A tour of Hero’s Pneumatica

A tour of Hero’s Pneumatica

Hellenistic technology has always fascinated me, especially the work attributed to mathematician, engineer, and inventor Hero (or “Heron”) of Alexandria, one of the world’s first steampunks. Much of the documentation of his work (and likely those of many others of his time) come to us by way of The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria (or Pneumatica). This work, translated from the original Greek, has been online for years and I’ve poked through it on many occasions. So, I really enjoyed reading this article about the text and Hero by physicist Amelia Carolina Sparavigna of Politecnico di Torino in Italy. [Via arXiv]

Hero, the Michanikos, is celebrated for his activity as an engineer: in his books, he describes several machines and automata working under the action of water and steam by means of an excellent use of siphons and valves. It is noticeable that many of the devices he is describing are incorporating some sorts of feedback control systems. The University of Rochester publishes one of his books, “Pneumatica”, in its web library on Steam Engines. The book contains the detailed descriptions of machines, descriptions translated from the Greek original, illustrated by drawings that, according to Bennet Woodcroft, Editor of this English translation of 1851, have been made expressly for the English edition from the best examples from previous editions.

Water, air and fire at work in Hero’s machines [link to PDF download page]


2 thoughts on “A tour of Hero’s Pneumatica

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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