Astronomer, Mathematician, Geographer (c.280 BC – c.220 BC)
Conon of Samos is renowned for his contributions in astronomy. He was a contemporary and close friend of Archimedes, with whom he exchanged mathematical ideas. He lived in Alexandria and worked in the court of Ptolemy III Euergetes, with whom he was also a close friend.
Conon discovered the constellation of Coma Berenices, found between the constellations of Virgo, Leo and Bootes. He named it poetically after the rich hair of Queen Berenice II, wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes.
His works are numerous, but sadly the majority of them have been lost. Among them, De Astrologia, a treatise consisting of 7 books dedicated to Ptolemy III Euergetes. It contained Conon’s own astronomical observations on solar eclipses. This treatise was used by Hipparchus. Another one of his works was Parapegmata, a diary containing meteorological forecasts and information on the risings and settings of stars. His data was a result of meticulous observations he had conducted in Magna Graecia.
In addition to astronomy and geography, Conon was a skilled mathematician. His work on conic sections, which also does not survive, formed the basis of Apollonius of Perga’s 4th book of Conics. It is also believed, based on accounts from Pappus of Alexandria, that Conon was the original inventor of the Archimedean spiral.
At his time, Conon was recognized as a prestigious mathematician. Callimachus wrote a poem entitled Coma Berenices, which writes about Conon that he “discerned all the lights of the vast universe and disclosed the risings and settings of the stars, how the fiery brightness of the sun is darkened and how the stars retreat at fixed times”.
- Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1995. Print.
- J.J. O’Connor, E.F. Robertson. Conon of Samos. University of St. Andrews. St-andrews.ac.uk. Web.