Marshall Clagett, 89, Scholar on Science in Ancient Times, Is Dead
October 26, 2005
Marshall Clagett, a scholar of science in ancient Egypt and Greece and the way it was received in medieval Europe, died on October 21, 2005, at a hospital in Princeton, New Jersey. He was 89 and lived in Princeton.
His death was announced by the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he was a professor emeritus in the Department of Historical Studies. He arrived to teach in 1964 and took emeritus status in 1986, but continued to publish, and at his death was working on the fourth and final volume of his “Ancient Egyptian Science,” the institute reported.
Dr. Clagett's major work was his five-volume “Archimedes in the Middle Ages,” published over 20 years starting in 1964. It covered the range of work and the influence of Greece's most famous mathematician and inventor, about whom little is known.
Archimedes worked mostly in his native Syracuse, the principal city-state in Sicily, but is believed to have spent time in Egypt early in his career and later corresponded with Alexandrian scholars. Dr. Clagett's achievement was to trace and document the continuity of science from antiquity, through Byzantium and Islam to the Europe of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
His volumes analyzed, interpreted and, at times, retranslated Archimedes's surviving treatises and examined them in a new context under subtitles like “Fate of the Medieval Archimedes, 1300-1565.” The final volumes on the subject were published by the American Philosophical Society in 1984.
In the same fashion, “Ancient Egyptian Science: A Source Book” stretched over several volumes – the first of which appeared in 1989 – surveying the entire scope of the ancients' knowledge and mechanics. Volume 2 (1999), for instance, lists “Calendars, Clocks, and Astronomy” in its title.
Dr. Clagett was the author of “Greek Science in Antiquity,” first printed in 1955 and reissued by Dover Press in 2000. It provided an inventory of Greek medicine, biology, mathematics, physics and astronomy, along with Roman and Latin science in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.
Marshall Clagett was born in Washington and began his studies at the California Institute of Technology. Transferring to George Washington University, he graduated in 1937 and received a doctorate in history from Columbia in 1941. His thesis was on the history of science.
He saw combat in the Pacific during World War II, returning as a Navy Lieutenant Commander, and started his academic career at Columbia in 1946 as an instructor in history and the history of science. Moving to the University of Wisconsin a year later, he became a full professor of the history of science in 1954, and directed the university's Institute for Research in the Humanities from 1959 to 1964.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former Susan Riley; a daughter, Kathleen Williams of Towson, Maryland; two sons, Dennis, of Nyon, Switzerland, and Michael, of Yardley, Pennsylvania; a half-brother, Brice, of Washington; and five grandchildren.
Lieutenant Commander Marshall Clagett will be laid to rest with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 27 December 2005.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard