Hero of Alexandria and Renaissance Mechanics
The reception in the sixteenth century of the mechanical works of Hero of Alexandria offered an intriguing point of contact between humanists, mathematicians, engineers, and artisans. Although Hero’s most important work, the Mechanics, was unknown in the West, Pappus of Alexandria had included Hero’s theory of the five simple machines in his Mathematical Collection, whence it was adopted by Guidobaldo del Monte and Galileo as an organizing principle of theoretical mechanics. But in addition to the Mechanics, Hero wrote three other mechanical works: the Pneumatica, the Automata, and the Belopoiica, all of which were translated from the Greek and printed in the sixteenth century. Historians have suggested that these works generally encouraged experimental techniques and inspired an interest in mechanical technology.
This chapter traces the reception and influence of Hero’ s mechanical works through their manuscripts, their editions and Latin translations, and their wider dissemination among engineers and other practical men. Because the principles that govern pneumatic devices were not easily reconciled with the general principles of the other simple machines, such devices came to be classified as magic-working and thus contributed little to theoretical mechanics. And rather than inspiring the interest in practical machines, Hero’s texts were studied as a result of the already existing interest in mechanical technology.