"Cosmography" by Anania Shirakatsi: how an Armenian thinker was able to get ahead of his time

"Cosmography" by Anania Shirakatsi: how an Armenian thinker was able to get ahead of his time
"Cosmography" by Anania Shirakatsi: how an Armenian thinker was able to get ahead of his time

In the 7th century AD, Europe was seething, digesting the wreckage of the Western Roman Empire, and on the East European Plain, the Slavs had just begun to erect cities when Anania Shirakatsi, a future scientist, who, as legends say, could extract gold from water, predict eclipses, was born in Armenia. and knew how to find "magic" plants.


Anania Shirakatsi in the Armenian tradition is considered the father of natural sciences. His truly encyclopedic knowledge and writings unique for his time cover a wide range of subjects, including, among others, arithmetic, astronomy, alchemy and natural philosophy. He edited the Armenian calendar - a work that, among other peoples, often required the convocation of entire colleges of scientists and researchers.

The textbook on arithmetic he created is unique in terms of level for that era. It consists of several parts: theoretical and a number of tables with basic mathematical operations. This is the earliest known work of this kind. It is no less remarkable that Shirakatsi was the first to use the so-called amusing tasks - that is, those where conditions are based on real, sometimes ordinary, situations. Today they are familiar to every schoolchild, but in that era they were a new phenomenon that significantly simplified teaching. His works formed the core of works in these areas, published by that time in Armenian. It is not surprising that the statues of the scientist were installed in the main public places of the capital of Armenia - Yerevan.


The exact date of birth of the future scientist is unknown; most likely, he was born from 598 to 610 AD. Ananias, striving for knowledge and comprehension of the world from a young age, studied at local Armenian schools, possibly at the Dprevank monastery, where he studied sacred texts, Armenian literature and foreign languages, in particular, Greek.

His craving and love for knowledge became the meaning of his life. In those distant times, science was inseparable from religion - Christianity, and monasteries were the centers of progressive thought. Ananias in his autobiography says that he wanted to study philosophy, study mathematics, which the young man considered the mother of all knowledge.

The geography of Anania's travels is extensive: the TV presenters of the "Heads and Tails" program could envy him: Shirakatsi studied in Feodosiopolis (today Erzurum), Trebizond, Jerusalem, spent three years in Alexandria, some time - in Rome, visiting, as the legendary tradition dedicated to him says, and Venice, where he taught the local ruler to extract gold from water (no, not wine)! And then Shirakatsi lived and studied in Constantinople for many years.

After so many years of study, it should come as no surprise that Ananias Shirakatsi enjoyed an impressive reputation as an erudite due to the many themes raised in the surviving works attributed to him. Usually, 29 works are distinguished, among them: "Geography", "Arithmetic", "On Odd and Even Numbers", "On Problems and Solutions", "Astronomy", "Tables of the Moon's Movement", "On the Rotation of the Heavens", "Liturgical Calendars "," Sermons on the Epiphany of the Lord "and, of course," Cosmography ".

Returning to his homeland in 661, Shirakatsi settled in his native Shirakavan, where he opened a school, whose fame soon spread throughout the country. Along with teaching activities, he was engaged in scientific work, wrote valuable works.

The domination of the Christian church in the world in which Shirakatsi lived, studied, and then taught led to the creation of a vivid mixture of theological views, often presented as axioms, without critical analysis - but in them he very subtly and carefully weaved natural scientific evidence obtained by an experienced person. empirically.

So, for example, in the matter of the creation of the world, Shirakatsi, following the church fathers, believed that the earth and heaven were created by the Lord. And at the same time, his concept "Arising is the beginning of decomposition" is formulated in "Shirakatsi's Cosmography", anticipating the idea of ​​entropy by a thousand years.

Shirakatsi, following Ptolemy, considered the Earth to be the center of the Universe. This idea was approved by the Church, but another important question remained: is it flat or spherical? Contrary to what our contemporary can often hear, people before modern times did not expect at all that the ships of seafarers could fall over the edge of the flat Earth: the fact that it is spherical was known from ancient times: already Aristotle in 330 BC proves this on quite modern level.

