North American Scholar

NEUGEBAUER, Otto Eduard

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1899-05-26
  • Born City: Innsbruck
  • Born State/Country: Austria
  • Parents: Rudolph N. & wife.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1990-02-19
  • Death City: Princeton
  • Death State/Country: NJ
  • Married: Grete Bruck, 1927.
  • Education:

    Study at Graz, 1919-21; Munich, 1921-2; Ph.D. Göttingen, 1926.

  • Professional Experience:

    Privatdozent, Oberassistent Math. Inst. & ao. prof. Göttingen, 1927-33; ao. prof. math. Inst. Copenhagen, 1933-9; prof. math. Brown, 1939-49; prof. hist. math. Brown, 1949-69; fell. IAS, 1950-89.

  • Dissertation:

    Die Grundlagen der ägyptischen Buchrechnung (Göttingen, 1926).

  • Publications:

    (Select): I have included only items of greater significance to classicists; for more extensive lists, see Sources, below. Items reprinted in Astronomy and History (1983) are marked with *.

    "Zur Entstehung des Sexagesimalsystems," Abh. Ges. Wiss. Gdtt. Math.-Phys. Kl. n. F. 13.1 (1927); "Apollonios-Studien," Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik (B) 2 (1933) 215-54; "Bemerkung iiber Quadratwurzeln und Quadratwurzelapproximationen in der babylonischen Mathematik," with H. Waschow, Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik (B) 2 (1933) 291-7; *"Bedeutungslosigkeit der «Sothisperiode» fur die alteste agyptische Chronologie," Acta Orientalia 17 (1938) 169-95; "Uber eine Methode zur Distanzbestimmung Alexandria-Rom bei Heron," Det kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab. Hist.-Fil. Med. 26.2 (1938) & 26.7 (1939); "On a special use of the sign 'zero' in cuneiform astronomical texts," JAOS 61 (1941) 213-5; *"On Two Astronomical Passages in Plutarch's De Animae Procreatione in Timaeo," AJP 63 (1942) 455-9; *"The History of Ancient Astronomy: Problems and Methods," JNES 4 (1945) 1-38; The Calendars of Athens, with W. Kendrick Pritchett (Cambridge, 1947); *"The Water Clock in Babylonian Astronomy," Isis 37 (1947) 37-43; *"Mathematical Methods in Ancient Astronomy," Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 54 (1948) 1013-41; *"The Astronomical Origin of the Theory of Conic Sections," PAPhS 92 (1948) 136-8; *"Astronomical Fragments in Galen's Treatise on Seven-Month Children," Rivista degli studi orientali 24 (1949) 92-4; *"The Early History of the Astrolabe," Isis 40 (1949) 240-56; *"The Alleged Babylonian Discovery of the Precession of the Equinoxes," JAOS 70 (1950) 1-8; "A Greek Table for the Motion of the Sun," Centaurus 1 (1951) 266-70; *"The Study of Wretched Subjects," Isis 42 (1951) 111; The Exact Sciences in Antiquity = Acta Historica Scientiarum