer, formed by the focusing of all available rays on a surface."
Kepler compared the eye to a camera obscura, but only once in his treatise. The most difficult challenge was the fact that the picture on the retina is upside down and reversed from right to left. This inverted picture caused Kepler considerable problems. He lacked the means to cope with this issue, but argued that "geometrical laws leave no choice in the matter" and excluded the problem from optics, separating the optical from the nonoptical aspects of vision, which was the sensible thing to do. Optics ceases with the formation of the picture on the retina. What happens after that is for somebody else to find out. The image gets turned "right" by the brain, but the functions of the brain were not understood by any culture at that time. The term "neurology" was coined by the English doctor Thomas Willis (1621–1675).
Although Kepler's theory of the retinal image is correctly identified as the birth of modern optical theory, Lindberg argues that he was the culminating figure of centuries of scholarship. Theories of vision, page 207-208:
"That his theory of vision had revolutionary implications, which would be unfolded in the course of the seventeenth century, must not be allowed to obscure the fact that Kepler himself remained firmly within the medieval framework. The theory of the retinal image constituted an alteration in the superstructure of visual theory; at bottom, it remained solidly upon a medieval foundation. Kepler attacked the problem of vision with greater skill than had theretofore been applied to it, but he did so without departing from the basic aims and criteria of visual theory established by Alhazen in the eleventh century. Thus neither extreme of the continuity-discontinuity spectrum will suffice to describe Kepler's achievement: his theory of vision was not anticipated by medieval scholars; nor did he formulate his theory out of reaction to, or as a repudiation of, the medieval achievement. Rather, Kepler presented a new solution (but not a new kind of solution) to a medieval problem, defined some six hundred years earlier by Alhazen. By taking the medieval tradition seriously, by accepting its most basic assumptions but insisting upon more rigor and consistency than the medieval perspectivists themselves had been able to achieve, he was able to perfect it."
In the appendix section to his book, David C. Lindberg argues that the Book of Optics must have been translated during the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. There is insufficient evidence to demonstrate clearly who translated it from Arabic, but indirect evidence indicates Spain as the point of translation, and the high quality of translation points to the great Italian (Lombard) translator Gerard of Cremona (ca. 1114–1187) or somebody from his school. Many of the works initially translated from Arabic by Gerard and his associates, among them Ptolemy's Almagest, were later translated directly from Greek into Latin from Byzantine manuscripts. The version of Ptolemy's astronomy that was used by Copernicus came from Greek manuscripts, not Gerard's translations. Obviously, Alhazen's work had to be translated from Arabic since it was written in that language in the first place.
As mentioned above, optical theory was widely utilized by artists in Europe to create mathematical perspective. Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting is undoubtedly the Mona Lisa, which is now in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, but The Last Supper, finished in 1498 in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy, runs a close second. The story it tells is narrated in the Gospel of John 13:21 in the New Testament, with the first celebration of the Eucharist, when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles will betray him. The picture is a great example of one point perspective, with Christ's head as the midpoint of the composition.
Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was a German printmaker, painter and artist-mathematician from Nuremberg and one of the leading figures of the Northern Renaissance. He spent several years in Italy to study the art of perspective, and had to develop a mathematical terminology in German because some of it did not yet exist at the time. His Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion, or Four Books on Human Proportion, from 1528 was dedicated to the study of human proportions. Like Leonardo, he was inspired by the Roman architect Vitruvius, but he also did extensive empirical research on his own. The examples of Dürer, Leonardo and others demonstrate that there was much geometry and mathematical theory behind the more accurate representation of human figures on canvas in post-Renaissance European art.
It is true that you can find elements of perspective among the ancient Greeks, and sporadically in Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other artistic traditions. One prominent example is the masterpiece Going Up the River or Along the River During the Qingming Festival by the Chinese painter Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145 AD). The painting, which is sometimes referred to as China's Mona Lisa, depicts the daily life of the Song Dynasty capital Kaifeng with geometrically accurate images and great attention to detail. The work masters some techniques related to shading and foreshortening, but these experiments were later abandoned and not developed further. East Asian art tended to consider images as a form of painted poetry. Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin explain in Glass: A World History, page 59-60:
"It is well known that Plato felt that realist, illusionary art should be banned as a deceit, and most civilisations have followed Plato, if for other reasons. For the Chinese (and Japanese) the purpose of art was not to imitate or portray external nature, but to suggest emotions. Thus they actively discouraged too much realism, which merely repeated without any added value what could anyway be seen. A Van Eyck or a Leonardo would have been scorned as a vulgar imitator. In parts of Islamic tradition, realistic artistic representations of living things above the level of flowers and trees are banned as blasphemous imitations of the creator's distinctive work. Humans should not create graven images, or any images at all, for thereby they took to themselves the power of God. Again, Van Eyck or Leonardo would have been an abhorrence. Even mirrors can be an abomination, for they create duplicates of living things."
