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date: 15 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter surveys the scope of ancient optics, which varied over time and between authors. No two authors in antiquity agree on precisely which elements should be included in a useful and credible account of visual perception. The chapter adopts a holistic approach that pays attention to how each author functionally defines sight. By the time of Plato, a relatively consistent set of phenomena defined sight, including color, image transfer, reflection, and night vision. Aristotle incorporated sight within a broader metaphysical account of perception and the soul, while the Epicureans fixated on the epistemological consequences of optical illusions. In the Hellenistic period, geometrical optics (and its sibling discipline catoptrics, the study of mirrors) rose to greater prominence, utilizing diagrams to explain and model vision. Ptolemy composed a treatise that systematized and synthesized both the geometrical and philosophical approaches to sight.

Keywords: Alcmaeon, colors, Democritus, Empedocles, Epicurus, Euclid, Galen, optics, Ptolemy, vision

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