Ancient Greek Mechanics: Technologies, Tricks and Toys

Ancient Greek engineers, such as Archimedes of Syracuse, Philon of Byzantium, Heron of Alexandria, and Pappus of Alexandria, invented and used numerous mechanical, pneumatic and hydraulic devices. Greeks measured distance with hodometers and time with sundials and clepsydras (hydraulic clocks), and made hydraulic alarm clocks. They used complicated cranes and winches for construction. They made seemingly magical automata: a smart cup pouring away all wine when it exceeds the limit, a “birds chirping” clock, a “magic fountain”, a jug “turning water into wine”, and a human shaped servant automaton. They even made an automatic toy theatre for “cinema” performances.

This class will be delivered online via the online platform Zoom. Enrolling students need to ensure they have an email, a reliable internet connection, microphone/speakers and access to a tablet, smartphone or computer.

SUGGESTED READING

  • Georgia L. Irby (ed.), A Companion to Science, Technology, and Medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome. In 2 Volumes. Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.
  • Kostas Kotsanas. Ancient Greek Technology. The inventions of the ancient Greeks. Pyrgos, 2015.

COURSE OUTLINE

  • Ancient Greek engineers: Archimedes of Syracuse, Ktesibios of Alexandria, Philon of Byzantium, Heron of Alexandria, Pappus of Alexandria
  • Geometric instruments used by Ancient Greeks: ruler, compass, ellipsograph, gnomon, level, groma
  • The Antikythera calculating mechanism
  • Measuring distance: hodometer
  • Measuring time: sundials, clepsydras
  • Hydraulic alarm clock
  • Devices used in construction: drill, screw, cranes, levers
  • Technologies for theatre: trap door, changing backcloth, “Deus ex machina”
  • Automata for rituals and tricks: Pythagoras cup, “chirping birds”, “magic fountain”, “turning water into wine”, “servant pouring wine”, “doors’ opening”, “moving pictures”

PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Understand the history of technology of Ancient Greece.
  2. Know names of Ancient Greek engineers.
  3. Know main instruments used by Greeks for drawing figures, measuring distance and time.
  4. Know main devices used in construction.
  5. Become acquainted with some devices and automata used for rituals and entertainment

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