Did the Greeks know the world was round?

VonCrisp

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I've been thinking a lot of all the stories I took for granted growing up. One that really stuck out was that Columbus already knew the world was round, and so did everyone, because the Greeks not only thought so, they measured the entire circumference of the earth to a large degree of accuracy. I thought it would be fun to apply our literary skepticism to this and see what we can deduce.

I'm not here to prove the earth is or isnt round, full disclosure I'm inclined to think it's round. Instead, I would like to try to show that we probably didn't think it was round until recently and otherwise don't have solid evidence to think otherwise.


This idea traces back to this (obviously Anunaki visitor) named Eratosthenes. This guy was pretty incredible, no doubt a Da Vinci-like polymath (if we are to believe the legend).
He is best known for being the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth, which he did by comparing altitudes of the mid-day sun at two places a known North-South distance apart. His calculation was remarkably accurate. He was also the first to calculate the tilt of the Earth's axis (again with remarkable accuracy). Additionally, he may have accurately calculated the distance from the Earth to the Sun and invented the leap day.[4] He created the first map of the world, incorporating parallels and meridians based on the available geographic knowledge of his era.

Eratosthenes was the founder of scientific chronology; he endeavored to revise the dates of the chief literary and political events from the conquest of Troy. Eratosthenes dated The Sack of Troy to 1183 BC. In number theory, he introduced the sieve of Eratosthenes, an efficient method of identifying prime numbers.

He was a figure of influence in many fields. According to an entry in the Suda (a 10th-century reference), his critics scorned him, calling him Beta (the second letter of the Greek alphabet) because he always came in second in all his endeavors.[6] Nonetheless, his devotees nicknamed him Pentathlos after the Olympians who were well rounded competitors, for he had proven himself to be knowledgeable in every area of learning. Eratosthenes yearned to understand the complexities of the entire world.
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Eratosthenes - Wikipedia

So from Wikipedia we are told this super hero was the originator of Chronology and Geography. Wow! It all starts here folks. But I found this next but particularly interesting.
These works and his great poetic abilities led the pharaoh Ptolemy III Euergetes to seek to place him as a librarian at the Library of Alexandria in the year 245 BC. Eratosthenes, then thirty years old, accepted Ptolemy's invitation and traveled to Alexandria, where he lived for the rest of his life. Within about five years he became Chief Librarian
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If you caught my other post, there are some good questions about whether this library was real. If this guy wasn't real, perhaps he was invented as a way to plug some holes and justify future exploration. One problem we uncovered is that it seems talk of this library was pretty quiet until the 1800s! Also, don't forget that people were being killed for suggesting the Earth wasn't the center of creation in those days, perhaps attributing heresy to the Greeks was a way of postulating dangerous ideas?

So let's see what we can find about first the notion that he measured the Earth and whether he was the top dog at the Library of Alexandria.

One question I have is that if he really did measure that the Earth was 10x longer than the known Mediterranean world everyone knew, why wouldn't this spur the Age of Discovery earlier than the Spanish did? Keep this question in mind for now.

We need to track down a work of his called "On the Measurement of the Earth". No problem, right? Except its gone, lost forever! We don't even have a copy or fragments of it. Sorry folks, apparently all we have is a "summary" by another (totally real) super human named Cleomedes. This guy was so amazing he has a crator on the moon named for him. Pretty cool! This makes him at least as important as Stephen Colbert who both have space stuff named after them. On his Wikipedia page it's interesting how scholars have trouble dating him. But who cares, this isn't really about him, let's find his book!

So now we are looking for "On the Circular Motions of the Celestial Bodies" which is a pretty catchy title and reminds me a heck of a lot like stuff Copernicus wrote thousands of years later (right?). It's an interesting book, let's review the summary.
The book for which Cleomedes is known is a fairly basic astronomy textbook in two volumes. His purpose in writing seems to have been as philosophical as it was scientific—he spends an extensive amount of time criticizing the scientific ideas of the Epicureans.

Cleomedes' book is valued primarily for preserving, apparently verbatim, much of Posidonius' writings on astronomy (none of Posidonius' books have survived to the modern day). Cleomedes is accurate in some of his remarks on lunar eclipses, especially his conjecture that the shadow on the Moon suggests a spherical Earth. He also remarks presciently that the absolute size of many stars may exceed that of the Sun (and that the Earth might appear as a very small star, if viewed from the surface of the Sun).

This book is the original source for the well-known story of how Eratosthenes measured the Earth's circumference. Many modern mathematicians and astronomers believe the description to be reasonable (and believe Eratosthenes' achievement to be one of the more impressive accomplishments of ancient astronomy).

Cleomedes deserves credit for the earliest clear statement of the apparent distance explanation of the Sun Illusion or Moon Illusion. He argued that the sun appeared farther away on the horizon than in the zenith, and therefore larger (since its angular size was constant). He attributed this explanation to Posidonius.
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We learn that he also preserved the memory of Posidonius as well. He thought eclipses suggest a round earth, and that other stars are other sun's and some could even be bigger than our sun. Pretty impressive! Even more remarkable since the telescope wasn't invented until the 17th century. So let's find this book.

