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A favorite quote

April 22, 2008

I want to share one of my favorite quotes ever from an historian of science: George Sarton writing in his magisterial (and sadly unfinished) A History of Science:

The influence of Timaeus upon later times was enormous and essentially evil. A large portion of Timaeus had been translated into Latin by Chalcidius (IV-1), and that translation remained for over eight centuries the only Platonic text known to the Latin West. Yet the fame of Plato had reached them, and thus the Latin Timaeus became a kind of Platonic evangel which many scholars were ready to interpret literally. The scientific perversities of Timaeus were mistaken for scientific truth. I cannot mention any other work whose influence was more mischievous, except perhaps the Revelation of St. John the Divine. The apocalypse, however, was accepted as a religious book, the Timaeus as a scientific one; errors and superstitions are never more dangerous than when they are offered to us under the cloak of science. (I: 423).

  1. Thony C.
    April 22, 2008 at 3:14 am

    It really is wonderful isn’t it.

  2. bob koepp
    April 22, 2008 at 10:17 am

    I like Sarton, too; but he never really developed a feel for philosophy. And speaking of perversities, it’s a bit perverse to read the Timaeus “literally,” since Plato was quite clear that he was spinning a “likely story.” The Timaeus is also rather important for it’s methodological asides — we’re still arguing about whether science can do more than “save appearances.”

  3. Mike P
    April 22, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Ha, that’s a fantastic quote.

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