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The History of Science Society

Hellenophilia versus the History of Science


Author(s): David Pingree
Source: Isis, Vol. 83, No. 4 (Dec., 1992), pp. 554-563
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/234257
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Hellenophiliaversus
of

the

History

Science
By David Pingreet

THE GENESIS OF THIS PAPER lies in a conversationthat I had with A. I.


Sabra of Harvard on the perennial problem of the definition of science
appropriateto a historian of science; its corruption(includingthe deliberately
extreme mode of its expression) is entirely a result of my own labors. For the
piece representsthe attitudestowardthe subjectthat I have developed over some
three and a half decades of studyingthe history of the "exact" sciences (as I will
persist in calling them despite the lack of exactitude in some of them), as practiced in ancient Mesopotamia, in ancient and medieval Greece, India, and the
Latin-speakingWest, and in medieval Islam. It is this experience, then, and the
desire to reconstructa complex history as accuratelyas possible, that motivates
me-these two, and the wish to provide an apologiafor my claim to be a historian
of science ratherthan of quackery. For the sciences I study are those related to
the stars, and they include not only various astronomiesand the differentmathematicaltheories they employ, but also astralomens, astrology, magic, medicine,
and law (dharmasastra).All of these subjects, I would argue, were or are sciences within the contexts of the culturesin which they once flourishedor now are
practiced. As such they deserve to be studied by historians of science with as
serious and thorougha purpose as are the topics that we usually find discussed in
history of science classrooms or in the pages of Isis. This means that their intellectual content must be probed deeply, and not simply dismissed as rubbish or
interpretedin the light of modern historical mythology; and that the intellectual
content must be related to the culture that producedand nourishedeach, and to
the social context within which each arose and developed.
In statingthese opinions I may appearto have set myself up as a relativist, but
I would deny the applicabilityof that epithet to my position since my interest lies
not in judging the truth or falsehood of these or any other sciences, nor in discovering in them some part that mightbe useful or relevant to the present world,
but simply in understandinghow, why, where, and when they worked as functioning systems of thoughtand interactedwith each other and with other systems
of thought.
It is with these considerationsin mind, then, that I have embraced the word
employed in the title of this article, "Hellenophilia,"as it is a most convenient
description of a set of attitudes that I perceive to be of increasing prevalence
t Box 1900, Brown University, Providence,Rhode Island02912.
This paperwas originallydeliveredas a lecture at the Departmentof History of Science, Harvard
University, 14 November 1990.
ISIS, 1992, 83: 554-563

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within the profession of the history of science, and which I believe to be thoroughly pernicious. I like "Hellenophilia"as a word because it brings to mind
such other terms as "necrophilia,"a barbaricexcess that erupts as a disease from
the passionate rather than from the rational soul; whereas the true love of the
Greeks, Philhellenism,thoughalso an attributeof barbarianssuch as are we-the
epithet "Philhellene"was proudlyborne by ancient Parthians,Semites, and Romans-arises preeminentlyfrom well-deserved admiration.A Philhelleneis one
who shares in what used to be, when childrenin the West still were taught the
classics, a virtually universal awe of Greek literature,art, philosophy, and science; a Hellenophile suffers from a form of madness that blinds him or her to
historical truth and creates in the imaginationthe idea that one of several false
propositions is true. The first of these is that the Greeks invented science; the
second is that they discovered a way to truth, the scientific method, that we are
now successfully following; the third is that the only real sciences are those that
began in Greece; and the fourth (andlast?) is that the true definitionof science is
just that which scientists happento be doing now, following a methodor methods
adumbratedby the Greeks, but never fully understoodor utilized by them.
Hellenophiles, it might be observed, are overwhelminglyWesterners, displaying the cultural myopia common in all cultures of the world but, as well, the
arrogancethat characterizedthe medieval Christian'srecognitionof his own infallibility and that has now been inherited by our modern priests of science.
Intellectuallythese Western Hellenophilesare still living in the miasmathat permeated Europe until the nineteenthcentury, before the discovery of Sanskritand
the cracking of cuneiform destroyed such ethnocentric rubbish; such persons
have simply not been exposed to the knowledge they would need to arrive at a
more balanced judgment. But, sadly, I must report that many non-Westerners
have caught a form of the disease Hellenophilia;they are deluded into believing
that the greatest glory an Indian, a Chinese, an Arab, or an African scientist can
have acquired is that gained by having anticipatedeither a Greek or a modern
Westerner. So some Indians, for instance, busily reinterprettheir divinely inspired R?gvedaso that it teaches such modern hypothetical theories as that of
relativity or the latest attempt to explain black holes, as if these transitoryideas
were eternal complete truths. In doing this they are behavingas did those Christians who once believed it importantto demonstratethat Genesis agrees with
Greek science. These attemptsdo not enhancethe brillianceof the authorsor the
reinterpretersof their sacred or scientific texts, but ratherreveal a severe sense
of culturalinferiority.
Parallelto this form of culturaldenigration,practicedby the cultureitself or by
historiansof science, is, say, the false claim that medieval Islam only preserved
Greek science and transmittedit as Muslimshad received it to the eager West. In
fact Arab scientists, using Indian, Iranian, and Syrian sources as well as their
own genius, revised the Greek sciences, transformingthem into the Islamic sciences that, historically, served as the main basis for what little science there was
in Western Europe in the twelfth and following centuries and for the amazing
developments that happened three and four centuries later in Italy and Central
Europe.
Another form that this Western arrogancetakes is the naive assumption that
other peoples in the world not only should be like us, but actually are or were-

