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equally concealed from public inspection. That from the most remote antiquity they had cultivated this science, seems a fact that admits of not the least shadow of doubt. Strabo even asserts that the Greeks had learned from them the
rudiments of this science, that is, from the commentaries that the Egyptian priests had written on the books of Hermes. Herodotus, in fact, relates that the astronomical records of the Egyptians extended to not less than 400,000 years. But in our Lecture on Chronology we shall see how these years are to be computed. They seem also to have been the first who calculated exactly the duration of the year to consist of three hundred and sixty five days and a quarter.
Amidst so much learning, and so many really excellent institutions, we must expect to find some absurdity and prejudice. The deep superstition in which the priests endeavoured to keep the nation, is no doubt one of the great causes of this lamentable fact. Deriving the greatest part, if not the whole of their power from the religious notions prevailing amongst the people, they had every reason to conceal from them all the knowledge which could explain by natural causes those phenomena, which hitherto had been ascribed to the immediate interference of the gods.
The books therefore on natural philosophy, as well as those on the origin and nature of the gods and heroes, on the essence and destination of the soul, on the formation of the universe, on the sub
mersion of the world, on the institution of sacrifices, on the dispersion of mankind, in short, on all those topics the knowledge of which would have undoubtedly lessened the authority of the priesthood, were by them allowed to be consulted only by the Initiated in the mysteries of Isis; and the seal of secrecy under which these truths were revealed, even to the Initiated, and the long and terrible trials to which they were exposed before they were permitted to become acquainted with these truths and these books, were considered by the priests as a sufficient security against any exposure or publication. In a great measure they seem to have been right in this supposition. From their first institution, the curiosity of mankind has in vain endeavoured to obtain a proper insight into the ceremonies and doctrines of these mysteries. The Initiated have kept their secret, and even the almost omnipotent hand of time has not been able entirely to rend or remove the veil, which from its origin, has concealed from the eyes of men the purport and extent of the imposing pageantry. In spite however of so much circumspection and so much deference, some dauntless writers have been found, who have dared to break open the cell of these dark mysteries, and reveal to posterity facts and circumstances sufficiently strong and accurate to enable us to come at a great portion of the interesting details, if not at the whole extent, of this curious drama. Under the shield of their authority, we know now, and pretty exactly too, what was the object of this institution; what doctrines were revealed to the initiated; what pledges they were obliged to give; the trials they were made to undergo; in short, most of the things connected with the nature of this far-famed exhibition of antiquity. Something like an account of it I gave in the first course of these Lectures, so far back as ten years, when for the first time I called your attention to the scenical representations of the ancients. A more accurate, and, to the best of my power, a more full narration of the whole will form the subject of a future Lecture. For the present we must go on with our inquiry into the scientific learning of the Egyptians. The department of knowledge in which they appear to have mingled the greatest portion of superstition, seems to have been medicine. This profession had been held by the people in high repute, from the most remote antiquity; and the progress which their medical men had made in the method of making up remedies, is even recorded with praise by Homer in his Odyssey; and amongst the books which were called Hermeti, there were several written exclusively on the nature and symptoms of several diseases, and of the mode of treating them. We even learn from Herodotus, that the practice of each physician was confined to the study and treatment of one particular disease, a regulation which, at first sight, certainly produces a favourable impression; yet it seems that there was a law, which decreed that this treatment should be made according to the old prescriptions and method set down in these medical books, and that the adoption of another treatment, though not exactly forbidden, was at least extremely dangerous. For we are informed by Diodorus, that a physician was condemned to death, if he failed to save the life of his patient, by using remedies of his own invention ; while no one took notice of him if he killed ever so many people by pursuing the treatment expressed in the abovementioned medical books. The reason which Diodorus gives for this curious law is, to prevent ignorant and rash men from sacrificing the lives of the people. This is fair and plausible enough, but whether it does or does not hinder the progress of science, may be an object of dispute, at least amongst those who, according to our modern way of thinking, enjoy the full privilege of killing people in any way they please, without any danger to themselves. The most curious part however of the whole is, that they had mixed astrology with medicine, and judged of a malady not from its symptoms only, but from some odd rules of their own, which made them look at the manner in which the sick person lay, and endeavoured to cure him by amulets and incantations, which they thought had some secret virtue attached to them. Indeed it seems that magic was one of the pursuits of the Egyptian priests, or at least, that they wished to deceive the people, and refer to the power of magic those
effects which they produced by their knowledge in chemistry; for in this science we know they had made a considerable progress; it had in fact originated amongst them, in commemoration of which they have given to it the name of their country; for in the old Egyptian language the name of Egypt was Kemi, from which we have made alchymy, and in English chemistry; but of this more hereafter. Such is the short account I have thought it
necessary to give you of the progress which the Egyptians had made in the several sciences. Of course, much of it must now to us appear absurd and incomprehensible; but I beg you will remember that our information is derived through the channel of the Greek and Latin writers, who, perhaps, might themselves know very little of the subject, and at best might fairly misunderstand what was told them by the Egyptian priesthood. Indeed, upon this chapter I have no hesitation to assert, that what has been transmitted to us, is not the fair account of the Egyptian learning. We know, that to the nation at large the priests only imparted what may be called practical knowledge, for the sake of obtaining the conveniences of life; but what was speculative, or theoretical knowledge, was entirely confined to the priesthood, and delivered to the initiated only in the mysteries of Isis. The account therefore, which the Greek writers have thought proper to give us of the learning of the Egyptians, can scarcely be called