Draco

draco-first-law-scribe-of-ancient-athens-621-bc-portrait-side-view-B48A09

Lawmaker (c.650 BC – c.600 BC)

Draco was the lawgiver of Athens, the first statesman who wrote down the laws of the city since the mythological era when Thesaeus reigned as king of Athens. He was a political reformer who changed the political system of Athens, implementing laws which were very strict at the time. Revered by many, Draco was considered a very important statesman in the history of Athens and is now among the greatest lawgivers of antiquity, alongside Solon and Lycurgus.

Before Draco, Athens’ laws were not written anywhere. Even though they existed, they were not available to the public hence citizens could not refer to them anywhere. Athens had been experiencing a period of long political decline, social instability and a crisis of values. It was around 621 BC when Draco was assigned to write down the laws of Athens so that they become available to the public. In addition, Draco passed down significant reforms of the law, implementing changes in criminal law and private law.

Draco’s laws were originally written on wooden tablets before being chiseled on stone slabs and placed in public view. They were said to have been written with human blood. Even though most of his laws are not known, Draco’s legislature was extremely strict, punishing even the simplest of crimes, such as theft being punished with death. His most well-known was the law of homicide, which was the only one kept by Solon when he succeeded Draco as lawgiver of Athens. Among some of Draco’s laws were the implementation of the Ecclesia of the people, the passing down of political rights to all men who could be mobilized for war, the reduction of the jurisdiction of the Areios Pagos, the court of Athens concerning the preservation of laws and the ability of citizens to report the decisions of the Areios Pagos as unfair.

In spite of their severity, Draco’s laws made every citizen of Athens equal before the law, regardless of their wealth or status. He succeeded in stabilizing Athens’ political and social condition for almost half a century and highlighted the importance of discipline, which was eclipsing from the Athenian society. His laws combated crime and imposed order to an astounding degree. As a predecessor of Solon, Draco contributed significantly to the re-establishment of democracy in Athens and while his laws may have only lasted for almost half a century, they were necessary for putting Athens back on its former track.

Bibliography:

  1. “Dracon”. Helios New Encyclopaedia of the Sun. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Ο Νομοθέτης Δράκων. Αρχαίων Τόπος. Theancientwebgreece.wordpress.com. November 16, 2017. Web
  3. Dhwty. The brutal Draconian laws of ancient Greece. Ancient Origins. Ancient-origins.net. November 20, 2014. Web.
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Draco

Ctesibius

Mathematician, Engineer, Inventor (285 BC – 222 BC)

Ctesibius was a mathematician and engineer, founder of the Polytechnic School of Mathematics and Engineering of Alexandria. Together with Philon of Byzantium and Heron of Alexandria, he is one of the initiators of the automata as well as one of the greatest inventors of antiquity together with Archimedes.

Ctesibius worked in Alexandria during the Hellenistic era, when it was ruled by the Ptolemy dynasty. Alexandria was humanity’s greatest spiritual center at the time, which attracted scholars, mathematicians, artists, astronomers from all over the Greek world. Great minds such as Aristarchus, Conon, Apollonius of Rhodes, Apollonius of Perga, Hipparchus and Philon of Byzantium acted there. Ctesibius was part of this group of scientists who comprised the Museum of Alexandria, right next to the famous Library of Alexandria. Though not proven, Ctesibius is thought to have been the first headmaster of the Museum.

He is considered as one of the founding fathers of the automatic machines, as well as the Father of Pneumatics, the science that uses compressed air for operating machines. Ctesibius wrote the very first treatise on pneumatics and their application in pumps, but unfortunately none of his writings survive, although they are mentioned by numerous scientists such as Vitruvius, Athenaeus, Heron of Alexandria and Proclus. His writings include Pneumatica, Hypomnemata Mechanica, Velopoeetica and Memoirs.

The machines he invented were numerous. They ranged from water pumps, cranes and weapons to automatic machines, clocks and musical instruments. Below are listed some of his most notable inventions:

