SH Archive Did the Greeks know the world was round? OP Username
mythstifieD OP Date
2018-07-28 14:55:21 Reaction Score
6 Reply Count

Archive Archive
Sep 8, 2020
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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).
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.
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.
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”.
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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