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Cosmology and Religion in the Dark Ages

A map of the world from England ca. 1300, with Jerusalem at the center. Europe occupies the lower
left quadrant.

"Of what importance is it to know whether the Earth is a sphere, a cylinder, a disk, or a concave surface?" asked St. Basil in the fourth century. "What is important is to know how I should conduct myself towards myself, towards my fellow man, and towards God." With the decay of classic civilization in Western Europe, few people cared about cosmology. Those who did, mostly kept to a simplified version of the Greek speculations. Some used the authority of ambiguous Biblical verses to revert to the primitive picture of a flat Earth. Perhaps our world was a disk, centered on Jerusalem (which was a new idea, for other nonscientific peoples had placed their own homeland at the center of the Universe). When civilization and scientific curiosity revived in the late Middle Ages, scholars seeking the ancient Greek writings in the dusty archives of monasteries found that many had been erased by monks, recycling the valuable parchment for pious works.

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The Greek Worldview