  • The Hydraulic Clock, a marvelous automation that could operate continuously without human intervention. The machine operated with a series of containers one on top of the other, filled with water, a float and a statuette holding a pointer, which could show the exact hour and date on a rotating drum that contained a trace of hours of day and night.
  • The Musical Mirror, a mirror that could be adjusted in height, produced music through mechanism of a closed vertical tube inside of which were musical pipes. The movement of the weight caused pressure to increase within the pipes thus producing the desired notes. It was used in his father’s barber shop.
  • The piston force pump was a double suction force piston pump used for fluids. It was also known as siphon. It operated with the help of pivoted levers, handles, two vertical cylindrical containers and valves. The device is still used extensively to this day by firefighters, albeit in different forms.
  • The Hydraulis, constructed during the 3rd century BC was the very first keyboard instrument ever created. It used water and compressed air, the latter delivered through a series of pipes that produced music, depending on the 24 keys pressed on the keyboard. The Hydraulis is the forerunner of the church pipe organ used today. A contemporary replica of the Hydraulis survives to this day.
  • Cranes that could lift very heavy objects; worked using a system of compressed water.
  • Cannons that operated with compressed air and hydraulic catapults.
  • Automations for entertainment, such as a singing cornucopia and a statue that stood up and sat down continuously using a cam-operated mechanism. Although a simple act, the statue produced a lot of excitement, at a time when the power of the toothed gear was being researched.

Ctesibius’ works deeply influenced the Romans and the scientists of the Renaissance. Modern day scholars have estimated that Ctesibius and the Greeks of his era were 100 years away from inventing the steam engine. Had this occurred, the Industrial Revolution would have begun almost 2000 years ago in Greece, instead of the 18th century. Today, Ctesibius’ inventions have been recreated and most of them still in use.

Bibliography:

    1. Ctesibius of Alexandria. History-computer.com. Web.
    2. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
    3. Kotsanas, Kostas. Ancient Greek Technology The Inventions of the ancient Greeks. Kostas Kotsanas: Pyrgos, 2013. Print.
    4. Πώς οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες μηχανικοί έφθασαν ένα βήμα πριν από την ατμοκίνηση, χιλιάδες χρόνια πριν από την Βιομηχανική επανάσταση και την εφεύρεση της ατμοκίνητης αντλίας το 1776. Κτησίβιος, Φίλωνας και Ήρωνας ήταν οι κορυφαίοι εφευρέτες. Μηχανή του Χρόνου. Mixanitouxronou.gr. Web.

 

Ctesibius

Hippalus the Governor

Geographer, Explorer (2nd century BC – 1st century BC)

Hippalus was a navigator, cartographer, geographer and meteorologist who lived in the 2nd and 1st century BC. He is mostly known for his voyages in Arabia and India, as well as being a pioneer in meteorology. His travels greatly helped the Roman Empire expand its trade to the Eastern world. While he is mentioned in Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny’s works, Hippalus’ position in history is not fully appreciated.

Hippalus travelled from Greece to Egypt and from there to India. As a meteorologist he made numerous important discoveries. The most significant one was the existence of the monsoons, periodic winds that blew in the Indian Ocean, which changed direction from north to south one half of the year and south to north the other half. These winds are termed Hippalian winds. Hippalus was the first to utilize these winds to cross the Indian Ocean on open sea, instead of next to the shore, as was typically done by sailors. Thus, his journey was much shorter in duration.

Soon after his discovery, ships started implementing the use of the monsoons as Hippalus had done, thus creating a new trading route between India and the Roman Empire. This secured a faster and safer route for the ships, free of pirates.

As a cartographer he drew maps of the shores of the Red Sea, as well as its ports. In the book Periplous of the Erythraean Sea, he is described as the first man who discovered the route from the Red Sea to the Indian peninsula via the Indian Ocean. He wrote books, none of which survives today.

His influence in the Romans and Greeks is evident from the fact that Ptolemy, one of the greatest astronomers of antiquity named the Indian Ocean Hippalian Sea in his writings. Today, a crater on the moon bares his name.

Bibliography:

Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.

Hippalus the Governor

Parmenides

parmenides

Philosopher (c.540 BC – c.470 BC)

Parmenides was a Pre-Socratic philosopher from Elea. He is called the Father of Metaphysics, because he was the first who spoke about the nature of existence. Considered as one of the most influential figures in the history of philosophy, Parmenides set the principles of ontology for future Greek and international philosophers.

Initially involved with politics, Parmenides made laws for his country, until resigning to focus on philosophy. We do not know how many books Parmenides wrote, but by far his most complete one is On Nature. It is a poem, of which only fragments survive, divided into 3 parts: The first part, also named Poem describes a man’s spiritual inner journey in search of enlightenment. In the second part named Alethia (Reality), Parmenides deals with all that is real. The third and final chapter named Doxa (Opinion) deals with the erroneous ideas of man and is presented as an antithesis to the second part of the poem.

A basic concept of Parmenides’ philosophy is the being. The being, according to the philosopher, has neither beginning nor end, possesses inseparable completeness, is immovable, inalterable and indivisible. Furthermore, the being is eternal and as such, past, present and future overlap. Similarly to Heraclitus, Parmenides distrusted the senses, stating that while these change, the being does not. For him, the only reality that exists is the one we can perceive with our intellect. Reality is made of one substance, the same substance from which it came, and we, who inhabit this world, share the same substance.

