The Oldest Picture-Book of All
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE oldest picture-book in our possession is the Midnight Sky.
We stand out under the stars on some clear moonless night, and looking upward, though no forms are visible, though it is only here and there that the natural grouping can by the utmost legitimate effort of fancy be made to fit some preconceived shape, yet we still seem to see the whole vast dome covered with mysterious frescoes. There in the north shine the two Bears, the unsleeping guardians of the Pole. Between them winds the Dragon. There stands Cepheus the king, and by his side, in mid-stream of the Milky Way, is seated Cassiopeia, his queen.
The figures overhead and to the south change with the changing hours and seasons, and the December midnight brings us the most glorious show of all. There is Orion ; following him are Sirius and Procyon, his dogs; above are the Bull and Twins; and higher still, Auriga and Perseus join Cassiopeia on the Milky Way. Andromeda, chained to her rock, lies beneath her boastful mother; whilst her enemy, the great Sea Monster, is sinking down below the western horizon. The April nights give the predominance to Arcturus, the most brilliant of the constellation of Boôtes the herdsman, who stands with one hand stretched towards the Crown, the other towards the Greater Bear. Beneath him lies the Virgin, while the Lion is rushing downwards towards the west.
The Scorpion is the lord of the south during the short summer nights, while the Lyre, with its bright blue jewel Vega, claims the zenith ; and between, the two giant heroes, Ophiuchus and Hercules, spread their huge limbs. The September midnight is the time for Pegasus, and then the watery and fish-like constellations have their turn—the Dolphin, the Sea-Goat, Aquarius with his stream and the southern Fish, the twin Fishes, and fair Andromeda's huge marine persecutor.
We seem to see these forms, though no form nor semblance of the form is really there. For from a great antiquity men have looked upwards to the heavens and have pictured thereon, in their own thought, certain forms which we have inherited from them by long tradition; forms which became so real to them that the stars themselves, on which they based them, seem to fade out or to be but as the nails which kept the pictures in position, whilst the forms remained the real objects which filled the heavens.
The old figures and names, therefore, which are associated with the stars and which we now find on star-globes or in star-atlases, make up the oldest picture-book that has come down to us. Not all of these figures, how-ever, are of great age. Many were made at the time of the revival of Astronomy three hundred years ago. But, knowing the history and origin of these, we can efface them, and confine our inquiry to those constellations which have at least a respectable antiquity.
These are usually reckoned as being forty-eight in number, and a complete account of them is preserved to us in a scientific form in the catalogue of Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. 150), and in a literary form in the poem of Aratus (B.c. 260). These two authorities are in substantial but not absolutely complete accord; and it is the constellation forms, preserved to us by Aratus, and old even in his day, which make up "the oldest picture-book of all."
These old constellations, often called the "Greek Sphere," from the nation that has handed them down to us, are well known, and may be found described and catalogued in a hundred books of astronomy; and the questions as to who mapped them out, when, where, how, and why, have had a perennial interest. Much progress has been made towards an answer of late years, through researches into myths and folklore, and through the evidence supplied by the monuments of Egypt and the Euphratean valley. Yet, singularly enough, the evidence on these points offered by the constellations themselves—evidence more exact, trustworthy, and free from ambiguity than any to be derived from myths and monuments—has been strangely neglected.
The first feature which the old constellations present to us is a very striking one. They cover only a portion of the heavens, and a large region, roughly circular, in the southern hemisphere is left entirely vacant. This circumstance early caught the attention of astronomers, after the geographical discoveries of the Portuguese had brought not only new lands and new seas, but new heavens to their knowledge. But those astronomers looked upon this vacant place simply as an opportunity for constellation-making of their own; not at all for inquiring whether that space had any information to give them.
It was not until the nineteenth century had begun to dawn that any one seems to have appreciated the real significance of the neglect of the designers of the old constellations to cover the entire sky, and even then it was left for one obscure writer—whose works are known to but three or four astronomers, his name to even fewer, and of whom the general public is wholly ignorant—to grasp the significance of this empty area in the southern heavens, and to see the consequences which it involved. More remarkable still, when once the solution had been offered, it passed unnoticed for some sixty years, until it drew the attention of the late R. A. Proctor, probably the acutest and clearest popular writer on astronomy that has ever lived. Yet even he, either because it did not attract him or because he was too fully occupied with other matters, by no means fully worked the subject out.
