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The Astronomy of Heracleides Ponticus

  • Godfrey Evans (a1)

Heracleides Ponticus, a pupil of the schools of Plato and Aristotle, who lived from about 390 to 310 B.C., shared the wide interests of many of his pre-Platonic predecessors. Diogenes Laertius gives a long list of his works, many of them now known only by their titles, which he divided into writings on ethics, physics, grammar, music, rhetoric, and history. Like most of his predecessors he gave some attention to the heavens and speculated about the nature of the moon (frg. 114a), comets (frg. 116), the infinity of the cosmos (frg. 112); he was best known in antiquity, in this field, for his suggestion that the phenomena could be saved if the heavens were at rest and the earth revolved about the central axis (frgs. 106, 108).2 One of two pieces of evidence for his involvement in anything more than this general, inexact speculation in the field of astronomy is contained in the commentary on Plato's Timaeus written in Latin by Chalcidius somewhere at the beginning of the fourth century A.D.; it is this passage which this paper will discuss.

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page 102 note 1 References are to Wehrli, F., Die Schule des Aristoteles, Heft V, Herakleides Pontikos, Basle, 1953.

page 102 note 2 Cf. fr. 107 (Simplicius, in Aristotelis de Caelo, 541 Heiberg) for a critical analysis of the difficulties involved in this idea.

page 102 note 3 Platonis Timaeus interprete Chalcidio cum eiusdem commentario ed. Wrobel, Ioh., Leipzig, 1876 (reimp. Frankfurt, 1963).

page 102 note 4 Timaeus 38 d 2

page 102 note 5 Cap. 109 ‘Lucifer et Mercurius contrarios semper motus exerant mundi circumactioni’.

page 102 note 6 So Heath, T. M., Anstarchus of Samos (Oxford, 1913), 257 n. 1.

page 103 note 1 Cap. 109 ‘Quod iis usu accidit ex eo quod una medietas atque unum punctum est tam solstitialis circuli quam cuiuslibet alterius stellarum harum’.

page 103 note 2 Cap. 111 ‘Hoc fiet apertius si per XKB lineam circumducatur circulus qui contingat duas a se distantes lineas, id est XA et XC, quae demonstrant modum discessionis a sole Luciferi’.

page 103 note 3 Smymaeus, Theon, Expositio rerum mathematicarum ad legendum Platonem utilium (ed. Hiller, Leipzig, 1878),

page 104 note 1 Theon, , p. 137. 10 Hiller.

page 104 note 2 Theon, , p. 137. 17 Hiller.

page 105 note 1 Sun, Theon, p. 135 = Chalcidius cap. 70. Venus, Theon, p. 137 = Chalcidius cap. 70. Cf. Dreyer, J. L. E., History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler, New York, 1953, p. 127.

page 105 note 2 Heath, , op. cit. 199.

page 105 note 3 See Heath, , op. cit. 255 (and fol. for earlier writers);Dreyer, , op. cit. 126;Fabricius, , R.E. s.v. ‘Herakleides’ n. 45 viii. 1 (1912) col. 477 and, more recently, Gundel, , R.E. s.v. ‘Planeten’, xx. 2 (1950), cols. 2061–2.

page 105 note 4 Theon, 178. 3–189. 17.

page 105 note 5 For the extent of Simplicius' misunder standing see the discussion in Heath, , op. cit. 197–9.

page 105 note 6 Simplicius, In Aristotelis de Caelo 504. 16 f., Heiberg.

page 107 note 1 Macrobius In Somn. Scip. i. 19. 5–6, but see Stahl, W. H., ‘Astronomy and Geography in Macrobius’, TAPhA lxxiii (1942), who accepts, p. 237, the attribution to Hera-cleides of the circumsolar orbit of Venus and Mercury but argues, pp. 238–41, that Heath's and Dreyer's interpretation of the Macrobius passage as similar is false.

page 107 note 2 Capella, Martianus, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 8. 880.

page 107 note 3 Cf. Theon, , p. 178. 17

page 108 note 1 Chalcidius, cap. III ‘Erit ergo linea XKB quae solem demonstrat, id est litteram B’.

page 108 note 2 Notice ‘linea per punctum solis exeunte’.

page 108 note 3 Chalcid., cap. III ‘Tantum autem moveatur haec eadem linea (XKB) quantum sol movetur prope cotidiana momenta singula’.

page 109 note 1 Wehrli, , op. cit., 95–6.

page 109 note 2 ‘Unum punctum atque unam medietatem duobus daret circulis.’

page 110 note 1 Heath, , op. cit. 257 and 269–75.

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The Classical Quarterly
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