February 26, 2012

A History of Science by George Sarton

A History of Science by George Sarton
Hellenistic science and culture in the last three centuries B.C

[A scholarly book from a well known scholar.
- I wish there is a book that covers 3000 years. Secondly I only am capturing few of them that I find it interesting. Book extensively covers each section of science and arts which include Euclid’s mathematics, Astronomy (Archimedes and Apollonios), Geography, Chronology, Physics & technology, Anatomy & Medicine, Philosophy & Religion, Language, arts & letter and orientalism)]

The Alexandrian Renaissance:

The decadence and fall of Greece was completed by the Macedonian conquest by Philip II in August 338 BC who died two years later. His son Alexander III conquered a great part of the world within 12 years. He died at the age of 33 and his conquests put an end to the old Hellenism but began a new period in history called Hellenistic age which lasted three centuries from 330 BC to the establishment of the Roman Empire by Augustus in 30 BC.

He was the first man to think of the brotherhood of man and for that reason he fully deserves to be immortalized under the name Alexander the Great. Alexander died so young that he left no heir and no arrangement had been made to carry on the government. When he was dying, he gave his signet ring to one of his generals, the Macedonian Prediccas but soon after his death the intense rivalries of other generals created a state of chaos. Leaving out the eastern satrapies, east of the Persian gulf and southwest of the Oxus, the empire was broken into three main parts: Macedonia and Greece ruled by Antigonids; Western Asia, by the Seleucids; and Egypt by the Ptolemies.

The Hellenistic era continued until the time of Christ; they were replaced gradually about the beginning of the time of Christian era by Romans and later Byzantine. The universality of Greek language (as the vehicle of higher culture) was the outstanding characteristic of the Alexandrian world not only in Hellenistic but also during Roman times, at least in the eastern region which were by far the most cultured ones.

Local influence in other two regions (Pharaonic in Egypt & Babylonian in Seleucid Kingdom) were still alive, conspicuous and impressive,. It was an essential policy of the Ptolemies to pay full attention to the ancient Egyptian religion and of the Seleucids to respect and even to revive Babylonian knowledge and rites. Babyloniania was a Persian satrapy from 523 and during two centuries many Persian institutions, usages, ideas and words had taken out.

Greco-Indian relations are even more complex than Greco-Iranian. Indian goods were brought by middlemen. Other Indians visited Greece for the sake of obtaining wisdom or illustrating their view. The delightful story of Socrates interview with Indian sage has already been told. The most famous of the Kings known in Greece was Menandros who was king of Kabul and north India. He is well known to Indian subjects as Milinda that he became the hero of a Buddhist.

Commercial and cultural relations between Egypt and India were subject to vicissitudes caused by the enmity of the Seleucid kingdom, but even when Syrians ways were closed, Egypt could reach India via Red Sea and Arabia. The knowledge of this route and the flow of the tide was not known to Greece until the time of Hippolos in BC 70. Cleopatra’s suggestion of abandoning the Mediterranean and ruling the Indian seas instead.

The Hellenistic nations were ready to welcome foreign sages such as Iranian magi, India gymnosophistai and many oth4rs because of their spiritual curiosity and even more because of a kind of religious starvation.

Under Greek rule, Egypt became the most important mixing place of East and West - Macedonia, Greeks. Jews, Orientals, Syrians, Arabs, Mesopotamians, Persians, Bactrians, Indians and Africans (Sudanese, Somalis & Ethiopians). A good many cities were said to have been founded by Alexander the great or in his memory and they all bore the name of Alexandra. Among them the most famous is Alexandria in Egypt which was the first not only a metropolis, but also cosmologies - the first of its kind. The two outstanding institutions of the Alexandrian Renaissance were the Museum and the Library.

The library of Alexandria was the most famous library of antiquity, but it was by no means the only one nor the earliest. We may be certain that there were collections of papyri in Egypt and of cuneiform tablets in Mesopotamia. The most ancient libraries are lost and disintegrated but archaeologists were lucky enough to discover in the ruins of Nineveh the royal library of Ashur-bani-pal. Aristotle had a large one, but the library of Alexandria was undoubtedly the largest and eclipsed them all. In spite of the fact that it is entirely lost, we know more about it than about any other.

At the time of Caesar’s siege of Alexandria in 48 BC, the Library was still exceedingly rich. The Library was still very important at the beginning of the Roman rule, when the Romans thought of themselves as liberators of Egypt. The main enemies of the Library however were not the Romans but the Christians. Its decline was accelerated in proportions as Alexandria was more effectively controlled by bishops whether Orthodox or Arian. By the end of the fourth century, paganism was ebbing out of Alexandria; the Museum and the Serapeum were its last refuges. The old Christians and the proselytes hated the Library, because it was in their eyes a citadel of disbelief and immorality; it was gradually undermined and brought into decay.

