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  • Aristarchus of Samos › Who was
  • Aristides › Who was
  • Ships of the Gods of Ancient Egypt › Origins

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Aristarchus of Samos  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Cristian Violatti

Aristarchus of Samos (c. 310 - c. 230 BCE) was an ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer from Ionia who came up with a revolutionary astronomical hypothesis. He claimed the Sun, not the Earth, was the fixed centre of the universe, and that the Earth, along with the rest of the planets, revolved around the Sun. He also said that the stars were distant suns that remained unmoved and that the size of the universe was much larger than his contemporaries believed.
This Sun-centred view of the universe is often referred to as “heliocentric”. It is fair to say that while the term heliocentric seems to be relatively adequate to classify Aristarchus view, it nevertheless fails to address the fact that Aristarchus' hypothesis had a number of additional interesting implications far beyond just a Sun-centred planetary system and a rotating Earth. In fact, a rotating Earth was already held by Heraclides Ponticus (390 BCE - 310 BCE) some time before Aristarchus and the Pythagorean tradition believed that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, but that it revolved around the “Central fire”, an imaginary body believed by them to be the actual source of the light of the universe.


Just like Egypt influence caused Greek mathematics to flourish a number of centuries before, the influence of Babylon had an equivalent stimulus over Greek astronomy . Alexander the Great 's opening of the East led to an exchange of ideas that had a critical input into Greek's astronomical notions. This is the context in which Aristarchus developed his theory.

Except for a few rare exceptions, the general consensus among Greek astronomers during the time Aristarchus lived was that the universe was Earth-centred. During the 4th century BCE, Plato and Aristotle defended the geocentric model but both philosophers did so using mostly mystical and mythical arguments. The stars and planets were carried around the Earth on spheres, arranged in a concentric fashion. Plato even described the universe as the Spindle of Necessity, attended by the Sirens and turned by the three Fates. There was little room in Plato's views for the idea of a universe governed by natural laws, since he rejected any form of determinism. In fact, the unpredictable motions of some planets (especially Mars ), were seen by Plato as proof that natural laws could not account for all the changes in the universe. Eudoxus, a student of Plato, challenged the views of his teacher by working on a more myth-free mathematical model, but the idea of concentric spheres and circular planetary motion still persisted.
Despite the general consensus on the Earth-centred model, there were a number of reasons that led some to believe that the model was not fully accurate and needed some corrections. For example, it was not possible for the geocentric model to explain either the changes in the brightness of the planets or their retrograde motions. Aristarchus' hypothesis was developed as an alternative explanation to the Earth-centred models' flaws.


The only extant work of Aristarchus is called On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and the Moon and it contains no hint of the heliocentric model. In fact, it adheres to the geocentric view. There are several possibilities for this. It could well be that, for the purpose of the works, it makes no difference which theory is adopted and, therefore, Aristarchus decided that presenting a view in contradiction to the general consensus would have been unwise. Another option would be that he may have arrived at the heliocentric view after writing this work. Some historians who have studied this matter in detail, such as Sir Thomas Heat, believe the latter. In this work, by means of careful geometrical analysis based on the size of the Earth's shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse, Aristarchus concluded that the Sun must be much larger than the Earth. It is possible that the idea that tiny objects ought to orbit large ones and not the other way around, motivated his revolutionary ideas. Aristarchus also suspected that the stars we see in the night sky are actually nothing more than distant suns.


Aristarchus of Samos

Unfortunately, Aristarchus works where the heliocentric model is presented are lost. His theories on the universe have been pieced together from later works and references. One of the most important and clear is the one mentioned by Archimedes in his book “The Sand Reckoner”:
[...] 'universe' is the name given by most astronomers to the sphere whose centre is the centre of the Earth and whose radius is equal to the straight line between the centre of the Sun and the centre of the Earth. [...] But Aristarchus of Samos brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, in which the premises lead to the result that the universe is many times greater than that now so called. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the Sun remain unmoved, that the Earth revolves about the Sun in the circumference of a circle, the Sun lying in the middle of the orbit, and that the sphere of the fixed stars, situated about the same centre as the Sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the Earth to revolve bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the centre of the sphere bears to its surface.
(Archimedes, 1-2)


Some historians have suggested that Aristarchus himself may have abandoned his theory as a result of failing to reconcile it with the supposedly circular movements of the heavenly bodies, since all Greek astronomers took for granted that the orbit of all heavenly bodies had to be circular. Whether Aristarchus himself ended up rejecting his own hypothesis is not totally clear.What seems to be clear is that Hipparchus of Nicea , in all probability the greatest astronomical genius of antiquity among Greek astronomers, concluded that the geocentric model better explained the observations than did the model of Aristarchus.The only way that Aristarchus' view could stand mathematical analysis was by supposing an elliptical orbit of the Earth, and this supposition was almost a blasphemy to Greek thought. On top of this, this new model expanded the size of the universe far beyond the accepted size, which was also difficult to accept.
Aristarchus planetary model was discarded only to be rediscovered almost two millennia later during the years prior to the rise of modern science that took place during the Renaissance.