Understanding Parmenides’ highly complex philosophy has proven to be a very difficult task, leaving modern thinkers and scholars perplexed as to how to interpret his theories. The enigmatic nature of his incomprehensible treatise also challenged the Pre-Socratics, few of whom understood what Parmenides really meant. His influence on his successors was, nevertheless, significant and included Melissus of Samos, Zenon of Elea and Plato, who is said to have revered him for the depth of his thought. Plato also wrote a treatise after him. The concept that intellect identifies existence was later picked up by Descartes, who said “I think, therefore I am”.

Bibliography:

  1. DeLong, Jeremy C. Parmenides of Elea. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Web. Retrieved on April 29, 2018.
  2. Mark, Joshua J. “Parmenides.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 28 Apr 2011. Web. 30 Apr 2018.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications: Athens, 2013. Print.
Parmenides

Praxiteles

praxiteles

Sculptor (4th century BC)

The greatest sculptor of antiquity together with Scopas and Lysippos. Praxiteles earned widespread fame for his creations, which decorated numerous cities in Greece. He influenced the art of sculpture more than any other sculptor in the world.

His father Cephisodotus was also a sculptor and a teacher of Praxiteles. His aunt was married to Phocion, who was a student of Plato. This presumably allowed Praxiteles to not only have connections with the political upper-class of Athens, but also delve into Platonic philosophy, which he applied to his art.

Praxiteles was the one of perfected sculpture. His sculptures were primarily idols of Gods, depicted in human form. It is estimated that the minimum number of sculptures he created were 70. Some of them were commissions for other city-states of Greece. Praxiteles was also a teacher of sculpture.

Among his most famous sculptures, widely known to this day are the following:

  • Leto, Apollo and Artemis depicted on a series of slabs excavated in Mantineia, with Apollo battling against Marsyas in the presence of the Muses.
  • Hermes and the infant Dionysus, regarded as Praxiteles’ most recognizable work. The sculpture was excavated in Olympia. Hermes is holding an infant Dionysus with his left hand supported on a tree bark. It has come to be known as Hermes of Praxiteles.
  • Aphrodite of Cnidus was the first statue of a naked Aphrodite ever created and was the one that skyrocketed Praxiteles’ fame in the Greek world due to its daring nature at the time. It is accepted as one of Praxiteles’ most beautiful sculptures. The statue was bought by the Cnidians, who held it on display in their hometown.
  • Cupid (Heros) depicted as a young boy with wings. It was found in Propontis, Asia Minor.
  • Apollo Sauroktonos, a statue showing Apollo as an ephebe pointing an arrow against a lizard. The statue has not survived. Depictions of it were found on the coins in the city of Mysia in Asia Minor.
  • The marble triad of Cupid, Phryne and Aphrodite where Cupid, a personification of the Platonic idea, suffers from love (heros). The statue was discovered in Thespiae.

Some other of his masterpieces include the bronze Resting Satyre, the Petworth Head of Aphrodite, the head of Euvuleus,the statue of an enthroned Leto, made of precious stone in Lycia and Artemis of Antikyra. In addition, Praxiteles built the statues that decorated two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Praxiteles’ unparalleled skill remained unsurpassed in time. His statues were literally vessels by which the Gods descended to the physical field of man. His, as well as other great sculptors’ statues played an important role in the meditation (Διαλογισμὸς) of the ancient Greeks. Today, his works adorn museums inside and outside the Greek boundaries.

Bibliography:

  1. “Praxiteles”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Πραξιτέλης. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Μείζονος Ελληνισμού. Asiaminor.Ehw.gr.Web.
Praxiteles

Philolaus

philolaus

Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer (c.470 BC – c.385 BC)

Philolaus was a second generation Pythagorean philosopher from Tarentum (or Croton) of Magna Graecia. An initiate of the Greek meditation (Ἐλληνικός ΔΙΑ-Λογισμός) and the mystery schools, Philolaus was involved with astronomy, cosmology, music, medicine and metaphysics. As one of the most influential Pythagoreans, he contributed significantly to the spread of Pythagorean philosophy.

Philolaus was born 100 years after his teacher Pythagoras. He founded his own Pythagorean School of philosophy in Thebes and Phlious. Upon returning to Tarentum, he initiated Archytas into Pythagoreanism, who in turn initiated Plato. Furthermore, two students of Philolaus, Simmias and Ceves became Socrates’ students. It is believed that Philolaus and Plato met each other during their lifetimes.

