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Courtney Ann Roby

Associate Professor

Courtney Ann Roby

120 Goldwin Smith Hall



Professor Roby’s 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 the definition and dissemination of scientific work. Her 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. Her new book project focuses on 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. 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.


  • Classics
  • Medieval Studies Program

Graduate Fields

  • Classics
  • Medieval Studies
  • Science and Technology Studies


"History of Distributed Cognition" project:


Fall 2021

Spring 2022



·         Technical Ekphrasis in Ancient Science and Literature: The Written Machine between Alexandria and Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.


Articles and book chapters:

·         “L’ekphrasis e l’immaginazione scientifica in Tolomeo,” in Estetica: Studi e Ricerche 2013.1: 109-125.

·          “Natura machinata: artifacts and nature as reciprocal models in Vitruvius,” in Apeiron, 46.2 (2013).

·          “Experiencing Geometry in Roman Surveyors’ Texts,” in Nuncius 29.1 (2014): 9-52

·         “Seneca’s Scientific Fictions: Models as Fictions in the Natural Questions.” The Journal of Roman Studies 104 (November 2014): 155–80.

·         “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.

·         “Embodied meaning in Latin technical texts,” in Embodiment in Latin Semantics, ed. William Short, forthcoming 2016 from John Benjamin (Studies in Language): 211-238.

·          “Framing technologies in Hero and Ptolemy.” Framing the Visual in Greek and Roman Art, edd. Michael Squire and Verity Platt, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

·          “Animal, vegetable, metaphor: Plotinus’s liver and the roots of biological identity.” The Comparable Body: Imagination and Analogy in Ancient Anatomy and Physiology, under contract for Brill, Studies in Ancient Medicine.

·         “Physical sciences: Ptolemy’s extended mind,” in A History of Distributed cognition (forthcoming from Edinburgh University Press)

·         “Geometer, in a landscape: Hero’s embodied mathematics,” in Revolutions and Continuity in Greek Mathematics  (under contract with De Gruyter, forthcoming 2017) 


Handbook articles, bibliographies, and encyclopedia articles:

·         Articles on Archimedes, Eutocius, Hippasos of Metapontum, mathematical diagrams, proof, and proportion in Bagnall, Roger S. (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

·          “Land-surveyors” and “Mechanics,” Oxford Bibliographies Online

·         “Latin didactic, scientific, and technical literature,” Oxford Handbooks Online

·         “Technical illustrations” and revision of “Mathematical diagrams,” Oxford Classical Dictionary



·         Review: Duane Roller, Eratosthenes’ Geography: Fragments Collected and Translated, with Commentary and Additional Material. In Scholia Reviews, ns 19 (2010), 21.

·         Review: Sylvia Berryman, The mechanical hypothesis in ancient Greek natural philosophy. In Isis, Vol. 102.2 (2011).

·         “Getting ‘wrong’ right” (essay review of Lehoux, What Did the Romans Know?), in Expositions 6.2 (2012): 15-22.

·         Review: Riddle, John M, van Arsdall A., and Timothy Graham. Herbs and Healers from the Ancient Mediterranean Through the Medieval West: Essays in Honor of John M. Riddle, in Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews 2013.4.19.