Naturalium et Medicinalium 9 (Copenhagen, 1951; 2d ed. Providence, 1957); *"The Horoscope of Ceionius Rufius Albinus," AJP 74 (1953) 418-20; *"On the 'Hippopede' of Eudoxus," Scripta Mathematica 19 (1953) 225-9; "The Chronology of Vettius Valens' Anthologiae," HThR 47 (1954) 65-7; "Babylonian Planetary Theory," PAPhS 98 (1954) 60-89; *"Apollonios' Planetary Theory," Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 8 (1955) 641-8; Astronomical Cuneiform Texts, 3 vols. (London 1955; repr. New York 1983); *"Notes on Hipparchus," The Aegean and Near East, Studies Presented to Hetty Goldman (Locust Valley, NY, 1956) 292-6; *"Transmission of Planetary Theories in Ancient and Medieval Astronomy," Scripta Mathematica 22 (1956) 165-92; *"Ptolemy's Geography, Book VII, Chapters 6 and 7," Isis 50 (1959) 22-9; Greek Horoscopes, with H. B. van Hoesen = MAPhS 48 (Philadelphia 1959); *"The Equivalence of Eccentric and Epicyclic Motion According to Apollonius," Scripta Mathematica 24 (1959) 5-21; "A New Greek Astronomical Table (P. Heid. Inv. 4144 + P. Mich. 151)," Det kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab. Hist.-Fil. Med. 39.1 (1960); rev. of C. Mugler, Dictionnaire historique de la terminologie géométrique des grecs, AJP 82 (1961) 217-9; *"The Survival of Babylonian Methods in the Exact Sciences of Antiquity and Middle Ages," PAPhS 107 (1963) 528-35; Rev. of W. H. Stahl, Roman Science, AJP 85 (1964) 418-23; Hypsikles, Die Aufgangszeiten der Gestirne, with V. de Falco and M. Krause, = Abh. Akad. Wiss. Gött. Phil.-Hist. Kl. 62,3 (1966); *"On Some Aspects of Early Greek Astronomy," PAPhS 116 (1972) 243-51; *"On the Allegedly Heliocentric Theory of Venus by Heraclides Ponticus," AJP 93 (1972) 600-1; "Planetary Motion in P. Mich. 149," BASP 9 (1972) 19-22; "Greek Planetary Tables from the Time of Claudius," with M. Manfredi, ZPE 11 (1973) 101-114 (1 pi.); "Notes on Autolycus," Centaurus 18 (1973) 66-9 (review of Bruins and Vondjidis translation); History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy, 3 vols. = Studies in the History of the Math. and Phys. Sci. 1 (Heidelberg & New York, 1975); "An Ephemeris for Mars," with W. Brashear, ZPE 20 (1976) 117-8; "A New Version of Greek Planetary Tables," with A.J. Sijpesteijn, ZPE 37 (1980) 285-93, pi. XII; The Book of Enoch or I Enoch, with Matthew Black, J. C. Vanderkam, (Leiden, 1985); "On Greek Numerology," with G. Saliba, Centaurus 31 (1988) 189-206; "A Babylonian Lunar Ephemeris from Roman Egypt," Studies in Honor of Abraham Sachs (Philadelphia, 1989) 301-4; "From Assyriology to Renaissance Art," PAPhS 133 (1989) 391-403. Kleine Schriften: Astronomy and History: Selected Essays (Heidelberg & New York, 1983).

