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Book brings elusive Greek technical writer into focus

Hero of Alexandria, ancient Greek mathematician and engineer, is a figure known almost entirely through his writings. We have little of his biography, including his timeframe, but his books on things like pneumatics, pure geometry and catapults have influenced many others through the ages and his principles touch early modern inventions including the player piano and the fire engine.

“The historical Hero is a ghostly apparition, but the Hero created through centuries of imaginative recreations and appropriations of his work becomes a vivid and multifaceted figure: inventor and curator, mechanician and mathematician, wonder-worker and cultivator of banal practicalities,” writes Courtney Ann Roby in her new book, “The Mechanical Tradition of Hero of Alexandria."

In the book, Roby, associate professor of classics in the College of Arts and Sciences, emphasizes the importance of Hero’s lasting contributions to mechanical thought while working through a particularly “messy” manuscript tradition. The first full-length monograph about Hero, the book presents his key strategies for developing, solving and contextualizing technical problems.

Roby will talk about “The Mechanical Tradition of Hero of Alexandria” during a Cornell Library Chats in the Stacks book talk on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 4:30 p.m. in Olin Library 107 and online.

Read an interview with Roby on the College of Arts and Sciences website.

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