The Chinese had a passion for mirrors, but of the highly polished bronze variety. These were often believed to have magical properties, could be made into plane, convex or concave shapes and were sometimes used for optical experiments. Japanese mirrors were traditionally made of brass or steel, not glass, and were used as sacred symbols, to look into the soul instead of the body. The Romans knew how to make glass mirrors, but metal mirrors were preferred. Fine mirrors (as produced in Venice) were never made in the medieval glass traditions of Islam, possibly for religious reasons. The development of flat glass and metal mirrors combined with the study of optics led to a new kind of art in Renaissance Europe. That the mirror played a part in the development of linear perspective is a theme taken up by the scholar Samuel Edgerton. Macfarlane and Martin, page 63-64:
"Mirrors had been standing in artists' studios for several hundred years, for example Giotto had painted 'with the aid of mirrors'. Yet Brunelleschi's extraordinary breakthrough is the culminating moment. Without what Edgerton calculates to be a twelve-inch-square flat mirror, the most important single change in the representation of nature by artistic means in the last thousand years could not, Edgerton argues, have occurred. Leonardo called the mirror the 'master of painters'. He wrote that 'Painters oftentimes despair of their power to imitate nature, on perceiving how their pictures are lacking in the power of relief and vividness which objects possess when seen in a mirror…' It is no accident that a mirror is the central device in two of the greatest of paintings – Van Eyck's 'Marriage of Arnolfini', and Velazquez's 'Las Meninas'. It was a tool that could be used to distort and hence make the world a subject of speculation. It was also a tool for improving the artist's work, as Leonardo recommended."
The Flemish painter Jan van Eyck (ca. 1395–1441) is strongly associated with the development of oil painting, yet he did not invent the medium. The Islamic Taliban regime destroyed two ancient Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan in 2001. Recent discoveries indicate that Buddhists made oil paintings in this region already in the mid-seventh century AD. Nevertheless, the perfection of oil by van Eyck and others allowed depth and richness of color, and Dutch and Flemish painters in the fifteenth century were the first to make oil the preferred medium. One masterpiece of Jan van Eyck is the altarpiece in the cathedral at Ghent, the Adoration of the Lamb, from 1432. Another is The Arnolfini Portrait or Marriage of Arnolfini, presumably from the Flemish city of Bruges in 1434.
It is possible that this painting inspired another masterpiece, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) from Madrid in 1656, painted by the great Spanish artist Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). Born in Seville, Andalusia, Velázquez came from a part of the Iberian Peninsula which had been under Islamic rule for many centuries, yet Islamic Spain never produced a painter of his stature. Christian Spain did. Las Meninas displays a highly accurate handling of light and shade as well as of linear perspective. A reflecting mirror occupies a central position in the picture, just like in Marriage of Arnolfini. The mirror also gave the artist a third eye so that he could see himself. Without a good mirror, many great self-portraits, culminating in the series by Rembrandt (1606–1669) during the Dutch Golden Age, could not have been made.
The Impact of Western Medicine
I will probably republish the full history of medicine here at some point, with a few changes from the first five posts.
I think I can draw a conclusion by now: The first civilization in human history to establish a truly scientific understanding of both the human body and the real causes of diseases was European civilization. I haven’t seen any indication that any other nation or culture was close to achieving a similar breakthrough independently.
The one exception I can find is the case of an early use of general anesthesia in Japan in the beginning of the 1800s. But this was inspired by Western medicine, through translations from Dutch, and it didn’t have any long-term effects outside of Japan or even within Japan itself. In the year 1800, surgery was extremely painful and dangerous anywhere in the world. By 1900, it was fully possible to undergo a major operation in a relatively painless and secure manner.
Technically speaking, the development of general anesthesia and of antiseptics were two separate events, but they happened within a few decades of each other in the West. General anesthesia by ether or chloroform was related to advances in chemistry and had been established while there was still powerful opposition to the germ theory of disease. The germ theory was proved after substantial scientific and technical advances in microscopy during the nineteenth century.
Improved microscopes also made it possible to study the actual composition of the human body down to the cellular level, chromosomes, genes etc. By the mid-twentieth century, following the invention of the electron microscope, it was possible to see individual virus particles, which was again achieved after massive advances in physics and other branches of science. Most modern hospital equipment runs on electricity, yet only European civilization, as far as we know, ever invented the battery, the dynamo and the generator.
