The Heliocentric System Inside the Tholos

(Click on the images to see them larger)

Inside the Tholos, the Sun dominated the floor, the mural and the ceiling, with different expressions of its diverse activity.

a. Mural

The first thing a visitor would see, were he allowed to enter the Monument, would undoubtedly be the superb mural painted by Pausias.

The Lyre, the bow and the arrows are the three predominant symbols of the Helios (Sun)/Apollo and through them an allegory is made of the union of the Sun's physical body with Apollo's spiritual entity. It is in the hands of Eros, not Apollo, that the seven-string Lyre harmonized through "Love" the seven orbits of the planets which are depicted on the floor of the Tholos (and which will be interpreted later on).

The bow and arrows depicted on the wall-painting are the shooting (bow) of the rays (arrows) of the Sun during its daily course across the sky. It is the bow that is outlined on the celestial vault every day. After its departure, darkness covers the earth.

"and thou art the begetter of dawn from the right-hand-side,
and of night from the left-hand-side".
Orphic Hymn to the Sun, verse 4

The Sun gives vitality to the planetary family by providing light and heat, as Apollo transforms the Sun's light into knowledge and heat into "love". The Sun is eternal light and heat in the physical universe; Apollo is knowledge and "love" in the spiritual sphere of beings.

b. Heliocentric Astronomical Model on the Floor Design

It is fortunate that the floor of the Tholos has survived to this day and hangs at the Museum of Epidaurus (Drawing ). This decorative pattern is not an expression of an artist's imagination, as was believed until recently. It is a precise representation of the Heliocentric System.

Forty years before the birth of Aristarchus of Samos who was the first to observe that the earth rotated round the sun, the helio-centric system had already been depicted in full and in detail on the floor of the tholos. The construction of the tholos began in 360 b.c. Aristarchus of Samos was born in 320 b.c.

However, before the Tholos was built, it was the Pythagoreans who had first said that the "Sun is in the middle and the earth is one of the stars (planets) revolving round the Sun having day and night".

In order that any representation, design, idea or concept may be recognized, it must have previously been recorded in the observer's or thinker's memory (Plato, Theaitetos, 192). But even though it may pre-exist, an analytical approach and a new synthesis are often required to enable us to establish similarities or differences, if any, between the model and the image through the "specific distinction" (Plato, Theaitetos, 208E). Only by drawing comparisons can the observer or thinker evaluate the object of his observation. Only then will he have objective knowledge which will enable him to either reject it (because from the comparison drawn no similarities were established) or accept it if the similarities were more substantial than the differences.

The two drawings that follow, the original astronomical drawing and its copy, i.e. the top elevation or ground plan of the floor of the Tholos, will be subject to comparison to establish similarities and differences in the two drawings. From that objective comparison it will be determined whether or not they are related.

a. The Heliocentric System as we know it at present

Heliocentric System
(planets are not shown in scale)

b. The floor of the Tholos,

The Heliocentric System on the floor of the Tholos

c. "Specific Distinction"


a) The Sun is at the centre of both drawings. On the Tholos it is represented by the white, round stone. Whiteness, i.e. brightness, is the Sun's principal feature.

b) The orbits of the planets are not circular. The elliptical shape of the orbits of the Planetary System appears rhomboid on the floor of the Tholos, because the rhomboid shape is the factor which defines an elliptical orbit.

c) The two "inner planets", as Mercury and Venus have come to be known, are depicted in the same way, quite differently from the other four planets (Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). In his Epinomis, Plato mentions all the names of the planets, as well as the relationship between Mercury and Venus.

The different depiction of Mercury and Venus shows that the hierophants who gave instructions for the construction of the Tholos may have known about the particularity of their movement, as this appears to an observer on Earth.

This is so because, observed from the Earth, the apparent course of Mercury describes an arc of 28o, whilst that of Venus an arc of 48o, each arc being equidistant from the sun on either side. Attention is drawn to that difference by the inner stripes of the two planets which are different to the stripes of the other four courses. Moreover, they are not rhomboid in shape. Astronomically, their orbits also revolve round the Sun, as is shown in both designs, the astronomical model and the one depicted on the floor of the Tholos.

d) Six orbits are represented in the model astronomical design up to planet Saturn and up to that part of the floor of the Tholos occupied by the sekos, because the Sun remains in its place as the 7th celestial body.

The allegory of Apollo's seven-string Lyre, which harmonizes the seven celestial planetary bodies, makes an allusion to either the apparent course of the Sun or the orbit of Earth's satellite - the Moon. In the Orphic Hymn to the Stars the orbits of the seven planets are described in verse 8 "wearing seven belts".

In his "Republic"(616c-617c), Plato describes the heavens with the stars and planetary system (the myth of the rotation of celestial bodies round the Spindle of Necessity). In "Timaeus" (36c), he describes the creation of the world in accordance with the two cycles: "this one" and the "other" - the stars and the obits of the planets.

The construction of the Tholos coincided (360 B.C.) with the writing of "Timaeus", whereas "The Republic" is an earlier work (between 380 and 370 B.C.).

The inclusion of the names of the planets on the design of the Tholos was based on the very ancient Orphic Hymns, which make reference to the positions of Moon, Earth and Mars (full analysis in the book entitled "Words Unspoken").

The study made by astronomer Constantine Hasapis on the planetary system and the Orphic Hymns broadens the spiritual horizon and makes the reader conscious of how far back into the past Orphic knowledge on astronomy goes ("Ta Orphica", J. Passas, ed. Ilios).


1. On the floor of the Tholos, the Moon is not near the Earth, although it is its satellite, as shown on the drawing of the model. It is located after the last orbit, the orbit of Saturn, and its presence shown by the 14 Corinthian columns completes the planetary system. The sekos underlines the boundaries of the Heliocentric System, isolating the family of planets.

2. In the Heliocentric Design, the three more recently-discovered planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, follow after Saturn. These do not appear in the representation inside the Tholos because the ancient world knew only the seven planets which could be seen with the naked eye. It is only natural, therefore, that they should not appear on the floor of the Tholos, although they were known to the Pythagoreans.

3. The peristyle having 26 Doric columns is on the floor of the Tholos, beyond the wall of the sekos and outside the Monument. As mentioned earlier, that symbolic number relates to the Precession of the Equinoxes or to the Great Year. But now the visitor realizes that it is not the Sun that marks the constellations in its apparent course round a stationery Earth but the pole of the Earth, which, by rotating in reverse, forms the great cycle, i.e. the Great Year of the Precession of the Equinoxes.

The Precession is not shown in the model astronomical design. The objective knowledge of the true course of celestial bodies was outlined on the floor of the Tholos, and one day it will change and transform Man's conscious being.

by ALTANI, Researcher

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