Continuing the theme raised in this thread of how Egyptian understanding of precession found its way into the Bible, here are some further comments on the astronomy of the north celestial pole, from a thread at http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php ... -Astronomy
incorporating my responses to various questions.
This thread explores references to the Dragon and Bear in ancient writings against the hypothesis that they describe accurate observation of precession of the North Celestial Pole stars. The pole has precessed from the constellation of Draco the Dragon in ancient times to its present position in the constellation of the Little Bear, Ursa Minor, near Polaris as shown at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Precession_N.gif
. What did the ancients know about this astronomical movement?
There are many references to the dragon in ancient myth which support the idea that the ancients knew more than is now generally acknowledged. For example, the story of Jason and the Argonauts, writings of a Gnostic group called the Peratae, and the Biblical Revelation contain references that plausibly indicate knowledge of precession of the pole.
My agenda here is purely to ask what the ancients knew about the astronomy of precession of the pole, and whether accurate observation is encoded in textual references.
The wobble period of earth’s axis is well explained by Newtonian mechanics, due to the torque of the sun and moon acting on the oblate spheroid shape of the earth. The movement of the north pole is shown at the link above, with the celestial pole (the pole of the earth) rotating around the ecliptic pole (the pole of the solar system or sun) over a period estimated at 25765 years, known as the Great Year.
Ancient astronomers could easily see that the celestial pole is the position around which the heavens revolve each night. However, what they knew in addition to this simple observation is far from clear. The Greek astronomer Hipparchus, writing in the second century BC, used ancient Babylonian star records to discover precession, observing that the star Spica in Virgo had moved from its earlier recorded position at the equinox point, at a speed he estimated at one degree per century. Later work refined this precession speed to one degree every 72 years, and modern astronomy calculates it at one degree per 71.6 years.
Sir Norman Lockyer, founder of the science journal Nature and discoverer of helium, had a strong interest in ancient astronomy. In his book The Dawn of Astronomy, Lockyer argued that knowledge of precession is apparent from the alignments of Egyptian temples. Other writers have claimed that an air shaft in the Great Pyramid of Giza pointed to the former pole star Thuban.
Thuban is in the tail of the constellation Draco the Dragon. Since ancient times the pole has precessed out of Draco and through Ursa Minor. One famous text that contains an apparent reference to this observation is in the Bible, Revelation 13:2 - “The beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.”
Could this symbolic text encode an actual empirical knowledge of the movement of the pole? The case looks persuasive. The north pole was considered a symbol of the unchanging eternal stability of the heavens. As such, “power, throne and authority” could refer to the celestial point about which the whole cosmos revolves. The dragon correlates directly to the constellation Draco. The bear-lion-leopard is more complex. The constellation Leo is adjacent to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. As the pole has moved into Ursa Minor, Leo has also moved to its most northerly point on the precession cycle. Looking at the sky, the symbolic language of a creature with bear’s feet and a lion’s head makes sense as describing the movement of the pole. As to the leopard, the spots of the leopard were used in ancient mythology as symbols for the stars, for example in the cloak of Seshat, wife of the Egyptian God of astronomy Thoth.
The gift of power, seat and authority from the dragon to the bear-lion-leopard correlates quite precisely to observation of precession of the north pole over historical times. I would welcome questions on detail or comment on whether this hypothesis appears sound.
There is similarity with Daniel 7, except that Revelation says the dragon gave his authority to the leopard-bear-lion. Revelation reverses the Daniel chronology and presents the second creature as combining the first of Daniel's three animals. My point is that this matches to actual observation of the shift of the pole that was known to the ancients as a marker for time. The similarity to Daniel could have been an intentional diversion.
The lion and leopard links make good sense as a way to lightly conceal the coded intent. Leo is adjacent to the bears as the dominant constellations of the northern winter sky, and the spots of the leopard were an ancient symbol for the stars, suggesting the whole symbol is allegory for a pattern in the stars. The pattern of the shift from the dragon to the bear is obvious once precession is understood, and the lion and leopard add to it in ways that both conceal and amplify the meaning. Leaving them out might have made solving the code too easy, exposing the text to greater risk of suppression.
