Above: Planisphærium coeleste, a celestial map from 1670 by Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Frederik de Wit. License: Public domain.
Articles from the
Oxford Classical Dictionary
acoustics | animals | anthropology | astrology | astronomy | atomism | botany | catoptrics | constellations | earthquakes | ecology | experiment | geocentricity | hydrostatics | hypothesis | law of nature | magic | mathematics | mechanics | miracles | music | nature | optics | physics | pneumatics | statics
A Brief History of Ancient Astrology
This book explores the theory and practice of astrology from Babylon to Ancient Greece and Rome and its cultural and political impact on ancient societies. The work: discusses the union between early astrology and astronomy, in contrast to the modern dichotomy between science and superstition; explains the ancient understanding of the zodiac and its twelve signs, the seven planets, and the fixed circle of 'places' against which the signs and planets revolve; demonstrates how to construct and interpret a horoscope in the ancient manner, using original ancient horoscopes and handbooks; considers the relevance of ancient astrology today.
The History of Mathematical Proof in Ancient Traditions
This radical, profoundly scholarly book explores the purposes and nature of proof in a range of historical settings. It overturns the view that the first mathematical proofs were in Greek geometry and rested on the logical insights of Aristotle by showing how much of that view is an artefact of nineteenth-century historical scholarship. It documents the existence of proofs in ancient mathematical writings about numbers and shows that practitioners of mathematics in Mesopotamian, Chinese and Indian cultures knew how to prove the correctness of algorithms, which are much more prominent outside the limited range of surviving classical Greek texts that historians have taken as the paradigm of ancient mathematics. It opens the way to providing the first comprehensive, textually based history of proof.
Geography in Classical Antiquity
What were the limits of knowledge of the physical world in Greek and Roman antiquity? How far did travellers get and what did they know about far-away regions? How did they describe foreign countries and peoples? How did they measure the earth, and distances and heights on it? Ideas about the physical and cultural world are a key aspect of ancient history, but until now there has been no up-to-date modern overview of the subject. This book explores the beginnings and development of geographical ideas in Classical antiquity and demonstrates technical methods for describing landscape, topographies and ethnographies. The survey relies on a variety of sources: philosophical and scientific texts but also poems and travelogues; papyrological remains and visual monuments.
This book combines new scholarship with hands-on science to bring readers into direct contact with the work of ancient astronomers. While tracing ideas from ancient Babylon to sixteenth-century Europe, the book places its greatest emphasis on the Greek period, when astronomers developed the geometric and philosophical ideas that have determined the subsequent character of Western astronomy. The author approaches this history through the concrete details of ancient astronomical practice. Carefully organized and generously illustrated, the book can teach readers how to do real astronomy using the methods of ancient astronomers. For example, readers will learn to predict the next retrograde motion of Jupiter using either the arithmetical methods of the Babylonians or the geometric methods of Ptolemy. They will learn how to use an astrolabe and how to design sundials using Greek and Roman techniques. The book also contains supplementary exercises and patterns for making some working astronomical instruments, including an astrolabe and an equatorium. More than a presentation of astronomical methods, the book provides a critical look at the evidence used to reconstruct ancient astronomy. It includes extensive excerpts from ancient texts, meticulous documentation, and lively discussions of the role of astronomy in the various cultures. Accessible to a wide audience, this book will appeal to anyone interested in how our understanding of our place in the universe has changed and developed, from ancient times through the Renaissance.
Below: Raphael (1483-1520), School of Athens (fresco, 1509/11), depicting the luminaries of Greek science and philosophy.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: "Stitched together from Vatican.va." License: Public domain.
This work is the first detailed, comprehensive account of ancient Greek theories of the origins of the world. It covers the period from 800 BC to 600 AD, beginning with myths concerning the creation of the world; the cosmogonies of all the major Greek and Roman thinkers; and the debate between Greek philosophical cosmogony and early Christian views. It argues that Greeks formulated many of the perennial problems of philosophical cosmogony and produced philosophically and scientifically interesting answers. The atomists argued that our world was one among many worlds, and came about by chance. Plato argued that it is unique, and the product of design. Empedocles and the Stoics, in quite different ways, argued that there was an unending cycle whereby the world is generated, destroyed and generated again. Aristotle on the other hand argued that there was no such thing as cosmogony, and the world has always existed. Reactions to, and developments of, these ideas are traced through Hellenistic philosophy and the debates in early Christianity on whether God created the world from nothing or from some pre-existing chaos. The book examines issues of the origins of life and the elements for the ancient Greeks, and how the cosmos will come to an end. It argues that there were several interesting debates between Greek philosophers on the fundamental principles of cosmogony, and that these debates were influential on the development of Greek philosophy and science.
