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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 167

In the Babylonian astral hymns, the star spirits are associated with the gods, and are revealers of the decrees of Fate. "Ye brilliant stars... ye bright ones... to destroy evil did Anu create you.... At thy command mankind was named (created)! Give thou the Word, and with thee let the great gods stand! Give thou my judgment, make my decision!"[340]

The Indian evidence shows that the constellations, and especially the bright stars, were identified before the planets. Indeed, in Vedic literature there is no certain reference to a single planet, although constellations are named. It seems highly probable that before the Babylonian gods were associated with the astral bodies, the belief obtained that the stars exercised an influence over human lives. In one of the Indian "Forest Books", for instance, reference is made to a man who was "born under the Nakshatra Rohini".[341] "Nakshatras" are stars in the Rigveda and later, and "lunar mansions" in Brahmanical compositions.[342] "Rohini, 'ruddy', is the name of a conspicuously reddish star, ɑ Tauri or Aldebaran, and denotes the group of the Hyades."[343] This reference may be dated before 600 B.C., perhaps 800 B.C.

From Greece comes the evidence of Plutarch regarding the principles of Babylonian astrology. "Respecting the planets, which they call the birth-ruling divinities, the Chaldeans", he wrote, "lay down that two (Venus and Jupiter) are propitious, and two (Mars and Saturn) malign, and three (Sun, Moon, and Mercury) of a middle nature, and one common." "That is," Mr. Brown comments, "an astrologer would say, these three are propitious with the good, and may be malign with the bad."[344]

Jastrow's views in this connection seem highly controversial. He holds that Babylonian astrology dealt simply with national affairs, and had no concern with "the conditions under which the individual was born"; it did not predict "the fate in store for him". He believes that the Greeks transformed Babylonian astrology and infused it with the spirit of individualism which is a characteristic of their religion, and that they were the first to give astrology a personal significance.

Jastrow also perpetuates the idea that astronomy began with the Greeks. "Several centuries before the days of Alexander the Great," he says, "the Greeks had begun to cultivate the study of the heavens, not for purposes of divination, but prompted by a scientific spirit as an intellectual discipline that might help them to solve the mysteries of the universe." It is possible, however, to overrate the "scientific spirit" of the Greeks, who, like the Japanese in our own day, were accomplished borrowers from other civilizations. That astronomy had humble beginnings in Greece as elsewhere is highly probable. The late Mr. Andrew Lang wrote in this connection: "The very oddest example of the survival of the notion that the stars are men and women is found in the Pax of Aristophanes. Trygaeus in that comedy has just made an expedition to heaven. A slave meets him, and asks him: 'Is not the story true, then, that we become stars when we die?' The answer is, 'Certainly'; and Trygaeus points out the star into which Ion of Chios has just been metamorphosed." Mr. Lang added: "Aristophanes is making fun of some popular Greek superstition". The Eskimos, Persians, Aryo-Indians, Germans, New Zealanders, and others had a similar superstition.[345]

Jastrow goes on to say that the Greeks "imparted their scientific view of the Universe to the East. They became the teachers of the East in astronomy as in medicine and other sciences, and the credit of having discovered the law of the precession of the equinoxes belongs to Hipparchus, the Greek astronomer, who announced this important theory about the year 130 B.C."[346] Undoubtedly the Greeks contributed to the advancement of the science of astronomy, with which, as other authorities believe, they became acquainted after it had become well developed as a science by the Assyrians and Babylonians.


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