Medieval Reason for Seasons Changing

What would someone with an Artes Liberales score of 5 in Mythic Europe attribute the change of seasons to? I understand that the Ancients had figured out the earth's axial tilt, but did they put two and two together to attribute the change of seasons to that tilt? I've spent 20 minutes on Google and couldn't find anything definitive. Any assistance is appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

Well, see, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, and before she was freed she ate a few lousy pomegranate seeds...

Hmmm... good question.

Found some references to books "for sale" that had promise, but nothing concrete on the web. Sorry - try not to post when I have nothing to add, just posting to let you know I tried.

Yes, the Magic Lore 5 or Faerie Lore 5 reasons are easier to find . . .

I'm pretty sure that the Dragamaticon of William of Conches has an explanation for this, but I'm afraid my copy is about 5 miles away at the moment. I'll have a look when I get home.
I do recall that the seasons are a result of the changes in the elements: in Winter, water is dominant, but as the cold relents, Spring is dominated by air. As the climate drys, fire takes control of the Summer, but then the dryness brings coolness leading to earthly Autumn. Finally, as the rain and snow bring moisture, Winter takes hold again. So the change of seasons can be seen as changes between (cold,wet) -> (hot,wet) -> (hot,dry) -> (cold,dry) -> &c.

However, your question I believe was to why this happens. I suspect the answer is simply "Because God made it that way". The constant interplay and changing of elemental dominance is a natural part of the universe (wet things dry, by drying they get cold, cold things attract moisture, moisture breeds warmth).

Hope this helps,


"Put 2&2 together" at least some did, wether this was generally known by someone with enough knowledge in the area... uncertain.

How someone would explain it? Circle of life. Birth, bloom, decay, death and repeat.

Well, Artes Liberales 5 might just be enough to know that the Earth is round (the Ancients had figured it out, but in the Middle Ages most people had never heard of the theory and believed, if they thought about it at all, that it was flat). When you get right to it, Artes Liberales 5 is the mark of a scholar, but not an extraordinary one: really obscure theories like gasp the reasons for seasons are probably out of his grasp, and there is a difference between having read of a theory and figuring out that it is probably true.

Not quite true.

Check out for a short summary. You might want to look at Art & Academe too.

OK, I now have an answer from William of Conches (a 12th century writer; this is from A Dialogue on Natural Philosophy, a.k.a. Dragmaticon Philosophiae). I hope I can summarise correctly:

There are a number of ways to think about the seasons, and there is no consensus over the cause. What is evident is that the sun (and the other planets) appears to travel from west to east over the course of the year, and daily from east to west as it rotates around the earth. In other words, throughout the year, the sun appears to travel from Aries to Taurus to Gemini, etc., which is a movement towards the east. (Note that the other planets are also observed to make the same procession).

Those loyal to the Peripatetic explanation claim that the sun only appears to travel towards zodiacal signs in the east; but in actual fact the signs were moving towards the sun. For example, if the sun rose today in the first part of Aries, the firmament and the sun go around the earth in a circle the whole day and the following night, but because the firmament is faster than the sun, the first part of Aries, which rose today with the sun, will rise tomorrow before the sun. It therefore appears that the sun has moved into a more eastern part of Aries

William of Conches prefers an explanation he claims is more in line with Plato. He says that the sun really is moving from west to east over the course of the year. This is contrary to the movement of the firmament (the sphere of stars) which shifts from east to west daily. If the planets and the stars were both to move in the same direction, "so great would be the impact on the earth that nothing would be able to stand or live upon it." The daily motion of the sun around the earth is due to the turning of the firmament which draws the sun and the other planets with it.

In either model, the sun and the other planets do not move in a straight line from west to east, but obliquely (i.e. not at right angles to the horizon, or parallel with it). When asked in the dialogue why the sun has this oblique movement, William of Conches answers "so that it could provide us with the four seasonal varieties of the year". So, not so much an explanation of the seasons, but rather an explanation as to how God caused the seasons to occur. Winter begins when the sun enters Capricorn; because then it is most distant from our habitable zone on the sphere of the earth, we are frozen with cold. When the sun reaches Cancer it is closest to us, and its heat and dryness scorches the earth. In spring and autumn the sun is neither too close nor too far, so the seasons are tempered.

Interestingly, William also provides two possible explanations as to why seasons are not identical every year, but vary in weather. Some philosophers claim that the other planets produce their own summers and winters. so if the winter of another planet occurs during the summer of the sun, our summer is less hot and dry, but if the summers occur at the same time, the summer of the sun is even hotter and drier. Others contend that it is the innate qualities of the planets that cause the variation; so if a hot and dry planet is with the sun during our winter, then the winter is mild.