Aristides  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Mark Cartwright

Aristides (520s – c. 467 BCE) was an Athenian statesman and military commander who gained the honorific title 'the Just' through his consistent selfless behaviour in public office. Although ostracized by the Athenian assembly, Aristides returned to command troops with great success at the battles of Salamis and Plataea during the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BCE. He is the subject of one of Plutarch ’s Lives biographies.


Aristides (also spelt Aristeides) was born sometime in the 520s BCE in the Athenian deme of Alopeke. His father was Lysimachus , and so he was born into the Athenian aristocracy, even if ancient sources somewhat exaggerated his early poverty. He was wealthy enough to support Greek plays in competition, several of which he won, but according to Plutarch he always shunned opportunities for financial gain. As a cousin of the wealthy Callias, and good friend of the influential Cleisthenes , he had powerful political connections. Of his early career we know that Aristides was possibly a general at the battle of Marathon in 490 BCE (Plutarch thought so but Herodotus fails to mention him) and was made archon (the highest political position in Athens ) in 489 BCE.


Ancient writers gave the politician the title of 'Aristides the Just' and portrayed him as an honest and principled member of the Athenian government, a portrait in stark contrast to the reputation of his contemporary and greatest political opponent Themistocles . Herodotus describes him thus, 'I have come to believe through my inquiries into his character that he was actually the best and most just of all the Athenians' (Bk. 8.79.1). Plutarch describes several episodes which, for him, illustrated the upright character of Aristides. He would withdraw his own proposals in the assembly if swayed by arguments from the opposition, he once gave up his right to military command because he considered Miltiades the more talented general, scrupulously guarded the war -booty from Marathon, gave a fair hearing to someone who had done him personal harm, and he exposed cases of political corruption.



Nevertheless, Aristides' reputation did not save him from ostracism (exile) in 482 BCE following accusations of excessive sympathies with the Persians and the crafty political machinations of Themistocles. According to Plutarch, one assembly member voted against Aristides simply because he was fed up with hearing the politician constantly referred to as 'the Just'.Indeed, this story was another example of Aristides' just nature as, when the illiterate voter, not realizing who he was talking to, asked Aristides to scratch for him the name of Aristides on his piece of pottery in order to cast his vote, instead of walking by or revealing his identity, Aristides did what the voter asked and wrote his name on the pottery which would contribute to his exile. One such pottery piece can be seen today in the Agora Museum of Athens, is it too fanciful to hope that it could be the one which Aristides wrote? Aristides' exile did not last long as, unusually, he was given a pardon and allowed to return to the city in 480 BCE in order to meet the new threat of invasion by the Persian king Xerxes .


In 480 BCE Aristides successfully commanded a force of hoplites in an attack on the island of Psyttaleia in the final stages of the battle of Salamis. He had also appeared prior to the battle when the Greeks were wavering as whether to attack or not the Persian fleet, but when Aristides informed the overall commander Themistocles that the Greeks had already been encircled in the narrow straits, the battle was on. Aristides commanded again, this time the 8,000 Athenian hoplites, at the battle of Plataea in Boeotia in 479 BCE. When faced with the protests of the Tegeans as to which position was more prestigious and theirs by right, Aristides told them,
We did not come here to quarrel with our allies, but to fight our enemies, not to boast about our ancestors, but to show our courage in defence of Greece . This battle will prove clearly enough how much any city or general or private soldier is worth to Greece. (Plutarch, 123)
In the event, of course, the combined Greek force defeated the Persians and finally ended Xerxes' territorial ambitions in Greece. According to Plutarch, Aristides proposed forming a joint Hellenic army of cavalry and hoplites but the Athenians rejected it, probably because the democracy did not want to fund an aristocratic-dominated cavalry. Another proposal by Aristides was enacted, to hold commemorative games every four years at Plataea which would involve athletes from all over Greece.
Aristides was again on official duty when he was selected as the envoy sent by Athens to Sparta shortly after the battle to convince them of Athens' benign intentions in rebuilding their fortifications. The last record of Aristides is when the Delian League , a mutual alliance to protect Greek cities from any future attack, was formed in 478 BCE. Aristides was given the task of assessing how much tribute particular states should pay to Athens and oversee the swearing of the oaths of allegiance. No doubt he was chosen, at least in part, because of his reputation as a fair-minded leader. According to Plutarch, Aristides was buried on his estate at Phalerum, just outside Athens.

Ships of the Gods of Ancient Egypt  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Joshua J. Mark

The Nile River was the source of life for the ancient Egyptians and so figured prominently in their religious beliefs. At night, the Milky Way was considered a heavenly Nile, associated with Hathor , and provider of all good things. The Nile was also linked to Uat-Ur , the Egyptian name for the Mediterranean Sea, which stretched out to unknown lands from the Delta and brought goods through trade with foreign ports.
Watercrafts were no doubt among the earliest conveyances built in Egypt , with small boats appearing in inscriptions in the Predynastic Period (c. 6000 - c. 3150 BCE). These boats were made of woven papyrus reeds but later were made of wood, grew larger, and became ships.


Barque of Ra

The ships of the Egyptians were used for commercial ventures like fishing, trade, and travel and also in warfare , but from at least the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE), they also feature in religious beliefs and practices. Ships known as Barques of the Gods are associated with a number of different Egyptian deities and, although each had its own significance, their common importance was in linking the mortal world with the divine.


Easily the most important divine vessel was the Barque of Ra which sailed across the sky each day as the sun. In one religious tale, Ra becomes enraged with humanity and their ceaseless stupidity and decides to destroy them by sending Sekhmet to devour them and crush their cities . He repents and stops her by sending her a vat of beer , which she drinks, passes out from, and wakes up later as Hathor, the friend to humans. In some versions, the story ends there, but in others, Ra is still not satisfied with humanity and so boards his great barge and sails away into the heavens. Still, since he cannot completely distance himself from the world, he appears each day watching over it as the sun. The solar barque the people saw during the day was called the Mandjet, and the one which navigated through the underworld was known as the Meseket .
By the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE), this myth included the added dimension of the Great Serpent known as Apophis . As the Barque of Ra descended into the west in the evening, it entered the underworld where Apophis waited to attack it. Apophis was present at the beginning of creation when, in one myth, Ra is the god who stands on the primordial mound and raises order out of chaos. Apophis wanted to return the universe to its original undifferentiated state and could do this if he destroyed the barge of the sun god and the sun god with it.


Ra Travelling Through the Underworld

Other gods, as well as the souls of the justified dead, would travel on the barge with Ra to protect him and his ship from Apophis during its journey through the underworld. A number of paintings and inscriptions depict all of the most famous gods, at one time or another, fending off the Great Serpent either alone, in groups, or in the presence of the justified dead.
Mortals were encouraged to participate in this struggle from their homes and temples on earth. Rituals such as The Overthrowing of Apophis were observed in which figures and images of Apophis were made of wax and then ritually mutilated, spat on, urinated on, and burned. This was among the most widely practiced execration rituals in Egypt and linked the living with the souls of those who had passed on and with the gods.
Every night the gods, souls, and humanity joined together to battle chaos and darkness and preserve life and light, and each time they won, the sun rose in the morning, and the dawn light was an assurance that all was well with Ra and life on earth would continue. As the barge sailed across the sky, however, Apophis returned to life in the underworld and would be waiting again once night fell; and so the battle would have to be fought again.


Ra's barge existed in the spiritual realm but there were others which were built and maintained by human hands. The best known of these was the Barque of Amun constructed and kept at Thebes .
Amun's Barque was known to the Egyptians as Userhetamon , 'Mighty of Brow is Amun,' and was a gift to the city from Ahmose I (c. 1570 - c.1544 BCE) following his victory over the Hyksos and ascension to the throne which initiated the era of the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1570-1069 BCE). Egyptologist Margaret Bunson writes, "It was covered in gold from the waterline up and was filled with cabins, obelisks, niches, and elaborate adornments" (21). There was a cabin for the shrine of the god, decorated with gold, silver , and precious gems, from which Amun, in the form of his statue, would preside over festivals and welcome the praise of his people.

During Amun's annual festival, The Feast of Opet, the barque would move with great ceremony, carrying Amun's statue from the Karnak temple downriver to the Luxor temple so the god could visit and then bringing him back again. At the ritual of the Wadi Festival (The Beautiful Feast of the Valley), one of the most significant of all Egyptian festivals, the statues of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu (the Theban triad) were transported on the barque from one side of the Nile to the other in order to participate in honoring the deceased and inviting their spirits back to earth to join in the festivities.
On other days the barque would be docked on the banks of the Nile or at Karnak's sacred lake. When not in use, the ship would be housed in a special temple at Thebes built to its specifications, and every year the floating temple would be refurbished and repainted or rebuilt. Other barques of Amun were built elsewhere in Egypt, and there were other floating temples to other deities, but Amun's Barque at Thebes was the most elaborate. The attention lavished on the ship reflected the status of the god who, by the time of the New Kingdom , was so widely venerated that his worship was almost monotheistic with other gods relegated nearly to the status of aspects of Amun.


