First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

On the second day God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters; and he called the firmament Heaven.[Genesis 1:6-8.] God divided the firmament and made it movable; and he made other sensitive things comprehensible. And the waters that ran together he fixed in the nature of crystals, and he fastened the stars to them. Now the sphere of the heavens, with its fixed stars, is provided with two pivots, one of which is called the north, and the other the south pole, and is revolved from east to west with such speed that the world would be torn asunder if the planets in their counter-courses would not prevent it. The master-craftsman of the world so tempered the heavens with water that the heat of the upper regions cannot ignite the other elements. Some teachers, not only of our own time, but also among the Hebrews and others, believed that above the spheres of the seven planets, and above the eighth sphere, which they call the unerring one, and also over the ninth sphere, which is reached by reason alone and not by perception (and which is the first among movable corporeal things) is a tenth sphere, that is stationery and at rest. Consequently Isaac the Wise, one of the learned men already mentioned, holds that the tenth heaven was identified by Ezekiel through the zaphirum, in the similitude of a throne; and that the color of the zaphirum, the brilliance of the light and the likeness of a throne, indicated immobility. But to return to Moses, who separated the waters from the waters, resulting in a triple division of corporeal things under the moon! Some are in the middle region of the air as the uppermost part of the same element, as the brightest fire, and in itself a pure unmixed and proper element. Others are under the mid-regions of the air, as with us, where there is no pure element, but all elements are mixed, due to the density of the corporeal world. In between is a region of the air, also called the firmament, in which rain, snow, lightning, thunder, comets and the like appear. Therefore this firmament is very fitly distinguished, not alone because of its location, but because of its nature as well—the upper elements from the lower, as the water from the waters. Therefore the upper elements are pure and bright and separated from those below, which are mixed. And he called the firmament Heaven for it covered all susceptible and unseen things.

Schedel’s commentary on the work of the second day is very obscure. In medieval times the revolution of the spheres was not supposed to take place, like the motion of the earth in modern astronomy, round an imaginary axis, but round one which had a material existence, which was provided with pivots moving in fixed sockets. According to Vitruvius, architect to Augustus,

The heaven turns continually round the earth and sea upon an axis, where two extremities are like two pivots that sustain it: for there are two places in which the Governor of Nature has fashioned and set these pivots as two centers; one is above the earth among the northern stars; the other is at the opposite end beneath the earth to the south; and around these pivots, as round two centers, he has placed little naves like those of a wheel upon which the heaven turns continually.

Many of Schedel’s commentaries are based upon the theories of Greek philosophers concerning the structure of the heavens. Thus Eudoxus, who paid more attention than others to the motions of the planets, gave more than one sphere to each of them to represent or account for variations of movement. According to his theory every planet has a separate part of heaven to itself, which is composed of several concentric spheres, whose movements, modifying each other, produce that of the planet. These concentric spheres were supposed to fit each other, so that the different planets were only separated by the thicknesses of these crystal zones.

In a small work ascribed to Aristotle, entitled Letter of Aristotle to Alexander on the System of the World, is the following passage:

There is a fixed and immovable center to the universe. This is occupied by the earth, the fruitful mother, the common focus of every kind of living thing. Immediately surrounding it on all sides is the air. Above this in the highest region is the dwelling-place of the gods, which is called the heavens. The heavens and the universe being spherical and in continual motion, there must be two points on opposite sides, as in a globe which turns about an axis, and these points must be immovable, and have the sphere between them, since the universe turns about them. They are called the poles . . . . The substance of the heavens and of the stars is called ether . . . because it has an eternal circular motion, being a divine and incorruptible element . . . Of the stars contained in the heavens, some are fixed, and turn with the heavens, constantly maintaining their relative positions. In their middle portion is the circle called the zoophore, which stretches obliquely from one tropic to the other, and is divided into twelve parts, which are the twelve signs (of the zodiac). The others are wandering stars.

Another passage of the same work states that,

On the nearer, that is inner, side of this ethereal immovable, unalterable, impassable nature is placed out movable, corruptible, and moral nature. Of this there are several kinds, the first of which is fire, a subtle inflammable essence, which is kindled by the great pressure and rapid motion of the ether. It is in this region of air, when any disturbance takes place in it, that we see kindled shooting stars, streaks of light, and shining motes, and it is there that candles are lighted and extinguished. Below the fire comes air, by nature cold and dark, but which is warmed and enflame, and becomes luminous by its motion. It is in the region of the air, which is passive and changeable in any manner, that the clouds condense, and rain, snow, frost and hail are formed and fall to the earth. It is the abode of stormy winds, of whirlwinds, thunder, lightning, and many other phenomena.

Letter of Aristotle to Alexander on the System of the World

The testimony of Ezekiel to which the text refers, was this:

And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof was the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire . . . .

Ezekiel 1:4
And above the firmament . . . was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it . . . As the appearance of the Bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord

Ezekiel 1:26-28.


Again we have a square, and in this instance inscribed with five concentric circles forming four bands, the hand of the Creator at the upper left. This design cannot be reconciled with the work of the second day, whether we regard the design as consisting of five circles or of four bands. It has been conjectured that this woodcut was misplaced, or interchanged with the woodcut on the verso of the same folio, and which has but four concentric circles, making three contiguous bands. However, this being but the second day, neither of these cuts appears appropriate. This illustration, like its predecessor in the series, appears unfinished.