The Daniel reading is more in line with tradition, but my question suggests these traditions could just be wrong, with the original story concealing an accurate astronomical depiction of a slow-moving stellar clock that has been suppressed and neglected by other dominant readings.
Why conceal knowledge of the stars? There was strong cultural conflict over attitudes to the stars in the ancient world. Many pagan cultures venerated the sun and moon and stars, something specifically prohibited by Judaism, for example in Deuteronomy 4:19 which states "And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars —all the heavenly array —do not be enticed into bowing down to them."
Knowledge of precession need not constitute 'bowing down', but it seems this line was blurred, and especially considering that precession of the pole puts the snake in a positive light, while precession of the equinox studies the movement of the ecliptic, topics with some cultural difficulties. This conflict continued into the Common Era. For example, the third century writer Hippolytus of Rome presented a blistering attack on a group known as the Peratae, including for their attitude to Draco.
Hippolytus's extant work is available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050105.htm
While Hippolytus provides an undoubtedly distorted summary of the Peratae teachings, he gives enough fragments to indicate a view that corresponds to the cosmic framework of precession, in a way that could well link to the discussion of the pole here.
Hippolytus mocks such teachings, saying “as they wistfully gazed upward upon heaven, the Chaldeans asserted that ... [the sun, moon and five visible planets] contain a reason for the efficient causes of the occurrence of all the events that happen unto us.” If Revelation does discuss the movement of the celestial pole, such claims would be caught up in this same cultural conflict, and one could well understand why the reference would be concealed.
Hippolytus gives a strong clue regarding precession with his condemnation of the doctrine of Aeons, a term often associated with precessional ages, saying “these, falsifying the name of truth, proclaim ... an insurrection of Aeons.”
The term Aeon, or Age, is complex. Greco-Roman mysteries worshiped a God named Aion, also identified with Saturn, Kronos, and Time. A statue of Aion shows a man with a lion’s head and eagle’s wings, standing on top of a globe, with a snake coiling six times around the body from its tail at the man’s feet to its head at the lion’s forehead. This image of Aion matches well to precession of the equinox and the pole, possibly suggesting a vision of 12,000 years from when the spring equinox was in Leo the Lion to its current position at the start of Aquarius the Man. Hippolytus saw any such discussion of Aeons as insufferably infused with magical error.
Hippolytus discusses the Peratae doctrine of the serpent, explaining that they identify the serpent with the stars of the north pole, formerly occupied by the constellation Draco the Dragon. He says the Peratae taught that “the … blessed, … looking upward on the firmament, will behold at the mighty summit of heaven the beauteous image of the serpent, turning itself, and becoming an originating principle of every (species of) motion to all things that are being produced. … without him nothing consists, either of things in heaven, or things on earth. or things under the earth. ... In regard of this, he says, is the great wonder which is beheld in the firmament by those who are able to observe it. ... ignorance is in the habit of affirming: in heaven Draco revolves, marvel mighty of monster dread.”
Here we find an approved ancient critique of a seemingly popular view that the north celestial pole should have a central role in cosmology. This material, notably Hippolytus' comment about Aeons, shows the sensitivities surrounding an overt discussion of precession, especially one linking it to symbolic interpretations. It may be possible that early texts contained more explicit accounts about precession, but these were lost as society sought greater conformity of views. The collapse of Greco-Roman civilization involved the loss of a lot of learning. It seems probable that ancient astronomers knew a lot more about precession than extant records show, and that this was an area marked for criticism because of its association with teachings that were in conflict with the subsequent dominant views.
This isn't positing a hidden agenda for Hippolytus, but explaining his overt agenda to exterminate Gnostic thought with its unacceptable cosmic imagery. His strong language helps to show why the Bible authors would have concealed their real intent. The hostile trend of thought displayed by Hippolytus would have had strong similarities with responses to these Biblical ideas when they were first circulated.
