9780307277831

Aladdin's Lamp

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780307277831

  • ISBN10:

    0307277836

  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2010-03-09
  • Publisher: Vintage
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Summary

Aladdin's Lampis the fascinating story of how ancient Greek philosophy and science began in the sixth century B.C. and, during the next millennium, spread across the Greco-Roman world, producing the remarkable discoveries and theories of Thales, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Galen, Ptolemy, and many others. John Freely explains how, as the Dark Ages shrouded Europe, scholars in medieval Baghdad translated the works of these Greek thinkers into Arabic, spreading their ideas throughout the Islamic world from Central Asia to Spain, with many Muslim scientists, most notably Avicenna, Alhazen, and Averroes, adding their own interpretations to the philosophy and science they had inherited. Freely goes on to show how, beginning in the twelfth century, these texts by Islamic scholars were then translated from Arabic into Latin, sparking the emergence of modern science at the dawn of the Renaissance, which climaxed in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Here is early science in all its glory, from Pythagorean "celestial harmony" to the sun-centered planetary theory of Copernicus, who, in 1543, aided by the mathematical methods of medieval Arabic astronomers, revived a concept proposed by the Greek astronomer Aristarchus some eighteen centuries before. When Newton laid the foundations of modern science, building on the work of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and others, he said that he was "standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants," referring to his predecessors in ancient Greece and in the Arabic and Latin worlds from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. Caliph Harun al-Rashid was one of the Muslim rulers who first promoted translating Greek texts into Arabic. His Baghdad is the setting forTheThousand and OneNights,in which Scheherazades's "Tale of Aladdin and His Magic Lamp" reflects the marvels of the new science and the amazing inventions it was said to produce. John Freely'sAladdin's Lampreturns us to that time and brings to light an essential and long-overlooked chapter in the history of science.

Author Biography

John Freely was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Ireland and New York. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at seventeen and was in the last two years of World War II, including duty with a commando unit in Burma and China. He went to college on the GI Bill and received his Ph.D. in physics from NYU, after which he did postdoctoral studies at Oxford in the history of science. Since 1960 he has taught physics and the history of science at Bosphorus University (formerly Robert College) in Istanbul, with other teaching posts in Athens, London, and Boston. He is the author of more than forty books including Istanbul: The Imperial City; The Western Shores of Turkey; Strolling Through Athens; The Lost Messiah: In Search of the Mystical Rabbi Sabbatai Sevi; and Jem Sultan: The Adventures of a Captive Turkish Prince in Renaissance Europe.

Excerpts

1

IONIA: THE FIRST PHYSICISTS

The site of ancient Miletus is on the Aegean coast of Turkey south of Izmir, the Greek Smyrna. When I first visited Miletus, in April 1961, it was completely deserted except for a goatherd and his flock, whose resonant bells broke the silence enveloping the ruins through which I wandered, the great Hellenistic theater, the cavernous Roman baths, the colonnaded way that led down to the Lion Port and its surrounding shops and warehouses, once filled with goods from Milesian colonies as far afield as Egypt and the Pontus. Its buildings were now utterly devastated and partly covered with earth, from which the first flowers of spring were emerging, blood-red poppies contrasting with the pale white marble remnants of the dead city.


The site has been under excavation since the late nineteenth century, so that all of its surviving monuments have been unearthed and to some extent restored, though its ancient harbor, the Lion Port, has long been silted up, leaving Miletus marooned miles from the sea. The entrance to the port is still guarded by the marble statues of the two couchant lions from which it took its name, though they are now half-buried in alluvial earth, symbols of the illustrious city that Herodotus called “the glory of Ionia.” The Greek geographer Strabo writes that “many are the achievements of this city, but the greatest are the number of its colonizations, for the Euxine Pontus [Black Sea] has been colonized everywhere by these people, as has the Propontis [Sea of Marmara] and several other regions.”

Excavations have revealed that the earliest remains in Miletus date from the second half of the sixteenth century B.C., when colonists from Minoan Crete are believed to have established a settlement here. A second colony was founded on the same site during the mass migration of Greeks early in the first millennium b.c., when they left their homeland in mainland Greece and migrated eastward across the Aegean, settling on the coast of Asia Minor and its offshore islands. Three Greek tribes were involved in this migration—the Aeolians to the north, the Ionians in the center, and the Dorians in the south—and together they produced the first flowering of Greek culture. The Aeolians gave birth to the lyric poet Sappho; the Ionians to Homer and the natural philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes; and the Dorians to Herodotus, the “Father of History.”

Herodotus, describing this migration in Book I of his Histories, writes that the Ionians ended up with the best location in Asia Minor, for they “had the good fortune to establish their settlements in a region which enjoys a better climate than any we know of.” Pausanias, in his Description of Greece, written in the second century a.d. remarks, “The Ionian countryside has excellently tempered seasons, and its sanctuaries are unrivalled.” He goes on to say that “the wonders of Ionia are numerous, and not much short of the wonders of Greece.”

The Ionian colonies soon organized themselves into a confederation called the Panionic League. This comprised one city each on the islands of Chios and Samos and ten on the mainland of Asia Minor opposite, namely, Phocaea, Clazomenae, Erythrae, Teos, Lebedus, Colophon, Ephesus, Priene, Myus, and Miletus. The confederation, also known as the Dodecapolis, had its common meeting place at the Panionium, on the mainland opposite Samos. The Ionians also met annually on the island of Delos, the legendary birthplace of Apollo, their patron deity. There they honored the god in a festival described in the Homeric Hymn addressed to Delian Apollo:


Yet in Delos do you most delight your heart; for the long-robed Ionians gather in your honor with their children and shy wives. Mindful, they delight you with boxing and dancing and song, so often as they hold their gathering. A man would

Excerpted from Aladdin's Lamp by John Freely
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