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Tag: Censorinus

Tracing the Doctrine of Cataclysms of Berossus

“The context in Censorinus shows that the interval of 2434 years was in Aristarchus’s opinion the interval between alternate conflagrations and inundations of the world when the sun, moon, and stars all return to the same zodiacal sign.

It is very difficult to trace exactly the adoption of Babylonian ideas by the Greek astronomers. An active part in the diffusion of Babylonian astronomy is often ascribed to Berosus the Chaldaean, who was a contemporary of Aristarchus, and had a doctrine of cataclysms similar to his; for Berosus claimed that when all the planets were in Cancer the earth would be burned, and when they were in Capricorn there would be a flood.

But an examination of the astronomical fragments of Berosus suggests that he had a very inadequate knowledge of the subject. His views on the moon’s phases are reported by Vitruvius, who contrasts them with the explanation given by Aristarchus.

It looks indeed as though Aristarchus set out deliberately to refute the views of his Babylonian contemporary, who settled in Cos, not far from Samos, the home of Aristarchus. Berosus supposed that the moon had light of her own, one half of her orb being luminous and the rest of a blue colour. The moon’s phases thus in his view were caused by her luminous half being turned towards or away from the earth.

Aristarchus, however, maintained that the moon receives her light from the sun, so that on the fourteenth day of the month when she is in opposition to the sun, she is full and rises when the sun is setting.

Vitruvius shows that Aristarchus explained the first and last quarters and the new moons as well; and it is obvious from Aristarchus’s book on the sizes and distances of the sun and moon that Berosus had nothing to teach the Samian about the phases of the moon.

No doubt Aristarchus applied what he had learned from Strato and his own theory about light and shadow to the moon’s phases and to eclipses also. The most obvious objection to Berosus’s doctrine was that it failed to explain lunar eclipses, as Cleomedes [2.4] pointed out.

It is most unlikely that Berosus had anything worth while to teach the Greeks about theoretical astronomy, though he did have a cursory interest in the subject, having treated it in the first book of the Babyloniaca (P. Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische LiteraturLeipzig 1923, p. 19.)

We are told also that he maintained that Babylonian astronomical records did not go back before the time of Nabonasar, that king having destroyed the earlier ones. In view of this clear statement it is surprising to find that according to our texts of Pliny, Berosus held that observations of the stars had been inscribed on baked tablets for 480,000 (!) years (490,000 in some copies).

If we read CCCCLXXX for CCCCLXXX we can reduce the period to 480 years. Now Berosus dedicated his Babyloniaca to Antiochus I Soter, who reigned from 281/0 to 262/1 B.C., and if we add 480 to a year in the reign of that king we are brought close to the epoch of Nabonasar.

I think it likely therefore that Berosus stated that accurate observations had been made in Babylonia for 480 years from the time of Nabonasar, and that earlier observations were not available to him. This suggestion is supported by the failure of Ptolemy in the Almagest to cite any Chaldaean observations earlier than the time of Nabonasar.

If Ptolemy’s dating of the first year of Nabonasar to 747 B.C. was the same as Berosus’s, then we have a date for the publication of the Babyloniaca, 480 years after 747 B.C. or 267 B.C., a year well within the reign of Antiochus I to whom the work was dedicated.”

George Huxley, “Aristarchus of Samos and Graeco-Babylonian Astronomy,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Duke University, Vol 5, No 2 (1964), pp. 125-7.

Hesiod Fragment 304

“Hesiod’s riddle assumes a system of four world periods, each comprising a year of twelve months of which the first and the last are occupied by the creation and the destruction of the world, respectively.

The equal world periods of Berossus end alternately in a world inundation and a world conflagration, the former when all the planets are in the sign of the Capricorn, the latter when they are all in the sign of Cancer.

We have already pointed out that this astrological view of the end of the world is based on the rather obvious idea that the Great Year, like the ordinary solar year, has its summer and its winter, which according to Censorinus was even mentioned by Aristotle.

