March 9, 2021

Homer and the theory of spontaneous generation | Science

Homer and the theory of spontaneous generation | Science


According to Alberto Savinio, the legend has it that Homer was blind because of a practical cruelty of the muse. By plunging him into darkness, he caused the rhapsodist to concentrate on his singing soul, in the same way that in some parts of the Canary Islands the cruelty of certain people leads to tearing the eyes of the canaries so they can sing better.

Leaving aside the entrance of Savinio dedicated to Homer in his New Encyclopedia, it must be said that much has been written about the Greek rhapsodist and even more about the adventures of Ulysses in The odyssey, as well as about the dead of the Iliad, the epic poem in which some days of the last year of the legendary Trojan War are counted.

Homer and the theory of spontaneous generation

On the other hand, very little, or almost nothing, has been written about the importance of the Iliad in the biogenesis or process that goes to show that living beings come from other living beings. We are going to tell the relationship between the two here, and with that, we will go back to Italy in the mid-seventeenth century, where the doctor Francesco Redi came up with the key to overthrow the principle of spontaneous generation, a theory that was up to then and, which, the alive beings can be born spontaneously of the inert matter.

In his work Experiments about the generation of insects, written in the form of an epistle to Carlo Roberto Dati, Florentine nobleman and disciple of Galileo, the doctor Francesco Redi tells how the song XIX of the Iliad aroused his interest. It should be noted that Redi had a great knowledge of the classics, since, in addition to being a doctor, he was a linguist and professor of Tuscan language at the Florentine Academy. In the aforementioned song of the Iliad, Francesco Redi found the conversation that Achilles had with his mother Thetis before the corpse of Patroclo, son of Menecio, fallen in the battle.

Before the inert body of the warrior, Achilles fears that "the flies penetrate by the wounds that the bronze caused to the forced son of Menecio, engender worms, disfigure the body and corrupt all the corpse". Next, Tetis tells her son not to fear, not to worry because she herself will try to "remove the importunate swarms of flies, which are fattened on the flesh of the men killed in the war."

Homer and the theory of spontaneous generation

The aforementioned reading came to give Redi the key to overthrow the current doctrine, which indicated that living beings can be born spontaneously from inert matter and that it was a doctrine developed by Aristotle in his History of animals, where the Stagirite accepts the spontaneous generation that he attributes to imperfect animals. This doctrine would be accepted in subsequent centuries, since, according to St. Augustine, it coincided with the sacred account contained in the Bible. Before such authority there were no valid arguments.

Therefore, to dismantle the biblical story, courage was necessary to bring uncertainty closer to the experience, putting into practice the observation following the scientific method. To demonstrate that the larvae are born from the eggs that the insects put in the meat and not from the putrefaction of it, Redi experimented, putting meat in a series of jars, closing some and leaving others in the open, the latter being where He observed that there were flies and that, a short time later, the meat was wormy.

Influenced by scientific medievalism, followers of the principle of spontaneous generation argued that worms did not exist in closed boats due to lack of air. Then Redi returned to his experiment and covered them with gauze, instead of corking them, in such a way that the air was allowed to enter the boats, but not the flies, thus discovering that the flies left their eggs in the same gauze, thus confirming the hypothesis of biogenesis.

Influenced by the Homeric account of Iliad, the doctor Francesco Redi will take the first step to dismantle the principle, until then in force, of the spontaneous generation. Then come Vallisneri, Spallanzani and Pasteur, to contribute to its end.

The stone ax it is a section where Montero Glez, with a will to prose, exercises his particular siege on scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge.

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