The Antikythera Mechanism

I love it when people, places, things, or events recorded in ancient texts turn out to be real and exactly as described. Two thousand years ago Cicero wrote twice about seeing geared devices that predicted the movements of celestial bodies, but modern scholars thought he was making it up. The ancient Greeks couldn’t possibly have invented such advanced machinery. Or could they?

Here is an x-ray of one of the original pieces:

Antikythera mechanism

New Scientist has a very thorough article on the discovery and reconstruction of this machine. I found the last section the most interesting:

Historians have often scoffed at the Greeks for wasting their technology on toys rather than doing anything useful with it. If they had the steam engine, why not use it to do work? If they had clockwork, why not build clocks? Many centuries later, such technology led to the industrial revolution in Europe, ushering in our automated modern world. Why did it not do the same for the Greeks?

answer has a lot to do with what the Greeks would have regarded as useful. Models of people and animals, like those of the cosmos, affirmed their idea of a divine order. Gadgets like Hero’s were also used to demonstrate basic physical laws in pneumatics and hydraulics.

. . .

Rather than being toys, devices like the Antikythera mechanism were seen as a route to understanding and demonstrating the nature of the universe – a way to get closer to the true meaning of things. To what better use could technology be put?

via Mirabilis


4 comments on “The Antikythera Mechanism

  1. wil says:

    I believe this is apropos:
    “It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.” — The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

  2. A says:

    Such fascinating stuff. Thank you.

  3. Sylvia says:

    You're welcome. πŸ™‚

  4. Stefanie says:

    Excellent use of quotation by Wil and an excellent article Sylvia! Thanks for finding it.

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