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The Square Earth of Cosmas Indicopleutes

ONE OF THE STRANGEST OF WORLDS is the Square Earth of Cosmas Indicopleustes, an Egyptian monk of the sixth century A.D., who expended an astonishing ingenuity upon the development of a theory of the universe that would eliminate the increasingly popular notion that the Earth was a sphere. He was filled with a holy hatred of the heresy of the "spherists" and the antipodists, and he evolved at last a figure of the universe modelled upon the design of the Tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness, which, he pointed out, Moses himself had declared to be constructed upon the pattern of the visible world. His own explanation of it may be read in his Christian Topography.

Cosmas says that the Earth is a rectangular plane surface,

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whose long sides are twice the shorter ones. These are the measurements of the Tabernacle, and of the Table of Shew-bread. This Earth-table is divided into three parts: the habitable Earth, in the middle, the ocean which

FIGURE 77. <i>The Square Earth of Cosmas Indicopleustes</i> (<i>6th century A.D.</i>)<br> (From <i>Flammarion's Astronomical Myths</i>, 1877.)
Click to enlarge

FIGURE 77. The Square Earth of Cosmas Indicopleustes (6th century A.D.)
(From Flammarion's Astronomical Myths, 1877.)

everywhere surrounds it, and beyond the ocean another surrounding continent, which is now altogether inaccessible to man, but which was once the seat of Paradise and the home of the human race up to the time of the Deluge, when the flood swept the Ark with its few saved men across to the "other Earth." It is true, says Cosmas, that after the Fall Paradise itself had been closed to Adam, but until the Deluge he and his descendants had dwelt on the coast edges of the First Continent of man.

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Upon the edges of this outer inaccessible continent rest the four walls of heaven--four perpendicular planes joined hermetically to the edges of the trans-oceanic Earth, and cemented at the top by an enclosing roof, in form like half

FIGURE 78. <i>The Square Earth. Its habitable plane</i>.<br> (From <i>Flammarion's Astronomical Myths</i>, 1877.)
Click to enlarge

FIGURE 78. The Square Earth. Its habitable plane.
(From Flammarion's Astronomical Myths, 1877.)

a cylinder. Its ends rest on the eastern and western sides of the world, and its sides on the north and south. These directions are determined by the Tabernacle Table, which was placed lengthwise from east to west. Here is a bit from Cosmas himself:

"The Deity accordingly having founded the Earth, which is oblong, upon its own stability, bound together the extremities of the heaven with the extremities of the Earth, making the nether extremities of the heaven rest

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upon the four extremities of the Earth, while on high he formed it into a most lofty vault over-spanning the length of the Earth. Along the breadth again of the Earth he built a wall from the nethermost extremities of the heavens upwards to the summit, and having enclosed the place, made a house, as one might call it, of enormous size, like an oblong vapour bath. For, saith the Prophet Isaiah (xlix, 22), He who established heaven as a vault. With regard moreover to the glueing together of the heaven and the Earth, we find this written in Job: He has inclined heaven to earth, and it has been poured out as the dust of the earth. I have welded it as a square block of stone." 1

The interior of this "oblong vaulted vapour bath" consists, like the Tabernacle, of two parts, the outer and the inner--the veil of the Tabernacle corresponding to the firmament which divides the universe into two parts, and which is the floor of the upper and the ceiling of the lower story. The first story reaches from the Earth-plane, "the footstool of the Lord," to the firmament, and is the abode of men and angels. The presence of angels is necessary in man's world, not only for the sake of their beneficent effect on him, but also because the Sun, Moon, and stars are carried in their courses, not by the firmament which is motionless, but by angels appointed to this work until the last day.

On the Earth-plane rises a high cone-shaped mountain, which makes possible, in this world-system, the rising and the setting of the Sun, day and night, climates, seasons, etc.

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[paragraph continues] With the universe enclosed within a square box, it was no longer possible for the Sun to sink in western waters, swim under the Earth, and emerge again from the eastern sea. But forever circling the conical mountain of the world, in the arms of its carrying angel, it is hidden from a part of the world all of the time, and thus comes day and night. The length of the days and nights varies, says Cosmas, according as the Sun is close to or far from its mountain screen, and from this cause spring summer and winter, storms, eclipses, heat and cold, and such phenomena. "All the stars are created," he says, "to regulate the days and nights, the months and the years, and they move, not at all by the motion of the heaven itself, but by the action of certain divine Beings, or lampadophores. God made the angels for his service, and He has charged some of them with the motion of the air, others with that of the Sun, or the Moon, or the other stars, and others again with the collecting of clouds, and preparing the rain." Cosmas also says that men are mistaken when they say that the Sun is much larger than the Earth; that it is, in reality, very much smaller; and, by measuring its shadows at the different "climates" of Ptolemy, he concludes that the sun has the size of "two climates."

Above the firmament and beneath the upper vault live the Blessed. Along the outer side of this vault which terminates the world, rest the heavenly waters. The Mosaic account of the Tabernacle and its enclosed Ark, says Cosmas, gives all the measurements and hence all the secrets of the world, and by it alone man may reconstruct the universe within himself and look down upon it, as

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the Creator surveys his handiwork from the vaulted roof of Cosmas's "vapour bath."

Here are some of the correspondences which Cosmas drew between the pattern of the Tabernacle and that of the visible world.

In the first Tabernacle, "Moses placed in the south of it the candlesticks, with seven lamps, after the number of days in the week--these lamps being typical of the celestial luminaries--and shining on the table placed in the north of the Earth. On this table again he ordered to be placed daily twelve loaves of shew-bread, to typify the three months between each of the four tropics. He commanded also to be wreathed all around the rim of the table a waved moulding, to represent a multitude of waters, that is, the ocean; and further, in the circuit of the waved work, a crown to be set of the circumference of the palm of the hand, to represent the land beyond the ocean, and encircling it, where in the east lies Paradise, and where also the extremities of the heaven are bound to the extremities of the Earth. And from this description we not only learn concerning the luminaries and the stars that most of them, when they rise, run their course through the south, but from the same source we are taught that the Earth is surrounded by the ocean, and further that beyond the ocean there is another Earth by which the ocean is surrounded."


182:1 Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes: Hakluyt Soc. Pub. 1897, p. 30.

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