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Philoponus’ Rejection of the Aristotelian Milky Way

Hussien Soliman

(Manuscript Museum, Bibliotheca Alexandrina)

Aristotle's book of Meteorology was the most important work on the celestial phenomena in Antiquity. Later Meteorology was mostly written as commentary on it well into the early modern period. Aristotle lists in the book examples of the meteorological phenomena, including the Milky Way, Meteors, Earthquakes and Thunder. Anaxagoras and Democritus maintained that the Milky Way is due to the light of certain stars, while others regarded it as a reflection. Aristotle argues against these theories; in his view, the Milky Way is composed of material of suitable consistency within the hot dry exhalation, in that part of the terrestrial region just below the celestial. Philoponus rejected the Aristotelian conception of the Milky Way and points to the fact that it is difficult to see how this could occur if it consists of ignited exhalation, for the dissolution of exhalation will depend on the season. The Milky Way should be subject to parallax, i.e. have a different position in relation to the fixed stars for observers in different places on earth; this is not observed. Philoponus concluded that the Milky Way is the light of a collection of stars. This paper would begin by an introduction to the theory of the Milky Way before Aristotle. It points to the Milky Way in Aristotle’s Meteorology and his refutations to his predecessors ideas. It discusses Philoponus’ criticisms of Aristotle’s Milky Way. It analyses Philoponus’ counterarguments against the mythological explanation of the Milky Way. It would address Philoponus’ emphasis that natural things should be explained by natural causes. It refers to the influence of Philoponus’s Christianity on his conception of the Milky Way. It concludes by evaluating Philoponus’ rejection of Aristotle’s Milky Way and how he corrected and developed the First Master’s ideas in late antiquity.

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