Nikodemos, on the ship, 30 a.d.


You said you studied the stars?

Only their names and places in the sky.

Oh. This is the first time you have traveled on a ship, with navigator or pilot?

Yes, sir.

Well. Then tell me, if you can, what is that spot hanging ahead of us, you see it there, slightly to starboard off the bow?

Yes. Ah… well, that is generally south, is it not?


And now, sir, in the last days of August, we are a little more than one hour into the night?

Yes, young man, we have passed into the second hour of night, I believe. You can see most, but not all, of the stars.

That is Antares, master pilot, sir. In the famous constellation of the Scorpion.

Yes. Good. Captain?

Yes, Theophilus?

He answered the easy question. Shall I try something harder?

Be my guest, pilot.

Thank you, Captain. So. Nikodemos?

Yes, sir?

First, another easy question. What is that star over there.

The evening star, sir. The wandering star Venus. Sometimes it shines in the morning and sometimes it shines in the evening.

Yes. And now, the hard question, young man. Why?

Why? You mean, sir, why does it move around from morning to evening?

Yes. Tell me what your philosophy says of that errant fact.

I cannot, sir. My teacher says we humans may sometimes recognize the shape of things, but we cannot always say why they are that way.

Oh. Yes. The astrologer.

Yes, sir.

So you do not know why it, Venus, moves around while almost all the other stars are standing perfectly still… except for rotating around the Earth once a day, of course.

Yes, sir. And the other wanderers, the planets, who do not stand still. Jove and Kronos and Mars and the Moon. And Hermes, so very close to the Sun.

And the Sun itself, young man?

Oh yes, of course. It too moves steadily around the circle of heaven, once every year. The other planets all seem to slip forward or fall back, sometimes.

Hmmm. Can you do the mathematics of thirty and sixty and three hundred sixty?

You mean the degrees around a perfect circle?


Good. You know we navigators and sailors follow that great circle of stars around the Mediterranean. The height of that star, Antares, in the south, will tell us how far north or south we are from before.

Yes, sir.

But the sea is never perfect. It is always full of winds and waves.

Yes, sir. It is.

Has it made you sick yet?

Not much, sir. But we have had good weather so far.


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