Science Diagrams


Antiquity has bequeathed us a surprisingly large corpus of drawings depicting technology. The Roman architect Vitruvius, the agrimensores and Hero of Alexandria all drew devices and techniques to show how they worked (or might work). Conversely, little was drawn to elucidate abstract scientific concepts which are strictly speaking invisible, and all of it dates from the fourth-century rise of visualization or later:

Macrobius entertains us with silly rain, a drawing of what ignorant people might think of the concept down. The mathematical diagrams in the De Arithmetica and the De Musica of Boethius are important visualizations of invisible harmonic phenomena. Calcidius offers one diagram which explains that curvature of the horizon is not an optical illusion, but real.

The bulk of the scientific diagrams are cosmological. These explain either the motions of the stars and planets or the zones of the Earth, requiring us to collaborate in the fiction that one could voyage far into outer space and somehow make these phenomena visible. In fact, the planetary diagrams are as much abstractions as the work of Boethius, requiring the reader to adopt a point of view which the ancient scientists thought no human would ever experience.

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