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Comparison and historical evolution of ancient Greek cosmological ideas and mathematical models

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We present a comparative study of the cosmological ideas and mathematical models in ancient Greece. We show that the heliocentric system introduced by Aristarchus of Samos was the outcome of much intellectual activity. Many Greek philosophers, mathematicians and astronomers such as Anaximander, Philolaus, Hicetas, Ecphantus and Heraclides of Pontus contributed to this. Also, Ptolemy was influenced by the cosmological model of Heraclides of Pontus for the explanation of the apparent motions of Mercury and Venus. Apollonius, who wrote the definitive work on conic sections, introduced the theory of eccentric circles and implemented them together with epicycles instead of considering that the celestial bodies travel in elliptic orbits. This is due to the deeply rooted belief that the orbits of the celestial bodies were normal circular motions around the Earth, which was still. There was also a variety of important ideas which are relevant to modern science. We present the ideas of Plato that are consistent with modern relativity theories, as well as Aristarchus' estimations of the size of the Universe in comparison with the size of the planetary system. As a first approximation, Hipparchus' theory of eccentric circles was equivalent to the first two laws of Kepler. The significance of the principle of independence and superposition of motions in the formulation of ancient cosmological models is also clarified.

Keywords: Ancient Greek cosmological ideas; Ancient Greek mathematical models; Aristarchus of Samos

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Section of Astrophysics, Astronomy and Mechanics, Department of Physics, University of Athens, Panepistimiopolis, 157 84 Zografos, Athens, Greece

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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