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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Even Latin Texts Are Doing It!

Distorting the history of science, that is. The Cambridge Latin Course, Book II, in describing ancient astronomy, claims:

"The idea was also put forward that the Earth was round, rotated on its axis and circled the Sun with the other planets. After the end of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, this idea was forgotten until Copernicus rediscovered it in the sixteenth century."

Whew! What a tangle. First of all, who thought to call it one idea that "the Earth was round, rotated on its axis, and circled the Sun with the other planets." That sure looks like three ideas. And it's important to separate them, because:
1) "the Earth was round" -- Essentially every educated person in the Greek and Roman world believed this idea. But so did essentially every educated person in the Middle Ages. (Here you can see a medieval model of the Earth -- a sphere!) And if we might find a case or two of an educated person in the 8th or 9th century who doubted it, it certainly was not because he had forgotten it ever existed.
2) & 3) "the Earth rotated on its axis and circled the Sun with the other planets." As far as I can tell, exactly one person in the ancient world believed this. Everyone else thought he was nuts. Nor were these two ideas forgotten until Copernicus -- Nicolas Oresme, for one, examined them in the 14th century.

So, in other words, far from having fallen into a "Dark Age," medieval astronomy pretty much simply was Greek astronomy. (It's true that, until the 13th and 14th centuries, science largely had stagnated.) So who wrote the above passage? And where did they get this nonsense from?

2 comments:

  1. By the way, I sent this post to someone at the Cambridge Press, who not only replied swiftly but promised to investigate the matter.

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