I have a question about ancient Greek astronomy. We know certainly that the likes of Pythagoras, Aristotle, Anaximander, et al had much to say about the motions of the stars, planets, comets, etc, mythology notwithstanding.

My question is a rather simple one, yet I have not been able to find an answer anywhere.

Just how much of this knowledge would the ‘man in the street’ been aware of?? For example, how likely would they be to know of Pythagoras’ explanation that the morning star and evening star were both Venus, or that Aristotle thought comets were sublunar objects?

Surely these and other early Greek philosophers did not publish in scientific journals or publish popular literature. So, how was their thinking spread and how far? Did it reach only those select few who attended their lectures? Or, if the ‘common man' was aware, how would they know? Were the early Greeks more likely to accept that the sun’s daily motion was down to Helios driving his golden chariot rather than a more ’scientific' explanation?

  • $\begingroup$ This article, despite not answering your question directly, gives a good picture of how the educational system worked the Hellenistic age (and other ages as well). $\endgroup$
    – Gae. S.
    Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 16:37

1 Answer 1


This question is impossible to answer with any certainty in principle, since we know too little about common people. All literature which reached us was written by people of certain class, and they wrote for each other. Most people were probably barely literate.

There is however some indirect evidence. At some point Greek science and philosophy, spread and became fashionable in Rome (also among upper classes, of course). However from what survived of Roman literature we know that they understood very little about Greek mathematics or astronomy. They were not interested. They were much more interested in Babylonian astrology.

Approximately as much as modern general public understand about modern mathematics and astronomy, perhaps less, since nowadays we have some kind of education for all, and all now that "science is important".

  • $\begingroup$ I guess, at least they would have been much more accustomed to recognizing familiar constellations in the night sky without modern pollution. Of course that's not the same as knowing anything about astronomy. $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Mauricio: This is also unclear. What percent of modern common people are accustomed with constellations? (Of course in the modern time is it more difficult, and most modern people have not seen the night sky in their lifetime, because of the huge light pollution). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 1:10

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