Paul T. Keyser

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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It is most peculiar that there should be any such thing as Roman science, if by ancient science we mean the sort of thing Greeks did. The genius of Greek science is precisely its weak binding to specifically Greek tradition – making it more readily assimilated by other cultures. There is, however, almost no ancient analogue for assimilators of Greek science who created works of science in a language other than Greek. The genius of the Roman assimilators of Greek science stands on their desire to bring home and master the cultural products of their captives. Moreover, its practitioners shared a belief in the interpretability of the natural world (the Greek philosophers who denied that produced no science). Some practitioners absorbed data and theories from cultures such as Egypt and Babylon, creating the disciplines of alchemy and astrology. The works of M. Terentius Varro and M. Tullius Cicero, both extant and lost, more deeply assimilate and synthesise Greek science. Vitruvius stands for the transition to works composed in some way for the princeps, a genre sometimes practised by Greeks.

Keywords: Roman science; Greek science; natural world; Egypt; Babylon; alchemy; astrology; princeps; M. Terentius Varro; M. Tullius Cicero

Article.  10645 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies

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