The Library of History

Page 18

Page 18 in Idleness, feasting every day, and giving themselves up to all sorts of Sports and Pleasures. Yet out of fear of the Inundation, a Watch Tower is built in Memphis, by the Kings of Egypt, where those that are imploy'd to take care of this concern, observing to what height the River rises, send Letters from one City to another, acquainting them how many Cubits and Fingers the River rises, and when it begins to decrease; and so the People coming to understand the Fall of the Waters, are freed from their fears, and all presently have a foresight what plenty of Corn they are like to have; and this Observation has been Registred from time to time by the Egyptians for many Generations.

There are great Controversies concerning the Reasons of the overflowing of Nile, and many both Philosophers and Historians have endeavour'd to declare the Causes of it, which we shall distinctly relate, neither making too long a Digression, nor omitting that which is so much banded and controverted. Of the Increase and Spring-heads of Nile, and of its emptying of it self at length into the Sea, and other properties peculiar to this River above all others, though it be the greatest in the World, yet some Authors have not dar'd to say the least thing: Some who have attempted to give their Reasons, have been very wide from the Mark. For as for Hellanicus, Cadmus, Hecataeus, and such like ancient Authors, they have told little but frothy Stories, and meer Fables. Herodotus above all other Writers very industrious, and well acquainted with General History, made it his Business to find out the Causes of these things, but what he says, is notwithstanding very doubtful, and some things seem to be repugnant and contradictory one to another. Thucydides and Xenophon, who have the reputation of faithful Historians, never so much as touch upon the Description of any Place in Egypt. But Ephorus and Theopompus, though they are very earnest in this matter, yet they have not in the least discover'd the Truth.

But it was through Ignorance of the Places, and not through Negligence, that they were all led into Error. For anciently none of the Grecians, till the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, ever went into Ethiopia, or so much as to the utmost Bounds of Egypt. For those Places were never frequented by Travellers, they were so hazardous, till that King marcht with a Grecian Army into those Parts, and so made a more perfect Discovery of the Country.

No Writer hitherto has pretended that he himself ever saw or heard of any one else that affirm'd he had seen the Spring-heads of Nile: All therefore amounting to no more but Opinion and Conjecture, the Priests of Egypt affirm that it comes from the Ocean, which flows round the whole Earth: But nothing that they say is upon any solid grounds, and they resolve Doubts by things that are more doubtful; and to prove what they say, they bring Arguments that have need to be proved themselves.

But the Troglodites (otherways call'd Molgii) whom the scorching Heat forc'd to remove from the higher Parts into those lower Places, say, that there are some Signs whence a Man may rationally conclude, that the River Nile rises from Streams which run from many Fountains or Spring-heads, and meet at last in one Channel, and therefore to be the most fruitful and richest River of any that is known in the World.

The Inhabitants of the Isle of Meroe (who are most to be credited upon this account) are far from inventing so much as any probable Arguments; and though they live near to the Place in controversy, are so far from giving any certain account of this matter, that they call Nile, Astapus, which in the Greek Language, signifies Water that issues out of a Place of Darkness; so that they give a Name to the River to denote their Ignorance of the Place whence it springs: But that seems the truest Reason to me, that looks to be furthest from Fiction and study'd Contrivance. Yet I am not ignorant, that Herodotus who bounds Lybia both on the East and West with this River, does ascribe the exact Knowledge of it to the Africans, call'd Nasamones, and says, that Nile rises from a certain Lake, and runs through a large Tract of Ground down all along through Ethiopia: But neither are the Sayings of the Africans in this behalf (as not altogether agreeable to Truth,) nor the affirmation of the Writer (who proves not what he says) to be of absolute credit. But enough concerning the Spring-heads and Course of Nile, let us now venture to treat of the Causes of the Risings of this River.

Bibliotheca Historica

The first five books