Gravity, Levity, Sin, Physics and a Little Astronomy: How the Idea of Gravity Expressed the Attitudes of the Greeks, Romans, Medieval, and Modern European Cultures toward nature
This is a history of the theory of gravity from Aristotle to Newton. It is the thesis of this essay that the history of the feelings about gravity contains a message about the changes in attitudes toward nature that occurred in European cultures in the last 3000 years. Hellenic and Hellenistic people revered gods who were associated with nature, and their attitudes toward gravitation expressed this positive feeling. The transition to Christianity was associated with the development of very negative feelings about nature that is clearly demonstrated by the moral character of the medieval theory of gravitation. The revolutions, that we call "Copernican" and "Newtonian" were, for the theory of gravity, a single rather slow evolution, and represented a great improvement in the value that European society placed on nature.