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On the Heavens

seems to regard them as living beings with a rational soul

as their form[1] (see also Metaphysics, bk. XII) This work
is signicant as one of the dening pillars of the Aristotelian worldview, a school of philosophy that dominated
intellectual thinking for almost two millennia. Similarly,
this work and others by Aristotle were important seminal
works by which much of scholasticism was derived.

1 Historical connections
Aristotelian philosophy and cosmology was inuential in
the Islamic world, where his ideas were taken up by the
Falsafa school of philosophy throughout the later half of
the rst millennia AD. Of these, philosophers Averroes
and Avicenna are especially notable. Averroes in particular wrote extensively about On The Heavens, trying
for some time to reconcile the various themes of Aristotelian philosophy, such as natural movement of the elements and the concept of planetary spheres centered
on the Earth, with the mathematics of Ptolemy.[2] These
ideas would remain central to the philosophical thinking
of that culture until the rise to prominence of Al-Ghazali,
a philosopher and theologian who argued against Aristotelianism and neoplatonism during the 12th century.
Page one of Aristotles On the Heavens, from an edition published in 1837

On the Heavens (Greek: , Latin: De Caelo

or De Caelo et Mundo) is Aristotle's chief cosmological
treatise: written in 350 BC it contains his astronomical
theory and his ideas on the concrete workings of the terrestrial world. It should not be confused with the spurious
work On the Universe (De mundo, also known as On the
According to Aristotle in On the Heavens, the heavenly
bodies are the most perfect realities, (or substances),
whose motions are ruled by principles other than those of
bodies in the sublunary sphere. The latter are composed
of one or all of the four classical elements (earth, water,
air, re) and are perishable; but the matter of which the
heavens are made is imperishable aether, so they are not
subject to generation and corruption. Hence their motions are eternal and perfect, and the perfect motion is
the circular one, which, unlike the earthly up-and downward locomotions, can last eternally selfsame. As substances, celestial bodies have matter (aether) and form (a
given period of uniform rotation). Sometimes Aristotle

Thomas Aquinas and Averroes

European philosophers had a similarly complex relationship with De Caelo, attempting to reconcile church doctrine with the mathematics of Ptolemy and the structure of Aristotle. A particularly cogent example of this
is in the work of Thomas Aquinas, theologian, philoso1


pher and writer of the 13th century. Known today as 2.2 French
St. Thomas of the Catholic Church, Aquinas worked
Dalimier, C. and Pellegrin, P. (2004) Aristote.
to synthesize Aristotles cosmology as presented in De
Trait du ciel (Paris).
Caelo with Christian doctrine, an endeavor that led him
to reclassify Aristotles unmoved movers as angels and at Moraux, P. (1965) Aristote. Du ciel (Paris).
tributing the 'rst cause' of motion in the celestial spheres
to them. Otherwise, Aquinas accepted Aristotles ex Tricot, J. (1949) Aristote. Trait du ciel. Traduction
planation of the physical world, including his cosmology
et notes (Paris).
and physics.
The 14th century French philosopher Nicole Oresme
translated and commentated on De Caelo in his role as 2.3 German
adviser to King Charles V of France, on two separate oc Jori, A., (2008), ber den Himmel (Berlin).
casions, once early on in life, and again near the end of
it. These versions were a traditional Latin transcription
Gigon, O. (1950) Vom Himmel, Von der Seele, Von
and a more comprehensive French version that syntheder Dichtkunst (Zurich).
sized his views on cosmological philosophy in its entirety,
Questiones Super de Celo and Livre du ciel et du monde re Prantl, C. (1857) Aristoteles Vier Bcher ber das
spectively. Livre du ciel et du monde was written at the
Himmelsgebude und Zwei Bcher ber Entstehen
command of King Charles V, though for what purpose
und Vergehen (Leipzig).
remains of some debate. Some speculate that, having already had Oresme translate Aristotelian works on ethics
Prantl, C., (1881) De coelo, et de generatione et corand politics in the hope of educating his courtiers, doruptione (Leipzig).
ing the same with De Caelo may be of some value to the

2.4 Italian


Jori, A. (1999) Il cielo (Milan).

Longo, O. (1961) Aristotele. De caelo (Florence).



(in reverse chronological order)

3 See also

Stuart Leggatt, On the Heavens I and II (Warminster:

Aris & Phillips, 1995). ISBN 0-85668-663-8

Physics (Aristotle)

William Keith Chambers Guthrie, Aristotle On the

Heavens (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press Loeb Classical Library, 1939).

Dynamics of the celestial spheres

John Leofric Stocks, On the Heavens (Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1922).
Adelaide Etexts
Sacred Texts
MIT (incomplete)
Internet Archive (Scanned Version of Printed

Aristotelian physics

Celestial spheres

4 References
[1] Alan C. Bowen, Christian Wildberg, New perspectives on
Aristotles De caelo (Brill, 2009)
[2] Gerhard Endress (1995). Averroes De Caelo Ibn Rushds
Cosmology in his Commentaries on Aristotles On the
Heavens. Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 5, pp 9-49.

Free Audiobook (Translated by John Leofric


[3] McInerny, Ralph & O'Callaghan, John. Saint Thomas

Aquinas. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Thomas Taylor, The treatises of Aristotle, on the

heavens, on generation & corruption, and on meteors
(Somerset, England : The Prometheus Trust, 2004,
1807). ISBN 1-898910-24-3

[4] Grant, E. (n.d). Nicole Oresme, Aristotles 'On the heavens, and the court of Charles V. Texts And Contexts In
Ancient And Medieval Science : Studies On The Occasion Of John E, 187-207.

Further reading
Elders, L., Aristotles Cosmology: A Commentary on
the De Caelo (Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum,

External links
Greek Wikisource has original text related to this
On the Heavens in Greek is found in the 2nd volume of the 11-volume 1837 Bekker edition of Aristotles Works in Greek (PDF DJVU)
On the Heavens in The Internet Classics Archive.
Free audiobook version of On the Heavens
(Translated by John Leofric Stocks)


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