Many years ago, soon after the publication of volume 1 of my Introduction, I met one of my old students as I was crossing the Yard, and invited him to have a cup of coffee with me in a cafeteria of Harvard Square. After some hesitation, he told me, “I bought a copy of your Introductionand was never so disappointed in my life. I remembered your lectures, which were vivid and colorful, and I hoped to find reflections of them in your big volume, but instead I found nothing but dry statements, which discouraged me.” I tried to explain to him the purpose of my Introduction,which was severe and uncompromising; a great part of it was not meant to be read at all but to be consulted, and I finally said, “I may be able perhaps to write a book that pleases you more.”
Ever since, I have often been thinking of this book, which reproduces not the letter but the spirit of my lectures. It was written primarily for my old students and for historians of science, all of whom have been my companions as readers of Isis and Osiris, and many of whom have worked with me or helped me in various ways. It was written also for educated people in general, but not for philologists.
This requires a word of explanation. I am not hostile to philologists and am in some respects one of them, though they would probably repudiate me. Nature is full of wonderful things — shells, flowers, birds, stars — that one never tires of observing, but the most wonderful things of all to my mind are the words of men, not the vain multiplicity of words that flow out of a garrulous mouth, but the skilful and loving choice of them that falls from wise and sensitive lips. Nothing is more moving than the contemplation of the means found by men to express their thoughts and feelings, and the comparison of the divers means used by them from time to time and from place to place. The words and phrases used by men and women throughout the ages are the loveliest flowers of humanity. There is so much virtue in each word; indeed, the whole past from the time when the word was coined is crystallized in it; it represents not only clear ideas, but endless ambiguities; each word is a treasure house of realities and illusions, of truths and enigmas. That is why I so often pause in my thought, speech, or writing and wonder what this or that word really signifies. Such preoccupation will frequently obtrude itself in my book, especially in the footnotes, which indifferent readers can easily skip if they wish.
And yet my scientific studies have been too deep and too long to make me feel at ease with philologists, or they with me. As far as I can judge, my interest in languages is more genuine than the interest of the average philologist in science. My main regret as a teacher of ancient science is that my large audiences hardly ever included students of classical philology, and yet my course might have been a revelation to them; the probable reason for their absence was that their faculty advisers were not concerned about science, nor even about the history of science. Too bad!
The book is not written for classical philologists, but rather for students of science whose knowledge of antiquity is rudimentary, who may never have studied Greek, or whose knowledge of it was too shallow to endure. Therefore, my Greek quotations are restricted to the minimum and are always translated, and I explain many things that every philologist already knows. On the other hand, I explain scientific matters as much as can be done briefly; complete scientific explanations are out of the question, for one cannot teach science and the history of science at the same time.
My teaching of the history of science was divided into four courses, dealing respectively with antiquity, the Middle Ages, the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, and the eighteenth century until now. Each of these courses extended to some 35 lectures, and its publication will require two volumes. This is thus the first of eight volumes. Each volume is complete in itself. The present one explains the development of science from the beginnings to the end of the Hellenic period.
As it took me two years to complete the full cycle of my lectures, I did not return to a definite subject, say Empedocles or Eudoxos, in a shorter interval of time. Now two years is for a wide-awake scholar a pretty long period. Many things may and do happen; memoirs and books are published that throw a new light on the subject; the very advance of science obliges one to reconsider old ideas; above all, I was changing. As a result of all this, I have never given twice the same lecture, and no lecture was ever fixed; they remained in a state of fluidity until now when the necessity of writing and printing freezes them. That freezing is very uncongenial to me, but it cannot be helped. I hope that some of my readers, at least, will unfreeze the printed words, and give a new life to them by their own critical attention.
The history of science is an immense field which it would be impossible to cover completely in a hundred or a thousand lectures, and I preferred to deal with a few selected subjects as well as possible rather than try the impossible. There is no space and time to say everything, but the selection of items is more careful and richer in this book than it could be in the spoken lectures.
