An NPR story about Nicolaus Copernicus, and his 1543 book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, reminds us just how (pardon the pun) revolutionary his idea was.Today we take for granted that the Earth revolves around the sun, but scholars of Copernicus’s era dismissed this concept as a crazy idea and followed centuries of teachings.
To set time and place, historical novelists show the world through their characters’ eyes. In Charlemagne’s time, during which my novels are set, everyone would have taken for granted that the Earth is at the center of the universe.
After all, in Christian theology, humans are special, so special that it makes sense that their world is literally at the center. Nor is Medieval Christianity the only religion teaching that the sun travels around the earth.
If religious lessons did not assuage doubts about Earth’s place, one’s own perceptions of the sun and moon rising and setting would, and the more learned would explain the erratic motions of the planets through epicycles, circles within circles.
What is agonizing for me as a historical novelist is that Earth’s place at the center is taken so much for granted that none of my characters in two books have even mentioned it.
My third book, a work in progress, thus far has two characters interested in astronomy, Princess Bertha and her father, Charles, who according to his biographer, Einhard, “learned how to calculate and with great diligence and curiosity investigated the course of the stars.” His passion for astronomy is also seen in 809/810 with an expensive, illuminated astronomical handbook with a series of constellations.
I will have to do further research into what astronomy was like then. Astronomy was one of the seven liberal arts, and the boundaries between it and what we today call astrology were blurred. But I doubt even the characters interested in this discipline will mention Earth is at the center. Everyone in their world already knows it.