Inductive Practical Astronomy

This post is one in a series on the History of Epistemological Thought.  Previously in this series: Introducing Works and Days

Much of the Works and Days, like the Theogony, is concerned with outlandish tales about the past.  Here we have the myths of Prometheus, Pandora, and the Ages of Man (Golden, Silver, Bronze, etc.).  No doubt he bases his authority to speak on such matters on his divine inspiration as a poet.

However, in this poem, he also expounds upon techniques for managing natural resources using the stars as a guide.  Here is a sample of his astronomically-based advice:

"When the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, are rising, begin your harvest, and your ploughing when they are going to set "

"When the piercing power and sultry heat of the sun abate, and almighty Zeus sends the autumn rains, and men's flesh comes to feel far easier, -- for then the star Sirius passes over the heads of men, who are born to misery, only a little while by day and takes greater share of night, -- then, when it showers its leaves to the ground and stops sprouting, the wood you cut with your axe is least liable to worm."

"When Zeus has finished sixty wintry days after the solstice, then the star Arcturus leaves the holy stream of Ocean and first rises brilliant at dusk. After him the shrilly wailing daughter of Pandion, the swallow, appears to men when spring is just beginning. Before she comes, prune the vines, for it is best so."

Obviously Hesiod the farmer wouldn't have relied on divine inspiration to know such lore.  Again he, like all ancient farmers, would have used induction.  He would have noticed, for example, that in the past, crops planted when the Pleiades star cluster sets (late October/early November)  and harvested when they rise (first half of May) happened to be more bountiful.  He would have inferred from repetitions of such instances that those would be the best times in the future to plough and harvest.

Such careful inductive thinking and experimentation of the working man who improved his tools and techniques, thereby increasing his prosperity, is the realm of “science” which did, by far, the most good for mankind.

Hesiod also holds forth on seafaring, of which he admits he has no experience or "instruction" ("sesophismenos", a word closely related to sophia, or wisdom).  But here, he plays his "divine inspiration" card:

"Nevertheless, I shall speak forth the mind of aegis-holding Zeus, for the Muses have taught me to sing an inconceivable hymn."

Here "inconceivable" is translated from  athesphaton: literally "beyond even a god's power to express".

Next in this series: Divination in the Iliad.

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