Celestial spheres

Celestial spheres

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The celestial spheres, or celestial orbs, were the fundamental entities of the cosmological models developed by Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

, Eudoxus
Eudoxus of Cnidus
Eudoxus of Cnidus was a Greek astronomer, mathematician, scholar and student of Plato. Since all his own works are lost, our knowledge of him is obtained from secondary sources, such as Aratus's poem on astronomy...

, Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

, Copernicus and others. In these celestial models the stars and planets are carried around by being embedded in rotating spheres made of an aetherial transparent fifth element (quintessence), like jewels set in orbs.

In the geocentric model
Geocentric model
In astronomy, the geocentric model , is the superseded theory that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that all other objects orbit around it. This geocentric model served as the predominant cosmological system in many ancient civilizations such as ancient Greece...

 adopted in the Middle Ages, the planetary spheres (i.e. those that contained planets) were arranged outwards from the spherical, stationary Earth at the centre of the universe in this order: the spheres of the Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

, Mercury
Mercury (planet)
Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 87.969 Earth days. The orbit of Mercury has the highest eccentricity of all the Solar System planets, and it has the smallest axial tilt. It completes three rotations about its axis for every two orbits...

, Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

, Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

, Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

, and Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

. In more detailed models the seven planetary spheres contained other secondary spheres within them. The planetary spheres were followed by the stellar sphere containing the fixed stars; other scholars added a ninth sphere to account for the precession of the equinoxes, a tenth to account for the supposed trepidation of the equinoxes, and even an eleventh to account for the changing obliquity of the ecliptic. In antiquity the order of the lower planets was not universally agreed. Plato and his followers ordered them Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, and then followed the standard model for the upper spheres. Others disagreed about the relative place of the spheres of Mercury and Venus: Ptolemy placed both of them beneath the Sun with Venus above Mercury, but noted others placed them both above the Sun; some, such as al-Bitruji, placed the sphere of Venus above the Sun and that of Mercury below it.

In modern science, the orbits of the planets are simply the paths of those planets through mostly empty space. For medieval scholars, on the other hand, celestial spheres were actually thick spheres of rarefied matter nested one within the other, each one in complete contact with the sphere above it and the sphere below. When scholars applied Ptolemy's epicycles, they presumed that each planetary sphere was exactly thick enough to accommodate them. Combining this information with astronomical observations allowed scholars to calculate that the distance to the far edge of Saturn (or to the inside of the stellar sphere) was 73,387,747 miles.

In the heliocentric celestial orbs model introduced by Copernicus, the ascending order of the planets and their spheres going outwards from the Sun at the centre was Mercury, Venus, Earth-Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.


In Greek antiquity the ideas of celestial spheres and rings first appeared in the cosmology of Anaximander
Anaximander was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in Miletus, a city of Ionia; Milet in modern Turkey. He belonged to the Milesian school and learned the teachings of his master Thales...

 in the early 6th century BC. In his cosmology both the Sun and Moon are circular open vents in tubular rings of fire enclosed in tubes of condensed air that constitute the rims of rotating chariot-like wheels pivoting on the Earth at their centre, shaped rather like the space station in the film 2001. The fixed stars are also open vents in such wheel rims, but there are so many such wheels for the stars that their contiguous rims altogether form a continuous spherical shell encompassing the Earth. But according to Anaximander's cosmogony, all these wheel rims had originally been formed out of an original sphere of fire wholly encompassing the Earth that had disintegrated into many individual rings. Hence in Anaximanders's cosmogony, in the beginning was the sphere, out of which celestial rings were formed, and from which the stellar sphere was then composed from some of those rings. The order of the distances of the wheel rims of the Sun, Moon and stars was: Sun highest, Moon next and then the sphere of the stars the lowest.

Following Anaximander, his pupil Anaximenes
Anaximenes of Miletus
Anaximenes of Miletus was an Archaic Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher active in the latter half of the 6th century BC. One of the three Milesian philosophers, he is identified as a younger friend or student of Anaximander. Anaximenes, like others in his school of thought, practiced material monism...

