The Almagest through the Ages
The Almagest has shared the fate of many other major works in the history of science. It has been talked about by many, but studied seriously only by the few. Yet it was just as important to ancient science as Newton's Principia was to the 17th century, and there is no question that it was a greater scientific achievement than the De revo lutionibus which has obliterated its fame, just as Copernicus has outshone Ptolemy as an astronomical genius. The Almagest was the culmination of Greek astronomy, and unrivalled in Antiquity as an example of how a large and important class of natural phenomena could be described in mathematical terms in such a way that their future course could be predicted with reasonable precision. It taught scientists of many ages how geometrical and kinematical models could be constructed and, by means of empirical data stemming from careful observations, made to simulate nature in a way which came to influence scientific method until the present day. It is true that the Babylonians had succeeded in developing highly sophisticated, algebraic methods to deal with the phenomena. But, as far as we know, they never tried to summarize either their methods or their results in a comprehensive work comparable with this brilliant exposition of everything achieved by Ptolemy himself and by the most remarkable of his predecessors among the Greek astronomers.