Plato did not relate the world flood and world conflagration to specific, actually impossible, stellar constellations. He ascribes the world conflagration to a disastrous deviation of the celestial bodies from their fixed courses. (Plato, Timaeus, 22d. In Plato the world catastrophes never lead to the complete destruction of the human race. Borossus himself, in his report on the Babylonian flood, makes no mention of the planets coinciding in the sign of the Capricorn.)

And he does not state anywhere that these world catastrophes mark the termination of the Great Year.

The Pre-Socratics held the view that human life is periodically destroyed by a total flooding and a total desiccation of the earth. This may even be implicit in Anaximander’s doctrine of the drying up of the world. (Anaximander, frg., A. 27).

In any case we find this concept clearly expressed in Philolaus, who knew two destructions of the world: one by fire pouring from the sky, the other by water from the moon, released by an inversion of the air; the vapors rising from the earth provide the cosmos with food. (Philolaus, frg., A. 18).

We must not visualize this as a sudden catastrophe but rather as a slow drying up of the earth until life is no longer possible, followed by a gradual moistening of the earth until it finally drowns in water.

Philolaus assumed an unceasing rising and sinking movement of the air and of the accompanying moisture present in the cosmos. Due to the heat of the sun, “the fire that pours from the sky,” the water on earth evaporates and the ascending vapors, which form the food of the cosmos, rise together to the moon. (According to Aëtius, De placitis philosophorum, II, 17, 4, this was taught as early as by Heraclitus, cf. FVS, I, 146).

When the earth is completely dried out and life has come to an end, the process is reversed, and by the opposite movement of the air the earth is gradually moistened until life revives. It is clear that this conception derives from the observation of the sun’s capacity to cause evaporation and of the falling of the dew on clear moonlit nights.

On his system Philolaus evokes a magnificent vision of the course of the cosmos in which the immensely long world periods succeed each other as the night the day.

This conception is highly consistent with the idea that one month of the world year is needed for the creation and one month for the destruction of the world. This makes it probable that the four eras of the Great Year assumed by the riddle of Hesiod were, in the original conception, alternately ended by flooding and drying up of the world.

The first period of which Berossus speaks was terminated by a world flood, from which it follows that the second period referred to in Hesiod, frg., 304, would have to end in “fire.”

R. van den Broek, The Myth of the Phoenix: According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions, Brill Archive, 1972, pp. 100-2.

The Great Year Doctrine of World Catastrophe

“In the Greek world the first distinct mention of the Great Year was made by Plato, who argued in his Timaeus that time is produced by the celestial bodies: the moon determines the month, the sun the year; but the times of the planets and of the sphere of the fixed stars are so great that it can hardly be known whether they are times at all.

In any case it is clear that the perfect number of time fulfills the perfect year at the moment at which the sun, the moon, the planets, and the fixed stars have all completed their courses and have again reached their starting point. (Plato, Timaeus, 39c, 39d).

By this is meant that the Great Year is completed when the celestial bodies have reached the same positions in relation to each other as they had at the beginning of that period. The identical conception is found in Cicero, qualified by the statement that the actual duration of such a period is a matter of controversy (Cicero, De natura deorum, II, 51-2).

But in his Hortensius, the book which was later to make such a strong impression on the young Augustine, Cicero equated the Great Year with 12,954 ordinary years, as we know from Tacitus and Servius (Tacitus, Dialogus de oratoribus, 16, 7. Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Aenid of Virgil, I, 296. The same number is given by Solinus in connection with the phoenix, Solini Polyhistor, cap. xxxvi).

In addition to these opinions about the Great Year there is another according to which the sun, the moon, and the five planets all return at the end of the Great Year to one and the same sign of the Zodiac, the one under which they were when it began. According to Censorinus, Aristotle himself had put forward this same view, and preferentially indicated this period as “the Greatest Year.” This year, like the ordinary solar year, was thought to have a summer and winter too, the summer culminating in a world conflagration and the world in a world flood. (Censorinus, De die natali, 18, II. ).