Not all medical advances were necessarily dependent upon better technology, though. Theoretically speaking, a person in India, Korea, Vietnam or Egypt could have done the studies on inheritance that Mendel did, yet nobody outside of Europe actually did so, at least not that I am aware of. If somebody did, he was a lonely genius whose work was not followed up by others. The remarkable thing about Europe and the Western world at this point was not only that gifted individuals made new discoveries, but that these discoveries were shared and followed up by other gifted individuals.
This is far from self-evident, as those reading about for instance Chinese scientific history would know.
In response to a commenter on the same post:
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I actually believe medicine was one of the stronger points of ancient Egyptian science, which influenced Greek and thus Western medicine later. I am aware that certain types of anesthesia were in use for thousands of years, as I also stated, but general anesthesia as we know it today was a product of the nineteenth century.
I choose to write about medicine because practically all human cultures had some form of healers or physicians, which makes it possible to compare the level of medical knowledge. I couldn’t compare the level of knowledge in, say, electrodynamics, thermodynamics or the study of subatomic particles since these sciences didn’t exist before nineteenth century Europe.
I’ve never said that we exist in a vacuum. We got knowledge from other cultures, but in the modern West the advances in medicine, which are linked to advances in other sciences, were nevertheless several orders of magnitude beyond what any other civilization had achieved before.
And yes, a truly scientific understanding of the human body and of diseases was the product of European civilization.
The History of the Calendar
Writers praising the science of ancient Egypt will often start with the pyramids. There are dozens of pyramids, indeed more than one hundred in Egypt alone. The earliest is the so-called Step Pyramid at Saqqara, designed by the polymath Imhotep for Pharaoh Djoser (reign ca. 2630–2611 BC), but the most famous examples are the ones at Giza outside the city of Cairo, the pyramids of Khafre, Menkaure and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek) was the tallest man-made structure in the world for almost four thousand years, until Lincoln Cathedral was completed in England around 1300 AD.
The Great Pyramid is visually impressive, to be sure, but it's a stunt and represents more of a triumph for organization than for science. Contrary to popular belief, the ancient Egyptians were not too sophisticated in mathematics compared to their contemporaries in Mesopotamia. Their most lasting achievement lay in the medical sciences. Since these were continued by the ancient Greeks, it is possible to claim that the Western medical tradition begins with the Egyptian medical tradition. Among the Egyptian mathematical achievements, by far the most influential was their solar calendar, which, admittedly with many later modifications, formed the basis for the Gregorian calendar which is used internationally today.
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One may regulate a calendar by means of the sun alone, by means of the moon alone, or by means of the sun and moon together. There are thus three principal types of calendar: solar, lunar, and luni-solar, and all three have been used and are still in use to this day. James Evans explains in The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy, page 163:
"A good example of a lunar calendar is the Muslim calendar, which is still used in some countries of the Middle East, and which is used worldwide in Muslim religious practice. The most important luni-solar calendar still in use is the Jewish calendar. But the ancient Greek and Babylonian calendars were also of this type. The most familiar example of a solar calendar is the Gregorian calendar, which is used nearly worldwide today. However, to reckon time reliably in astronomical and historical work, one must also understand its relation to the Julian calendar that preceded it. The Julian calendar was instituted in Rome by Julius Caesar in the year we now call 45 B.C. It reached its final form by A.D. 8 and continued in use without further change until A.D. 1582, when it was modified by the Gregorian reform. The Julian calendar adopts a mean length of 365 ¼ days for the year. This is in good agreement with the length of the tropical year, that is, the time from one spring equinox to the next. The Julian calendar is therefore a solar calendar and keeps good pace with the seasons."
Since the full year is 365 ¼ days (in fact, slightly shorter than that), the Julian calendar adopted common years and leap years, where one year of every four is a leap year of 366 days. Years are customarily counted from the beginning of the Christian era, but the first year of this era is AD 1, and the immediately preceding year is 1 BC. There is no year 0, since zero as a number was not known in the Mediterranean region (or most areas of the world) during the early centuries of our era.