For each selected topic, say Homer, it is impossible to state all the facts, nor is it necessary to do so. A few elementary things must be repeated, yet space must be kept for things that are less hackneyed and withal more important. In this I have been helped by my faith in the reader, who need not be told everything but requires only a few hints.
It is the eternal conflict between knowledge and wisdom. The known facts, the technical details, are fundamental but insufficient. They must be simplified, symbolized, and informed with a deeper understanding of the problems involved.
As I grew older my lectures became simpler; I tried to say fewer things and to say them better, with more humanity. This book continues in a different way the same evolution, but it is not yet as simple as I would have liked to make it.
Some technical questions of great difficulty have been left out, because the explanation of them to nonspecialists would have required considerable space and, what is worse, would have sidetracked their attention and diverted it from things of greater importance. The conflict between technique and wisdom existed in the past even as it does now, and there were then as now plenty of dunces who fussed about trifles and overlooked the essential.
The ability of nonintelligent people to understand the most complicated mechanisms and to use them has always been to me a cause of astonishment; their inability to understand simple questions is even more astonishing. The general acceptance of simple ideas is difficult and rare, and yet it is only when simple, fundamental, ideas have been accepted that further progress becomes possible on a higher level.
Erudition without pedantry is as rare as wisdom itself.
The understanding of ancient science has often been spoiled by two unpardonable omissions. The first concerns Oriental science. It is childish to assume that science began in Greece; the Greek “miracle” was prepared by millennia of work in Egypt, Mesopotamia and possibly in other regions. Greek science was less an invention than a revival.
The second concerns the superstitious background not only of Oriental science but of Greek science itself. It was bad enough to hide the Oriental origins without which the Hellenic accomplishment would have been impossible; some historians aggravated that blunder by hiding also the endless superstitions that hindered that accomplishment and might have nullified it. Hellenic science is a victory of rationalism, which appears greater, not smaller, when one is made to realize that it had to be won in spite of the irrational beliefs of the Greek people; all in all, it was a triumph of reason in the face of unreason. Some knowledge of Greek superstitions is needed not only for a proper appreciation of that triumph but also for the justification of occasional failures, such as the many Platonic aberrations.
If a history of ancient science is written without giving the reader a sufficient knowledge of these two groups of facts — Oriental science on the one hand and Greek occultism on the other — the history is not only incomplete but falsified.
My account is based as far as possible on the sources; I have always tried to go down to bedrock. Our documentation is often very imperfect. For example, primitive men applied a large amount of knowledge before they were conscious of having any; if they were not conscious of it, how could we be?
On the other hand, the documentation concerning Egyptian and Mesopotamian science is often very precise, more precise than that concerning Greek science. Indeed, Egyptologists and Assyriologists are priviledged to handle original documents, while Hellenists must generally be satisfied with fragments, with indirect quotations and opinions, with copies of copies many times removed from the originals. Sometimes a fair text has come down to us, say the Iliad, but the author has remained practically unknown; at other times, the author, say Thales or Epicuros, has been made familiar to us by various anecdotes, but the bulk of his writings has disappeared.
The historian must do his best within the limitations of each case. The “sources” are of different value. There is no harm in using poor ones, faute de mieux, as long as one remembers their nature and does not confuse nth-hand copies with originals, rumors with certainties. Indeed, there can hardly be real certainty in our knowledge of the past, but this does not weaken our responsibility.
The major part of this book is of necessity devoted to Greece, to a new or less known aspect of the glory that was Greece. Her early men of science were comparable in greatness to the great architects and sculptors, or to the poets and other men of letters. Scientific achievements seem evanescent, because the very progress of science causes their supersedure; yet some of them are of so fundamental a nature that they are immortal in a deeper way. Some of the conclusions reached by Eudoxos and Aristotle are still essential parts of the knowledge current today. Moreover, from the humanistic point of view every human achievement is unforgettable and immortal in its essence, even if it is replaced by a “better” one.
Greek culture is pleasant to contemplate because of its great simplicity and naturalness, and because of the absence of gadgets, each of which is sooner or later a cause of servitude.
