Modeling the Heavens: Sphairopoiia and Ptolemy’s Planetary Hypotheses

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This article investigates sphairopoiia , the art of making instruments that display the heavens, in Claudius Ptolemy’s Planetary Hypotheses . It takes up two questions: what kind of instrument does Ptolemy describe? And, could such an instrument have been constructed? I argue that Ptolemy did not propose one specific type of instrument, but instead he offered a range of possible designs, with the details to be worked out by the craftsman. Moreover, in addition to exhibiting his astronomical models and having the ability to estimate predictions, the instrument he proposed would have also shown the physical workings of the heavens. What emerges is both a clearer idea of what Ptolemy wanted the technician to build, and the purpose of such instruments.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalPerspectives on Science
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Astrophysics and Astronomy

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