The location of Draco among the stars that never set in northern latitudes gives it a significance, even though it is fainter than other constellations. It is identified in the Dendera Ceiling with a hippopotamus, at the apex, and the Egyptians were said to link it to Hathor. The star map linked above shows the triangular head and curving body and tail. The Argonautica, the story of Jason, plausibly links Draco to the dragon guarding the golden fleece, suggesting some antiquity in Greece. On this theme, Vega was the pole star in the so-called Golden Age at the dawn of the Holocene, so we could speculate that memory of this ancient star position was encoded in the Jason story, with Draco standing between the present position of the pole and Vega. But that would require observation of precession dating well before Hipparchus.
Thuban was the pole star at about 2700 BC. Revelation was written in the Common Era, when Draco was definitely seen as a dragon. All the writers had to know was that the pole used to be in Draco, not that Draco had always been pictured as a dragon.
A further point here. Revelation 12:3-4 says a "sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon ... Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky ... The dragon stood in front of the woman."
From the ecliptic pole as the central point around which the stars revolve over precessional time scale, the tail of the dragon occupies one third of the sky, and stands in front of the constellation Virgo, the woman.
The dragon handing authority to the bear-lion-leopard has a simple astronomical interpretation. I think this needs to be considered on its own merits, without drawing in other texts which do not have a simple interpretation. Probably most of the Bible does not present stellar allegory, but that should not detract from analysing those texts which plausibly do refer to actual stellar patterns.
It is reasonable to start with texts where the meaning appears clear, noting that this is a scientific claim that has not previously been widely considered. I would not want to start trying to interpret other texts which may well have a meaning from ancient culture that is entirely lost today. We don't know the detail of ancient culture, but we still see the same stars.
I am not dismissing Daniel, just saying that while John makes an obvious use of Daniel on the surface, in fact he is describing a deeper observation, an accurate vision of the long term change of the sky.
Stars falling to earth (Rev 13) is one of those poetic apocalyptic lines that defy analysis, except perhaps as a vivid symbol of extreme events. Virgo is not unrelated to the virgin mother Mary, as shown for example in the common icons of Mary which resemble the shape of the constellation, so the particular imaginative stretch of a virgin mother is well known. Considered together with the line about the dragon giving authority to the bear-lion-leopard, the point here is to identify texts which describe a stellar observation, in this case Draco and Virgo.
These texts have a mysterious provenance. It is possible that they have multiple meanings. I am simply arguing that empirical observation of the heavens is at the core. I am suggesting the authors of this text were part of a community who had access to accurate scientific knowledge, to the extent then possible, of the drift of the stars due to precession, and that they used this knowledge as a sort of 'star clock', an accurate way to describe the slow measurement of time.
My starting point is the scientific observation of how the stars have shifted due to precession, matching modern knowledge against the extent this information was available in the ancient world. This millennial clock has primary markers at the equator and the poles. If ancient authors wished to describe the real movement of time over the period of recorded history, then describing how the pole had shifted from the dragon to the bear is a good way to do it, and the quoted text has the movement in the correct direction.
The cultural dispute about the status of astronomy in New Testament days was quite strong. The destruction of Greco-Roman and Egyptian centers of learning was a main factor in the rise of the Dark Ages. Astronomy was linked to broader pagan cultural traditions, and the seers of Egypt and other mystery groups had a lot of knowledge that has not survived. For example the Library at Alexandria would have held information on these topics, while the reason the Great Pyramid has an airshaft pointing towards the North Celestial Pole is now unknown.
My hypothesis is that this text about the dragon giving its authority to the bear-lion-leopard is explaining the actual movement of time over history, with the shift of the ‘seat of authority’ about which all the heavens revolve, the North Celestial Pole, from the dragon to the bear. Popular readings of this text would have associated such a scientific explanation with cosmic-oriented mysteries that were no longer in favour, such as the mysteries of Mithras, Isis and Eleusis. So it seems the authors considered it prudent to conceal their scientific description of time within allegorical language.