I can only apologise for a lengthy explanation to a simple question! I hope this helps.


While I've got the book out, I might as well go into this one as well:

"Some people, like animals trusting their feelings ahead of their reason, have said the earth is flat: for wherever they move, they do not sense its roundness. I will set myself to destroy their opinion with probable arguments." (Dragmaticon Book VI, 2.2)

So it is clear that some people did believe the earth was flat, else William of Conches wouldn't have felt the need to stipulate this. However, it is true that no-one with any sort of education would deny the roundness of the earth; in fact, it was probably heretical to do so.
For those that are interested, William of Conches arguments are:

  1. if the earth were flat, rainwater falling onto its surface would not run off, but collect in one place to form a lake
  2. if the earth were flat, a city in the east would have short mornings (sunrise to noon) and long afternoons (noon to sunset), and vice versa for a city in the west. Since all places everywhere experience the sun's zenith at the exact middle of the day (even though the day length might vary), the earth must be round.
  3. the stars that appear at one latitude do not appear at another; for example, Canopus is visible in Egypt, but not in France. This would never happen if the earth were flat.
  4. the earth's natural motion is towards the centre. If the earth at the centre of the universe were flat, then a stone dropped anywhere on its surface (other than at the very centre of the earth) would not fall towards the centre. That is contrary to its nature. The only shape where everything falls towards the centre is a sphere, thus the earth must be a sphere.
  5. the authority of the Bible states that the earth is immovable and at the centre of all things.


This is perfect. Once I'm done writing what I am writing, I'll send you a copy. You'll see it was a lot of work for three sentences in the product, but I really appreciate it.


Oh that one was new to me, an interesting variant.

Yeah, but they were probably a small minority. Or possibly even exceptions to the norm.
Its also possible those who argued the flat earth(and were heard enough for Williams likes to take notice(which i somewhat doubt he would if it was just "uneducated lowlife" saying it)) were doing so on a philosophical basis, as is known to have been common in China at very roughly similar times. That would also explain his phrasing "some people..." etc, he clearly has "views" on it, and someone seems to be irritating him about it.

I'm sure this is the case. William of Conches is very scathing in his Dialogue; he refers to his peers as "drink-addled philosopers" and "woeful ignoramuses". He's quite an entertaining read :slight_smile:
I would be surprised if the flat earth was being presented as a philosophical argument for debate, however. This Sophist method - much beloved by House Tytalus - is very much out of fashion in the Medieval period. I suspect he is railing at the stupidity of the nobility. The Dialogue is framed as a discussion on philosophy between "A Philosopher" and "A Duke", the latter being educated yet ignorant. On many occasions he has the Duke as a question purely so he can have a rant about the answer.


It also happens that the planets sometimes reverse direction to the west ("retrograde motion"), although these periods are shorter and the overall motion is to the east. This should have been a big clue in favor of the heliocentric model of the solar system, but people kept proposing more and more ornate explanations for it ("epicycles").

No they did not. This is a common misperception, but simply isn't true. Anyone who lived near a shore is exposed to constant omnipresent evidence that the earth is round. You can see the masts of ships rise over the horizon before seeing the rest of the ship. And I myself have first hand experience with the omnipresent visual evidence. I live two blocks from Lake Michigan. Looking out at the lake, I can clearly see the curve of the earth. Looking from left to right, I see the horizon line curve up, peak wherever the center of my PoV is, then dip down. It is just plainly obvious.

Yup, its sad how such a myth can become such a "everyone knows that back then everybody was stupid enough to think...".

I recently read that the Columbus setting out to show the world was round was actually 18th Century new world propeganda to show how backwards the old world was and the truth was that by the time Columbus set out, navigation already intrinsically relied upon the knowledge of the curvature of the earth.

I'll see if I can dig out a quote from Pollard (British Historian)


The main reason Columbus had trouble convincing people to support his voyage was because he was using blatantly wrong calculations on how large the earth was, including "interpreting" one unit of measurement as if it was a shorter one... All in all, he tried to convince sponsors that Japan was somewhere halfway across the Atlantic, with China not much further away, and India around the actual Americas.
But for Irving, his hero couldnt be either a navigational failure or a scam artist, so the flat earth discussion was invented. Probably inspired by some earlier defamation campaigns between catholics and protestants a century or two before.