The Flat Earth Theory between past and present

The theory of the flat Earth, a hypothesis according to which our planet is not a geoid but would have the shape of a flat disk, finds references in the oldest writings of humanity. The conception already present in Mesopotamian cosmography that the world inhabited by men was a circle surrounded by the ocean influenced Homer and Hesiod and laid the foundations for the drafting of the first Greek maps including those of Anaximander and Hecateus of Miletus but also in some biblical texts (Gb 22,14; Pr 8,27; Is 40,22) the Hebrew term "chugh" appears, the first meaning of which would be "circle" and is mostly interpreted as "curvature of the horizon" or "vault of the firmament".
The Mesopotamian cosmos consisted of six floors: three floors described the heavens and three others the earth as they corresponded to the earth's surface (reserved for man) and to two underground levels to provide space for their underworld Gods.
The Egyptians thought the earth a square with four corners and mountains at the edge supporting the vault of the sky. The Israelites also imagined the Earth to be a disc floating on water with an arched firmament above it that separated the Earth from the heavens.The sky was a solid dome with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars embedded in it. In ancient China the belief that the Earth was flat and square and the skies were a sphere that enveloped it was extremely widespread.The idea that China was at the center of this atlas of the cosmos, remained in force until the introduction of the European astronomy by the Jesuits Matteo Ricci and Johann Schreck in the 17th century.

The conception of a spherical Earth appears in India only starting from the Vedic period (in the text Shatapatha Brahmana, dating back to about the sixth century BC), since previously the prevailing cosmological vision was that the Earth consisted of four continents arranged, like the petals of a flower, around a central mountain, Mount Meru, all surrounded by a large ocean, concepts also adopted by Buddhist cosmology, according to which the world was a large flat disk covered by an ocean and surrounded by mountains. Similar references appear in Iranian sources, such as the Bundaishn, an encyclopedic work of cosmological, mythological, historical, geographical beliefs from the Persian Middle Ages, in the Pahlavic language.

In Greece the sphericity of the Earth seems to have been proposed for the first time in the 6th-5th century BC. by Pythagoras, disciple of Anaximander, or by Parmenides, a philosopher who lived a few decades after Pythagoras. After the spread of this belief, the concept of a flat Earth laboriously survived until modern times only with literary or culturally marginal characters.

The ancient Norse and Germanic peoples believed in a flat Earth cosmography with the Earth surrounded by an ocean, with the axis mundi, a world tree (Yggdrasil), or pillar (Irminsul) in the centre. In the world-encircling ocean sat a snake called Jormungandr.

The wrong opinion that in the Middle Ages it was believed that the Earth was flat did not enter the collective imagination in the nineteenth century, the result of positivist preconceptions about the so-called "dark ages" of the Middle Ages and takes the name of "Myth of the flat Earth".

There are still supporters of this theory today.
The belief that the Earth is flat was rediscovered and strongly supported by Samuel Birley Rowbotham (1816-1884), a self-taught Englishman who wrote under the pseudonym "Parallax".
Starting in 1849 he published some studies with the results of some of his experiments to measure the curvature of the surface of several lakes and drainage channels to demonstrate that the earth was not a globe ("Zetetic Astronomy" and "The inconsistency of Modern Astronomy and its Opposition to the Scripture"). He also attempted to explain as a perspective effect the fact that ships disappear on the horizon before their mast.

Rowbotham's successor was William Carpenter (1830-1896), author of the book "One Hundred Proofs the Earth is Not a Globe" (1885). The main argument in his favor consisted of an "aeronautical" testimony for which, even climbing to great heights (in Carpenter's time derisory compared to the terrestrial radius) with the balloon, it was not possible to perceive the curvature of the earth by eye.

Rowbotham's theories breached the followers of biblical literalism and evangelical ecclesiastics (including the well-known Protestant theologian Ethelbert William Bullinger), some of whom, led by Lady Elizabeth Blount, constituted The Universal Zetetic Society (UZS), the precursor to the Flat Earth Society, whose objective was "the propagation of knowledge related to Natural Cosmogony in confirmation of the Holy Scriptures, based on practical scientific investigation" and therefore to protect and disseminate the flat earth theory.

The last known group of supporters of the Flat Earth theory is the Flat Earth Society (Fouded In 1956 by Samuel Shenton with the name of International Flat Earth Research Society, IFERS), which went into decline after 1990 following the fire of its California office and the death in 2001 of its last president, Charles K. Johnson, who has always believed that there was a conspiracy against the flat earth "The idea of a spinning globe is only a conspiracy of error that Moses, Columbus, and FDR all fought ... " In 2004 the FES was revived as a website in 2004 by Daniel Shenton who believes that no one has provided proof that the world is not flat.

Currently thanks to Youtube, Facebook and other social media The ideology of flat-Earth has flourished by finding new supporters.

Members of the Flat Earth Society and other flat-Earthers claim that a plot is underway by NASA and other government agencies to trick people into believing that the earth is spherical: NASA would be monitoring the Antarctic ice wall that surrounds Earth and that would counterfeit its satellite images, based on observations that the color of the oceans changes from image to image and that continents seem to be in different places.
The publicly perpetuated image is kept up through a large-scale practice of "compartmentalization", according to which only a select number of individuals have knowledge about the truth.

"There are rivers that flow for hundreds of miles towards the level of the sea without falling more than a few feet – notably, the Nile, which, in a thousand miles, falls but a foot. A level expanse of this extent is quite incompatible with the idea of the Earth's convexity.
It is, therefore, a reasonable proof that Earth is not a globe", as well as: "If the Earth were a globe, a small model globe would be the very best – because the truest – thing for the navigator to take to sea with him. But such a thing as that is not known: with such a toy as a guide, the mariner would wreck his ship, of a certainty! This is a proof that Earth is not a globe."

-William Carpenter

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Cover image by De sphaera mundi

Article image 1 by Macrobius

Article image 2 by Blanko

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