The Exact Sciences

Reviel Netz

in The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies

Published in print August 2009 | ISBN: 9780199286140
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 The Exact Sciences

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  • Classical Studies
  • Ancient Greek History
  • Historical Archaeology


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Euclid reads like a modern mathematician, not just because he explores inevitable, mathematical truths, but because he expresses them in a style which resembles very closely that of modern mathematics. And yet, as this article points out, mathematical science is not at all inevitable: nobody forces a mathematician to study this rather than that, to express it this way, or to have that ultimate goal in mind. Mathematicians too are shaped by historical contingencies, and, in investigating the context of ancient mathematics, some unlikely connections emerge: the Hellenistic exact sciences, with their emphasis on surprising juxtapositions; the hybridization of genres; and exclusive readerships – closely resemble the aesthetics of Alexandrian poetry.

Keywords: Greek exact science; mathematical science; mathematicians; ancient mathematics; Alexandrian poetry; aesthetics; Hellenic character; Euclid

Article.  7954 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Ancient Greek History ; Historical Archaeology

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