Francesco Grillo

PhD Researcher ||

Research title

Hero of Alexandria and his Theatrical Automata

Research summary


2013: MA, 'Philology, Literature and Classical Tradition', University of Bologna (110/110 cum laude)

MA thesis in 'Greek Philology and Literature': Ricerche sugli epigrammi aritmetici del XIV libro dell'Anthologia Palatina (Supervisor Prof. C. Neri, Co-Supervisor Dr. Valentina Garulli)

2010: BA, 'Classical Philology' (110/110 cum laude)

BA thesis in 'Greek Grammar': Etimologie e paretimologie nel Cratilo di Platone (Supervisor Prof. Ornella Montanari, Co-Supervisor Dr. A. Giavatto)

Main research interests

  • Ancient philosophy of language
  • Enigmatic, witty and obscure Greek poetry
  • Greek epigram (esp. AP 14)
  • Greek technical writing (esp. mathematics and mechanics)
  • Ancient fable
  • Translation studies

Synopsis of Current Research

After graduating from the University of Bologna I embarked on my PhD - An edition with commentary of Hero of Alexandria’s Περὶ αὐτοματοποιητικῆς - under the supervision of Dr. Ian Ruffell and Dr. Costas Panayotakis. This Leverhulme-funded PhD project aims at producing a new critical edition, with English translation and commentary, of Hero of Alexandria’s Περὶ αὐτοματοποιητικῆς (On the Making of Automata). Hero’s mechanical treatise sets itself up as a guide to the construction of two different types of self-moving automaton, one ‘mobile’, and one ‘stationary’. While the former (i.e. a shrine of Dionysos set on top of four little columns which rests on a wheeled case) is presented generically as an improvement on existing technology and displays a limited narrative, the latter (i.e. a small-scale ‘theatre’ set on top of a little pillar) is explicitly referred to as an advance on the standing automaton of Philon of Byzantium and includes the presentation of a more extended narrative.

The necessary starting point for such a work is the standard Teubner edition of Schmidt (1899a+b), which proves to require accurate re-evaluation and augmentation. The main purpose of my project is therefore to provide a fresh and comprehensive analysis of both the text and textual tradition; this will fully investigate textual problems and their significance and implications for interpretation, as well as the author’s language, style and rhetorical register and strategies – all to be considered against the background of Greek mechanical writing and technical literature.

As part of the larger collaborative research project ‘Hero of Alexandria and his Theatrical Automata’ (University of Glasgow, School of Humanities, Classics and School of Engineering), this PhD study will thus allow for a well-supported constitutio textus, cast new light on the relationships between the manuscripts and offer a well-thought-out and more accessible translation of the text, as well as providing the first detailed commentary on the treatise. In this connection, the process of translation and interpretation cannot but take serious account of the already existing translations (Baldi 1589, 1601, Prou 1884, Schmidt 1899a and Murphy 1995), not least entailing the examination and assessment of the diagrams which are included in the manuscripts.

Given the highly interdisciplinary nature of both the broader project and its outcomes (e.g. experimental reconstruction of the automata and evaluation of them in performance), the analysis of the text is envisaged to feed into and take advantage of the other strands of research being pursued (contextual, experimental and performative); the translation and commentary, together with technical data and experimental results, will eventually be made available on the project website, in order to combine and integrate various layers of information, as well as to render them accessible to scholars and the wider public alike.


Baldi, B. (1589) Di Herone Alessandrino De gli automati overo machine se moventi, Libri due, Tradotti dal Greco da Bernaldino Baldi Abbate di Guastalla. Venezia.

Baldi, B. (1601) Di Herone Alessandrino De gli automati overo machine se moventi, Libri due, Tradotti dal Greco da Bernaldino Baldi Abbate di Guastalla. Nuovamente ristampato e con ogni diligenza ricorretto. Venezia.

Murphy, S. (1995) ‘Heron of Alexandria’s On Automaton-Making’, HTechn 17: 1-44.

Prou, V. (1884) Les Théâtres d’Automates en Grèce au IIe siècle avant l’ère chrétienne, d’après les αὐτοματοποιϊκά d’Héron d’Alexandrie. Paris.

Schmidt, W. (1899a) Heronis Alexandrini opera quae supersunt omnia, volume one, Pneumatica et automata. Leipzig.

Schmidt, W. (1899b) Heronis Alexandrini opera quae supersunt omnia, volume one, supplementary volume, Die Geschichte der Textüberlieferung; Griechisches Wortregister. Leipzig.


  • Research Award, Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, École des hautes études hispaniques et ibériques. Award to cover accommodation and subsistence costs related to the Doctoral Workshop ‘Littératures techniques et tradition des textes scientifiques de l'Antiquité gréco-romaine’, total amount awarded not specified.
  • Research Support Award, University of Glasgow. Award to cover travel and accommodation expenses associated with the RaC paper presentation, £230,85.
  • Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship. Fully-funded three-year PhD studentship, part of a three-year Leverhulme Trust research project grant, £17,952 p.a.


  • Pseudo-interpolations in Hero of Alexandria's Περὶ αὐτοματοποιητικῆς, Classical Association Annual Conference, University of Kent, 28th April 2017
  • Hero of Alexandria’s Περὶ αὐτοματοποιητικῆς (or perhaps even better Περὶ αὐτομάτων): I.1-3, Commentary Writing Workshop, University of St Andrews, 2nd March 2017
  • Hero of Alexandria's Περὶ αὐτοματοποιητικῶν: the collation of the "worst" manuscripts, Classics Postgraduate Research Seminars , University of Glasgow, 26th October 2015
  • Axles, pivots, sockets and the like: the challenge of translating Hero’s Περὶ αὐτοματοποιητικῆς Book I, Doctoral Workshop ‘Littératures techniques et tradition des textes scientifiques de l'Antiquité gréco-romaine’ (Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, École des hautes études hispaniques et ibériques, IRHT, CNRS). Casa de Velásquez (Madrid), 20th-24th April 2015.
  • Arithmetic problems from the Greek Anthology: words and numbers at play, ‘RaC’ (‘Ricerche a confronto’ – Rodopis cultural association, University of Bologna and University of Pisa). University of Pisa, 4th December 2014.


  • Greek 1A/B (Tutor)
  • Summer Online Greek Course
  • Classical Civilisation 1A (Tutor)

Additional information

Additional training

06/2015: London International Palaeography Summer School (University of London, School of Advanced Studies, Institute of English Studies)

Two-day ‘Introduction to Greek Palaeography’ course (Dr. Laura Franco); subjects covered include History of Greek Palaeography, Greek majuscule and minuscule scripts, commonest abbreviations and ligatures.

03/2014–05/2014: FEI Project 'Parole in Gioco 3' Italian as second language (CEFAL Emilia Romagna Soc. Coop., Bologna, Italy)

Training course specifically aimed at teachers of the Italian Language L2, co-financed by the EU and the Ministry of Interior through the European Fund for Integration of third-country nationals 2007-2013.