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ON THE ORIGIN OF THE PRIMITIVE SPHERE OF
By Isaac CULLIMORE, Esq. In an essay on the Hermaic Records or Royal Canicular Almanacks of the ancient Egyptians (which appears in the Morning Watch, vol. vi. p. 389) I adverted to "the sphere described by Eudoxus, Aratus, and Hipparchus," as proved by the Hermaic system to be among the obligations which Grecian science owed to Egypt; and now I propose to state a few circumstances in proof of this interesting fact; trusting that the substance will be found to be, first, a practical demonstration of the validity of the Egyptian elements of time which I have attempted to develop; and, secondly, a forcible elucidation of one of the most disputed and interesting questions of Grecian antiquity,
Sir Isaac Newton, and his chronological opponents the Père Souciet, Mr. Bedford, &c. (determined alike to behold nothing but the history of the Argonautic expedition in the asterisms of a sphere which, with the graphic and astronomical variations that have been the inevitable results of difference of place and time, has been common to civilized nations from the remotest antiquity, and is among those links which bind the histories of all primitive nations together at their source), laboured the first to depress the historical age of the Argonauts, in the 13th century before the Christian era, to the astronomical age of the sphere, in the 10th century, resulting from the description of Eudoxus and his followers; the latter, to raise the astronomical age of the sphere to the Argonautic epoch-the evidence of history being thus rejected by the one, and that of astronomy by the others; while in both cases the synchronical harmony, which alone could establish the obscure traditions preserved by Clemens and Laertius, that refer the primitive sphere of the Greeks to Chiron and his contemporary Musæus the Argonaut, is wholly lost sight of, together with the evidence of all sober history, from Herodotus downwards, which points to Egypt as the source of Grecian science.
Eudoxus and his copyists refer the colures to the middle of the cardinal asterisms Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, answering to the eighth degree of the constellations bearing those names -the zodiac being understood to commence from the star y, or prima arietis, as appears by Sir Isaac Newton's elaborate calculation of the mean longitudes of the principal stars by which the colures are described to have passed. Assuming, therefore, the description to agree with observation, he refers the construction of the sphere to the year B. c. 937; and here also places the Argonautic expedition. The opponents of this system, on the other hand, assuming the Greek astronomers to speak of the middle of the signs, rather than of the constellations, raise the place of the colures to the fifteenth deg. of Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn; thus gaining seven deg. on the Newtonian computation, and giving an antiquity to the sphere equal, if not superior, to the
highest date assigned by history to Chiron and the Argonauts.
But, however our great philosopher may have failed in his attenpts to bend the facts of history and chronology to a favourite system, no person can dispute the validity of his astronomical deductions, taken separately; and were there any doubt to which of the two views of this part of the question the preference is due, it is decided by Columella, who acquaints us, that, in referring the colures to the eighth deg. of the cardinal signs, he follows the opinion of ancient astronomers, including that of Eudoxus himself, Meton, and Euctemon; and this testimony is confirmed by Pliny. It follows, that we can ascend no higher than the epoch of this position of the colures for the introduction of the sphere into Greece.
It is here necessary to observe, that not only Meton and Euctemon, who introduced the lunar cycle of nineteen years, B. C. 432; Eudoxus, B. c. 360; and Aratus, according to his description of the sphere, B. C. 280, assign the above positions to the colures; but likewise Sosigenes, the Alexandrian astronomer, by whose assistance the Julian Calendar was constructed, B. c. 45; and the Roman writers Manilius, Columella, Ovid, Pliny, and others, down to the first century of the Christian
It hence appears, that from the age of Meton to that of Pliny, a period of five centuries, the Greek and Roman philosophers adopted the primitive position of the colures, without regard to the recession of the equinoctial points, although their assumed places did not agree with observation at any single moment during this long interval-having receded not less than seven deg. from the original epoch to the age of Meton, and seven deg. more between the times of Meton and Pliny. It is true, that the great astronomer, Hipparchus, who understood the doctrine of equinoctial precession, partially corrected the error, referring the tropics and equinoxes to the beginning of the signs, about the middle of the second century B.C.; but the facts of history prove that this correction did not prevail before the age of his great successor, Claudius Ptolemy, about the middle of the second century of the Christian era.
