The European Renaissance was obsessed with classical antiquity. For many of its intellectuals it marked a cultural and scientific golden age. Many classical authors, among them the likes of Lucretius and Cicero, were rediscovered and celebrated. And among the disciplines given a new lease of life during the Renaissance was geometry. A branch of mathematics developed most significantly in ancient Greece, geometry was most famously formalized by Euclid in the fourth century BC. His Elements would be the primary text on geometry for the next 2,000 years.
Type designers take care of the details, so that we aren’t unnecessarily distracted by them. And good type designers relish those details. To listen to them explain their craft and describe their font-making processes is like watching the child of zero-sugar parents eat its first candy bar.
To the Egyptians, it was a reflection of the Nile; for the Babylonians, a giant serpent or length of rope. In Greek mythology, the infant Heracles was brought to suckle at the breast of a sleeping Hera, goddess of childbirth. Suddenly awake, she pushes the child away and her milk splashes against the sky. The Romans, borrowing from the Greeks, called it via lactea, or ‘milky road’, and in English we know it as the Milky Way.
I seldom write book reviews. Despite reading many good books, it’s quite an effort, for me at least, to gather my scraps and notes and thoughts and hone them into a few hundred words. But Tom Mole’s latest book is worth the effort – and worth more than a retweet or a half-hearted thumbs-up emoji.
For the best part of 2,000 years, the earth stood at the center of the universe. It did not move but was surrounded by a series of embedded transparent spheres. Each hollow sphere, for the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and an outermost sphere or firmament of fixed stars, rotated around our immobile earth – for two millennia, the cosmos literally revolved around us. And although Copernicus immediately comes to mind when we think of earth’s change of address, from center of the cosmos to ‘solar satellite’, his theory of a heliocentric, or sun-centered cosmos, was pretty much ignored until the work of Galileo and Kepler in the seventeenth century.
Often described as the man who knew everything, Athanasius Kircher (1602–80) was a German Jesuit polymath of international renown during his own lifetime. He was a prolific author with an astoundingly broad range of interests, writing about everything, from geology and geography to sinology and egyptology, biology, medicine, engineering, theology, anthropology, music theory and linguistics.