The Antikythera Mechanism – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Astronomical History & Mythology Glossary

I. What is the Antikythera Mechanism?

The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient Greek analog computer that was used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes. It is considered one of the most complex devices from antiquity and is often referred to as the world’s first analog computer. The mechanism was discovered in 1901 in the Antikythera shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera.

II. How was the Antikythera Mechanism discovered?

The discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism was made by Greek sponge divers who were exploring the wreckage of a Roman-era ship that sank around 60-80 BC. Among the artifacts recovered from the shipwreck was a corroded lump of bronze and wood that initially went unnoticed. It wasn’t until several years later, when archaeologist Valerios Stais examined the lump and noticed that it contained a gear wheel, that the significance of the find was realized.

III. What is the purpose of the Antikythera Mechanism?

The purpose of the Antikythera Mechanism was to track the movements of the sun, moon, and planets in the sky. It was likely used by ancient astronomers and astrologers to predict eclipses, the positions of celestial bodies, and other astronomical events. The mechanism consisted of a complex system of gears and dials that could be adjusted to calculate the positions of celestial bodies at any given time.

IV. How does the Antikythera Mechanism work?

The Antikythera Mechanism is thought to have been operated by turning a hand-crank that would rotate a series of interlocking gears. These gears would then move pointers on the front and back dials of the mechanism, which displayed the positions of the sun, moon, and planets in the zodiac. By adjusting the position of the gears, ancient astronomers could accurately predict the timing of eclipses and other celestial events.

V. What is the significance of the Antikythera Mechanism in astronomical history?

The Antikythera Mechanism is significant in astronomical history because it demonstrates the advanced knowledge of ancient Greek astronomers and engineers. The complexity of the mechanism suggests a level of technological sophistication that was previously unknown for that time period. The discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism has also provided valuable insights into the history of astronomy and the development of scientific instruments.

VI. What myths or legends are associated with the Antikythera Mechanism?

There are several myths and legends associated with the Antikythera Mechanism, including the idea that it was created by the mythical inventor Daedalus or that it was a gift from the gods. Some have speculated that the mechanism was used by ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle or Hipparchus, while others believe it may have been used for divination or religious purposes. Despite the mystery surrounding its origins, the Antikythera Mechanism remains a fascinating and enigmatic artifact from the ancient world.