IX. GREEK SCIENCE OF THE ALEXANDRIAN OR HELLENISTIC PERIOD

The precise genesis and development of this idea cannot now be followed, but that it was prevalent about the fifth century B.C. as a Pythagorean doctrine cannot be questioned. Anaxagoras also is said to have taken account of the hypothetical counter-earth in his explanation of eclipses; though, as we have seen, he probably did not accept that part of the doctrine which held the earth to be a sphere. The names of Philolaus and Heraclides have been linked with certain of these Pythagorean doctrines. Eudoxus, too, who, like the others, lived in Asia Minor in the fourth century B.C., was held to have made special studies of the heavenly spheres and perhaps to have taught that the earth moves. So, too, Nicetas must be named among those whom rumor credited with having taught that the world is in motion. In a word, the evidence, so far as we can garner it from the remaining fragments, tends to show that all along, from the time of the early Pythagoreans, there had been an undercurrent of opinion in the philosophical world which questioned the fixity of the earth; and it would seem that the school of thinkers who tended to accept the revolutionary view centred in Asia Minor, not far from the early home of the founder of the Pythagorean doctrines. It was not strange, then, that the man who was finally to carry these new opinions to their logical conclusion should hail from Samos.

But what was the support which observation could give to this new, strange conception that the heavenly bodies do not in reality move as they seem to move, but that their apparent motion is due to the actual revolution of the earth? It is extremely difficult for any one nowadays to put himself in a mental position to answer this question. We are so accustomed to conceive the solar system as we know it to be, that we are wont to forget how very different it is from what it seems. Yet one needs but to glance up at the sky, and then to glance about one at the solid earth, to grant, on a moment's reflection, that the geocentric idea is of all others the most natural; and that to conceive the sun as the actual Centre of the solar system is an idea which must look for support to some other evidence than that which ordinary observation can give. Such was the view of most of the ancient philosophers, and such continued to be the opinion of the majority of mankind long after the time of Copernicus. We must not forget that even so great an observing astronomer as Tycho Brahe, so late as the seventeenth century, declined to accept the heliocentric theory, though admitting that all the planets except the earth revolve about the sun. We shall see that before the Alexandrian school lost its influence a geocentric scheme had been evolved which fully explained all the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies. All this, then, makes us but wonder the more that the genius of an Aristarchus could give precedence to scientific induction as against the seemingly clear evidence of the senses.