Navigating between Abstraction and Observation: Using Astrolabes, Globes and Mirrors in the Medieval Mediterranean

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


This paper forms part of my ongoing research on the role representation, both abstract and illustrative, and imagination (phantasia) play in the design and use of diagrammatic and technological devices during the Middle Ages in the Eastern Mediterranean for the purposes of understanding, mapping, preserving and transmitting knowledge concerning the kosmos and the natural world. Thus, in this paper I discuss various ways, through which medieval scholars constructed models of the universe and used them to visualize what was otherwise impossible to observe, e.g. the planetary spheres or the entirety of the Earth’s body. Diagrams, astrolabes, and globes are the usual suspects in this story, while the role of mirrors in the study of the heavens is less conspicuous. After surveying what scarce evidence there is concerning the use of astronomical instruments in Byzantium, I will focus on one case study in particular, namely on Demetrios Triklinios’ Selenography and his proposal for an experiment in lunar observation involving the use of a large mirror. The paper is part of a work in progress and does not aim to offer any definitive answers, but rather to engage the audience in a process of collaborative thinking concerning astronomical observation, representation, and imagination in the medieval Mediterranean.
Period24 Jun 2021
Event titleAncient Medicine and Technology Online Seminar Series 2020–21
Event typeOther
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • History of Science
  • History of Technology
  • History of Scientific Instruments
  • Diagram
  • Byzantium
  • Mediterranean