Ancient Pneumatics Transformed during the Early Modern Period

In: Nuncius
Matteo Valleriani Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany

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The paper aims to show how sixteenth century hydraulic and pneumatic engineers appropriated ancient science and technology – codified in the text of Hero of Alexandria’s Pneumatics – to enter into scientific discourse, for instance, with natural philosophers. They drew on the logical structure, content and narrative style passed down from antiquity to generate and codify their own theoretical approach and to document their new technological achievements. They did so by using the form of commented and enlarged editions, just as Aristotelian natural philosophers had been doing for centuries. The argument aims to detail the exact role of ancient science and the process of transformation it underwent during the early modern period. In particular, it aims to show how pneumatic engineers first tested the ancient technology codified by Hero while carrying out their own practical activities. Once these tests were successfully concluded, in the spirit of early modern humanism they finally presented these activities as being associated with the work of their discipline’s most authoritative author, Hero of Alexandria, whose technology was tested during the construction of the hydraulic and pneumatic system of the garden of Pratolino.

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