Friday, October 2, 2009

XI. What the Siameses do know of the Mathematicks.

The great Heat of Siam, repugnant to all application of Mind; The ignorance of the Siameses touching the principal parts of Mathematics; Of the Siamese Calendar, and why they have two Epocha's; The most Modern is evidently arbitrary; The most ancient also appears Arbitrary; And is not taken from the death of Sommana Codom; The Variety of Style in their Dates; What the Siameses do think of the System of the World; The Indians are Superstitious proportionably to their extream Ignorance; The Authority of Soothsayers over the Siameses; And Presages; The Indians are accused of Sorcery, and why; Superstitions for Women in Child-bed; Philtres look'd upon as the effect of Magic; Distempers considered as the Effects of Magick; Superstition or Vanity touching the walls of cities.

The quick and clear Imagination of the Siameses should seem more proper for the Mathematics, than the other Studies, if it did not soon weary them; but they cannot follow a long thread of Ratiocinations, of which they do foresee neither the end or the profit. And it must be confessed for their Excuse, that all application of Mind is so laborious in a Climate so hot as theirs, that the very Europeans could hardly study here, what desire soever they might have thereunto.

The Siameses do therefore know nothing in Geometry or Mechanics, because they can be absolutely without them: And Astronomy concerns them only as far as they conceive it may be assistant to Divination. They know only some Practical part thereof, the Reasons of which they distain to penetrate; but of which they make use in the Horoscopes of particular Persons, and in the Composition of their Almanac, which, as it were, is a general Horoscope.

It appears that they have twice caused their Calendar to be reformed by able Astronomers, who, to supply the Astronomical Tables, have taken two arbitrary Epocha's, but yet remarkable for some rare Conjunction of the Planets. Having once established certain Numbers upon these Observations, they by the means of several Additions, Subtractions, Multiplications and Divisions, have given for the following Years the secret of finding the place of the Planets, almost as we find the Epact of every Year, by adding eleven to the Epact of the Year foregoing.

The most Modern of the two Siamese Epocha's, is referred to the Year of Grace 638. I gave to Mr. Cassini, Director of the Observatory at Paris, the Siamese Method of finding the place of the Sun and Moon by a Calculation, the ground of which is taken from this Epocha. And the singular Merit which Mr. Cassini has had of unfolding a thing so difficult, and penetrating the Reasons thereof, will doubtless be admired by all the Learned. Now as this Epocha is visibly the ground only of an Astronomical Calculation, and has been chosen rather than another, only because it appear'd more commodious to Calculation than another, it is evident that we must thence conclude nothing which respects the Siamese History; nor imagine that the Year 638, has been more Famous amongst them than another for any Event, from which they have thought fit to begin to compute their Years, as we compute ours, from the Birth of the Saviour of the World.

By the same Reason I am persuaded, that their most Ancient Epocha, from which in this Year 1689, they compute 2233 Years, has not been remarkable at Siam for any thing worthy of Memory, and that it proves not that the Kingdom of Siam is of that Antiquity. It is purely Astronomical, and serves as a Foundation to another way of calculating the places of the Planets, which they have relinquished for that new Method which I have given to Mr. Cassini. Some person may discover to them the Mistakes,where in process of time this ancient Method must all; as in time we have found out the Errors of the Reformation of the Calendar made by the Order of Julius Cesar.

The Historical Memoirs of the Siameses reascending, as I have remark'd in the beginning, to 900 Years, or thereabouts, is not necessary to seek the Foundation of their Kingdom in the 545th Year before the Birth of Jesus Christ; nor to suppose that from this time they have enjoyed a Succession of Kings, which they themselves are absolutely ignorant of. And tho' the Siameses do vulgarly report, that this first Epocha, from which they compute, as I have said, 2233 Years is that of the death of their Sommona-Codom; and altho' it refers almost to the time in which Pythagoras liv'd, who has sowed in the West the Doctrine of the Metempsychosis, which he had learnt from the Egyptians, yet it is certain that the Siameses have not an Memoirs of the time in which their Sommona-Codom might have lived: And I cannot persuade my self that their Sommona-Codom could be Pythagoras, who was not in the East, nor that their ancient Epocha is other than Astronomical and Arbitrary, no more than their Modern Epocha.

But if the Siameses do still make sue thereof in their Dates, after having relinquish'd it in their Astronomical Calculations, it is because that in things of Style they do not easily alter the Usage unto which they are accustomed; and yet they cease not to date sometimes with respect to that modern Epocha which they have taken, as I have said, from the Year of our Lord 638. But their first Month is always the Moon of November or December, in which they depart not from the ancient Style, even when they date the Year according to their new Style; tho' the first Month of the Year, according to this new Style, be the fifth or sixth of the old Style.

