Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/849

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nomena had made known, among other things, the cycle of eighteen years, eleven days, in which the lunar eclipses repeat themselves in the same order, and in which there occurs also the possibility of the solar eclipses succeeding each other in nearly the same order. The prediction of eclipses, based upon a knowledge of these periods, and of phenomena which had no such regularity of occurrence as the fundamental chronological ones, and which seemed as frightful disturbances among the heavenly bodies, naturally produced a deep impression, which, in many cases, has been pictured to us, and therefore rendered the knowledge of the stars a peculiarly prophetic wisdom in the eyes of the people. Hence it followed that the development of the solar calendar and its connection with the position of the sun, relative to certain fixed stars and constellations, necessarily produced the conception of a particular influence of the stars upon the destinies of men.

The first appearance of a star in the morning twilight was considered as an indication of important earthly events, of wind and weather, of moisture and dryness, growth and harvest, and its simple position was held, in the popular belief, to be capable of exerting a great variety of influences.

Moreover, the advance made in the knowledge of the stars had also led to more careful investigation of the movements of those five bright stars which, like the sun and moon, changed their position in the heavens, two of them seeming, like companions, to connect themselves with the sun; so that these five planets which, on account of their movements among the stars, seemed nearer the earth than the stellar world, soon came to receive a share of the deification of the sun and moon.

They formed with the latter the sacred number of the seven heavenly powers. This number "seven" is supposed to have led to the division of the interval between two successive changes of the moon, forming the week of seven days. It was hence perfectly natural that the mythical names which the planets soon came to bear, and their positions in the heavens relative to one another and to important fixed stars specified in the calendar, should be regarded as pregnant with meaning, and especially so when the peculiar character of the planet itself, as illustrated in Mars by its striking red light, rendered its deification of increased significance.

Thus, the prediction of eclipses and of other celestial phenomena, as the only means of forecasting future events which had then been attained, the explanation in the calendar of the rising and setting of the stars and the mythical characterization of the planets, were all the fruit of the strong desire in men to lift the veil of the future and of a deep earnest reverence for the lights of heaven, which pursue their eternal and unchanging courses above all earthly mutability.

Another cause of the power which this mighty system of as-