As every Pythagorean philosopher, Philolaus taught through aenigmata (riddles). He His first and most notable book De Naturae (On Nature), is considered to be the first book written by a Pythagorean. He is credited to have written another book, Bacchae. The founder of the theory of numbers that became a basic concept in Pythagorean philosophy, Philolaus taught that numbers are the only constant characteristic of matter. Everything in the universe is ordained by numbers and their relations. We can only can gain knowledge of the universe insofar we can understand the numbers from which it is built because numbers define the essence of things.

According to Philolaus, the universe is one and eternal. The world and everything in it are composed of a combination of two types of things: unlimited and limited. Nor modern science nor modern philosophy have yet understood what Philolaus meant with these two terms. Perhaps he sought the 4 elements on which the cosmic bodies were formed: fire represented by the tetrahedron, wind represented by the octahedron, water, represented by the eicosahedron and earth, represented by the cube. Limited and unlimited combine together forming a harmony. Philolaus compared harmony to a musical scale, the Pythagorean diatonic, where the combination of limited and unlimited are in accordance with ratios of numbers. He saw the natural world as a cosmos, an order governed by numbers.

Philolaus introduced his own astronomical system. The universe is spherical and at its centre is the central fire, around which all celestial bodies orbit, arranged in 10 concentric circles. These include the stars in the first circle, the five known planets of antiquity, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, which rotates around its own axis and the Counter-Earth (Aντίχθων/Antichthon). He explained the creation of the cosmos by drawing an analogy with the birth of the human embryo. Not only did Philolaus’ astronomical system and his cosmogony have a scientific background, but also a mythological/philosophical one.

His contributions in psychology and medicine are noteworthy as well. He distinguished four parts of the soul. Nous (intellect), limited to human beings, psyche, defined as emotions and desires of the soul, the third responsible for growth and the fourth for generation. These he termed the four psychic faculties. He associated each one with the head, the heart, the umbilicus and the genitals respectively as their seats. Plato later expanded this philosophy in his books. Furthermore, soul was a harmony of limited and unlimited was capable of transmigration and was immortal. He explained the concept of disease based on the disequilibrium of the three constituents of the human body: blood, bile and phlegm.

Philolaus’ books were widely popular in antiquity and his books were sold at very high prices. One of his books was studied by Plato and influenced him in writing his magnum opus Timaeus. His work has tremendous influence not only on Plato, but also on the Pythagorean successors. As the precursor of most astronomers of the Renaissance, including Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno, he was one of the first to place the Earth away from the centre of the universe, giving it the characteristics of a planet.

Bibliography:

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
  2. Huffman, Carl. “Philolaus”. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2016/entries/philolaus/&gt;.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications: Athens, 2013. Print.
Philolaus

Menaechmus

menaechmus

Mathematician, Philosopher (c.380 BC – c.320 BC)

Menaechmus was a famous mathematician and Platonic philosopher of the 4th century BC from Alopeconnesus. He is remembered for his contributions in geometry. As Proclus puts it “(he) and his brother Deinostratus made the whole of geometry still more perfect”.

Menaechmus was a student of Eudoxus, a polymath who was in turn a student of Plato in the Academy. He served as the tutor of Alexander the Great in geometry. It is believed that he had founded his own school of mathematics. His most important contributions were in the field of conic sections.

The conic sections, one of the most applicable chapters in analytical geometry were discovered by Menaechmus when he was attempting to solve the doubling of the cube, a famous geometrical problem of antiquity known for its high degree of difficulty. Menaechmus managed to solve the problem with two solutions by using the conic sections, thus paving the way for Apollonius of Perga to develop them years later.

He showed that by cutting a cone with a line that is not parallel to the base, one could obtain different shapes, which he named ellipses, parabolas and hyperboles, depending on the angle. It is asserted that the mathematician used mechanical devices to help him in drawing the shapes, something which Plato disapproved in geometry. His works were translated into Arabic and then to Latin during the late Middle Ages. This contributed significantly to the Renaissance and the revival of mathematics.

Menaechmus endorsed Eudoxus’ theory on the heavenly bodies and further developed it based on Theon of Smyrna’s writings. Moreover, he studied the structure of mathematics and was involved with astronomy. His work was continued by Apollonius of Perga, Archimedes and by the mathematicians of the Renaissance.

Bibliography:

  1. JJ O’Connor, E.F. Robertson. Menaechmus. University of St.Andrews. www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk. Web.
  2. Ο Μέναιχμος, ο Μεγαλέξανδρος και η Οδός της Γεωμετρίας. Ιστορίες στο Περιθώριο.. dimitristsolakis.blogspot.bg. Web. August 19, 2012.
Menaechmus