Saturday, October 19, 2013

Manilius: "the vault of the heavens"

Some things just keep getting stranger and stranger.  Manilius (1st century AD) was a Latin writer who lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius.  That is, he lived in the period of time covered by the Earthly life of Jesus.  He wrote a book on Astronomy and Astrology, which he decided to present to his readers as poetry.  Yikes!  In the interest of completeness, I decided to spend a little time to go through the writings of the classical astrologers and mathematicians to see what I could learn.  As always, there is much that startles and reminds me that we truly live in an age of ignorance.

Let me highlight an example:

"The sky, according to some, extended overhead like an immense iron ceiling, and according to others, like a huge shallow vault.  As it could not remain suspended in space without some support, they imagined it to be held in place by four immense props or pillars.  The floor of the temple naturally represented the earth.  The columns, and if needful the four corners of the chambers, stood for the pillars." - Maspero, Manual of Egyptian Archaeology, 1895.

And so we were taught - with US taxpayer funds - that the symbolism of the heavens as a temple proved that earlier people believed that the Earth was flat.  With Manilius, I have finally encountered a writer from this era who actually used the poetic language regarding the heavens.  Actually, he wrote five books of pure poetic language on the subject of the heavens.  So let's look at the words of Manilius:

"If the Earth were flat, you [the moon] would rise for the whole world only once and the failure of your light would be lamented by every land at the same time.  But since the shape of the Earth follows a smooth curve, the Moon appears to these lands first, and then to those, ..." - Astronomica, I.225

The above passage is much longer and more detailed.  It is specifically intended to refute any flat earth beliefs.  Simultaneously, this book is intended as a rebuke to the Epicureans via Lucretius, along with their atheistic beliefs in a universe that happened by chance.  Most of the following examples are also repeated several times in various forms.

"This fabric which forms the body of the boundless universe, ... " - Astronomica, I.247

This is similar language to Psalm 104:2, which Washington Irving cited.

"Next has heaven a temple of its own, where, its rites now paid, the Altar gleams, ..." - Astronimica, I.410

"These then are the constellations which decorate the sky with even spread, their fires panelling the ceiling of heaven with various designs." - Astronomica, I.532

"How great is the space occupied by the vault of the heavens, ..." - Astronomica, I.539

"But since the Earth is suspended in the middle of space ..." - Astronomica, I.550

"...where heaven's lowest edges and Earth's uppermost rim meet" - Astronomica, I.646

This last one is a poetic description of the horizon.

At this point it appears that most of the figurative language regarding the heavens comes from the astrologers, who not only believed the Earth to be spherical and suspended in space, but could cite evidence to support their opinions quite easily.  I am not so sure regarding modernist professors.

A final note for the confused:  For an astrologer to predict the fate of a person, he needed to know the exact positions of the constellations when a person was born, and there was no such thing as GMT and atomic clocks.  Time was generally measured based on when the sun rose or set, which in turn depended on the latitude and longitude where the birth took place.  Everything was founded on a spherical earth notion.

No comments: