Ancient Science and Society (CLA3264)

StaffDr David Leith - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value
NQF Level
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aims of this module are to expand knowledge of different forms of ancient scientific research, to develop understanding of its specific cultural roots, to interrogate assumptions about what counts as scientific progress, and to engage critically with a range of forms of scientific writing in antiquity.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Develop an understanding of different scientific disciplines in antiquity
  • 2. Demonstrate awareness of how scientific research is influenced by cultural contexts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate critical and analytical skills which can be applied to the analysis of texts of any culture
  • 4. Demonstrate advanced appreciation of the issues involved in using scientific texts as historical material, and relate texts to their socio-historical context

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Through the preparation for and the composition of essays, to demonstrate the ability to think critically and independently on a range of crucial issues and to construct an interesting and consistent argument
  • 6. Through the delivery of oral presentation to demonstrate the ability to speak clearly, engage in public debate and respond critically to observations and objections

Syllabus plan

An example of a possible syllabus, focusing on a series of landmark texts:

1. Introduction - what is ancient ‘science’?

2. Hippocratic Corpus

3. Plato’s Academy and the Timaeus

4. Aristotle’s invention of biology

5. Epicurus’ Letters

6. Hellenistic mathematical letters

7. Aëtius’ Placita

8. Lucretius’ On Nature

9. Seneca’s Natural Questions

10. Pliny’s Natural History

11. Conclusions

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning & teaching22Seminars (1 x 2 hours a week)
Guided independent study128Independent study

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
In-class presentation2020 minutes1-5Oral comments and feedback from lecturer and peers
Essay704000 words2, 4-6Written comments Individual feedback from lecturer
Research exercises (bibliography and plan)10No fixed length1-5Written comments and individual feedback from lecturer

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay2, 4-6August ref/def period
Research exercisesResearch exercises (bibliography and plan)1-5August ref/def period
PresentationTranscript of the presentation that would have been given, along with a handout1-5August ref/def period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

M. Asper (ed.), Writing Science. Medical and Mathematical Authorship in Ancient Greece (Berlin 2013)

T.D. Barnes (ed.), The Sciences in Greco-Roman Society (Edmonton 1994)

T. Barton, Knowledge and Power. Astrology, Physiognomics and Medicine under the Roman Empire (Ann Arbor 1994)

S. Cuomo, Technology and Culture in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Cambridge 2007)

G.E.R. Lloyd, Greek Science after Aristotle (London 1973)

–––, Magic, Reason and Experience (Cambridge 1979)

–––, Science, Folklore and Ideology (Cambridge 1983)

–––, Methods and Problems in Greek Science (Cambridge 1991)

E. Rawson, Intellectual Life in the Late Roman Republic (London 1985)

L. Taub, Aetna and the Moon. Explaining Nature in Ancient Greece and Rome (Corvallis 2008)

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Ancient Science