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Greg Pritchard English 131 Reynolds 11/02/2011

Greek Astronomy: The Origins of Astrology

In the world of Astronomy, one culture cannot be held responsible for all of the discoveries made. It was a group effort; people and cultures scattered all across the world, most with no knowledge of each other, made advances toward understanding the Heavens and how it affected their lives. Some built calendars to help mark the passing of seasons, harvests, and migrations, others studied the skies to unlock its secrets and mysteries, but the one thing they all had in common was that most ancient cultures associated the Heavens with their divine beliefs. The knowledge of time has, over the course of centuries, proven to be one of the most useful tools in the human arsenal. It gives us the power of predicting the future, with tremendous accuracy, nowadays, the knowledge of time is just a fact. We really only use it for remedial things, like getting to class on time. But back in ancient times it held a much more useful role in everyday life. For example, if you knew when certain animals migrated, you knew where and when to hunt. You knew when to plant crops so you didn't starve. Basically, survival came with this knowledge, which is why they excelled at it. And of all of the ancient cultures that were, it can be argued that the Greeks put forth the most effort in trying to understand the sky, which was the basis of all of the ancients watches. Of course if you could look back in time to when the Greeks first gave real thought about what those twinkling points were in the sky, the best they could probably come up with was that they were of divine nature. Hence this is where Greek myth comes into play. At some point these points of light were associated with a particular myth and the zodiac was created. But the Greeks also noticed patterns, cycles of the stars, which were used to help them keep approximate time. They quickly found that certain stars moved around in the night sky, and associated each with a god. As it turns out those were not stars at all, they were planets. We still use the same names they used for the planets; in fact the word planet is Greek for wandering star! But what about the other stars? I can imagine that the Greeks wondered why some stars moved and others

Pritchard 2 didnt. This is where the Greek zodiac comes from. The word zodiac is derived from the Greek word, zodiakos kyklos, which means circle of animals. In ancient Greece, some people conducted their lives around their beliefs in the zodiac, which is by nature, a very fascinating piece of astrology. They aligned each sign with one of the twelve constellations that we can see in the night sky throughout the year. And each of the twelve constellations was associated with one of the four basic elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. Take a look behind each sign and you will discover a fascinating story. The cycle starts with Aries; this story is connected to the Golden Ram myth, whose fleece is sought by Jason and the Argonauts. The next sign is Taurus; the myth being the classic one of Theseus and the Minotaur. Theseus was one of the young men from Athens who volunteered to be offered to the Minotaur that lived in the labyrinth at Crete as a sacrifice. With the help of Ariadne, King Minos' daughter, Theseus managed to kill the beast and escape the labyrinth. And one of my favorite myths is associated with the constellation Leo, which is about Hercules' very first of his twelve labors, the capture of the Nemean Lion. The Nemean Lion was a mythical beast whose hide was said to be impenetrable. As Hercules tracked the beast throughout Nemea, he quickly discovered that his arrows were of no use. So he grabbed his club and followed the lion to a cave that had two entrances. He entered the cave through one entrance after he blocked the other and proceeded to wrestle with the lion. Hercules eventually got his gigantic hands around the lions neck and slowly strangled it. Obviously there are many other signs and myths but I do not have the time to write them all down. Okay, so weve seen that the Greek zodiac comes from the stars, and obviously we know that all the myths are fictional. What else did they use the stars for? Well, now we get into some interesting topics. First of all, let it be known that all ancient Greek astronomy was based off of naked eye observations. No device was invented to aid in stargazing until around the 16th century. And most of the modern observatories at the time most likely consisted of a flat topped roof. Okay, now that that is out of the way, lets move on. There once was a man by the name of Plato, he firmly believed that the earth was constructed with geometric simplicity and elegance (Fowler). So naturally he believed that the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars followed the same principle. And since as early as the ancient Babylonians, man has followed the path of the stars and planets. So they were well known by the Greeks. The stars followed circular paths around the North Star (caused by the rotation of the earth), but the planets followed much

Pritchard 3 more complicated paths. So Plato challenged his colleagues to come up with a model that would allow for their motions (as well as the motion of the fixed stars) to be described as a series of circles. Progress was made by a man named Eudoxus. Basically the model showed that the stars were attached to a sphere, and inside this sphere was a smaller sphere. This was the earth. The larger sphere rotated about the earth once every 24 hours, but there was more to it. The sun was assumed to be another sphere, inside the sphere with the stars, and also centered on the earth. The sun sphere rotated around the earth once a day. It was also attached to the fixed star sphere in such a way that it rotated around two axis points once a year. And of course these spheres had to be transparent, or else you would be able to see the stars through the sun sphere! Eudoxus model became much more complex as more and more spheres had to be added in order to account for all of the motions of the suns and the planets. In the end, it had over fifty five concentric spheres all rotating around the earth! This proves just how advanced the Greeks were at geometry. Of course all of this turns out to be wrong because there are just some motions that cannot be described in terms of spheres. A little later on Aristarchus and Eratosthenes came up with the idea that the sun was enormous compared to the earth. And that the earth orbited the sun in a circle, which in itself could probably explain away about half of the spheres in Eudoxus model. But it was never accepted. Instead, the Greeks worked to greatly improve the Eudoxus model. Aristarchus even came up with a way to measure the size of the earth and the moon. All it took was a few simple measurements and a basic understanding of trigonometry. He calculated the sun to be about 19 times farther away from the earth as the moon was. But of course, that is still wrong. In actuality, the sun is about 400 times farther than the moon. But he still showed a greater understanding of the earth-moon-sun system than most of his time. Its just a shame that no one took him seriously. One of the main reasons that Aristarchus wasnt taken seriously was because the Greeks still wanted to hold on to some of their divine beliefs. Plato still argued that the planets were sentient beings and the reason why they couldnt map out their orbits accurately was because the planets were consciously changing them. But a few visionaries of the time grew to a greater understanding of the cosmos. Eventually changing the way we see the universe. And that is the

Pritchard 4 greatest gift that the Greeks bestowed to us.