 (c. 585–528/4) held that the stars, sun, moon and the planets are all made of fire. But whilst the stars are fastened on a revolving crystal sphere like nails or studs, the sun, moon and planets, and also the Earth, all just ride on air like leaves because of their breadth. And whilst the fixed stars are carried around in a complete circle by the stellar sphere, the sun, moon and planets do not revolve under the Earth between setting and rising again like the stars do, but rather on setting they go laterally around the Earth like a cap turning halfway around the head until they rise again. Anaximenes may have been the first to distinguish the planets from the fixed stars in respect of their irregular movements. And unlike Anaximander, he relegated the fixed stars to the region most distant from the Earth. The most enduring feature of Anaximenes' cosmos was its conception of the stars being fixed on a crystal sphere as in a rigid frame, which became a fundamental principle of cosmology down to Copernicus and Kepler.

After Anaximenes, Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

, Xenophanes
of Colophon was a Greek philosopher, theologian, poet, and social and religious critic. Xenophanes life was one of travel, having left Ionia at the age of 25 he continued to travel throughout the Greek world for another 67 years. Some scholars say he lived in exile in Siciliy...

 and Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 all held that the universe was spherical. And much later in the fourth century BC Plato's Timaeus
Timaeus (dialogue)
Timaeus is one of Plato's dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue given by the title character, written circa 360 BC. The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world and human beings. It is followed by the dialogue Critias.Speakers of the dialogue are Socrates,...

proposed that the body of the cosmos was made in the most perfect and uniform shape, that of a sphere containing the fixed stars. But it posited that the planets were spherical bodies set in rotating bands or rings rather than wheel rims as in Anaximander's cosmology. However instead of bands Plato's student Eudoxus then developed a planetary model using concentric spheres
Concentric spheres
The cosmological model of concentric or homocentric spheres, developed by Eudoxus, Callippus, and Aristotle, employed celestial spheres all of which had the same center, the Earth. In this respect it differed from the epicyclic and eccentric models with multiple centers, which were used by Ptolemy...

 for all the planets, with three spheres each for his models of the Moon and the Sun and four each for the models of the other five planets, thus making 27 spheres in all ' Callippus
Callippus or Calippus was a Greek astronomer and mathematician.Callippus was born at Cyzicus, and studied under Eudoxus of Cnidus at the Academy of Plato. He also worked with Aristotle at the Lyceum, which means that he was active in Athens prior to Aristotle's death in 322...

 modified this system, using five spheres for his models of the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars and retaining four spheres for the models of Jupiter and Saturn, thus making 33 spheres in all. Each planet is attached to the innermost of its own particular set of spheres. Although historians of Greek science have traditionally considered Eudoxus's model to be purely mathematical, recent studies have proposed that it was also intended to be physically real or have withheld judgment, noting the limited evidence to resolve the question.

In his Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 developed a physical cosmology of spheres, based on the mathematical models of Eudoxus. In Aristotle's fully developed celestial model, the spherical Earth is at the centre of the universe and the planets are moved by either 47 or 55 interconnected spheres which form a unified planetary system, whereas in the models of Eudoxus and Callippus each planet's individual set of spheres were not connected to those of the next planet. Aristotle says the exact number of spheres, and hence of the number of movers, is to be determined by astronomical investigation, but he added additional spheres to those proposed Eudoxus and Callippus, to counteract the motion of the outer spheres. Aristotle considers that these spheres are made of an unchanging fifth element, the aether
Aether (classical element)
According to ancient and medieval science aether , also spelled æther or ether, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere.-Mythological origins:...

. Each of these concentric spheres is moved by its own god — an unchanging divine unmoved mover
Unmoved mover
The unmoved mover is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action...

, and who moves its sphere simply by virtue of being loved by it.

