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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 6: Roman Science

Topic 1: Early Roman science

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
2 Wednesday
11:59 p.m.

Topic 1 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The first of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

  1. Watch the “From the vault: Early Roman science” video prompt for this assignment.

  2. Share your thoughts in the Discussion at Janux.

  3. Skim this page on Roman numerals (used only by Latin writers, not those writing in Greek).

  4. Read the following pages which introduce several Roman-era writers. The readings range from long to very short. Don't get bogged down: If you get lost, read for the gist; you don't have to memorize every word! They represent a sampling of Roman technology, astronomy, medicine, natural history, and natural philosophy. As with the readings in the Presocratics from an earlier week, you may find some of these readings to require discussion at your favorite coffee house. Each of these writings have occupied students for centuries but are only briefly touched upon here.
    1. Heron (or Hero) of Alexandria, Pneumatics (1st century B.C.)
    2. Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods (1st century B.C.)
    3. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (1st century B.C.)
    4. Pliny the Elder, Natural History (1st century A.D.)
    5. Ptolemy, Almagest (ca. 150 A.D.)
    6. Galen, On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body (ca. 150 A.D.)

  5. General background readings for this week come from your textbook, David Lindberg, Beginnings of Western Science.
    1. If you have the 2d ed, 2007, read Chapter 5, pp. 98-105, on the astronomy of Ptolemy; Chapter 6 (pp. 124-131), on the medicine of Galen; and the first half of Chapter 7, "Roman and Early Medieval Science,” up through the account of Pliny and Macrobius.
    2. If you have the 1st ed, 1992, read Chapter 5, pp. 98-105, on the astronomy of Ptolemy; Chapter 6 (pp. 125-131), on the medicine of Galen; and the first half of Chapter 7, "Roman and Early Medieval Science,” up through the account of Pliny and Macrobius.

  6. Quiz: Afterwards, take a Topic 1 quiz in the assignments area of Janux. The quiz will be composed of 12 of the true/false questions listed in the Study Guide. Topic 1 quizzes must be completed before Wednesday night at 11:59 p.m.


TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, worth 2 points each.

