IX. GREEK SCIENCE OF THE ALEXANDRIAN OR HELLENISTIC PERIOD
"Proposition seventeen. The bulk of the sun is to that of the earth in greater proportion than 6859 to 27, and less than 79,507 to 216.
"Proposition eighteen. The diameter of the earth is to the diameter of the moon in greater proportion than 108 to 43 and less than 60 to 19.
"Proposition nineteen. The bulk of the earth is to that of the moon in greater proportion than 1,259,712 to 79,507 and less than 20,000 to 6859."
Such then are the more important conclusions of this very remarkable paper—a paper which seems to have interest to the successors of Aristarchus generation after generation, since this alone of all the writings of the great astronomer has been preserved. How widely the exact results of the measurements of Aristarchus, differ from the truth, we have pointed out as we progressed. But let it be repeated that this detracts little from the credit of the astronomer who had such clear and correct conceptions of the relations of the heavenly bodies and who invented such correct methods of measurement. Let it be particularly observed, however, that all the conclusions of Aristarchus are stated in relative terms. He nowhere attempts to estimate the precise size of the earth, of the moon, or of the sun, or the actual distance of one of these bodies from another. The obvious reason for this is that no data were at hand from which to make such precise measurements. Had Aristarchus known the size of any one of the bodies in question, he might readily, of course, have determined the size of the others by the mere application of his relative scale; but he had no means of determining the size of the earth, and to this extent his system of measurements remained imperfect. Where Aristarchus halted, however, another worker of the same period took the task in hand and by an altogether wonderful measurement determined the size of the earth, and thus brought the scientific theories of cosmology to their climax. This worthy supplementor of the work of Aristarchus was Eratosthenes of Alexandria.
ERATOSTHENES, "THE SURVEYOR OF THE WORLD"
An altogether remarkable man was this native of Cyrene, who came to Alexandria from Athens to be the chief librarian of Ptolemy Euergetes. He was not merely an astronomer and a geographer, but a poet and grammarian as well. His contemporaries jestingly called him Beta the Second, because he was said through the universality of his attainments to be "a second Plato" in philosophy, "a second Thales" in astronomy, and so on throughout the list. He was also called the "surveyor of the world," in recognition of his services to geography. Hipparchus said of him, perhaps half jestingly, that he had studied astronomy as a geographer and geography as an astronomer. It is not quite clear whether the epigram was meant as compliment or as criticism. Similar phrases have been turned against men of versatile talent in every age. Be that as it may, Eratosthenes passed into history as the father of scientific geography and of scientific chronology; as the astronomer who first measured the obliquity of the ecliptic; and as the inventive genius who performed the astounding feat of measuring the size of the globe on which we live at a time when only a relatively small portion of that globe's surface was known to civilized man. It is no discredit to approach astronomy as a geographer and geography as an astronomer if the results are such as these. What Eratosthenes really did was to approach both astronomy and geography from two seemingly divergent points of attack—namely, from the stand-point of the geometer and also from that of the poet. Perhaps no man in any age has brought a better combination of observing and imaginative faculties to the aid of science.
Nearly all the discoveries of Eratosthenes are associated with observations of the shadows cast by the sun. We have seen that, in the study of the heavenly bodies, much depends on the measurement of angles. Now the easiest way in which angles can be measured, when solar angles are in question, is to pay attention, not to the sun itself, but to the shadow that it casts. We saw that Thales made some remarkable measurements with the aid of shadows, and we have more than once referred to the gnomon, which is the most primitive, but which long remained the most important, of astronomical instruments. It is believed that Eratosthenes invented an important modification of the gnomon which was elaborated afterwards by Hipparchus and called an armillary sphere. This consists essentially of a small gnomon, or perpendicular post, attached to a plane representing the earth's equator and a hemisphere in imitation of the earth's surface. With the aid of this, the shadow cast by the sun could be very accurately measured. It involves no new principle. Every perpendicular post or object of any kind placed in the sunlight casts a shadow from which the angles now in question could be roughly measured. The province of the armillary sphere was to make these measurements extremely accurate.