Thesaurus Scientiarum: Ancient corpora of knowledge and their distribution

The history of human behaviour has been a history of adjustment to the environment and of coping with natural hazards. In this respect, all forms of knowledge play an important role, in particular, explicit scientific knowledge. The aim of this project is to establish cross-cultural corpora of knowledge of selected domains (environment, meteorology (climate), astronomy/natural resources, biology, and technology) and make them available for future research. The aim of the (sub-) project is the identification and parametrisation of appropriate sets of knowledge from a selection of domains.

Case study from astronomy:

Science meets Vision: The clash between Greek astronomical theory and Egyptian cosmological iconography in the so-called Eudoxos Papyrus (Pap. Paris 1)

The so-called Eudoxos Papyrus in the Louvre in Paris is one of the most impressive papyrus rolls written in Greek that survived from antiquity in the dry sand of Egypt. Written in the 2nd century BC, it came from Saqqara (Memphis) to Paris in the middle of the 19th century and was assigned the “Number 1” in the papyrus collection of the Louvre. On the back, an artistic Hellenistic acrostic poem ascribes the contents of the roll to the “Eudoxou techne”. The text itself is a scientific astronomical treatise on the basic elements and movements of the sun, the moon, and the stars. It is equipped with 32 partly coloured drawings, which seem to illustrate the text. However, scholars regarded the interplay between the text and the drawings as merely decorative and, to a large extent, scientifically incomprehensible. Therefore, scholars dismissed the papyrus as a work of the famous 4th century BC astronomer Eudoxos and regarded it as an exercise written by an incompetent ‘pupil’ decorating the text with fancy pictures. In contrast, the project tries to explain the disconnected coexistence of the drawings and the text not as mere incompetence, but rather as a mediation between ‘new’, allegedly modern, scientific Greek knowledge (represented as text) and ‘old’, allegedly overridden, Egyptian knowledge (represented as iconography). This ‘clash’ of knowledge systems seems to be the reason, why modern scholars, who tried to understand the drawings as immediate visualizations of the text, were bound to fail. The ‘illustrated treatise’ of the so-called Eudoxos papyrus is, nevertheless, an impressive attempt – however successful – to integrate competing cultural sets of knowledge (‘modern’ vs. traditional, Greek vs. Egyptian), presented in competing modes of representation (text vs. icon).

Project by Lutz Käppel
and Hauke Schneider


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions