Many of Isaac Newton’s precious notebooks in which he worked out his many influential, ground-breaking theories about the world around him, were written entirely in perfect Greek.
Newton’s ability to effortlessly scribble his theories, thoughts, and discoveries about some of the most complicated elements of science proves not just the genius of the scientist himself but also the prevalence of Greek as a scientific language in seventeenth-century England.
Sir Isaac Newton’s Greek notes
While the titles and subjects—as well as brief explanations on margins of the pages—he was working on are presented in Latin, the subject analysis itself is given in a brief, well-written Greek text in lowercase letters with the necessary diacritical marks.
This is a notebook Newton acquired while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College and used from about 1661 to 1665. It includes many notes from his studies and, increasingly, his own explorations into mathematics, physics, and metaphysics. It was inherited from his stepfather, and scholars believe it helped Newton to make significant breakthroughs in the field of calculus.
Due to the way it is written, with some strike-throughs and scratched-out letters, the notebook was judged ‘not fit to be printed’ at the time. Newton’s notebook was condemned to oblivion as it was passed down through Newton’s relatives for generations.
In 1872, Isaac Newton’s papers, including his notes in Greek, were presented to the Library of Cambridge. Currently, Cambridge owns the most extensive and significant collection of Newton’s papers.
Their collection of the great thinker’s papers was finally digitized and put online by Cambridge University in 2011.
Isaac Newton is widely recognized as one of the most brilliant and influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment that followed.
His pioneering book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, consolidated many previous results and established classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics, and shares credit with German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for developing infinitesimal calculus.
In the Principia, Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the dominant scientific viewpoint for centuries until it was superseded by the theory of relativity.
Newton used his mathematical description of gravity to derive Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, account for tides, the trajectories of comets, the precession of the equinoxes and other phenomena, eradicating doubt about the Solar System’s heliocentricity.
He demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and celestial bodies could be accounted for by the same principles. Newton’s inference that the Earth is an oblate spheroid was later confirmed by the geodetic measurements of Maupertuis, La Condamine, and others, convincing most European scientists of the superiority of Newtonian mechanics over earlier systems.