Fear of Falling: Aristotle on the Shape of the Earth

  • Dirk L. Couprie
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 374)


The fear that the heavens will fall down is a universal theme in mythology. Strabo tells that the ancient Celts did not fear anything so much as the possibility that the heaven would collapse (Geographica liber VII 3.8). Another example is a myth from East Siberia, in which it is told that the gods had built the heaven from stone, but the human beings on the earth became afraid that the heaven would fall down. Therefore, the gods blew air under the celestial vault so that it was hidden from human view (Holmberg 1922–1923: 41). In the famous trial of Horus and Seth, the goddess Neith writes to the Ennead (the nine gods of the court that had to decide whether Horus or Seth was to succeed Osiris): “If you don’t give the office to Horus, I will become very angry and cause the heaven to touch the ground” (Borghouts 1988: 99–100, my translation). The same theme also appears in the Gilgamesh Epos. Gilgamesh tells his mother a dream: “Mother, last night in my dream I walked nervously up and down between the men. Then the stars of the heaven came down on me, the firmament fell upon me! I wanted to lift it up, but it was too heavy for me, I tried to remove it, but I was not able to put it away” (Gilgamesh Epos, transl. De Liagre Böhl 1952: 27). The archaic fear of a catastrophic collapse of the celestial vault can also be heard in some verses of Hesiod, when he describes the battle between the thunderbolt-throwing Zeus and the Titans: “The view and sound of all this was as if the wide heaven had fallen upon the earth. Like the thundering of the collapsing heaven and the crashing earth was the shock of the gods charging onto each other” (Theogony, 705–709). And much later Lucretius predicts that one day “the complex structure of the cosmos will tumble down (…) with horrifying cracking the universe will collapse” (De rerum natura 5.91–109).


Celestial Body Circular Movement Rectilinear Movement Empirical Argument Metaphysical Argument 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk L. Couprie
    • 1
  1. 1.MaastrichtNetherlands

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