Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/210

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The Caribs, and the Hurons as well, made a great din, upon drums and kettles, and by rattling loose pebbles in gourds, to frighten away the terrible demon Maboya, the author of frightful apparitions, pestilence, thunder, and storms, who was trying to eat up the moon. The French author Dutestre describes the Caribs, young and old, women and men, as dancing all night long, with their feet close together, one hand on their heads and the other on their hips, not singing but shouting lugubriously. Once beginning to dance, every one had to keep it up till daylight, without stopping for anything whatever. At the same time a girl would be shaking a gourd rattle and trying to keep her voice in tune with the din. While Eskimos were applying somewhat similar remedies, their women bored the ears of the dogs in the faith that, if the animals cried out, the end of the world was not yet at hand; for these animals are supposed to have existed before men, and to have a better presentiment of the future. The practice of those tribes which shoot arrows at the jaguar or shark, or whatever animal they may suppose to be eating the moon, is matched by the example of Alfonso VI, of Portugal, in 1664, who, learning that a comet was in sight, went out to look at it, scolded it, and fired pistol-shots at it.

While the story of the dragon which causes eclipses by devouring the sun or the moon is still current among the populace in Siam and China, the educated classes in those countries have mastered enough of the science of the phenomena to be able to calculate them. But in China the court and imperial authorities throughout keep up in form the primitive traditions. Under these traditions an eclipse of the sun was a warning to the emperor to look into his faults and amend them. The coming phenomenon having been pre-announced by the official astronomer,[1] notice of it was given throughout the country and the court made preparation for it by fasting and retreat. The appointed day was one of anxious waiting. The instant the star was touched, or when it began, according to the Chinese expression, to be eaten, the emperor himself gave the alarm by beating the prodigy-roll on the thunder-drum. The mandarins, who had come with their bows and arrows to succor the suffering star, shot into the air uninterruptedly. The Chinese illuminati know that these are only forms, but superstition still rules among the people, who throw themselves upon their knees at the beginning of the eclipse, and make a great noise with drums and gongs, to deliver the star from the devouring dragon. The Greek and Latin authors relate that a great noise was made during eclipses. The early Christians

  1. The astronomers He and Hi were condemned to death for having failed to predict, according to the requirements of the law, the eclipse of the sun that occurred in the reign of Tchong Kang, 2155 B.C.