sábado, 22 de dezembro de 2012

Sobre a Autoridade dos Antigos

The skull of Sir Thomas Browne resting on two volumes of Religio Me­dici
BUT the mortallest enemy unto Knowledge, and that which hath done the greatest execution upon truth, hath been a peremptory adhesion unto Authority, and more especially, the establishing of our belief upon the dictates of Antiquity. [...] Now hereby methinks we manifestly delude our selves, and widely walk out of the track of Truth.

For first, Men hereby impose a Thraldom on their Times, which the ingenuity of no Age should endure, or indeed, the presumption of any did ever yet enjoyn. Thus Hippocrates about 2000 years ago, conceived it no injustice, either to examine or refute the Doctrines of his Predecessors: Galen the like, and Aristotle the most of any. [...]

Secondly, Men that adore times past, consider not that those times were once present; that is, as our own are at this instant, and we our selves unto those to come, as they unto us at present, as we relye on them, even so will those on us, and magnifie us hereafter, who at present condemn our selves. Which very absurdity is daily committed amongst us, even in the esteem and censure of our own times. And to speak impartially, old Men, from whom we should expect the greatest example of Wisdom, do most exceed in this point of folly; commending the days of their youth, which they scarce remember, at least well understood not; extolling those times their younger years have heard their Fathers condemn, and condemning those times the gray heads of their posterity shall commend. And thus is it the humour of many heads, to extol the days of their Fore-fathers, and declaim against the wickedness of times present. Which notwithstanding they cannot handsomly do, without the borrowed help and Satyrs of times past; condemning the vices of their own times, by the expressions of vices in times which they commend; which cannot but argue the community of vice in both. Horace therefore, and Juvenal, and Persius were no Prophets, although their lines did seem to indigitate and point at our times. There is a certain list of vices committed in all Ages, and declaimed against by all Authors, which will last as long as human nature; which digested into common places, may serve for any Theme, and never be out of date until Dooms-day.

Thirdly, The Testimonies of Antiquity, and such as pass oraculously amongst us, were not, if we consider them, always so exact, as to examine the doctrine they delivered. For some, and those the acutest of them, have left unto us many things of falsity; controlable, not only by critical and collective reason, but common and Country observation. [...]

Other Authors write often dubiously, even in matters wherein is expected a strict and definitive truth; extenuating their affirmations, with aiunt, ferunt, fortasse: as Diascorides, Galen, Aristotle, and many more. Others by hear-say; taking upon trust most they have delivered, whose Volumes are meer Collections, drawn from the mouths or leaves of other Authors; as may be observed in Plinie, Elian, Athenæus, and many more. Not a few transcriptively, subscribing their Names unto other mens endeavours, and meerly transcribing almost all they have written. [...]

Fifthly, We applaud many things delivered by the Ancients, which are in themselves but ordinary, and come short of our own Conceptions. Thus we usually extol, and our Orations cannot escape the sayings of the wise men of Greece. Nosce teipsum, of Thales: Nosce tempus, of Pittacus: Nihil nimis, of Cleobulus; which notwithstanding to speak indifferently, are but vulgar precepts in Morality, carrying with them nothing above the line, or beyond the extemporary sententiosity of common conceits with us. Thus we magnifie the Apothegms or reputed replies of Wisdom, whereof many are to be seen in Laertius, more in Lycosthenes, not a few in the second Book of Macrobius, in the sals of Cicero, Augustus, and the Comical wits of those times: in most whereof there is not much to admire, and are methinks exceeded, not only in the replies of wise men, but the passages of society, and urbanities of our times. And thus we extol their Adages, or Proverbs; and Erasmus hath taken great pains to make collections of them, whereof notwithstanding, the greater part will, I believe, unto indifferent Judges be esteemed no extraordinaries; and may be parallel'd, if not exceeded, by those of more unlearned Nations, and many of our own.

Sixthly, We urge Authorities in points that need not, and introduce the testimony of ancient Writers, to confirm things evidently believed, and whereto no reasonable hearer but would assent without them; such as are, Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. Virtute nil præstantius, nil pulchrius. Omnia vincit amor. Præclarum quiddam veritas. All which, although things known and vulgar, are frequently urged by many men, and though trivial verities in our mouths, yet, noted from Plato, Ovid, or Cicero, they become reputed elegancies. For many hundred to instance but in one we meet with while we are writing. Antonius Guevera, that elegant Spaniard, in his Book entituled, The Dial of Princes, beginneth his Epistle thus: «Apolonius Thyaneus, disputing with the Scholars of Hiarchas, said, that among all the affections of nature, nothing was more natural, then the desire all have to preserve life». Which being a confessed Truth, and a verity acknowledged by all, it was a superfluous affectation to derive its Authority from Apolonius, or seek a confirmation thereof as far as India, and the learned Scholars of Hiarchas. [...] 'Tis sure a Practice that savours much of Pedantry; a reserve of Puerility we have not shaken off from School; where being seasoned with Minor sentences, by a neglect of higher Enquiries, they prescribe upon our riper ears, and are never worn but with our memories.

Lastly, While we so devoutly adhere unto Antiquity in some things, we do not consider we have deserted them in several others. For they indeed have not onely been imperfect, in the conceit of some things, but either ignorant or erroneous in many more. [...] They conceived the torrid Zone unhabitable, and so made frustrate the goodliest part of the Earth. But we now know 'tis very well empeopled, and the habitation thereof esteemed so happy, that some have made it the proper seat of Paradise; and been so far from judging it unhabitable, that they have made it the first habitation of all. [...] Having thus totally relinquisht them in some things, it may not be presumptuous, to examine them in others: but surely most unreasonable to adhere to them in all, as though they were infallible, or could not err in any.

Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646; 6th ed.: 1672), or 
Enquries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, Cap. VI

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