The Medieval Universe
Medieval scholars were fascinated by the physical composition of the universe, which comprised the stellar and planetary spheres, sublunary realm and earth. They imagined the universe as an ordered system. The heavens and earth were part of this cosmic order. Medieval scholars thought of the universe as a coherent system enclosing the secrets of the divine.
THE HEAVENS BAYERISCHE STAATSBIBLIOTHEK MÜNCHEN, CLM 210, FOL. 113V
Considerable effort was expended by medieval scholars in visualising the heavens. Here we see the constellations. At the centre of this celestial map is the constellation of Draco (“the Dragon”), one of the largest constellations in the night sky in the northern hemisphere. It is portrayed as a snake-like creature together with the two Bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES BAYERISCHE STAATSBIBLIOTHEK MÜNCHEN, CLM 210, FOL. 123R
Medieval scholars delighted in the ancient idea that the celestial bodies made music. This theory is associated with the Greek philosopher Pythagoras. In their movements the sun, moon and planets were thought to emit sounds not audible to the human ear. This diagram illustrates the Pythagorean theory of the harmonic intervals equating tonal and interplanetary intervals.
THE GEOCENTRIC MODEL OF THE COSMOS BAYERISCHE STAATSBIBLIOTHEK MÜNCHEN, CLM 210, FOL. 132V
The cosmic centrality of the earth was at the heart of the medieval understanding of the universe. For the ancients, the inhabited world consisted of three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). This concept was evidently much more than simply a physical entity. It also had powerful overtones of civilisation, conquest and empire. This diagram depicts the traditional divisions of the inhabited world into three continents, together with the four elements (earth, water, air and fire), and the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west).
THE CLIMATIC ZONES BAYERISCHE STAATSBIBLIOTHEK MÜNCHEN, CLM 210, FOL. 132R
The ancients divided the earth into five climatic zones of habitable and uninhabitable regions (two temperate, one torrid and two frigid). The two temperate zones were deemed habitable; the two cold zones and one scorched zone were thought uninhabitable. The theory of the five zones, ascribed to Parmenides, was a constituent of medieval cosmography. In this diagram we see the world surrounded by the five zones, three of which are identified.