Almagest

“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.

12 thoughts on “Almagest

    • Stargazers lived among us…and they continue to bring the rest of us along with them. It is rather fun to tag along!

      Stephen Hawking, whose work on the nature of space and time remains groundbreaking and whose story of personal triumph despite suffering a neuro-muscular dystrophy has inspired millions. I read one of his books a couple of years ago and now I know that the potential of Star Trek is real.🙂

      Alan Guth, whose idea of inflationary cosmology has revolutionized our understanding of the Big Bang and the large scale structure of the universe.

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  1. Another great post Rebecca, Thank you …

    This one has given me some plans for some weekend study and reading.

    I think? what’s coming out in this post is the evolution of science.

    What is really interesting to think on, is are we almost at the end of the work these great men put in or are we only still starting to understand this field?

    The other question I guess is ‘what if they had something wrong and have all been working with these errors ever since’?

    Nigel

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    • You ask the right questions. We have so much more to discover and then it will take us more time to understand. It seems that science and scientists have more influence in our time than ever before, yet there is always a tug between holding on to the comfort of past thinking and embracing the uncertainty of new thinking.

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  2. George Lucas said in an interview: “Old stories have to re reiterated again in a form that is acceptable to each new generation. I don’t think I’m ever going to go much beyond the old stories, because I think they still need to be told”. The stories of these ancient intellectuals need to be told and retold. Thanks for these recent posts, Lady Budd

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