Courtney Ann Roby

Associate Professor


My research interests focus on the literary aspects of scientific and technical texts from the ancient world, the interaction of verbal and visual elements in those texts, and cognitive science approaches to ancient scientific work. My first book (Technical Ekphrasis in Greek and Roman Science and Literature: The Written Machine between Alexandria and Rome, Cambridge University Press 2016) traces the literary techniques used in the textual representation of technological artifacts from Hellenistic Greece to late-ancient Rome.

My second book (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press) examines the mechanical tradition established by Hero of Alexandria, whose multidisciplinary technical treatises spanned topics from pure geometry to the construction of mechanical automata, and who remained an influential figure in the history of mechanics through the 18th century.

My new book project investigates how the cognitive science concepts of embodied, embedded, and extended mind can inform our reading of ancient scientific activity and writing.

Other recent, current, and forthcoming projects address how contemporary philosophy of science can help us understand the "scientific fictions" of Seneca's Natural Questions, how cognitive-scientific ideas of "extended mind" are reflected in Ptolemy's astronomical and harmonic works, and how early printed editions of ancient technical treatises rework ancient authors' materials for a new context of production and propagation.

Research Focus

  • ancient Greek and Roman science and technology
  • models in ancient scientific thinking
  • cognitive science approaches to ancient scientific work
  • book history / bibliography and the study of ancient scientific texts



  • Technical Ekphrasis in Ancient Science and Literature: The Written Machine between Alexandria and Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • The Mechanical Tradition of Hero of Alexandria: Strategies of Reading from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press)


Edited collection:

  • Unruly Objects: Material Entanglements in the Arts and Sciences, edd. Lucia Dacome, Meghan Doherty, Dahlia Porter, and Courtney Roby (special issue of Nuncius: December 2020)


Selected articles and book chapters:

  • “Strange Loops: Experiment and Program in Hero of Alexandria’s Automata,” in Technological Animation in Classical Antiquity, edd. Bur, Gerolemou, Ruffel (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2023)
  • “Archimedes for the Rest of Us,” in The Place of Archimedes in World History (special issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews), ed. Karine Chemla and Reviel Netz, forthcoming 2022
  • “Learning from Mistakes: Constructing knowledge in late antique mathematical texts,” in Knowledge Construction in Late Antiquity, ed. Monika Amsler (De Gruyter (Trends in Classics), forthcoming 2023)
  • “Cultural and Cognitive Anchoring in Hero of Alexandria,” in Anchoring Technology, edd. Miko Flohr, Stephan Mols, Teun Tieleman (Brill: Euormos, forthcoming 2022)
  • “Terminology in the wild: enactive meaning-making in the Roman surveyors,” in Approaching Terminologies in Ancient Science(s), ed. Markus Asper, forthcoming 2022
  • “Theorizing technology: theōria, diagram, and artifact in Hero of Alexandria,” in The Epistemic Functions of Vision in Science, edd. Giulia Giannini and Matteo Valleriani (Brill, forthcoming 2022)
  • “Model wars: theorizing war in Greek and Roman tactical manuals,” in Visualising War: Interplay between Battle Narratives across Antiquity, edd. Alice König and Nicolas Wiater (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2022)
  • “Popular Mechanics: Hero of Alexandria from Antiquity to the Renaissance,” in A Genealogy of Popular Science. From Ancient Ecphrasis to Virtual Reality, ed. Jesús Muñoz Morcillo (transcript Verlag, 2021)
  • “Moving wood, man immobile: Hero’s Automata at the Urbino court,” in Material world: The intersection of art, nature, and science in ancient literature and its Renaissance reception, ed. Guy Hedreen (Istituto Universitario Olandese di Storia dell’Arte, Firenze (NIKI), (Brill, 2021)
  • “Making comets sensible: experience, ekphrasis, and exemplarity in Roman cometary observations,” in Les comètes entre ciel et terre de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance, ed. Joelle Ducos (Les Belles Lettres, forthcoming 2022)
  • “Belopoeica,” in the Brill Companion to Greek and Roman Military Literature, ed. Philip Rance (Brill, forthcoming 2022)
  • “Ekphrasis,” in Oxford Companion on Literary Theory and Criticism, edd. Nancy Worman and Joy Connolly (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2022)
  • “Technology,” in A Cultural History of Objects in Antiquity, ed. Robin Osborne (Bloomsbury Press, 2021) 
  • “Parasite, Infused: Pliny on Leeches,” in Pliny the Elder and Materiality, ed. Anna Anguissola (Brepols (Art and Materiality), 2021)
  • “Geometer, in a landscape: Hero’s embodied mathematics,” in Revolutions and Continuity in Greek Mathematics, ed. Michalis Sialaros, De Gruyter, 2018
  • “Physical sciences: Ptolemy’s extended mind,” in A History of Distributed Cognition, ed. Douglas Cairns, Edinburgh University Press, 2018.
  • “Animal, vegetable, metaphor: Plotinus’s liver and the roots of biological identity.” The Comparable Body: Imagination and Analogy in Ancient Anatomy and Physiology, ed. John Wee, Brill (Studies in Ancient Medicine), 2017.
  • “Framing technologies in Hero and Ptolemy.” The Frame in Classical Art: A Cultural History, edd. Michael Squire and Verity Platt, Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • “Embodied meaning in Latin technical texts,” in Embodiment in Latin Semantics, ed. William Short, John Benjamin (Studies in Language), 2016: 211-238.
  • “Galen on the patient’s role in pain diagnosis: sensation, consensus, and metaphor.” Homo Patiens: Approaches to the Patient in the Ancient World, edd. Thumiger and Petridou. Brill (Studies in Ancient Medicine) 2016: 304-324.
  • “Seneca’s Scientific Fictions: Models as Fictions in the Natural Questions.” The Journal of Roman Studies 104 (November 2014): 155–80.
  • “Experiencing Geometry in Roman Surveyors’ Texts,” in Nuncius 29.1 (2014): 9-52
  • “Natura machinata: artifacts and nature as reciprocal models in Vitruvius,” in Apeiron, 46.2 (2013).
  • “L’ekphrasis e l’immaginazione scientifica in Tolomeo,” in Estetica: Studi e Ricerche 2013.1: 109-125.



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