Eratosthenes-Biography

Authors: Aatmesh and Qutub, Learners

This is a collaborative project by two learners. As part of the project, each learner initially works independently to research on the person assigned and prepare a biography. The two learners subsequently analyze each others documents and then prepare a combined Biography. As part of the learning, they look at differences in how each learner “sees” the information on same person, different sources and interpretations of information, and then to decide which differences can be resolved, integrated or ignored. 

Eratosthenes was an ancient Greek scientist, who lived in Alexandria Egypt (under the reign of Ptolemy the first). He is now considered as quite a revolutionary scientist but was surprisingly thought of as (by his colleagues) ‘ a jack of all trades but master of none.’

Note : Eratosthenes lived a very long time ago. The records of his life have been fictionalized a lot, all information may not be indefinitely accurate. Also, information on him is scarce so I will join the dots between incidents.

Early life :

Eratosthenes was born in Cyrene, in 276 BC. Cyrene was an ancient Greek city located in modern day Libya. Cyrene was conquered by Alexander the great and after his passing, was ruled by his general Ptolemy the first.

As a young boy, Eratosthenes was sent to a gymnasium. There he was trained physically and also received a primary education.

After graduating from the gymnasium, Eratosthenes travelled to Athens to pursue a higher education. In Athens he found himself studying under very famous teachers. He learnt stoicism – a form of philosophy – from its founder’s disciple (stoicism was a Hellenistic view on the world based on the theory that everything occurs due to a cosmic reason), mathematics from the books and works of Plato and much more. Eratosthenes even tried his hand at poetry and arts (which he was quite good at). After completing his education, he stayed in Athens and began learning on his own. He went deeper into the subjects he already had studied and tried to broaden his field of knowledge.

Adulthood :

Eratosthenes spent some of his Adulthood in Athens, where he began composing poems and math theories that brought him fame. At this time, the Ptolemaic dynasty had completed the construction of a massive library at Alexandria Egypt. Ptolemy the third (the kind at that time) requested Eratosthenes to take up a position as a librarian. Eratosthenes then went to live in Alexandria, where he would spend the rest of his life.

In the span of five years, Eratosthenes had risen to the position of Chief Librarian. Eratosthenes was given the honor of teaching Ptolemy the fourth and many other nobles. He was devoted to the library, constantly expanding it.  All this while, Eratosthenes pursued his own scientific goals and made many discoveries. Due to the vast knowledge inside the library, he had even more exposure to all sorts of information.

Eratosthenes lived until the age of 82. He died of voluntarily starving himself (after going blind and losing his sharpness of mind) because he thought his life too precious to live in suffering and deemed it correct to end his own life.

Achievements :

Eratosthenes achieved numerous mathematical feats. He observed events very well, which allowed him to formulate and prove many theorems. His most revolutionary achievement was the measuring of the Earth’s circumference. He accomplished this feat by measuring the distance and shadows between places. He observed that the Sun’s rays in Cyrene fell vertically on the summer solstice. At the same time, he observed that in Alexandria the Sun’s rays fell at  7 degree tilt from being vertical. He guessed that the Sun was a very great distance from the Earth and concluded that the rays should fall parallel to one another. He then took the distance between both cities and multiplied it to find the circumference. He based this on a couple of assumptions, but his numbers turned out to be startlingly accurate.

Eratosthenes was thought of as the father of geography, he mapped out much of the Earth and even divided his cartography into climate zones. He published a book on his works, one of the first of many to come.

Given Eratosthenes’ wide range of knowledge, he made intriguing discoveries in all sorts of subjects. His background helped him in achieving his goals.

What made Eratosthenes influential :

I think that Eratosthenes would have been a great inspiration for many future scientists, poets or learners in general. He is the perfect example of being learned in an astounding number of subjects. Eratosthenes was keen on expanding his views and knowledge. Although (when he was alive) many of his colleagues viewed him as a well rounded thinker. He was given the nickname ‘beta’, meaning that he was never the best at any given subject. Although he wasn’t celebrated in his lifetime, his vast knowledge would have allowed him to make inter subject connections (he was one of the first people to connect observations from math and geography) thus giving him the ability to see patterns like no one else.

Eratosthenes’ interest in seeing things from different perspectives and interconnecting observations (from all fields of knowledge), make him an influence on people who are not sure that they want to spend their whole life on one particular subject. People who would rather explore many different ones.

Influences on Eratosthenes :

Eratosthenes, (like many ancient learners) was inspired by his teachers and their works. Eratosthenes enjoyed stoicism and other forms of philosophy, his teacher Callimachus’ poetry and much more. Plato, the renowned ancient Greek scientist inspired Eratosthenes’ first scholarly level work. Although Eratosthenes was influenced by many of his teachers, he was a pioneer in the learning of more than a few subjects.
Eratosthenes in relation to Aatmesh :

Eratosthenes is a very interesting character. I like how he didn’t stick to just one subject. Also, I imagine that being considered mediocre by one’s friends and colleagues can’t be inspiring. I admire his self driven nature

Eratosthenes in relation to Qutub :

He was a well educated man. He had a nice way of thinking and accomplished revolutionary feats.

A project by Aatmesh and Qutub