Spaceship Earth – Ancient Greece (“Inventors of the Future”)

In the 2008 refurbishment, the theater scene was abandoned and replaced with a scene depicting a philosopher lecturing a number of students.  Far away/little dude is still in the back!  Two young dudes/students were added to the scene.  The handwriting we learned about with the Greek alphabet changed from an aid to oral performance in antiquity to the vital component in education (1).  A few statements from the narration are important to note:


“First they established public schools…”

Education in ancient Greece was for practical training and to become a nobel Grecian citizen which includes reverence, loyalty, and temperance in word and deed.  Public school was referred to as public because it was subject to state supervision whether it was school was held in homes or private schools.  Typical subjects included gymnastics for beauty and grace, music and reading and writing (3).

Plato was born in 428 or 427 B.c. Originally interested in poetry and music he fell under the influence of Socrates  but also the Pythagoreans and devoted to the study of philosophy, mathematics, and kindred subjects.   In 386 B.C. Plato began his continuous formal teaching. In a private home and garden adjoining the sacred garden and gymnasium of Academus, Plato established his school, the first of the permanent philosophical schools (3).

At the start women had less available education, especially if they already had a family/home.  Women were trained in domestic duties about securing food, shelter, and clothing. Those women that did seek literacy education lost their status as head of household. You’ll notice in this scene, its only dudes!


Who are those dudes?!   Some say the two new students are from the World of Motion! I say you back to the future and they were a part of the first Renaissance scene before the 2008 refurb.

“…and then begin teaching an intriguing new subject called mathematics.”

They aren’t saying the Greeks INVENTED math, they are saying the the subject and overall discipline as a course of study was lead by Greeks. For example, surely The Egyptians built the pyramids at a very early period and must have known something of mathematics—at least of practical mathematics.

It was left for the Greek philosopher to give these truths, which others saw, but did not formulate into words, an explicit, abstract expression, and to put into scientific language and subject to proof that which others merely felt to be true (4).

Most of these proofs were based in geometry. A list of the well known contributors to the field of Mathematics are:

  • Pythagoras(c.570 – c.495 BC) raised mathematics to the rank of a science.
  • Archytas (c.428 – c.347 BC) reputed founder of mathematical mechanics
  • Plato  (c.424– c.347 BC) founder of Academy of Alexandria
  • Eudoxus (c.390 – c.337 BC) the father of scientific astronomical observation and proportions
  • Aristotle (c.384 – c.322 BC) reasoning and logic
  • Euclid  (c.330 – c.275 BC)  “Father of Astronomy”
  • Archimedes (c.287 – c.212 BC) proved that the value of π lies between 3 + 1/7 and 3 + 10/71pi
  • Apollonius (c.262 BC – c. 190 BC) Conic Sections
  • Hipparchus (c.190 – c.120 BC) Astronomer who originated the science of trigonometry
  • Ptolemy (c.100 – c.170 AD) Earth centered model of the Universe.

The Greeks had so much influence in the early concepts of science that most symbols often used in physics and higher math equations are derived from the Greek alphabet.

This philosopher in this scene appears to be holding an Armillary Sphere or early form of an astrolabe.  Hipparchus is credited with its invention although it was also known to the ancient Chinese (6).


An Armillary Sphere has welded circular bands representing the celestial sphere.  Usually a ball representing the Earth is placed in its center. It is used to demonstrate the motion of the stars around the Earth.  Its remarkable that around circa 100 BC that people were able to use trigonometry.   With little light pollution they were able to see the vast night sky so its no surprise they were able to make these advancements.

Armillary Sphere


Modern Celestial Sphere








Or its entirely possible that the philosopher was just telling jokes…

“And with math comes mechanical technology and the birth of a high tech life we enjoy today.”

You can have mechanical technology without math but math applied to this technology helps us apply the field to multiple applications.  The Ancient Greeks had lots of technology developed such as weightlifting technloogy, pneumatics, ballistics (for throwing projectiles), spheres, calculators, measuring instruments, surgical machinery, hydraulic implements, time-measuring devices, musical instruments, and devices for their theatrical shows (5).

The balance and the lever (pulley, wheel, wedge, rudder, forceps, mast, oar) from Archimedes are most known during this time.

I’m not sure what “little dude” is holding in this scene.   Perhaps its a model to discuss architecture.   I’m hoping its a model of Heron’s mobile automatic theatre.


February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)

The ancient Greeks were great inventors of the future. First they established public schools, and then begin teaching an intriguing new subject called mathematics. And with math comes mechanical technology and the birth of a high tech life we enjoy today.

  1. Nellhaus,T (2010). Theater, communication, critical realism. New York. Palgrave Macmillian
  3. Monroe,P.(1915). Source Book of the History of Education for the Greek and Roman Period. New York, Macmillan Company
  4. Cajori,F. (1919). A History of Mathematics. Macmillan
  5. Berryman,S. (2009). The Mechanical Hypothesis in Ancient Greek Natural Philosophy. UK, Cambridge University Press
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3 Responses to Spaceship Earth – Ancient Greece (“Inventors of the Future”)

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