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KRONOS Vol II, No. 4

Copyright 1976 R. Malcolm. Lowery

Most of the material in this article first appeared (in a slightly different form) under the title "F. X. Kugler - Almost a Catastrophist" in the second Newsletter of the Interdisdplinary Study Group (England), now the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies "Review". (See NOTICES, p. 102, in this issue.)

The main work discussed in this article, Sibyllinischer Stemkampf und Phaethon in naturgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung by Franz Xaver Kugler S.J., was first published in 1927 as No. 17 in the series Aschendortfs Zeitgemässe Schriften by the Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munster in Westfalen. The Translation used in the article is copyright 1975 by R. M. Lowery.

This paper presents a digest, in the form of an annotated summary, of the last published work of F.X. Kugler, S.J., the German archaeoastronomer, which deals with the Phaethon legend and the "Battle of the Stars"in the books of the Sibylline Oracles. Kugler is rare among trained specialists in history and astronomy in giving some credence to the possibility of large-scale natural catastrophes, but nevertheless finds himself constrained by the orthodox beliefs he has inherited. In the paper under consideration, this results in an interesting dichotomy: Kugler sees the Phaethon story as a record of the fall of a large meteorite (fantasised as causing confusion in the sky), and related legends as records of disasters ensuing on the earth; but rationalises the supposedly "insane" finale of Book V of the Sibylline Oracles, despite its obvious similarities, into a "poetic treatment" of the normal seasonal changes in the night sky. He also considers the legends concerning themselves with periodic destructions of the world, as reported most vividly by Seneca, but refuses to see these in connection with the Phaethon legend, preferring to regard them - despite statements to the contrary by Plato and others - as extrapolations of cosmological dogma, with no conceivable support in fact. This work of Kugler is of interest in showing both the possibilities for a detailed treatment of myth and the difficulties in battling against ingrained uniformitarian ideas.

A Pioneer of Archaeoastronomy

Born on 27th November 1862 in Königsbach, and described in encyclopedias(1) as an "astronomer and Assyriologist", Franz Xaver Kugler had fair claim to be considered a polymath. He studied physical sciences in Heidelberg and Munich, and graduated in chemistry. After joining the Society of Jesus, he carried out his philosophical and theological studies respectively at Exaten, Holland and Ditton Hall, England, and was ordained in 1893. Being prevented by his health from taking up the life of an active priest, he turned his back on his original field of study to carry out research into the history of the ancient East. In Exaten he had been introduced by the astronomer Fr J. Epping and the cuneiform specialist J.N. Strassmaier to the many unsolved questions in Babylonian astronomy, and this gave him the impetus to continue their pioneering work, laying a solid scholarly foundation for studies in this area whilst at the same time teaching mathematics at the Ignatiuskolleg in Valkenburg, Holland. Kugler mastered by his own efforts both the principles of astronomy and the difficulties of reading the original cuneiform texts, and established a strong reputation in his chosen field through papers in a number of specialist journals as well as a succession of books. As Livio C. Stecchini points out,(2) it is thanks to Kugler that we are able to speak of the "Venus Tablets of Ammizaduga", he being the first to identify the reign during which the observations may have been made.

Kugler did not confine his writing to the one area, but found the fruits of his researches useful across a wide field. Early in his career he took up the cudgels against the Berlin Assyriologist Delitzsch, who had suggested that the Biblical account of the Creation and other events in Genesis had been taken over from Assyrian mythology. Rebutting this to his satisfaction produced two books drawing on his growing command of his subject: Babylon und Christentum: Die Angriffe Delitzschs auf das Alte Testament (Babylon and Christianity: The Attacks of Delitzsch on the Old Testament, 1903) and Die Gotter Babyloniens und das Neue Testament (The Gods of Babylonia and the New Testament, 1905).

He was also able to make a significant contribution to Biblical chronology, explaining the ancient usages regarding the calendar and fixing distant events to the exact day. His collected thoughts on this appeared in a volume whose title bears witness to its scope: Von Moses bis Paulus: Forschungen zur Geschichte Israels (From Moses to Paul: Studies in the History of Israel, 1922). This included a good deal of new data he had gathered from his readings of cuneiform tablets.

