Envisioning the World in the Middle Ages

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De Sphaera Mundi

Medieval science was strongly influenced by the works of Aristotle, whose work became known in the Christian west through Islamic and Jewish scholars and scientists, many of whom were working in al-Andalus, later Spain. 

The works below by Aristotle, Alfonso X, and Sacro Bosco, printed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, reflect this heritage. 

Introductio Physica


Introductio Physica


Aristotle.  Introductio Physica.  Lugduni: Haeredes Simonis Vincentii, [1541?].

Aristotle's Physica depicts the Sphera Mundi, a Ptolemaic, geocentric vision of the universe. Writing in the 4th century BCE, Aristotle proposed that 55 concentric celestial spheres were made up of the moon, planets, sun, and stars, encircling the earth at the center.

Special Collections' edition, bound in the sixteenth century with other works by Aristotle, is heavily annotated by a sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century hand and doodles, as well as a later hand, a testament to Aristotle's enduring relevance to discussions of astronomy and physics, nearly two millennia after his death. 

Liber chronicarum. Registrum huius operis Libri cronicarum cu[m] figuris et ymag[in]ibus ab inicio mu[n]di

Hartmann Schedel

Liber Chronicarum


Hartmann Schedel. Liber Chronicarum.  Nuremberg:  Anton Koberger for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12 July 1493. 

On the eve of the sixteenth century, notions of the earth's place in the solar system continued to locate it at the center, as seen in this Creation scene, the spheres of planets, sun, and stars surrounding the earth.  This woodcut appeared in Hartmann Schedel's Liber Chronicarum, published in 1493.

The Prussian mathematician and astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, was then twenty years old.  His manuscript, Commentariolus, which contradicted centuries of geocentrism with his heliocentric vision of the solar system, would begin to circulate just two decades in the future, in 1514.

Envisioning the World in the Middle Ages