It’s not often that I write two articles with the same theme next to each other unless they’re directly connected, but today I stay with the astronomical theme because of an event that took place last week. It’s a subject I had scheduled for later in the year, but it was too topical to wait till then.
Last weekend the first
British Flat Earth convention was held in Birmingham. If they are right about
the Flat Earth then the idea of a spherical one must be the biggest homohoax
ever! (See here for my explanation of a homohoax).
First of all, let’s take
ourselves back in history to the “Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”, the Greater
Panathenaean Games These were the local “Olympics” held for the citizens of
Athens once very four years (with Lesser Panathenaean Games in the years in
At one of the games in
around 450 BC the young Socrates, the famous philosopher, was a spectator.
There he met one of the celebrity philosophers of the day, Parmenides of Elea
(picture below). Parmenides was said to be around 65 years old at the time and
was accompanied by a younger man, another philosopher called Zeno of Elea. The
meeting was recorded many years later by yet another philosopher, Plato. He
added that Zeno had been Parmenides’ “eromenos”.
“Eromenos”, a word coming
from the same origin as the name of Eros, the god of gay sex, is the term used
to describe a young boy Greek men took as his sexual partner (it was Parmenides
who wrote, in the poem mentioned below, that Eros was the first Greek god to be
created). The Greeks were suspicious of any man who didn’t have an eromenos.
Plato hero-worshipped Parmenides, so he must have got to know all there was to
know about him as any fan would.
These sexual relationships
lasted until the boy was about 20 and got married, but the male couple would
always remain close for the rest of their lives. That’s why the old Parmenides
had the adult Zeno accompanying him to the Greater Panathenaean Games. Both may
have had wives, but women were not allowed to attend the games, just as they
weren’t at the Olympics.
By the time Parmenides met
Socrates at the Panathenaean Games he had already produced the most important
ideas that shaped what we now call metaphysics and ontology. Three ideas in
particular had cosmic consequences.
Surviving fragments of the
poem by Parmenides, the poem in which he refers to Eros as the first Greek god,
set out his philosophy. The poem was originally about 800 verses long but only
about 160 verses survive. Basically his aim was to provide a philosophical
theory of reality – what is real, and what is not. He used astronomy to help
explain his theory.
Parmenides saw change as
an illusion. The entire universe has never changed since its creation, including
past, present and future, and that space is infinite. In this respect he can be
seen to suggest the universe is infinite which until then was thought to
consist of a solid sphere around the Earth on which the stars were fixed.
The theory of an infinite
universe led centuries later to the Renaissance scientist Giordano Bruno to
theorise that in an infinite universe there is an infinite number of Suns, more
than the stars that are visible, and that each Sun had planets like Earth
orbiting them. What got him into trouble with the Catholic Church was his
theory that these infinite Earths were identical to ours and had a Christ on
them all. This went against the Church’s teaching of there being only one
Christ, not an infinite number, so Bruno was put on trial for heresy and
Going back to Parmenides
let’s look at how he theorised that the Earth was spherical. Until his time the
Earth as thought to be flat and the Sun travelled over the Earth once, and a
brand new Sun dawned the following day. Some say Pythagoras came up with the
idea of a spherical Earth long before Parmenides, but this is no more than
attributing later great deeds to great men of the past. At best, the theories
of Earth’s shape were ambiguous and not specific enough to claim that it was
spherical. Generally, however, Greek scientists agreed that the Earth was at
least curved because they could see changes in the Sun and stars positions at
different geographical locations.
It was Parmenides who took
the curved Earth idea further by suggesting it was spherical. The sphere was
perfect shape and the Earth was perfect, he theorised. However, he went further
by claiming the universe revolved around the Earth.
One piece of evidence he
presented was what happened during a lunar eclipse. He wrote that we can only
see the Moon because it is always facing the Sun. At a lunar eclipse he said
that it was the Earth’s shadow which darkened the Moon’s surface, and that the
curved shadow on the Moon proves the Earth is a sphere. What’s more, it proved
that the Sun does not die when it sets but that it travels behind the spherical
Earth to dawn the next day, and has done so since time began.
By the 4th century BC
Greek philosophers all believed in a spherical Earth. The idea passed on to the
early Christian Church which began in Greece. The Church represented the
spherical earth in early Medieval frescos of the 6th century of Christ sat on a
big ball (a bit like a space hopper!), and also in coronations. One of the
crown jewels presented to new kings at their coronation is a golden orb with a
cross on the top, symbolising God’s power over a spherical earth. If the Church
believed in a flat earth, as the attendees of the recent Flat Earth convention
in Birmingham do, then the new kings would be given a piece of paper or a map
instead of an orb.
Parmenides’ theories and
ideas influenced the whole of cosmological thought through all succeeding
centuries and to the present day. So, if we believe the Flat Earthers are
right, then the entire scientific community for 2,500 years has become victim
to the most cosmic homohoax in history.