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(fl. c. 200 BCE?),


Among the comparatively small number of extant astronomical manuscripts from Ptolemaic Egypt, the largest and most substantial is a two-meters-long papyrus roll (P. Par. 1, as of 2007 P. Louvre N 2388 Ro + Paris, Louvre N 2329 Ro) commonly known as the “Eudoxus Papyrus” or Ars Eudoxi because its back bears fourteen acrostic verses, the first letters of which spell out in Greek “art of Eudoxus.” The true author or compiler of this didactic treatise appears to be named in the final column of prose text on the front side as Leptines. Calendrical information in the text dates it to about 190 BCE, making Leptines’s elementary survey of astronomy the earliest surviving example of its genre in Greek.

An uncertain number of columns of text have been lost from the beginning of the manuscript, and what remains is rather chaotic in the arrangement of topics. Leptines adapted at least as much from earlier sources as he wrote himself. Some sections were evidently composed originally in iambic verse, and there are verbal parallels with the introduction to an astronomical calendar found in another papyrus manuscript (P. Hibeh 27) that was written about 300 BCE. Among the topics reviewed is the division of the solar year into astronomical seasons, with a simple arithmetical scheme for the varying length of daylight, the cycle of phases of the moon, and the cycle of risings and settings of constellations. The relative sizes of the Earth, Moon, and Sun, the Moon’s phases, and both kinds of eclipse are explained in terms of a simple geocentric cosmology.

Discussion of the planets is limited to crude and obvious periodicities. The text mentions the eight-year calendrical cycle sometimes (but not here) associated with Eudoxus, but not the more accurate nineteen-year Metonic cycle, which was certainly preferred by astronomers of this period. The revolutions of the Sun and Moon are described in terms of passage through zodiacal signs, though there is no mention of division of the signs into degrees, or for that matter of solar or lunar anomaly. The absence of any exposition of spherical astronomy or geometrical modeling of celestial motions is to be attributed to the elementary level to which Leptines’s work aspires and should not be taken as a fair representation of contemporary astronomical theory.

A distinctive and puzzling feature of the papyrus is the interspersing of rather crude diagrams amidst the text. Though they are clearly attempts to represent spherical heavenly bodies, these figures are for the most part neither self-explanatory nor related except in the most oblique way to the passages that they accompany. Nevertheless they entitle the papyrus to the claim of being the oldest surviving illustrated Greek manuscript.


Blass, Friedrich. “Eudoxi ars astronomica qualis in charta aegyptiaca superest denuo edita.” Diei natalis nonagesimi serenissimi et potentissimi principis Guilelmii germanorum imperatoris regis borussiae faustissima sollemnia…Kiel, Germany: Program of University of Kiel, 1887. 3—25. Reprinted in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 115 (1997) 79—101.

Letronne, Jean Antoine; Wladimir Brunet de Presle; and Èmile Egger. Notices et texts des papyrus du Musèe du Louvre et de laBibliothèque. Paris: Impériale, 1865. Reprinted as Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque impériale et autres bibliothèques 18 part 2. Paris, 1865. 25–76, with plates 1–6 and 9 [in accompanying volume of plates]. The first edition of the papyrus, still useful for its respect for the manuscript’s layout. and for the facsimile.

Neugebauer, Otto. A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy,3 vols. Berlin: Springer, 1975. vol. 2, pp. 686–689.

Alexander Jones