ARISTARCHUS OF SAMOS (’Αρισταρχος)—a mathematician and astronomer, b. around 320 BC on the island of Samos, d. around 250 BC.
He was a student of the third scholarch of the Lyceum, Strato of Lampsacus. Aristarchus’ one extant work is Περι μεγεεθων και ’αποστηματων ‘ηλιου και σελενης [Peri megethon kai apostematon heliou kai selenes [(O rozmiarach i odległo%ciach Slońca i Księźyca [On the dimensions and distances of the Sun and Moon], works ed. J. Wallins, OX 1688). In this work, Aristarchus presents a method of measuring the relative distances of the Sun from the Earth—the Sun is further from the Earth than is the moon, “more than 18, and less than 20 times”). His conclusion, although it disagrees with the presently accepted data (around 20 times too small), was a sufficient argument for Aristarchus to refute the geocentric system. The work is a valuable indicator of how Greek mathematics and observational astronomy influenced each other.
Aristarchus is known as the precursor of heliocentrism (“the Copernicus of ancient times”) and as the constructor of perfected sundials. Aristarchus accepted the view that the times of the day result from the rotation of the Each upon its axis, and the times of the year are caused by the Earth’s orbital motion around the Sun. Yet in connection with difficulties of an astronomical nature (including a problem with the inequality of the time of the duration of astronomical winter and summer) and even greater difficulties in reconciling the thesis that the Earth is in motion with the principles of Aristotle’s philosophy of nature, the heliocentric system of the world gave way to the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic geometric system in the ancient world and in the Middle Ages.
G. Neugebauer, Archimedes and Aristarchus, Isis 39 (1942), 4–6; T. W. Africa, Copernicus’ Relation to Aristarchus and Pythagoras, Isis 52 (1961), 403–409; E. Rosen, Aristarchus of Samos and Copernicus, Bulletin of the American Papyrological Society 15 (1978), 85–93; T. L. Heath, Aristarchus of Samos. The Ancient Copernicus. A History of Greek Astronomy to Aristarchus Together with Aristarchus’ Treatise on the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon. A New Greek Text with Translation and Notes. NY 1981; O. Gingerich, Did Copernicus Owe a Debt to Aristarchus?, Journal for the History of Astronomy 16 (1985), 37–42; M. Spata, Aristarchus von Samos. Begründer des heliozentrischen Systems, in: Ingenieurvermessung von der Antike bis zur Neuzeit, St 1987, 57–69; A. V. Lebedev, Aristarchus of Samos on Thales’ Theory of Eclipses, Apeiron 23 (1990), 77–85; B. Noack, Aristarchus von Samos. Untersuchungen zur Überlieferungsgeschichte der Schrift “Peri megethón kai apostem´ton heliu kai selénes&dquo;, Wie 1992; A. C. Bowen, B. R. Goldstein, Aristarchus, Thales, and Heraclitus on Solar Eclipses. An Astronomical Commentary on P. Oxy. 53.3710 cols. 2.33—3.19, Physics 31 (1994), 689–729.
Zenon E. Roskal