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Tom Mazanec
2012-Oct-17, 11:48 AM
How familiar were lay people with constellations in Medieval Europe? Did a fairly educated person, like a priest, know where the various stars are and would he be able to recognize a mag 0 nova, for example? How about the average peasant?

antoniseb
2012-Oct-17, 12:07 PM
... Did a fairly educated person, like a priest, know where the various stars are and would he be able to recognize a mag 0 nova, for example? How about the average peasant?

What we know about this comes from what writing survived, which to my knowledge is a bit spotty about what the average man knew... so the real answer is "Hard to say exactly". Certainly some monks were pretty familiar with the sky. Some scholars were also. Some wealthy people had ceilings and books of hours decorated with sky maps. The question about a magnitude 0 nova... I suspect that many people would have seen it as out of place, but not have had the continuity of star-gazing to not just assume it was a planet, and therefore unremarkable.

John Jaksich
2012-Oct-17, 03:45 PM
What we know about this comes from what writing survived, which to my knowledge is a bit spotty about what the average man knew... so the real answer is "Hard to say exactly". Certainly some monks were pretty familiar with the sky. Some scholars were also. Some wealthy people had ceilings and books of hours decorated with sky maps. The question about a magnitude 0 nova... I suspect that many people would have seen it as out of place, but not have had the continuity of star-gazing to not just assume it was a planet, and therefore unremarkable.

My impression of medieval knowledge regarding constellations and the sky in general is that there was very little questions asked of the night sky. As Antoniseb states--it can and might be inferred that what could and should have survived was wiped out because the "religious milieu." For instance---but not completely related is the Archimedes Codex------> it is one of the only surviving (but damaged) texts of Archimedes that relates that the Ancient Greeks were close to inventing "The Calculus" prior to Newton or Leibiniz.

This is a long shot---> but I believe there are other texts and historical documents of the era that may have survived but are in the deep vaults of some libraries (i.e. Vatican?).

Certain tapestries were woven depicting Haley's comet in Western Civilization (i.e. the overthrow of the English King Edward by the Normans).

As for other parts of the world, I am not as certain---> but if there was any resemblance of a thriving civilization then, one may find the educated individuals who questioned their surroundings.

Shaula
2012-Oct-17, 04:10 PM
As Antoniseb states--it can and might be inferred that what could and should have survived was wiped out because the "religious milieu."
Generally by people without a strong grasp of the history of the "religious milieu". A lot of the knowledge that was apparently destroyed and suppressed was in fact preserved by monastic societies. It was the fall of them amid the chaos of the feudal era that usually got rid of knowledge. Likewise it was the use of 'heresies' as a form of political attack on the establishment that led to the cracking down on selected ones of them.

Try the Wiki page on Almanacs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almanac) - it gives an idea how much astronomical data was regularly used by farming communities.

Edit: remove a paragraph that added nothing to the debate

John Jaksich
2012-Oct-17, 04:37 PM
Generally by people without a strong grasp of the history of the "religious milieu". A lot of the knowledge that was apparently destroyed and suppressed was in fact preserved by monastic societies. It was the fall of them amid the chaos of the feudal era that usually got rid of knowledge. Likewise it was the use of 'heresies' as a form of political attack on the establishment that led to the cracking down on selected ones of them.

Try the Wiki page on Almanacs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almanac) - it gives an idea how much astronomical data was regularly used by farming communities.

Edit: remove a paragraph that added nothing to the debate

I am sorry if I seemingly "got your goat" on this one. My overwhelming impression (and as the current cultural environment may attest) is that many monks were having to use "Greek parchment" (for lack of better terminology) as a means to write out or practice their daily chores of recording prayer, and other religious matters. My reference to the Archimedes Codex was correct and was used to illustrate it.

It seems improbable that the average farmer would not rely on a previous generation's knowledge of when to plant and when to harvest.

Your citation of Wiki is unfortunate ----> I don't doubt that there were many who may have consulted an Almanac. However, as I stated in the previous paragraph, much of what farmers may or might not have done rested upon the previous generation.


But, it is has been shown that much of Wikipedia has been skewed to show one or another personal views, only. Or, to put it kindly, it has become a non-objective source of knowledge.

antoniseb
2012-Oct-17, 05:06 PM
The OP was a question of basically who knew what. We DO have excellent records of what astronomers knew, and they knew a lot more than most people think. The issue about what is spotty is the question of what the common man knew. Where would such information have been recorded in the first place? Some legal argument where a witness knew what stars were up when a crime occurred? Something else? Some Chaucer-like fiction about the common man or everyman that somehow refers to the stars? These might exist, but are not widely cataloged. I doubt that much was lost from any organized purge.

chornedsnorkack
2012-Oct-17, 05:24 PM
Before electric lights, nights would be quite dark.

