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Ancient Science: Earth Sciences and Meteorology

In many ancient civilizations, the unknown (rain, snow, earthquakes, etc.) was explained by the supernatural. For the Greeks and Romans, religion and the natural laws of the universe were not mutually exclusive. Through the use of logic, reason, and science, they tried to understand these natural phenomena. They believed that scientific inquiry and experimentation could push forward knowledge, thus eliminating the fear of these meteorological events.

"The School of Athens" by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino

In Letter to Pythocles, written between c. 306-270 BCE, Epicurus outlines his views on why one should practice science. Epicurus believed science explains natural phenomena, such as rain, snow, lightning, tornados, etc, thus freeing the mind of fear that people had about the world at that time. This was due to the fact that many believed natural occurrences were due to the will of the gods.

Epicurus’s approach to scientific explanation was to draw hypotheses based on observable evidence for any phenomenon investigated rather than follow “groundless postulates.” He adds that science resorts to multiple explanations for various phenomena and that there is no absolute way of selecting between them without evidence or being able to test these different theories.


Seneca, a Roman philosopher, identified with some elements of Epicurus's ideas. Around 62-64 AD, he wrote an 8-book meteorological treatise called Natural Questions that examined flooding of the Nile, hail, winds, earthquakes, meteors, etc. Seneca urges the reader to “investigate nature” in order to develop a rationalized approach to the natural sciences, thus eliminating fear and uncertainty in regards to natural phenomena.


Works cited:

Konstan, David. “Epicurus (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2018,

Epicurus | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Vogt, Katja. “Seneca (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2015,

“The Roman Empire: In the First Century. The Roman Empire. Writers. Seneca | PBS.”,

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