An Inquiry into Science and Worldmaking
Reviewed by Caroline Bishop
Classics has always been a field in which the tenets of New Criticism come easy; taking the text as completely self- contained can be an especially attractive prospect when the text is almost all that remains of the society in which it was written. At the same time, most of us now accept that literary interpretation acquires great benefit from increased understanding of the cultural, political, material, and even economic forces brought to bear upon a text. Yet there is one aspect of ancient society that the average classicist may still be wary of: ancient science. In this they would not be alone, for the average historian of science may also be wary of the era in which astrology and divination and the four humors represented not just valid, but popularly accepted, scientific theories. Daryn Lehoux’s new book presents a welcome challenge to both, demonstrating to classicists just how constitutive ancient science was for the construction of the Roman worldview and to historians and philosophers of science the insight that can be gained from comparing the world of ancient science with our own.
[Snip] The main goal of the book is to investigate a period of Roman science ranging from the first century BC to the second century AD through a modern theoretical lens. This was a rich era of intellectual innovation, and one that allows the book to range between native Romans such as Cicero, Pliny, and Seneca to Romanized Greeks like Galen and Ptolemy. What Lehoux is interested in showing is “how and why the Romans saw things differently than we do, or . . . how and why they saw different things when they looked at the world.” (8) In other words, his goal is to demonstrate how societies make sense of the natural world, and why different societies have seen such different worlds. As a corollary, he strives to show that, just like every society, the Romans thought they had a pretty good idea of how the world is constituted. To a Roman, a world of sympathy and antipathy, of humoral theory and psychic pneuma, made just as much sense as our world of DNA, the Higgs boson, and the theory of relativity.