Athenaeus and the Control

  • Michael Witty Florida SouthWestern State College
Keywords: control test, Athenaeus, experiment


Very early experiments described in ancient literature usually have no detailed explanation of the methods used let alone the explicit Control expected by modern scientists for comparison with Treatments. Athenaeus describes a rarely recorded exception in The Deipnosophistae which has been briefly noted in scientific literature but not sufficiently contextualized. The experiment described has one treatment, a control and Athenaeus cites the desirability of replication, making this passage read like a modern text rather than an ancient one. Because technical processes were invented in ancient times I assume that experiments were also practiced, even though they are not described in ancient literature. This passage in Athenaeus exemplifies, by rare contrast, the general lack of description for ancient scientific methods. This lack may be because the ancient practitioners of technical processes did not have the reason modern scientists use for disclosure of all methods and results. Moderns achieve monetization that is protected by Intellectual Property Law or by acquisition of authority followed by salaried teaching in the academy. Ancient experimenters protected their discoveries by secrecy and maintained monopolies by concealment, an inconvenience for modern scholars. The form of ancient literature is important for this subject: it is not like modern scientific literature. When the ancients mention scientific subjects in writing it is in the form of literary discourse and debate where the aim is cerebral. There is no description of technical details where the aim is to allow replication of the experiment. Comfortable logic not experiment is described and intellectual improvement was usually the aim of ancient literature, rather than practical outcomes. The only reason we have knowledge of ancient practitioners of something similar to modern scientific methods from literature is that their kind of technical antics were briefly mentioned by ancient authors, because of their surprising and amusing nature.


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How to Cite
Witty, M. (2020). Athenaeus and the Control. Journal of Ancient Philosophy, 14(1), 161-170.
Critical Notes