A New Age and an Old Tradition

  • Marie Boas Hall
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


Even the scientific revolution did not force men’s minds to forsake the old completely, nor indeed did those who made it wish to do so. The scientists who proposed the clearest break with the past were very often traditionalists, while the men who wished to sever all connections with contemporary thought were often the least original. It is fitting that we should begin here with the astronomical revolution for two reasons: first because, as indicated in the Introduction, astronomy in the sixteenth century was the most widely understood and popular of sciences, and second because Copernicus thought of himself as reviving the best traditions of Greek astronomy. His De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs) could have been written by no one else in the first half of the sixteenth century because no astronomer beside Copernicus had the mathematical ability to write a great new work on mathematical astronomy. But others beside himself had thought that if Ptolemy’s theory was unsatisfactory the solution might be found by considering other Greek suggestions for the construction of the universe and then applying Ptolemy’s mathematical techniques, following established tradition.


Celestial Body Sixteenth Century Magnetic Body Heavenly Body Simple Body 
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  1. SOURCE: Guillaume du Bartas, La semaine, ou création du monde (Paris, 1578);Google Scholar
  2. The text is from the English translation by Joshua Sylvester, The Week, or the Creation of the World (London, 1605).Google Scholar
  3. SOURCE: William Gilbert, De Magnete (London, 1600);Google Scholar
  4. in the translation by P. Fleury Mottelay, On the Magnet (New York, 1893), pp. xlvii–li, 189–91, 313–14, 317–27.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1970

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  • Marie Boas Hall

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