The astronomer Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

 (fl. ca. 150 AD) defined geometrical predictive models of the motions of the stars and planets in his Almagest
The Almagest is a 2nd-century mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of the stars and planetary paths. Written in Greek by Claudius Ptolemy, a Roman era scholar of Egypt,...

and extended them to a unified physical model of the cosmos
In the general sense, a cosmos is an orderly or harmonious system. It originates from the Greek term κόσμος , meaning "order" or "ornament" and is antithetical to the concept of chaos. Today, the word is generally used as a synonym of the word Universe . The word cosmos originates from the same root...

 in his Planetary hypotheses. By using eccentrics and epicycles, his geometrical model achieved greater mathematical detail and predictive accuracy than had been exhibited by earlier concentric spherical models of the cosmos. In the Ptolemaic model, each planet is contained in two or more spheres, but in Book 2 of his Planetary Hypotheses Ptolemy depicted thick circular slices rather than spheres as in its Book 1. One sphere/slice is the deferent, with a centre offset somewhat from the Earth; the other sphere/slice is an epicycle embedded in the deferent, with the planet embedded in the epicyclical sphere/slice. Through the use of the epicycle, eccentric, and equant, this model of compound circular motions could account for all the irregularities of a planet's apparent movements in the sky.

Middle Ages

Christian and Muslim philosophers modified Ptolemy's system to include an unmoved outermost region, the empyrean
Empyrean, from the Medieval Latin empyreus, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek ἔμπυρος empyrus "in or on the fire ", properly Empyrean Heaven, is the place in the highest heaven, which in ancient cosmologies was supposed to be occupied by the element of fire .-Use in literature:The Empyrean was...

 heaven, which came to be identified as the dwelling place of God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 and all the elect. The outermost moving sphere
Primum Mobile
In medieval and Renaissance astronomy, the Primum Mobile, or "first moved," was the outermost moving sphere in the geocentric model of the universe. The primum mobile was thought to be responsible for the apparent daily movement of the heavens around the Earth, producing the east-to-west rising and...

, which moved with the daily motion affecting all subordinate spheres, was moved by an unmoved mover
Unmoved mover
The unmoved mover is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action...

, the Prime Mover, who was identified with God. Each of the lower spheres was moved by a subordinate spiritual mover (a replacement for Aristotle's multiple divine movers), called an intelligence.

Medieval Christians identified the sphere of stars with the Biblical firmament
The firmament is the vault or expanse of the sky. According to Genesis, God created the firmament to separate the oceans from other waters above.-Etymology:...

 and sometimes posited an invisible layer of water above the firmament, to accord with Genesis. An outer sphere, inhabited by angels, appeared in some accounts.

Around the turn of the millennium, the Arabic astronomer and polymath Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen) presented a development of Ptolemy's geocentric epicyclic models in terms of nested spheres. Despite the similarity of this concept to that of Ptolemy's Planetary Hypotheses, al-Haytham's presentation differs in sufficient detail that it has been argued that it reflects an independent development of the concept. In chapters 15–16 of his Book of Optics
Book of Optics
The Book of Optics ; ; Latin: De Aspectibus or Opticae Thesaurus: Alhazeni Arabis; Italian: Deli Aspecti) is a seven-volume treatise on optics and other fields of study composed by the medieval Muslim scholar Alhazen .-See also:* Science in medieval Islam...

, Ibn al-Haytham also said that the celestial spheres do not consist of solid
Solid is one of the three classical states of matter . It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike a liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a...


Adi Setia describes the debate among Islamic scholars in the twelfth century, based on the commentary of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi
Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Umar ibn al-Husayn al-Taymi al-Bakri al-Tabaristani Fakhr al-Din al-Razi , most commonly known as Fakhruddin Razi was a well-known Persian Sunni Muslim theologian and philosopher....

 in regard to whether the celestial spheres are real, concrete physical bodies or "merely the abstract circles in the heavens traced out… by the various stars and planets." Setia points out that most of the learned, and the astronomers, said they were solid spheres "on which the stars turn… and this view is closer to the apparent sense of the Qur'anic verses regarding the celestial orbits." However, al-Razi mentions that some, such as the Islamic scholar Dahhak, considered them to be abstract. Al-Razi himself, was undecided, he said: "In truth, there is no way to ascertain the characteristics of the heavens except by authority [of divine revelation or prophetic traditions]." Setia concludes: "Thus it seems that for al-Razi (and for others before and after him), astronomical models, whatever their utility or lack thereof for ordering the heavens, are not founded on sound rational proofs, and so no intellectual commitment can be made to them insofar as description and explanation of celestial realities are concerned."