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"were"because this particularfallacy usually affects those who study Stone Age
and other preliteratecultures that have been left defenseless in the face of modern reconstructionsof their thoughts by their inabilityto record them in permanent form. In the history of the exact sciences the scholars who perpetratewild
theories of prehistoric science call themselves archaeoastronomers.The basic
premise of some archaeoastronomersis that megalithic and other cultures in
which writing was not known built stone monuments, some quite massive, in
order to record their insights into the periodicityof celestial motions. This seems
to me a trivial purpose to motivate such monumentalcommunal efforts as the
buildingof Stonehenge or the pyramids.There are many strong argumentsto be
raised against many of these interpretations.At this point, however, I wish only
to point out that they go against the strong evidence from early literate societies
that early man had little interest in the stars before the end of the third millennium B.C.; the cataloguing of stars and the recording of stellar and planetary
phenomenaare not a natural,but a learned activity that needs a motivationsuch
as that which inspired the Babylonians, who believed that the gods send messages to mankindthroughthe celestial bodies. The realizationthat some of these
ominous phenomenaare periodic can be dated securely in Mesopotamiato a time
no earlier than the late second millenniumB.C.; mathematicalcontrol of the relation between solar and lunarmotion came only in about 500 B.C.The Egyptians
also first began using selected stars as a sort of crude clock only in about 2000
B.C. and progressed no furtherin mathematicalastronomy till they came under
Babylonianinfluence. The earliest traces of a knowledgeof astronomyin Greece
and India seem also to be derived, in the early first millenniumB.C., from Mesopotamia. I cannot speak of the astronomy of the early Chinese with authority
because I am ignorantof their language,but I gather from what I have read that
not even the beginnings of the system of the hsiu or lunar lodges can be dated
before the late second millenniumB.C. From the written evidence, then, it appears that an interest in the stars as omens arose in Mesopotamiaafter 2000 B.C.
and started to develop toward mathematicalastronomy in about 1200 B.C., but
that the Babyloniansbegan to invent mathematicalmodels useful for the prediction of celestial phenomenawith some degree of accuracy only in about 500 B.C.
From Mesopotamiathese astronomicalideas rapidly radiatedto Egypt, later to
Greece and India, and finally, perhaps, to China; in each of these cultures they
were molded by the recipient scientists into somethingnew, though still having
recognizable Mesopotamianorigins. The astral sciences spread from one civilization to another like a highly infectious disease. It is within the context of this
documented history that I find implausible the suggestion that less advanced
civilizations, without any known systems of writingor accurate record keeping,
independentlydiscovered complex lunar theories, or precession, or even an accurate intercalationcycle. The example of the Babylonians,with their need for a
specific motive for observing stars and the fact that it took them a millenniumand
a half to arrive at a workable mathematicalastronomy, and the examples of the
Egyptians, Greeks, and Indians, if not the Chinese, who initiallyborrowed their
astronomies from the Babyloniansbefore each developed its science in its own
way, seem to me to invalidate the theoretical basis for much of archaeoastronomy.
I return now to the four variants of Hellenophilia that I mentioned earlier.