  1. Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods became one of the most important sources of Stoic philosophy.
  2. Stoic natural philosophy rejected the Aristotelian distinction between the heavenly and sublunar realms.
  3. Stoic natural philosophy accepted the idea of solid celestial spheres.
  4. According to Cicero, the universe is a rational being.
  5. Athough Cicero is praised as one of the most skillful masters of Latin oratory and rhetoric, he never learned to read or speak Greek.
  6. The writings of Lucretius were influential in conveying ideas of the Stoics such as the identity of nature, fire, and the divine, and of the rationality of the universe.
  7. Cicero defended the atomic theory of Democritus and Leucippus.
  8. The atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus was defended in Roman times by Lucretius.
  9. According to Lucretius, the universe is a rational being.
  10. Lucretius accepted the idea of solid celestial spheres.
  11. Natural History consisted of an inquiry into the causes of natural phenomena.
  12. Natural Philosophy consisted of the attempt to describe natural phenomena.
  13. Pliny argued in his Natural History that one should study only mathematical disciplines like astronomy to elevate the soul, and avoid the contemplation of the lower forms of life.
  14. According to Pliny, the Sun was actually a small body, perhaps the size of a boulder or a building.
  15. Pliny the Elder attempted to describe the whole of the natural world in one large work, the Natural History.
  16. In the early Roman empire, many upper class Romans were bilingual, speaking both Latin and Greek.
  17. Ptolemy, author of the greatest book of ancient mathematical astronomy, was a king of Egypt.
  18. Ptolemy wrote the Almagest in Arabic.
  19. What Euclid's Elements was to geometry, Ptolemy's Almagest was to astronomy.
  20. Ptolemy calculated the distances to the planets in the Almagest.
  21. In addition to the Almagest, Ptolemy wrote mathematical treatises on optics, music theory, and geography.
  22. Ptolemy wrote a manual of astrology called the Tetrabiblos.
  23. In Ptolemy's astronomical system, every planet was integrated into one single model, rather than treated independently.
  24. Ptolemy employed eccentric circles and epicycles in his astronomical models.
  25. Ptolemy's lunar models accurately predicted the position of the Moon but not its apparent diameter (angular width).
  26. In an equant model, motion is uniform with respect to the center of a circle.
  27. In an equant model, motion is uniform with respect to an observer on the eccentric Earth.
  28. In Ptolemy's models, the motion of the outer planets was related to the motion of the Sun, because the radius of each planetary epicycle was set parallel to the line from the Earth to the Sun.
  29. In Ptolemy's models, the motion of the inner planets (Venus and Mercury) was related to the motion of the Sun, because the center of each planetary epicycle was set on the same line (collinear) as the line from the Earth to the Sun.
  30. Ptolemy believed that the mathematical astronomer teaches beautiful theories.
  31. Ptolemy classified theoretical sciences into theology, physics, and mathematics, where mathematics falls in between the other two.
  32. Ptolemy argued that astronomy, physics and theology each could attain certain knowledge in their own subject areas.
  33. Ptolemy argued that astronomy could help both theology and physics in achieving knowledge.
  34. Ptolemy argued that astronomy inculcates a love of the eternal and unchanging, and thereby a love of divine beauty.
  35. Ptolemy argued that the fixed stars that daily rise and set move like a rotating sphere.
  36. Ptolemy argued that the rising and setting of fixed stars provides evidence that the Earth is spherical.
  37. Ptolemy argued that the Earth lies at the center of the universe because the celestial equator, the plane of the horizon, and other great circles bisect the heavens into equal hemispheres.
  38. Ptolemy argued that the universe is relatively small compared to the size of the Earth.
  39. Ptolemy argued that earth falls downward from all sides toward the center of the universe.
  40. Claudius Ptolemy (2nd century AD) worked in Rome, where he had little access to centuries of accumulated Greek and Babylonian astronomical observations and mathematical innovations.
  41. Ptolemy aimed to explain the apparent motions of the planets as resulting from the combinations of separate circular motions.
  42. In an eccentric model, the Earth lies at the center of the universe.
  43. In an eccentric model, a planet moving uniformly around the center will appear to move with varying speed as seen from the Earth.
  44. Using an eccentric model for the Sun, Ptolemaic astronomers could explain the motion of the Sun and the unequal lengths of the seasons.
  45. In an epicycle model, a planet moves around the center of an epicycle while at the same time the center of the epicycle moves uniformly around a larger circle (the deferent).
  46. In an epicycle model, a planet appears to move fastest when it lies within the deferent, at its closest approach to the Earth.
  47. In an epicycle model, a planet appears to move in retrograde motion when it is closer to the Earth than the deferent.
  48. An epicycle model can explain why planets appear brighter when they retrograde.
  49. In order to more accurately predict the planetary motions, Ptolemy compromised the principle of uniform circular motion by devising equant models.
  50. The equant point lies opposite the Earth an equal distance from the center.
  51. Using a combination of eccentric, epicycle and equant models, Ptolemy’s models accurately predicted the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets.
  52. In the Planetary Hypotheses, Ptolemy tried to explain what physical mechanisms or structures in the universe might correspond to his mathematical models.
  53. Galen argued that the qualities of hot/cold/dry/wet combine to form four humors, which in turn combine to make tissues such as flesh or nerves that in turn combine to make organs.
  54. Galen argued that the anatomist cannot fully understand the structure of the body unless one also considers its function.
  55. Physiology is the study of the structure of the body.
  56. Anatomy is the study of the function of the body.
  57. According to Galen, medicine was a practical art that had little to do with natural philosophy.
  58. Asclepiades of Bithynia gained a substantial knowledge of human anatomy as a physician to the gladiators.
  59. Despite Galen’s authority and influence, he actually committed very little of his medical thinking to writing.
  60. In On the Nature of Man, Galen repudiated the theory of the four humors.
  61. Galen argued that diseases are often localized in specific organs.
  62. Inspired by Plato, Galen articulated a theory of three parallel and interconnected systems that make up the human body, based on the brain as the source of the nerves, the heart as the source of the arteries, and the liver as the source of the veins.
  63. According to Galen, organs function in a mechanistic manner (like a complicated version of a bellows or other common machine).
  64. Galen’s book, On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, argued against the teleology of Aristotle, Plato, Stoics, and Christians.
  65. Galen’s belief in gods and teleology interfered with his ability to understand the natural causes of disease.


Do you have a great quote for this page? Let me know! (If used, a new quote is worth 1 point extra credit)

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux