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Eye Glasses


The earliest historical reference to magnification dates back to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 8th century BCE, which depict “simple glass meniscal lenses”. The earliest written record of magnification dates back to the 1st century CE, when Seneca the Younger, a tutor of Emperor Nero, wrote: “Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water”. Emperor Nero is also said to have watched the gladiatorial games using an emerald as a corrective lens. Corrective lenses were said to be used by Abbas Ibn Firnas in the 9th century, who had devised a way to produce very clear glass. These glasses could be shaped and polished into round rocks used for viewing and were known as reading stones. The earliest evidence of “a magnifying device, a convex lens forming a magnified image,” dates back the Book of Optics published by Alhazen in 1021. Its translation into Latin in the 12th century was instrumental to the invention of eyeglasses in 13th century Italy. Sunglasses, in the form of flat panes of smoky quartz, protected the eyes from glare and were used in China in the 12th century or possibly earlier. However, they did not offer any corrective powers. Around 1284 in Italy, Salvino D’Armate is credited with inventing the first wearable eye glasses. The earliest pictorial evidence for the use of eyeglasses, however, is Tomaso da Modena’s 1352 portrait of the cardinal Hugh de Provence reading in a scriptorium. Many theories exist for who should be credited for the invention of traditional eyeglasses. In 1676, Francesco Redi, a professor of medicine at the University of Pisa, wrote that he possessed a 1289 manuscript whose author complains that he would be unable to read or write were it not for the recent invention of glasses. Other stories, possibly legendary, credit Roger Bacon with the invention. Bacon is known to have made one of the first recorded references to the magnifying properties of lenses in 1262, though this was predated by Alhazen’s Book of Optics in 1021. Bacon’s treatise De iride (“On the Rainbow”), which was written while he was a student of Robert Grosseteste, no later than 1235, mentions using optics to “read the smallest letters at incredible distances”. While the exact date and inventor may be forever disputed, it is almost certain that spectacles were invented between 1280 and 1300 in Italy. These early spectacles had convex lenses that could correct both hyperopia (farsightedness), and the presbyopia that commonly develops as a symptom of aging. However, it was not until 1604 that Johannes Kepler published in his treatise on optics and astronomy, the first correct explanation as to why convex and concave lenses could correct presbyopia and myopia. The American scientist Benjamin Franklin, who suffered from both myopia and presbyopia, invented bifocals in 1784 to avoid having to regularly switch between two pairs of glasses. The first lenses for correcting astigmatism were constructed by the British astronomer George Airy in 1825. Early eyepieces were designed to be either held in place by hand or by exerting pressure on the nose (pince-nez). Girolamo Savonarola suggested that eyepieces could be held in place by a ribbon passed over the wearer’s head, this in turn secured by the weight of a hat. The modern style of glasses, held by temples passing over the ears, was developed in 1727 by the British optician Edward Scarlett. These designs were not immediately successful, however, and various styles with attached handles such as “scissors-glasses” and lorgnettes remained fashionable throughout the 18th and into the early 19th century


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