Vol. 6, No. 3, 2018

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Far-reaching Hellenistic geographical knowledge hidden in Ptolemy's data

Lucio Russo

Vol. 6 (2018), No. 3, 181–200

The paper summarizes and discusses the main theses exposed in a previous book (L’America dimenticata, Mondadori Università, 2013; in Italian) in light of more recent results. Specifically, the work addresses the problem of explaining the origin of the systematic error on longitudes in Ptolemy’s Geographia and its logical relation with the reduced estimate for the dimension of the Earth given there. The thesis is sustained that, contrary to a frequently advanced conjecture, the shrinking of the dimension of the Earth is a consequence of a scale error in longitudes, which, in turn, was originated by a misidentification of the Islands of the Blessed. The location of the Islands of the Blessed according to the source of Ptolemy is identified in the Caribbean. The analysis of a passage of Pliny provides an independent and quantitative confirmation of the proposed identification, which sheds new light on possible contact among civilizations.

Hellenistic geography, Ptolemy, Fortunate Islands, Islands of the Blessed
Mathematical Subject Classification 2010
Primary: 01A20
Received: 18 September 2017
Revised: 29 January 2018
Accepted: 2 March 2018
Published: 26 July 2018

Communicated by Francesco dell'Isola
Lucio Russo
Dipartimento di Matematica
Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata
00173 Roma