The rationalism of the creative minds was tempered by abundant fantasies, and the supreme beauty of the monuments was probably spoiled by the circumambient vanities and ugliness; in a few cases, the Greeks came as close to perfection as it was possible to do, yet they were human and imperfect.
The most astounding feature of Greek science is to find in it so many adumbrations of our own ideas. To be ahead of other people, a thousand years ahead of them — that is genius indeed. The Greek genius appears as brilliantly in science as it does in art or literature; if we fail to appreciate the scientific aspect of it, we cannot say that we have really grasped it.
It is not enough to underline cultural anticipations; we must also recall everything in the present that may help us to understand the past, and everything in the past that may help us to understand the present, our own selves. For the artist, indeed, and for the philosopher, who are used to contemplating everything sub specie aeternitatis, there is no past, no future, but only an eternal present. Homer and Shakespeare are as alive today as they ever were; from the time of their first appearance they have always been on hand; it is we who were not.
Our account of the past is limited in many ways. One of the necessary limitations is that we must restrict ourselves to our own ancestry. Early Hindu science and Chinese science are generally left out, not because they lack importance, but simply because they lack signification for us Western readers. Our thinking has been deeply influenced by Hebrew and Greek thoughts, hardly any by Hindu or Chinese ones, and whatever influences came from southern and eastern Asia reached us in a roundabout way.
Our own culture, of Greek and Hebraic origin, is the one that interests us the most, if not exclusively. We do not say that it is the best culture, but simply that it is ours. To claim that it is of necessity superior would be wrong and evil. That attitude is the main source of international trouble in the world. If I were superior to my neighbors, it would be not for me but only for them to say so. If I should make a claim of superiority that they could not or would not confirm, that could only prepare enmity between us. The same is true in a more complex and deeper way whenever nations are compared. Each nation prefers its own usages.
My main interest, almost the only one, is the love of truth, whether pleasant or not, whether useful or not. Truth is self-sufficient, and there is nothing to which it can be subordinated without loss. When truth is made subservient to anything else, however great (say religion), it becomes impure and sordid.
My purpose is to explain the development not of any one science, but of ancient science in its wholeness. We shall consider problems of mathematics, of astronomy, of physics, of biology, but always in their mutual relation and with as good a comprehension as possible of their background. Our main interest is ancient culture, the whole of it, but is focused, as it should be, upon ancient science, ancient wisdom. Wisdom is not mathematical, nor astronomical, nor zoölogical; when it talks too much of any one thing it ceases to be itself. There are wise physicists, but wisdom is not physical; there are wise physicians, but wisdom is not medical.
The main misunderstandings concerning the history of science are due to historians of medicine who have the notion that medicine is the center of science. That misunderstanding was magnified by a great scholar, Karl Sudhoff, who was primarily a historian of medicine, a very distinguished one, but whose scientific (nonmedical) knowledge was insufficient.¹ Anyone who has a good scientific and philosophic mind realizes that there is a general hierarchy in the growth of knowledge: the simplest and most fundamental ideas are mathematical; if to space and number one adds the concept of time, one enters the mechanical field; other assumptions introduce us into the fields of astronomy, physics, chemistry. Or one might consider the earth in its past and present, and begin geographic and geologic studies; one might investigate seismologic problems, start the study of mineralogy and crystallography.
Thus far, all our thinking has concerned lifeless matter only. Add the idea of life and we introduce biology and all its branches, botany, zoology, paleontology, anatomy, physiology. One might then move up to a higher level still, and consider man, the spirit of man. This brings in the humanities and the social sciences.
All the branches of knowledge that have been enumerated may be and are applied to human needs of various kinds, and this introduces various applications, such as technology, medicine, education. It is true that in practice the applications have often preceded their own principles; early people were obliged to practice obstetrics and surgery long before they paid attention to anatomy or embryology. The order that was described above is the logical, not by any means the historical, order. The physicians preceded the physicists and chemists, yet it is the latter who gave tools to the former and not vice versa. We must see things in their proper perspective. The historical order is very interesting, but accidental and capricious; if we would understand the growth of knowledge, we cannot be satisfied with accidents, we must explain how knowledge was gradually built up. This does not mean that we should explain the history of mathematics first, then the history of mechanics, and so on. That method would be certainly wrong; we must proceed from one chronologic level up to the following one, but on each level we must pay attention to mathematical ideas, then to physical ones, and so forth.