This, in few words, is the whole Skill of the Siameses in Astronomy. Moreover, they understand nothing of the true System of the World, because they know nothing by Reason. They believe therefore, like all the East, that the Eclipses are caused by some Dragon, which devours the Sun and the Moon (perhaps by reason of the Astronomer's metaphorical way of speaking, that the Eclipses are made in the Head and Tail of the Dragon:) And they make a great noise, with Fire-shovels and Kettles, to scare and drive away this pernicious Animal, and to deliver those beauteous Planets. They believe the Earth Four-square, and of vast Extent, on which the Arch of Heaven rests at its extremities, as if it was one of our Glass-Bells with which we cover some of our Plants in our Gardens. They assert, that the Earth is divided into four habitable parts of the World, so separated one from the other by Seas, that they are, as it were, four different Worlds. In the middle of these four Worlds, they suppose an exceeding high Pyramidal Mountain with four equal sides, called Caou pra Soumene (Caou signifies, a Mountain, and to Mount:) and from the Surface of the Earth, or the Sea, to the top of this Mountain, which, as they say, touches the Stars, they compute 84000 Iods, and every Iod contains about 8000 Fathoms. They reckon as many Iods from the Surface of the Sea to the Foundations of the Mountains; and they likewise reckon 84000 Iods extend of Sea from each of the four sides of this Mountain to every of the four Worlds which I have mentioned. Now our World, which they call Tchiampion, lies, as they report, to the South of this Mountain, and the Sun, Moon and Stars do incessantly turn round it; and it is that, which according to them, makes the Day and Night. At the top of this Mountain is a Heaven, which they call Intratiracha, which is surmounted by the Heaven of Angels. This Sample, which is all I know thereof, will suffice to demonstrate their Grossness; and if it does not exactly accord to what others have writ before concerning this matter, we must not more admire the variety of the Siamese Opinions in a thing they understand not, than the contrariety of our Systems of Astronomy, which we pretend to understand.

The extream Superstition of the Indians is therefore a very natural Consequence of their profound Ignorance; but for their Excuse, some People, more illuminated than them, have not been less Superstitious. Have not the Greeks, and after them the Romans, believed in Judiciary Astrology, Augurs, Presages, and all sorts of Arts invented under pretence of Divining and Predicting? They thought that it was the goodness of the Gods, to bestow on Men some Succors to penetrate Futurities; and the words Divination and Divine are the same word in their Origine, because according to the ancient Pagans, the Art of Divining was only an Art to consult the Deities. The Siameses are also of opinion, that there is an Art of Prophesying, as there is one of restoring Health to the Sick: And when the King of Siam's Soothsayers are mistaken, he causes them to be bastinado'd, not as Impostors, but as negligent persons; as he commands his Physicians to be cudgell'd, when the Remedies they give him, perform not the Effect which is thereby promised.

This Prince, no more than his Subjects, undertakes no Affair, nor Expedition, till his Diviners, which are all Brames or Peguans, have fix'd him an hour prosperously to set upon it. He stirs not out of his House, or if he be gone, he enters not again, so long as his Diviners prohibit him. Sunday seems to him more lucky than the other days, because that in his Tongue he has preserv'd the name of the Sun's-day. He believes the Increase of the Moon more lucky than the Decrease; and besides this, the Almanac which he causes Annually to be made by a Brame Astrologer, denotes to him and his Subjects, the lucky or unlucky days for most of the things they used to do: A Folly which is perhaps too much tolerated amongst the Christians, witness the Almanac of Milan, to which so many persons do now give such a blind Belief.

The Siameses do take the Howlings of wild Beasts, and the Cryes of Stags and Apes, for an ill Omen; as several persons amongst us are frightned with the Barking of the Dogs in the Night. A Serpent which crosses the way, the Thunderbolt which falls on a House, any thing that falls as it were of itself, and without any apparent Cause, are Subjects of dread to the Siameses, and the reasons of laying aside or setting upon an Affair, how important and pressing soever it be. One of the ways they make use of to foretel things to come, and which is common to all the Orientals, is to perform some superstitious Ceremonies, then to go into the City, and to take for an Oracle about what they desire to know, the first words which they hear accidentally spoken in the Streets, or in the Houses. I could learn no more thereof, by reason that the Christian Interreters, which I made use of, look'd upon these things with Horror, as Witchcraft and Compacts with the Demon, altho' it be very possible that they are only Fooleries full of Credulity and Ignorance. The ancient Francs, by a like Superstitious Belief in certain Herbs which they gather the Evening of St. John, from whence is risen this Proverb, To use or employ all Herbs of St. John, that is, the utmost skill in an Affair: And Amongst the Italians, there are some, who, after having wash'd their Feet in Wine on St. John's Eve, to throw the Wine out at the Window, and so stand afterwards to hear those that pass along the Street, taking for a certain Augury on what they desire to know, the first word they hear spoken.

