Was there a decline and fall of the classical astronomer in the 4th/5th century?

Was there a decline and fall of the classical astronomer in the 4th/5th century?

  • YES

    Votes: 1 25.0%
  • NO

    Votes: 3 75.0%
  • OTHER

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    4
May 2011
2,848
Rural Australia
#1
The following statement from Charles Freeman's "The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason", published October 7, 2003, will serve to introduce the argument supporting the claim that there was a decline and fall of the classical astronomer in the 4th century:

The last recorded astronomical observation in the ancient Greek world was one by the Athenian philosopher Proclus in A.D. 475, nearly 1,100 years after the prediction of an eclipse by Thales in 585 B.C., which traditionally marks the beginning of Greek science. It would be over 1,000 years—with the publication of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus in 1543—before these studies began to move forward again.”​
[p322]​

Is this statement essentially true? What happened to the practice of classical astronomy afte the 4th century? I understand that astronomy and astrology were perhaps not differentiated in antiquity as they are in the modern epoch. This may or may not be relevant to how one answers the question posed here.

Was there a decline and fall of the classical astronomer in the 4th century?



NOTE: This post is the 4th in a series of posts, the earlier three are located here:

Philosophy: Was there a decline & fall of the Classical Philosopher in the 4th/5th century?
History Writing: Was there a "Decline & Fall" of the Classical Historian in the 4th century?
Medicine: Was there a "Decline & Fall" of the Classical Physician in the 4th century?
 
Dec 2011
2,118
#2
Yes there was a decline and fall in the development of astronomy. There was a decline and fall of many things, as civilised life became much reduced materially and not many people had the resources to follow philosophical pursuits.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,642
Dispargum
#3
What problems existed in the Middle Ages that an astronomer might be able to solve? Copernicus was trying to perfect the calendar, but it took more than 1,000 years for those problems to manifest themselves. For most of the Middle Ages the calendar appeared to be working just fine. Galileo's discovery of the moons of Jupiter required the previous invention of the telescope. What discoveries might a Medieval astronomer have made, or what problems might he have solved? Except for predicting eclipses, there doesn't seem to be much for Medieval astronomers to do. Were there really no Medieval astronomers, or are Medieval astronomers historically invisible because they had nothing important to say (they left no written records for us to study)?
 
Dec 2011
4,538
Iowa USA
#4
What problems existed in the Middle Ages that an astronomer might be able to solve? Copernicus was trying to perfect the calendar, but it took more than 1,000 years for those problems to manifest themselves. For most of the Middle Ages the calendar appeared to be working just fine. Galileo's discovery of the moons of Jupiter required the previous invention of the telescope. What discoveries might a Medieval astronomer have made, or what problems might he have solved? Except for predicting eclipses, there doesn't seem to be much for Medieval astronomers to do. Were there really no Medieval astronomers, or are Medieval astronomers historically invisible because they had nothing important to say (they left no written records for us to study)?
What problems did they solve?

In Europe these centuries were an age of faith, not an age of reason. The astronomers had a job, they got to eat, however what they did didn't resemble the 17th century and later "paradigm". These talented and skilled people served the power structure as astrologers. As such, there were plenty of problems which they solved, problems defined by the power structure.

Modern academia is of course actually embarrassed by the terms of these guys' employment. But let's not pretend no one was doing astronomy, making observations as precisely as they could.
 
Mar 2019
512
Kansas
#5
Was there a decline and fall of the classical astronomer in the 4th century?
Well I guess it depends on the terms we are working with. By classical do we mean Eurocentric, or world wide. If Eurocentric, then yes there was a decline. Why? well a lot has to do with the level of conflict associated with the power vacuum caused by the collapse of the Roman Empire. Adding to general misery climate conditions were less than ideal for a reasonable part of the time.

Astronomy began to remerge as an important science in the 11th Cent. It is reasonable to associate this rebirth with beginning of the age of exploration.

If we are not thinking Eurocentric terms, then other than a couple of hundred year gap, both the Islamic and Chinese worlds were very active observers
 
Likes: specul8
Dec 2011
4,538
Iowa USA
#7
Navigation. The only way to get accurate latitude measurements was to have accurate measurement of the stars.
That job title was navigator, right? But of course you are correct the only way to reckon longitude was through astronomical observations. (And the Polynesians didn't have a lot of observation technology and managed well...)

I was actually answering my own question below!

the people doing the "the job" of the astronomer were the astrologers.... just trying to help us think about the "water that the fish (state of the art in astronomy) is swimming in".

Kepler had two jobs, math instructor and astrologer. He made the key contribution in planetary motion, we can say this was a feat of math, but he needed to interpret astronomical empirical work to do it.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,533
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#8
Historically, in the period object of the OP, it was more about the preservation [and we could say the "veneration"] of what already existed.

From the age of Martianus Capella on, they begun to tramandate the knowledge of the ancient world with their typical medieval system. Astronomy was in the "quadrivio", btw. We can mention the "Somnium Scipionis" as well [by Macrobius]. But probably the main contribution came from Severinus Boethius [under Theodoric].

Then, as said, having to eat, scholars of the knowledge of the sky used their skills to read the result of the incoming battles or the future of a heir to the throne ...
 
Likes: specul8
Mar 2019
512
Kansas
#9
That job title was navigator, right? But of course you are correct the only way to reckon longitude was through astronomical observations. (And the Polynesians didn't have a lot of observation technology and managed well...)
No I see those as two different jobs. Without the accurate measurement of the stars, deciding on distance north and south were difficult. The observer would produce the charts and the navigator would interpret them on his voyage.

The Polynesians did rely a lot on the stars, but had other techniques that seem to border on the supernatural lol. Things like the shape of a wave, the color of the water etc.

And as for Kepler he pretty much used all of Tyco Brahe's observation to come up with his laws of planetary motion.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,533
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#10
To answer the question on the OP, in my opinion there was a lack of analysys and scarcity of method. This meant more properly a stagnation. At the end, this "renounce" to the analytic methodology is a reason why the Ptolemaic system resisted for more than a millenium.

In other words it was like the knowledge of the ancient world remained "frozen".