Tag Archives: Middle Ages

Ptolemy—why not take Ptolemy?

Ptolemy showing his geocentric model of the universe. That’s Earth in the middle.

We’re coming up on the Middle Ages, everybody! The Roman Empire has become the Holy Roman Empire—we’re still working on creating individual countries out of the territories of various tribes. The Christian Church has become a stabilizing institution. With Charlemagne’s help, religious centers—like monasteries—are also places of learning. Alcuin of York (Charlemagne’s right-hand man) designed an easier-to-read way of writing using capital letters and small letters instead of ALL CAPS!

Life isn’t easy for regular peasants, which is most people. It’s hard to make a living on a farm. Some people head to the towns to learn a trade. Sanitation isn’t so great and the bubonic plague is always just around the corner. It will be centuries before anyone figures out that plague is carried by fleas.

It usually takes a long time for civilizations to accept new ideas. Even after Eratosthanes showed the Earth to be round, many people thought she was flat. Both educated and uneducated people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun, planets and stars revolved around her. They thought of the universe as a giant sphere—a ball—with planets and stars stuck onto it. This sphere would be like clear glass. The word for this idea is geocentricgeo is a Greek word for Earth, centric means smack dab in the middle.

We get this idea from an astronomer named Ptolemy (TOE-leh-mee), who lived in Alexandria, Egypt (100-170 ad, we think). He improved on the basic geocentric idea. Ptolemy used math to place the stars in fixed positions on this big sphere. He observed that the planets didn’t stay fixed on the sphere, though, so they were called wandering stars and got their own smaller spheres that fit inside the big one. The Sun made its own orbit, a circle, called an ecliptic.

Here’s Billie Holiday singing “All of Me.”

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ptolemy
https://www.teachastronomy.com/textbook/The-Copernican-Revolution/Ptolemy-and-the-Geocentric-Model/