The writer in question was a Swede of the name of Carl G. Schwartz, who appears to have resided at Baku, on the Caspian Sea, at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Schwartz wrote a treatise in Swedish on the origin and meaning of the constellations, which was translated into French and passed through several editions. There were some absurdities in his work, and as these were only likely to enlist the sympathies of inhabitants of Baku and its neighbor-hood, they may account for the neglect with which the more thoughtful part of his book has been treated.
Briefly, Schwartz's position is this. The ancient astronomers left unmapped the stars in the extreme south, because they never saw them. They did not rise above their horizon. From this we learn the latitude in which those forgotten observers lived, since it must be equal to the radius of the unseen area. Here in London, for instance, we are 511/2° north of the Equator, and in consequence a star must be at least 51 1/2° north of the South Pole to rise above our horizon. Allowing for the uncertainties introduced by atmospheric absorption, by refraction, by the differences in brightness in the stars which would just rise above the southern horizon line, and by the probability that at least a few of the stars low down in the south would be neglected by the old astronomers, we can say certainly that they lived not further south than N. lat. 36°, and not further north than N. lat. 42°.
This is in itself an important conclusion, for it enables us at once to set on one side the claims of either Egypt or Babylon to be the original home of the constellations, and—since in both countries the constellations described by Aratus were for the most part known and used—of their claims to be the original home of astronomy as well. So much for the place where the constellations were mapped. The vacant space gives us a not less useful indication of the time. For little by little, owing to the effect of precession, the poles of the heavens have shifted their places with respect to the stars, and the centre of that portion of the southern heavens which lies beneath our horizon to-day is far removed from the centre of that which was beyond the sight of the early constellation-makers. We have then simply to take the centre of the vacant space, and, allowing for precessional effect, to compute when it will have coincided with the southern pole, to know when the ancient work of constellation-making was completed. This gives us for date 2800 B.C. For place we have already found N. lat. 39° ± 3°. Necessarily there is an uncertainty of two or three centuries in the date; but, speaking in a broad and general way, the place and date of publication which our picture-book bears impressed upon it is N. lat. 39° and 2800 B.C.
So far Proctor, following Schwartz, worked out the problem; but he does not seem to have troubled to push the research further in other directions, or to have inquired as to the consequences of the results which he had obtained. Yet the constellation figures give us an indication of the longitude where they were planned, as well as of the latitude, though the indication is not quite so definite as in the case of the latter.
We infer this from the animals included among the figures of the Sphere. These we find to be the horse, bull, sheep, goat, dog, and hare. The carnivora are the bear and the lion. The eagle, hawk or vulture, and crow rep-resent the birds. The serpent and water-snake are the reptiles, and the scorpion and crab represent the invertebrates. Of marine animals we have several fishes of indeterminate species, a dolphin, and a sea-monster which may not improbably represent a whale or a shark. Conspicuous by their absence are the elephant, the camel, the hippopotamus, the crocodile, and the tiger; and there-fore, even if the question of latitude were not decisive, we should be warranted in rejecting India, Egypt, or Arabia as having been the birthplace of the Sphere. The presence of the lion probably warrants us in excluding Europe-that is to say, Greece, Italy, and Spain—from our search. We are thus shut up to but a single region—namely, that which we may briefly describe as Asia Minor and Armenia, and which is washed by the Black Sea on the north, by the Mediterranean on the south, by the Caspian on the east, and the Aegean on the west.
There is a further object among the constellation forms which is of great significance. It is the presence of a ship, and it certainly suggests that it is to one of the coasts of this country and not to its interior that we should look for the precise site of the observatory where the stars were first mapped out. Of the four seas mentioned, the Caspian is the one which would seem to have the greatest probability. The Aegean or Mediterranean would open to the sailors embarking upon them the possibility of sailing as far south as the thirty-first parallel, and would thus bring a considerable additional extent of the southern heavens within their knowledge. The Black Sea and Caspian, on the other hand, only extend north-wards, and consequently their explorers would make no additions to the stars they knew at home. Of the two, seeing that the southern shore of the Black Sea is so very near the utmost northern limit which we can allow for the site of which we are in quest, while the Caspian extends across the entire belt in which it must be placed, the balance of probability lies rather with the latter.