CULTURESOF ANCIENT SCIENCE

557

Each, I would claim, distorts the history of science in two ways: passively, it
limits the phenomenathat the historianis willing or able to examine; actively, it
perverts understandingboth of Western sciences, from the Greeks till now, and
of non-Westernsciences. Thus those who still believe that the Greeks invented
science either are altogether ignorantof, say, Babylonian mathematicsand astronomy or else, though aware of them, fall into my second category and refuse
to recognize them as sciences. The ignorance of the first group, of course, can
and should be remedied through education; the obstinacy of the second in not
acknowledgingthat Old Babylonianinvestigationsof irrationalnumberslike \/2,
of arithmeticaland geometricalseries, or of Pythagoreantripletsare science even
though they are mathematicallycorrect, or in asserting that the arithmetical
schemes that they successfully used to control the many variablesinvolved in the
predictionof the time of the first visibility of the lunar crescent cannot bear the
august name of scientia even though the predictions were essentially correctthis obstinacy is hard to deal with. It leaves the obstinate, however, in the awkward position of denying the status of science to one of the main contributorsto
the Greek astronomy that is the forebear of our positional astronomy. Such a
person, of course, can name an arbitrarydate at which positional astronomy
comes to fit into his or her definitionof science; but this cannot be accepted by a
historian,as it is the historian'stask to seek out the originsof the ideas that he or
she is dealing with, and these manifestly lie, for astronomy, in the wedges impressed on clay tablets as well as in the observed motions of the celestial bodies.
It is certainly possible to be a modernscientist without knowinghistory, or even
with a firmbelief in historicalmythology;but can a historianof science function
effectively under such disabilities?
While ignorance of Babylonian astronomy destroys the historian's ability to
understandthe originsand developmentof Greekand other astronomiestogether
with their more modern descendants, it also tempts him or her to imagine that
there is no other way to do astronomythan throughthe Greekand modernway of
makingobservations and buildinggeometric models. But Babylonianastronomy
reveals how few observations are needed and how imprecise they may be if the
astronomersare clever enough; and it also demonstratesthat simple arithmetical
models suffice for predictingthe times and longitudes of periodic celestial phenomena. The Babylonian solutions are brilliant applications of mathematical
structuresto rathercrude data, made purely to provide the possibility of prediction without any concern for theories of cosmological structureor celestial mechanics. The Greeks added the concern both for the geometricalstructureof the
universe and for the cinematicsof the heavens, with a strongprejudicein favor of
circles or spheres rotatingwith uniformmotion; but they also, to a large extent,
simply expressed the Babylonian period relations and arithmeticalzigzag and
step functions in a geometrical language, using observations to modify Babylonian parametersand to fine-tunetheir own geometricalmodels. A thirdvariety of
astronomy emerged from the synthesis of Babylonianarithmeticalmodels, Hellenistic geometrical models, and local mathematicaltraditionsthat occurred in
India in the fifth century A.D. In this astronomyquestions of celestial cinematics
receded into trivial mechanisms while computationalfinesse harnessed a broad
range of mathematicaltechniques to the solution of astronomicalproblems, with
the role of observationsbeing limited to the confirmation,if possible, of accepted

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theory. There were historicallymany more astronomies,manifestinga variety of


