Deep in the archives of the Chifley library basement, a papyrus roll was recently prised from the mummified fingers of a long-pressed Honours student. Its contents have been transcribed below.
Athens, Greece – 330 BC
Hellfire: The Hellenic Literary Review, 28(6)
Will the Earth end if we agree it is a sphere? Querying myths around the flat-Earth debate.
To the regret of myself and many fellow Athenians, modern society has lately been deep in both squander and quandary. Shipwrecked travellers need housing, for example, and doctors are ever undersupplied in leeches. Yet when our leaders sacrifice 122 boatloads of goats, doves and virgins, it’s to pay not for the resolution of these issues, but instead for the upcoming Hellenic Spherical Earth Postal Survey.
For those who missed the amphitheatre announcement, the Hellenic Spherical Earth Postal Survey is a government initiative designed to determine the Greek populace’s views on the controversial spherical Earth idea. Every registered voter will be sent a ballot paper by return-pigeon, and on that paper will be one question: Should we as an empire support the Earth being officially recognised as round?
This question has inspired much debate. Spherists, though arguing it’s somewhat insulting to have this matter thrown to public opinion, state the answer is simple and are urging the populace to vote yes. Flatites, meanwhile, emphasise concern over what would happen should our society agree the Earth is round and affirm this understanding via our institutions. Indeed, influential groups like the Hellenic Association for Wholesome Pagan Values, Greeks Against Science and the Humane Slavers’ Trading Company have all urged their stake-holders to vote against this modern interpretation of the world.
Greeks have until the beginning of the Pyanepsion month (27 October) to return their ballot papers. Consequently, it seems logical to address Flatites’ concerns and attempt to dispel common myths before voting closes.
1. If we agree the Earth is round, will my plot of land somehow become less flat?
No. Though empire-wide agreement as to the Earth’s curvature may impact general understanding of its flatness, the horizontality of your own stomping ground will remain unchanged. The sun will still rise, and you can till your level earth to your planar heart’s content.
2. By saying the Earth is round, aren’t you pressuring me and others to undertake an around-the-world expedition?
No, not really.
3. But you’re still airing your views. Now everyone might think it’s normal to see the Earth as round.
We’re all allowed to air our views. You know that nice new agora built near your house? It’s made for public debate, my friend. The ‘normal’ existence Spherists are after is that of a democracy where they can coexist with Flatites and not be threatened, excluded or patronised for their understanding that the Earth is round.
4. Listen, we can’t just change the definition of such a fundamental concept. The very flatness of the Earth is what makes the Earth, Earth.
As a matter of fact, people and societies change, meaning so do their definitions of different concepts. Nothing is immutable, nor should it be. Only a few centuries ago, for example, the Trojan Horse was considered the height of cunning and subterfuge – yet now everyone’s doing it. Do we still draw pictures of wooden horses next to the words “master plan” on our papyruses? No, we do not.
5. But the Earth has always been flat.
Records show people have questioned the Earth’s flatness and lived as committed Spherites since the sixth century BC, when Pythagoras first introduced the spherical Earth idea to Greek philosophy. As for before then, we weren’t really into writing. Besides, disclosure of information was constrained by publishing limitations: scratching straight lines onto rocks is easier than curves.
Moreover, regardless of our historical understanding of certain concepts, the commonality of a belief does not correlate with its veracity or moral virtue. Were we truly purists about tradition, we’d still be running away from Phoenicians and leaving stone tools lying around on Crete. Yet now we are a glorious bastion of civilization. Times change.
6. What if we agree the Earth is round, and then the very fabric of our world begins to unravel? What if people start falling off the bottom?
Considering the wide range of issues genuinely threatening our society – hot summers, potential warfare, Roman invasion – to have infighting over something as minor as our definition of the Earth seems strange. Furthermore, if we’ve muddled through this far, it seems unlikely the world will eject us from its surface for something as minor as a debate over flatness. If this debate does result in conflict, it will be due to human intolerance of change, or possibly Romans; but not the changing concept itself.
