The name Leuphana

Questioning assumptions

In the second century, the Greek scholar Claudius Ptolemy created a detailed atlas of the then known world and called it Geographiké Hyphégesis. This "geographical instruction" was a masterpiece. Centuries later it was still considered a standard work of regional geography - and was also the origin of the latitudes used today. In this work the name Leuphana - a settlement in northern Germania, near the lower course of the Elbe - was mentioned for the first time. In the second edition of Johann Georg Theodor Grässes Verzeichnis der wichtigsten lateinischen Orts- und Länderamen (Index of the most important Latin place and country names) of 1909, Leuphana was then identified with Lüneburg.

Since the Ptolemaic Atlas was written almost a millennium before the foundation of Lüneburg, this attribution is not without controversy. Today it is well known that even the most thorough maps from the time of the Roman Empire do not meet modern standards. The connection of Leuphana with Lüneburg is therefore - like so much in science - not a certain knowledge, but remains a hypothesis.

The possibilities for exploring the world were much narrower in Ptolemy's time than they are today. However, he did not allow himself to be dissuaded from this, but tried to put what he knew about the world into well-founded theories. For more than a millennium, the Ptolemaic view of the world shaped the way people thought. Admittedly, we know better today: in the 16th century, Copernicus corrected the model by placing the sun at the centre of the planetary system instead of the earth. Nevertheless, the precision of Ptolemaic calculations of the orbits of the planets remained unrivalled for almost 100 years afterwards.

Such passion and curiosity, as Ptolemy was characterized by, is still today one of the most important prerequisites for a living science - just as much as the willingness to learn, to question, critically examine and further develop knowledge gained. The University of Lüneburg feels connected to this spirit of exploratory research and learning through its name Leuphana.