ways in which the same phenomenamightbe made predictableby mathematical
means. These differentastronomies reflect the differentintellectual traditionsof
the various cultures as well as the specific problemsthat each society wished its
astronomersto address-for example, the Babylonianswere interestedin certain
horizon phenomenathat they regardedas omens; the Greeks broughtphilosophical and physical problemsinto a science that had been purely mathematical,and
as well introduced the more social aim of casting horoscopes; and the Indians
devoted their effortsto the purely pragmaticgoals of casting horoscopes, of predicting eclipses because of their significanceas omens, and of evolving and regulating an extraordinarilycomplex calendar. I believe that those historians who
limit themselves to the study of only one of these approaches to mathematical
astronomy will blunder, as indeed many have, by not fully understandingthe
range of possibilities or the shapingforce of purely culturalfactors on the course
that any science takes.
If it is evident that for a historian the proposition that the Greeks invented
science must be rejected, it necessarily follows that they did not discover a
unique scientific method. Indeed, they-and we-have not one, but many scientific methods;biologists, physicists, and astronomerswent, and go, their separate
methodologicalways. I choose, therefore,to focus on the pride of Greek science:
Euclidean geometry-which, of course, is purely logical and nonexperimental.
This is often and justly praised for the rigor and power of its axiomatic system
and for its ability to offerlogical deductiveproofs. Indeed, Babylonianand Indian
mathematicsare frequentlycriticizedfor relyingnot on proofs but on demonstrations. But without axioms and without proofs Indian mathematicianssolved indeterminate equations of the second degree and discovered the infinite power
series for trigonometricalfunctions centuries before European mathematicians
independentlyreached similarresults. These achievementsamply demonstrate,I
believe, that the Euclideanapproachis not necessary for discovery in mathematics. Those who deny the validity of alternativescientificmethods must somehow
explain how equivalent scientific "truths"can be arrivedat without Greek methods. And in their denial they clearly deprive themselves of an opportunity to
understandscience more deeply.
To departbrieflyfrom the exact sciences, I would like to draw attentionto the
fascinating work of Francis Zimmermannon ayurveda, the Indian science of
longevity, as it was and is currentlypracticedin Kerala. While he strongly supports the idea of the historicaldependence of ayurvedaon the Galenic theory of
humors, Zimmermannis also keenly aware of the many ways in which Indian
vaidyas have altered foreign notions while incorporatingthem into their own
culturaltraditionsto create a theory of harmonyand mutual influence between
the humans, animals, and plants inhabitingany region and that region's terrain
and climate. In Keralathese "ecological"ideas produceda local interpretationof
ayurvedic doctrine that, it would appear, maintaineda generally healthy human
population, at least to that population's satisfaction, as long as the people were
not subjected to wars, famines, or epidemics. The ayurvedic approachto medicine does not inspire its practitionersto make discoveries in molecularbiology,
but it is the correct medical science for the culturalcontext within which it operates. And it attempts to address psychological, social, and environmentalas-

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pects of health that our mechanistic medicine tends to ignore. Western doctors
have something to learn about medical care from dyurveda,and so do Western
historians of medicine.
The third fallacious opinion that I have associated with the Hellenophiles is
that the only sciences are those that accreditedGreeks recognized as such. This
opinion generally takes the form of allowingAristotle to define science for us, so
that it excludes even the genuinely Greek sciences of astrology, divination,
magic, and other so-called superstitions. This brings us squarely to the fundamental question of this paper: What is the proper definition of science for a
historianof science? I would offerthis as the simplest, broadest, and most useful:
science is a systematic explanationof perceived or imaginaryphenomena,or else
is based on such an explanation.Mathematicsfinds a place in science only as one
of the symbolical languages in which scientific explanations may be expressed.
This definitiondeliberatelyfails to distinguishbetween true and false science, for
explanations of phenomena are never complete and can never be proved to be
"true." Obviously, this shortfallis as true of modern scientific hypotheses as of
ancient ones. It is, therefore, inappropriateto apply a standardof truthfulnessto
the sciences, at least viewed as historical phenomena, for the best that modern
scientists can claim-I cannotjudge whetherjustly or not-is that they are closer
to some truth than were their predecessors; nor, for the reasons I have already
stated, can the methodologies of science be limited to just those employed by
present-dayscientists.
If my definitionof science as it must be viewed by a historianis accepted, it is
easy to show that astrology and certain "learned"forms of divination, magic,
alchemy, and so on are "sciences." Some may regardthis procedurefor elevating
superstitionto the rankof scientific theory as arbitraryand unfair,but remember
that modern science is the initial culprit in that it arbitrarilysets up its own
criteria by which it judges itself and all others. If I am a relativist, then, it is
precisely at this point where, as a historian, I refuse to allow modern scientists
who know little of history to define for me the bounds of what in the past-or in
the present-I am allowed to consider to be science. It pains me to hear some
scientists, who have not seriously consideredthe subject, denounce astrology as
"unscientific"when all that they mean is that it does not agree with their ideas
about the way the universe functions and does not adhere to their concept of a
correct methodology. It pains me not because I believe that astrology is true; on
the contrary, I believe it to be totally false. But the anathemas hurled at it by
some scientists remind me more of the anathemas leveled by the medieval
Churchagainstthose who disagreedwith its dogmasthan of rationalargument.In
its persecution of heretics as in its missionaryzeal and its tendency to sermonize
and to pontificate,our scientificestablishmentdisplays markedsimilaritiesto the
Church,whose place in our society it has largely usurped.
That Church, like modern science, condemned divination, astrology, and
magic, though on the grounds that they limit God's power and human free will
rather than that they fail to conform to our current "laws of nature." Both of
these arguments,to my way of thinking, are arbitraryand irrelevantto a historian, who should remain free of either the Church's or modern science's theology.