An analogy here is ‘junk DNA’ which has to be largely ignored to understand coding DNA. Even if it may have a purpose, we cannot see it, so are better off studying what we can interpret scientifically, in the hope that may later help us to find some meaning in things we don't understand yet.
The signal to noise ratio in this text looks rather weak. If we consider the signal to be whatever provides an actual accurate scientific observation of space and time, within the limits of ancient capacity, it provides insight into the author’s knowledge and intent. The shift of the pole from the Dragon to the Bear was known in the ancient world as a key indicator of the slow drift of the skies. The concealment of this core of truth within symbolic language indicates a conflict between accurate scientific knowledge and other popular trends, and a need to hide the scientific observational basis for the ideas about time that they were presenting.
An interesting website with information about Ursa Minor and the North Pole in mythology is Constellation of Words. This site provides interesting comment about phrases such as ‘get your bearings’ and ''cynosure' (possibly sinecure?) and how the ancient Greek Thales suggested the shift from Draco to Ursa as pole star in about 600 BC. This site also has a star map from 1690 AD (Hevelius Firmamentum) which appears to show the relation between the celestial and ecliptic poles. It states of Ursa Minor that “Jensen sees here the Leopard of Babylonia, an emblem of darkness which this shared, there and in Egypt, with all other circumpolar constellations; while on the Nile it was the well-known Jackal of Set even as late as the Denderah zodiac. This Jackal also appears in the carvings on the walls of the Ramesseum, but is there shown with pendent tail strikingly coinciding with the outlines of the constellation.”
If we look at the sky and ask "Where can we find a regular marker that shows the change over thousands of years?", we basically have two good candidates, the pole and the equator. It is a reasonable hypothesis that the Bible authors asked this question. They frequently discuss time on thousand year scales, and they were far more observant and knowledgeable about the visible stars than people generally are today. They could readily see that the pole was a useful star clock for the time scale they were interested in, so they had motive to refer to it. There is strong correlation between the described action of handing over of 'power seat and authority' to the actual observed movement of the pole from the dragon to the bear. http://www.constellationsofwords.com/stars/Polaris.html
says Polaris has been called "Navel of the World", "Gate of Heaven", "Hub of the Cosmos", "the Highest Peak of the World Mountain", "Lodestar" "the Steering Star" "the Ship Star" and Stella Maris "Star of the Sea". Greek navigators of old called Polaris; Kynosoura, which means "the Dog's Tail". The name came into our English language as Cynosure, which means "an object that serves as a focal point of attention and admiration" or "Something that serves to guide"." These traditional names for Polaris are very similar to the Biblical "power, seat and authority" as indicating the point around which the heavens revolve.
Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 say that a thousand years is as a day for God. Considering the "seven days of creation" described in Genesis against this scale produced the traditional theory that time would consist of seven thousand years from creation to redemption, widely accepted from Patristic days until the rise of modern science.
Now, if we look at this 7000 year period against the allegory of the 3.5 years of tribulation, we see a match between years and zodiac ages, with the 3.5 ages of Taurus, Aries, Pisces and half of Aquarius matching to the 6000 years when the pole is in Draco and Ursa Minor, from about 4000 BC to 2000 AD, plus the next 1000 years, as shown at this map of the pole. Here we have a 'year-age' allegory like the 'day-millennium' allegory. The match to conventional eschatology of fall and redemption is strong, suggesting the ancients used observation of the stars as markers for this imaginative cosmology. I have no wish to comment here on the meaning of this cosmology, but it seems probable that the ancient authors who thought it up divided their imagined seven thousand years of time into 3.5 units of two thousand years each, roughly matching the time when the equinox is in each successive constellation.
The 42 months or 3.5 years comes from the phrase 'times, time and half a time'. It is entirely plausible that this 'time' reference is to an 'age' of the zodiac. The Greco-Roman God of Time was Saturn, also known as Kronos or Aeon. 2000 years is a conventional estimate for the length of a zodiacal age or Aeon (Time). 3.5 Ages ~= 7000 years, the conventional Christian estimate of the duration of time.