Nearly twenty-five hundred years ago the Greek thinker Heraclitus supposedly uttered the cryptic words Phusis kruptesthai philei. How the aphorism, usually translated as "Nature loves to hide," has haunted Western culture ever since is the subject of this engaging study by Pierre Hadot. Taking the allegorical figure of the veiled goddess Isis as a guide, and drawing on the work of both the ancients and later thinkers such as Goethe, Rilke, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, Hadot traces successive interpretations of Heraclitus' words. Over time, Hadot finds, "Nature loves to hide" has meant that all that lives tends to die; that Nature wraps herself in myths; and (for Heidegger) that Being unveils as it veils itself. Meanwhile the pronouncement has been used to explain everything from the opacity of the natural world to our modern angst. From these kaleidoscopic exegeses and usages emerge two contradictory approaches to nature: the Promethean, or experimental-questing, approach, which embraces technology as a means of tearing the veil from Nature and revealing her secrets; and the Orphic, or contemplative-poetic, approach, according to which such a denuding of Nature is a grave trespass. In place of these two attitudes Hadot proposes one suggested by the Romantic vision of Rousseau, Goethe, and Schelling, who saw in the veiled Isis an allegorical expression of the sublime. "Nature is art and art is nature," Hadot writes, inviting us to embrace Isis and all she represents: art makes us intensely aware of how completely we ourselves are not merely surrounded by nature but also part of nature.
Greek Science of the Hellenistic Era: A Sourcebook
ed. & trans. Georgia L. Irby-Massie & Paul T. Keyser, 2002
We all want to understand the world around us, and the ancient Greeks were the first to try and do so in a way we can properly call scientific. Their thought and writings laid the essential foundations for the revivals of science in medieval Baghdad and renaissance Europe. Now their work is accessible to all, with this invaluable introduction to c.100 scientific authors active from 320 BCE to 230 CE. The book begins with an outline of a new socio-political model for the development and decline of Greek science, followed by eleven chapters that cover the main disciplines: the science which the Greeks saw as fundamental -- mathematics; astronomy; astrology and geography; mechanics; optics and pneumatics; the non-mathematical sciences of alchemy, biology, medicine and 'psychology'. Each chapter contains an accessible introduction on the origins and development of the topic in question, and all the authors are set in context with brief biographies.
Astronomy, Weather, and Calendars in the Ancient World
The focus of this book is the interplay between ancient astronomy, meteorology, physics and calendrics. It looks at a set of popular instruments and texts (parapegmata) used in antiquity for astronomical weather prediction and the regulation of day-to-day life. Farmers, doctors, sailors and others needed to know when the heavens were conducive to various activities, and they developed a set of fairly sophisticated tools and texts for tracking temporal, astronomical and weather cycles. Sources are presented in full, with an accompanying translation. A comprehensive analysis explores questions such as: What methodologies were used in developing the science of astrometeorology? What kinds of instruments were employed and how did these change over time? How was the material collected and passed on? How did practices and theories differ in the different cultural contexts of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome?
Below: Diagram showing the derivation of the n-dimensional Euclidean distance formula through repeated application of the Pythagorean theorem. In mathematics, the Euclidean distance between two points in Euclidean space is the length of a line segment between the two points. It can be calculated from the Cartesian coordinates of the points using the Pythagorean theorem, therefore occasionally being called the Pythagorean distance. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Khmkmh. License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.
Above: An aeolipile, also known as a Hero's engine, is a simple, bladeless radial steam turbine which spins when the central water container is heated. Torque is produced by steam jets exiting the turbine, much like a tip jet or rocket engine. In the 1st c. CE, Hero of Alexandria described the device in Roman Egypt, and many sources credit him for its invention. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary, 1876. License: Public domain.
Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Origins and Development of Greek Science
This study of the origins and progress of Greek science focuses especially on the interaction between scientific and traditional patterns of thought from the sixth to the fourth century BC. It begins with an examination of how particular Greek authors deployed the category of "magic," sometimes attacking its beliefs and practices; these attacks are then related to their background in Greek medicine and philosophical thought. In his second chapter Lloyd outlines developments in the theory and practice of argument in Greek science and assesses their significance. He next discuses the progress of empirical research as a scientific tool from the Presocratics to Aristotle. Finally, he considers why the Greeks invented science, their contribution to its history, and the social, economic, ideological and political factors that had a bearing on its growth.
