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

D. Koutsoyiannis, and N. Mamassis, From mythology to science: the development of scientific hydrological concepts in the Greek antiquity and its relevance to modern hydrology, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 25, 2419–2444, doi:10.5194/hess-25-2419-2021, 2021.



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.

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Our works that reference this work:

1. D. Koutsoyiannis, Rethinking climate, climate change, and their relationship with water, Water, 13 (6), 849, doi:10.3390/w13060849, 2021.
2. D. Koutsoyiannis, and G.-F. Sargentis, Entropy and wealth, Entropy, 23 (10), 1356, doi:10.3390/e23101356, 2021.
3. G.-F. Sargentis, and D. Koutsoyiannis, The function of money in water–energy–food and land nexus, Land, 12 (3), 669, doi:10.3390/land12030669, 2023.
4. G.-F. Sargentis, N. Mamassis, O. Kitsou, and D. Koutsoyiannis, The role of technology in the water–energy–food nexus. A case study: Kerinthos, North Euboea, Greece, Frontiers in Water, 6, 1343344, doi:10.3389/frwa.2024.1343344, 2024.

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