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Historical novels from the 2nd für das 21st century


"Romanike" and the Antikythera Mechanism

‘A faithful and magnificent mechanic might aspire
to construct an instrument of such materials
and such arrangement that it would naturally show
the diurnal motion of the heavens; and this wonder
would be greater than any and of infinite worth.
For all devices of astrology, sophisticated or primitive,
would then be rendered obsolete; and the treasure
of a king would be no match to a device like that.’
Roger Bacon (1216): ‘The nullity of magic’

In 1901, the most sophisticated device of the ancient world returned to sunlight after it had spent 2000 years in a Roman shipwreck offshore the Greek island of Antikythera. But it was as late as 1957 that this clotted lump of cogs, axles, scales and pointers was recognised as part of an astronomical instrument that is without known counterpart in its period or the centuries after. This instrument, known as the Antikythera Mechanism or the Antikythera Device, features a sort of clockwork that was able to display, for any date selected, the positions of the sun, the moon and probably also of the visible planets, taking into account many intricacies of their varying orbits. Better still, this instrument could predict solar and lunar eclipses many years in advance!

After the turn of the millennium, the publications of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) turned attention to this unique object. If you happen to visit the National Museum of Athens, Greece, you may find it there on display; a number of functional reconstructions are spread across technical museums world-wide.

The AMRP believes that the mechanism may have originated either in Corinth or its famous colony, Sicilian Syracuse. However, the ship that kept it contained cargo from Asia Minor and, when it sank, had set a western course - probably heading for Rome. We do not know who may have used it and for which purpose. No classic author seems to have described its function, though instruments predicting the movements of the skies are mentioned, among others, by Poseidonius and Cicero. No other device of this age was found so far - the second-oldest preserved is many centuries younger and much simpler. But one fact may be safely inferred: The Antikythera Mechanism had achieved technological maturity; it cannot have been a prototype.

The trilogy Opus Gemini, a part of the Romanike series, tells the story of the Antikythera Mechanism’s lost siblings.

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