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Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography (1897) pp. 129-137.  Book 4


A summary recapitulation and description of the figures of the world; also the refutation of the sphere.

T is written: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.1 We therefore first depict along with the earth, the heaven which is vaulted and which has its extremities bound together with the extremities of the earth. To the best of our ability we have endeavoured to delineate it on its western side and its eastern; for these two sides are walls, extending from below to the vault above. There is also the firmament which, in the middle, is bound together with the first heaven, and which, on its upper side, has the waters according to divine scripture itself. The position and figure are such as here sketched.2 To the extremities on the four sides of the earth the heaven is fastened at its own four extremities, making the figure of a cube, that is to say, a quadrangular figure, while up above it curves round in the form of an oblong vault and becomes as it were a vast canopy. And in the middle the firmament is made fast to it, and thus two places are formed.

From the earth to the firmament is the first place, this world, namely, in which are the angels and men and all the |130 present state of existence. From the firmament again to the vault above is the second place----the Kingdom of Heaven, into which Christ, first of all, entered, after his ascension, having prepared for us a new and living way.

On the western side and the eastern the outline presented is short,3 as in the case of an oblong4 vault, but on its north and south sides it shows its length. Its figure is therefore something such as this.5


This is the first heaven, shaped like a vaulted chamber, which was created on the first day along with the earth, and of it Isaiah speaks thus: He that hath established the heaven as a vaulted chamber.5 But the heaven, which is bound to the first at the middle, is that which was created on the second day, to which [187] Isaiah refers when he says: And having stretched it out as a tent to dwell in.6 David also says concerning it: Stretching out the heaven as a curtain,7 and indicating it still more clearly he says: Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters.6 Now, when Scripture speaks of the extremities of heaven and earth, this cannot be understood as applicable to a sphere. Isaiah again says: Thus saith the Lord, he that made the heaven and pitched it;8 and the Apostle in like manner says: Of the true Tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man.9 They both speak of the heaven as standing on and fixed on the earth, and not as revolving round it. Nay more, the extremities of the heaven are bound together with the extremities of the earth, and on both sides, and concerning this it is written in Job: And he inclined heaven to earth, and the earth is poured out as dust, and I have fastened it as a square block to a stone.10 And with regard to the earth it is again written in Job: He that hangeth the earth upon nothing;11 meaning, that it had nothing underneath it. And David in harmony with this, when he could discover nothing on |131 which it was founded, says: He that hath founded the earth upon its own stability,12 as if he said, it hath been founded by thee upon itself, and not upon anything else.

To the best of our ability we have endeavoured to depict heaven having the firmament within it and the mountain peaks in the middle of the earth which we now inhabit, and the ocean surrounding it, and the four navigable gulfs which run into it----the Roman, the Arabian, the Persian and the Caspian or Hyrcanian. The ocean again we have depicted as surrounded by the land on its farther side, where also Paradise lies in the east. Then again we depict the breadth of the earth and of the ocean, and of the gulfs, and of the earth beyond, and Paradise, leaving out for the present the peaks, in order that a comprehensive view may be more readily gained by those who examine the delineation. Now the figure of the whole earth, with respect to this surface and to the breadth, is such as has been indicated.

With that earth which is situated beyond the ocean, the first heaven, which is like a vaulted chamber, is bound together at its extremities on all sides, and at its west and at its east side a wall is found rising straight upward, but at the south and at the north side there is a wall equal at the base until it takes what has evidently the form of a vaulted chamber, while at the top it rolls itself into a very lofty arch, like the spacious roof over a bath, with an arena-like floor below,13 so that the wall itself forms a vaulted roof. Then, as we have just stated over and over again, the firmament which is spread out in the middle is at a certain height bound together with the heaven itself in order that two places may be formed----an upper place and a lower.14 Now one of these places, namely, the lower, comprising the earth and the water and the other elements and the heavenly bodies, is this world which extends from the earth to the firmament, having the earth for its floor, the walls reaching down from the first heaven for its sides, and the firmament for its roof. The |132  other place again which extends from the firmament to the vault of the first heaven is, to wit, the Kingdom of Heaven into which the Lord Christ, after he had risen from the dead, ascended, and into which the righteous shall also afterwards ascend, and has for its floor the firmament or second heaven, and the first heaven itself for its walls and its vaulted roof. We further again depict the altitude and figure of this earth which we men dwell in, and which is encircled by the ocean, and contains the four navigable gulfs. Its eastern and its southern parts are low and depressed, while its northern and western are of very great elevation, but slope so gradually that the inequality is not perceived. The earth has therefore in its northern and western parts an elevation equivalent to its breadth. We therefore thus depict its figure according to the best of our ability.15


