Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

CLIMATE.

It is certain that the sun and atmosphere mark their empire on all the productions of nature, from man to mushrooms. In the grand age of Louis XIV., the ingenious Fontenelle remarked:

“One might imagine that the torrid and two frigid zones are not well suited to the sciences. Down to the present day they have not travelled beyond Egypt and Mauritania, on the one side, nor on the other beyond Sweden. Perhaps it is not owing to mere chance that they are retained within Mount Atlas and the Baltic Sea. We know not whether these may not be the limits appointed to them by nature, or whether we may ever hope to see great authors among Laplanders or negroes.”

Chardin, one of those travellers who reason and investigate, goes still further than Fontenelle, when speaking of Persia. “The temperature of warm climates,” says he, “enervates the mind as well as the body, and dissipates that fire which the imagination requires for invention. In such climates men are incapable of the long studies and intense application which are necessary to the production of first-rate works in the liberal and mechanic arts,” etc.

Chardin did not consider that Sadi and Lokman were Persians. He did not recollect that Archimedes belonged to Sicily, where the heat is greater than in three-fourths of Persia. He forgot that Pythagoras formerly taught geometry to the Brahmins. The Abbé Dubos supported and developed, as well as he was able, the opinion of Chardin.

One hundred and fifty years before them, Bodin made it the foundation of his system in his “Republic,” and in his “Method of History”; he asserts that the influence of climate is the principle both of the government and the religion of nations. Diodorus of Sicily was of the same opinion long before Bodin.

The author of the “Spirit of Laws,” without quoting any authority, carried this idea farther than Chardin and Bodin. A certain part of the nation believed him to have first suggested it, and imputed it to him as a crime. This was quite in character with that part of the nation alluded to. There are everywhere men who possess more zeal than understanding.

We might ask those who maintain that climate does everything, why the Emperor Julian, in his “Misopogon,” says that what pleased him in the Parisians was the gravity of their characters and the severity of their manners; and why these Parisians, without the slightest change of climate, are now like playful children, at whom the government punishes and smiles at the same moment, and who themselves, the moment after, also smile and sing lampoons upon their masters.

Why are the Egyptians, who are described as having been still more grave than the Parisians, at present the most lazy, frivolous, and cowardly of people, after having, as we are told, conquered the whole world for their pleasure, under a king called Sesostris? Why are there no longer Anacreons, Aristotles, or Zeuxises at Athens? Whence comes it that Rome, instead of its Ciceros, Catos, and Livys, has merely citizens who dare not speak their minds, and a brutalized populace, whose supreme happiness consists in having oil cheap, and in gazing at processions?

Cicero, in his letters, is occasionally very jocular on the English. He desires his brother Quintus, Cæsar’s lieutenant, to inform him whether he has found any great philosophers among them, in his expedition to Britain. He little suspected that that country would one day produce mathematicians whom he could not understand. Yet the climate has not at all changed, and the sky of London is as cloudy now as it was then.

Everything changes, both in bodies and minds, by time. Perhaps the Americans will in some future period cross the sea to instruct Europeans in the arts. Climate has some influence, government a hundred times more; religion and government combined more still.

Influence of Climate.

Climate influences religion in respect to ceremonies and usages. A legislator could have experienced no difficulty in inducing the Indians to bathe in the Ganges at certain appearances of the moon; it is a high gratification to them. Had any one proposed a like bath to the people who inhabit the banks of the Dwina, near Archangel, he would have been stoned. Forbid pork to an Arab, who after eating this species of animal food (the most miserable and disgusting in his own country) would be affected by leprosy, he will obey you with joy; prohibit it to a Westphalian, and he will be tempted to knock you down. Abstinence from wine is a good precept of religion in Arabia, where orange, citron, and lemon waters are necessary to health. Mahomet would not have forbidden wine in Switzerland, especially before going to battle.

There are usages merely fanciful. Why did the priests of Egypt devise circumcision? It was not for the sake of health. Cambyses, who treated as they deserved both them and their bull Apis, the courtiers of Cambyses, and his soldiers, enjoyed perfectly good health without such mutilation. Climate has no peculiar influence over this particular portion of the person of a priest. The offering in question was made to Isis, probably on the same principle as the firstlings of the fruits of the earth were everywhere offered. It was typical of an offering of the first fruits of life.