It would well accord with a position water-bounded towards the north that Aratus consistently speaks of the northern horizon as the sea, though the very reverse was the case for his own country, Cilicia. Of the poles, he says:
"The one we see not; but the opposite Is high o'er ocean in the north."
Of the two Bears and the Dragon, that
"on either side His coil they move and dread the dark blue sea."
But whether or no we regard Argo as a sufficient proof that the constellations were designed in a maritime district, its presence shows an acquaintance with the art of navigation. And we must remember that progress in practical astronomy is far more likely to have been due to the needs of the sailor than to the mysticism of the priest or the charlatanry of the astrologer.
The vacant space in the southern heavens is defined, of course, by the constellations which border it, i.e. by the most southerly. It is defined by them alone, and consequently the date and place inferred from that vacant space are, strictly speaking, the date and place of the southernmost constellations only. But these southern constellations would be the most difficult to form because the stars which make them up remain for so short a time above the horizon. The figures associated with them are also in every single instance connected with more northern figures. They were, therefore, probably the last designed. And as, if the work of constellation-making had been continued later than the time given, the effect of precession and of geographical discovery must have brought other regions of the southern heavens into view, we may take it that the place and date thus fixed are the place and date of the completion of the work; precisely as the date and place on the title-page of a book indicate when and where it was published in its completed form, though some of its chapters may have been written many years before and in an altogether different locality.
This leaves the question still open as to how long the constellation figures took in making. The work may have taken a single man a single year; it may have taken one man his entire lifetime; it may have taken a body of men many generations.
There are some indications, which seem to have escaped notice hitherto, by which we may fix, roughly at least, the date of certain other constellations than those in the extreme south. These are the twelve commonly known as the Signs of the Zodiac, and which beyond all controversy were planned in order to mark out the Ecliptic.
The division of the zodiac into twelve signs is one of very great significance. The first astronomers could easily see that the moon moved among the stars, and after they had continued their observations for several years they would recognize that though she followed an apparently shifting path, yet this path did not wander very far north or very far south of a given circle of the heavens. That was a perfectly straightforward observation to make ; and no doubt, at a very early age, twenty-seven or twenty-eight groups of stars were arranged around the sky through which the moon passed in the course of as many days—a sidereal month. The "Lunar Mansions" took their origin in this way, and from them the line of the ecliptic could no doubt have been deter-mined.
But the twelvefold division of the zodiac brings quite another class of observation before us. The men who effected this had recognized that the sun, too, moved among the stars. Now this perhaps was the most difficult discovery which up to the present date has yet been made in astronomy. It is only the first step that costs. We have been taught it from childhood, and are not there-fore in a condition to grasp the difficulties which must have beset the first workers in the science. But the man whose observation had been close enough, and whose intellect was keen enough to lead him to conclude that the stars, though so absolutely invisible to us by day, were yet shining down just as really as by night, must have been a very giant among men. It was the first great incursion of physical research into the invisible, the first great triumph of induction, the first time that appearances were set aside in favor of thought.
The significance of the zodiac, then, with its twelve-fold division, is that it shows that the length of the year had been determined; that the path of the sun among the stars, with which it is never seen in company, had been marked out; and that a method had been discovered by which the position of the sun relative to the stars at any time could be ascertained. A complete parallelism between the motions of the sun and the moon had been established. Just precisely as the moon passed round the sky in a month and traversed a single "lunar mansion" in a day, so the sun too moved among the stars, making its circuit of the heavens in a year, and traversing a single sign of the zodiac in a month.
There was an astronomy, therefore, before the constellations, and one which had attained no mean development. We infer from the fact that the zodiac marks the ecliptic, and that it is divided into twelve signs, the number of months in the year, that it was devised in order to assist in the observation of the position of the sun among the stars. And we know in a variety of ways that this took place while the spring equinox was still in the constellation Taurus. We have for example the tradition preserved by Virgil in the well-known and often-quoted lines:
"Candidus auratis aperit cum cornibus annum Taurus."
This was of course purely traditional in Virgil's day, for the equinoctial pont had then passed entirely out of Taurus and very nearly out of Aries. Now we have no tradition whatsoever that the Twins ever led the year, and therefore we are sure that the zodiac is not later than 1800 B.C., and does not date farther back at the outside than to 4400 B.C.
