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Volcanology within Ancient Meteorology: Some Epistemological Issues

Frédéric Le Blay

(Nantes University)

The presentation will focus on the apparent paradox my forthcoming essay on ancient volcanology deals with. Geological data as well as archeological evidence make it easy to state that volcanoes and volcanic activity were familiar to ancient populations within the Mediterranean area. Consequently, literary testimonies involving volcanoes, Mount Etna above all, are numerous, starting with Homer. The mythology of ‘fire mountains’ is rich of many narratives and protagonists. Though volcanoes are described as one of the most striking and impressive wonders of nature, there is nothing exceptional about them in Greek and Roman environment and culture. When we turn to ancient meteorology and its main sources, volcanoes seem to disappear from this familiar landscape. We can hardly find any chapter or specific development dedicated to them; descriptions and explanations of their activity are reduced to almost nothing, with the exception of Lucretius’ summary of Epicurean meteorology in his De Rerum Natura. The important loss of theoretical texts (Theophrastus, Poseidonios) cannot be sufficient as an explanation for this desideratum. Therefore an investigation was needed in order to provide a rationale to this silence. What was at stake was the status of volcanoes within the range of meteors and also the possibility of their integration into the etiological system inspired by Aristotle. I will review different hypotheses and epistemological difficulties and propose my response to this paradox.

watch the recorded talk: click the image

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