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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lucio Russo (born 22 November 1944) is an Italian physicist, mathematician and historian of science. Born in Venice, he teaches at the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

In the history of science, he reconstructed some contributions of the Hellenistic astronomer Hipparchus, through the analysis of his surviving works; reconstructed the proof of heliocentrism attributed by Plutarch to Seleucus of Seleucia; and studied the history of theories of tides, from the Hellenistic to modern age.


The Forgotten Revolution



In The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn (Italian: La Rivoluzione Dimenticata), Russo stresses the well-established fact that Hellenistic science reached heights not achieved by the Classical age science, and proposes that it went further than ordinarily thought. These results were lost with the Roman conquest and during the Middle Ages, because the scholars of that period did not have the capability to understand them. The legacy of Hellenistic science was one of the bases of the scientific revolution of the 16th century, as ancient texts started once again to be available in Europe.

According to Russo, Hellenistic scientists were not simply forerunners, but actually achieved scientific results of high importance, in the fields of "mathematics, solid and fluid mechanics, optics, astronomy, anatomy, physiology, scientific medicine, even phycoanalysis".[1] They may have gone so far to discover the inverse square law of gravitation (Russo's argument on this point hinges on well-established, but seldom discussed, evidence). Hellenistic scientists, among whom Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, developed an axiomatic and deductive way of argumentation. When this way of argumentation was dropped, the ability to understand the results went lost as well. Thus Russo conjectures that the definitions of elementary geometric objects were introduced in Euclid's Elements by Heron of Alexandria, 400 years after the work was completed.[1] More concretely, Russo shows how the theory of tides must have been well-developed in Antiquity, because several pre-Newtonian sources relay various complementary parts of the theory without grasping their import or justification (getting the empirical facts wrong but the theory right).

A second contribution of Russo's is the conclusion that "the post-Renaissance scientific revolution of the seventeenth century was basically due to the conscious recovery of the Hellenistic science (not even to its full extent, reached only in the second half of the nineteenth century with Dedekind's and Weierstrass's isolation of the real number concept directly out of Euclid's definition of proportion)."[1]

Critical reception

"The Forgotten Revolution is full of fascinating detail, and the reconstruction of lost work is ingenious. But caveat emptor. What should have been a splendid hymn to Alexandrian achievement is undermined by the author's excessive claims of its influence on Renaissance science, and by his underestimation of the importance of the seeds sown by Aristotle and others in the classical period." – Michael Rowan-Robinson, Physics World.[2]

"If there is anything you like in modern science and mathematics (or art, linguistics, architecture, technology or medicine), he is glad to show you that the Hellenistic Greeks had already been there and done that. He is even pretty sure they had the inverse-square law of gravitation.

Is this vision true to the facts? A great deal of it is, yes, but not all, and certainly not the bit about the inverse-square law. Yet the effort to spin out the 'what if …?' is well worth it. We have access to only 1–2% of these ancient texts for which we know the titles, the rest being lost, which leaves a good deal of room for Russo to imagine a Hellenistic science much more ample and more modern than previously thought." – Mott Greene, Nature.[3]

"The corpus of evidence amassed by Russo will make it very hard for even the most sceptical reader to continue to treat the Hellenistic world so dismissively. Nevertheless, given the partial and speculative nature of much of the evidence adduced, one cannot help but feel that Russo goes too far in his denigration of some of the most brilliant minds of the Scientific Revolution (or, for that matter, the Roman world)." – Gary B. Magee, Economic Record.[4]
"The novelty of these conclusions is such that one might be tempted to react with plain disbelief, if not with a shrug. The reader should, however, avoid such a reaction, because the scholarly support is unquestionably impressive. It includes a methodological novelty, this time in the examination of the original sources. Thanks to his dual competence in science and philology, Russo does away with a time-honored habit among scholars of antiquity – namely, that humanists only deal with "literary" sources and historians of science with the "scientific" ones." – Sandro Graffi, Notices Amer. Math. Soc.[1]
"Russo finds Hellenistic interpretations everywhere, and where there is no text to back him up, he speculates that such a text is lost … The treat in store for the reader of this book is the vast learning that Lucio Russo has acquired, which he explains with lucidity. What is hard for the readers, however, to judge is to what extent the ancient world had true science in Russo's sense. What is definitely so is that the Alexandrine world had great accomplishments to excite our wonder. – Samuel S. Kutler, Read This![5]


