Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eratosthenes (276-194 BC)

In 332 BC, Alexander of Macedon led an army of battle-hardened veterans in the conquest of Egypt. The following year he ordered the construction of a city which he named after himself. Then he left to fight other battles and never returned.

After his death in 323, Ptolemy, one of his generals, became the new ruler of Egypt. Ptolemy ordered the construction of a great library. Under the care of his son, Ptolemy 2nd (ruled 285-246 BC), this library became the best the world had yet known. It held more than 500,000 scrolls. They contained some of the best ideas ever imagined by human beings.

Even better, beginning with Ptolemy 2nd, dozens of men, eager to learn, were paid to study these ideas, to create some of their own, and to write them down as well.

Eratosthenes (276-194 BC) was the first major thinker to enjoy the library and its benefits. He focused on thinking clearly about space and time. He believed the earth was round like a ball rather than flat like a plate. Because the earth was round, he believed the oceans were all connected. One, therefore, could travel to distant lands by sailing either east or west. He even figured out the distance one would have to travel to sail completely around the earth.

Eratosthenes also brought order to human thought about time. He figured out that the earth takes 365¼ days to orbit the sun. He created a calendar that, like ours, had 365 days a year plus an extra day every fourth year to keep calendar and cosmos together. Using that calendar, he accurately dated events which were important to him: the fall of Troy, the first Olympics, and the start of the war between Athens and Sparta.

His colleagues believed he was second only to Plato in brilliance. He was a friend of another great thinker named Archimedes.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.