Demetrius of Phalerum

demetrius

Philosopher, Rhetorician, Statesman (c.350 BC – c.280 BC)

Demetrius of Phalerum was a statesman, orator, rhetorician and writer, member of the Peripatetic School of philosophy and student of Theophrastus, who served as epistates of Athens under the rule of Cassander. He is best known in history for being one of the greatest rhetoricians and writers of the 4th century BC and the founder of the Library of Alexandria together with Ptolemy I Soter.

As an epistates, he ruled Athens for 10 years, proving to be a skilled governor. He increased the total financial income of Athens, passed into law numerous social innovations, conducted the very first census in recorded history and beautified Athens as a city overall. Legend says that he was so well received by the Athenians that 360 statues of him were made, one for each day of the year, as a token of appreciation.

Demetrius’ role as an epistates of Athens ended in 307 BC when Demetrius the Poliorcetes arrived in Piraeus escorted by 20 ships and took control over Athens. Demetrius of Phalerum initially fled to Thebes and then to Egypt, where he befriended Ptolemy I Soter. Demetrius’ life long dream to create the greatest spiritual center of Hellenism, where all knowledge in the world could be stored in one place earned Ptolemy’s approval and thus, in 300 BC, works for the Library of Alexandria began being implemented.

Having been governor of Athens, Demetrius knew very well the function and organization of a library as he had studied most likely in the Lyceum of Aristotle. In addition to the Library, which would become the storehouse of all knowledge man had acquired at the time, Demetrius founded the “Musaeum”, a university within the Library of Alexandria dedicated to the 9 Muses, based on the principles of the Athenian schools. Undoubtedly, his influence in Alexandria was significant. He was in the epicenter of the spiritual life of Alexandria. He wrote an estimated 45 historical, rhetorical, philosophical and political works, none of which survive today, wrote commentaries and critiques on ancient texts, advocated the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphic chronicles to Greek and encouraged the study of letters in Egypt.

Demetrius of Phalerum inaugurated a new era to the Alexandrians. He transferred his love of letters and knowledge to them, promoting the arts and sciences to a great extent that had never before been done. Many of the Alexandrian philosophers and scientists were influenced by him either directly as students or by means of his works. It is thanks to his efforts that Alexandria became the world’s largest and grandest spiritual center of its time.

Bibliography

    1. “Demetrius Phalereus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
    2. Δημήτριος ο Φαληρεύς : Ο φιλόσοφος που διετέλεσε επιμελητής της πόλης των Αθηνών. Αυτόχθονες Ἐλληνες. Autochthonesellhnes.blogspot.gr. Web. May 11, 2014.

 

Demetrius of Phalerum

Anaximenes

anaximenes

Philosopher, Physicist, Astronomer (c.585 BC – c.525 BC)

Anaximenes, the third and chronologically last of the great Milesian philosphers, was a pre-Socratic philosopher and student of Anaximander. He exerted important influence on pre-Socratic philosophy with his theory on the genesis of the cosmos. The thesis that air is the origin of life is unique and belongs to him.

Before Socrates, philosophy was almost exclusively focused in studying nature. Hence, philosophers back then were synonymous to physiologists (from φύσις + λόγος/ the science of nature). Anaximenes was primarily influenced by his predecessors Thales and Anaximander but introduced his own principles in philosophy. He believed that air was the first principle and that all life comes from air. He based in theory on 3 observations that he made: 1) Air is the most abundant element in nature, 2) air surrounds everything, 3) without air, every living organism would die. Anaximenes asserted that the quality of matter depends on the different quantity and distribution of air caused by motion. As such, it is the difference of air quantity and distribution that creates different beings. Because the Greeks considered the first principle as God, Anaximenes believed air to be the Divine principle. An ancient writer asserts that Anaximenes indeed believed air to be God

Another theory of Anaximenes was the following: Air lacks characteristics and is invisible when motioness. However, when in motion, it manifests in the form of temperature, humidity and velocity. For example, if air becomes thinner, it turns into fire. If it condenses, it creates clouds that produce water. If condensed even more, water transforms into earth and then stone. According to Anaximenes, all varieties are attributed to motion of air, which creates condensation or dillution.

Apart from philosophy, an indistinguishable part of science at the time, Anaximenes had a particular interest in physics and meteorology. He suggested that the planets are held in place by the atmosphere and that the moon reflects the light of the Sun. He presented correct theories on the formation of snow and hail from frozen rainwater, explained that lightning was formed when air was thinned out to fire, was the first to explain correctly how the rainbow was formed and the first to note that the rainbow could also be formed by the moonlight. Moreover, he attempted to provide an explanation for the earthquakes and the eclipse of the Sun.