Religions have always turned on two pivots — forms of ceremonies, and faith. Forms and ceremonies depend much on climate; faith not at all. A doctrine will be received with equal facility under the equator or near the pole. It will be afterwards equally rejected at Batavia and the Orcades, while it will be maintained, unguibus et rostro — with tooth and nail — at Salamanca. This depends not on sun and atmosphere, but solely upon opinion, that fickle empress of the world.

Certain libations of wine will be naturally enjoined in a country abounding in vineyards; and it would never occur to the mind of any legislator to institute sacred mysteries, which could not be celebrated without wine, in such a country as Norway.

It will be expressly commanded to burn incense in the court of a temple where beasts are killed in honor of the Divinity, and for the priests’ supper. This slaughter-house, called a temple, would be a place of abominable infection, if it were not continually purified; and without the use of aromatics, the religion of the ancients would have introduced the plague. The interior of the temple was even festooned with flowers to sweeten the air.

The cow will not be sacrificed in the burning territory of the Indian peninsula, because it supplies the necessary article of milk, and is very rare in arid and barren districts, and because its flesh, being dry and tough, and yielding but little nourishment, would afford the Brahmins but miserable cheer. On the contrary, the cow will be considered sacred, in consequence of its rareness and utility.

The temple of Jupiter Ammon, where the heat is excessive, will be entered only with bare feet. To perform his devotions at Copenhagen, a man requires his feet to be warm and well covered.

It is not thus with doctrine. Polytheism has been believed in all climates; and it is equally easy for a Crim Tartar and an inhabitant of Mecca to acknowledge one only incommunicable God, neither begotten nor begetting. It is by doctrine, more than by rites, that a religion extends from one climate to another. The doctrine of the unity of God passed rapidly from Medina to Mount Caucasus. Climate, then, yields to opinion.

The Arabs said to the Turks: “We practiced the ceremony of circumcision in Arabia without very well knowing why. It was an ancient usage of the priests of Egypt to offer to Oshiret, or Osiris, a small portion of what they considered most valuable. We had adopted this custom three thousand years before we became Mahometans. You will become circumcised like us; you will bind yourself to sleep with one of your wives every Friday, and to give two and a half per cent. of your income annually to the poor. We drink nothing but water and sherbet; all intoxicating liquors are forbidden us. In Arabia they are pernicious. You will embrace the same regimen, although you should be passionately fond of wine; and even although, on the banks of the Phasis and Araxes, it should often be necessary for you. In short, if you wish to go to heaven, and to obtain good places there, you will take the road through Mecca.”

The inhabitants north of the Caucasus subject themselves to these laws, and adopt, in the fullest extent, a religion which was never framed for them.

In Egypt the emblematical worship of animals succeeded to the doctrines of Thaut. The gods of the Romans afterwards shared Egypt with the dogs, the cats, and the crocodiles. To the Roman religion succeeded Christianity; that was completely banished by Mahometanism, which will perhaps be superseded by some new religion.

In all these changes climate has effected nothing; government has done everything. We are here considering only second causes, without raising our unhallowed eyes to that Providence which directs them. The Christian religion, which received its birth in Syria, and grew up towards its fulness of stature in Alexandria, inhabits now those countries where Teutat and Irminsul, Freya and Odin, were formerly adored.

There are some nations whose religion is not the result either of climate or of government. What cause detached the north of Germany, Denmark, three parts of Switzerland, Holland, England, Scotland, and Ireland, from the Romish communion? Poverty. Indulgences, and deliverance from purgatory for the souls of those whose bodies were at that time in possession of very little money, were sold too dear. The prelates and monks absorbed the whole revenue of a province. People adopted a cheaper religion. In short, after numerous civil wars, it was concluded that the pope’s religion was a good one for nobles, and the reformed one for citizens. Time will show whether the religion of the Greeks or of the Turks will prevail on the coasts of the Euxine and Ægean seas.

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