Clagett’s the Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (1961)
In his Méchanique Analitique, published in 1788, Lagrange included a history of mechanics which dominates the historical remarks and attributions still current in the teaching of physics. Most of the early references in Mach’s romance, Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung, historisch-kritisch dargestellt (1883) are those given before by Lagrange, and it is from notices and footnotes in Mach’s coloring that the history of mechanics is inferred by students today. Let anyone who doubts this try to convince a physicist that the laws of uniformly accelerated motion were well known in the Middle Ages. Lagrange said of Archimedes and Galileo that “the interval separating these two great geniuses disappears in the history of mechanics.” In 1675/1676 Newton had written to Hooke, “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” In the century between Newton and Lagrange, the memory of the giants had shrivelled until even their names were forgotten. Newton’s statement has been interpreted as an early example of the false modesty which is now required of scientists’ locution, but Newton was a man loth to say more when less would serve.
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Note for the Reprinting
- M. Clagett’s The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1959, was first published in Speculum 36 (1961): 119–121.Google Scholar