Re: Flat Earth?

From: Robert Schneider <>
Date: Tue Nov 22 2005 - 23:40:32 EST

Jeff Russell is a personal friend, and while I've not read the book in question, I can attest to his excellence as a scholar, and I would tend to accept his thesis. Christian readers may be interested also in his four volumes of the history of the figure of Satan in Christian thought, and his book "A History of Heaven."

Speaking as a sometime medievalist myself, I can tell you that by the 13th century, the Ptolemaic model of the heavens and a spherical earth was widely accepted by all those educated in the schools and universities. The Franciscan scientist Roger Bacon commented on it. Medieval scholars also read Muslim astonomers who had embraced the Ptolemic model. Dante mentions the curvature of the horizon visible on the sea. The main reason Columbus decided to sail west is that he had read Nicole Oresme's "The Book of the Heavens and the Earth." There he found a figure for the circumference of the earth about four thousand miles shorter than the actual circumference, which persuaded him that he could reach India just as quickly by sailing west. Oresme got his figure from the treatise on Astronomy written by the 9th century Muslim astronomer Al-Farabi, which had been translated into Latin around the 12th cent. (if my memory is correct). Al-Farabi was also the source of much of Dante's knowledge of the heavens.

Bob Schneider
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Jim Armstrong
  Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2005 10:19 PM
  Subject: Re: Flat Earth?

  I suppose this is self-evident (and this previous post sort of touches on it), but it is unlikely that there was a single view in the period, or in any period. It does not take a great mind for a sailor to have some sense that there is a curvature of large bodies of water. Sailors over any significant distance would probably take it for granted that there was some curvature. Whether they would extrapolate that to an entire spherical earth is an uncertainty. That's a big step.
  On the other hand, there would undoubtedly be others (landlubbers) who might adhere to a flat land mass. Some particularly thoughtful landlubbers might talk to sailors and have their flat earth surmises nuanced by the sailors observations. It's still quite a step to infer a spherical earth.
  My only point here is that at any given time, there was probably no single view, and to seek one to ascribe to the period is problematical.
  Or so it seemeth to me. JimA wrote:

> A while back, someone recommended the book 'Inventing the Flat Earth"
> by Jeffrey Burton Russell. Russell seeks to show that the commonly
> held notion that the "medievals" believed in a flat Earth is a
> historical invention of the 19th and 20th century. I found the book
> extremely intriguing but must remain skeptical - his arguments are
> very convincing but it is hard for me to accept that his "Flat Error"
> (as he calls it) has been willingly propagated for so long without
> anyone crying foul. If true, this must rank as one of the most
> outrageous "historical hoaxes" of the last 200 years - willfully
> permitted to persist by the academia! Can anyone recommend other
> references on this topic?

    Actually, it would not surprise me particularly. What better pretext
    to play upon than our own pride and arrogance. You see....., well,
    perhaps they were not stupid, but we.... well, we, of course,
    know far more.

    If I remotely recall (IIRR), the Greeks had measured the circumference
    of the earth by a simple sundial. Perhaps the queen of Spain thought
    the earth was flat, but as I understand it, many sailors were already aware
    that the earth was _at least_ curved. If they were actually afraid, it was more
    likely because they were in uncharted waters. That would be quite a reasonable
    fear for any normal human being.
Received on Tue Nov 22 23:42:05 2005

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