This observational timescale may reflect Zoroastrian astronomical sources, such as the Bundahishn, with this source arguing the day-millennium principle actually refers to the bimillennial period of 2000 years. This old Zoroastrian text says in translation "six thousand years were from the Ram/Lamb (Aries) up to the Ear of Grain (Virgo), and each constellation ruled a millennium", although it is a simple observation that precession from Aries to Virgo is 12,000 years and each constellation rules about 2000 years, suggesting that the convention of the day-millennium equation is a corruption of an older accurate vision from Babylon which based its theories of time on meticulous astronomical observation.
Hunting down Jensen’s leopard led me to a 10 MB 173 page pdf file “Iconographic and linguistic evidence concerning leopard symbolism: Slide presentation, 6th Round Table on Myth - Harvard University, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, 8-10 May 2004.” The author is Wim van Binsbergen, chair of intercultural philosophy, Rotterdam, and senior researcher at African Studies Centre, Leiden, and the full title is “Long-range mythical continuities across Asia and Africa - Iconographic and linguistic evidence concerning leopard symbolism”. The author spent two decades from the 1960s in Africa as an anthropologist and historian, and has a senior academic position in the cross-cultural study of myth.
Van Binsbergen’s work on leopard and lion mythology provides supportive evidence for my contention that the handing of ‘power, seat and authority’ from the dragon to the bear-lion-leopard actually describes the astronomical observation of precession of the north celestial pole. He says “ancient astronomies present considerable indications of the wide spread and persistence of the cosmology of the lion and the leopard” with the lion/leopard pair “symbolically elaborated into a fully-fledged cosmology encompassing most aspects of the human experience.” The leopard skin “is widely considered to represent the star-spangled night sky as a whole.” However, “the Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian material contains the suggestion that, if the leopard is to be associated with any asterism at all, it is to be the constellation of Ursa Minor, in or near which (depending on the precise historical period) the celestial pole finds itself.”
This observation of the place of the leopard as the north pole leads to the view that “the leopard stood for the northern circumpolar region." The current position of the pole in Ursa Minor, viewed in ancient Eygpt and Babylon as the leopard, is adjacent to Leo the lion, which combines with the leopard as its complement, standing for the ecliptic.
Ancient astronomies and astral symbolism are therefore “principal attestations of the cosmology of the lion and the leopard.” The north celestial pole, with its leopard and bear symbolism, is seen as key to ancient cosmology, as “a place where the effect of the earth’s rotation was most noticeable to ancient man, as is it still (but usually without registering) to modern man.”
“The circumpolar stars, which never set, play an important role in leopard symbolism. Among the Ancient Egyptians, they are symbols of rebirth: according to the Pyramid Texts (Old Kingdom, mid-3rd mill. BCE) the dead king becomes one of the circumpolar stars, thus living forever … the dead king will be Osiris, king … of the underworld. The leopard is associated both with Osiris and with the circumpolar stars.” I have previously discussed the apparent association in Egypt between Osiris and the South Celestial Pole constellation of Argo Navis.
Van Binsbergen expands on the link between the leopard and the pole: the “hieroglyphic sign for ‘skin’ looks exactly like the outline of the brightest stars in Ursa Minor, and like iconographic conventions of the representation of the priest’s leopard skin, including the exceptionally long tail cf. the ‘leopard’ hieroglyphic sign. For Babylonia, P. Jensen (late 19th c CE) identified a constellation ‘leopard’ as Ursa Minor.
One widespread mythic theme of the lion leads van Binsbergen “to identify [the lion's] pole, club or spear as the celestial axis, which brings the lion closer to the leopard and the northern celestial pole.” A “figure with snake-like feet, whirling two leopards as in evocation of the celestial revolution around the earth axis” (Benin bronze, Nigeria, 17th-19th c. CE) is another traditional evocation of the leopard (shaped rather like the dippers) as symbol of the polar stars.
