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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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This paper is the result of new research of ancient and early modern sources about the developments of the concept of hydrological cycle and of hydrology in general. It shows that the flooding of the Nile was the first geophysical problem formulated in scientific terms in the cradle of natural philosophy and science in the 6th century BC. Aristotle was able to find the correct solution to the problem, which he tested through what it appears to be the first scientific expedition in history.
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https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2021-7
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2021-7

  12 Jan 2021

12 Jan 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

From mythology to science: the development of scientific hydrological concepts in the Greek antiquity and its relevance to modern hydrology

Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Nikos Mamassis Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Nikos Mamassis
  • Department of Water Resources and Environmental Engineering, School of Civil Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, Heroon Polytechneiou 5, GR 157 80 Zographou, Greece

Abstract. Whilst hydrology is a Greek term, it has not been in use in the Classical literature but much later, during the Renaissance, in its Latin version, hydrologia. On the other hand, Greek natural philosophers created robust knowledge in related scientific areas, to which they gave names such as meteorology, climate and hydraulics. These terms are now in common use internationally. Within these areas, Greek natural philosophers laid the foundation of hydrological concepts and the hydrological cycle in its entirety. Knowledge development was brought about by search for technological solutions to practical problems, as well as by scientific curiosity to explain natural phenomena. While initial explanations belong to the sphere of mythology, the rise of philosophy was accompanied by attempts to provide scientific descriptions of the phenomena. It appears that the first geophysical problem formulated in scientific terms was the explanation of the flood regime of the Nile, then regarded as a paradox because of the spectacular difference from the river flow regime in Greece and other Mediterranean regions, i.e., the fact that the Nile flooding occurs in summer when in most of the Mediterranean the rainfall is very low. While some of the early attempts to explain it were influenced by Homer’s mythical view (archaic period), eventually, Aristotle was able to formulate a correct hypothesis, which he tested through what it appears to be the first in history scientific expedition, in the turn from the Classical to Hellenistic period. This confirms the fact that the hydrological cycle was well understood during the Classical period yet it poses the question why Aristotle’s correct explanation had not been accepted and, instead, ancient and modern mythical views had been preferred up to the 18th century.

Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Nikos Mamassis

Status: open (until 09 Mar 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on hess-2021-7', Charles Curry, 12 Jan 2021 reply
    • AC1: 'Reply on CC1', Demetris Koutsoyiannis, 12 Jan 2021 reply
    • EC1: 'Reply on CC1', Roberto Ranzi, 12 Jan 2021 reply
      • CC2: 'Reply on EC1', Charles Curry, 12 Jan 2021 reply
  • AC2: 'Some oversights in hess-2021-7', Demetris Koutsoyiannis, 17 Jan 2021 reply

Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Nikos Mamassis

Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Nikos Mamassis

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Short summary
This paper is the result of new research of ancient and early modern sources about the developments of the concept of hydrological cycle and of hydrology in general. It shows that the flooding of the Nile was the first geophysical problem formulated in scientific terms in the cradle of natural philosophy and science in the 6th century BC. Aristotle was able to find the correct solution to the problem, which he tested through what it appears to be the first scientific expedition in history.
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