The problems of health vs. disease, of life vs. death are so important to the average man that he may be excused if he is led to believe that medicine is the hub of science. The philosopher and the mathematician are willing enough to concede the practical importance of those problems, but not their spiritual hegemony. They are deeply interested in other problems concerning the nature of God and of ourselves, the implications of number and continuity, space and time; the problems of life, but not simply of our own lives; the problems of equilibrium, not only those of our own health.
Medicine began very early, but it is not certain that it began before mathematics and astronomy. As a child I was thinking of numbers and shapes long before any medical idea ever crossed my mind. If I had been ailing or crippled, however, my scale of values and my perspective might have been different.
Men understand the world in different ways. The main difference lies in this, that some men are more abstract-minded, and they naturally think first of unity and of God, of wholeness, of infinity and other such concepts, while the minds of other men are concrete and they cogitate about health and disease, profit and loss. They invent gadgets and remedies; they are less interested in knowing anything than in applying whatever knowledge they may already have to practical problems; they try to make things work and pay, to heal and teach. The first are called dreamers (if worse names are not given to them); the second kind are recognized as practical and useful. History has often proved the shortsightedness of the practical men and vindicated the “lazy” dreamers; it has also proved that the dreamers are often mistaken.
The historian of science deals with both kinds with equal love, for both are needed; yet he is not willing to subordinate principles to applications, nor to sacrifice the so-called dreamers to the engineers, the teachers, or the healers.
This history of ancient culture, focused upon science, is of necessity a form of social history, for what is “culture” but a social phenomenon? We try to see the development of science and wisdom in its social background, because it can have no reality outside of it. Science could not develop in a social vacuum, and therefore every history of science, even of the most abstract one, mathematics, includes a number of social events. Mathematicians are men, subject to every kind of human fancy and frailty; their work may be and often is dominated by all kinds of psychologic deviations and social vicissitudes.
The psychologic reactions of individuals are innumerable and the social vicissitudes are caused by the endless and unpredictable conflicts of those reactions; the historian cannot possibly tell the whole story and the best that he can do is to select the conflicts that happen to be the most significant.
Under the influence of dialectical materialism, there has spread a belief that the history of science ought to be explained primarily, if not exclusively, in social and economic terms. That seems to me to be all wrong. Let me introduce a new dichotomy. There are two kinds of people in the world, whom we might dub the jobholders and the enthusiasts. The term jobholder is not derogatory; there are good jobholders and bad ones, and they are found at every social level from top to bottom. The majority of kings and emperors were jobholders and so were many of the popes. All these men were accomplishing duties connected with the jobs entrusted to them; they might hold, and often did hold, in succession different jobs, sometimes very different ones. The enthusiasts, on the contrary, are men who are anxious to do their own self-appointed tasks and can hardly do anything else. The term is not necessarily approbative; there are bad enthusiasts as well as good ones; some of them follow a mirage, they delude themselves as well as their neighbors; others are real creators. Indeed, most of the creators in the field of art and religion, and many of them in the field of science, were enthusiasts.
Now economic conditions may deeply affect the jobs and the jobholders, but they make little impression upon the enthusiasts. The latter must not be denied the primary needs of life, they must live, but as soon as those needs are satisfied in the humblest manner, the real enthusiasts bother about nothing but their work or their mission.
It is really the jobholders who keep things going with enough continuity and smoothness; they are the builders of usages and customs, the defenders of morality and justice. It is they who do all the routine work without which everything would soon degenerate into chaos, yet, by and large it is the enthusiasts who are the poets, the artists, the saints, the men of science, the inventors, the discoverers. They are the main instruments of change and progress; they are the real creators and troublemakers. The enthusiasts are the salt of the earth, but man cannot live by salt alone.
