What made the Antikythera mechanism unique (its fine workmanship, the scientific knowledge contained in such a small space and, last but not least, its uniqueness itself) is what makes us look at it with wonder. No matter how efficient and advanced the technology hidden in a modern computer is, no one, not even unconsciously, will find himself at awe with it. Mass production has not only made wonder impossible and obsolete, it has made each thing (whether an object or a person) desperately unoriginal and, as a substitutable thing, useless in itself. If, twenty-two centuries later, we admire the Antikythera mechanism, we can only sigh at no longer being able to build such fine works and at how much we have by contrast been made insignificant by our own machines.


 

[i] That the 6th century model be simpler does not mean that scientific knowledge or technical skills had been lost. The Antikythera mechanism is a one-of-a-kind, outstanding, state-of-the-art model using technical skills that had by this point come to maturity (the advanced techniques used in this clockwork means that there had been earlier trials, though those have not been preserved or found). In all likelihood, it was not meant to be mass-produced, if such a term accurately applies to ancient modes of production. One may even wonder if it would have been very functional and actually used (the suggestion that the ship onboard which it was found was bound for Rome reinforces this hypothesis). Besides, eclipses could easily be predicted by simple calculations. It is probably more a window to the technological expertise of the Greek world in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, perhaps a gift to a Hellenistic king before being taken to Rome as a war spoil or trophy. It was not uncommon before the Modern world to acquire and display mechanical devices to impress and strike awe and therefore display power, such as, much later, the mechanical animals described by Liutprand of Cremona at the court of Constantinople would do. The simpler 6th century model may on the contrary be the representative of models produced for more practical use although one may, for the same reasons as above, speculate that such mechanisms were mostly built to satisfy the knowledge-thirsty scientists and scholarly noblemen of the Eastern Empire. The 6th century was indeed another high point of Ancient mathematics, best represented by Anthemios of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus, the famed architects of Hagia Sophia who, together with their peers, could have had a scholarly interest in and the need for such devices (interestingly, the latter also produced the first comprehensive compilation of Archimedes’ works). If anything, these ancient astronomical clocks are works of art, the mechanical reproduction on a small scale of the greatest work of art, the cosmos.

[ii] The expression closed system is a redundancy since a system is by definition closed and does not admit external disturbances. The struggle of modern thinkers such as Hegel and, in a way, Marx, to develop open systems, a contradiction in terms, is a testimony to the end of classical thought and concepts at the hand of modernity.