with disapproval. The long-lived conception of a series of crystal spheres, acting as the vehicles of the heavenly bodies, and attuned to divine harmonies, seems to have originated with Pythagoras himself.
The first mathematical theory of celestial appearances was devised by Eudoxus of Cnidus (408-355 B.C.). The problem he attempted to solve was so to combine uniform circular movements as to produce the resultant effects actually Eudoxus. observed. The sun and moon and the five planets were, with this end in view, accommodated each with a set of variously revolving spheres, to the total number of 27. The Eudoxian or “homocentric” system, after it had been further elaborated by Callippus and Aristotle, was modified by Apollonius of Perga (fl. 250-220 B.C.) into the hypothesis of deferents and epicycles, which held the field for 1800 years as the characteristic embodiment of Greek ideas in astronomy. Eudoxus further wrote two works descriptive of the heavens, the Enoptron and Phaenomena, which, substantially preserved in the Phaenomena of Aratus (fl. 270 B.C.), provided all the leading features of modern stellar nomenclature.
Greek astronomy culminated in the school of Alexandria. It was, soon after its foundation, illustrated by the labours of School of Alexandria. Aristyllus and Timocharis (c. 320-260 B.C.), who constructed the first catalogue giving star-positions as measured from a reference-point in the sky. This fundamental advance rendered inevitable the detection of precessional effects. Aristarchus of Samos observed at Alexandria 280-264 B.C. His treatise on the magnitudes and distances of the sun and moon, Aristarchus. edited by John Wallis in 1688, describes a theoretically valid method for determining the relative distances of the sun and moon by measuring the angle between their centres when half the lunar disk is illuminated; but the time of dichotomy being widely indeterminate, no useful result was thus obtainable. Aristarchus in fact concluded the sun to be not more than twenty times, while it is really four hundred times farther off than our satellite. His general conception of the universe was comprehensive beyond that of any of his predecessors.
Eratosthenes (276-196 B.C.), a native of Cyrene, was summoned from Athens to Alexandria by Ptolemy Euergetes to take charge of the royal library. He invented, or improved armillary spheres, the chief implements of ancient Eratosthenes. astrometry, determined the obliquity of the ecliptic at 23° 51′ (a value 5′ too great), and introduced an effective mode of arc-measurement. Knowing Alexandria and Syene to be situated 5000 stadia apart on the same meridian, he found the sun to be 7° 12′ south of the zenith at the northern extremity of this arc when it was vertically overhead at the southern extremity, and he hence inferred a value of 252,000 stadia for the entire circumference of the globe. This is a very close approximation to the truth, if the length of the unit employed has been correctly assigned.
Among the astronomers of antiquity, two great men stand out with unchallenged pre-eminence. Hipparchus and Ptolemy entertained the same large organic designs; they worked on similar methods; and, as the outcome, Hipparchus. their performances fitted so accurately together that between them they re-made celestial science. Hipparchus fixed the chief data of astronomy—the lengths of the tropical and sidereal years, of the various months, and of the synodic periods of the five planets; determined the obliquity of the ecliptic and of the moon’s path, the place of the sun’s apogee, the eccentricity of his orbit, and the moon’s horizontal parallax; all with approximate accuracy. His loans from Chaldaean experts appear, indeed, to have been numerous; but were doubtless independently verified. His supreme merit, however, consisted in the establishment of astronomy on a sound geometrical basis. His acquaintance with trigonometry, a branch of science initiated by him, together with his invention of the planisphere, enabled him to solve a number of elementary problems; and he was thus led to bestow especial attention upon the position of the equinox, as being the common point of origin for measures both in right ascension and longitude. Its steady retrogression among the stars became manifest to him in 130 B.C., on comparing his own observations with those made by Timocharis a century and a half earlier; and he estimated at not less than 36″ (the true value being 50″) the annual amount of “precession.”
The choice made by Hipparchus of the geocentric theory of the universe decided the future of Greek astronomy. He further elaborated it by the introduction of “eccentrics,” which accounted for the changes in orbital velocity of the sun and moon by a displacement of the earth, to a corresponding extent, from the centre of the circles they were assumed to describe. This gave the elliptic inequality known as the “equation of the centre,” and no other was at that time obvious. He attempted no detailed discussion of planetary theory; but his catalogue of 1080 stars, divided into six classes of brightness, or “magnitudes,” is one of the finest monuments of antique astronomy. It is substantially embodied in Ptolemy’s Almagest (see Ptolemy).
An interval of 250 years elapsed before the constructive labours of Hipparchus obtained completion at Alexandria. His observations were largely, and somewhat arbitrarily, employed by Ptolemy. Professor Newcomb, Ptolemy. who has compiled an instructive table of the equinoxes severally observed by Hipparchus and Ptolemy, with their errors deduced from Leverrier’s solar tables, finds palpable evidence that the discrepancies between the two series were artificially reconciled on the basis of a year 6m too long, adopted by Ptolemy on trust from his predecessor. He nevertheless holds the process to have been one that implied no fraudulent intention.
The Ptolemaic system was, in a geometrical sense, defensible; it harmonized fairly well with appearances, and physical reasonings had not then been extended to the heavens. To the ignorant it was recommended by its conformity to crude common sense; to the learned, by the wealth of ingenuity expended in bringing it to perfection. The Almagest was the consummation of Greek astronomy. Ptolemy had no successor; he found only commentators, among the more noteworthy of whom were Theon of Alexandria (fl. A.D. 400) and his daughter Hypatia (370-415). With the capture of Alexandria by Omar in 641, the last glimmer of its scientific light became extinct, to be rekindled, a century and a half later, on the banks of the Tigris. The first Arabic translation of the Almagest was made Arab astronomers. by order of Harun al-Rashid about the year 800; others followed, and the Caliph al-Mamun built in 829 a grand observatory at Bagdad. Here Albumazar (805-885) watched the skies and cast horoscopes; here Tobit ben Korra (836-901) developed his long unquestioned, yet misleading theory of the “trepidation” of the equinoxes; Abd-ar-rahman al-Sūf (903-986) revised at first hand the catalogue of Ptolemy; and Abulwefa (939-998), like al-Sūfi, a native of Persia, made continuous planetary observations, but did not (as alleged by L. Sédillot) anticipate Tycho Brahe’s discovery of the moon’s variation. Ibn Junis (c. 950-1008), although the scene of his activity was in Egypt, falls into line with the astronomers of Bagdad. He compiled the Hakimite Tables of the planets, and observed at Cairo, in 977 and 978, two solar eclipses which, as being the first recorded with scientific accuracy, were made available in fixing the amount of lunar acceleration. Nasir ud-din (1201-1274) drew up the Ilkhanic Tables, and determined the constant of precession at 51″. He directed an observatory established by Hulagu Khan (d. 1265) at Maraga in Persia, and equipped with a mural quadrant of 12 ft. radius, besides altitude and azimuth instruments. Ulugh Beg (1394-1449), a grandson of Tamerlane, was the illustrious personification of Tatar
- G. V. Schiaparelli, I Precursori del Copernico, pp. 23-28, Pubbl. del R. Osservatorio di Brera, No. ix.
- Marie. Hist. des sciences, t. i. p. 79; P. Tannery, Hist. de l’astronomie ancienne, ch. v. p. 115.
- Published by H. C. Schjellerup in a French translation (St Petersburg, 1874).
- Newcomb, Researches on the Motion of the Moon, Washington Observations for 1875, Appendix ii. p. 20.