Classical studies and experimental physics in the work of Johann Salomo Christoph Schweigger

The physicist Johann Salomo Christoph Schweigger is best known as the inventor of a device for measuring weak electric currents, the so-called multiplicator. As early as in November 1820, he anticipated Faraday’s Electromagnetic Rotation Apparatus by suggesting the realization of a permanent mechanical rotation based on Ørsted’s dis-
covery of electromagnetism. In his research on electricity and magnetism, Schweigger was guided by the idea that electromagnetism had already been known in antiquitity. Being trained as a classical scholar, he was familiar with Greek and Roman mythology, and he believed that physical knowledge was hidden in ancient myths. According to Schweigger, the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux were symbols of the electric poles, and a picture representing Castor, Pollux and dancing water nymphs served him as a guidance for the construction of physical devices like the multiplicator and a rotation apparatus. Neither by his contemporaries nor by posterity, Schweigger’s opinion about physical knowledge in antiquity was taken seriously. Nevertheless it is remarkable that such a strange speculation led to far-reaching scientific results, the multiplicator being a basic requirement for quantification in electricity. Thus Schweigger’s physics is a convincing evidence that logical reconstructions of scientific developments are highly problematic.