An ancient explanation of presbyopia based on binocular vision

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Abstract

Presbyopia, understood as the age-related loss of ability to clearly see near objects, was known to ancient Greeks. However, few references to it can be found in ancient manuscripts. A relevant discussion on presbyopia appears in a book calledSymposiacswritten by Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus around 100 A.C. In this work, Plutarch provided four explanations of presbyopia, associated with different theories of vision. One of the explanations is particularly interesting as it is based on a binocular theory of vision. In this theory, vision is produced when visual rays, emanating from the eyes, form visual cones that impinge on the objects to be seen. Visual rays coming from old people's eyes, it was supposed, are weaker than those from younger people's eyes; so the theory, to be logically coherent, implies that this effect is compensated by the increase in light intensity due to the overlapping, at a certain distance, of the visual cones coming from both eyes. Thus, it benefits the reader to move the reading text further away from the eyes in order to increase the fusion area of both visual cones. The historical hypothesis taking into consideration that the astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea was the source of Plutarch's explanation of the theory is discussed.

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