The Size of Sol
The Size of Sol
We’ve gone out past the Moon in Pliny’s universe. He regards the Moon as being on the edge between atmosphere (though I’m not sure he would understand that term in the sense we use it) and into the “regions of clear light” he imagines the other heavenly bodies reside in. He’s more concerned, however, with what he can state definitively about the Sun. He spends a careful few paragraphs laying out why one can say with absolute certainty that the Sun is EFFING GINORMOUS. (Note: not his words.)

Carefully, logically, he lays out that the shadows of a miles-and-miles-long row of trees are the same size, that the sun reaches the vertical on the equinox at the same time for everyone in the “southern regions,” and something about the Tropic of Cancer. I confess I can’t parse that bit of Latin quite as well.

…item qua circa solstitialem circulum habitantum meridie ad septentrionem umbrae cadent, orto vero ad occasum, quae fieri nullo modo possent nisi multo quam terra maior esset…p200

“Meridie ad septentrionem” is Tropic of Cancer, right? And not the Henry Miller version. One rather thinks Pliny would think Henry Miller a bit debauched. (Gee, you think?) Then again, there were Ovid and Catullus, and either of them could blow the doors off Miller in style.

Ahem. Anyway. Catullus is for another day.

Pliny goes on to detail why the eclipse of the moon proves that the sun is OMGHUGE. At the very end, he waxes a bit rhetorical and informs us that the sun retreats in winter when:

“…otherwise it would unquestionably scorch up the earth, and even as it is does so in a certain part, so great is its magnitude.p203

I rather like that bit of the translation–“scorch up the earth” for “exusturus haut dubie, et sic quoque exurens quadam in partep202” A good translation obeys the spirit as well as the letter, I think, and Rackham does pretty well.

Our stop here at the Sun is a short one (rather uncomfortably warm, isn’t it? Just a moment longer…) and please do keep your arms and legs inside the Train. Ice and various drinks are being dispensed, and the lights are about to go down as we speed from the celestial realms back to the more human country of History. Next, Pliny is going to tell us about eclipses and war.