The problem was that in the 6th century AD, a large Byzantine merchant Kosma Indikoplov decided to challenge this opinion of ancient authors. He composed the so-called "Christian Topography", where he tried to interpret the Old Testament as if the Earth was depicted in it as flat. In fact, the Hebrew word hug - a circle, a ball - is used there for its designation. It is possible, however, that the merchant did not know Hebrew, and in the ancient Greek translation the word "circle" was used, which created the ground for error.


It should be understood that Byzantium was then the intellectual center of the world: Islam had not yet created a major science characteristic of it since the 8th century AD, Western Europe was in a state of extreme barbarization, and had quite a few influential thinkers of its own. Therefore, the opinion of Kosma Indikoplov had some influence on the educated people of the 7th century, the time when Anania Shirakatsi lived. He himself, as a man who had studied for a long time in Byzantium, had to have a noticeable courage to come up with a different point of view.

And nevertheless, contrary to the rather authoritative opinion of Kosma Indikoplov, the scientist argued that our planet is not a flat cake, a kind of pita bread, but a spherical or, more precisely, egg-shaped object: “like a yolk, it is in the center, the air around it is like a squirrel, and the sky surrounds everything like a shell. " Perhaps this judgment was based, among other things, on the Armenian tradition, for the inhabitants of the Armenian highlands have been watching the stars from about the 5th millennium BC.

This is evidenced by the countless number of astronomical symbols found in the rock paintings of Armenia. For example, on stones near the upper reaches of the Ukhtasar and Ishkhanasar mountains, rocks around Lake Sevan and other places where the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, planets, comets, stars, constellations and even the Milky Way are symbolically reflected.


It is possible that Shirakatsi not only knew about these ancient observatories, but also visited them on his own. After all, his homeland - the historical and geographical region in the northeastern part of the Armenian Highlands - Shirak, from whose name the scientist's surname originated, was not too far from the "Armenian Stonehenge" - a large complex of megalithic tombstones of the Bronze Age, which is commonly called the Karahunj Observatory. Although in Shirak itself and in numerous places between Lake Sevan and southern Syunik, similar megaliths were found.

After a careful reading of "Cosmography", it is easy to conclude that Shirakatsi was at odds with theologians on the issue of the balance of the Earth. According to the Holy Scriptures, it rests on water or, more precisely, the sea: “And God said: let the water that is under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear. And it became so. And God called the dry land the earth, and the gathering of the waters called the seas. "Ananias believed that a strong wind blowing from below kept the "heavy" planet from falling - this hypothesis would later be called the theory of vortices.


Of course, from today's point of view, this idea is incorrect - but one must understand that before the discovery of the force of gravity, even the most rational analysis could not accurately clarify what exactly supports the Earth.

Shirakatsi advocated rationalism in the study of nature and condemned superstitious beliefs and astrology. He sharply criticized the Chaldean fortune tellers for their attempts to connect the fate of people, their luck and misfortune with the movement of the stars, arguing that the fate of a person is not determined in advance by what star a child is born under. Shirakatsi considers such statements to be a delusion, and their authors are fools. If this astrological theory is correct, if a person's life is predetermined by the moment of his birth, Shirakatsi wrote, then why do servants strive for a good life, because God predetermined their unhappy life? And if God puts evil in a little innocent child, then God himself is evil.


Ananias knew and used the works of the ancient Greek pagan thinkers, although at that time, for excessive reliance on them, one could "earn" the status of a heretic and lose arms and legs. He ridiculed some of the views of the ancients, especially the Greek myths, which claimed that the Milky Way was the spilled breast milk of the goddess Hera when she pushed the child, Hercules, sucking to her breast.

The myths of the Armenians about the creation of the Milky Way, which Shirakatsi also knew, also, most likely, caused only a smile in the researcher. An ancient Armenian legend tells the story of the god of war Vahagn, who took straw from the Assyrian king Barsham in a cold winter and brought it to Armenia so that people could warm up. According to this story, the Milky Way arose from the fact that some of the straw was scattered across the sky by Vahagn in the process. That is why the Milky Way in Armenian is called "Straw Stealer's Road".


In "Cosmography" Shirakatsi explains the nature of our Galaxy: he says that the Milky Way consists of "many clustered stars, faint and strong, the light of which is perceived in the same way due to obscure visibility." This point of view was advanced not only for the 7th century, but seemed new and progressive after a thousand years.