The earth taken as a whole is quadrangular according to the delineation already given. We have also indicated the altitude of its most central part and the heights in its northern and western parts. Hence we have delineated it as placed in the centre surrounded by the ocean and also by the earth on the opposite side of the ocean, with the heavenly bodies circling round it, so that the conical mountain16 can project a shadow according even to the pagans, while in accordance with this figure eclipses can occur, as well as the vicissitudes of night and day. Divine scripture confirms the truth of this, saying: The sun riseth and the sun goeth down, and draweth to his own place. On his rising he goeth then to the south and wheeleth his circles, and turneth round the air upon his circles;17 meaning that in circling through the air he comes back again to his own place.


In this view the inhabited parts of the earth are thus represented. In accordance therewith the sun rising in the east, and running through the south in the course of |133 his revolutions, always, when giving light to the summit of the earth, or even to the earth itself, makes night to the ocean and the earth beyond it. Then again, when he is in the west and the north beyond the summit of the earth, he leaves us here in darkness, until in making his circuit he again appears in the east where the earth is depressed, and mounting the sky in the south again illumines all this side. The eclipses of the moon therefore, even according to this delineation, if at any rate what the pagans say is true, can occur when either the sun or the moon is hidden by the summit of the earth; for they say that a solar eclipse is not produced by the shadow of the earth, but because in a perpendicular line the moon is directly below the sun, so [189] that she is illuminated on that side which the sun sees, but not on that which he does not see----yea, rather, she prevents him from being visible by running under him, at the occurrence at all events of the lunar new month, when the moon is not enlightened on that side which is visible to us. The opinion therefore which we hold is in no wise adverse to such views, except only with respect to the motion and revolution of the heaven----a theory subversive alike of all divine scripture both of the Old and the New Testament, and of Christian doctrine. But to enquire further into these matters we have no leisure; for such knowledge is unprofitable to us who have access to a more profitable knowledge, which imparts to our soul a good and beneficent hope which God hath promised he will give to those who believe in him, while those who act unjustly he has doomed to perdition. But with God's help we shall delineate the figure of the earth on the reverse side in its northern portion, that we may be able again in turn to delineate the circuit of the heavenly bodies----and it is thus.18

When therefore the setting sun runs from here by the |134 ministration of the invisible powers, according to the views of divine scripture, he makes night in the other part----that namely which is inhabited; but when he runs hither he makes darkness there. But we shall now concisely, according to our ability, delineate the heaven and the earth, and we do so thus:----19

Note 1.

This part of the earth situated beyond the north, where the luminaries pursue their course from the west through the north towards the east is uninhabited, and this stands upright like a wall, and when the sun comes to it, he leaves in darkness the other part which is inhabited. The earth therefore is found to have in this part, from the ocean beneath up to its summit, an altitude according with the measure of the breadth of its inhabited parts. Hence as it intercepts midway the light of the heavenly bodies, the nights and all the rest follow.

Note 2.

It is necessary for those who wish to be considered Christians to enquire into which of these eight or nine heavens Christ has ascended, and into which they themselves hope to ascend, and what is the use of the other seven or eight heavens. For having already delineated the world in accordance with the scriptural view, we assert that two places were created, one adapted to the present state of existence, and the other to that which is to come, since we have such a hope, one that is better than the [190] life here. And you, if as Christians you hold such a hope, will of necessity be asked what is the use of the seven or eight other heavens. For the pagans who hold the theory of the sphere, if consistent with themselves, neither entertain such a hope, nor allow that there are waters above the heaven, nor are found to acknowledge that the heavenly bodies and the world will come to an end; but expect that the world in the state of corruption will continue for ever. If the sphere which has motion forces the others to revolve along with it from east to west, whence is |135 produced the motion, in the contrary direction, of the seven planets? Is it the spheres that have the contrary motion, or the stars themselves? If the spheres, how can they at one and the same time move both westward and eastward? And if the stars, how do the planets cut their way through the heavenly bodies? Is it not evident that a heavenly body cannot be cut asunder? For unless it were corruptible, it could not be cut through. How then do ye make such suppositions?

