dition out of which he emerged and to which he contributed was Hel- lenistic and not Roman. The phenomenal lack of any Roman tradition in mathematics or the natural sciences contrasts strongly not only with Roman engineering but also with the substantial record of Roman lit- erary and artistic accomplishment in poetry, the theater, literature, his- tory, and the fine arts. The names of Cicero, Virgil, Horace, and Sue- tonius alone suffice to indicate the extent to which literary and learned culture held a valued place in Roman civilization generally. The Roman case shows that a civilization of great social and technological FROM APE TO ALEXANDER 92 Fig. 5.5. Galenic physiol- ogy. Ancient physicians and students of anatomy separated the internal organs into three distinct subsystems governed by three different “spirits” functioning in the human body: a psychic essence permeating the brain and the nerves, a vivifying arterial spirit arising in the heart, and a nutrifying venous spirit originating in the liver.
complexity could thrive for centuries essentially without theoretical science or natural philosophy. Decline and Fall The causes of the marked decline of science and natural philosophy at the end of the Greco-Roman era have long been debated among histo- rians of science. Not all agree even about the facts. Some claim the decline can be dated from 200 bce in the Hellenistic era; others say it only began after 200 ce in the Greco-Roman period. Certainly, not all scientific and natural philosophical activity came to a halt after the sec- ond century ce . Still, ancient science seems to have run out of steam in late antiquity. Generally speaking, less overall activity took place, and the level of scientific originality declined as time went on. Intellectual labor was increasingly directed less toward discovering new knowl- edge than toward preserving old knowledge. This characteristic state of affairs gave rise to generations of compilers and commentators. Oribasius at Constantinople, for example, in the middle of the fourth century ce , wrote a formidable medical compendium of seventy vol- umes. (It is notable, but hardly surprising in this regard, that medicine displayed greater historical continuity in antiquity than did ancient sci- ence or natural philosophy.) Whatever animated the pursuit of science seems to have disappeared. Eventually, the desire merely to preserve past knowledge fell off. Increasing skepticism arose about even the possibility of secure knowledge, and magic and popular superstitious beliefs gained ground. The substance and spirit of Greek scientific accomplishment in its Hellenic and Hellenistic modes gradually faded away in late antiquity. Several explanations have been proposed to explain why. One pos- sible explanation points to the lack of a clear social role for science and scientific careers. Science was weakly socialized and institutionalized in the ancient world, and it largely lacked an ideological or material basis of support in society. No employment was available for individ-
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