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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/208

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

FABULOUS ASTRONOMY.[1]
By Prof. J. C. HOUZEAU.

THE darkness of the night exercised a sort of terror upon the minds of our ancestors. Just as material existence was supposed to succeed to nothing, and to be followed by it, day succeeds night, and this, they said, is the origin of time, as the winter is of the year. The Ostiaks of the Yenisei count their years by the snows, as also, or by winters, did the Iroquois of North America. The Numidians, Caesar's Gauls, and the Germans of Tacitus, estimated daily periods by the nights. The night had a considerable importance in the North; and the Scandinavians had the most coherent and most poetical ideas of it. Day was the son of Night. The latter went first, a passage in the Edda says, mounted on her horse Rinfax, of the icy mane. Every morning, at the conclusion of his race, the courser watered the earth with the foam that fell from his bridle; this was the dew. Day followed, mounted on Sinfax, of the glowing mane, which lightened up the air and the earth. These people also believed that the longest night, that of the winter solstice, begat all the others, and that the world was created on such a night. Therefore night was called mother. Midwinter-night, or Yule, was the great annual festival, and marked the beginning of the new year. The Chaldeans said that the world began at the autumnal equinox, when the night became longer than the day. The French courts in the seventeenth century still ordered clients to appear within fourteen nights. The English fortnight is a contraction of this term.

The ancient Peruvians said that the moon was dead during the three days that it is invisible. The Khasias, of northeastern India, thought that the sun burned it up. Some savage tribes believe that the lunation is a quarrel between the sun and moon as husband and wife, identically repeated in every month. The increasing moon represents its gaining the ascendency the decrease its yielding, till at last the sun swallows it and spits its head out in the sky. The ancient Slavs imagined that the moon was condemned to wander, for infidelity with the morning star. The Dakota Indians fancied that the declining moon was eaten by mice; the Polynesians, by spirits of the dead. The Hottentots said that, suffering from headache, it covered its face with its hand; the Eskimos, that, becoming tired and hungry, it retired to rest and eat, after which it recuperated very fast.

There is probably no country where some kind of a picture has not been made out of the visible spots on the moon. Two types

  1. From the "Bibliographie générale de l'Astronomie," by MM. Houzeau and Lancaster.