Since beyond this sphere neither place, nor body, nor element nor any of their parts anywhere exists, how do ye say it is moved? Tell us, begrudge us not an answer. For, except in some place or in space at large, it cannot possibly be moved. Show us therefore by what instrument----naming any one you please-----it can be moved without place or body, or element or space. And do not, because you are adepts in the science of nature, jauntily treat us to nothing but empty phrases. But since some insist that the sphere rotates like a lathe by the shaft,20 or like a waggon or a machine by the axle, let these show on what support the shaft and the axle rest, and then again on what this support rests, and so on to infinity. How then do you reason with respect to the natural world? and how does an axis not also pass through the earth, which is in the middle, and turn it round? And again tell me, ye who follow these men and yet wish to be Christians, into what place of the eight spheres, or of the ninth which is called by some the starless, hath Christ entered, or shall we ourselves enter? Or how can waters be contained on a rotating sphere? or how when the stars fall at the final consummation can such spheres as yours be preserved? or what can be the use of them? Is it not evident that you argue against the hope held out by the Christian doctrine? For these views cannot be consistently held except by Pagans, who have no hope of another and better state, and who consequently suppose that the world is eternal, in order that the rich abundance of the spheres in which the planets will accomplish their courses may be preserved for them----while in another sphere are the fixed stars----and their error has some show of reason in its favour. But ye advance arguments altogether incredible, and will have it that there is a multitude of spheres, and that there is no final consummation of the world since ye are |136  unable to tell what is the necessity of these things. And in like manner ye will have it that the waters above the spheres rotate----[191] a most ridiculous idea and altogether idiotic, and ye advance arguments which are self-contradictory and opposed to the nature of things. And though ye allow that the universe was created in six days, yet ye find no mention of the making of a third heaven, and far less of the eight or nine which ye venture to affirm. How great is your knowledge! how great your wisdom! how great your intelligence! how great your inconsistency! No man can serve two masters,21 as has well been said by the Lord, but if one will serve God, let him serve him, or if Mammon, then Mammon. And again he says, through Paul: Ye cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils.22 And again: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with lawlessness, and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?23

And how again was it possible for the earth, which according to you is placed in the very middle of the universe, to have been submerged by the deluge in the time of Noah? or how can it be believed that on the first and the second day it was covered by the waters, and on the third, when the waters were gathered together, that it made its appearance, as is recorded in Genesis? But with even greater wisdom ye suppose that there are men walking all the earth over with their feet opposite the feet of other men. We therefore depict according to your view the earth and the Antipodes,24 and let each one of you who has sound vision and the power of reasoning justly turn the earth round whatever way he pleases, and let him say whether the Antipodes can be all standing upright in the same sense of the expression. But this they will not show even should they speak unrestrained by shame. Such then is our reply to your fictitious and false theories and to the conclusions of your reasonings which are capricious, self-contradictory, inconsistent, doomed to be utterly confounded, and  |137 to be whirled round and round even more than that unstable and revolving mythical sphere of yours. Wherefore, O Christ-loving Father, since I have thus brought to an end the fourth book with a delineation of the Antipodes, I shall begin the fifth book, as I promised at thy pious desire, and it will contain a description of the Tabernacle prepared by Moses in the wilderness, if God will, who is the Saviour of us all.

[Footnotes moved to the end and renumbered]

1. 1 Gen. i, 1.

2. 2 Gr. ἡ θέσις καὶ τὸ σχη̃μα. For the sketch, see Plates 2 and 7 in the Appendix.

3. 1 The MS. has μακρὸν, which Montfaucon gives in his text, but in a note corrects into μικρόν.

4. 2 Gr. ὡς ἐπὶ θόλου μεγάλης.

5. 3 See Pl. 7 in the Appendix.

6. 4 Isai. xl, 22.

7. 5 Psalm civ, 2, 3.

8. 6 Isai. xlii, 5.

9. 7 Heb. viii, 2.

10. 8 Job xxxviii, 38.

11. 9 Job xxv, 7.

12. 1 Psalm civ, 5.

13. 2 Gr. πέχμα, which Montfaucon translates by lacunar, a "ceiling", but no lexicon gives this as a meaning of the word. Sophocles gives "the area of a circus or of a theatre", as the meaning in Byzantine writers.

14. 3 Gr. ἀνάγαιον καὶ κατάγαιον.

15. 1 See Pl. 4 in the Appendix. 

16. 2 See Pl. 8 in the Appendix.

17. 3 Eccl. i, 6, 7.

18. 1 See Pl. 5 in the Appendix.

19. 1 See Pl. 6 in the Appendix.

20. 1 Gr. ὑπὸ κλώτακος.

21. 1 Matt, vi, 24.

22. 2 I Cor. x, 21.

23. 3 II Cor. vi, 14, 16.

24. 4 See Pl. 10 in Appendix.

Next: Book 5