People who needed to walk around at night might have done better to stay dark. Not only would bright lights have been inefficient and wasteful of fuel in longer term, but the lamps would not have had reflectors to cast lights to a distance. A bright torch would have cast light to immediate vicinity, but not far, and eyes dazzled by/adapted to bright torchlight would have had poor vision in the darkness beyond. So they would have been better off carrying a dim light and letting eyes adapt to ambient starlight, to perceive more of the surroundings.

They would therefore have seen stars. But how much did they care about the movements of planets?

Fixed stars were useful - find directions at night, find time at night, find time of year... But planets moving around?

Were astrological beliefs, regarding the temporary phenomena like conjunctions of planets and appearance of comets, held only by educated elites, while the commoners dismissed them as uninteresting? Or did the contemporary writers ever make clear that commoners did hold astrological beliefs, for example different from the narrators´?

John Jaksich
2012-Oct-17, 05:27 PM
Dear Antoniseb,

I have no doubt that Astronomers--as a group--knew much more than most. My implication of "an organized" purge is unfortunate, but the average (serf) could not know how to read----as well as the fact that a lot which was recorded --was lost as a result that "removable type" (the Gutenberg press) was not invented during the "dark ages."

I am certain that paper was not in large supply---so some of the educated classes used what was available to them.

N.B.

I agree in general notion of spottiness of knowledge of the time period--and I sincerely apologize to anyone who has taken offense to my notions of intolerance to the *religious.*

antoniseb
2012-Oct-17, 05:46 PM
... the average (serf) could not know how to read ...
I learned the constellations in the dark, with my father and uncle pointing them out... and later a scoutmaster showed me a few more. Only later as an adult did I resort to reading to learn more of them. ... yes, the peasant class generally didn't read, but the constellations was an oral tradition.

Shaula
2012-Oct-17, 06:00 PM
Your citation of Wiki is unfortunate
Not really, it was convenient. There are other easily discoverable sources out there for this. My point was that there were publications given over to the use of astronomical phenomena to help people with everyday things. There was an appetite and an interest in them. Which at least meant some people were looking up and had familiarity with what they were looking at.


I am sorry if I seemingly "got your goat" on this one. My overwhelming impression...
You did not get my goat at all and I did not take offence. I am merely highlighting that you give a poor summary of what is currently assessed as to have happened. The use of Palimpsests was common and not always indicative of a will to wipe out what was on them for good. In some cases it was, in some it was not. The situation was far more complex than you portrayed.

But Antoniseb is right, it is hard to make good estimates of the degree of knowledge that was really out there outside the records. It probably varied a lot depending on the traditions of the area, literacy rates, even the temperament of the local priests/abbots and so on.

trinitree88
2012-Oct-17, 07:21 PM
Try looking at some archeoastronomy texts. I recall reading E.C Krupps decades ago....SEE:http://www.amazon.com/Echoes-Ancient-Skies-Astronomy-Civilizations/dp/0486428826/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_y/186-8544565-1932323.....and kind of dismissing a lot of it. But, I worked with a guy who spoke several languages, and happened to see an article in Sci American on the geographic evolution of languages, and we talked about it a bit. Then a few years later they began to unravel the human genome, and the geographic map followed the with the language distributions, and the similarities in the constellations being grouped the same way and even having the same names in widely different culture speaks at least a bit for oral tradition...teaching the night sky over a campfire and a stroll through an open area for millenia.

P.S. E.C Krupp is no crackpot. SEE:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Krupp

Jeff Root
2012-Oct-17, 08:35 PM
There must have been a lot of people who recognized the
potential value of reading and writing, and learned to do it.
Many of them must have wanted to make notes to themselves,
record interesting events, send letters to others, keep diaries,
and explain their ideas and views. What materials did they
have to write on? What became of them? Paper was available
to me when I was little, so I drew lots of pictures. I still have
most of them, but they probably won't last very much longer.
What happened a thousand years ago?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

profloater
2012-Oct-17, 08:38 PM
I do not know about the common man but it is important to remember that in the period from around 500 BC to at least the 17th century, astronomy and astrology were effectively the same subject and so the constellations of the ecliptic were well known by all educated persons. The church turned against astrology over the issue of free will and it went underground. Galileo began the slow process of the enlightenment/ the scientific view. The lack of light at night until the 20th century would surely mean that there was a curiosity about the moving stars, and it seems likely that in antiquity the constellations werefar more generally known than now when huge numbers of people see only the brightest stars, if any.

antoniseb
2012-Oct-17, 08:45 PM
... from around 500 BC to at least the 17th century, astronomy and astrology were effectively the same subject...
As a student of medieval astronomy, I can tell you that this statement is not accurate. It ignores a large number of genuine astronomers who did not engage in forecasts of people's fates.