No doubt, therefore, can exist as to the fact that the fixed sphere of the Greeks and Romans was first constructed, or introduced, at a time when the colures were found, either by observation or calculation, to intersect the eighth deg.of the cardinal
signs. Calculation refers this epoch to the middle of the tenth, century B. c. as above. But if we give credit to Varro, the most learned of the ancients, the mythic or fabulous age of Grecian antiquity had not then expired, nor the historical age commenced, by the space of nearly two centuries; the point of division being fixed by this writer to the Olympic era, B.C. 776; and, rejecting the Newtonian age of the Argonauts, for the same reason that we reject the age of the sphere adopted by his ponents (because both are found invalid when brought to the test of history and astronomical calculation), there is not the shadow of an event in Grecian history or tradition that bears upon the introduction or invention of the Greek sphere in the age in question.
Sir Isaac Newton himself admits, that "after the Argonautic expedition we hear no more of astronomy till the days of Thales : he revived astronomy, and wrote a book of the tropics and equinoxes, and predicted eclipses ......... about the forty-first Olympiad,” i.e. B.c. 616. Hence it appears, that, according to the Newtonian view, there is an utter blank of more than three centuries in the history of Grecian astronomy, during which the discoveries and observations of Chiron and Musæus had nevertheless been accurately preserved; while, if we follow the opponents of the system, the chronological gap extends to more than six centuries.
Let us, however, take our stand at the first dawn of Grecian astronomy which history sanctions--that is, in the days of Thales. Thales, Milesius, and his contemporary Solon, were the first of the Greek philosophers who visited Egypt. There the former studied astronomy and geometry under the priests of Memphis, from whom he learned the nature of the Egyptian solar year, and acquired a knowledge of the solstices, equinoxes,
, and eclipses; and being the first who introduced this sort of knowledge into Greece, was naturally looked upon by his countrymen as its original inventor, or discoverer. The twelve signs of the zodiac, and the asterisms, to which the Greek and Roman writers are almost unanimous in assigning an Egyptian origin, were also doubtless among the discoveries or acquirements of Thales.
This philosopher was born anno 1, Olymp. 35, or B. c. 639, the 34th year of Psammeticus king of Egypt; and died, aged 95, in the 58th Olympiad, being the 27th of king Amasis. But, according to the Father of History, the Greek states, which were for the most part Egyptian colonies of remote antiquity, had no communication with the parent country until the first year of the former reign, when the Carian and Ionian auxiliaries came to assist king Psammeticus against his rivals; and from thenceforward there was an uninterrupted intercourse between
Egypt and Greece. This was likewise the epoch from which the Greeks were accurately acquainted with Egyptian history, of which their information regarding every preceding age was exceedingly vague and obscure. It follows, that the knowledge of astronomical science imported from Egypt by Thales was obtained in the first age of Egyptian and Grecian intercourse ; and that the first historical age of Grecian science is limited to the time of this philosopher.
Agreeably to this, we learn from Diogenes Laertius, &c., that Anaximander, the disciple of Thales, who was 64 years old in the second year of the 58th Olympiad, B. c. 547--that is, three years
before the death of Thales--wrote on geography, astronomy, and the sphere. He taught the obliquity of the ecliptic, which he had learned from Thales, who could not have predicted eclipses without a knowledge of it. He studied the nature of the equinox, &c.; and was the first Greek who constructed maps and a celestial sphere; the nature of which he had doubtless also studied under his preceptor. Anaximander was, moreover, the first who published his works in Greece. This is the earliest glimpse of a Greek sphere which authentic history affords.
