Biology in the Ancient World

Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed

Into different bodies.

I summon the supernatural beings
Who first contrived
The transmorgifications
In the stuff of life.
You did it for your own amusement.
Descend again, be pleased to reanimate
This revival of those marvels.
Reveal, now, exactly
How they were performed
From the beginning
Up to this moment.
                                        Ovid: Metamorphoses (trans. Ted Hughes)

Greek Science

     The Classical Tradition: 6th ~ 4th cent. BCE)
            Thales of Miletus (ca. 624 ~ 545 BCE)
                Explanation of natural phenomena based on theories & hypotheses

             Empedocles (
ca. 490 ~ 430 BCE)
                Opposition of Love & Strife anticipates Natural Selection (?)

                Four elements: Water, Fire, Earth, Air (Æther)

     Golden Age of Athenian Republic
(ca. 470 - 399 BCE) "Father of Philosophy"
                        developed Socratic Method

(ca. 427 - 347 BCE)
                        Recorded dialogues of Socrates
                        Founded Academy

Theory of Forms (essences, eidos)
                       'real' objects are manifestations of 'ideal' forms
                       variation illusory: Plato's "Image of the Cave" in "The Republic"]
                Dichotomy: world comprises paired opposites
                      "A" versus "not A" classes
                      good / bad, right / wrong, up / down, light / dark, male / female, etc.
       Aristotle (ca. 384 - 322 BCE) - "Father of Biology"
             Student of Plato
             Principles of Logic: Syllogism

             Five books on zoology of Aegean Sea
                Classification based on dichotomy:
                    Plantae vs Animae
                    Sanguiniferous vs Bloodless (~ Vertebrate vs Invertebrate)
                    Four Elements: Water, Earth, Air, Fire per Empedocles
                    Four Qualities: Hot / Dry x Cold / Wet = four pairs
                    Biological structures have purpose: Efficient vs Final Causes
                Dominant authority in science for 2,200 yrs
                    Experiment discouraged

       Hippocrates (460 - 370 BCE) - "Father of Medicine"

       Theophrastos (ca. 371 - 287 BCE) - "Father of Botany"
                Monocots vs Dicots

Roman Science

        Galen of Pergamon (129 - ca 210 CE) "On the Natural Faculties"
            Greco-Roman influenced by Hippocrates
            Translated ~1/2 of extant texts from Ancient Greece
            Established nervous control of muscles by dissection
            Dominant authority in Medicine for 1,300 years
            See also Avicenna, Persian philosopher & physician

        Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 CE) Ten Books of Natural History
            General encyclopedia of ancient knowledge           
            FAQ: Do Ostriches stick their heads in the sand?

Onset of Early Middle Ages (AKA Dark Ages)
        Rome peaks 117 CE, Western Empire falls 476 CE
        Authority take precedence over Investigation
        Church enforces orthodoxy: e.g., no human dissection (?)

HOMEWORK: Draw a timeline of the names included above, showing how they overlap.
                        Identify, date, & add
the following historical context of the Greek Classical period.
                             Peloponnesian War
                             Battle of Leuctra
                             Philip of Macedon
                             Sophocles / Euripides /
Aeschylus / Aristophanes
  Library of Alexandria

    See primary works by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc.
    GER Lloyd (1970). Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle
(1973). Greek Science after Aristotle.
    GS Kirk & JE Raven (1983). The Pre-Socratic Philosophers, 2nd ed.

All text material © 2022 by Steven M. Carr