Astronomy as a science began with the Ionian philosophers, with whom Greek philosophy and mathematics also began. While the Egyptians and Babylonians had accomplished much of astronomical worth, it remained for the unrivalled speculative genius of the Greeks, in particular, their mathematical genius, to lay the foundations of the true science of astronomy. In this classic study, a noted scholar discusses in lucid detail the specific advances made by the Greeks, many of whose ideas anticipated the discoveries of modern astronomy.
Pythagoras, born at Samos about 572 B.C., was probably the first to hold that the earth is spherical in shape, while his later followers anticipated Copernicus with the then-startling hypothesis that the earth was not the center of the universe but a planet like the others. Heraclides of Pontus (c. 388–315 B.C.), a pupil of Plato, declared that the apparent daily rotation of the heavenly bodies is due, not to a rotation of the heavenly sphere about an axis through the center of the earth, but to the rotation of the earth itself around its own axis. Secondly, Heraclides discovered that Venus and Mercury revolve around the sun like satellites. Perhaps the greatest astronomer of antiquity was Hipparchus, who flourished between 161 and 126 B.C. He compiled a catalog of fixed stars to the number 850 or more, made great improvements in the instruments used for astronomical observations, and discovered the precession of the equinoxes, among other accomplishments. The astronomy of Hipparchus takes its definitive form in the Syntaxis (commonly called the Almagest) of Ptolemy, written about A.D. 150, which held the field until the time of Copernicus.
The extraordinary achievements of these and many more Greek theorists are given full coverage in this erudite account, which blends exceptional clarity with a readable style to produce a work that is not only indispensable for astronomers and historians of science but easily accessible to science-minded laymen.
Thomas Little Heath: Bringing the Past to Life
Thomas Little Heath (1861–1940) was unusual for an authority on many esoteric, and many less esoteric, subjects in the history of mathematics in that he was never a university professor. The son of an English farmer from Lincolnshire, Heath demonstrated his academic gifts at a young age; studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1879 to 1882; came away with numerous awards; and obtained the top grade in the 1884 English Civil Service examination. From that foundation, he went to work in the English Treasury, rose through the ranks, and by 1913, was permanent secretary to the Treasury, effectively the head of its operations. He left that post in 1919 at the end of the first World War, worked several years at the National Debt office, and retired in 1926.
During all of that time, however, he became independently one of the world's leading authorities on the history of mathematics, especially on the history of ancient Greek mathematics. Heath's three-volume edition of Euclid is still the standard, it is generally accepted that it is primarily through Heath's great work on Archimedes that the accomplishments of Archimedes are known as well as they are.
Dover has reprinted these and other books by Heath, preserving over several decades a unique legacy in the history of mathematical scholarship.
In the Author's Own Words:
"The works of Archimedes are without exception, monuments of mathematical exposition; the gradual revelation of the plan of attack, the masterly ordering of the propositions, the stern elimination of everything not immediately relevant to the purpose, the finish of the whole, are so impressive in their perfection as to create a feeling akin to awe in the mind of the reader." — Thomas L. Heath
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|Author/Editor||Sir Thomas L. Heath|
|Dimensions||5 1/2 x 8 1/2|