Ancient Loons: Stories Pingree Told Me, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Ancient Loons

Stories Pingree Told Me, 1st Edition

Edited by Philip J Davis

A K Peters/CRC Press

138 pages

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Paperback: 9781138114531
pub: 2017-06-16
Currently out of stock
Hardback: 9781466501119
pub: 2011-12-19
eBook (VitalSource) : 9780429112942
pub: 2016-04-19
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"Ah, I’m Pingree. We meet again. Splendid. Won’t you sit down?"

I looked around David’s room. Short of the library stacks, I had never seen so many books piled into a single room. Where could I sit down? Every square inch of horizontal surface was covered. Books, papers, notes, manuscripts—all congregated in random and chaotic disorder.

This small encounter and the snapshot of the protagonist on the cover of this book introduce the reader to David E. Pingree, the eminent classicist, Orientalist, historian of ancient science, and member of the Department of the History of Mathematics at Brown University. This is a book of his stories, retold by Phil Davis, award-winning author and raconteur par excellence, who reconstructs them from letters and many conversations with his friend Pingree.

The stories trace connections between ancient characters, historical and mythical, and recreate a world in which the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake leads to unexpected pleasures and associations. They capture a world best described by Saul Lieberman’s quip about Gershom Scholem’s great work on the Kabala: "Trash is trash; but the study of trash is scholarship," and David Pingree’s imagined response, "Yes, but there’s always something of value to be learned."

The book is dedicated to preserving and promoting the specialized knowledge and thoughts of David Pingree, a truly remarkable person and to inspire readers to follow academic tradition and at the same time explore unusual connections.


The book is a collection of short stories, small anecdotes in the life of some historical characters. More concretely, it focuses on the oddities and singularities of some well-known historical figures, not only in science, but also in arts, politics and social sciences. … the book shows the fascination for ancient history, the treasures hidden in original sources and the importance of exploring unusual connections.

—Javier Martinez, The European Mathematical Society, January 2013

… a rambling, illuminating and thoroughly enjoyable bio/autobiographical and historical sketch, setting Pingree’s immense erudition in its professional and intellectual context. Besides a string of amusing and intriguing anecdotes plentifully sprinkled with photos and sketches, this small volume supplies a valuable reminder of how complex, surprising and just plain strange the history of the exact sciences can be.

—Kim Plofker, MAA Reviews, October 2012

Table of Contents

Part I: Setting the Stage: The Academic Milieu

Wilbour Hall

Otto Neugebauer

Abraham J. Sachs

Gerald J. Toomer

Enter David Pingree, My Protagonist

Part II: The Loons and How I Got to Know Them

Simon Forman

In Which I Meet Lord Dacre

Elias Ashmole

Thomas Allen

Siva and Parvati



St. Christopher the Dog-Faced

St. Cuthbert

Vergilius Maro Grammaticus


The Fabricated Letters of Antony and Cleopatra


A Few Thoughts on Mathematics and Theology

John Napier

Katharine Firth

Abu Ma’ashar and the Hurrians

Apollonius of Tyana

Charles-BenOit Hase

Abu Rayhan al-Biruni

Ringing Down the Curtain

Further Reading

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MATHEMATICS / Recreations & Games