Logo Header

Ancient Science

 Why is the study of science important to the ancient world? A major part of the corpus of ancient writing is scientific in character—Galen being perhaps the most prolific non-Christian author extant from antiquity, and the writings of the Alexandrian mathematicians offering some of our most substantial evidence for Hellenistic civilization. There are good reasons for that: science was seen by the ancients themselves to be constitutive to Greek civilization, while many later civilizations took Greek science as their model—right down to our own modern science. The study of ancient science is therefore rewarding both for what it teaches us about classical antiquity as well as for what it teaches us about ourselves. 

Classicists have, largely speaking, come late to the study of science, perhaps because traditionally the study of the Classics was taken to be the alternative to a technical education. Such disciplinary boundaries have fallen down in the last generation, and the study of ancient science is today among the most exciting areas in the field.

The Study of Ancient Science at Stanford
Stanford has a long tradition in the study of ancient science, (in particular, ancient mathematics). Wilbur Knorr was a Stanford professor for almost twenty years, producing important studies among which is "The Ancient Tradition of Geometric Problems," a book widely considered to be the best survey available of ancient Greek mathematics. Since 1999, Reviel Netz has been at Stanford, adding on to Knorr's legacy and striking in new directions. Prof. Netz' research ranges from the cognitive history of ancient science, via the study of science from a literary perspective, to the paleography of scientific manuscripts (of which the most famous is the Archimedes Palimpsest.) Both Classics and the History of Science and Ideas are by their nature interdisciplinary fields, so that it is natural that there are many ways in which the two interact.

Besides Prof. Netz, other members of the department with a strong interest in the History of Science and Ideas are: Giovanna Ceserani, the intellectual history of the discipline of Classics; Maud Gleason, Ancient Medicine ; Andrea Nightingale, Ancient Philosophy; Michael Shanks, History of Design ; Walter Scheidel, Ancient Disease and Medicine; Susan Stephens, Ancient Medicine.

The department of Classics at Stanford also enjoys a close relationship with the department of Philosophy (which has always taken a strong interest in the history of science), with the Science, Technology and Society Program and with the Interdepartmental Program in the History and Philosophy of Science. 

Stanford is now one of the best places in the world to pursue studies in Ancient Science. Because of the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the field, the decision was made not to make it a special track in the graduate program, but instead to encourage students to pursue their studies of ancient science within any of the relevant tracks: Ancient History, Ancient Philosophy or even (in some cases) Literature or Archeology. Students interested in research in Ancient Science are advised to contact Professor Netz.