Monday, December 13, 2010

The Antikythera Mechanism

I am sure that most of you have already heard of this device – it was found in the first years of the 20th century among many other impressive finds in the so called Antikythera wreck. This mechanism, generally accepted as some sort of astronomical instrument, is very likely to be the by far most advanced piece of technology that has survived since antiquity. For another find from the Antikythera wreck, see here.

I apologize for the bad quality pictures - they store the device in a terribly dark room.

The mechanism itself, these are the three main fragments.

The other side is somewhat better preserved. The device contain no less than 32 gear wheels.

This is a reconstruction made by Prof. Derek de Solla Price.

The other side of the reconstruction.

Fortunately we also have literary evidence for this kind of mechanisms, as Cicero, among others, tells us about them:

”we have learned to survey the stars, not only those that are fixed, but also those which are improperly called wandering; and the man who has acquainted himself with all their revolutions and motions is fairly considered to have a soul resembling the soul of that Being who has created those stars in the heavens: for when Archimedes described in a sphere the motions of the moon, sun, and five planets, he did the very same thing as Plato’s God, in his Timæus, who made the world, causing one revolution to adjust motions differing as much as possible in their slowness and velocity.”

Cicero - The Tusculan disputations I. 25
Translated by C.D. Yonge

”But if that sphere which was lately made by our friend Posidonius, the regular revolutions of which show the course of the sun, moon, and five wandering stars, as it is every day and night performed, were carried into Scythia or Britain, who, in those barbarous countries, would doubt that that sphere had been made so perfect by the exertion of reason?”

Cicero - The Nature of the Gods II. 34
Translated by C.D. Yonge

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