Two items appear below:

1    The Ptolemaean Blunders      Vic Lloyd
2    Ptolemy                                   B J Kotwall


Vic Lloyd

(Investigator 34, 1994 January)

It would appear that Claudius Ptolemaeus, whom we know as Ptolemy (although he was unrelated to the Egyptian kings of that name), is chiefly remembered for two things, both of which, in the event, turned out to be huge blunders. As it happens however, and to his discredit, neither of them were his original ideas. A little skulldugging plagiarism was involved.

The model of the universe placing Earth at its centre – with the Sun located between Earth and Mars – is invariably attributed to him but apparently it wasn't really his idea.

Similar to Euclid, who, with brevity and elegance codified two-and-a-half centuries of accumulated labour into one great, single work, Ptolemy's model, his star chart catalogues and his naming of 48 constellations were all actually the work of Hipparchus. Again, whether or not this latter worthy was the original author or not is obscure because none of his writings survived. Suffice it to say Ptolemy gathered it all together and published it under his own name, probably with a few refinements of his own.

However, unlike the outstanding and continuing success of Euclid's massive contribution to science, Ptolemy's model, with all those circles, epicentres and eccentrics – held sacred for fifteen centuries – collapsed in embarrassing disarray following the brilliant disclosures of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler at al. This was blunder number one.

Not content with this though, and basing his ideas on Babylonian tradition, he bestowed unswerving credence to the ridiculous notion that the varying daily positions of the planets (of which, of course, he knew only five) and the Sun and Moon, influenced the lives of people.

He thus became the father of astrology. A dubious distinction to say the least.

Little was he to know what he was unleashing on the world, or that it was destined to become a plausibly deceptive, million-dollar industry over the centuries.

One wonders what motivated such people (although probably wealth and fame, as usual), but Ptolemy combined a vivid and sometimes vitriolic imagination with a lamentable lack of charity in detailing some of the characteristics which he rudely and unjustifiably endowed upon those born within the 'influence' of certain planets.

Consider, for example, the outrage and despair of any unfortunate, unlucky enough to be born 'under Mars'.

In his 'Compost of Ptholomaeus' (about 75 AD) he asserted, without compunction that all such persons were "…born thieves and robbers, night-walkers and quarrel pickers, boasters, mockers and scoffers, liars and great swearers, and much given to murder, battle and war…"


He even went to the lengths of providing physical descriptions. "Saturn," he said, "if he is in the orient, makes his subjects in appearance dark-skinned, robust, black-haired, curly-haired, hairy-chested (male or female not specified), eyes of moderate size, of middling temperament, and having an excess of the moist and the cold." Surely this was taking things too far, but he must have been a good judge of people; they were just as gullible then as they are now and the practice survived, although perhaps not to this extent.

Nevertheless, even this brief glimpse into origins serves, if nothing else, to reinforce the opinion of all thinking people; that the whole business was, and still is, idiotic nonsense.

Wherever Ptolemy is now (?) one wonders if he regrets either 'borrowing' from Hipparchus and the Babylonians, or having inflicted such a foolishness upon the world…



B J Kotwall

(Investigator 36, 1994 May)

The article on Ptolemy by Mr. Vic Lloyd in Investigator No.34 denigrates Ptolemy to the extent that not even one redeeming feature of this genius is presented.

In fact readers not aware of the achievements of Ptolemy would judge him to be a plagiarist, a blunderer, and possessing a vitriolic imagination!

No doubt Ptolemy's geocentric theory was erroneous. After all consider the time of history when he lived – c.90-168 A.D. His theory of the geocentric system was supplanted in 1543 A.D. by the heliocentric system of Copernicus – 1400 years later! (Encyclopedia Britannica [EB] 15th Edition p.775)

Ptolemy borrowed from Hipparchus, but expanded on his findings. For example Hipparchus had compiled a star catalog of 850 stars, which Ptolemy extended in his own catalog to 1,022 stars in his 13 book Almagest. (BB p.775)

Some quotations regarding Ptolemy from respected publications follow:

"Apart from his achievements in geography and astronomy…his versatility and genius for analysis are also evident in his Harmonica a treatise on music and in his Optics… His greatest work the Guide to Geography…was hailed, with reverential enthusiasm both as a masterpiece of Greek science and as the first atlas of the world. " (Chamber's Encyclopedia 1966 p. 337)

"Ptolemy's astronomical work was enshrined in his great book … known as the Almagest… As a geometrician of the first order, Ptolemy performed important work in mathematics…" (EB p. 775)

"What makes the canon so important to modern historians is the large amount of astronomical material recorded by Ptolemy in his Almagest, making possible checks as to its accuracy at almost every step from beginning to end. Over eighty solar, lunar and planetary positions, with their dates are recorded in the Almagest which have been verified by modern astronomers."
"Ptolemy's Canon gives precise and absolutely dependable data concerning the chronology of a period beginning with 747 B.C.…"
(Dr Edwin R. Thyle 1965 The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings pp. 4, 45)

"Astronomical verification of an eclipse which Ptolemy dated as occurring in 522 B.C. has served as a valued reassurance of his accuracy."
(Dr Gleason L. Archer, 1964, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p.279)

Ptolemy was a great and versatile scholar. One would not know this reading the article on Ptolemy in Investigator.

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