  • Notes:

    Neugebauer's interests at the Akademisches Gymnasium, Graz, in mathematics, mechanics, and technical drawing foreshadowed his later work, but his interest in the required Greek and Latin was nil, so that when in 1917 His Imperial Majesty's Army offered enlistment to final-year students with consequent exemption from part of their final exams, he promptly accepted. After a year as a POW in Italy he entered the University of Graz to study electrical engineering and physics; upon transfer to Munich he attended lectures by Arnold Sommerfeld and Arthur Rosenthal. After a further move to Göttingen, his major professors became R. Courant, E. Landau, and E. Noether, all mathematicians. Here he learned Egyptian in order to study and eventually write his dissertation on Egyptian mathematics. In 1933 he was forced by the Nazis to leave Göttingen and found a haven in Copenhagen, whence he moved to Brown in his akmi year when conditions for work in Denmark proved impossible. Once in the United States he began writing solely in English, which he preferred, since, as he once said, it improved his style and interpretations—there are no dense musings on theory or method in his English-language works.Mathematics is both an independent universal and in its individual development embedded in its culture. Neugebauer's work from his dissertation to his death was always responsive to this duality. His work on the history of ancient mathematics and astronomy was extremely wide-ranging and influential (not always to the joy of those who believe all ancient wisdom culminates in Greek philosophy); he contributed as well to the bibliography of modern mathematics, founding and editing two international review journals, Zentralblatt flir Mathematik und ihre Grenzgebiete and later Mathematical Reviews. For ancient mathematics he founded and edited the journal Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik, as well as discovering and writing the history of Babylonian mathematics and astronomy, for which he learned Akkadian. Within classics he always emphasized the connections to other Near Eastern cultures' mathematics and astronomy. He discussed the concepts of roots and of zero known to the Babylonians, and showed that zero was known to Greek mathematicians (Exact Sciences, pp. 11-4, 26, pi. 2); he analyzed the earliest extant determination of longitude by Heron, which also produced one of the three known dates for Heron; and wrote often about fundamental methods and problems in the field. In 1938 he destroyed E. Meyer's "erstes sicheres Datum der Weltgeschichte," as it was based on a misunderstanding of the Egyptian "Sothic" period.He always held that skilled scientific and philological publication and analysis of sources (preferably new) were vastly to be preferred to superficial synthesis. Hence his papers on astronomical fragments in Plutarch and Galen and on many papyri. The last of these, which was his last publication, turned out to be a table of lunar positions known from third- to second-century B.C. cuneiform, but here in Greek from second- to third century A.D.— thus proving the extensive transmission of Babylonian astronomy to the Greeks and its use well after Ptolemy. With W. Kendrick Pritchett he published a very influential book on the Athenian calendars and several articles on ancient scientific instruments. He rightly insisted on the value and importance of astrological texts for establishing astronomical theory and ancient chronology and published the definitive collection of ancient Greek and Roman horoscopes, as well as numerous smaller pieces.His work on Greek astronomy, though not at the center of his interests (only about one quarter to one third of his over 300 publications), remains fundamental and often iconoclastic. From his early work on Apollonios and Heron and his provocative article on the conic sections to his demonstration that the Babylonians never discovered the precession of the equinoxes, contrary to the claims of some modern scholars, one can always see his insistence on a close and informed reading of the texts. His book The Exact Sciences in Antiquity is of permanent value and instructs on every reading (I have used it for a course on the history of ancient science). His analyses even of "standard" texts were always insightful and visual, accompanied by clear diagrams drawn by himself. Among his important contributions are his explanation of the geometrical origin of Eudoxos' "hippopede," his analysis of Apollonios' planetary theory (the "eccentric"), on Hipparchus as observer and collector of Babylonian observations, his studies of the geometry of Ptolemy's map-projection and of the astronomy of Hypsikles (ca. 150 B.C.), and his proof that Heraclides Ponticus had no heliocentric theory. These studies culminated in his Haup-twerk (in a classicist's view), History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy, which covers Ptolemy and his major antecedents Apollonios and Hipparchus, then Babylonian astronomy, earlier Greek astronomy, and finally Roman and late antique astronomy (short work indeed is made of the trivial Egyptian astronomy; several Greek works, notably Geminus and Cleomedes, are redated). His reviews are often more valuable than the books reviewed, and always of great use—here I note especially the reviews of Mugler in which Neugebauer points out Mugler's unwarranted restriction to a small subset of the available sources; of Stahl, whose work is an example of the superficial handbook tradition he studies; and of the latest and wretched English translation of the earliest complete Greek mathematical text, Autolycus. Not only did he publish widely and often, he produced a corps of notable students and younger colleagues: A. Aaboe, A. Jones, D. Pingree, and G. J. Toomer (in alphabetical order) will be known to classicists (there are many others). Neugebauer had both a broad and deep view and his work as editor, teacher, and scholar profoundly altered our view of antiquity.

  • Sources:

    J. C. Poggendorffs biographisch-literarisches Handwörterbuch zur Geschichte der Exakten (Natur)Wissenschqften 6.3 (1938) 1842-3, 7a.3 (1959) 414-6; J. Sachs and G. J. Toomer, Centaurus 22 (1979) 257-80; N. M. Swerdlow, PAPhS 137 (1993) 137-65; Portraits: Osiris 14 (1962) 5; Centaurus 22 (1979) 257, repr. PSPhS 137 (1993) 138.

  • Author: Paul T. Keyser