Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom review – a show from the dark ages | Exhibitions

On my approach into the Science Museum I overhear somebody say that they like the Pure Historical past Museum subsequent door. Effectively, who doesn’t? In contrast with the neighbouring cathedral of dinosaurs, this place struggles to speak the pleasure of science. It veers from inert shows to interactive playgrounds. The playgrounds are standard, the galleries usually empty. Certainly there should be a center approach. This foray into historical Greek tradition fails to search out it.

An exhibition about historical Greece at the Science Museum gave the impression of a probability to find who famend historical Greek scientists comparable to Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Democritus, Aristotle, Euclid and Archimedes actually have been, to search out out what they thought and why.

However you could as effectively seek for Atlantis (the legendary island first described by the historical Greek thinker Plato) as anticipate solutions on this unbelievably trivial encounter with the historical world. It doesn’t have interaction in any severe approach with Greek science, nor deliver any of the minds revered down the ages to life. Archimedes in his bathtub saying “Eureka!” is just too heavy a nugget for us to deal with, apparently. Atoms, which Democritus casually advised the whole lot is made from, would possibly blow our minds.

Aristotle, the scientist and thinker whose writings are finest preserved and whose affect has lasted millennia, is merely quoted on varied species of fish subsequent to a show of plates painted with sea creatures.

Silver celestial globe
‘Flat-Earthers are a trendy species of fool’ … Silver celestial globe. {Photograph}: Nicolas and Alexis Kugel Assortment

In truth the complete exhibition is like a vacationer poster. Deep blue partitions evoke the Aegean. There’s a marble statue of the god Hermes with its once-smooth physique eaten away by marine animals. As a classical survival it’s ruinous however as an evocation of the Mediterranean it’s surprisingly evocative – calamari on the harbour entrance and swimming underneath temple-topped hills. However its solely connection to science is that it comes from the well-known Antikythera shipwreck, which additionally contained the world’s oldest geared mechanism. The machine itself isn’t right here, and the statue isn’t any substitute.

One other statue, significantly better preserved, is accompanied by a wall textual content telling us the historical Greeks noticed the fantastic thing about the human physique as a mathematical drawback. Effectively, sure. That is a huge theme at the coronary heart of classical civilisation. You possibly can fill the complete house exploring it from the canon of excellent human proportions calculated by the sculptor Polykleitos to Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing Vitruvian Man. As a substitute we get one statue and a quick textual content.

Then it’s on to a case of medical devices, and a cursory reference to Hippocrates. Musical devices illustrate a utterly insufficient description of Pythagoras’s concept of harmonic frequencies – why no more on this? Or no less than extra of one thing.

Medical instruments form 250-750 CE
Utterly insufficient … a set of medical devices kind 250-750 CE. {Photograph}: Benaki Museum, Athens

Solely at the finish does it get a little bit attention-grabbing. There’s a mechanical calendar labored by bronze gears, made in historical Byzantium. It’s much like the Antikythera machine, which we get to see, finally … however solely in a temporary video. You possibly can simply keep at residence and Google it as a substitute. One really distinctive survival of historical Greek science is on show, nonetheless: a celestial globe made from silver in about 300 to 100BC and discovered close to Lake Van in Turkey.

This glittering treasure illustrates each the limitations and genius of Greek science. On the one hand it’s lined with photographs of the constellations, embodiments of a magical, astrological perspective to the evening sky. On the different, that is a globe: the historical Greeks knew the Earth was a sphere. Flat-Earthers are a trendy species of fool. Which is why we’d like higher science schooling, to save lots of us from web ignorance and anti-vaxxing antediluvians. However you gained’t discover it right here.

I’ve seen extra diverting shows of Greek archaeology in Mediterranean resort lobbies and realized extra about the world of Heraclitus consuming a gyros. That is a prolegomenon to nothing. It’s a Greek tragedy is what it’s.

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