By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Was Or Wasn't Rome The Center Of The World?

February 19 (today) happens to be the birthday of the famous Polish astronomer-mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 - 1543 AD) of the Renaissance era.  I remember this obscure fact well because 40 years ago, on the 500th anniversary of his birth, I had written an amusing article in the Times of India about his sensational discovery that it was the earth which was going round the sun, and not the other way round.

Perhaps today's intelligent young readers, unless they are strong in 2oth-century world history, may miss the intricate logic of this scenario.  But I think it will be obvious to the old-timers that what I had meant by Rome, the sestertius, and the era of Supernicus were actually America, the U.S. dollar, and the era of the Second-World and Vietnam Wars!  

The Times Of India
Bombay & New Delhi
22 April 1973
The Era of Supernicus

The National Museum in New Delhi deserves to be congratulated for organizing a splendid exhibition on the life and philosophy of Nicolus Supernicus, the Roman Emperor with revolutionary ideas.

As is well known, Supernicus had ushered in a new era by proving that Rome was not the centre of the world.

The intriguing idea had occurred to him when he was a very young boy;  but when he told his tutor about it, the latter warned him to be careful and not to mention it to another soul.

"Do not tell the Emperor in particular!"  the tutor said. "His Majesty may disown you as his son, assuming that he will not feed you to the lions."

Young Ni'colus took the advice seriously, and didn't mention the idea to anyone for a long time.  But when he succeeded his father as Emperor, he thought the time had come to speak out.

On the very day of his coronation, Nicolus Supernicus shocked the Senate by declaring that Rome was not the center of the world. 

The Senators cried that this was heresy, and demanded that the Emperor should withdraw his assertion forthwith.

"What proof have you that Rome is the center of the world?"  Supernicus asked them.

"Your Majesty,"  said a venerable Senator.  "The sun rises in India before it rises in Rome.  It sets in Rome before it sets in Anglia.  Therefore it is clear that Rome is the center of the world!"

 "But consider the following proposition,"  Supernicus said.  "The sun rises in Rome before it rises again in India, and it sets in Anglia before it sets again in Rome.  How could that be so if Rome were the center of the world?" 

This caused some confusion in the Senators' minds, and they consulted one another.  Finally one of them spoke up.

"Your Majesty,"  he said.  "The ships which come from India call at Rome and sail on to Espagna.  And the ships which come from Espagna call at Rome and sail on to India.  Therefore it follows that Rome is the center of the world."

"True!"  Supernicus replied.  "But do consider this also:  the ships which sail from Rome to Alexandria sail on either to India or to Espagna.  How could that be so if Rome were the center of the world?"

This answer caused still more confusion among the Senators, who asked for an adjournment of the discussion.  When they assembled again before the Emperor, one of them spoke up: 

"Your Majesty,"  he said.  "When there was war in Yuropia, Rome sent her legions there to fight for peace.  And when there was unrest iu Asia, Rome sent her soldiers there also to fight for peace.  Therefore it follows that Rome is the center of the world!  Can Your Majesty  prove otherwise?" 

Now it was he Emperor's turn to get confused, and he asked for an hour's time to think it over.  When they assembled again before him, he had no logical answer.

The angry Senators at once declared him deposed, and elected the seniormost Senator, Marcus Quostatus, as Emperor.  Supernicus was sentenced to life imprisonment, and he languished in a catacomb.

After a decade, however, a Roman sailor by name of Cristus Columbus lost his way in the Western Ocean, and discovered a new territory where the sun rose after it rose in Rome, but set before it set in India.

A few years later, a great Roman engineer called Deus Lessepus dug a canal there which connected the two Western Oceans, and Westbound ships from Rome began to sail on to India. 

Since all this seemed to support the theory of Nicolus Supernicus, Emperor Quostatus summoned his predecessor to the Senate and made him an offer.

"Your twin propositions stand proved now."  he told Supernicus.  "And therefore we are inclined to reconsider our views.  However, have you anything to say now about the third proposition advanced by the Senate at the time of your coronation?  If you can satisfy us on that score as well, we shall restore you to your original status as Emperor."

"I am grateful to Your Majesty,"  Nicolus Supernicus said.  I have thought about nothing else all these years, and I think I have a convincing answer now."

"What is it?" 

"Your Majesty, when peace was restored in Yuropia and a common market was established there, Rome had no place in it, and the sestertius lost its value.  And when peace was sought in Asia, it was Rome which sent its envoy to the Orient, and not vice versa.  How could that be true if Rome were the center of the world?" 

Marcus Quostatus considered the answer earnestly, and then stepped down from the throne. 

"Your Imperial Majesty's theory stands proved,"  he declared, with humility,  "And I beg for mercy!"

Rome was never the same again, for the era of Supernicus had been ushered in. 

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