There is another consideration which enforces the same conclusion. Of the twelve Signs of the Zodiac, five face definitely one way, four the other, the remaining three being indeterminate. These three are, the Balance, which necessarily gives us no hint of direction, the pair of Fishes, which, apparently as an integral part of their design, face different ways, and the Twins, the original direction of which is no longer certain. The other nine are divided into two systems, the one in which the signs all face east; the other in which they all face west. If the Zodiac was planned while the spring equinox fell in Taurus, then the sun was ascending all through the signs that face the east, and was descending. all through the signs which face the west. The chances are great that such an arrangement is not accidental.
This range of 2,600 years is very considerable, but a closer examination of the Signs enables us to contract it very much. The Signs of the Zodiac are not of perfectly equal extent. Cancer, for instance, only represents about 19 degrees of longitude; Virgo covers about 43 degrees; and it happens that if we try to place the two equinoctial and the two solstitial points symmetrically among the twelve Signs, we find ourselves limited to a date of about 3100 B.C., with a possible range of about 300 years on either side. At this date, 5,000 years ago, the spring equinox was in the centre of the constellation of the Bull, the summer solstice in the centre of the Lion, the autumnal equinox in the centre of the Scorpion, and the winter solstice in the centre of the Water-pourer. In strict accord with this fact we find the Bull, the Lion, and to a less degree the Scorpion among the oldest and most widely diffused of solar symbols. Another note of time is afforded us by the four stars Aldebaran, Regulus, Antares, Fomalhaut, which have been known as "royal" stars for many ages. The significance of this title is perfectly obvious. It was given to them because at that time they were the bright stars nearest to the four cardinal points of the ecliptic. This again limits us to almost precisely the same period as that we have already found. About the year 3000 B.C. Aldebaran and Antares were both on the equinoctial colures. Four or five centuries earlier Tauri would have challenged the right of Aldebaran to this title ; an equal length of time later, and the Pleiades would have usurped it.
The date of the zodiac, therefore, may be taken as not very far from 3000 B.C.; but the zodiacal constellations, with the Dragon, which marks out the pole of the ecliptic, must have been the first to be planned, since they had to be allotted to a definite region of the sky. The southern constellations which ring in the vacant space were as certainly the last. We may take it then as probable that the entire work did not takemore than about 200 or 300 years, ending 2800 B.C., and that very probably it took much less.
This date, derived from several independent considerations, completely disposes of the theory of the origin of the constellations which still finds most general acceptance. Briefly it is this. The figures adopted for the twelve Signs of the Zodiac were chosen to denote the climatic character of the twelve months of the year; the stars through which the sun passed in the course of a certain month being given a symbol in accord with the chief characteristic of that month. Thus Aries, Taurus, and Gemini are supposed to represent the months of March, April, and May, the three spring months when the flocks and herds bring forth their young; or Aries may stand as the solar ram, the leader of the heavenly flock, while Taurus will represent the ploughing season. To June the sign of the Crab was given, so the theory has it, to represent the going backward of the sun after the solstice. The Lion represents the fierceness of the solar heat in July. The Virgin with the ear of corn in her hand is supposed to stand for August, assumed to be the harvest month. The Balance is to set forth the equality of day and night at the autumnal equinox in September. The Scorpion is taken to represent the fevers, which, for the purposes of the theory, are supposed to be especially destructive in October. The Archer denotes the hunting season in November; the Sea-goat the upward motion of the sun after the winter solstice in December. Aquarius of course denotes the rains of January, and the Fishes in February the reopening of rivers and lakes for fishing after the winter's ice.
The theory never had much to recommend it, for the system of identification between the seasons and the months was so loose that it has been made to fit equally well for countries as diverse as Babylonia, India, and Egypt, none of which, however, can have been the original home of the Sphere. Next, it explained only the twelve Signs of the Zodiac, and these, as the constellations them-selves abundantly show, are intimately connected with many of the extrazodiacal signs. Lastly, and this is a fatal objection, it assumes that the constellations were marked out when the four cardinal points were in Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricornus—that is to say, about 1000 B.C., instead of some 2,000 years earlier. We know for a certainty that Aries was not the leading sign of the zodiac but the last, when it was mapped out; that the summer solstice was not in Cancer, nor the winter in Capricorn; and that the Balance was far from the autumnal equinox. The whole system of explanation is vitiated from end to end.