The oldest reasonably accurate value for the length of the year was 365 days, known from very ancient times in Egypt. The Egyptian year, being only 365 days, will after an interval of four years begin about one day too early with respect to the solar year. As a result, the Egyptian months retrogress through the seasons, making a complete cycle in about 1460 years (1461 Egyptian years=1460 Julian years). It was probably known later that the year is 365 ¼ days due to "slipping" of the agricultural year with regards to the annual flooding of the Nile and celestial phenomena such as the morning rising of Sirius, but civil calendars often do not embody the best astronomical knowledge of the age. An attempt was made during the Hellenistic period to reform the calendar, but failed due to popular resistance. Evans, page 179: "Ptolemaios III Euergetes attempted in 238 B.C. to reform the Egyptian calendar by inserting a leap day once every four years, but the new arrangement was not accepted by his subjects. However, the same reform was reintroduced more successfully by Augustus some two centuries later, after Egypt had passed under Roman control. A sixth epagomenal day was inserted at the end of the Egyptian year 23/22 B.C., and every fourth year thereafter. The modified calendar, now usually called the Alexandrian calendar, is nearly equivalent to the Julian calendar: every four-year interval contains three common years of 365 days and one leap year of 366 days."
A successful reform of the calendar was made in Roman times, but because of its great regularity, the Egyptian calendar continued to be used by astronomers down to the early modern age. The two individuals most responsible for implementing reforms were Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BC–44 BC) and Gaius Octavius Thurinus, better known as Augustus (63 BC–AD 14), the first emperor of the Roman Empire. The months July and August are named in their honor. The earlier Roman calendar was a luni-solar calendar, but, through neglect and incompetence, it had not been properly updated and by 50 BC was some two months out of step with the seasons. Julius Caesar, who had been elected Pontifex Maximus in 63 BC, abandoned the old luni-solar calendar and adopted a purely solar calendar, following the technical advice of Sosigenes, a Greek astronomer from Alexandria, Egypt. Evans, page 165:
"After Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C., the Senate decided to honor his memory by renaming his birth-month (Quintilis) Iulius. Unfortunately, owing to a mistake by the pontifices, the intercalation was actually performed once every three years so that, by 9 B.C., 12 intercalary days had been inserted, while Caesar's formula had called for only 9. The pontifices, who were inclusive counters like all Romans, had misunderstood Sosigenes' prescription. To bring the calendar back into step with the original plan, Augustus decreed in 8 B.C. that all intercalations be omitted until A.D. 8. In that year, the Roman Senate honored Augustus by renaming for him the month of Sextilis, since it was in this month that Augustus was first admitted to the consulate and thrice entered the city in triumph. From A.D. 8 the Julian calendar operated without further change until the Gregorian reform of 1582. The week was not originally a feature of the Julian calendar. There is some evidence for an eight-day cycle of market days in Rome. The seven-day week seems to have originated from the Jewish practice: six days of work and one day of rest." As Evans indicates, the seven-day week was probably a legacy of Judaism, since the Genesis of the Hebrew Bible states that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, the Sabbath. In Jewish tradition Saturday is the Shabbat, and many languages later adopted variations of this term to denote this weekday. However, the Jews had no names for the other days of the week, simply numbers. "Sunday" in many languages was the "day of the sun" while Monday was the "day of the moon." In the western Mediterranean, as the concept of the week spread, days were named after planets, which were again named after pre-Christian Roman gods. These planetary names are still apparent in Romance languages like French.
In the Germanic languages, Roman deities were replaced by Germanic deities. Friday was named after Freyja or Freya, the goddess of love and fertility, and Tuesday after the god Týr. Thursday was named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder whose hammer Mjølner or Mjolnir ("the crusher") was a popular symbol well into Christian times. Variations of "Thor" remain in use in many personal names, female as well as male, in modern Scandinavian languages.
According to the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, Thor was the son of Odin or Woden, the chief god of the Norse pantheon whose name gave us the weekday Wednesday. The Poetic Edda is a collection of poetry from earlier, unnamed sources compiled in the thirteenth century, among them the poem Håvamål or Hávamál ("Sayings of the high one") associated with Odin. The Prose Edda was written by the Icelandic historian and politician Snorri Sturluson (1178–1241), who was also the author of the Heimskringla, a history of the Norwegian kings. Snorri Sturluson was twice elected lawspeaker at the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, which was founded in 930 AD east of what would later become Iceland's capital, Reykjavík.
The Althing, which is generally acknowledged to be the world's oldest still-functioning parliament, had nothing to do with the Greek concept of "democracy." It was an outgrowth of pre-Christian northern Germanic culture, brought to Iceland by predominantly Norwegian settlers during the Viking Age. Northern Germanic societies had regional governing assemblies called ting or thing already by the Early Middle Ages. Some of the parliaments in these countries, the Althing on Iceland, the Folketing in Denmark and the Storting in Norway, have retained this historical legacy in their names to the present day.