Cleopatra’s Nose

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 205)


‘The nose of Cleopatra: had it been shorter, the face of the entire world would have been changed.’1 This famous aphorism of Pascal’s — all the more memorable for the pun it contains — raises a much-debated question which has its relevance for the history of science: does history inexorably run its course, determined mainly by social and economic forces describable in terms of fixed socio-historical laws or is it rather capriciously determined by contingencies like the sudden death of a prince without legitimate offspring, the murder of a prospective heir to the throne by the hand of a madman, or a natural disaster that devastates a country? A shorter nose would not only have defaced the face of Cleopatra, it could have changed the political face of the world. For Mark Antony might not have fallen in love with this last Queen of Egypt; his conflict with Caesar Octavian would then have taken a different form; the history of the Roman empire and consequently that of Western Europe might have followed a quite different course.


Atomic Weight Simple Body Elastic Fluid Short Nose History Ofscience 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UtrechtThe Netherlands

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