It is accepted that cultures of similar societal structure, environment and resources will produce similar reactions to these forces. When comparing the Antikythera Mechanism (150-100 BCE) and The Wallingofrd clock (1327-1357 AE), a separation of 1400 years, and differences in size and materials would belie any similarity outside of their link as geared astrolabes. These differences are moot, once their secondary message is examined: a message of prestige and power. The Hellenistic period is widely considered the final chapter in the history of ancient Greek culture.
During this period the amalgamation of oriental culture into the Greek way of life produced a significant shift from the ideals that preceded it: despotism supplanted democracy as the chosen form of rule, and profit superseded small-scale production. This new form of rule for the Greek populace also brought about a change from simplicity and arete to defeatism, verbose art, and opulence of life style. Despite this complete change in ideals the new form of Greek society still looked nostalgically on the Classical era and its accomplishments.
The medieval era shared many of the core Hellenistic characteristics. In ruling the population despotism took the form of feudalism. This is the division of land from the king to opulent noblemen who in turn manage the property with serfs who were life bound to the land. Education was relegated to only the rich and the clergy; it was very uncommon for a peasant to obtain any sort of formal education, with the exclusion of learning a trade. Though anyone could join the clergy and obtain an education in the process. Wars and disease were rampant during this era; even Robert Wallingford the creator of St.
Alban’s clock suffered from leprosy. Not only was the church the educational and moral guide, but it also controlled and profited from vast amounts of land and granaries for grinding wheat. This lead an abbey’s importance and influence to ebb and flow with the successes of the season’s harvest. The abbey at St. Albans, which housed the Wallingford clock, had a relative monopoly over all processing of grains, and great importance as a result. Most apparently the Wallingford clock and the Antikythera Mechanism differ in size, material composition, designer and design aesthetics.
The Antikythera Mechanism’s gears were carefully cut from sheets of bronze. Its specific size is not concretely known. Though from the size of the artifact and working models constructed from remnants, it is approximated to have been 340mm x 180mm x 90mm and housed in a wooden box. As for decoration, the Antikythera Mechanism is fully utilitarian, which reflects the Hellenistic era’s proclivity of drawing on Classical forms. It is comprised of three separate calendars. The front dial is composed of the Greek Zodiac with 360 divisions.
On the back of the mechanism the first or top dial on the device uses the Metonic cycle with a two subsidiary dials, one showing the Callippic cycle and the other acting as a calendar for the ancient Olympic games, while the lower dial uses the Saros eclipse cycle. The mechanism also had wooden doors on the front and back which included instructional inscriptions to aid the user in its operation. Its function wasn’t limited to only an eclipse and astrological calculator, but it would’ve also been applied to ship navigation, as Rhodian sailors used the stars and planetary bodies to navigate on their long journeys.
Rhodes is also the most widely accepted origin of the mechanism. The inventor of the Antikythera Mechanism is not explicitly known, but the favoured candidate is Posidonius of Rhodes. De Natura Deorum by Cicero supports this; “The celestial Sphere (Planetarium) recently constructed by the well-known to all of us Posidonius, on which the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets move with each rotation exactly as they move in the sky every day and night” This exact movement that Cicero refers to is considered to be that of the differential gear which emulated much more accurately the epicyclical movements of planetary bodies.
Records also show that Rhodes was prominent in the foundation and advancement of science, with particular emphasis on astrology. The size of the Wallingford clock is considerably greater than the Antikythera mechanism, it consists of two frames, one inch in thickness that are three feet cubed, with an 18” gap between them connected by a drive shaft. Its material construction is iron, unlike the Antikythera Mechanism, which was cut from bronze. The Wallingford clock was meticulously created in forges by a team of black smiths and tradesmen under the watchful eye of Abbott Richard Wallingford.
Their experience in building such mechanisms was derived from the construction of mills and the gear work involved in the process of grinding wheat. Despite this novice experience to clock building, Richard’s clock was every bit as precise in construction and function as the Antikythera Mechanism. Richard of Wallingford’s design of his clock was focused on worship and the elevation of God, despite its construction and design being rooted in astronomical science.
