Newton in Atlantis


Isaac Newton’s Chronology of Ancient Kingdom’s Amended contains an interesting passage about a mythological kingdom: Atlantis. On page 229 we read that

Solon having travelled into Egypt, and conversed with the Priests of Sais about their antiquities, wrote a Poem of what he had learnt, but did not finish it; and this Poem fell into the hands of Plato, who relates out of it, that at the mouth of the Straits near Hercules‘s Pillars there was an Island called Atlantis, the people of which, nine thousand years before the days of Solon, reigned over Libya as far as Egypt, and over Europe as far as the Tyrrhene sea.

For various reasons, Newton never came around to visit the island, but he was recently spotted on the pages of its successor: The New Atlantis.

The New Atlantis – a journal of technology and society – has devoted a significant part of its Winter 2015 issue to The Unknown Newton. What’s even better: it is open-access! Huzzah!  As a shameless copy-paste from the editorial shows, the editors have asked five leading Newton scholars to unveil the unknown Newton:

Robert Iliffe provides an overview of Newton’s religious thought, including his radically unorthodox theology.

William R. Newman examines the scientific ambitions in Newton’s alchemical labors, which are often written off as deviations from science.

Stephen D. Snobelen — who in the course of writing his essay discovered Newton’s personal, dog-eared copy of a book that had been lost — provides an in-depth look at the connection between Newton’s interpretation of biblical prophecy and his cosmological views.

Andrew Janiak explains how Newton reconciled the apparent tensions between the Bible and the new view of the world described by physics.

Finally, Sarah Dry describes the curious fate of Newton’s unpublished papers, showing what they mean for our understanding of the man and why they remained hidden for so long.

I can only heartily recommend these essays: they contain invaluable insight in the unknown Newton, by scholars who have devoted most if not all of their careers to correct the incomplete and often faulty Newton image that the Enlightenment left us with. Each of the five essays aims at a wider audience, and – as an added bonus to the online versions – contains many links to source materials and Newton Project transcriptions. So go to that island, and enjoy!

The essays can be found here: The Unknown Newton – The New Atlantis


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