Internet Shakespeare Editions


A universe with Earth in the centre

From Aristotle Libri de caelo (1519). By permission of Duke University Library.

In the centre are the four elements: earth, water, air, fire. Above are the seven planets; on the left of each is its sign, and further to the left the note it plays on the scale. On the right is the time each planet takes to circle the earth.

There was extensive debate about the number and function of the spheres that were above the planets; according to this particular scheme there were four: the firmament, or sphere of fixed stars (each with its sign in the circle), the cristalline sphere (which accounted for the phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes, and which rotated once every 49,000 years), the primum mobile, or first mover (which rotated once every 24 hours) and the empyrean, or heavenly sphere.


  1. Seven ages--seven spheres

    Timothy Bright, in A Treatise of Melancholie (1586) writes:

    The seven ages of man [resemble] the seven planets, whereof our infancy is compared to the Moon, in which we seem only to live and grow, as plants; the second age to Mercury, wherein we are taught and instructed; our third age to Venus, the days of love, desire and vanity; the fourth to the Sun, the strong, flourishing and beautiful age of man's life; the fifth to Mars, in which we seek honour and victory, and in which our thoughts travel to ambitious ends; the sixth age is ascribed to Jupiter, in which we begin to take account of our times, judge of ourselves and grow to the perfection of our understanding; the last, and seventh, to Saturn, wherein our days are sad and overcast, and in which we find, by dear and lamentable experience and by the loss which can never be repaired, that of all our vain passions and affections past the sorrow only abides.

  2. The illustration

    Next come the seven "planets" (the sun and moon were included), each with its astrological sign and a list of its major qualities. The following pages provide more information about the spheres and their qualities.

    Then comes the sphere of the fixed stars where the twelve astrological signs are arranged around the circle, and the final spheres, explained on a separate page.