Ludic Proof: Greek Mathematics and the Alexandrian Aesthetic
This book represents a new departure in science studies: an analysis of a scientific style of writing, situating it within the context of the contemporary style of literature. Its philosophical significance is that it provides a novel way of making sense of the notion of a scientific style. For the first time, the Hellenistic mathematical corpus - one of the most substantial extant for the period - is placed centre-stage in the discussion of Hellenistic culture as a whole. Professor Netz argues that Hellenistic mathematical writings adopt a narrative strategy based on surprise, a compositional form based on a mosaic of apparently unrelated elements, and a carnivalesque profusion of detail. He further investigates how such stylistic preferences derive from, and throw light on, the style of Hellenistic poetry. This important book will be welcomed by all scholars of Hellenistic civilization as well as historians of ancient science and Western mathematics.
Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook
Although reasoned discourse on human-animal relations is often considered a late twentieth-century phenomenon, ethical debate over animals and how humans should treat them can be traced back to the philosophers and literati of the classical world. From Stoic assertions that humans owe nothing to animals that are intellectually foreign to them, to Plutarch's impassioned arguments for animals as sentient and rational beings, it is clear that modern debate owes much to Greco-Roman thought. This book brings together new translations of classical passages which contributed to ancient debate on the nature of animals and their relationship to human beings. The selections chosen come primarily from philosophical and natural historical works, as well as religious, poetic and biographical works. The questions discussed include: Do animals differ from humans intellectually? Were animals created for the use of humankind? Should animals be used for food, sport, or sacrifice? Can animals be our friends? The selections are arranged thematically and, within themes, chronologically. A commentary precedes each excerpt, transliterations of Greek and Latin technical terms are provided, and each entry includes bibliographic suggestions for further reading.
This work is written for scientists, classicists, historians of science, and anyone with an interest in the beginnings of science. It surveys the range and scope of ancient work on topics now called science, at a lively pace and with colourful examples. It encompasses ancient empirical studies as well as theoretical works, the life sciences and the exact sciences, and is written by one of the foremost authorities on ancient science and technology. No knowledge of Greek, Latin, or ancient history is assumed.
Below: A page with marginalia from the first printed edition of Euclid's Elements, printed by Erhard Ratdolt in 1482.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Folger Shakespeare Library. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.
The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought
For the Greeks and Romans the earth's farthest perimeter was a realm radically different from what they perceived as central and human. The alien qualities of these "edges of the earth" became the basis of a literary tradition that endured throughout antiquity and into the Renaissance, despite the growing challenges of emerging scientific perspectives. Here James Romm surveys this tradition, revealing that the Greeks, and to a somewhat lesser extent the Romans, saw geography not as a branch of physical science but as an important literary genre.
Seeing the Face, Seeing the Soul: Polemon's Physiognomy from Classical Antiquity to Medieval Islam
Polemon of Laodicea (near modern Denizli, south-west Turkey) was a wealthy Greek aristocrat and a key member of the intellectual movement known as the Second Sophistic. Among his works was the Physiognomy, a manual on how to tell character from appearance, thus enabling its readers to choose friends and avoid enemies on sight. Its formula of detailed instruction and personal reminiscence proved so successful that the book was re-edited in the fourth century by Adamantius in Greek, translated and adapted by an unknown Latin author of the same era, and translated in the early Middle Ages into Syriac and Arabic. The main surviving versions in Greek and Latin are translated into English for the first time. The texts and translations are introduced by a series of masterly studies that tell the story of the origins, function, and legacy of Polemon's work, a legacy especially rich in Islam. The story of the Physiognomy is the story of how one man's obsession with identifying enemies came to be taken up in the fascinating transmission of Greek thought into Arabic.
The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Science
This book provides a comprehensive overview of the key themes in Greek and Roman science, medicine, mathematics and technology. A distinguished team of specialists engage with topics including the role of observation and experiment, Presocratic natural philosophy, ancient creationism, and the special style of ancient Greek mathematical texts, while several chapters confront key questions in the philosophy of science such as the relationship between evidence and explanation. The volume will spark renewed discussion about the character of 'ancient' versus 'modern' science, and will broaden readers' understanding of the rich traditions of ancient Greco-Roman natural philosophy, science, medicine and mathematics.
The night sky over Agridi, Greece. Source: Unsplash. Creator: Jason Blackeye. License: Unsplash license.