In astronomy and cosmogony, he attempted to explain the creation of the universe, creating his own cosmogonic model. He theorized that the Earth, which was created by air, was trapezoid in shape and that the world turns like a mill. The sun and the stars rotated around the Earth like a hat rotates around the head. Much like the Earth, the celestial bodies were flat bodies that floated in air.

Today, even though his theory of air being the primordial element of the world is not accepted as scientifically correct, his influence in philosophy up until the 18th century was significant, especially his meteorological findings. For instance, Stephen Hales in his book “Vegetable Statics” in 1727, influenced by Anaximenes’ theory writes “Air takes part in the composition of bodies wherein it is found in a solid form without its elasticity. Air is the universal link of nature”. The fact that Anaximenes came up with the theory that beings differ from one another due to their difference in air density and distribution makes him the forerunner of the atomic theory.

Bibliography

  1. “Anaximenes”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Graham, David. Anaximenes. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Web.
  3. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades, Athens: 1995. Print.
  4. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Athens: Hilektron Publications, 2014. Print.
Anaximenes

Geminus

Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer, Geographer (c.110 BC – c.40 BC)

Geminus was a polymath from Rhodes. He studied in the philosophic school of Poseidonius and was initiated into the Stoic philosophy. Geminus wrote numerous books on mathematics and astronomy, only fragments of which survive today.

Although he was mistaken for Roman because of his seemingly Latin name, he was purely Greek as his name’s true origin suggests (from γέμος/gemos = φορτίον/ load). His primary field of interest was astronomy and mathematics. He wrote the book Isagogue to the Phenomena or Introduction to Astronomy, which fully survives. It contains the most important theories of ancient Greek astronomy, serving as a simple astronomical textbook. It includes commentaries on the works of Hipparchus, the greatest astronomer who ever lived as well as detailed descriptions on the constellations, the variation of on the length of day and night at different latitudes, rising of the signs of the zodiac cycle and the lunar month’s length. Furthermore, Geminus explains the solar and lunar eclipses, the motion of the planets and the weather prognostications connected with the movement of stars.

His books Epitome on Poseidononius’ Meteorological Explanations and On the order of Mathematics survive only in fragments. The latter is a book on the history of mathematics. It features works on arithmetics and geometry, as well as applied mathematics such as logistics, geodesy, harmony, optics, mechanics and astronomy. In it, Geminus provides historical data on how mathematical terms such as hypothesis, axiom, theorem, figure, angle etc were founded. This mathematic encyclopaedia was one Proclus’ most valuable tools on mathematics since he quotes it extensively in his own works. It was also used extensively by Eutocius and Heron of Alexandria.

Geminus’ mathematical and astronomical work, while not as influential as his predecessors, exerted great influence to the mathematicians and philosophers of the late antiquity. Today, a crater on the moon bears the name “Geminus” in his honour.

Bibliography:

  1. D.R. Dicks. Geminus. Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Encyclopaedia.com. Web.
  2. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades, Athens: 1995. Print.
  3. Tziropoulou, Anna Eustathiou. Ἀρχιγένεθλος Ἑλληνικὴ Γλῶσσα. Georgiades, Athens: 2011. Print.
  4. J J O’Connor, E F Robertson. Geminus. University of St. Andrews, Scotland. www-groups.dsc.St-and.ac.uk. Web.
Geminus

Eupalinos

Engineer (6th century BC)

Eupalinos was an engineer from Megara, best known for his monumental engineering achievement, the Eupalinian aqueduct, a 1 km tunnel dug through a mountain.

During the 6th century BC, the tyrant of Samos Polycrates requested the construction of an underground aqueduct that would supply water to his city. The tunnel would have to be underground in order to prevent any possible siege from pirates while also providing possible retreat to citizens. This meant that the tunnel had to cross a total distance of 1 km under a 250 meter mountain. Polycrates hired the only engineer he considered capable of constructing it, Eupalinos.

To achieve this difficult task, Eupalinos used the necessary geometric solutions to figure out the tunnel’s route and angle. What is astounding for its time, is that the tunnel was simultaneously excavated from both ends of mount Castro (amphistomon), meeting at the middle.  He used trigonometry to measure the distances around the mountain and calculated the exact course of the tunnel from both ends. Eupalinos then charted the tunnel’s route on top of the mountain in order to keep track of its construction underground.