Cleostratus Tenedius, about the 61st Olympiad, B. c. 536, followed up the labours of Anaximander by placing the signs in the zodiac, as we learn from Pliny and Hyginus; and introduced other astronomical improvements, particularly the octaeterus, or luni-solar cycle of eight years, founded on the Egyptian solar year of 365 days. Scaliger is of opinion that in the sphere of Cleostratus the equinoxes and solstices were placed in the eighth degree of the signs Aries, &c.; of the truth of which there can be no question, because we have already traced this position of the colures in the fixed Greek and Roman sphere from Pliny up to Meton and Euctemon, who flourished within a century of Cleostratus; whose correction of this original position of the points, if any such correction had been made, would in all probability have been adopted by his successors.
Having traced the sphere of the Greeks up to the earliest dawn of Grecian astronomy which history allows, and its first introduction by a philosopher who had acquired his knowledge in the colleges of Memphis, let us now inquire into the state of the Egyptian sphere in the age of Thales, who was born in the reign of Psammeticus, as above, and, according to Sir Isaac Newton, studied astronomy at Memphis in the beginning of the reign of his successor Pharoah-Necho.
Psammeticus, with whom the catalogue of the great Saite family, preserved by Herodotus, commences, began to reign in the year B. c. 672, the first year of the Græco-Egyptian intercourse, and was, according to the Egyptian-annals of Manetho, preceded by Stephinathes, Nicepsos, and Nechao I. (the father of Psammeticus, according to Herodotus), who reigned respectively, seven, six, and eight years. To king Nicepsos, the second of these, and his contemporary the philosopher Petosiris, are ascribed the latest innovations or improvements in the Hermaic astronomy of Egypt. They were celebrated astronomers and astrologers, and constructed a sphere into which the decani, or decennary divisions of the zodiac, were first introduced. Julius Firmicus calls them “divini viri atque omni admiratione digni.” The chronological limitation of the reign of Nicepsos is from the year B. c. 686 to B. c. 672. Sir Isaac Newton assigns the lastmentioned year for his epoch.
In the paper on the Hermaic Records, alluded to at the commencement of these remarks, I have shewn that the date of the construction of the Egyptian revolving sphere answers to about the year B. c. 1589; this being the only point of time, in the space of the whole zodiacal revolution of 36,525 erratic years, at which the Hermaic longitudes of the stars, conjunctions, &c., could agree with observation. The colures then intersected the seventeenth deg. of Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, in both the Egyptian and celestial spheres ; reckoning the zodiac to commence, as in the case of the Greek sphere, with Aries, or primu arietis, which star had no longitude in the year B. c. 375, according to truth; while for the same phenomenon in the Egyptian sphere we must descend 510 years lower, or to A. D. 136. It will be found from these elements, that, although the colures had really receded to the eighth deg, of the signs in the year B. c. 947, and left that degree in the year 875, this did not occur, according to the Hermaic almanacks, until nearly three centuries later; the entering of the colures into the eighth deg. of the signs corresponding to the year B. c. 676, and the departure to 575; this interval commencing with the reign of the royal philosopher Nicepsos, and embracing the first 64
of the life of Thales and the first 36 years of Anaximander.
It follows, that the origin of the Greek sphere is here pointed out to us, and that it is, properly speaking, the sphere of Nicepsos. The historical evidence which was wanting at the date of the true coincidence of the colures with the eighth deg. of the signs in the 10th century B. C., is found complete in the 7th. 1st, The Egyptian colures then coincided with the eighth deg. of the cardinal signs. 2d, The Egyptian sphere of Hermes is reconstructed and accommodated to the celestial phenomena of the time, on the authorized principles of computation. 3d, Thales visits Egypt, and carries a delineation of the sphere of that country into Greece. 4th, Anaximander the disciple of Thales, constructs the first Greek sphere. 5th, Meton and Euctemon delineate the Greek sphere, as regards the places of