In this book pains have been taken to evoke the social background of living science, but no attempt has been made to explain the growth of science in terms of “diamat” jargon, because such an explanation would apply only, at best, to the jobholders, hardly to the enthusiasts, the crazy individuals, like Socrates, whom the menace of death could not swerve from their chosen path.
This book tries to show the growth of the human spirit in its natural background. The spirit is always influenced by the background, but its originality and integrity are in itself. A cabbage may grow better or worse in this or that field, but its cabbageness is in itself and nowhere else; if this is true of a humble cabbage, it is even more true of a man of genius. The ideas of men, however, are never completely independent and original; they hold together and form chains, the golden chains that we call traditions. Those chains are infinitely precious, but sometimes they may become embarrassing and dangerous; at their best they are light golden chains to which it is a joy and a pride to hold on; sometimes they become heavy like iron shackles and there is no way of escape but in breaking them. That has happened often, and we shall tell the story (it must be told) whenever it occurred. Such stories are part of the history of thought, but they are also essential parts of social history.
My insistence upon the necessity of referring, however briefly, to the old superstitions is a proof of my social concern. Science never developed in a social vacuum, and in the case of each individual it never developed in a psychologic vacuum. Every man of science was a man of his time and place, of his family and people, of his group and church; he was always obliged to fight his own passions and prepossessions as well as to assail the superstitions that clustered around him and threatened to choke out the novelties. It is just as foolish to deny the existence of those superstitions as it is to ignore contagious diseases; one must throw light upon them, describe them, and fight them. The growth of science implies at every step the fight against errors and prejudices; the discoveries are largely individual, but the fight is always collective.
Every good historian of science, not to mention every historian of medicine, is of necessity a historian of society, a social historian. How else could it be? The Russians’ claim that their histories of science, or the histories inspired by them, are the first social histories is just moonshine. Like all fanatics, they are not interested so much in truth as in their “truth,” which is incomplete, lopsided, and, ipso facto, false.
The history of science should not be used as an instrument to defend any kind of social or philosophic theory; it should be used only for its own purpose, to illustrate impartially the working of reason against unreason, the gradual unfolding of truth, in all its forms, whether pleasant or unpleasant, useful or useless, welcome or unwelcome.
At the moment of concluding a work that has occupied my mind for so many years, I wish to express my gratefulness to all the men whose own activities have made mine possible. My main debt is to nine scholars, three of them French, two German, two Belgian, one English, and one Danish — all dead. The earliest of these debts is to the brothers Croiset whose Histoire de la littérature grecque I bought and read when I was in the “rhétorique” of the Athénée of Chimay ( = senior class in high school). These were the first important books that I bought (five big volumes); to them I owe my Greek initiation; I have treasured them ever since and I often consult them, for in addition to giving me the “first help” which I may need they evoke my youthful enthusiasm. Some of these volumes were written by Alfred, others by Maurice, but I was never able to distinguish them, and I thought of them both under a single name, Croiset. I am fully aware that much has been done since their time,² that much is known today that they did not know — many other books have taught me that — yet the criticism of many scholars, who were more learned than the Croisets but less sensitive, has not shaken my gratitude. It is they who awakened my admiration for the Greek genius.
At the University of Ghent, I worked for a time under Bidez — unfortunately, a very short time, because I soon abandoned the “faculté de philosophie et lettres” to begin scientific studies. Joseph Bidez influenced me, not so much then but later when I was separated from him by the Atlantic Ocean and more so by endless investigations that would have seemed irrelevant to him. It was he who introduced me (impersonally) to Franz Cumont and to Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. Bidez used the latter’s Griechiches Lesebuch in his teaching and thus it happened that the first Greek scientific text that I read (very haltingly) was Hippocrates’ treatise on the Sacred disease. My youthful impression of Greek science is as unforgettable and irrevocable as my first visions of the sea, of the high Alps, or of the desert.
Toward the end of my long scientific studies (during which time I had stopped completely my Greek studies and almost forgotten the language), Paul Tannery brought me back from science to the humanities. Thanks to his posthumous help, I learned to know of many other scholars, chiefly Diels and Heiberg. Later still, when I had moved to America and the English language was more familiar to me, I began to use more often the works of Thomas Little Heath.
