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Landmarks in the History of Science » Physics-Astronomy » The Sibylline Battle of the Stars and Phaethon Seen as Natural History / Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaethon... 1927

The Sibylline Battle of the Stars and Phaethon Seen as Natural History / Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaethon... 1927

Autor: Franz Xaver Kugler
Cod: 8426
In stoc: Da

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''The modern system of astronomy is now so much received by all inquirers, and has become so essential a part even of our earliest education, that we are not commonly very scrupulous in examining the reasons upon which it is founded. It is now become a matter of mere curiosity to study the first writers on that subject.''
                                     David Hume, 1779

''To prove that there are ancient records which document that in recent times the earth underwent a cataclysm of extraterrestrial origin which is precisely described and should be taken into account as an empirical datum by those whose task is to construct astronomical and cosmological theories, I shall quote the opinion of a recognized major authority on Babylonian and biblical astronomy, chronology, and mythology, Father Franz Xaver Kugler (1862-1929).

Kugler had a strictly scientific bent of mind. He started his academic career as a university lecturer of chemistry, but, after the death of Joseph Epping (1835-94), a fellow member of the Jesuit order and the founder of the study of cuneiform astronomical texts, Kugler decided to take over and continue his work and to this end became an outstanding expert on ancient astronomy and cuneiform philology. Most of his life was dedicated to the interpretation of cuneiform texts dealing with astronomy and with the related topics of chronology and mythology; the main characteristic of his method was a mathematical rigour for which he is considered still unsurpassed today...

Kugler insisted that one should suspend judgment and concentrate on the careful study of specific groups of documents. For this reason, only at the end of his life did he feel ready to come forth with a general theory, and less than two years before his death, he published a rather slim book entitled Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaëthon in naturgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung, ‘The Sibylline Battle of the Stars and Phaethon Seen as Natural History, (Munster, 1927).

He who rested his fame on tomes which, in spite of their intrinsic clarity, are comprehensible only to the few who can understand both mathematical astronomy and cuneiform philology, issued this book as part of a series called Zeitgemässige Beiträge, (‘Essays of Current Interest’), because, as he explains, he felt that he had a message that should affect contemporary society, since it had a great meaning for the history of culture. Kugler well understood that great innovating ideas can be made to prevail by presenting them to a public wider than the narrow specialists, who have a tendency to become prisoners of the general conceptions they have learned together with the technical routines that they have spent their lives to master. But even though Kugler intended to address himself to the general public, he could not help following his usual method, which consisted in proving a general point by concentrating on the exact technical interpretations of a few texts.

Werner Jaeger was fond of repeating to us students that the most important rule he had learned from the great Wilamowitz, was that in philology a few univocal texts have more compelling force than one hundred ambiguous ones. The trouble with this method is that it leads to the formulation of conclusions meaningful only for the wise who can understand that the revision of the interpretation of a single text may automatically imply the revision of a host of similar ones. What Kugler submitted was intended to be dynamite that should have shaken the entire field of ancient chronology and historical astronomy, but the fuse was not lit because the general public did not understand what was implied, and those who were competent to understand the implications were not psychologically ready to draw the inevitable conclusions.

The ‘pressing warning’ that Kugler wanted to communicate to the public was summed up by him as:

the momentous doctrine that ancient traditions, even when they are dressed as myth and saga, cannot be dismissed lightly as fantastic, or worse, meaningless fabrications. It is particularly proper to avoid this pitfall when dealing with serious reports, especially those of religious nature such as those that occur in large number in the Old Testament.

He applied this general theory to the interpretations of the ancient texts that deal with the Battle of the Stars. He observed that these texts have been dismissed by scholars as:

completely nonsensical and that nobody has succeeded in explaining them as a meaningful allegory, if it is not possible to interpret them as references to true cosmic occurrences... I have to confess that in my first occasional attempts I did not succeed any better. But many years of experience with the decipherment of cuneiform documents that concern the astronomical and astromythological conceptions of the Babylonians have taught me that, in the system of ideas of the Easterners and of the ancient Orientals in particular, there is much that seems nonsensical to us Occidentals, but is in reality within the realm of factual foundations and sound logic.

Kugler published his booklet when he was sixty-five years old, because what he intended to issue was actually a manifesto announcing a new line of solutions for problems which had been debated since scholars first began to read the astronomical clay tablets found in Mesopotamia. Kugler had wrestled with these problems all through his scholarly life. A manifesto is a declaration of opinions and of related objectives to be pursued. In his manifesto Kugler was considering what had developed in the study of ancient astronomy in the preceding half century, and was setting aims for future research to be pursued by the next generation.