A key astronomical question that this material raises is whether the ancients had mapped the location of the ecliptic pole, marking the axis of the sun. From records of the movement of the celestial pole from Thuban towards Polaris, it is a fairly simple piece of astral measurement to work out that the pole is wobbling around the dragon’s foot, location of the solar axis. This shows that from the stable viewpoint of the ecliptic pole, the dragon’s tail occupies one third of sky, standing in front of the woman Virgo, while the Bears stand beneath the lion Leo, all supporting the hypothesis that these Biblical symbols are concealed description of actual astronomical observations.
The shift from the dragon to the bear is straightforward as the movement of the celestial pole from Draco to Ursa as a description of 6000 years of historically known time. Why then does the Bible speak of a leopard-bear-lion? Van Binsbergen provides evidence for the link between the lion and the leopard, and how the leopard directly links to the North Pole. In particular, he presents evidence of ancient mythological links between leopard symbolism and Ursa Minor, and the stars more generally, in line with the requirements of the hypothesis of this thread.
This hypothesis of astronomical allegory in ancient texts helps to see context and background for writings that otherwise defy rational explanation. The authors’ objectives include an implicit assertion that they are describing a correct cosmology (faithful and true, etc). In many respects science can readily demonstrate their cosmology is incorrect and limited. However, within the limits of the knowledge available to them, especially the recorded observation of the movement of the visible stars over many centuries, they had accurate observations that are a key part of the background context. Hipparchus used old Babylonian star records well before the common era to deduce precession. The hypothesis I have presented here, that there is a hidden description of polar precession as a symbol for the passage of time, suggests that the ancient authors had access to more accurate knowledge than is generally acknowledged.
The idea of stars as markers of history suggests some “reflection” on earth of observable patterns seen in the sky. This need not be in anyway some unscientific action at a distance, any more than a clock mechanism causes people to act at a certain time. The idea “as in heaven, so on earth” is an old cosmic axiom that helps to explain why the ancient authors would use movement of the stars to explain the structure of time. This equation means the markers of time visible in the sky can be used as a long term clock to measure the passage of events on earth.
The cosmological background context for this hypothesis includes quite wide ranging literary and cultural traditions. Plato’s Timaeus and his other works such as his Parmenides explore this basic philosophical and scientific question of how to understand the relation between change and stability. This question can also be posed in terms of the relation between becoming and being, between time and eternity, and between difference and identity. Basically, in the ancient astronomy, the “sublunary” world of events on earth represents becoming, change, time and difference, while the “superlunary” world of the heavens, and especially the fixed stars, represents being, stability, eternity and identity. The fixed stars provided a model of the eternal identity of the same, while events of history were conventionally understood as involving change, difference and mere appearance.
The slow movement of the heavens, firstly within the wheel of the visible planets, but also in the slower encompassing wheel of precession (cf Ezekiel 1:16 – wheels within wheels), provided an empirical cosmological framework that was available to the ancients as a way to describe the context for these philosophical ideas about time and eternity. The slow drift of the Pole from the dragon to the leopard-bear-lion as a marker for the duration of history fits well within this astronomical and philosophical context and helps to explain it.
I have presented a scientific hypothesis, that allegorical text in the Bible can be understood as referring to accurate empirical observation, and I am explaining supporting material. The authors’ use of symbols that were also used differently elsewhere does not diminish the plausibility of the hypothesis.
What are the alternative hypotheses? They generally involve fanciful imagery about dragons and other monsters with no scientific content, or the assumption that the authors were wildly wrong or engaged in meaningless fiction. I am saying the authors understood the observable astronomy of polar precession, they wished to describe markers of long term cosmic change, they found such a marker in precession, they encountered cultural opposition to the use of this natural observation, and so they concealed this information as symbol. This is a superior hypothesis because it explains the data as part of a coherent scientific theory.
Falsification would involve exploration of how this generally accurate precessional cosmology may inform other cognate ancient texts. The prediction from the hypothesis is that similar methods should be found in other imagery. But this is not simple. Pointing to texts that have distorted or no apparent cosmic reference does not falsify the theory, especially given the authors’ incentives to conceal this material to prevent it being burnt. The underlying science will not be falsified because it is abundantly confirmed by Newtonian mechanics of axial wobble and climatic evidence. In Popperian terms the science is falsifiable because evidence could in principle emerge to contradict Newtonian mechanics, but this is a side issue from how to verify the use of symbols in ancient literature.
