Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pre-Copernican geocentrism was anything but geoelevantic (in the sense of anthropocentric)

"That which is the center is in the middle, and in a sphere only that which is in the middle can be at the bottom [(quod centron est medium est; in sphaera vero hoc solum constat imum esse quod medium est, What is the center is the middle; in a sphere, that alone truly proves to be the bottom which is the middle)]."

     Macrobius, Commentarii in somnium Scipionis 1.22.4, on the earth (terra), as translated by William Harris Stahl (Commentary on the dream of Scipio (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 181-182). Rémi Brauge, The legend of the Middle Ages: philosophophical explorations of medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 211 and 273n24.

"the central point [kentron] of the whole cosmos] is the centre [meson] of the spherical magnitude and body, but it is necessary to seek something else as the most honorable [part] analogous to the heart, namely the centre; and this is not the central point but rather the fixed sphere because it is the starting point of the being of the cosmos and carries around the other spheres [fixed stars?] with it and contains the whole corporeal nature. Here is where one should seek what is most honourable."

     Simplicius, Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, vol. 7 (1894), pp. 514, 514-518, as translated by Ian Mueller (On Aristotle's "On the heavens 2.1-9" (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 54). Rémi Brague, The legend of the Middle Ages: philosophical explorations of medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, trans. Lydia G.Cochrane (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 211 and 273n21.

     In this essay entitled "Geocentrism as the humiliation of man," Brague does nothing more than "pick up on what Arthur Lovejoy, Paolo Rossi, and many others set out to do" (220; cf. 272n9 and passim), by adding "a few texts that [he] ha[s] not found cited anywhere else in this connection", most of them "from authors who wrote in Arabic or in Hebrew" (206), the point being that pre-Copernican "'geocentric cosmology did not lead the ancient [or medieval] astronomers and philosophers to a man-centered view of the universe, an exaggerated view of man's importance in the scheme of things. It led them rather to stress his smallness, insignificance, and lowly position in the cosmic order'" (212, quoting A. H. Armstrong, from vol. 3, pp. 68-69n of the edition of Plotinus he edited for the Loeb Classical Library), as well as the need for humility (216-218). Indeed, Copernican heliocentrism was sometimes resisted because it first unduly promoted the earth and man (218-219)!

     Old news, but nicely re-stated and summarized.

     Ben McFarland informs me that a term for this in Karsten Harries' Infinity and perspective is diablocentric.