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  • The Origin of the History of Science in Classical Antiquity
  • Paul T. Keyser
Leonid Zhmud. The Origin of the History of Science in Classical Antiquity. Peripatoi: Philologisch-historische Studien zum Aristotelismus, 19. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006. Pp. xi, 331. $118.95. ISBN 3-11-017966-0.

First published in Russian (2002), and now translated (by Alexander Chernoglazov) and augmented, Zhmud’s thorough and learned study of Eudemos of Rhodes treats his histories of geometry, arithmetic, and astronomy. The book is the result of a decade of effort (full disclosure: I responded to the first presentation of chapters 5–6, and I read the current version of chapter 3 in typescript). It will be of great value to anyone interested in Aristotle’s school or the history of ancient science. Zhmud situates his work in the historiography of science as developed in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, focusing on the exact sciences because their ancient and modern practices most closely correspond (1–16, esp. 11). Definitions are perpetually contestable, but medicine ancient and modern correspond as closely as does astronomy. Eudemos’ works grew out of archaic Greek preoccupation with the prōtos heuretos (23–29) and were fostered by Aristotle’s conviction that philosophy and science had progressed (16–22), (almost) to perfection (15, 59–60, 121, 164).

Zhmud surveys Greek thought before Eudemos on the growth and nature of science (45–81), rightly including works on music (49–51) and medicine, [End Page 83] esp. the Hippokratic Ancient Medicine (54–60), whose author he sees as a “methodical empiricist” of “astonishing modernity” who like Aristotle saw his project as nearly complete. Zhmud’s goal is to argue that the Peripatetic historiographical project had ample precedent (80–81).

Zhmud next argues that Plato’s reputation as the architect of mathematical sciences derives solely from an Academic reading of the dialogues (ch.3, 82–116). Neither Proklos’ “catalogue of geometers” nor P.Herc. 1021 offers evidence that Plato promoted mathematics. Moreover, none of the known students of Plato “achieved anything remarkable in mathematics” (102); likewise, their astronomy is disparaged (102–103). Perhaps excessive, but Zhmud’s core point is sound: too much has been made of late testimonia. Plato rather sought to exploit mathematical reasoning in the service of dialectic (105–108).

In chapter 4, Zhmud analyzes the Peripatetic historiographical project (117–165), but unduly narrows the definition of the history of science to “the history of those results whose significance is acknowledged by the contemporary scientific community” (117, cf. 3)—I would prefer a much wider definition, including all the abandoned paths: roads not taken seem evitable only in hindsight. Moreover, he over-indulges Aristotle’s notion of nearly complete science: “not a single new science appeared in Antiquity after the fourth century” (119)—I would oppose alchemy and astrology to that (reopening the debate about defining science), or else argue that Zhmud’s claim is equally valid for, say, 500 bCe. He neatly situates Eudemos’ work within the framework of Aristotle’s thought (see e.g. the diagram on 123), but his summaries of the very fragmentary works of Eudemos, Meton, and Theophrastos should be more nuanced (128–133). Zhmud rightly stresses the strong historical consciousness of Aristotle and his students (Dikaiarkhos, Kallisthenes, Phanias: 133–140). Moreover, their historiographical efforts aimed not to cover all problems, but to list prior answers to “solved” problems (140–146); Zhmud rightly cites the priamel-like surveys of doxai in Aristotle’s own works. Zhmud is thus sure that the structure of Eudemos’ works was chronological (not thematic), said to be confirmed by Eudemos’ relative ignorance regarding many figures (147–152): here he anticipates his conclusions that such men as Mamerkos could only have entered the tradition through Eudemos’ work (cf. 178, 182). Although the Anonymous Londinensis, thought to depend upon Menon, may be roughly chronological, Theophrastos’ Phusikai Doxai and Aristotle’s own doxography (in Metaphys. A) were definitely not chronological, although Theophrastos sometimes recorded relative chronology (153–164).

In chapter 5, Zhmud attempts to reconstruct Eudemos’ History of Geometry (167–213), with excessive optimism regarding attribution of fragments. There are less than ten nominatim fragments, but he repeatedly argues that data...


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