The construction was done using simply picks, chisels and hammers. The tunnel’s height and width were 1,80 m and 1,80 m respectively (5.9 ft).  To avoid subsidence, he added curves rock plaques on the ceiling that formed an arch. To measure the distances, the workers wrote the decadic numerals of the Greek alphabet every 10 fathoms. He also built a small 70 cm trench where pipes were placed to carry the water to the city. The pipe channel extended outside the tunnel from both ends, covering a total distance of 2,5 km. He gave it a small inclination  in order for the water to flow constantly.

The tunnel was completed between 550 and 530 BC and came to be known as Eupalinian aqueduct. It took a total of 10 years and 4000 workers to complete. Proud of his achievement, Eupalinos wrote the word ”ΠΑΡΑΔΕΓΜΑ” inside the tunnel, which means ”example” or ”model”. Ultimately, it covered a distance of 1 km under the 250 meter mount Castro. It was used extensively to carry water to the city of Samos for 1100 years, until it was abandoned during the Byzantine era.

Today it stands in the exact same way it was designed and constructed. It stands as a marvel of human engineering and Eupalinos is considered one of the greatest engineers in human history.

Bibliography

  1. “Eupalinos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. NIKitas Mikas. ”Τα μαθηματικά υδρεύουν τη Σάμο”. Online posting. Youtube.com. Youtube, 9 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Jun. 2017.
  3. Πηλεύς Ορέστης. ”Ευπαλινειον Όρυγμα στη Σάμο The Eupalinos Tunnel Samos”. Online posting. Youtube.com. Youtube, 1 Jun. 2010. Web. 30 Jun. 2017.

 

Eupalinos

Epicharmus

Pictorial_history_of_Epicarmo,poet_and_writer

Philosopher, Comic Poet, Mathematician, Physician (c.540 BC – c.443 BC)

Epicharmus of Kos was a polymath recognized as the founder of comic poetry. He was the son of a physician, desendant of the Aesclipiads. Epicharmus immigrated to Sicily when he was very young and remained there until his death, teaching mathematics, medicine, physiology, philosophy and astronomy. Plato considered him equal to Homer.

Because of the dual meaning of the word μῦθος (mythos) in Greek, Epicharmus is credited with introducing either the regular plot in the comedies or comedies with mythological subject. Either way, he set the foundations of comedy, which years later the Attic poets would perfect. He taught 52 or 35 plays, mostly on mythologic subjects. Sadly, only fragments of his works survive.

His philosophic views seem to have greatly influenced Plato, primarily on the Theory of Forms while Epicharmus himself was influenced by the Pythagoreans. For this reason his comedies contain many high philosophical concepts on metaphysics, the soul, theogony and the creation of the world. It is not unlikely that his philosophical views on the latter motivated Plato to write his magnum opus Timaeus on the creation of the universe. His plays also tackled themes of ethics and politics. He believed that the mind sees and hears (νοῦς ὁρᾶ καὶ νοῦς ἀκούει), a quote that has become quite popular.

Perhaps the reason why he is included in the sages of antiquity is because he preserved and continued the ancient wisdom of the Greeks, which dates back to a very ancient civilization of undetermined time. This knowledge was perpetuated in his comedies and contributed to many of the wonders of the Archaic Period of Greece.

Bibliography

  1. Epicharmus. Perseus Digital Library. Tufts.edu. Web.
  2. Sarandos, Pan. ζ. Ἐπίχαρμος. Δαυλός. Issue 188-189. August-September 1997. pages 11617-11618. Print.
Epicharmus

Diogenes of Sinope

diogenis

Philosopher (c.412 BC – c.323 BC)

Diogenes is the most famous representative of the Cynic School of philosophy. He is also known as Diogenes the Cynic or Diogenes the Dog, because while other dogs bite their enemies, he bit his friends to correct them. He was exiled to Athens, where he became a student of Antisthenes, the founder of the Cynic School. Diogenes’ unorthodox philosophy and lifestyle drew much attention from the spiritual figures of his time. He is mostly remembered today for the introduction of humour to philosophy and his cynical puns.