Further examples can help show that this method enables reconstruction of an accurate ancient cosmology which has largely been lost to view due to the accidents of history. The fall of Rome led to the obliteration of all knowledge of Egyptian writing, and destruction of most Egyptian texts. Knowledge about precession, a complex astronomical observation associated with secret mysteries such as Mithraism, could also have been lost as collateral damage from the broader destruction of classical culture.
Pindar associated Kronos with time, and the Romans identified Saturn with Kronos. The linkage between such myths and actual observation of the planets is one area that can help explain the link to time. The rapid movement of the planet Mercury is allegory for the fleeting messenger between the earth and the sun, Venus is the beautiful evening star, etc. Saturn, with its slow thirty year orbit, was the limit of ancient knowledge of the solar system, and therefore provided the outer boundary for regular natural observation of the passage of time. We see this link with time in the traditional sickle symbol for Saturn, associated with death as the reaper who marks the remorseless advance of the years and the myth of the castration of Uranus, and in the association between Saturn and the phrase ‘old father time’.
Hesiod and Virgil discuss the myth of the decline from the golden age to the iron age. Their order of metals, leaving out the heroic age, also appears in Daniel 2:32 with the dream of a statue whose “head was of gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet part of iron, and part of clay” and at Daniel 5:4, with “the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.”
It appears that this myth has Indian origin, in the description of the so-called Day of Brahma, with its successive deteriorating ages or Yugas of gold, silver, bronze and iron, and its cyclic cosmology of a return from a present iron age of darkness and ignorance towards a new golden age of light and knowledge.
The Day of Brahma is claimed to be 4.32 billion years long. Mythologist Joseph Campbell argued that this exceedingly long time was a corruption of an original myth based on accurate observation of the zodiac age period estimated at 2160 years, with the traditional supposed Day of Brahma two million times this actual observation. Campbell argued that various instances of the 4320 time period in myth indicated ancient knowledge of precession. Modern Indian writers have asserted that the Yuga cycle has a period of 24,000 years, very close to the actual precession cycle of 25,765 years. Some New Age-type discussion of this material is rather unscientific, and it is a challenge to try to extract possible scientific content.
A possible scientific hypothesis for the Yuga cycle of light and dark derives from orbital mechanics. Orbital precession is an actual main driver of glaciation cycles, together with obliquity and ellipticity. Against the 24,000 year Yuga framework, the so-called Golden Age or Satya Yuga occurred over ten thousand years ago, at the dawn of the Holocene and the end of the ice age. Northern summer insolation was then at maximum due to the orbital alignment of the June solstice and the perihelion. Summer light steadily declined until 1296 AD, when the December solstice passed perihelion, and is now rising again. The Yuga myth coincidentally equates this time of relative darkness in earth’s cosmic cycle (the actual period of lowest summer insolation) with the so-called Kali Yuga, or Iron Age of darkness and ignorance.
The Yuga theory of cycles of light and dark ages over 24,000 years maps quite accurately to the real cycles of light and dark seen in glacial climate records. The lack of means for early astronomers to detect the change in summer insolation is the main weakness in any hypothesis that suggests this is deliberate. In the absence of accurate knowledge of orbital mechanics they would have needed some way to sense this very slow cycle, perhaps in a way similar to the instinctive intuition of the seasons seen in plants and animals.
What these observations show is that a 24,000 year cyclic framework for the Greek myth of decline from an earlier Golden Age can readily use zodiac ages as its temporal markers. Seeing the high point of the Golden Age as the dawn of the Holocene when the equinox was in Leo, and the low point of the Iron Age as the most recent millennia when the equinox was in Aries and Pisces matches the myths with observable cosmology. This framework also matches to the Mithraic God Aion, the man-lion with eagle wings surrounded by six coils of a snake, as allegory for the six ages from the time when the equinox was in the constellation of the lion to the time when the equinox enters the constellation of the man.