Among his closest competitors for first place in the hearts of the people, however, was Osiris. Osiris was considered the first king of Egypt who, murdered by his brother Set and revived by his sister-wife Isis and her sister Nephthys , was the Lord and Judge of the Dead. Osiris' son Horus was among the most important deities of the pantheon , associated with the just reign of the king and, in most eras, identified with the king himself.
When a person died, they expected to have to appear before Osiris for judgment concerning their deeds in life. Although the judgment of the soul would be influenced by the 42 Judges, Thoth , and Anubis who would participate in accepting or rejecting one's Negative Confession and the weighing of the heart, it was Osiris' word which would be final. Since one's continued existence in the afterlife depended upon his mercy, he was perpetually venerated throughout Egypt's history.
Worship of Osiris dates conclusively to the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE) but no doubt originated in the Predynastic Period. The story of his death and resurrection by Isis became so popular that it pervaded Egyptian cultureand, even when other gods might be honored more elaborately in state ceremonies, the festival of Osiris remained significant and his cult widespread. Mortuary rituals were based on the Osiris cult and the king was linked to Horus in life and Osiris in death. The king was, in fact, thought to travel to the land of the dead in his own barge which resembled the ship of Osiris.


Dendera Temple Ceiling

Osiris' barque was known as the Neshmet Barge which, though built by human hands, belonged to the primordial god Nun of the waters. Bunson writes, "An elaborate vessel, this bark had a cabin for the shrine and was decorated with gold and other precious metals and was refurbished or replaced by each king" (43). The Neshmet barge was considered so important that participation in its replacement or restoration was counted as one of the most significant good deeds in one's life.
During the Festival of Osiris at Abydos, the Neshmet would transport Osiris' statue from his temple to his tomb and back again, thus recreating the story of his life, death, and resurrection. At the beginning of the festival, two maidens of the temple would play the roles of the goddesses in reciting the call-and-response liturgy of The Lamentation of Isis and Nephthys which invited Osiris to participate in the ceremony while also ritually recreating his resurrection. Once he emerged from his temple in the form of his statue, the Neshmet Barge was waiting to transport him and the ceremony would be underway.


Many other gods and goddesses had their own ships which were all built along the same lines as the above. All were elaborately adorned and outfitted as floating temples. Bunson describes the barques of some of the other gods:
Other Egyptian deities sailed in their own barks on feast days with priests rowing the vessels on sacred lakes or on the Nile. Khons' Bark was called "Brilliant of Brow" in some eras. The god Min's boat was named "Great of Love". The Hennu Bark of Sokar was kept at Medinet Habu and was paraded around the walls of the capital on holy days. This bark was highly ornamented and esteemed as a cultic object. The barks could be actual sailing vessels or carried on poles in festivals. The gods normally had both kinds of barks for different rituals. (43)
Hathor's barque at Dendera was of similar opulence and the temples of major deities had a sacred lake on which the ship could sail during feast days or on special occasions. This association of the gods with watercraft led to the belief that the king departed his earthly life for the next world in a similar boat. Prayers and hymns for the deceased monarch include the hope that his ship will reach the afterlife without mishap and some spells indicate navigational instructions. For this reason, boats were often included among the grave goods of the deceased.


Khufu's Ship

The best known of these is the Ship of Khufu, but so-called Solar Barges were buried with many kings throughout Egypt's history. Khufu (2589-2566 BCE), the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza , had his barge buried near his tomb for use in the afterlife, as with any of his other grave goods. He was neither the first to do so nor, by far, the last and it became customary to include even a model boat among the grave goods in the tombs of the upper class.
These full-sized or model boats were thought, like all grave goods, to serve the soul of the deceased in the afterlife. Even a model ship could be used to transport one safely from a certain point to another through the use of magical spells. Statuettes of various animals, like the hippopotamus, were often included in tombs for this same purpose: they would come to life when summoned by a spell to help the soul when required.
The ships, large or small, provided the same service and, by including them in one's tomb, one was assured of easy travel in the realm of the gods. More importantly, though, one's personal boat linked the soul with the divine in the same way the ships of the gods had done when one lived on the earth.
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