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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/211

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FABULOUS ASTRONOMY.

rang bells during storms[1] and eclipses to counteract the action of bad spirits, to repel, with, the priest's blessing, the darkness caused by phantoms—a survival, according to P. Lafitan, of the dark genii that devoured the moon.

The earliest observers of the stars had no suspicion of their true nature, or of the considerable distances that separate them from us. If they did not think them within reach of their hands, they supposed that they were, at least, almost in a literal sense, accessible to the voice. Homer says that the highest pines of Mount Ida passed beyond the limits of the atmosphere and penetrated into the ethereal region through which the clangor of the arms of his heroes reached to the sky. This sky was a solid hemisphere, a bell resting upon the earth, or, according to Euripides, a cover set over the work of the sublime artisan. The Hebrew psalmist, of the eleventh century before our era, said to the Lord, "Thou stretchest out the heavens as a pavilion." The stars of Anaximenes were fixed in this vault like nails. The celestial bell covered a flat earth which was surrounded by water on every side. Every people imagined itself in the center of it, and China is still "The Middle Empire." The Incas exhibited this center in their sanctuary of Cuzco, the name of which signified navel, as the Greeks also saw it in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, which was also called the navel (ὀμφαλός) of the world, and was celebrated by Pindar under that name. The Chinese located the navel of the earth in the city of Khotân. The conception of the earth as flat and like a cake prevailed in European civilization till the Crusades, and the lazzaroni of Naples have it still.

The Hawaiians, Maoris, and Eskimos supposed that the whole sky was supported by a pillar, as the ancients fancied it upheld by Atlas. The Iroquois thought it was fluid.

The Polynesians explained the revolutions of the sun by supposing that the great god Meni held it by a cord.

The shepherd of Sapta Sindhon regarded the stars as fires kindled by Agni (the elementary fire), or by Varuna (the celestial vault). A hymn which he addressed to the gods mentions the moon with icy rays to signalize its powerlessness against the divine fires of heaven. (It is to be remarked that the moon is often spoken of as a frozen place—probably in reference to the difference in temperature between day and night.)

The milky way, which was Winter's path to the Scandinavians, was the road of souls for some of the American nations; the souls entered the world by the door situated where it intersects the zodiac in Gemini, and quit it to return to the gods by the door of Sagittarius. French peasants still call it St. James's road; mythology attributed it to the milk that dropped from Juno's breast

  1. This practice was kept up till the last century.