Ancient Greece is often considered to be the birthplace of science and medicine, and the explanation of natural phenomena without recourse to supernatural causes. These early natural philosophers – lovers of wisdom concerning nature – sought to explain the order and composition of the world, and how we come to know it. They were particularly interested in what exists and how it is ordered: ontology and cosmology. They were also concerned with how we come to know (epistemology) and how best to live (ethics). At the same time, the scientific thinkers of early Greece and Rome were also influenced by ideas from other parts of the world, and incorporated aspects of Egyptian, Babylonian, and Indian science and mathematics in their studies.
In this Very Short Introduction, Liba Taub gives an overview of the major developments in early science between the 8th century BC and the 6th century AD. Focussing on Greece and Rome, Taub challenges a number of modern misconceptions about science in the classical world, which has often been viewed with a modern lens and by modern scientists, such as the misconception that little empirical work was conducted, or that the Romans did not 'do' science, unlike the Greeks. Beginning with the scientific notions of Thales, Pythagoras, Parmenides and other Presocratics, she moves on to Plato and Aristotle, before considering Hellenistic science, the influence of the Stoics and Epicurean ideas, and the works of Pliny the Elder, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy. In her sweeping discussion, Taub explores the richness and creativity of ideas concerning the natural world and its function in the ancient world, and the influence these ideas have had on later centuries.
1. Expert poets
2. Inventing nature
3. Those clever Greeks
4. Let no one unskilled in geometry enter here
5. A theory of everything
6. Old school ties
7. Roman Natura
8. How high the moon? River Deep Mountain High
9. Is there scientific progress?
10. Going by the book - or not
11. Beyond antiquity
Ancient Science timeline
Liba Taub is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, and Director and Curator of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. She is a Fellow of Newnham College. Her books include The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Science (2020); The Cambridge History of Science, Volume 1: Ancient Science (2018), co-edited with Alexander Jones; and Science Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (2017).