But that which has raised the Reputation of great Sorcerers amongst the Indians, is principally the continual Conjurations which they use to drive away the evil Spirits with, and attract the good. They pretend to have some Talismans, or Characters which they call Cata, to accomplish whatever they please; as to kill, or to render invulnerable; and to impose Silence on Persons and Dogs, when they would commit a wicked Action, and not be discovered. If they prepare a Medicine, they will fasten to the brim of the Vessel several Papers, wherein they will write some mysterious words, to hinder the Petpayatons from carrying away the vertue of the Remedy with steem. These Petpayatons are in their Opinions some Spirits diffused in the Air, of whom they believe, amongst other things, that they do first enjoy all the Maidens; and that they do them that pretended hurt, which is renewed every Month. In a Storm at Sea, they will fasen to all the Tackle such like written Papers, which they believe proper to assuage the Winds.

The superstitions which they use towards Women in Child-bed, appear not less ridiculous, although they be founded perhaps on some benefit for health. They believe that Women in Child-bed have need of being purified: whether that the Jews, spread throughout the Earth, have sowed this Tradition amongst several Nations, or that the people of hot Countries are more easily prejudiced than those of cold Countries with natural impurities of Women. The Siameses keep the Women in Child-bed before a continual and great fire for a month, where they turn them sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. This smoak does greatly incommode them, and passes slowly through an Aperture, which they make in the roof of their houses. The Peguans do put their Wives on a kind of Bambou-grate, very high, with fire underneath; but they keep them thus no more than four or five days. At the up-rising, the one and the other return thanks to the Fire for having purified their Wives; and in the Entertainment which they give on this occasion to their Friends, they eat nothing which they have not first offered to the Fire, leaving it some time near it. During the whole time of lying in Child-bed, the Women neither eat nor drink any thing that is not hot: and I understand that our Midwives, forbid their Women also to drink any thing cold.

But the most speedy and most sensible effects of the pretended Divinations of the Indians are in the use of certain Philtres, which are only natural drinks. The Indies do produce some Simples, the kinds, force or use of which we understand not. The Amorous Philtres, or Love-potions, are those which debilitate the Imagination, and make a Man to become a Child; so that after this it is easie to govern him. My domesticks assur'd me that they had seen a man at Batavia, of whom it was reported that his wife had render'd him senseless after this manner. Other drinks do cause other effects. The Relations are full of those which the women of Goa frequently give their Husbands; and which render them so stupid for 24 hours, that they can then be unfaithful to them in their presence. Opium, or the quintessence of Poppies, causes such different effects, that it procures sleep, or watchfulness, as it is variously prepared. The Indians going to Battel, do take thereof to inspire them with courage, or rather with fury. They then run headlong upon the Enemy like wild Boars: It is dangerous to attend them, but one may avoid them by turning out of the way, for they forwards. Moreover, the effect of Opium lasts only some hours, after which they relapse not only into their natural cowardice, but into a faintness, which leaves them but little action for their defence. And such were those Macassers, which had conspired against the King of Siam, some months before the Kings Ambassadors arrived there.

The Siameses have likewise some Distempers, the symptoms of which are sometimes so strange, that they think the cause thereof can be attributed only to Witchcraft. But besides these extraordinary cases, their Physicians do almost continually accuse the greater Energy of the Spirits, with the inefficaciousness of their Remedies; and they do herein play such subtile juggling tricks, or rather they deal with persons so credulous, that whilst we were at Siam, they made a sick man believe, that he had voided a Deers skin with a Medicine, and that he must have swallowed this Deerskin by a Magical effect, and without perceiving it. This is what I judged necessary to relate concerning the Siameses Superstitions, of which every one may judge as he pleases: for if on the one hand I have seen nothing which obliges me to accuse them of Sorcery, on the other hand I am not concern'd to justifie them entirely.

But before we quit this subject I will here add one thing, which may be attributed at your pleasure, to Superstition or Vanity: One day when the King's Ambassadors were saluted by the real or supposed Ambassadors, from Patana, Camboya, and some other neighbouring Courts, the Ambassadors of some of the several Nations which are at Siam, were also at this Visit: and among the rest there were two, who said that the City of their Origine, the name of which I have forgot, remained no more: but that it had been so considerable, that it was impossible to go round it in three Months. I smil'd thereat as at a groundless folly: and in a few days after Mr. de la Mare the Ingineer, whom Mr. de Chaumont had left at Siam, informed me, that when by the King of Siam's order he had been at Ligor to take the draught thereof, the Governour would not permit him to go round it under two days, though he could have done it in less than an hour. Let us proceed to the study of the last part of the Mathematicks.

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