As Stecchini reports, Kugler also took the field against the astralmythological theories of Panbabylonism. These "extravagant views . . . on the age of Babylonian astronomy and the influence of Assyrian mythology on the language, culture and religion of the East"(3) observed that most mythologies prove to be astrally inspired, and can be interpreted as presenting detailed astronomical information. As this framework is substantially the same throughout the world, it must have been transferred by diffusion from a central point; Mesopotamia being known for the antiquity of its mathematical knowledge, this was chosen as its place of origin.(4) It is of relevance to Velikovsky's theories that Venus is given a major place in establishing the similarity of these mythologies: she is known as "Queen of Heaven"; she is classified with the Sun and Moon, not with the planets; and she is observed to have phases, like the Moon. Kugler's broadside against the Panbabylonists was published in 1910 under the title Im Bannkreis Babels: Panbabylonistische Konstraktionen und religionsgeschichtliche Tatsachen (Under the Spell of Babel: Panbabylonist Constructions and Facts from the History of Religion).

In 1907 Fr Kugler published the first part of his monumental work, Sternkunde und Stemdienst in Babel (Astronomical Science and Astronomical Observations at Babylon). No doubt partly conceived as an adjunct to his campaign against the Panbabylonists, this tour de force of "Assyriological, astronomical and astral-mythological research" occupied him until 1924, and, though suspect in some of its conclusions, is still referred to today for its impressive store of data.


Fact and Fiction in Mythology

Kugler's last published work, and undoubtedly his least-known, is the short study, Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaethon in naturgeschich tlicher Beleuch tung (The Sibylline Star-Battle and Phaethon, read as Natural History), dated 1927. In this he examines the two legends named in the title for the natural events around which they were written, and comes to conclusions which are at once encouraging and disappointing to proponents of catastrophism.

What distinguishes Kugler from his contemporaries studying the same ancient documents is his conviction that there is more to them than their superficial appearance might indicate. In his introduction to Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaethon he writes:

Our monograph . . . conveys the urgent lesson that ancient traditions, even clothed as myth or legend, cannot be lightly dismissed as fantastic or even meaningless constructions. And this caution is particularly appropriate when we are dealing with serious reports, especially those of a religious nature, such as are offered in abundance in the Old Testament.(5)

This was the message underlying the paper, and Kugler attached such importance to it that he had his publishers issue it in their semi popular "Modern Writings" series. Unfortunately, he was unable to tailor his scholarship to the popular audience. His approach to his subject is an uncompromisingly scholarly and conscientious one: his prose style is measured and meticulous, and he is careful to found every point he makes upon a wealth of close reasoning, accompanied by copious passages from classical authors – quoted in the original: he rarely provides a translation – , and even by tables of astronomical calculations. This presentation is certainly erudite, but does not make for easy reading.

A thorough and detailed reading of this 56-page work, then, is indispensable for an understanding of Kugler's conclusions regarding the two legends.(6) A digest of the argument is presented below; but it may be said at the start that Kugler draws a sharp distinction between the Fall of Phaethon and the Sibyl's "star-battles". In short, whilst he attributes the origin of the former legend to the havoc caused by the fall of a meteorite, he regards the Sibylline books as recording the natural progression of the heavens over a period of time:(7)

Nonnos has deliberately devised a highly fantastic picture of extreme confusion among the stars; the author of Sibyls, V, 512ff., on the other hand, has portrayed actual astral changes, as they come about according to the accepted order in the course of seven months, as the effect of a battle. This is, after all, a quite basic distinction There exists between the two works the greatest imaginable contradiction, which leaps to the eyes even before recognition of the unified plan of Sibyls, V, 512ff.(8)

Before going any further, it will be as well to consider the underlying assumptions Kugler started from in writing this study: we will then have a clearer idea of the advance he made as a result of his research.

