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Four amazing astronomical discoveries from ancient Greece

Accepted submission by aristarchus at 2020-05-21 21:17:30 from the Old News dept.

Just a reminder of how amazing Greeks are [].

The Histories [] by Herodotus [] (484BC to 425BC) offers a remarkable window into the world as it was known to the ancient Greeks in the mid fifth century BC. Almost as interesting as what they knew, however, is what they did not know. This sets the baseline for the remarkable advances in their understanding over the next few centuries – simply relying on what they could observe with their own eyes.

There was that bit about the gold-digging giant ants in the Sind desert, but Herodotus got some stuff right.

Herodotus claimed that Africa was surrounded almost entirely by sea. How did he know this? He recounts the story of Phoenician sailors who were dispatched by King Neco II of Egypt (about 600BC), to sail around continental Africa, in a clockwise fashion, starting in the Red Sea. This story, if true, recounts the earliest known circumnavigation of Africa, but also contains an interesting insight into the astronomical knowledge of the ancient world.

The voyage took several years. Having rounded the southern tip of Africa, and following a westerly course, the sailors observed the Sun as being on their right hand side, above the northern horizon. This observation simply did not make sense at the time because they didn’t yet know that the Earth has a spherical shape, and that there is a southern hemisphere.

As an ancient Greek myself, I would only ask the moderns return to investigation and inquiry, and respect science as one of the greatest achievements of humanity. And Hippocrates, disciple of Ἀσκληπιός, who invented medicine. There is some mention of myself in this fine article, but I have no conflicting interest, since no one, almost, believes I am me. But the take-away:

Sadly, the vast majority of these works were lost to history and our scientific awakening was delayed by millennia. As a tool for introducing scientific measurement, the techniques of Eratosthenes are relatively easy to perform and require no special equipment, allowing those just beginning their interest in science to understand by doing, experimenting and, ultimately, following in the foot steps some of the first scientists.

One can but speculate where our civilisation might be now if this ancient science had continued unabated.

I blame the Romans. "Virtutem non indiget, scientia."

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