How much of this really goes back to Aristotle cannot be said with certainty. (V. Rose, Aristotelis fragmenta, Lipsiae, 1886, 39, frg. 25). According to Seneca, Berossus, the Babylonian priest of Bel who wrote in the third century BC, propagated the same doctrine in a more detailed form: when the sun, the moon, and the planets came to lie in a straight line under the sign of Cancer, the world would burst into flames; and if they reached that position under Capricorn, the world would be inundated. (Seneca, Naturales Quaestiones, III, 29, I).

BM102485 - Boundary stone (kudurru) Kassite dynasty, about 1125-1100 BC Probably from southern Iraq A legal statement about the ownership of a piece of land The cuneiform inscription on this kudurru records the granting by Eanna-shum-iddina, the governor of the Sealand, of five gur of corn land in the district of Edina in south Babylonia to a man called Gula-eresh. The boundaries of the land are laid out; the surveyor is named as Amurru-bel-zeri and the transfer completed by two high officials who are also named. Nine gods are invoked to protect the monument, along with seventeen divine symbols. The symbols of the important Mesopotamian gods are most prominent: the solar disc of the sun-god Shamash, the crescent of the moon-god Sin and the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, goddess of fertility and war. The square boxes beneath these signs represent altars supporting the symbols of gods, including horned headdresses, the triangular spade of Marduk, and the wedge-shaped stylus of Nabu, the god of writing. A prominent snake is shown on many kudurru and may, like many of the symbols, be related to the constellations. The text ends with curses on anyone who removes, ignores or destroys the kudurru. L.W. King, Babylonian boundary stones and (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1912) © The Trustees of the British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/b/boundary_stone_kudurru-6.aspx

BM102485 – Boundary stone (kudurru)
Kassite dynasty, about 1125-1100 BC
Probably from southern Iraq
A legal statement about the ownership of a piece of land
The cuneiform inscription on this kudurru records the granting by Eanna-shum-iddina, the governor of the Sealand, of five gur of corn land in the district of Edina in south Babylonia to a man called Gula-eresh. The boundaries of the land are laid out; the surveyor is named as Amurru-bel-zeri and the transfer completed by two high officials who are also named.
Nine gods are invoked to protect the monument, along with seventeen divine symbols. The symbols of the important Mesopotamian gods are most prominent: the solar disc of the sun-god Shamash, the crescent of the moon-god Sin and the eight-pointed star of Ishtar, goddess of fertility and war. The square boxes beneath these signs represent altars supporting the symbols of gods, including horned headdresses, the triangular spade of Marduk, and the wedge-shaped stylus of Nabu, the god of writing.
A prominent snake is shown on many kudurru and may, like many of the symbols, be related to the constellations. The text ends with curses on anyone who removes, ignores or destroys the kudurru.
L.W. King, Babylonian Boundary Stones (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1912)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/b/boundary_stone_kudurru-6.aspx

These rather improbable theories were especially favored among astrologers, since Greek astronomy had already reached a point of development at which the doctrines of Berossus could not be accepted. (J. Bidez, Bérose et la grande année, in Melanges Paul Fredericq, Brussels, 1904, 9-19.)

These texts treating the views of Aristotle and Berossus say that world catastrophes corresponding to the summer and winter of the solar year can occur in the course of the Great Year. The period between two world catastrophes could also be seen as a Great Year, but only in the derivative sense. The true Great Year, which might with Aristotle be called the Greatest Year, coincided with a complete cosmic revolution, whether interpreted in the sense of Plato and Cicero or in that of Aristotle and Berossus.

The Great Year of the Classical world arose from the purely mythical conception of a cosmic periodicity ultimately traceable to Babylonia.” (B.L. van der Waerden, Das gross Jahr und die ewige Wiederkehr, in Hermes, 80, 1952, 135-43.)”

R. van den Broek, The Myth of the Phoenix: According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions, Brill Archive, 1972, pp. 72-6.

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