Of these nine men,³ I knew in the flesh only one, Bidez, and had some correspondence only with four, Bidez, Cumont, Heiberg and Heath. My debt to Tannery, the greatest of all, was partly repaid in an article on Paul, Jules, and Marie Tannery, Isis 38, 33–51 (1948) and in volume 4 ofOsiris, dedicated to Paul and Marie. Volumes 2 and 6 of Osiris were dedicated respectively to Sir Thomas Heath and to Joseph Bidez. A biography of Heiberg appeared in Isis 11, 367–374 (1928). Cumont wrote a paper for Isis 26, 8–12 (1936), and many of his works, especially the catalogues of Greek astrologic and alchemical manuscripts that he inspired, were reviewed by me as they appeared.
It is better not to try to enumerate the Hellenists and men of science, now living in many countries, who have helped me in various ways, for my list would be incomplete and invidious. Whenever they greet me, I am happy to see them; whenever they write, I am grateful; and when I am writing to them, I am gladly aware of our common interests and our mutual debts. I do not always express my thanks but my heart is full of them. Above all, I share their delight in contemplating the greatest and purest achievements of mankind.
April 18, 1951
NOTES ON THE USE OF THIS BOOK
The following notes will help readers to make the best use of what I have to offer to them.
1. Precautions and indecisions. When we deal with ancient times our knowledge can never be certain, and the author is sorely tempted to recall his own uncertainty and indecision apropos of almost every statement. Yet, if he were to repeat continuously such phrases as “to the best of my knowledge,” “as far as one has been able to ascertain,” or simply “perhaps,” the reader would lose patience. I have generally suppressed all these qualifications, though there are a few cases when I lacked the courage to take them off. The reader is here told once for all that all that I write is “to the best of my knowledge,” and that whatever the results of my efforts may be, I am doing my best all the time, neither more nor less.
The same remark applies to dates. Should we say that Socrates was born “in 469 or 470” or “about 469,” or give but one of these dates and let it go at that? I have tried to simplify my accounts but have not always been consistent. Some times I have been more definite than the available evidence warranted. Long discussions concerning very close dates seem to be nothing but futile pedantry. What difference can it make to anybody whether Socrates’ birth year is 469 or 470 (it was the year 470–69).
2. Chronology. The foregoing paragraph does not mean that I do not attach importance to dates. Dates are very important. A correct chronology is the skeleton of historiography. One could not take too many pains to set it right.
For Egyptian and Mesopotamian matters the best way of dating events is by the rule of such or such a king, or if that is not possible by dynasty. My way of indicating this is xth Dynasty (y−z), y and z being dates B.C. This equation is not always accurate; the original dating is the dynastic one, the second dating being added for the reader’s convenience. Its validity may be questioned by some scholars, but it is not possible to reconsider the general problem of Egyptian (or Mesopotamian) chronology at every step. The reader is warned that the first dating may be uncertain, and that the second, which seems to be more precise, is in reality less so for it has the same uncertainty as the first plus new ones.
When referring to millennia, I generally write out third millennium, second millennium, first millennium, but without adding B.C. For dates in centuries or years, B.C. is generally left out, unless there is a danger of ambiguity. For instance, it is enough to say that Aristotle died in 322 (nobody would think that A.D. 322 is meant), while in the case of Vergil it is better to say that he died in 19 B.C. (he might have lived until A.D. 19). When two or more dates are given, no ambiguity is possible. For example, Tissaphern s was satrap of western Anatolia from 413 to 408 and from 401 to his political murder in 395; that can only be B.C.
After the name of an author, say Diogenes Laërtios, there may be two kinds of indication: thus, x, 16–21 refers to chapters 16 to 21 of Book x of his Lives of the philosophers; III–1 means two things, first, that he flourished in the first half of the third century after Christ, and second, that a special section is devoted to him in my Introduction. That section occurs in vol. 1, p. 318, but those details are not added, being superfluous. There can be no confusion between those kinds of indication. In the second kind B.C. is always added if needed: for example, Hippocrates of Chios (V B.C.).
