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KRONOS Vol III, No. 3
ANCIENT KNOWLEDGE OF JUPITER'S BANDS AND SATURN'S RINGS
Copyright © 1975 by Alfred de Grazia.
(This article is one of 22 essays contained in an Anthology presented to Dr. Immanuel
Velikovsky on December 5, 1975, in honor of Dr. Velikovsky and the 25th anniversary of Worlds
in Collision; it is our hope to publish the Anthology in its entirety - The Ed.)
With a mind to the present Pioneer explorations of the neighborhoods of planets Jupiter and
Saturn, an article by Thomas Taylor (of Walworth) -- published in the Classical Journal of 1819 --
ought to be reviewed. Taylor was a renowned Platonist and his article was entitled, "On the
Coincidence between the Belts of the Planet Jupiter and the Fabulous Bonds of Jupiter the Demiurgus."(1)
There, quoting passages of the neo-Platonist Proclus (c.410-85 A.D.), On
the Timaeus of Plato and On the Theology of Plato, Taylor points out "that Jupiter the Demiurgus is said
by ancient theologists, to have put his father Saturn in chains, and also to have surrounded himself
with bonds; and that the moderns have found the body of the planet Jupiter to be surrounded by
several substances resembling belts or bands, and likewise that there is the faint resemblance of a belt
about the planet Saturn."(2)
To have been capable of this assertion, Taylor would have had to educe declarations
concerning the two systems of divine bonds from the highly abstract writings of Proclus and to realize
the recency of telescopic identification of the two systems. Actually, Galileo and his associates had
sighted the rings of Saturn about 1608; however, he mistakenly believed them to be two smaller
bodies of a triple-bodied Saturn.(3) Working with a superior telescope, Christiaan Huygens had
identified the "ring" of Saturn as such (but note the singular) and had drawn Jupiter with two
equatorial streaks in his Systema Saturnium of 1659. In his posthumously published Cosmotheoros
of 1698, he wrote of the bonds of Jupiter and compared them with the clouds of Earth.(4)
A review of what Proclus had to say gives no cause to dispute Taylor's translation and
comment. Proclus does not, in these lines, directly say that the bound gods are the actual planets of
the same names. But all known planets, including Jupiter and Saturn, were identified at that time with
gods, called by their names, and were supposed to exhibit their traits. Plato further argued that the
planets and stars were huge, and he insisted that the gods were among the planets and not upon
Olympus.(5) The modern practice of arbitrarily labeling new objects of the sky from Greek mythology
has obscured the sacredness of the ancient belief in the union of astral bodies with divine personages.
If any distinction between the planet and god were required, it would relate, as Taylor put it, to "the
planet Jupiter, who being a mundane divinity, according to the theology of the Greeks, is a procession
from, but not the same with, Jupiter the fabricator of the world."(6) That is, the abstract god, Jupiter
the Demiurge, is something beyond Planet Jupiter, the concrete manifestation of the Demiurge. Early
Greek usage did employ the possessive or genitive case, "of Jupiter" in referring to the planet, but by
Aristotle's time the significance of the distinction had been lost and the nominative "Jupiter" was used
for both god and planet.
Proclus writes in a language and logic that are typical of theological speculation, but evidently
he reasons thus: Mighty Jupiter, god of law and order, god of the supreme intellect, confronts his
father, Saturn, also an all-perfect intellect, and places this intellect under bonds to control its activity
according to Jovian ordering principles' Then, because Jupiter is logical and just, he binds himself so
that he will be subject to his own laws. Thus the intelligible intellect of Saturn is comprehended by
the intellect of Jupiter which then comprehends its own intelligibility.
Proclus writes: "As the intelligible is indeed exempt from intellect, but intellect is said to
comprehend it, thus also Jupiter is said to bind his father. And in placing bonds about his father, he
at the same time binds himself."(7) Proclus refers repeatedly to the bonds and binding of Jupiter and
Saturn, and explicitly to Jupiter's "Saturnian sections and bonds."
