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Introduction to ancient Greek automata

“…The story adapted in it was the one about Nauplios. Scene by scene, it went like this. When the stage was first opened, twelve painted figures appeared, arranged in three rows. They were made to portray some of the Greeks repairing their ships and busying themselves about launching them. These figures moved, some sawing, some working with axes, some with hammers, others using bow-drills and augers, making a lot of noise, just as would happen in real life.”

Hero of Alexandria, On Automaton-Making 22.3-4 (transl. S. Murphy)

ABSTRACT: The Greek tribes, since the 2nd millennium BCE, were so devoted to Technology, that they had even imagined their Gods as users of several Automata operating in the Gods’ and Goddesses’ Palaces. Besides, the Greek Gods had also offered to humans various Automata and Robots. In addition, during the real Greek history of the Myceneans and the Archaic Greeks, Technology rapidly developed to such an extent that Automata started being designed and were already functioning in the time of Aristotle, and up to their culmination during the Hellenistic Period.

The lecture presents details of the following categories of Automata, developed mainly in Alexandria:

  • Wonder automata
  • Artistic automata
  • Practical automata
  • Controlling mechanisms
  • Educational experiments in Physics

Drawings and pictures of models of Automata in operation will be presented.

T.P. Tassios, Em. Prof. of the National Tech. University of Athens; member of the Academy of Sciences of Torino (IT); doctor honoris causa of Liege University (BE), S.E. University of Nanjing (CN), Democritos University (GR), Aristotle University (GR), Cyprus University, the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Panteion Univeristy (GR); has served as expert and consultant for the United Nations Organisations and for the European Union, President of international scientific societies, and member of the Awards Committee of the American Concrete Institute (2015-18). He is honourary President of the Hellenic Society of Philosophy, and President of the Society for the Study of Ancient Greek and Byzantine Technology. He is the author of over 500 papers and over 60 books in several languages. In September 2013, he received the International Award of Merit in Structural Engineering (IABSE, Zurich). Recipient of the Medal of the City of Paris, and honourary citizen of four Greek cities.

Respondent: Tatiana Bur (University of Cambridge) 

29 September 2020, 16:00 p.m. (UK time)

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