Experience of the New World and Aristotelian Revisions of the Earth’s Climates during the Renaissance


  • Craig Martin Oakland University


It is widely perceived that the discovery of the New World contributed to the eventual downfall of Aristotelian natural philosophy. This discovery demonstrated the unsound nature of Aristotle’s view that there exists an uninhabitable “torrid zone” in the area between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. It has been argued, among contemporary historians of science, that travels through this region of the earth created doubt in Aristotle’s authority and thus led people away from the sterile and bookish natural philosophy taught by scholastics. In fact, during the first decades of the sixteenth century, commentators on Aristotle, such as Pietro Pomponazzi and Agostino Nifo, were informed, through sailors’ reports, of travels in southern regions and, as a result, questioned the existence of a torrid zone. Renaissance Aristotelianism was flexible and capable of integrating new experiences into a larger theoretical framework; experiential evidence that the “torrid zones” did not exist was utilized by a number of scholars who taught Aristotelian natural philosophy in the years after Columbus’ first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.