Interactions between Science, Religion, and Literature
Edited By Luis Arturo Guichard, Juan Luis García Alonso and María Paz de Hoz
Alexandrian Astronomy in the 2nd Century AD: Ptolemy and his Times: Anne Tihon
Alexandrian Astronomy in the 2nd Century AD: Ptolemy and his Times
Alexandrian science is illustrated under the reign of the emperors Hadrian (117–138 AD) and Antoninus Pius (138–161 AD) by the great astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, whose works became the basis of medieval astronomy, both Arabic and Western. My paper will focus on Ptolemy (I) and his contemporary mathematical astronomy, without intending to provide here a very exhaustive review. Within this context, I will briefly present a new astronomical papyrus (II) that will shed new light on astronomy in Ptolemy’s time. Finally, I will raise the question of why astronomical research stops after Ptolemy and why we need to wait until the 4th century with Pappus and Theon before Ptolemy is seen as the sole and uncontested authority in astronomy (III).
The works of Ptolemy,1 written in Alexandria between 120–150 AD, are vast and cover many disciplines: astronomy, geography, harmony, astrology, optics… We will focus in this paper on his most important astronomical works. The most famous work is Syntaxis Mathematica, which is best known under the name Almagest. This name comes from the Arabic al-Majistî, which is itself a derivative of the Greek μεγίστη (“the biggest”).2 Contrary to general belief, the denomination μεγίστη ← 73 | 74 → is unknown in Greek and we infer it from the Arabic tradition. In Greek, we often find μεγάλη σύντξιϛ3 or μέγαϛ ϰανών.4 This treatise is composed of 13 books in which his entire...
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