A further way to describe how this precessional cosmology was available to the ancients is to consider the galactic plane as like the horizon. On this model, the Satya Yuga or golden age matches the time when the spring equinox is north of the galactic plane, before about 7000 BC, while the Kali Yuga or iron age matches the time when the spring equinox passes through the point furthest south of the galactic plane. These are just convenient markers which illustrate the relation between the seasons and earth’s orbital ellipse, allegory seeing the Great Year on the model of a day or a year. However, the ellipse itself is also rotating, so the apparent stellar motion of period about 25765 years actually produces a terrestrial cycle of period about 21600 years. This is the time it takes for the perihelion point to travel right around the seasons, combining the elliptical spin with the precession wobble, as shown by Milankovitch.
The Greek saying, 'ex pede Herculem' refers to the practice of observing a fragment (such as a ruined foot of an old sculpture) and imaginatively extrapolating a whole figure, in this case the hero Hercules. I can appreciate that readers might ask if I am doing that, but I am not. I am suggesting the ancients had a coherent cosmology, which used accurate knowledge of precession as a marker of time, but somehow this knowledge was mostly lost, and is only available in fragments. These fragments are far more coherent and abundant than just a tooth used to reconstruct a dinosaur, or a foot for a whole statue. They involve an accurate cosmology, used over thousands of years for temple realignments in places such as Egypt and Majorca, and clearly present in a range of ancient sources. This cosmology of precession informs a range of different texts, such as the one under discussion here, the handing over of power, seat and authority from the dragon as symbol for the movement from Draco to Ursa of the point about which all the heavens appear to rotate.
The connection between Kronos and Aeon is asserted in various sources, as also shown by Pindar’s connection with time. Aeon means age. It is unclear how long an age is meant to be, although we have various clues, such as the drawing of Aeon inside the wheel of the zodiac, and the six coils of the snake around the Mithraic winged man-lion sphinx statue. This riddle of the sphinx gives us far more information than just a swollen foot.
Etymology has various methods to study the evolution of language. For example, evolution of language about sky gods in the Indo-European language family indicates similarity between the names of the Vedic Dyaus Pita, the Greek Zeus Pater, the Roman Jupiter and the Christian Deus Pater. The common meaning supports the assumption of a drift of usage for the same concept across different but related cultures.
Some say that the Greek words Chronos and Kronos are entirely unrelated because of differences in usage, pronunciation and meaning, despite the evidence that Perikles has cited from Pindar. But looking to the shared meanings, Chronos as the basis of chronology, and Kronos as linked to time through the shared identity with Saturn discussed above, suggests an actual link is likely in the origin of these words as relating to time. This suggestion of a link to time is supported by the link between Kronos and Aion, whose name means Age.
The Indo-European language family contains extensive coherence, and indeed is called a family precisely because of this coherence. Everyone at similar latitudes sees the same sky. Apart from proper motion the only difference between then and now is due to precession. Fragmentary evidence that I have cited here, and other evidence that I would be happy to cite, indicates considerably wider and older knowledge of precession than the minimalist interpretation, suggesting much more contact and coherence between different civilizations than is sometimes imagined.
The meaning of Aeon changed over time, unsurprisingly given linguistic evolution. Wikipedia states "The Bible translation is a treatment of the Hebrew word olam and the Greek word aion. Both these words have similar meaning, and Young's Literal Translation renders them and their derivatives as “age” or “age-during”. Other English versions most often translate them to indicate eternity, being translated as eternal, everlasting, forever, etc. However, there are notable exceptions to this in all major translations, such as Matthew 28:20: “…I am with you always, to the end of the age” (NRSV), the word “age” being a translation of aion."
When I said aion/aeon means age, I did not mean it is never used in the sense of 'eternity', but merely that age is the primary meaning. It is incorrect to say Aion does not mean age just because it is also used to mean eternal or life.
The handing of power, seat and authority from the dragon to the leopard-bear-lion primarily refers to the precession of the north celestial pole over historical time, as the most logical and coherent explanation of the text.