Flammarion Engraving - Literary Sources

Literary Sources

The idea of the contact of a solid sky with the earth is one that repeatedly appears in Flammarion's earlier works. In his Les mondes imaginaires et les mondes réels ("Imaginary Worlds and Real Worlds," 1864), he cites a legend of a Christian saint, Macarius the Roman, which he dates to the 6th century. This legend includes the story of three monks (Theophilus, Sergius, and Hyginus) who "wished to discover the point where the sky and the earth touch" (in Latin: ubi cœlum terræ se conjungit). After recounting the legend he remarks that "the preceding monks hoped to go to heaven without leaving the earth, to find 'the place where the sky and the earth touch,' and open the mysterious gateway which separates this world from the other. Such is the cosmographical notion of the universe; it is always the terrestrial valley crowned by the canopy of the heavens."

In the legend of St. Macarius, the monks do not in fact find the place where earth and sky touch. In Les mondes imaginaires Flammarion recounts another story:

This fact reminds us of the tale which Le Vayer recounts in his Letters. It appears that an anchorite, probably a relative of the Desert Fathers of the East, boasted of having been as far as the end of the world, and of having been obliged to stoop his shoulders, on account of the joining of the sky and the earth in that distant place.

Flammarion also mentioned the same story, in nearly the same words, in his Histoire du Ciel ("History of the Sky"):

"I have in my library," interrupted the deputy, "a very curious work: Levayer's letters. I recall having read there of a good anchorite who bragged of having been 'to the ends of the earth,' and of having been obliged to stoop his shoulders, because of the union of the sky and of the earth at this extremity."

The Letters referred to are a series of short essays by François de La Mothe Le Vayer. In letter 89, Le Vayer, after mentioning Strabo's scornful opinion of Pytheas's account of a region in the far north where land, sea, and air seemed to mingle in a single gelatinous substance, adds:

That good anchorite, who boasted of having been as far as the end of the world, said likewise, that he had been obliged to stoop low, on account of the joining of the sky and earth in that distant region.

Le Vayer does not specify who this "anchorite" was, nor does he provide further details about the story or its sources. Le Vayer's comment was expanded upon by Pierre Estève in his Histoire generale et particuliere de l'astronomie ("General and Particular History of Astronomy," 1755), where he interprets Le Vayer's statement (without attribution) as a claim that Pytheas "had arrived at a corner of the sky, and was obliged to stoop down in order not to touch it."

The combination of the story of St. Macarius with Le Vayer's remarks seems to be due to Flammarion himself. It also appears in his Les terres du ciel ("The Lands of the Sky"):

With respect to the bounds (of the Earth)... some monks of the tenth century of our era, bolder than the rest, say that, in making a voyage in search of the terrestrial paradise, they had found the point where the heaven and earth touch, and had even been obliged to lower their shoulders!

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