7. What if Spherite theory comes to be taught at gymnasiums? What if I don’t want my child to learn the Earth is round?
Look at it this way: any gymnasium teaching Spherite perspectives alongside Flatite ones will likely produce more thoughtful, questioning students. Being presented with a diverse range of cosmological theories will help them realise the world is rich in variety. Besides, it’s not as though Flatite attitudes don’t have a firm foothold as the perceived norm in Greek society and education.
As for not wanting your child to be taught the Earth is round: your child will likely meet with this school of thought at some point in their lives. One can close their eyes to the curvature of the horizon, but that doesn’t make it go away. And what if they do an extra-curricular in voyaging to the edge of the world? Don’t try shielding them from the existence of Spherite philosophy; they’re going to find out about it anyway.
8. Hmm, I’m not sure … I was raised by Flatites and I’m happy about it. Pretty sure future generations will only thrive on a flat Earth.
The most valuable thing Greek households can do for their children is to provide love, support and a disease-free environment, thus enabling them to live past the age of three. Whether a household believes the Earth is flat or round will not determine their parenting skills. Nor will it sway a child if they are truly Spherite or Flatite at heart.
9. Still, why do we have to change our traditional definitions? Can’t we just keep our long-held understanding of a flat Earth? It’s not hurting anyone.
In certain situations, comfort is the enemy of progress. If the Earth truly is round – and Aristotelian studies do indicate proof of this – what reason can there be for single-mindedly reaffirming the Earth is flat? What’s more, you may not be invested in the Earth’s roundness, but many people are. A historic precedent is not enough to justify universal-forced worship at a horizontal alter.
10. But I already tolerate Spherites – why did you pass me this scroll?
The term ‘tolerance’ suggests putting up with something base, disgusting or tiresome. It is a regrettably condescending term when used in relation to people, especially as it can imply a misplaced sense of virtue on the speaker’s part. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Aristotle does not wish for people to tolerate his scientific facts.
11. I feel uncomfortable.
So do Spherites when others argue on the basis of tradition that Spherites’ beliefs are lesser, inconvenient, or even repugnant. Flatites feel similarly if raised to believe unconditionally in traditional cosmology, only to then be told the Earth is round. That is why we are debating, and had to build yet another agora. Alternatively, you may be suffering from cholera.
12. This seems like a slippery slope. If we change our understanding of the Earth’s flatness, what will come next? Letting women vote? Freeing slaves? Also, I don’t know how to use a return-pigeon.
I shan’t lie to you: it could indeed be a slippery slope. One day we might even lose the virgin sacrifices. Who knows? These are wild times.
As for learning how to use a return-pigeon: simply fill out and then retie your paper to the pigeon’s leg and throw it into the sky. If you are a firm believer in the Gods, however, please disregard the previous sentence. Simply raise your ballot paper aloft, extend your fingers, and watch your vote blow slowly away on the breeze. This action is best effectuated before heavy rain. Trust that Hermes will carry the paper to its destination.
Further information on the Hellenic Spherical Earth Postal Survey is yet to be found. Were there a second papyrus scroll, it may well have been eaten by the aforementioned Honours candidate before their untimely demise. We may never know.
What we do know, however, is that Aristotle provided empirical evidence for the spherical Earth theory at around 330 BC. Despite this, Flatites (or ‘flatists’, as those within the modern-day group The Flat Earth Society call themselves) continue to exist in small, ideally two-dimensional pockets throughout the world. If this discovery proves anything, therefore, it is that changing legislation is unlikely to ever truly eliminate any belief, for better or for worse. Consequently, groups feeling threatened about their survival due to change are likely better-placed to survive than they believe. This is true especially if they extend compassion and empathy to others rather than hatred, belittlement or ostracisation. After all:
Spherite or Flatite,
the (round) sun will still rise;
One can till land of the gradient of one’s choice;
And slippery slopes can lead to beautiful places.
You have been invited to vote in today’s equivalent of the Hellenic Spherical Earth Postal Survey.
Don’t miss it.