Kugler was schooled in the uniformitarian mould and subject to the influence of the dogma and preconceptions current at the turn of the century; to this he added a direct and literal approach to the Bible. This is evident in his opening remarks: from the way he examines the development of the concept of "heavenly hosts", i.e. armies of stars, it is clear that he considers the accepted arrangement of the story of Genesis to represent not only the sequence in which the book was written, but also the sequence in which the events took place.(9) Considerable doubt is now cast upon this interpretation, even assuming that researchers will accept the record as more than fantasy in the first place. To take an example, the Bible begins with a record of the Creation, in which the world order is stabilised. But which creation? It had long been a belief of the ancients, after all, that the world must be destroyed at intervals to be created anew, and it is thus quite possible that the story symbolised in Genesis I refers, for instance, to the time immediately after the Flood. It need hardly be said that Kugler adopts a similarly orthodox and detailed reading of the Greek and Latin authors.

From his uniformitarian training, Kugler inherited above all one distinctive attitude: he regards the progress of Knowledge as a development ever upwards, and this naturally leads him to the uniformitarian's typically naive view of the naivete of earlier observers. This provides a convenient way of explaining away most of the legends ascribing peril to the approach of a comet: discussing this (still at the beginning of the paper) he leaves the suspicion that he would explain away the Darkness of Exodus by, perhaps, an eclipse, or possibly a very dull day:

It is equally easy to understand how a naive view of nature would interpret an eclipse of the moon or the sun as an action by a power inimical to light, and the yielding of the darkness as a convincing victory by the great divine lights of heaven over the demons. The more seldom, impressive and lasting this phenomenon, the deeper will be the impression on the mind of the observer. For this reason large comets, on account of their unexpected appearance and swift growth, have been from antiquity a heavenly sign of impending terrible events. And all this multitude of powers manifesting themselves in the firmament is further enhanced by its connection with the frightening natural powers of the cloud region. The ancients, who were not aware of the immense distance of the stars from the earth's atmosphere, allowed the phenomena of the two regions to intermingle.(10) . . . A darkening of the sky by clouds in ancient times was set almost equal to astronomical eclipses, if it was rare for the time of year, and especially if it occurred along with the full moon.(11)

We must bear in mind these limitations of Kugler when following him through legends such as those examined in the paper under discussion. Whilst we endorse Stecchini's verdict that "he was a true scientist who well understood that science must be built on empirical data, as much as possible of a quantitative nature, and that one must always be ready to revise general theories on the basis of these data", we cannot overlook his difficulty in finding an acceptable explanation for cases where the data are clearly out of line. Nevertheless, it is to his credit that he recognises their existence. (Where his contemporaries were dismissing the Venus tablets as primitive nonsense or corrupt copies, Kugler insisted that they represented genuine observations; this did not help him to explain them, however.)

Kugler, in fact, seems to have set out in the attempt to explain away both the Sibylline star-battle and the Phaethon legend by finding a perfectly rational base for each of them. But the conclusion he reaches is that they require altogether separate treatment, and that his predecessors have "seen great similarity where only a distant connection exists, whilst on the other hand truly important relationships have gone unnoticed."(12)


The Sibylline Finale

Having established that the ancients were inclined to see battles and portents in the heavens at the drop of a hat, Kugler turns his attention to the finale of Book V of the Sibylline Oracles (see Appendix I). On investigating this, he finds that

. . . the "insane finale" revealed itself as a poetic treatment of actual natural events, according to a completely unitary plan. And so faithfully does the poet reproduce the astronomical events that modem calculation aids can define not only the area of the action, but even the time of year when it occurred.

