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Beschreibung des Verlags

The ancient civilised peoples appear in history with a fully-developed system of time-reckoning—the Egyptians with the shifting year of 365 days, which comes as nearly as possible to the actual length of the year, counting only whole days and neglecting the additional fraction; the Babylonians and the Greeks with the lunisolar, varying between twelve and thirteen months and arranged by the Greeks from the earliest known period of history in the cycle of the Oktaeteris. It has always been clear that these systems of time-reckoning represent the final stage of a lengthy previous development, but as to the nature of this development the most daring hypotheses have been advanced. Thus, for example, eminent philologists and chronologists have believed the assertion of Censorinus, Ch. 18, and have supposed that the Oktaeteris was preceded by a Tetraeteris, even by aDieteris. It may indeed at once be asserted that such a hypothesis lacks intrinsic probability. To account for the early development hard facts are needed, and unfortunately these, especially in the case of the Greeks, are extremely few. Where they are required they must be sought elsewhere.

Setting aside all ingenious but uncertain speculations, our only practicable way of proceeding is by means of a comparison with other peoples among whom methods of time-reckoning are still in the primitive stage. This is the ethnological method which is so well-known from the science of comparative religion, but the claims of which have been so vigorously contested upon grounds of no small plausibility. Fortunately this dispute need not be settled in order to prove the validity of the comparative method for an investigation into the origin and development of methods of reckoning time. The gist of the dispute may be expressed as follows:—The ethnological school of students of comparative religion assumes that the intellect of the natural man can only master a certain quite limited number of universal conceptions; from these spring more and more abundantly differentiated and complicated ideas, but the foundation is everywhere the same. Hence our authority for comparing the conceptions of the various peoples of the globe with one another in order to lay bare this foundation. The opponents of the school deny the existence of these fundamental conceptions, and maintain that the points of departure, the primitive ideas of the various peoples, may be as different as the peoples themselves, and that therefore we are not authorised in drawing general conclusions from the comparison or from the fundamental conceptions themselves.

In the matter of the indication and reckoning of time, however, we have not to do with a number of conceptions which may be supposed to be as numerous and as various as we please. At the basis lies an accurately determined and limited and indeed small number of phenomena, which are the same for all peoples all over the globe, and can be combined only in a certain quite small number of ways. These phenomena may be divided into two main groups: (1) the phenomena of the heavens—sun, moon, and stars—and (2) the phases of Nature—the variations of the climate and of plant and animal life, which on their side determine the affairs of men; these, however, depend finally upon one of the heavenly bodies, viz. the sun. The claim that the comparative ethnological method can be justified only when we are dealing with a narrowly circumscribed number of factors is therefore here complied with, owing to the very nature of the subjects treated. The comparative method does not shew how things have happened in a special case in regard to one particular people: it only indicates what may have happened. But much is already gained if we can eliminate the impossibilities, since from the complete result of the development, no less than in other ways, we may obtain a certain basis for our deductions.

Wissenschaft und Natur
2. Februar
Library of Alexandria