Almagest

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“I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia” 

Claudius Ptolemy

Palms

Almagest! In Arabic, it means “The Greatest.”   Its author was Claudius Ptolemy, whose work in astronomy and geography would have great influence on how humanity perceived the world and universe from the second century CE until the Renaissance. Indeed, the “Ptolemaic” astronomical system would only be equalled with the advent of Copernicus, fourteen hundred years later.

The Almagest is a thirteen-volume mathematical collection that summarized Greek thought. It is a treatise on the motions of the stars and planetary paths. Here we see the work of Hipparchus vigilantly preserved by Ptolemy who revered Hipparchus and described him as a “lover of truth.”  Indeed, Hipparchus’s ideas were the starting point for many of Ptolemy’s developments. Ptolemy also used the Aristotelian notion that the earth was at the centre of the universe, with the stars and planets rotating in perfect circles around it.

We know very little about Claudius Ptolemy’s life other than he was of Greek descent and that he was born and lived in Alexandria, Egypt.   But what is clearly evident in his writing was his genius for distilling and outlining the important findings of his predecessors.  His scientific proofs of their theories were recorded with such authority that they stood as the benchmark for over a millennium.

“Once Ptolemy and Plato, yesterday Newton, today Einstein, and tomorrow new faiths, new beliefs and new dimensions.”

Albert Claude.