Near the end of the twelfth century, the Spanish-Arabian Muslim
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims , at various times in the period between 711 and 1492, although the territorial boundaries...

 astronomer al-Bitrūjī (Alpetragius)
Nur Ed-Din Al Betrugi
Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji was an astronomer and a Qadi from Al-Andalus...

 sought to explain the complex motions of the planets using purely concentric spheres, which moved with differing speeds from east to west. This model was an attempt to restore the concentric spheres of Aristotle without Ptolemy's epicycles and eccentrics, but it was much less accurate as a predictive astronomical model.

In the thirteenth century, scholars in European universities dealt with the implications of the rediscovered philosophy of Aristotle and astronomy of Ptolemy. One issue that arose concerned the nature of the celestial spheres. Through an extensive examination of a wide range of scholastic texts, Edward Grant has demonstrated that scholastic philosophers generally considered the celestial spheres to be solid in the sense of three-dimensional or continuous, but most did not consider them solid in the sense of hard. The consensus was that the celestial spheres were made of some kind of continuous fluid.

Later in the century, the Islamic theologian
Islamic theology
Islamic theology is a branch of Islamic studies regarding the beliefs associated with the Islamic faith. Any religious belief system, or creed, can be considered an example of aqidah. However, this term has taken a significant technical usage in Islamic history and theology, denoting those...

 Adud al-Din al-Iji (1281–1355), under the influence of the Ash'ari
The Ashʿari theology is a school of early Muslim speculative theology founded by the theologian Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari...

 doctrine of occasionalism
Occasionalism is a philosophical theory about causation which says that created substances cannot be efficient causes of events. Instead, all events are taken to be caused directly by God...

, which maintained that all physical effects were caused directly by God's will rather than by natural causes, rejected philosophy and astronomy, and maintained that the celestial spheres were "imaginary things" and "more tenuous than a spider's web". Al-Iji's rejection of astronomy was, in turn, challenged by al-Sharif al-Jurjani (1339–1413), who maintained that "even if they do not have an external reality, yet they are things that are correctly imagined and correspond to what [exists] in actuality".


Ancient, medieval and Renaissance astronomers and philosophers developed diverse theories about the dynamics of the celestial spheres. They attempted to explain the spheres' motions in terms of the materials of which they were thought to be made, external movers such as celestial intelligences, and internal movers such as motive souls or impressed forces. Most of these models were qualitative, although a few incorporated quantitative analyses that related speed, motive force and resistance. By the end of the Middle Ages, the common opinion in Europe was that celestial bodies were moved by external intelligences, identified with the angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

s of revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...



Early in the sixteenth century Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe....

 drastically reformed the model of astronomy by displacing the Earth from its central place in favour of the sun, yet he called his great work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium is the seminal work on the heliocentric theory of the Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus...

(On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). Although Copernicus does not treat the physical nature of the spheres in detail, his few allusions make it clear that, like many of his predecessors, he accepted non-solid celestial spheres. Copernicus rejected the ninth and tenth spheres, placed the orb of the Moon around the Earth and moved the Sun from its orb to the center of the world. The planetary orbs circled the center of the world in the order Mercury, Venus, the great orb containing the Earth and the orb of the Moon, then the orbs of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Finally he retained the eighth starry sphere, which he held to be unmoving.

In the course of the sixteenth century, a number of philosophers, theologians, and astronomers, among them Francesco Patrizi, Andrea Cisalpino, Peter Ramus
Petrus Ramus
Petrus Ramus was an influential French humanist, logician, and educational reformer. A Protestant convert, he was killed during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.-Early life:...

, Robert Bellarmine
Robert Bellarmine
Robert Bellarmine was an Italian Jesuit and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He was one of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation...

, Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno , born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited...

, Jerónimo Muñoz, Michael Neander
Michael Neander
Michael Neander was a German teacher, mathematician, medical academic, and astronomer....

, Jean Pena, and Christoph Rothmann
Christoph Rothmann
Christoph Rothmann was a German mathematician and one of the few well-known astronomers of his time...

, abandoned the concept of celestial spheres. Rothmann argued from the observations of the comet of 1585 that the lack of observed parallax indicated that the Comet was beyond Saturn, while the absence of observed refraction indicated the celestial region was of the same material as air, hence there were no planetary spheres.

Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe , born Tyge Ottesen Brahe, was a Danish nobleman known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations...

's investigations of a series of comets from 1577 to 1585, aided by Rothmann's discussion of the comet of 1585 and Michael Maestlin
Michael Maestlin
Michael Maestlin was a German astronomer and mathematician, known for being the mentor of Johannes Kepler.-Career:...

's tabulated distances of the comet of 1577, which passed through the planetary orbs, led Tycho to conclude that "the structure of the heavens was very fluid and simple." Tycho opposed his view to that of "very many modern philosophers" who divided the heavens into "various orbs made of hard and impervious matter." Since Grant has been unable to identify such a large number of believers in hard celestial spheres before Copernicus, he concludes that the idea first became dominant sometime after the publication of Copernicus's De revolutionibus in 1542 and either before, or possibly somewhat after, Tycho Brahe's publication of his cometary observations in 1588.

In Johannes Kepler
Johannes Kepler
Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his eponymous laws of planetary motion, codified by later astronomers, based on his works Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican...

's mature celestial physics, the spheres were regarded as the purely geometrical spatial regions containing each planetary orbit rather than as the rotating physical orbs of the earlier Aristotelian celestial physics. The eccentricity of each planet's orbit thereby defined the lengths of the radii of the inner and outer limits of its celestial sphere and thus its thickness. The role of these geometrical spherical shells in Kepler's Platonist geometrical cosmology is to determine the sizes and orderings of the five Platonic polyhedra within which the spheres were supposedly spatially embedded. In Kepler's celestial mechanics the cause of planetary motion became the rotating sun, itself rotated by its own motive soul. However, an immobile stellar sphere was a lasting remnant of physical celestial spheres in Kepler's cosmology.

Literary and symbolic expressions

In Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

's Dream of Scipio
Dream of Scipio
The Dream of Scipio , written by Cicero, is the sixth book of De re publica, and describes a fictional dream vision of the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus, set two years before he commanded at the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE.Upon his arrival in Africa, Scipio Aemilianus is visited by his...

the elder Scipio Africanus
Scipio Africanus
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus , also known as Scipio Africanus and Scipio the Elder, was a general in the Second Punic War and statesman of the Roman Republic...

 describes an ascent through the celestial spheres, compared to which the Earth and the Roman Empire dwindle into insignificance. A commentary on the Dream of Scipio by the late Roman writer Macrobius, which included a discussion of the various schools of thought on the order of the spheres, did much to spread the idea of the celestial spheres through the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...


Some late medieval figures inverted the model of the celestial spheres to place God at the center and the Earth at the periphery. Near the beginning of the fourteenth century Dante
Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe is a not-for-profit organisation that plans, builds and operates the international networks that interconnect the various national research and education networks in Europe and surrounding regions...

, in the Paradiso of his Divine Comedy, described God as a light at the center of the cosmos. Here the poet ascends beyond physical existence to the Empyrean
Empyrean, from the Medieval Latin empyreus, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek ἔμπυρος empyrus "in or on the fire ", properly Empyrean Heaven, is the place in the highest heaven, which in ancient cosmologies was supposed to be occupied by the element of fire .-Use in literature:The Empyrean was...

 Heaven, where he comes face to face with God himself and is granted understanding of both divine and human nature.

Later in the century, the illuminator of Nicole Oresme's Le livre du Ciel et du Monde, a translation of and commentary on Aristotle's De caelo
On the Heavens
On the Heavens is Aristotle's chief cosmological treatise: it contains his astronomical theory and his ideas on the concrete workings of the terrestrial world...

 produced for Oresme's patron, King Charles V
Charles V of France
Charles V , called the Wise, was King of France from 1364 to his death in 1380 and a member of the House of Valois...

, employed the same motif. He drew the spheres in the conventional order, with the Moon closest to the Earth and the stars highest, but the spheres were concave upwards, centered on God, rather than concave downwards, centered on the Earth. Below this figure Oresme quotes the Psalms
The Book of Psalms , commonly referred to simply as Psalms, is a book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible...

that "The heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork."

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