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To turn to history: Babylonian divinationis a systematic explanationof phenomena based on the theory that certain of them are signs sent by the gods to
warn those expert in their interpretationof future events; there is no causal
connection, but only one of predictionso that appropriatecountermeasuresmay
be undertaken.In this system the stars and the planets, which are regardedas the
manifestations of the individual gods in the sky, indicate by their changes in
qualityand in location the events that will befall mankindat large, or a countryin
general, or a specific king and his family. Omens that appear on earth are contrived by Samas, the god of the sun, to warn individualmen of the coming of
good or evil. In themselves, texts describing the rules of the interpretationof
omens-Enuma Anu Enlil for celestial omens and Summa alu for terrestrial
ones-are scientific; they provide systematic explanations of phenomena. The
former is in additionclosely allied to the origins of mathematicalastronomy, for
the tablets of Enuma Anu Enlil contain the first recordedrealizationof the periodicity of certain celestial phenomena and the first attempts to provide mathematical models for predicting the occurrences of such phenomena. This close
linkage between divination and mathematicalastronomy, as well as a linkage
between divinationand the observations necessary for constructingand refining
mathematicalastronomy, persisted in the first millenniumB.C. in the cuneiform
Letters, Reports, and Diaries. Moreover, as the mathematicalmodels became
more sophisticated and the descriptions of the observed phenomena became
more precise, the rules for predictingterrestrialevents from the celestial phenomenabecame more complex. Babylonia,then, provides us our first example of
the fruitfulinterplaybetween the theoreticaland the appliedaspects of a science.
Astrology grew out of a union of aspects of advanced Babylonian celestial
divination with Aristotelian physics and Hellenistic astronomy; this union-illicit, some may think-occurred in Egypt in the second century B.C.The product
was the supreme attempt made in antiquityto create in a rigorousform a causal
model of the kosmos, one in which the eternallyrepeatingrotations of the celestial bodies, together with their varying but periodically recurringinterrelationships, produce all changes in the sublunar world of the four elements that,
whether primary, secondary, or tertiary effects, constitute the generation and
decay of material bodies and the modificationsof the parts or functions of the
rationaland irrationalsouls of men, animals, and plants. In other words, ancient
Greek astrology in its strictest interpretationwas the most comprehensivescientific theory of antiquity, providingthrough the applicationof the mathematical
models appropriateto it predictions of all changes that take place in a world of
cause and effect; it is not surprising,then, that it was called simply mathesis or
"science" by Firmicus Maternusand others.
But even within Greek astrology there was a movementtoward a relaxationof
the rigidityof the theory, both because of the frequentfailure of the predictions
and, more important,because of people's desire to circumvent unpleasantpredictions-a practical rather than a theological demand for a modicum of free
choice and self-determination.This trend toward an astrology that indicates predispositions instead of concrete inevitabilitieswas accentuatedwhen the Greek
form of this science was transmittedto India and transformedinto a system that
rapidly increased the complexity of the mathematicalmodels in order to diffuse