There is a most interesting hint here of a great astronomical revolution. Five thousand years ago the zodiac was planned with the Bull of Taurus for its leader. Aries was then the last and least important of the twelve. The next view that we get of the state of astronomy is some 2,000 years later. The Ram of Aries is now the Prince of the Zodiac, Taurus has dropped to a second place, and the zodiac itself has suffered an important change. The old constellations, composed of the actual stars them-selves and defined by them, unsymmetrical in position and unequal in extent, are represented by purely imaginary "Signs." These have no direct reference to the stars, though they derive their names from the old constellations; they are perfectly symmetrical, and all are of precisely the same extent, 30 degrees of longitude, neither more nor less.
How that revolution came about we have at present no means of knowing; but it has hitherto interposed a great barrier to our learning either from classical literature or from myths or monuments anything trustworthy as to the true origin of the constellations, for the reason that the sources we have been consulting are, in consequence of that revolution, as ignorant of the matter as ourselves.
The only light therefore that we can at present gain on the subject must be supplied to us by the constellations themselves, an inquiry in which again Carl Schwartz proved himself a pioneer.
First of all it is abundantly plain that though astronomers designed these forms, and no doubt used them, as they were used by Claudius Ptolemy, for the purpose of identifying stars, yet they strongly subordinated astronomical usefulness to other considerations. Sir John Herschel in a well-known passage scarcely puts the mat-ter too strongly:
The constellations seemed to have been almost purposely named and delineated to cause as much confusion and inconvenience as possible. Innumerable snakes twine through long and contorted areas of the heavens,, where no memory can follow them; bears, lions, and fishes, small and large, northern and southern, confuse all nomenclature.
If astronomical usefulness had been the sole idea, then undoubtedly the constellations would have been arranged to be as nearly as possible of the same size; to be compact, not sprawling; the figures connected with them would have been distinct and without repetition, or, if repeated, repeated only in distant parts of the sky; and most assuredly different constellations would not have been intermingled. Every one of these canons is repeatedly set at naught. The constellations are no more of equal area on the celestial globe than are the countries on the terrestrial. Argo and Ursa Major are the British and Russian Empires of the sky; the Triangle and the Arrow are its Roumania and Bulgaria. Hydra sprawls across more than one-fourth of the meridians; Draco meanders in and out between the Bears like some slow river traversing a plain. The Serpent is in two distinct portions, divided by Ophiuchus as the county of Cromarty is by Ross-shire. The rule that would exclude duplicate figures seems to have been violated out of set purpose. In the forty-eight constellations we have fifty-four figures, as some of the constellations contain two or more. Out of these fifty-four we find ten men, three women, two centaurs close together, five fish, all close together, two eagles close together and in immediate neighborhood to the swan, two bears close together, two dogs close together, three snakes, two crowns, two goats, two streams. The designs that are not repeated are distinctly in the minority, being only sixteen out of the fifty-four.
The frequency with which designs are repeated, and especially with which they are repeated in close proximity to each other, cannot possibly be accidental. It may be due simply to the spirit of imitation, different de-signers working at different times and without any concerted plan, but the later being content to copy their predecessors. Or it may be due to deliberate purpose, in which case we can infer that the designs are significant not merely in their form but also in their position. We can see at once that, in some cases at least, the constellations were not planned without reference to each other. The twelve Signs of the Zodiac certainly were intended to form a single sequence and to mark out the course of the ecliptic. Nor do they stand alone in this respect. There are many cases of a clear and intimate connection between different constellations ; indeed, there are only a few that are entirely isolated. The connection of the zodiacal constellations with those outside is in many cases most clear. The Bull is attacked by Orion, who tramples on the Hare; Aquarius pours his stream into the mouth of the Southern Fish; the Ram presses down the head of the Sea-monster, and holds the ribbon that unites the Fishes; and Sagittarius shoots an arrow at the Scorpion. Besides these we have the figures that tell the story of Perseus and Andromeda, and two most remarkable groups, one of which will be referred to later. The other is connected with the Scorpion. At the time and in the latitude where the constellations were formed, the observer, looking southward at midnight in spring, pictured to himself in the sky a gigantic scorpion. Above the scorpion, with his left foot pressed firmly down upon the animal's head, stood the figure of a man, round whose body a great snake was twining, that he was strangling with his hands. The head of the Serpent-carrier was formed of stars which lay near the zenith. Facing northward, the observer conceived of a similar but not identical group before him there. The same stars which made up the head of Ophiuchus the Serpent-carrier were used again, at least in part, to mark out the head of a second hero, unknown by name to Aratus, but later identified with the Greek Hercules. He was kneeling on one knee, and pressed down with the other foot the head of the great northern Dragon. So that, facing south, one conflict was seen represented; facing north another, very similar, yet having distinctive features of its own. And, as if to increase the resemblance, each hero is attended by an eagle, the one waiting on Hercules being distinguishable from the other by the lyre which it carries.