Taylor wondered at this coincidence of modern scientific observation and ancient theology,
and inferred that such theology must be "no less scientific than sublime." Is there another explanation
of the coincidence?
One might postulate an ancient civilization of a type advanced beyond Plato's Atlantis, which
would have been thoroughly devastated but whose telescopes would have been unmatched until the
nineteenth century. Only so advanced a culture could produce and systematically employ such a
telescope. Paleo-anthropology and archaeology, overseen by the sociology of invention, do not admit
of a specific technology that far exceeds the general level of its culture. Then, if it had existed, the
destroyed civilization would have inspired myths of some essential correctness within the survivors'
Alternatively, and straining credulity even more, would occur the idea that at one time within
the transmitted memory of mankind, the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn moved on orbits differing from
their present ones and much closer together, so that the naked eye then could perceive what it could
not see later on.
One may stretch farther for hypotheses, but they would be most unlikely: the reports of
informed visitors from outer space; the presence of magnifying atmospheres; larger, more marked sets
of clouds and rings around Jupiter and Saturn seen through a clearer atmosphere of ancient times;
ancient human sports with telescopic vision; a saucer telescope of brilliant conception and low
technological requirements; etc.
One is naturally driven back to the text and the probability that the ancient insistence upon
the bonds around the planets is an independently invented conceit, a remarkable coincidence. Yet this
probability is not large either. The coincidence is complex, and the more complex a coincidence, the
more likely a causal association.
Furthermore, the complex parallel is consistent with a great deal more of myth that is
connected with the same planets, such as the great heat and electricity of "Thunderbolting Zeus" and
the putting away of Saturn (Kronos) beyond the possibility of his affecting the affairs of Earth or the
rule of his son, Zeus. An elementary course in the Greek classics will recite Hesiod's Theogony,
wherein Zeus is pictured as the son of Kronos, preserved from being swallowed by his father through
the substitution of a stone swaddled in cloth, who then leads a successful revolt of Saturn's other
progeny who had been swallowed and then vomited up. Galileo ceased his observations of Saturn
for two years, and when next he looked in December of 1612, the rings were out of sight. "Has
Saturn devoured his children?" he mused, but predicted that in 1614 they would return. (8)
If it were not for the massive conviction of contemporary science, backed by a stable sky and
a workable celestial mechanics -- or more bluntly, if one were to dismiss certain premises and
conclusions of modem astronomy -- one would apply modern psychological and anthropological
analysis to the coincidence and to the words of Proclus, and suggest, as Taylor could not say 150
years ago, that the quotations exemplify how a primordial experience is anaesthetized by its traumatic
character and remembered as religious obsession. This then produces a theology that proceeds to
generate concepts of rule and law in the universe so as to complete and perfect the process of
anaesthesia or amnesia.
However, since few scholars are prepared to discount current astronomical retrojections of
the state of the skies, or to believe in an astronomically learned ancient civilization that was
subsequently destroyed, the coincidence may be handed over to non-scientific folklorists of the occult
or laid to a naive poesy of the ancients revived by a befuddled English savant.
1. XX Classical Journal,
No. 40 (1819), pp. 324-6.
p. 324. Taylor cites Bonnycastle's Introduction to Astronomy,
p. 370, as his source.
He properly adds that the binding of Saturn by Jupiter was a well-known myth but the binding
of Jupiter occurs only in these two hitherto undiscovered passages of Proclus.
3. CL Galileo's First and Third "Letters on Sunspots," to Mark Weiser, May 4, 1612 and
December 1, 1612, pp. 101-2 and 143, in G. Galilei, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo,
trans. by Stillman Drake (New York: Anchor Books, 1957).
4. A. Pannekoek, A History of Astronomy
(trans., Interscience Publishers, New York, 196 1),
5. J. Harward, The Epinomis of Plato
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928), pp. 93, 95ff.
6. Op. cit.,
8. Op. cit.,
pp. 14 3-4.