Actually, it is unlikely that anyone laughed.
Scholars had abandoned the “flat earth” idea almost two thousand years before Columbus lived. 3
Now to the first recorded knowledge of geography The Greeks were outstanding among people of the ancient world for their pursuit and development of geographic knowledge. 3, ,5, 6 The shortage of arable land in their own region led to maritime exploration and the development of commerce and colonies. By 600 BCE, Miletus, a town on the Aegean Sea, had become a center of geographic knowledge, as well as of cosmography speculation. Hecataeus, a scholar of Miletus, probably produced the first book on geography in about 500 BCE. A generation later, Herodtus, (known as the father of history) using more extensive studies and wider travels, expanded upon Hecataeus. Herodotus recorded an early circumnavigation of the African continent by the Phoenicians. He also improved on the delineation of the shape and extent of the then-known regions of the world, and he declared the Caspian Sea to be an inland sea, opposing the prevailing view that it was part of the “northern oceans”
Although Hecataeus regarded the Earth as a flat disk surrounded by oceans, Herodotus and his followers questioned the concept and proposed a number of other possible forms. Indeed, the philosophers and scholars of the time appear to have been preoccupied for a number of years with discussions on the nature and extent of the World. They documented their observations that the shadow of the Earth made upon the Moon was curved and this implied a round component. Some modern scholars attribute the first hypothesis of a spherical Earth to Pythagoras (6th century BCE) or Parmenedes (5th century BCE). The idea gradually developed into a consensus over the years. In any case by the mid-4th Century (BCE) the theory of a spherical Earth was well accepted among Greek scholars, and about 350 BCE, Aristotle, formulated six arguments to prove that the Earth was, in truth, a sphere. From that time forward, the idea of a spherical Earth was generally accepted among geographers and other men of science.
About 300 BCE , Dicaearchus, a disciple of Aristotle, placed an orientation line on the world map, running east and west through Gibraltar and Rhodes. Eratosthenes, MarinusM of Tyre, and Ptolemy successively developed the reference-line principle until a reasonably comprehensive system of parallels and meridians, as well as methods of projecting them, had been achieved.
Before the birth of Jesus, Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth to ninety-nine per cent of our current knowledge and globes were described in Alexandria. 3
Eratosthenes, not only believed the earth to be a sphere, he actually measured the circumference of the earth and the angle of the tilt of the axis of rotation. Pollard and Reid 3 describe the ingenious method used by Eratosthenes to collect the data which he used to calculate these values. His value for the circumference of the earth was 252,000 stadia which is believed to be equal to 24,662 miles. The modern measurement is 24,860 miles giving the early Greek an accuracy of 99.2%! His calculations of the earth’s tilt was 23 degrees and 56 minutes compared to the current measurement of 23 degrees and 46 minutes (99.5%). 3
The greatest figure of the ancient world in the advancement of geography and cartography was Claudius Ptolemaeus, ,3,6 (Ptolemy) CE 90–168).5 An astronomer and mathematician, he spent many years studying at the library in Alexandria, the greatest repository of literature and scientific knowledge for more than a millenia. His monumental work, the Guide to Geography was produced in eight volumes. The first volume discussed basic principles and dealt with map projection and globe construction. The next six volumes carried a list of the names of some 8,000 places and their approximate latitudes and longitudes. Except for a few that were made by observations, the greater number of these locations were determined from older maps, with approximations of distances and directions taken from travelers. They were accurate enough to show relative locations on the very small-scale, rudimentary maps that existed.
The eighth volume was a most important contribution, containing instructions for preparing maps of the world and discussions on mathematical geography and other fundamental principles of cartography. Ptolemy’s map of the world, as it was then known, marked the culmination of Greek cartography as well as a compendium of accumulated knowledge of the Earth’s features at that time. Although the original text was lost, with most of the treasures of the Library of Alexandria, Ptolemy’s Geographica (Alexandria, Egypt CE 90- 168), was recovered a thousand years later. The Constantinople copy gives us strong reasons to believe that the scientists and cartographers of this time had constructed world maps and globes with remarkable geographical displays of, at least the Eastern Hemisphere. Pollard and Reid state that the Arabic translation of Ptolemy’s text, which was discovered in 1295 and translated into Latin, were delivered to leaders of Europe and are believed to have been used to justify the voyages of Christopher Columbus.3
Charles Clanton Rogers, April 26, 2015
1. This is an extensive revision of an earlier edition with the same title, in The Rogers Post. 2013
2. Reproduction of Ptolomy’s map 1482, Encyclopaedia Britannica
3. Pollard, J. and Reed, H., The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, Penguin Books, 2007
4. Rogers, C, How the English Language Came in First, The Rogers Post, April 7, 2015
5. Harai, Yuvah, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, HarperCollins, 2014
6. Enclopaedia Britannica