There are two main features of the Wallingford clock that exemplify its religious intent, first was Richard Wallingford’s desire to use the clock as a reflectance of the order and motion of the heavens on earth as reminder of God’s constant direction of our lives. The second was the addition of the “Wheel of Fortune” portraying the ascension of the poor into heaven with the rich being cast into hell. Sadly no surviving pieces have been discovered of Richard’s clock, as it was destroyed in 1539 during Henry the VIII’s reformation and the dissolution of St.
Albans Abby. What did survive were the writings, working drawings and principles for the clock done by Wallingford. The most obvious similarity in each of these mechanisms is their highly accurate function as astronomical calculators. The less obvious, but more intriguing similarity is the conveyed message of each machine: that of exclusivity and power. Wallingford clock had an obvious religious communication, while the Antikythera Mechanism was minimal in design and secular in nature.
Belied by the simplicity of the design of the Antikythera Mechanism, which seems to contradict the Hellenistic eras ostentation, was the rarity and expense to own such a device. Unlike the Classical era of inclusion, the Antikythera Mechanism was accessible to only those who could afford it. This is supported by the research of Science Historian Serafina Cuomo of London’s Imperial College. She points out that such devices elevated one’s social prestige “They were trying to impress their peers… the Greeks weren’t all that interested in accurate timekeeping” (Nature 538) What the Greeks did covet at the time was power and prestige.
Parralled in the medieval ages, for an Abbey to have a clock was prestigious; such was the case of St. Albans Wallingford clock. Especially since it was not on display for general viewing. Richard also avoided repairing the Abbey to focus on the construction of his clock. Richard the III gently chastised him for this action, to which Wallingford was chronicled as stating that “with all due reverence, that there would be abbots after him who would be able to find craftsman to restore the fabric of the monastery, but that after his death there would be none capable of completing the clock” (North 141).
From this stance Richard placed prestige and power of the Wallingford clock ahead of the structural integrity of the Abby. In each instance not only did both inventions accurately track the heavens, but the also elevated status and the exclusivity of knowledge and ultimately power. Though they are separated by the difference of secular ownership, religious worship, and a vast expanse of time, these two inventions both still centrally convey the same message.
Bibliography: Freeth, Tony, Bitsakis Yanis, Moussas Xenophon, Seiradakis John, Tselikas Agamemnon, Mangou Helen, Zafeiropoulou Mary, Hadland R. Bate D. , Ramsey Andrew, Allen Martin, Crawley A. , Hockley P. , Malzbender T. , Gelb D. , Ambrisco W. , and Edmunds Mike “Decoding the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism” Nature Volume 444, November 2006. 587-591 Pinotsis, A. D. “The Antikythera mechanism: who was its creator and what was its use and purpose? ” Astronomical and Astrophysical Transactions Vol. 26, Nos. 4–5, August–October 2007. 211–226 Marchant, Jo “In Search of Lost Time” Nature Vol. 444, November 2006. 534-538 Lobell, Jarrett A. “The Antikythera Mechanism” Archeology March-April 2007. 42-45 Merchant, Jo (2010) Decoding the heavens Philidelphia, PA: Da Capo Press North, John (2005) God’s clockmaker London, England: Continuum Second ed. Wright, Patricia “TIME AND TITHES” History Today Aug2004, Vol. 54 Issue 8. 22-27 Whyte, Nicholas “The Astronomical Clock of Richard of Wallingford” Sint-Genesius-Rode/Rhode-St-Genese, 23 July 1999 “The Hellenistic Period” Greek Thesaurus http://www. greek-thesaurus. gr/hellenistic-period. html “Life in the Middle Ages” Middle Ages http://www. middle-ages. org. uk/middle-ages-sitemap. htm St. Alban’s clock size provided by Alan Brodrick Historian, via email Wallingford Museum, England