Fragments of Greek Science in a Palimpsest from Bobbio

Alexander Jones



In 1819 Angelo Mai discovered that on several pages of an 8th century codex of Isidore of Seville's Etymologies in the Ambrosiana Library in Milan, the Latin text was written over partially effaced scientific texts in Greek. With the exception of Ptolemy's Analemma, which we have in a 13th century Latin translation by William of Moerbeke, none of the Greek texts in the Milan palimpsest survive in any other copy, and their authors are unknown. This lecture will retrace the rather sad story of this manuscript, explore what we can learn from the texts, and consider the prospects of recovering more of them from the many pages that have so far been very incompletely transcribed.

Alexander Jones is Leon Levy Director and Professor of the History of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity at ISAW. He studied Classics at the University of British Columbia and the history of the ancient mathematical sciences in the Department of the History of Mathematics at Brown University. Before coming to NYU, he was for sixteen years on the faculty of the Department of Classics and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. His work centers on the history and transmission of the mathematical sciences, especially astronomy.

He is the author of several editions of Greek scientific texts, among them Pappus of Alexandria's commentary on the corpus of Hellenistic geometrical treatises known as the "Treasury of Analysis"; an anonymous Byzantine astronomical handbook based on Islamic sources; and a collection of about two hundred fragmentary astronomical texts, tables, and horoscopes from the papyri excavated a century ago by Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus. His current research interests include the contacts between Babylonian and Greco-Roman astronomy and astrology, the Antikythera Mechanism and other artifacts of Hellenistic and Roman period astronomy, and the scientific work of Claudius Ptolemy. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a full member of the Académie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences, and recipient of several awards and honors including a Guggenheim fellowship and the Francis Bacon Award in the History of Science.

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