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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 163

The three constellations associated with each month had each a symbolic significance: they reflected the characters of their months. At the height of the rainy season, for instance, the month of Ramman, the thunder god, was presided over by the zodiacal constellation of the water urn, the northern constellation "Fish of the Canal", and the southern "the Horse". In India the black horse was sacrificed at rain-getting and fertility ceremonies. The months of growth, pestilence, and scorching sun heat were in turn symbolized. The "Great Bear" was the "chariot" = "Charles's Wain", and the "Milky Way" the "river of the high cloud", the Celestial Euphrates, as in Egypt it was the Celestial Nile.

Of special interest among the many problems presented by Babylonian astronomical lore is the theory of Cosmic periods or Ages of the Universe. In the Indian, Greek, and Irish mythologies there are four Ages--the Silvern (white), Golden (yellow), the Bronze (red), and the Iron (black). As has been already indicated, Mr. R. Brown, jun., shows that "the Indian system of Yugas, or ages of the world, presents many features which forcibly remind us of the Euphratean scheme". The Babylonians had ten antediluvian kings, who were reputed to have reigned for vast periods, the total of which amounted to 120 saroi, or 432,000 years. These figures at once recall the Indian Maha-yuga of 4,320,000 years = 432,000 x 10. Apparently the Babylonian and Indian systems of calculation were of common origin. In both countries the measurements of time and space were arrived at by utilizing the numerals 10 and 6.

When primitive man began to count he adopted a method which comes naturally to every schoolboy; he utilized his fingers. Twice five gave him ten, and from ten he progressed to twenty, and then on to a hundred and beyond. In making measurements his hands, arms, and feet were at his service. We are still measuring by feet and yards (standardized strides) in this country, while those who engage in the immemorial art of knitting, and, in doing so, repeat designs found on neolithic pottery, continue to measure in finger breadths, finger lengths, and hand breadths as did the ancient folks who called an arm length a cubit. Nor has the span been forgotten, especially by boys in their games with marbles; the space from the end of the thumb to the end of the little finger when the hand is extended must have been an important measurement from the earliest times.

As he made progress in calculations, the primitive Babylonian appears to have been struck by other details in his anatomy besides his sets of five fingers and five toes. He observed, for instance, that his fingers were divided into three parts and his thumb into two parts only;[329] four fingers multiplied by three gave him twelve, and multiplying 12 by 3 he reached 36. Apparently the figure 6 attracted him. His body was divided into 6 parts--2 arms, 2 legs, the head, and the trunk; his 2 ears, 2 eyes, and mouth, and nose also gave him 6. The basal 6, multiplied by his 10 fingers, gave him 60, and 60 x 2 (for his 2 hands) gave him 120. In Babylonian arithmetic 6 and 60 are important numbers, and it is not surprising to find that in the system of numerals the signs for 1 and 10 combined represent 60.


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