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  • When the Earth Was Round
  • José J. Veiga (bio)
    Translated by Rahul Berys

It's hard to believe this part of the Earth was once round, but all the indicators are there, with more coming to light every day. It's true that not everyone can see them, that it requires an almost maniacal curiosity and a real nose for all this, like that possessed by the men who, so legend has it, once devoted their whole lives to digging up old ruins and putting pieces of ancient objects and utensils together, in an attempt to deduce what human life must have been like in long-forgotten times. Those possessing both nose and curiosity need only to take a look around for any lingering doubts to be quickly dispelled. What we know at the moment is very little, but it's more than enough to conclude with relative certainty that our part of the Earth didn't always look the way it does now—that is to say, flat.

This initial premise opens up an immense space for speculation. The first question that occurs: what could life have been like back then? Clearly, it must have been quite different from how it is today.

Different how, though? Here things start to get complicated. In the absence of any definite facts, we are faced with a situation in which the most absurd opinions are put forward as verified truths, something that only serves to discredit those learned few who dedicate themselves to the matter in earnest, doing grueling and exacting work, like blind men feeling their way along in a thick fog. In the midst of all this—at times, grotesque—confusion, some people question whether it's worth wasting time on onerous investigations that may lead nowhere other than perhaps to insanity, when the great problem of the day is how to live on this flat Earth, which will never be round again—that is, if indeed it ever was.

The argument is sensible and, therefore, strong. Is it really of any interest to know how people lived on a supposedly round Earth, if Blancandrin is irretrievably dead, and noble Roland too, if valiant Gumercindos1 dead body was exhumed and quartered, if Jocelyn2 was robbed of laughter and then of his life, and if all the other noble knights vanished into the mists of strange lands? Surely it's more useful to concern ourselves with life on this immense plain, which will continue being flat when there is no longer anyone around to tread upon and abuse it, much less to make ostentatious plans to restore the rounded form it may have had in the distant past? [End Page 190]

Perhaps. Yet, be it only as a simple pastime or as a form of mental exercise, it's still worthwhile to ponder the advantages and disadvantages of life on a round Earth. It might also be the starting point for a new branch of science.

One of the most serious and gifted investigators to have emerged in this new field was Dr. Emílio Sorensen de Moura, who, sadly, disappeared at the end of 1978 during an expedition to Alto Xingu. For years, Dr. Sorensen had been gathering evidence of the Earth's roundness for a book he was planning to publish, to which he made reference at a conference of the Geographical and Historical Institute.

All the work once thought to be lost with Dr. Sorensen's passing has now been collected and published in book form with drawings by Dr. Margarette de Moura, Sorensen's widow (The Case for Roundness by Emílio S. de Moura; Mount Kisco, NY: National Geodetic Society, 1982). In spite of the apparent absurdity of some conclusions the author draws from his discoveries while traveling across practically the entire country, the book contains plenty of food for thought. Setting aside the obvious conclusions—for example, that people had more freedom on a round Earth, at least as far as their movement was concerned, simply because curvature made it less easy to be vigilant—there are additional ramifications, which leave the reader alternately alarmed, fascinated, envious, and thrilled.

It's fascinating, for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-943x
Print ISSN
1045-7909
Pages
pp. 190-195
Launched on MUSE
2019-02-07
Open Access
No
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