Thinking and Learning from Diagrams in the Aristotelian Mechanics

in Nuncius
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This paper examines the diagrams in the Greek manuscripts of the Aristotelian Mechanics. I argue that the diagrams are significant for a reconstruction of the authentic text as many readings can be recovered by means of the diagrams. Furthermore, critical assessment of the diagrams contributes to our understanding of the mechanical principles described in the text. A comparison between the diagrams in the Greek manuscripts and the ones contained in the Latin translation of the Mechanics by Niccolò Leonico Tomeo shows altered diagrammatic practices in the Renaissance. A study of the diagrams from the Renaissance further plays an important role in understanding the processes of transmission and transformation of mechanical knowledge.

Thinking and Learning from Diagrams in the Aristotelian Mechanics

in Nuncius




Johannes P. van CappelleAristotelis Quaestiones Mechanicae (Amsterdam: Hengst1812) was the first modern editor to include figures in his critical edition of the Mechanics. Later editions generally contain figures that are very similar to van Cappelle’s figures.


See Fritz KrafftDynamische und statische Betrachtungsweise in der antiken Mechanik (Wiesbaden: Steiner1970) p. 30 on the inauthenticity of the diagrams. Moreover some scholars still believe that the manuscripts were transmitted without figures e.g. Aage G. Drachmann The Mechanical Technology of Greek and Roman Antiquity (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press 1963) p. 13 and Christiane Vilain “Circular and Rectilinear Motion in the Mechanica and in the 16th Century” in Mechanics and Natural Philosophy before the Scientific Revolution edited by Walter R. Laird Sophie Roux (Dordrecht: Springer 2008) p. 153 n. 14 and p. 154.


See Herbert HungerSchreiben und Lesen in Byzanz: Die byzantinische Buchkultur (Munich: C.H. Beck1989) pp. 64–65.


See Reviel Netz“The Limits of Text in Greek Mathematics,” in History of Science History of Textedited by Karine Chemla (Dordrecht: Springer 2004) pp. 170–171.


See Paul L. Rose and Stillman Drake“The Pseudo-Aristotelian Questions of Mechanics in Renaissance Culture,” Studies in the Renaissance1971 18: 65–104 for a detailed discussion of the reception of the Mechanics in Renaissance culture.


See Patrick AndristLes manuscrits grecs conservés à la Bibliothèque de la Bourgeoisie de Berne – Burgerbibliothek Bern: Catalogue et histoire de la collection (Zurich: Urs Graf Verlag2007) pp. 188–196.


See Ken Saito and Nathan Sidoli“Diagrams and arguments in ancient Greek mathematics: lessons drawn from comparisons of the manuscript diagrams with those in modern critical editions,” in The History of Mathematical Proof in Ancient Traditionsedited by Karine Chemla (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2012) pp. 140–148.


See Reviel NetzThe Works of Archimedes: Translated into English together with Eutocius’ Commentaries with Commentary and Critical Edition of the Diagrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2004) p. 46.


See Stillman Drake and Israel E. DrabkinMechanics in Sixteenth-Century Italy: Selections from Tartaglia Benedetti Guido Ubaldo & Galileo (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press1969) pp. 5–10.


See Guidobaldo del MonteGuidi Ubaldi e Marchionibus Montis mechanicorum liber (Pesaro: Concordia1577) p. 2.


See Bernardino BaldiIn mechanica Aristotelis problemata exercitationes (Mainz: Albini1621) p. 19.



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