George
2012-Oct-17, 10:05 PM
As a student of medieval astronomy, I can tell you that this statement is not accurate. It ignores a large number of genuine astronomers who did not engage in forecasts of people's fates. This view is a bit surprising. I thought otherwise. Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus (I think) all engaged in astrological readings, though these are post middle age savants. The Almagest was updated as needed to present accurate future planetary positions.

There is evidence that astrology was important to medicine, though I don't know just how common it was in the earlier years of the middle ages. Astrology seems to have been important for medicial practice more often than not during Galileo's days.

I would assume the commoner would have some knowledge of the constelations and some strong, possibly favorable, opinion about astrology if indeed it was applied to regular medical practice. A working knowledge, however, would be far beyond the average persons ability given the education required to use Ptolemy's model.

Jens
2012-Oct-18, 12:33 AM
They would therefore have seen stars. But how much did they care about the movements of planets?


I kind of concur with this, and actually, if you think about it, how many people today care very much about the names of constellations? It's certain that people in the past would have seen stars more than we do today, because there was little lighting, and people don't sleep for 12 hours a day, so on average there would have been times when they would be outside to do some chore and would have seen night skies that were much more beautiful than what we see today. I imagine that people might have heard from their own parents about certain prominent objects, like say Orion or the Pleiades, and would tell their own children. So I suspect that people would have had some familiarity. But no necessarily unified the way it is now, since people couldn't read so wouldn't necessarily know what people from another village called the same star formation.

Solfe
2012-Oct-18, 02:14 AM
Just to throw in my two cents, historically people did not sleep like we do. They woke up in the night and were active.

While the stars are more sedate than the TV or internet, it does provide something entertaining to look at and provides a good backdrop for stories. I would imagine that a great number of people were aware of planets, comets, stars, etc. What conclusions they drew from their observations may be pretty strange, but I doubt anyone back then would be surprised by the Morning/Evening Star or the Red One that moves. I don't think they could predict their motions in any meaningful way, but I suspect they were at least as aware of them as we are.

Jens
2012-Oct-18, 04:20 AM
Just to throw in my two cents, historically people did not sleep like we do. They woke up in the night and were active.

That's true, but on the other hand, I think that during the period in between sleeping times, people probably mostly stayed indoors because there were still nasty things like bears and wolves and (depending on where you were) tigers roaming about at night, so people probably avoided staying outside during those times, unless they were around a fire, in which case it's not as easy to see the sky.

Shaula
2012-Oct-18, 07:04 AM
But no necessarily unified the way it is now, since people couldn't read so wouldn't necessarily know what people from another village called the same star formation.
That is a rather large leap. You are ignoring oral tradition and culture. You are also ignoring the effect of medieval social structure - particularly the monastic side of things. A fair few monks were interested in astronomy as a way to work out when you should pray during the night. I am not saying that every group of stars was named and known, but it would have been more homogeneous within a cultural grouping and tied back to the classical era to some extent by scholars who propagated their teachings via the church.

Jeff Root
2012-Oct-18, 04:42 PM
The monks would have written more than other people
because they had broader schooling, more free time, and
probably more access to good-quality writing materials.
But I suspect that others would have written a lot, too.
Their works seem to have largely disappeared. Poor
quality paper? No long-term storage? No interest by
others in preserving records? What happened to them?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Solfe
2012-Oct-18, 05:22 PM
That's true, but on the other hand, I think that during the period in between sleeping times, people probably mostly stayed indoors because there were still nasty things like bears and wolves and (depending on where you were) tigers roaming about at night, so people probably avoided staying outside during those times, unless they were around a fire, in which case it's not as easy to see the sky.

True, but some people have duties that would have taken them outside at night (people who keep livestock, but not in the house). Wolves, bears and tigers are all horrible to deal with, but what makes them so horrible is they have a tendency to be nocturnal only when hunting humans. Wolves in particular tend to switch it up, which makes them more fearsome because you can't count on being in bed when they prowl.

trinitree88
2012-Oct-18, 08:20 PM
Although the OP was Medieval Europe, the Silk Road was established over land B.C.E, and was expanded over water a few centuries later. Communication ,knowledge and trade flowed both ways. I have a distinct recollection of American Indians using nearly the same stars for Lepus the Hare as the Chinese, who use the same animal for them. That can hardly be a coincidence, and Amerindians I believe had no trade with China, though others may know differently. pete
SEE:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road#Disintegration

trinitree88
2012-Oct-18, 08:24 PM
Although the OP was Medieval Europe, the Silk Road was established over land B.C.E, and was expanded over water a few centuries later. Communication ,knowledge and trade flowed both ways. I have a distinct recollection of American Indians using nearly the same stars for Lepus the Hare as the Chinese, who use the same animal for them. That can hardly be a coincidence, and Amerindians I believe had no trade with China, though others may know differently. pete

SEE:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepus_(constellation)
SEE:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road#Disintegration