Monday, April 19, 2021

The Antikythera Mechanism and astronomy

THE ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM has been in the news lately:

World’s first computer was the fusion of finest Greek and Middle Eastern scientific knowledge. Greek physicist Aris Dacanalis who is part of the team that has finally put together the puzzle of how the world’s first computer, the Antikythera Mechanism, worked, spoke to Neos Kosmos about what it would have taken to build such a machine in ancient times. (Alex Economou, Neos Kosmos)

“The device could have been made by one person or a team of up to ten specialists. A Hellenistic kingdom like Egypt under the Ptolemies would have had the vast resources to pay for a highly specialised team that would have included an astronomer, a mathematician and highly skilled craftsmen who would have been engineers in their own right,” said Mr Dacanalis. “There was a tradition of engineering in Alexandria under the Ptolemies who were patrons of the arts and who also funded research.”


“No single culture had the means to make this device. This is the merging of two cultures – the marriage of Babylonian observations of the stars and the mathematical methods that they developed combined with Greek geometry and cosmological models.

New Model of Ancient Astronomical Device Reveals a ‘Creation of Genius’ (George Dvorsky, Gizmodo)
By building a digital model of the Antikythera Mechanism, scientists may have finally exposed a key function of the ancient device, revealing a design that required some seriously advanced thinking.


“Solving this complex 3D puzzle reveals a creation of genius—combining cycles from Babylonian astronomy, mathematics from Plato’s Academy and ancient Greek astronomical theories,” wrote the authors, which included mechanical engineer Adam Wojcik, also from UCL.

Indeed, the ancient Babylonians chronicled the motions of the planets, while the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides developed a mathematical model to explain these movements.

In addition Bryn Mayr Classical Review has just published a relevant review: Hellenistic astronomy: the science in its contexts
Alan Bowen, Francesca Rochberg, Hellenistic astronomy: the science in its contexts. Brill's companions in classical studies. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2020. Pp. xxxii, 751. ISBN 9789004400566 €197,00.

Review by
Ulla Koch, Copenhagen University.

Babylonian, Greek, and Alexandrian astronomy, perhaps with Ptolemaic engineering, are at work in the Antikythera Mechanism. The book has many relevant articles, as well as a couple on ancient Jewish astronomy and astrology.

PaleoJudaica posts on the Antikythera Mechanism are collected here with comments. Ancient Enochic astronomy also drew on Hellenistic and Babylonian traditions.

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