The (Ancient) Science of Snow

Seneca, Natural Questions IVB 13.2

“You want more? Do you imagine that this exploration of nature offers nothing to what you want? When we examine how snow develops and claim that it has characteristics like frost, that it contains more air than water, don’t you consider it a criticism of those people who–even though it is shameful to purchase water–buy less water when they do than air?”

Quid porro? Hanc ipsam inspectionem naturae nihil iudicas ad id quod vis conferre? Cum quaerimus quomodo nix fiat et dicimus illam pruinae similem habere naturam, plus illi spiritus quam aquae inesse, non putas exprobrari illis, cum emere aquam turpe sit, si ne aquam quidem emunt?

Sextus Empicirus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism 1.33

“Anaxagoras argued against snow’s whiteness because snow is frozen water and water is black therefore snow is black.”

 ὁ Ἀναξαγόρας τῷ λευκὴν εἶναι τὴν χιόνα ἀντετίθει, ὅτι ἡ χιὼν ὕδωρ ἐστὶ πεπηγός, τὸ δὲ ὕδωρ ἐστὶ μέλαν, καὶ ἡ χιὼν ἄρα μέλαινά ἐστιν.

Aetius, 3.4.1

“Anaximenes says that clouds develop when air is super condensed and if it is compressed even more, rain happens. Snow, too, [happens] if this water freezes as it falls. Hail is when some air is trapped up in the moisture.”

Ἀναξιμένης νέφη μὲν γίνεσθαι παχυνθέντος ἐπὶ πλεῖστον τοῦ ἀέρος, μᾶλλον δ’ ἐπισυναχθέντος ἐκθλίβεσθαι τοὺς ὄμβρους, χιόνα δέ, ἐπειδὰν τὸ καταφερόμενον ὕδωρ παγῇ, χάλαζαν1 δ’ ὅταν συμπεριληφθῇ τῷ ὑγρῷ πνεῦμά τι

Ps. Aristotle, On the Cosmos 394a

“Snow develops when super condensed clouds break apart and separate before changing to water. The breaking is what makes the white foaminess of the snow. The coldness comes from structure of the moisture inside it which did not get to fully develop or purify. When there is a lot of snow falling together, it is called a snowstorm.”

χιὼν δὲ γίνεται κατὰ νεφῶν πεπυκνωμένων ἀπόθραυσιν πρὸ τῆς εἰς ὕδωρ μεταβολῆς 35ἀνακοπέντων· ἐργάζεται δὲ ἡ μὲν κοπὴ τὸ ἀφρῶδες καὶ ἔκλευκον, ἡ δὲ σύμπηξις τοῦ ἐνόντος ὑγροῦ τὴν ψυχρότητα οὔπω χυθέντος οὐδὲ ἠραιωμένου. σφοδρὰ δὲ αὕτη καὶ ἀθρόα καταφερομένη νιφετὸς ὠνόμασται.

Galen, Constitution of the Art of Medicine 253K

“If you separate snow into the smallest pieces, you still have snow. But if you heat it, you put an end to the snow.”

τὴν γοῦν χιόνα διαιρῶν μὲν εἰς ἐλάχιστα μόρια φυλάξεις χιόνα, θερμήνας δὲ παύσεις χιόνα

Cross eyed Stereo image of snow crystals.

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