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and mollify the inescapability of a simpler predictive scheme. The Indians attempted to match the bewildering variousness of real lives by an equally bewildering multiplicity of mathematically computable variants in astrology.
If Greek astrology is based on the idea that the motions and interrelations of
the celestial spheres are ultimately the causes of all terrestrial phenomena, astral
magic, which was concocted out of Babylonian and Indian liturgies and iconographies mingled with Greek astrology, Ptolemaic astronomy, and Hellenistic philosophy by the self-styled Sabaeans of Harran in the ninth century, assumes that
the magus's soul is free of inhibiting stellar influences, so that, by manipulating
terrestrial objects, he can reverse the processes of astrology and change the wills
of the planetary spirits. In this way the magus can employ the astral influences
defined by astrology to effect the changes he wishes in the sublunar world. This
was a dream still dreamt by two founding members of the Royal Society, Kenelm
Digby and Elias Ashmole.
These same Sabaeans invented also a second type of learned magic based on
Plato's and Aristotle's theories of animal and human souls. In this magic, which
I have dubbed psychic, the magus artificially creates new animals by uniting
either within a womb or within a womblike chamber animal or human parts
representing the material body and the particular part or function of the soul that
he wishes his creation to be endowed with. The magus can then employ his
artificial animal to accomplish wonders. Astral and psychic magic we may not
wish to test in order to determine their validity, but as historians we must regard
them as scientific, if for no other reason than because many Western scientists in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took them to be genuine sciences. And,
of course, they do fall under the aegis of my definition of science.
The same status must be accorded, then, to alchemy-be it Greek, Arabic,
Chinese, or Indian-and to other systematic theories that explain phenomena,
whether the lapidaries and physiognomics that spread from Mesopotamia to
Greece, to Iran, and to India, or the science of determining sites suitable for
different types of buildings-a science found in different forms in China and in
India-or the purely Indian analysis of the processes of converting thought into
sound in order to produce intelligible speech. These and other sciences cannot be
dismissed simply because they do not fall into the intellectual system favored by
some Greek philosophers.
I have already, if I have been at all successful, persuaded you that the fourth
variety of Hellenophilia, in which one defines science as that which modern
Western scientists believe in and the methodologies with which they operate, is
inappropriate to a historian, though it may be useful to a modern Western scientist. And I have already mentioned that among the advantages provided to the
historian by looking outside of the confines of such a restricted definition are a
realization of the potential diversity of interpretations of phenomena and of the
actual diversity of the origins of the ideas that have developed into modern Western science among other sciences, and an objectivity born of an understanding of
the cultural factors that impel sciences and scientists to follow one path rather
than another. The loss of all these advantages is the price paid for suffering the
passive effects of this form of Hellenophilia.
Its active form is more pervasive in and pernicious to history. This results in
the attitude that it is the task of the historian not to study the whole of a science

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within its culturalcontext, but to attemptto discover within the science elements
similar to elements of modern Western science. One example I can give you
relates to the IndianMadhava'sdemonstration,in about 1400A.D., of the infinite
power series of trigonometricalfunctions using geometrical and algebraicarguments. When this was first described in English by CharlesWhish, in the 1830s,
it was heraldedas the Indians' discovery of the calculus. This claim and Madhava's achievements were ignored by Western historians, presumablyat first because they could not admit that an Indian discovered the calculus, but later
because no one read anymore the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, in

