Heliocentric Ideas of ancient Greeks and Copernicus

Michael Lahanas

Heliozentrische Ideen der Griechischen Astronomen und der Polnische Astronom Kopernikus

We know that Copernicus knew Greek and he studied the Greek version of Ptolemy's Almagest. But he knew also the work of other Greek astronomers who proposed a heliocentric system.


While most of those who hold that the whole heaven is finite say that the earth lies at the center, the philosophers of Italy, the so-called Pythagoreans, assert the contrary. They say that in the middle there is fire, and that the earth is one of the stars, and by its circular motion round the center produces night and day. Aristotle, De Caelo, Fourth Century BC

But Aristarchus of Samos brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, in which the premises lead to the conclusion that the universe is many times greater than that now so called. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain motion less, that the earth revolves about the sun in the circumference of a circle, the sun lying in the middle of the orbit, and that the sphere of the fixed stars, situated about the same center as the sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the earth to revolve bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the center of the sphere bears to its surface. Archimedes, The Sand-Reckoner, Third Century BC

The Syracusan Hicetas, as Theophrastus asserts, holds the view that the heaven, sun, moon, stars, and in short all of the things on high are stationary, and that nothing in the world is in motion except the earth, which by revolving and twisting round its axis with extreme velocity produces all the same results as would be produced if the earth were stationary and the heaven in motion... Cicero, Academica, 45 BC

Some think that the earth remains at rest. But Philolaus the Pythagorean believes that, like the sun and moon, it revolves around the fire in an oblique circle. Heraclides of Pontus and Ecphantus the Pythagorean make the earth move, not in a progressive motion, but like a wheel in rotation from west to east around its own center. Plutarch, Moralia, ca. 100 AD.

For a long time then, I reflected on this confusion in the astronomical traditions concerning the derivation of the motions of the universe's spheres. I began to be annoyed that the movements of the world machine, created for our sake by the best and most systematic Artisan of all, were not understood with greater certainty by the philosophers, who otherwise examined so precisely the most insignificant trifles of this world. For this reason I undertook the task of rereading the works of all the philosophers which I could obtain to learn whether anyone had ever proposed other motions of the universe's spheres than those expounded by the teachers of astronomy in the schools. And in fact I found in Cicero that Hicetas supposed the earth to move. Later I also discovered in Plutarch that certain others were of this opinion....Therefore, having obtained the opportunity from these sources, I too began to consider the mobility of the earth. Nicolaus Copernicus, Letter to Pope Paul III: Preface to De Revolutionibus, 1543

But even for Copernicus had problems to convince the religious community who used text from the Bible that was against the Heliocentric model as some examples of a lecture of Prof. Lesikar show:

People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon....This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth. Martin Luther in one of his "Table Talks" in 1539 ( Did Earth's Rotation Stop on Joshua's Long Day? )


Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit? John Calvin cites Ps. 93:1 in his Commentary on Genesis

The eyes are witnesses that the heavens revolve in the space of twenty-four hours. But certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded that the earth moves; and they maintain that neither the eighth sphere nor the sun revolves....Now, it is a want of honesty and decency to assert such notions publicly, and the example is pernicious. It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to acquiesce in it." Melanchthon emphasizes Eccl. 1:4-5

... And whereas it has also come to the knowledge of the said Congregation that the Pythagorean doctrine -- which is false and altogether opposed to the Holy Scripture -- of the motion of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun, which is also taught by Nicolaus Copernicus in De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, and by Diego de Zuńiga On Job, is now being spread abroad and accepted by many... Therefore, in order that this opinion may not insinuate itself any further to the prejudice of Catholic truth, the Holy Congregation has decreed that the said Nicolaus Copernicus, De Revolutionibus Orbium, and Diego de Zuńiga, On Job, be suspended until they are corrected. From the decree of the Roman Catholic Congregation of the Index condemning "De Revolutionibus", March 5, 1616

But to proceed, these and such-like insolent and bold attempts, prodigious paradoxes, inferences, must needs follow, if it once be granted, which Rotman, Kepler, Gilbert, Diggeus, Origanus, Galileo, and others maintain of the earth's motion, that 'tis a planet, and shines as the moon doth, which contains in it "both land and sea as the moon doth"; for so they find by their glasses that maculae in facie lunae [the spots on the face of the moon], "the brighter parts are earth, the dusky sea," which Thales, Plutarch, and Pythagoras formerly taught; and manifestly discern hills and dales, and such like concavities, if we may subscribe to and believe Galileo's observations. But to avoid these paradoxes of the earth's motion (which the Church of Rome hath lately condemned as heretical, as appears by Blancanus' and Fromundus' writings) our latter mathematicians have rolled all the stones that may be stirred: and, to solve all appearances and objections, have invented new hypotheses and fabricated new systems of the world, out of their own Daedalian heads. (II, ii, 3) Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy


But also the ancient Greeks had their own “Catholic” minds. Cleanthes the stoic philosopher considered Aristarchus as an atheist who should be punished for his heliocentric model.

The Crime of Galileo: Indictment and Abjuration of 1633

Selected parts written by Copernicus

Sun, Stand Thou Still !

(See also 'Body of Copernicus' identified )

Nicolas Copernicus De Revolutionibus

Ancient Greece

Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire

Modern Greece

Science, Technology , Medicine , Warfare
, Biographies , Life , Cities/Places/Maps , Arts , Literature , Philosophy ,Olympics, Mythology , History , Images

Science, Technology, Arts
, Warfare , Literature, Biographies
Icons, History

Cities, Islands, Regions, Fauna/Flora ,
Biographies , History , Warfare
Science/Technology, Literature, Music , Arts , Film/Actors , Sport , Fashion

Cyprus

Greek-Library - Scientific Web