Moi, je suis le centre du monde!

You are now aware (‘you’ being King Gelon) that the “universe” is the name given by most astronomers to the sphere the centre of which is the centre of the earth, while its radius is equal to the straight line between the centre of the sun and the centre of the earth. This is the common account (τά γραφόμενα) as you have heard from astronomers. But Aristarchus has brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the universe is many times greater than the “universe” just mentioned. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, that the earth revolves about the sun on the circumference of a circle, the sun lying in the middle of the orbit, and that the sphere of the fixed stars, situated about the same centre as the sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the earth to revolve bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the centre of the sphere bears to its surface.

The heliocentric theory of our immediate universe is by now well accepted thanks to Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) and his promotion of the ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos (c. 310 – c. 230 BC) who first presented the theory.

He was influenced by Philolaus of Croton, but Aristarchus identified the “central fire” with the Sun, and he put the other planets in their correct order of distance around the Sun. Like Anaxagoras before him, he suspected that the stars were just other bodies like the Sun, albeit further away from Earth. His astronomical ideas were often rejected in favor of the geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Nicolaus Copernicus attributed the heliocentric theory to Aristarchus.

With the exception of brief moments of confounding wonder most of us do not contemplate the unimaginable scope of the universe. Instead we preoccupy ourselves with the relative narrowness of our personal experience which may or may not broaden the view to the opinions of others. Notwithstanding even the widening of our source of knowledge more often than not we are inescapably confined to the limit of ourselves – much like a newborn child. This hasn’t the purity of René Descartes’ question about whether he exists which as we all know he almost painfully resolved as “Cogito, Ergo sum” (not exactly the most revealing foundation of knowledge by popular standards). It took Anatole France to identify what for me is the more pertinent recognition (and I deliberately avoid the misdescription of it as a discovery) that, “Moi, je suis le centre du monde“.

Anatole France; born François-Anatole Thibault (16 April 1844 – 12 October 1924) was a French poet, journalist, and novelist with several best-sellers. Ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters. He was a member of the Académie française, and won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament”.

Before acquainting that observation with utter selfishness it is well to consider the value of its elemental nature; namely, the natural bias which inhibits us all. This is both limiting and relieving because while it sanctions our so-called “personal” view of things it likewise highlights its own limited extent – a feature which I prefer to see as enlarging my understanding of the views of others. But even if we were armoured with this further expansion the universe is ultimately personal. I for one see this as a duty not an inhibition; it forces us to savour the taste of our own stew. Judging by the concoction today I am bound to relish the spice and fragrance.

The air today though governed by a strong wind was dazzling – cool, clean and bright. After yesterday’s grey clouds and stormy skies the scene today was positively picturesque. Again I found myself mumbling rhapsodies of enthusiasm. It was impossible not to be moved physically, artistically and spiritually.

Though I hadn’t initially intended to wander by the sea I was overwhelmed and captivated by the roaring sound of the surf and the brightness of the day – augmented by the fleeting fluffy white clouds. There was nobody on the beach. I secured my bicycle on the railing from the roadway to the sandy beach. Then I walked in my topsiders with my white socks on to the sea. In addition I wore above my shorts three layers of tops – a light Speedo swim shirt, a Polo shirt and a sage green cotton sweater. The cool wind off the sea made my apparel a good choice. I lay on the white sand with one of my shoes as a headrest. The sun was glorious!

From springtime until autumn the presbytery was redolent of mignonette. Behold what we may come to and how feeble we are! Not without reason do we say that all our natural inclinations lead us towards sin! The man of God had succeeded in guarding his eyes, but he had left his nostrils undefended, and so the devil, as it were, caught him by the nose. This saint now inhaled the fragrance of mignonette with avidity and lust, that is to say, with that sinful instinct which makes us long for the enjoyment of natural pleasures and which leads us into all sorts of temptations.

The Curé’s Mignonette, Balthasar by Anatole France