3. Geographic names. Geographic precision is just as necessary as chronologic precision. We should be able to locate each event in place and time. Therefore, pains have been taken to find whence every important man came and where he flourished. Strictly speaking, the terms used should be the ancient ones referring to ancient conditions. For example, in describing the voyage of a man sailing from Greece to the eastern coast of Thracia or to the northern coast of Paphlagonia one should say that he passed through the Hell spontos, crossed the Propontis, sailed along the Bosporos, and thus reached the Pontos Euxinos. Such language would be correct but puzzling to men of science (not philologists). Therefore, I would rather say that the man sailed through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus, finally reaching the Black Sea. The things are the same; it is only the names that have changed. It is always better to be clear than pedantic, but I have not always been consistent.
4. Bibliography. Bibliographic references have been restricted to a minimum. In the case of an important text, the first Greek edition is mentioned, also the best and handiest ones, and finally the translation into English, or, if such does not exist, the translation into any other language of international currency.
References to my Introduction are not always given but are always implied, and readers are warned once for all that information concerning, say, Aristotle, is found not only in vol. 1 of the Introduction but also in vol. 2 and 3. It is good practice to consult first the index to vol. 3. No references are needed for statements that have become commonplace, but they are always given for novelties.
See the general bibliography.
5. Quotations. Quotations are always in English translation. As the Loeb Classical Library editions, which include an English translation opposite the Greek text, are especially convenient to English readers, reference has been made to them whenever possible. My quotations are not very numerous (that is, it would have been tempting to multiply them), but they have sometimes been extended beyond the immediate need, in order that the reader may sense the context. As abrupt quotations may be misleading and dangerous, it is better to avoid them.
6. Transcription of Greek words in the English alphabet. This is a moot question that has vexed my mind for half a century, and that cannot be answered to everybody’s satisfaction, not even to the author’s. Since the printing of Greek has become too onerous, the transcriptions had to be more accurate than in my Introduction, where the Greek forms are always given.
The diphthongs are written as in Greek with the same vowels (e.g., ai, not ae; ei, not i; oi, not oe), except ou, which is written u to conform with English pronunciation. The omicron is always replaced by an o, and hence Greek names are not Latinized but preserve their Greek look and sound. Our transcription has the advantage of distinguishing Greek writers like Celsos and Sallustios from Latin writers like Celsus and Sallustius. There is really no reason for giving a Latin ending to a Greek name, when one is writing not in Latin but in English. Hence, we write Epicuros, not Epicurus (the two u’s of that Latin word represent different Greek vowels!). When two gammas follow each other, they are transliterated ng to conform with pronunciation, e.g. angelos, lyngurion. In names ending in on we keep the final n instead of dropping it Latinwise. Thus, we write Heron, not Hero, but we found it impossible to write Platon. Old habits have probably introduced other inconsistencies, e.g., Achilles instead of Achilleys.
We indicate the differences between the short vowels epsilon and omicron and the long ones ta and omega as we have just done in their names, but we had to abandon the idea of adding the accents because that would have given to many transcriptions such an outlandish look that the non-Greek reader would have been put off instead of being helped. As to the Greek reader, he does not need those indications; he knows how each word is accented, or, if not, he can easily find it in a dictionary or in my Introduction.
There remain inconsistencies in our transliteration because we prefer to be inconsistent rather than pedantic and do not wish to disturb our readers more than we can help. We hope that they will appreciate the situation and not judge us too severely. They should realize that English usage is full of inconsistencies, e.g., one writes habitually Aristarchus of Samos and Eudoxus of Cnidos. Old Greek names are transliterated in the Latin way, but Byzantine names otherwise (Psellos, Moschopulos); as to modern Greek names, one is obliged to respect the decisions of their bearers (Eleutheroudakis, Venizelos).
7. Use of capitals. We have tried to restrict capitals to proper words, and to use them sparingly for common words. There may be doubtful cases. For example, Earth, Moon, Sun are written with a capital when the celestial bodies are meant and not the common earth, the common sun, and moonshine.