To understand how revolutionary this thought was for that time, it should be remembered that the cosmology of that period - where certain dodgers, like Kosma Indikoplov, did not try to attract the authority of the Bible they misinterpreted - was mainly based on the works of ancient authors. The most authoritative of these was Aristotle, and according to him, the Milky Way did not consist of distant stars at all. In his work "Meteorology" he argued that this is a consequence of the burning of fiery vapors from stars, and not at all distant stars - and he believed that these stars are in the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere, below the Moon.

Unfortunately, in "Cosmography" Shirakatsi does not explain why he considered the authoritative opinion of Aristotle to be incorrect. But, based on logic, we can assume that he was confused by the same shape of the Milky Way for a long time. It is obvious that combustion processes of this size and stability are very unrealistic.

By the way, the scientist urged not to be fooled by the small size of the Sun - in fact, it is larger than the Moon, it is simply located much further than it. The distance to the star from the Earth, he gives in "Geometric Astronomy" - 30 million 930 thousand stages, or about 5.5 million km. Here, of course, Shirakatsi missed, but the scientist correctly believed that there are craters on the Moon (by the way, one of them was named after Shirakatsi in 1979).


Again, we are talking about an idea that was noticeably ahead of its time: in European science, up to the invention of telescopes, there was no consensus on this matter. The corresponding dark areas on the moon were attributed to seas or simply dark lowlands.

Ananias believed that the satellite of the Earth causes the ebb and flow of the sea and reflects sunlight. Although Shirakatsi's last judgment was most likely drawn from the ideas of Yeznik Kokhbatsi, an Armenian theologian of the 5th century, who describes his understanding of pagan cosmological ideas as follows:

“And the Moon does not have its own light, but rather it comes from the Sun, they [pagans] say, that from whatever side the Sun appears, from that side the light begins to come to it. The moon does not have its own light … - this is a lie … ".

This judgment is also contained in the main Greek source of cosmology - "Hexameron" by Basil the Great. In conversation VI "On the creation of heavenly bodies":

“And let no one think it incredible that something else is the brilliance of light, and the other is a body in which there is light …”.

And further in the same conversation:

“And then we can find certification in the investigated in the modifications of the Moon. For when she emanates and decreases, then not her body is completely destroyed, but she presents us with the manifestations of decreasing and increasing by the fact that she leaves herself and again receives the light that closes her."

However, Ananias's account shows a clear understanding of this phenomenon:

“But our predecessors, who tried to understand her [the Moon], said the following: … she does not have light by nature, but thanks to her participation she takes it from the sun, like a mirror opposite the Sun [light], she also reflects many rays from herself, just like this mirror does. However, the two Fathers of the Church argued that the moon emits its own light, and does not receive it from the sun."

Shirakatsi tells in detail about the "lunar eclipses" of the sun, contrary to the absurd explanations of the Chaldean astrologers, who associated the eclipses with the movements of the celestial dragon, which supposedly covers the Sun or the lunar disk with its tail, and causes an eclipse. Shirakatsi explained what happens when the Sun rotates in the Northern Hemisphere and the Moon in the Southern Hemisphere (the Earth falls between them) and blocks the penetration of sunlight to the Moon, causing a lunar eclipse. And when the Moon falls between the Sun and the Earth, it blocks the penetration of sunlight to the Earth, and a solar eclipse occurs.

Shirakatsi's "cosmography" often contradicts the Church Fathers: there are indications that the books of the scientist "convicted of ignorance" were banned. It got to the point that Shirakatsi was persecuted, his works were forbidden, but in the people's memory, as often happens, a special image of the Armenian thinker has been preserved. Folk legends about him claim that he found an unfading, magical flower Amaspyur high in the mountains, which bestows wisdom if eaten. However, having gone from black dust to heavenly bodies, having solved the secrets of the wisest words and deeds, unraveling all the knots, only Shirakatsi could not unravel the knot of death. The great scientist died around 685 AD. Traditionally, it is believed that Anania was buried in the village of Anavank (present-day territory of Turkey), however, the tradition probably originated from the name of the village.

The works of Anania Shirakatsi left a deep imprint on the medieval Armenian written tradition, especially in the field of natural sciences. It is difficult to single out the subsequent Armenian researchers of natural science who would not use the works of Shirakatsi.

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