  1. ^ a b c d Graffi, Sandro, review of La Rivoluzione Dimenticata, Notices Amer. Math. Soc., vol. 45, no. 5, May 1998.
  2. ^ Michael Rowan-Robinson, "Praising Alexandrians to excess." Review of The Forgotten Revolution, Physics World vol. 17, no. 4 (April 2004).[1]
  3. ^ Mott Greene, "The birth of modern science?" Review of The Forgotten Revolution, Nature 430 (5 August 2004): 614.
  4. ^ Gary B. Magee, Review of The Forgotten Revolution, Economic Record, 80 (2004): 475–476.
  5. ^ Samuel S. Kutler, Read This! The Mathematical Association of America Online book review column (20 September 2004).[2]
  • Lucio Russo, The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn, Berlin, Springer, 2004, ISBN 978-3-540-20396-4.
  • Biografia Lucio Russo
  • Flussi e riflussi: indagine sull'origine di una teoria scientifica (2003)

See also

  • Antikythera mechanism, a Hellenistic astronomical computer, which, according to Russo, is a proof of the high level of knowledge in science and technology reached during Hellenism

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Lucio Russo (born November 22, 1944) is an Italian physicist, mathematician and historian of science.


The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn (2004)

  • About Archimedes one remembers that he did strange things: he ran around naked shouting Heureka!, plunged crowns into water, drew geometric figures as he was about to be killed, and so on. … One ends up forgetting he was a scientist of whom we still have many writings.
    • 1.1, "The Erasure of the Scientific Revolution", p. 6
  • Unfortunately, the optimistic view that "classical civilization" handed down certain fundamental works that managed to include the knowledge contained in the lost writings has proved groundless. In fact, in the face of a general regression in the level of civilization, it's never the best works that will be saved through an automatic process of natural selection.
    • 1.1, "The Erasure of the Scientific Revolution", p. 8
  • Since UFO stands for "unidentified flying object", the word ufology means approximately "knowledge about unknown flying objects", and is therefore a "science" whose content is void by definition. Similar considerations hold for parapsychology.
    • 1.3, "Science", p. 15n
  • Euclid … manages to obtain a rigorous proof without ever dealing with infinity, by reducing the problem [of the infinitude of primes] to the study of finite numbers. This is exactly what contemporary mathematical analysis does.
    • 2.4, "Discrete Mathematics and the Notion of Infinity", p. 45
  • Today Eratosthenes' method [of calculating the circumference of the earth] seems almost banal … yet it is inaccessible to prescientific civilizations, and in all of Antiquity not a single Latin author succeeded in stating it coherently.
    • 3.2, "Geodesy and Mathematical Geography", p. 68
  • Many scholars have felt that the Heronian passage [on a pipe-organ moved by an anemourion-like wheel] can be disregarded because it is not confirmed by other writings. Heron presumably mentioned the anemourion in a moment of distraction, forgetting that it had not been invented yet. We know that he was given to such lapses.
    • 4.7, "Use of Natural Power", p. 126
  • From semantics to shipbuilding, from dream theory to propositional logic, any specialist … is invariably astonished to discover that modern knowledge was foreshadowed at the time. … Should we not replace these foreshadowings by the study of the influences of Hellenistic thought on modern thought?
    • 7.6, "The Figurative Arts, Literature and Music", p. 228
  • The oft-heard comment that Leonardo [da Vinci]'s genius managed to transcend the culture of his time is amply justified. But his was not a science-fiction voyage into the future as much as a plunge into the past.
    • 11.2, "The Renaissance", p. 336
  • The age-long history of thinking on gravitation, too, was erased from the collective consciousness, and that force somehow became the serendipitous child of Newton's genius. The new attitude is well illustrated by the anecdote of the apple, a legend spread by Voltaire, one of the most active and vehement erasers of the past. … The need to build the myth of an ex nihilo creation of modern science gave rise to much impassioned rhetoric.
    • 11.10, "The Erasure of Ancient Science", pp. 390–391

External links

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