The library was now concentrated in the Serapeum and the latter was finally destroyed under Theodosios the Great (emperor, 379-395), by the order of Theophilos (bishop of Alexandria, 385-412) whose antipagan fanaticism was extreme. Many of the books may have been salvages but according to Orosius(V-1), the Library was virtually nonexistent in 416.

The story has often been told that when the Muslims took Alexandria in 640, then again in 645and sacked it, they destroyed the Library. The Khalifa Umar is supposed to have said: “The text of those books is contained in Quran or not: if it is, we do not need them; if it is not, they are pernicious:. That story is unproved. There was not much if anything left of the original library to be destroyed. The Christian fanatics had argues in the same vein as their Muslim emulators. Moreover the pagan books were far more dangerous to the Christians who could easily read them than to the Muslims who could not read them at all.


In the first place, scientific research was organized as it has never been before in the Museum of Alexandria while the accumulation and transmission of knowledge was given splendid instruments in the libraries of Alexandria of Pergamon and later of Rome.

The main philosophic school was the Stoic,illustrated by Cleanthes of Assos, Chrysippos of Soloi, Diogenes the Babylonian, Panaitios and Poseidonios of Rhodos. The last representatives of the New Academy were Carneades of Cyrene and Cicero. The leading defender of the Garden of Epicuros was another Roman, Lucretius. The tradition of the Lyceum was continued by Strabon of Lampsacos and Andronicos of Rhodos prepared the first scientific edition of Aristotle and Theophrastos.

This was a golden age of mathematics, the like of which did not occur again until the 17th century. Think of such a galaxy as Euclid of Alexandria, Archimedes of Syracuse, Eratostheenes of Cyrene, Apollonios of Perge, Conon of Samos, Hypsicles of Alexandraia, Hipparchos of Nicia, Theodosios of Bithynia, Geminos of rhodos.

Much astronomical work was done not only by Greeks but also by Challdeans, The outstanding men were Aristarchos of Samos,and Seleucos the Babylonian, Hipparchos, Cleomedes and Geminos. The greatest of all one of the greatest of all time, was Hipparchos.

Physical investigations were carried out by Straon, Euclid, Aristarchos of Samos, Archimedes, Ctesibios of Alexandria, Philon of Byantion, Sostratos of Cnidos built the Pharos, the lighthouse, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Greek and Roman engineers and architects built roads, aqueducts, harbors, and innumerable monuments. Vitruvius wrote the main architectural treatise of antiquity.

The method of agriculture were explained by Cato the Censor, Mago of Carthage, Varro of Reate, Vigil of Mantova,. Botonical studies were pursued by Cratevas and by Nicholas of Damascus.

Herophilos of Chalcedon and Erasistratos of Ceos were the creators of anatomy and physiology. The medical record is not so good yet there were a number of distinguished physicians - Archagathos of Rome, Serapion of Alexandria, Asclepiades of Bithynia,. Themison of Lacodiceia, Heracledes of Tarentum, Apollonios of Cition and Antonius Musa.

Geographic studies were cultivated by Eratothenes, Crates of Mallos, Hipparchos, Poseidonios, Isidoros of Charax. Strabon of Amaseia composed the most elaborate description of the world; Caesar and Agrippa ordered a survey of it which was completed in 12 BC.

The main Greek historians were the Arcadian Polybios and Poseidonios the main Latin ones, Caesar, Sallust and Livy. The legendary background of Roman history was recreated in Virgil’s Aeneid.

Greek grammar was invented and the foundations of Greek philology were laid by Zenodotos of Ephesos, Aristophanes of Byzantion, Aristarchos of Samothrace, Crates of Mallos, Dionysios Thrax, Dionysios of Halicarnassos. Latin philology was developed by Varro and Verrius Flaccus.

The main achievement in the field of international literature and religion was the Septuaginta, the translation of the Old Treatment from Hebrew into Greek.

Surely this is an astonishing record, equally astonishing in its wealth and in its scope. Would that we had as well in the three centuries from the ‘Mayflower’ until now. The record is even more remarkable than it seems to be, if we remember the catastrophes’, wars, revolutions that jeopardized it almost without interruption.

The political conflicts and wars remained essentially the same during this period and later, but the religions conflict was deeply modified.
During the whole Hellenistic age there flourished in close rivalry three kinds of popular religion - first the old Greek paganism, second, Judaism and the third, various oriental mystery cults, such as cults of Mithras, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris. The appearance of a new incomprehensible mystery that of Jesus Christ and its gradual triumph characterized an entirely new period.

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