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Department ofClassics


Winter Lecture "Glass, Rainbows and the Technologies of Nature—How Technologies Changed Science in Greco-Roman Antiquity" Professor Colin Webster (UC Davis) Thursday, March 8th at 2:30 pm O'Connor 106

Glass, Rainbows, and Technologies of Nature – How technologies changed science in Greco-Roman antiquity

 Plato, Aristotle and the Hippocratic physicians of the 5th and 4th centuries bce lived in a world of red figure vases and amphora, sundials and bronze mirrors. Their cities had open irrigation channels, cisterns, and terra cotta pipes. Around 400 years later, authors like Seneca and Galen inhabited the Roman Empire, where huge aqueducts cut across the landscape, massive public baths ran with hot and cold plumbing, and intricate astronomical calculators mechanically imitated the motions of the heavens. This talk will address how these changing technological worlds altered the way scientists and natural philosophers explained nature. It will focus on two phenomena in particular, blood distribution and the rainbow, to illustrate how the development of pressurized automata in the Hellenistic period changed Erasistratus’ theory of the vascular system, and how the invention of glass blowing changed Seneca’s account of the rainbow. The talk explores the ways in which the technologies around us influence how we see the world and how we explain its hidden parts.