Seneca on Comets and Ancient Cometary Theory

Gareth Williams

in The Cosmic Viewpoint

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199731589
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933112 | DOI:
Seneca on Comets and Ancient Cometary Theory

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In Natural Questions 7, on comets, Seneca departs from the influential Aristotelian view that comets are sublunary occurrences. In arguing that they are supralunary, he identifies them as planetary phenomena that follow regular but unknown orbits. In reviewing different theories that culminate in this supralunary interpretation, he progresses from the atmospheric to a ‘higher’, celestial mode of theorizing - an ascent which is also symbolic, raising us to a form of celestial insight that is far removed from ‘lower’ forms of cometary conjecture. Late in the book Seneca laments the apparent decline of interest in philosophy in his contemporary Rome; but this very book, in its upward movement towards the celestial view of comets, offers a powerful countermand to that depressing picture, as if liberating the investigative instinct to reach forth beyond conventional limits of thought.

Keywords: comets; the ancient concept of progress; planetary interpretation of comets; Aristotelian theory of comets

Chapter.  18113 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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