After much searching I determined the earliest copy was from a prolific monk named Maximus Planudes in the 1280s. It bears noting that although he is championed for his preservation and translation efforts, he was also known to "correct" some of the manuscripts he worked on. At this point I could use your help as I haven't been able to verify if his work still survives. My problem is most scholars like to talk about his work on Plutarch so Cleomedes seems to get a backseat. Perhaps it's also because the attribution to Planudes is because of a single signature on the manuscript "Cleomedes, Edinburgh, MS Adv. 18.7.15".


In my search I also came across this manuscript: Aratus’s “Phenomena,” Cleomedes’s “On the Circular Motions of the Celestial Bodies,” and Nichomachus’s “Introduction to Arithmetic”.
The manuscript is written in ancient Greek, on paper, in the same handwriting (except for folio 66 verso), and without book decorations but with drawings, schemes, and tables. The binding is cardboard, with leather spine and corners, and dates from the beginning of the 19th century. Some leaves have been damaged by book pests. An inscription at the top of folio 2 reads tou Vatoupediou, meaning "from the collection of Vatopedi Monastery.” The manuscript was acquired by the Central Scientific Library with the collection of Greek manuscripts described by Ballin de Ballu as early as 1807. It has a stamp "У.Х.", i.e. University of Kharkov. An inscription in the lower margin of folio 2 was painstakingly struck out and is now unreadable. The well-known authority on Greek manuscripts B.L. Fonkich has suggested that the obliterated inscription “Arsenii" could belong to Arsenii Suchanov (1600−68), who in 1653–55 made a trip to Mount Athos, Greece, where he obtained some 500 Greek manuscripts and printed books. This trip was organized on the initiative of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow (1605−81), a well-known church reformer in Russia who wanted to use the acquired books and manuscripts for the purpose of improving Russian prayer books.
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And now we're back in the 1800s where I can find a verifiable copy of Cleomedes.

Remember that the Library of Alexandria also started being remembered in the 19th century too.

So either the earliest we know of him is in the 13th century or the 19th. If the 13th, then I would argue that the revelation of this work may indeed have led to eventual exploration into the Atlantic. Problem is, if so then Columbus would know full well that it wouldn't be India unless he thought India stretched 6x longer than the Mediterranean. It would have been reasonable to think there would be more lands before India. This could be worked into my Phoenicians discovered America theory that I'm working on. If this really was written in the year 300bce, why wouldn't people go investigate? If we accept that, then maybe we can also imagine a sea fearing and rich culture did indeed go investigate, then conveniently rediscovered this same work to spur their later descendents in Spain to go back again. That's a different topic though.

As for Eratosthenes being the Librarian at Alexandria I would love your help here. I find tons of websites repeating the claim but have a hard time tracing the origin of this belief.

So did this Greek know how big the earth was? I can't say with confidence that he wasn't made up to justify middle age theories of the universe. One idea I had to justify such fuckery of history is that in order to popularize potentially heretical ideas you would have to attribute them to an ancient philosopher instead and that way you wouldn't burn at the stake.

What do you think?

If this was a middle ages invention, I found a contemporary scientist who did similar measurements and came to a pretty good number

Al-Biruni's Classic Experiment: How to Calculate the Radius of the Earth

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Jim Duyer

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The Greeks got nearly 99% of their science from the Babylonians. They visited there and later conquered there, and brought back the ideas that were being taught there. Their major achievement was to translate them to Greek. Pythagorean mathematics and Archimedian angles were being practiced in Sumeria, about a thousand years before the Greeks were anything more than a tribe of goat herders.

The big contribution to the world from the Greeks was their philosophy, which is very deep, and their buildings and especially columns.

The Sumerians knew that the earth was round, and when the Amorites, who were their scribes, translated the info, they did as well. And they put the measurement of the circumference of the Earth inside the Old Testament, and it is accurate to 98% or so. (Since Abraham was Hurrian and his people were a mix of that and Amorites). So at least the early Hebrews knew it as well.

Where the wheel fell off the cart was after their top people were taken back to Babylonia - twice - after those periods they forgot most of what they had known previously.

And they became disgusted with their knowledge of old and began to speak Aramaic. It was only after the Christians picked up their works that they went back and re-assembled their heritage and began to speak Hebrew again..
 

JWW427

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I personally believe in Prediluvian civilizations like Atlantis, Mu, and Lemuria. Makes sense. All those pesky pyramids the world over and whatnot. All that megalithic yard and feet stuff, Frisland island, all that neat-O science of the ancients.
It has been said that most of the Med and Greece were Atlantean colonies. Greece rebelled and broke off.
Yet I think thats why they knew so much about math, philosophy, geometry, and physics. They knew!
 

Jim Duyer

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I personally believe in Prediluvian civilizations like Atlantis, Mu, and Lemuria. Makes sense. All those pesky pyramids the world over and whatnot. All that megalithic yard and feet stuff, Frisland island, all that neat-O science of the ancients.
It has been said that most of the Med and Greece were Atlantean colonies. Greece rebelled and broke off.
Yet I think thats why they knew so much about math, philosophy, geometry, and physics. They knew!
I agree about those ante-diluvian civilizations, but I think that perhaps Mu and Lemuria were one and the same, or actually that Mu was part of Lemuria.
 
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