Diogenes can be summed up as a “Socrates gone mad”, as put by Plato. He believed that man was created by nature in such a way that he possesses all the necessities of life, but man himself creates a number of artificial needs and desires. As such, his extreme lifestyle was a faithful practice of his philosophy. He distanced himself from anything that was unnecessary; he walked around barefoot, wore a tunic, carried a walking stick and slept in an oversized jar below the Acropolis. He would frequently carry a lantern when walking around the city, “searching for an honest man” as he claimed. He had a habit of mocking everything that was bad about people and refused to change his attitude about it. Nevertheless, he was highly respected among others for his wisdom, as evidenced by the fact that he was entrusted to teaching sports and sciences to Xeniades’ children.

In contrast to the physiologists, who were mostly concerned with the study of nature, Diogenes was mostly involved with social and ethical matters. The purpose of his mission was, as he said, to prevent the “forgery of the coin”, meaning to prevent the corruption of the human soul. He aimed at a mass transformation of the human society. Man was created by God in his own image, but was corrupted. In order to be reshaped in God’s image, man must undergo a radical metamorphosis of his nature. For Diogenes, living a life in accord with reason was greater than living a life in accord with the conventions made up by the society.

Diogenes invented the wordplay as part of Cynic philosophy. He used the same word with different meaning in a sentence depending on the situation. A major part of his philosophy was sarcasm. Many os his quotations have survived through time. When he once saw the phrase “Let no evil come in” written above the door of an evil man, he knocked the door and asked “Where does the owner of the house enter from?”. Another time, he saw a local bath which was very dirty and asked “Where do the ones bathing here wash themselves afterwards?”. When he was told “The Sinopes have sentenced you to exile”, he replied “And I have sentenced them to stay there”. When asked why people help beggars instead of philosophers, he said “Everybody believes that one day they can become blind or sick, but they cannot be philosophers!”. When in old age he was told to stop philosophizing and rest, he said “If I were a runner on the track would it be right for me to abandon the competition just before the end or would I have to make an even greater effort?”.

According to Diogenes Laertius, Diogenes wrote a significant number of books, of which Republic and Treatise on Republic are known. He remained faithful to his philosophy throughout his whole life. He died in Corinth in a very old age on the same day as Alexander the Great, who was one of the philosopher’s greatest admirerers.

Bibliography

  1. “Diogenes o Kynikos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Athens: Hilektron Publications, 2014. Print.
  3. Julie Piering. Diogenes of Sinope. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.iep.utm.edu. Web.
Diogenes of Sinope

Strabo

strabo-1

Philosopher, Geographer, Historian (63 BC – 24 AD)

Strabo came from Amasya of Pontus. He was a Stoic philosopher, but he is mostly remembered today for his work as a geographer and a historian. Nearly all of the information drawn from his life comes from his own work. He was a contemporary of Poseidonius.

He studied in Caria, Rome and Alexandria and travelled to many different places of the world, from Italy to Syria and from the Euxine Pontus to Aethiopia. Based on his travels, he wrote his magnum opus consisting of 17 books called Geographica. With this work is remained in history, as it was the Bible of geography throughout the ages. It contains scientific geographical data on nearly the entire known world at the time, except for the Americas. The first two books contain the definition and the methodology of geography, as well as a short description on the history of geography. In the following books he proceeds with descriptions of the entire Mediterranean, starting from Iberia and Gaul and going north to Great Brittain, Ireland, Thule and the Alps. Moreover, he provides with detailed descriptions on Italy, Sicily, the pardanubian territories, the Balkans and Greece before passing to the lands of Asia, beginning with the Caucasian lands and going to Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Africa, Egypt and India.

Additionally, Strabo compiled information on the ethnographic background of each country, their agricultural and industrial activities, the histories of their cities, geological phenomena such as the volcanic landscapes of Italy and Sicily, the tides of Iberia, the rise and fall of the waters of Nile etc and attempted to identify the cities mentioned by Homer in his epics. His main purpose of writing this massive treatise was to show what the earth of each country gave to its peoples and what these peoples did with it.

Strabo also wrote another treatise called Historical Sketches consisting of 47 books of historical content. The books chronicle the history starting from the Carthagean war in 146 BC until the foundation of the Roman Empire. It is considered to be a follow-up of Polybius’ Histories. In constrast to Geographica, only a number of fragmnets survive.

His work exerted a great influence in geographic science in the Roman and Middle Ages. His books were reprinted all over Europe during the Renaissance and continue to this day to be an invaluable geographic source of the ancient world.

Bibliography

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades, Athens: 1995. Print.
  2. Lasserre, Francois. Strabo. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.com. Web.
  3. “Strabon”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
Strabo