Upper crust Romans disdained practical engineering and since it has been

Upper crust romans disdained practical engineering

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Upper-crust Romans disdained practical engineering, and since it has been wrongly assumed that classical Greece and Rome were in effect a single cultural enterprise, it has often been asserted that the Greeks thought the same. In the nineteenth century there were growing doubts in some quarters about whether the Greeks had really been so smart. If they were so clever, why hadn't they discovered the mechanical science that led to Europe's industrial revolution? 16 The answer was a magnificent put-down to these philistines: the ancient Greeks, very properly, had left practical and experimental matters to their slaves and servants. The authority usually cited for this was Plutarch, an entirely Romanized Greek writing in the early second century AD. He pushed the Roman contempt for mere mechanics back on to the ancient Greeks, deducing that Plato's criticism of experiment meant that 'mechanics came to be separated from geometry, and repudiated and neglected by philosophers'. 17 Plutarch projected his own distaste for the subject on to the Greek Archimedes: 'He viewed the work of the engineer and every single art connected with everyday need as ignoble and fit only for an artisan.' Archimedes, having been dead for 300 years, was in no position to argue – a shame, since given the amount of time, energy and pride he invested in making machines, this assertion is obvious nonsense.
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When Plutarch's Lives was rediscovered at the start of the Renaissance, it stimulated a new respect for the classics. Greek literature, philosophy and theoretical mathematics have been treated ever since with reverent awe. But classically educated scholars imitated what they thought to be a Greek contempt for practical engineering and technology. Surviving Greek texts on these subjects were either totally ignored or dismissed as impossibly fanciful by scholars studiously ignorant of engineering. But this was a Roman mind-set, not a Greek one. Greek mechanical science was based on very highly developed practical and theoretical scientific investigation. It was killed off by the Romans, who were not interested and needed a society that changed as little as possible. Rome has triumphed over our understanding of the history of technology as thoroughly as it has in other areas. Romans lived behind frontiers, and what lay beyond was dangerous. That applied as much to their mental world as to their geography. WAR MACHINES Roman literary sources don't say much about the technological sophistication of the Hellenes. The first revelations about ancient Greek science were made when a German artillery officer of the First World War, Erwin Schramm, began building his own reconstructions of ancient artillery. 18 His work has been taken much further by the British historian Eric Marsden.
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