which Whish's article was published. The matter resurfaced in the 1950s, and
now we have the Sanskrit texts properly edited, and we understandthe clever
way that Madhavaderived the series without the calculus; but many historians
still find it impossible to conceive of the problem and its solution in terms of
anythingother than the calculus and proclaimthat the calculus is what Madhava
found. In this case the elegance and brilliance of Madhava's mathematics are
being distorted as they are buried under the current mathematicalsolution to a
problem to which he discovered an alternateand powerful solution.
Other examples of this dangerous tendency abound. For instance, since the
1850s historians ignorantof Madhava'swork have arguedabout whether Indian
astronomershad the concept of the infinitesimalcalculus on the basis of their use
of the equivalentof the cosine function in a formulafor findingthe instantaneous
velocity of the moon, a formula that occurs already in a sixth-centurySanskrit
text, the Pancasiddhantika.I cannot tell you how that formulawas derived, since
its author, Varahamihira,has not told me; but I find it totally implausiblethat
some Indian discovered the calculus-a discovery for which previous developments in Indian mathematicswould not at all have preparedhim-applied his
discovery only to the problem of the instantaneousvelocity of the moon, and
then threw it away. The idea that he might have discovered the calculus arises
only from the Hellenophilicattitude that what is valuable in the past is what we
have in the present; this attitudemakes historiansbecome treasurehunters seeking pearls in the dung heap without any concern for where the oysters live and
how they manufacturegems.
One particularlydangerousform of this aspect of Hellenophiliais the positivist
position that is confidentthat mathematicallogic provides the correct answers to
questions in the history of the exact sciences. I, of course, am not denying the
power of mathematics to provide insights into the character and structure of
scientific theories; obviously, Otto Neugebauer's brilliantanalysis of the astronomical tables written in cuneiform during the Seleucid period gives us a profound understandingof how this astronomyworked mathematically,and it tells
us somethingabout some stages in the developmentof the science as recordedon
the hundredsof tablets that he investigated. But it does not and cannot, as Neugebauer well knew, answer a whole range of historical questions. We do not
know by whom, when, or where any Babylonianlunar or planetarytheory was
invented; we do not know what observationswere used, or where and why they
were recorded; we do not know much about the stages by which Babylonian
astronomers went from the crude planetaryperiods, derived from omen texts,
found in MUL.APIN to the full-scale ephemerides of the last few centuries B.C.
Historians need to be very careful in assessing the nature of the questions the

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material at hand will allow them to answer with a reasonable expectation of


probability;and they must hope for and search out new evidence. But the positivists jump in to claim that mathematicalmodels (and they usually use quite
simple ones) suffice to describe the idiosyncraticbehavior of people and to account for the perverse quirks in their personalities. I will not here name names,
but the numberof historiansof the exact sciences who sufferfrom this malady is
appallinglylarge; they can be easily recognizedby the characteristictrait that, in
general, the remoter the time and the scantier the evidence, the more precise
their computations.Millenniaof history are made to depend on the measurement
of an arc of a few minutes or degrees when it has not even been convincingly
demonstratedthat any arc was being measuredat all.
So far I have been attemptingto discredit Hellenophiliaon the groundsthat it
renders those affected by it unable to imagine many significantquestions that
legitimatelyshould be addressedby historiansof science and that it pervertstheir
judgment. Much of my argumenthas been based on the anthropologicalperception that science is not the apprehensionof an external set of truthsthat mankind
is progressivelyacquiringa greaterknowledgeof, but that ratherthe sciences are
the products of humanculture. But this viewpoint must be modifiedby a further
consideration,to which I have from time to time alluded since it strengthensthe
argumentsin favor of the definitionof science that I proposed. This consideration
is that, as a simple historicalfact, scientific ideas have been transmittedfor millennia from culture to culture, and transformedby each recipient culture into
somethingnew. This is particularlynoticeablein the astralsciences that I studyastronomy, astral omens, astrology, and astral magic-but can be readily discerned in many others. The taprootand trunkof the tree of the astralsciences are
buried in the Mesopotamiandesert, with subsidiaryroots in Egypt and China (I
have lopped the Mayas off this arboreal image, as they are self-rooted). From
Babyloniathe tree branchedout to Egypt, to Greece, to Syria, to Iran, to India,
and to China;graftedonto differentculturalstocks in each of these civilizations,
it developed variantleaves, shoots, and flowers. The process of the intertwining
of these diverse varieties of astronomies throughoutEurasia and North Africa
was amazinglycomplex, as ideas, mathematicalmodels, parameters,and instruments circulatedrapidlyover the vast expanse of divergenttraditions.Out of this
process modern Western astronomy sprangfrom a ratherlate branch that grew
from and was fed by an incrediblycomplicatedundergrowth.For very complex
reasons this modern Western astronomy has choked off all of its rivals and destroyed the intellectual diversity that mankind enjoyed before it moved from
simple communicationto Western domination. We cannot know what the Islamic, Indian, or Chinese astral sciences might have become had this not happened, except that they would not have become what our culture has produced.
But unravelingthe intertwinedwebbing of these sciences is a fascinating and a
rewardingtask for a historian, and one in which much remains to be done. I
strongly recommendto those of you who have the opportunitythus to broaden
your perspectives to grasp it.