Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE 'triumph' of science, particularly genetics, has again raised the issue of a purely materialistic, and therefore godless, world. The argument is nothing new. In his life of the great 5th-- century Bc Athenian leader Pericles, the biographer Plutarch (2nd century AD) offers a telling example of the debate and draws an agreeably contrary conclusion.

Pericles was once sent from his country estates the head of a one-horned ram. The prophet Lampon, seeing how strongly and solidly the horn grew out of the middle of its forehead, interpreted this to mean that, of the two people currently fighting for the ear of the people in Athens (Pericles and Thucydides - not the historian), one would emerge victorious: Pericles.

Pericles' mentor, however, was the natural scientist Anaxagoras, whose influence had caused Pericles to take a great interest in higher philosophy and abstract speculation. Anaxagoras would have nothing to do with this tosh, and had the skull dissected to show how the growth of the single horn had occurred quite naturally, as a result of a skull deformity. This conclusion was greeted admiringly by those who witnessed the demonstration; but, not long after, Thucydides was ostracised, Pericles was left as the most influential man in Athens, and Lampon's view of the matter returned to favour. …

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