This term was used to designate either the opposite sides of the earth or the people who dwelt there. The problem of whether there were people living on the opposite sides of the earth was of great interest to ancient and medieval scientists, philosophers, and theologians. While the question was mainly a geographical one, and the Fathers of the Church considered it open as regards the faith, St. Augustine questioned whether such inhabitants, if they existed, would be descendants of Adam. He concluded they would not be. This gave a theological cast to the problem and led to a situation frequently cited by the enemies of the Church as a conflict between the Church and science.
Following the Augustinian line of thought, Pope Zachary on May 1, 748, asked St. Boniface to inquire about Virgilius (or Fergal), who perhaps believed in another world and other men existing beneath the earth, or in another sun and moon there, and to excommunicate him if he held these "perverse" tenets (Patrologia Latina 89:946). Virgilius was an Irish monk who had become abbot of St. Peter's in Salzburg and who for many years (746–784) administered that episcopal see, though he was not consecrated bishop until 767. He was also a geographer and, as Lowe has proved, he wrote (under the pseudonym of Ethicus Istes) a Cosmographia (Clavis Patrum; no. 2548), a mixture of ancient geographical doctrines and curious stories. He did not mention the antipodes in this book, but perhaps in another he had quoted or commented on martianus capella.
The outcome of this case is not known, but surely Virgilius was not condemned since he remained abbot-bishop of Salzburg (see virgilius, [fergal feirgil] of salzburg, st). Because of the subsequent furor, it is important to emphasize that the pope did not pass canonical sentence. Further, the pope was interested in the question from a theological point of view and, following Augustine, objected to the antipodes on account of the unity of mankind. Once writers began postulating the ability of reaching the antipodes by navigation, the theological aspect of the problem disappeared.
By the 13th century writers were beginning to see the antipodes as a scientific question, and many argued that it could be settled only by experiment—that all that transpired before experimental verifications was pure speculation and no more. There is a possibility that Christopher Columbus had read peter of ailly's Imago Mundi before his voyage and was influenced by its insistence on experimental inquiry.
The conflict with Virgilius and the letter of Pope Zachary were used by Kepler and Descartes against the theologians who did not accept the Copernician system, while the Encyclopedists employed the incident to attack the Church and the papacy. These objections were answered by the Jesuits in the Mémoires de Trévoux (1708).
Bibliography: f. s. betten, St. Boniface and St. Virgil (Washington 1927). g. boffito, "Cosmografia primitiva: Classica e patristica," Pontifica accademia delle scienze: Memorie 19 (1901) 301–353; 20 (1902) 113–146. p. delhaye, "La Théorie des antipodes et ses incidences théologiques," in Le Microcosmus de Godefroy de St-Victor: Étude théologique, ed. p. delhaye (Lille 1951). h. lÖwe, Ein literarischer Widersacher des Bonifatius: Virgil Von Salsburg und die Kosmographie des Aethicus Ister (Wiesbaden 1952). g. marinelli, "La Geografia ed i Padri della Chiesa," Scritti minori (Florence 1908) 1:281–381. j. o. thomson, History of Ancient Geography (Cambridge, Eng. 1948).
antipodes (in geography)
antipodes [Gr.,=having feet opposite], people or places diametrically opposite on the globe. Thus antipodes must be separated by half the circumference of the earth (180°), and one must be as far north as the other is south of the equator; midnight at one is noonday at the other. For example, New Amsterdam and St. Paul, small islands nearly midway between S Africa and Australia, are more nearly antipodal to Washington, D.C., than is any other land.
Antipodes (islands, New Zealand)
Antipodes (ăntĬp´ədēz), rocky uninhabited islands, 24 sq mi (62 sq km), South Pacific, c.550 mi (885 km) SE of New Zealand, to which they belong. Explored by British seamen in 1800, the Antipodes are so named because they are diametrically opposite Greenwich, England.