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A History of Science — Volume 1 by Williams

We reflect that here were born such men as Thales


In

the field of cosmology, Greek genius has demonstrated that the earth is spheroidal, that the moon is earthlike in structure and much smaller than our globe, and that the sun is vastly larger and many times more distant than the moon. The actual size of the earth and the angle of its axis with the ecliptic have been measured with approximate accuracy. It has been shown that the sun and moon present inequalities of motion which may be theoretically explained by supposing that the earth is not situated precisely at the centre of their orbits. A system of eccentrics and epicycles has been elaborated which serves to explain the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies in a manner that may be called scientific even though it is based, as we now know, upon a false hypothesis. The true hypothesis, which places the sun at the centre of the planetary system and postulates the orbital and axial motions of our earth in explanation of the motions of the heavenly bodies, has been put forward and ardently championed, but, unfortunately, is not accepted by the dominant thinkers at the close of our epoch. In this regard, therefore, a vast revolutionary work remains for the thinkers of a later period. Moreover, such observations as the precession of the equinoxes and the moon's evection are as yet unexplained, and measurements of the earth's size, and of the sun's size and distance, are so crude and imperfect as to be in one case only an approximation, and in the other an absurdly inadequate suggestion.
But with all these defects, the total achievement of the Greek astronomers is stupendous. To have clearly grasped the idea that the earth is round is in itself an achievement that marks off the classical from the Oriental period as by a great gulf.

In the physical sciences we have seen at least the beginnings of great things. Dynamics and hydrostatics may now, for the first time, claim a place among the sciences. Geometry has been perfected and trigonometry has made a sure beginning. The conception that there are four elementary substances, earth, water, air, and fire, may not appear a secure foundation for chemistry, yet it marks at least an attempt in the right direction. Similarly, the conception that all matter is made up of indivisible particles and that these have adjusted themselves and are perhaps held in place by a whirling motion, while it is scarcely more than a scientific dream, is, after all, a dream of marvellous insight.

In the field of biological science progress has not been so marked, yet the elaborate garnering of facts regarding anatomy, physiology, and the zoological sciences is at least a valuable preparation for the generalizations of a later time.

If with a map before us we glance at the portion of the globe which was known to the workers of the period now in question, bearing in mind at the same time what we have learned as to the seat of labors of the various great scientific thinkers from Thales to Galen, we cannot fail to be struck with a rather startling fact, intimations of which have been given from time to time--the fact, namely, that most of the great Greek thinkers did not live in Greece itself. As our eye falls upon Asia Minor and its outlying islands, we reflect that here were born such men as Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Socrates, Aristarchus, Hipparchus, Eudoxus, Philolaus, and Galen. From the northern shores of the aegean came Lucippus, Democritus, and Aristotle. Italy, off to the west, is the home of Pythagoras and Xenophanes in their later years, and of Parmenides and Empedocles, Zeno, and Archimedes. Northern Africa can claim, by birth or by adoption, such names as Euclid, Apollonius of Perga, Herophilus, Erasistratus, Aristippus, Eratosthenes, Ctesibius, Hero, Strabo, and Ptolemy. This is but running over the list of great men whose discoveries have claimed our attention. Were we to extend the list to include a host of workers of the second rank, we should but emphasize the same fact.


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