Ancient and Medieval Alternative Systems Reassessed

Ancient and medieval scholars also produced cos- mologies that were neither geocentric nor geostatic. In De coelo II 13, Aristotle reported the Pythagoreans’ worldview as one such case. According to them, a “fire” occupies the center of the cosmos. Based on this reference, there was a tendency in the early reception of Copernicus to ascribe his system to Pythagorean forerunners. However, there was no compelling evidence that their “central fire” corresponded to the Sun nor that the terrestrial rotation around the center referred to the annual revolution. Aristotle only reported that the Pythagorean model could account for the same celestial phenomena as geocentrism:

Most of those who hold that the whole Universe is finite say that it lies at its center, but this is contradicted by the thinkers of the Italian school called Pythagorean. These affirm that the center is occupied by fire, and that the Earth is one of the stars, and creates night and day as it travels in a circle about the center. . . . Since the Earth’s surface is not in any case the centre, they [the Pythagoreans] do not feel any difficulty in supposing that the phenomena are the same although we do not occupy the centre as they would be if the Earth were in the middle. For even in the current view [that is, geocentrism] there is nothing to show that we are distant from the center by half the Earth’s diameter.

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