Here, then, we have reduplication in a most striking form, and in this case it is clear that the double arrangement is part of the original design. For, however and whenever the constellations were devised, beyond all doubt the twelve ecliptic signs and the one round the ecliptic pole form the frame to which the others had to adapt themselves ; so that of the seven constellations in this particular series, the two extreme ones—the Scorpion in the south and the Dragon in the north—are both ecliptic in character.
One unmistakable sign of being a single concerted work is afforded us by the forty-eight constellations of the Greek Sphere. The old constellations did not cover the entire sky. Considerable areas were left vacant here and there in the northern heavens, and, in the south, the effect of precession and of geographical discovery made men in the course of time acquainted with a large part of the unmapped sky; yet the number of the constellations was not added to, although there was the opportunity, almost the necessity, for so doing. Two of the border constellations which ring in the vacant southern area were of a nature to permit a very considerable extension without interfering with their design, and as more of the southern heavens became known they were continued southward. But no new constellations were formed. It was not until the great astronomical revolution of the sixteenth century A.D. had swept away all regard for the old traditions of the science that the work of constellation-making was resumed, and, once started afresh, it went on with the greatest rapidity until no nook or corner from pole to pole was left unoccupied. We may see therefore—if the original work of constellation-making had been due to a number of independent astronomers, each following his own ideas, without any conjunction with the rest, as was the case with the modern constellation-making—that the work would certainly have been continued until the whole of the northern heavens were covered, and the process would have gone on in the south as fast as new stars came into view. The cessation of the process for 3,500 years, despite the strong reasons for continuing it, is the most decisive proof that the work of constellation-making came from a single authority and had been carried out on a single plan.
The interdependence of so many of the designs, and the fact that the Sphere is thus manifestly the work of a single authority, furnish reasons for thinking that it was intended to be of the nature of a document. An examination of the individual forms supports this conclusion. We find, for instance, that three of the designs are truncated—the Bull, the Flying Horse, and the Ship are only half shown. Now this was not because there was not room enough to complete the design. There are many constellations much smaller than these in which the figure is complete; there are several, on the other hand, that cover a much greater area of sky than either Taurus or Pegasus. The fact that nearly all the constellations, as originally designed, were upright on the meridian, suggests a purpose in the recumbent attitudes of Virgo and Andromeda, while Pegasus was most assuredly not put upside down by accident. The stars that make up the figure are practically symmetrical, the four principal marking out the angles of a great square, so that the design would have fitted the stars just as well if Pegasus had been placed right way up.
Some of the forms represented are most clearly symbolical, for they are composite or monstrous in character We have, for example, three female figures : Andromeda—a woman naked and chained; Cassiopeia—a woman clothed, seated, and crowned; and Virgo, a woman clothed and winged. It cannot be pretended that there is anything whatsoever in the stellar configurations to suggest, first of all, the idea of a woman in these three places, and next, the characteristics which have been ascribed to each of them. There must have been some special purpose in ascribing, wings to the Virgin; there must have been a purpose not less definite in representing Andromeda and Cassiopeia in positions so sharply contrasted.
Again, we have two Centaurs—monstrous figures, half man and half horse. Yet whoever designed the Sphere knew perfectly well that a horse and its rider were different and separate beings, for we have in Pegasus a rider-less horse. So, on. the other hand, the wings given to Pegasus and refused to Sagittarius and Centaurus must have been as intentional as the wings given to Virgo and refused to Andromeda and Cassiopeia. Again, the fish-tail in which Capricornus terminates must have been given him with a purpose, for Capella, the goat which Auriga carries, is of the ordinary form.
