Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It's called fact-checking

From an otherwise interesting article about a star chart found on an ancient Roman statue:

An ancient mystery may have been solved by Louisiana State University Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Bradley E. Schaefer.
Schaefer has discovered that the long-lost star catalog of Hipparchus, which dates back to 129 B.C., appears on a Roman statue called the Farnese Atlas. Hipparchus was one of the greatest astronomers of antiquity and his star catalog was the first in the world, as well as the most influential. The catalog was lost early in the Christian era, perhaps in the fire at the great library in Alexandria.

The presumed date of the "fire" at Alexandria - 47 BC


So that would be *really* early in the Christian era.

More to the point, very few scholars now believe that the Library of Alexandria burned in 47 BC. The story originated as a slander against Julius Caesar by moralists such as Seneca and Plutarch, based on an account of a fire in the city caused by one of Caesar's defensive maneuvers in the Civil War. No contemporaneous source mentions any books burning, which is interesting, since Cicero just plain hated Julius Caesar and wouldn't have missed an opportunity to bust his balls over something like that. Livy, who also lived at the same time as Caesar, fails to mention the Library's destruction either. Only a century after the fact do fanciful and outraged tales of Caesar causing the collection's demise start cropping up.

(And never mind that people went on using the Library for centuries afterwards!)

But the star chart thing is cool...

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