Unfortunately Kugler’s manifesto was ignored by the generation that immediately followed it. This is not a unique case. Thomas S. Kuhn (The Copernican Revolution, Cambridge, Mass., 1957, pp. 185-6) relates that Copernicus had been ‘widely recognized as one of Europe’s leading astronomers’ for twenty years, before he published his revolutionary book on point of death (A.D. 1543):

Many advanced astronomical tests written during the fifty years after Copernicus’ death referred to him as a ‘second Ptolemy’ or ‘the outstanding artificer of our age;’ increasingly these books borrowed data, computations, and diagrams. Authors who applauded his erudition, borrowed his diagrams, or quoted his determination of the distance from the earth to the moon, usually either ignored the earth’s motion or dismissed it as absurd.

Today, if what Kugler stated in his booklet was put into the hands of a writer with some journalistic talent, it would be the source of a runaway bestseller. It would be expedient that this writer reserve to himself the copyright to the film version, because Hollywood would be most likely to make a bid for it. But Kugler belonged to a different generation and a different world: he spent most of his life within the walls of Jesuit training institutions, carrying on, as a practical sideline to his reading of Sumerian and Assyrian tablets, the teaching of mathematics to his brothers of the Order.

The pivotal idea in Kugler’s book is that the myth of Phaethon, one of the best known but also oddest Greek myths, was based on an actual physical occurrence which can be dated historically around 1500 B.C. According to Kugler it was at this time that there appeared in the sky a body which was more brilliant than the light of the sun and finally made an impact on the earth: ‘There really were at one time simultaneous catastrophes of fire and flood.’

The myth narrates that Phaethon (The Shining One) borrowed and drove the chariot of the Sun, but was forced by the steeds that were pulling it to drive it off course through the sky and finally to drive it disastrously close to the surface of the earth. The gods had to put an end to the calamity. Phaethon was struck by a bolt of lightning and fell to earth dead. Kugler concentrates upon this myth in order to establish the principle that, if such a ‘highly fantastic’ story must be taken as scientific truth wrapped ‘in the veil of poetry,’ there are other ancient myths which must be understood as having a similar basis.

According to Kugler, the fire of Phaethon which according to the Greeks had its main impact on Africa (some poets claimed that it caused the Africans to turn black), refers to the same event which in Greek mythology is called the Flood of Deucalion (the name by which the Greeks called the man who supposedly survived it and repopulated the land). Having identified the Fire of Phaeton and the Flood of Deucalion, Kugler proceeded to document that ancient chronologists had assigned specific dates to these two events, such as 610 years before the founding of Rome or the 67th year of Moses. Actually, Greek chronologists state that the period for which we have certain dates begins with this event. They date as contemporary the Flood of Deucalion or Ogyges in Greece, the Fire of Phaeton in Africa, and the Plagues of Egypt. Kugler left out of his account of the ancient information the detail that the foundation of Athens, that is, the city of Athena (who was the planet Venus), was made contemporary with these events.

According to Kugler, the crisis described as the Battle of the Stars began with the appearance in the eastern sky of a body as bright as the sun and similar in apparent diameter to the sun and the moon. The light of the sun was replaced by long streams of flame crossing each other.

After the mention of these streams of flame that replaced the sun as a source of light, there follows the line, ‘the Morning Star fought the battle riding on the back of Leo.’ Kugler observed that this association of Venus with Leo must have had a momentous meaning for the ancients, since the several goddesses that represent Venus, such as the Phrygian Cybele, the Greek Great Mother, the Carthaginian Coelestis was portrayed as riding a lion while holding a spear in her hands. In Babylonian mythology Venus as Evening Star was a goddess of love and motherhood; but as Morning Star she was a divinity of war, leader of the army of the stars, associated with the lion ‘as a symbol of a power that overthrows everything.’

The Battle of the Stars ends when the attacker is defeated, falling into the ocean and setting the entire earth on fire.
Kugler concluded that the details of the world disaster prophesied in the Sibylline Oracles are materials taken over from the reports of past events, which among the Greeks were presented as the story of Phaethon...

It is a fact that after 1914 Kugler suspended the publication of his major work which had given him a world wide reputation. From the beginning he had announced that the first two volumes, which dealt with observational data, would be followed by a third volume dealing with mythology and cosmological concepts. This third volume was never published, and one must understand that the booklet of 1927 on the myth of Phaethon, in a real, if limited, sense, replaced it. The message of this booklet is not so much that the myth of Phaethon refers to a cosmic catastrophe which took place at the middle of the second millennium B.C., but that in general astromythologies are based on astronomical occurrences. Kugler would have granted to Velikovsky that it is perfectly legitimate to use mythological materials as a source of information about astronomical events.''

                                   The Inconstant Heavens by Livio Catullo Stecchini

The Sibylline Battle of the Stars and Phaethon Seen as Natural History / Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaethon… Munster, 1927, Aschendorffsche Verlag, p. 56, fine condition, RARE

Price: USD 199,000.00