The attitudes of the figures are often clearly symbolical. Two instances are especially striking, Aquarius and Pisces. In the one, Aquarius pours out a stream of water, not upon a plant or tree or some land object, as would assuredly have been the case had Aquarius been meant to represent the rainy season, but upon a fish, and the fish, so far from swimming in the stream, drinks it, swallowing the entire stream. - The Fishes afford a spectacle quite as strange, for they are tied together by a long cord, the ends of which are fastened round their tails. It is scarcely possible to imagine two designs which, taken baldly and literally as they stand, could be more unnatural and absurd, and it is astonishing that they have been preserved to us with these strange characteristics undisturbed for nearly 5,000 years. We can only account for their origin, we can only account for their preservation, by supposing that they were intended as hieroglyphics or symbols, and not as actual pictures ; and that the tradition that this was so was current long after the significance of the symbols had been entirely for-gotten.
Perhaps the most remarkable group of constellations is one to which the late R. A. Proctor drew special attention. It consists of the constellations Argo, Centaurus, Lupus, Ara, and Sagittarius. The Centaur has apparently just left the Ship which is grounded on a rock, and is offering up on the altar the animal which we now know as the Wolf, but the exact nature of which was not known to Aratus, just as the constellation which we now call Hercules was to him simply the "Kneeler," and that which we now call the Swan, simply the "Bird." The smoke arising from the altar is admirably represented by the Milky Way, and right in the centre of the bright cloud it forms is placed the Bow—i.e. that of Sagittarius. When we compare these figures with the narrative given us in the eighth and ninth chapters of Genesis, we cannot, I think, resist Proctor's conclusion that we have in both in-stances the attempt to set forth the same story. The question is, which came first—the story or the constellations. If we say the story, then the constellations are fully explained ; they are a picture of what was, at least at that time, believed to be a history. If the constellations came first it only leaves the question of their origin and meaning involved in more obscurity than ever.
Proctor in a half-hearted way hints his opinion that the story of the Deluge in Genesis is simply an attempt to "write up" to the figures inscribed on the walls of some zodiacal temple. I venture to think this an utter absurdity. There is no legend whatsoever so widely diffused and so generally consistent in its main details as that of the Deluge. To suppose that it took its origin in a tale written to account for the figures on a single temple is monstrous ; while we actually know from the discoveries of George Smith that a story of the Deluge most closely related to that preserved in Genesis was held by nations bordering on the lands where the constellations took their origin, and at much the same date that we have found for them.
But if the story of the Deluge is intended to be set forth in these constellations, then we have without doubt lighted on the general secret of their origin. For the Deluge story is not the only one plainly referred to. The story of Perseus and Andromeda is set forth with great distinctness, and is marked out as a separate narrative by being framed by the equator and two of the colures, a quarter of the northern heavens being thus entirely de-voted to it. The attitude of Ophiuchus strangling the snake, and crushing the scorpion's head with one foot while the latter stings him in the other heel, seems as direct a reference to the story of Genesis iii.
To sum up, this oldest picture-book of all was designed nearly 5,000 years ago by a people dwelling somewhere between the Aegean and the Caspian, which domesticated the bull, the sheep, the goat, the dog, and the horse ; which hunted the bear, the lion, and the hare, and used the bow and the spear. Yet a people not . merely nomadic, but either maritime themselves or at least acquainted with the ocean and with navigation. They had made not a little. progress in Astronomy, for they had determined the length of the year and had carried the science of observation so far that they could recognize the position of the sun relative to the various ecliptic groups of stars. Their religion involved the erection of altars and the rite of sacrifice. They were acquainted with stories of the Fall and of the Deluge substantially the same as those preserved to us in the early chapters of Genesis, and they devised many of the constellations to give appropriate and permanent record of them; no doubt because they were included, as with ourselves, in their sacred history. The people was an organized one; having some definite and recognized authority, whether king, priest, patriarch, or council does not appear, but of that authority the work of constellation-making received beyond doubt the express sanction.
We cannot tell whether the designs in this book have come to us entirely without alteration. There is some question about the zodiacal sign of the Balance. We do not know whether the two Bears were originally bears, wagons or chariots, or flocks of sheep ; and so also with two or three other groups. But many significant little details seem to show that the constellations, considered as an entire document, have been preserved to us without important change.
Many of the constellations, then, were mapped out to express the religious belief of their designers. No doubt the others, of which at present we have no explanation, had just the same purpose. But though at present their interpretation seems to lie beyond us, we may well hope that further investigation into the science and religion of the Upper Euphratean Valley may ere long enable us throughout to "read the page Where every letter is a glittering world."