. . . The fight causes a total revolution. The outcome is a new picture of the sky, as develops eventually after seven months' travel by the sun from about the middle of Virgo to the middle of Capricorn. The stars which, at the start of the battle, ruled the dawn sky, descend into the Okeanos, thereby setting the earth on fire. This is the basis of the poem, which is not deviated from in a single detail, but is only evident when those facts are revealed which the veil of poetry hides from the eyes of the profane. In undertaking this prosaic work, we need above all the aid of astronomical calculations. Only these can give us certainty regarding the positions of the planets and the moon, as well as their times of rising and setting and the reciprocal relationships between the sun and the fixed stars, in a period two thousand years in the past. All this, however, is necessary in order to establish the true significance of particular passages.(13)

Kugler recognises in lines 512, 513 and 515 a description of the arrival of "two enormous meteors of the apparent size and form of the sun and the moon . . . with their characteristic accompanying features", but is happy to leave them out of the subsequent action, accepting them, presumably, as no more than the excuse the ancients needed to write a poem about the events following.(14) The parallel passage which he includes in his examination is generally agreed to relate to the ancient legends of periodic world destruction: he uses this to corroborate his conclusions through its similarity to the main extract.

Kugler's treatment of the lines from the Sibyl is dealt with in Appendix I. Starting from a dating of around 100 BC (see note to line 517), he does indeed satisfy himself as to "not only the area of the action, but even the time of year when it occurred".

Kugler does not concern himself with the reason why such a natural sequence of events should be wrapped in the "veil of poetry", though he does find an explanation for the choice of what may seem a random segment of the revolution of the sky. But it becomes clear from a careful reading that, in examining both the star-battle and especially the parallel passage, Kugler will take one reading whilst catastrophists (and the ancient Greeks) will take another. (Kugler, of course, identifies the "new nature" as the rebirth of Spring, and calls in the position of the stars as evidence that the "celestial fire" merely signifies the "truly fiery heat during the day" of Ethiopia's hot season, which begins at the end of the period of the narrative.)


The Fall of Phaethon

In dealing with the Phaethon story, Kugler is willing to adopt a quite different attitude. Heading this part of the study "The Naturalistic Premise of the Phaethon Legend and its Duplication in the Sibylline Version", and taking the version of the legend given by Nonnos in the Dionysiaca, he proceeds methodically in three stages: the identity of Phaethon, the differences in the two reports of the star-battle, and Phaethon's fall with its attendant universal conflagration.

Who or what is Phaethon? Kugler is far from happy with the answers he has been offered. Even his "naive" ancients would have needed an astounding poetic imagination to construct a legend out of the materials suggested by earlier scholars. Kugler's answer is a typical one:

. . . There have been repeated attempts to discover the natural events lying behind the legend. Many students consider it to be a symbolic representation of the sunset. Thus Robert, Herm., 18, 440: "Each evening the sun-god dives into the west, and each evening the firmament and the heavens shine with a red glow, as though the world were about to go up in flames. All that was needed was that this regularly recurring sequence be captured as a unique event, and the sun-god Helios-Phaethon hypostasised, and the myth was made." Against this, others, most recent among them Wilamowitz and Knaack, interpret Phaethon as the morning star. In the versions of the legend we have before us – Ovid's and Nonnos' – neither the one nor the other assumption holds good. ... So simple, ordinary and peaceful a phenomenon as the evening sky could not provide the basis for a legend which patently describes complicated, extraordinary and violent natural events. And yet neither, on the other hand, could the appearance of Venus as the morning star awaken the idea of a universal catastrophe – even in the wildest imagination. One might well conceive of the morning star as the driver of Helios' chariot, or imagine the evening star to be a deity fallen from the chariot of the sun . . . In the same way, the climb of Venus to its maximum elongation could be interpreted mythically as a striving for dominion in the heavens. But a Phaethon in the sense of the "Hesiodeic" or the Alexandrine version (which latter has been regarded as the source for the narratives of Ovid, Lucian and Nonnos, inter alia. . .) could never be made of the planet Venus.

There is however one natural phenomenon that could very easily occasion this legend. In the search for this, the following factors should be given the greatest possible consideration: 1. Phaethon appears not merely as a cognomen for Helios; he is also set fully equal to Helios (especially in Nonnos). 2. Phaethon is not the driver of a sun-chariot in which Helios is also travelling, but takes the other's place. 3. The journey is different in both direction and pace from that of the sun. 4. The firmament is brightly inflamed. 5. Phaethon is struck by lightning, and falls to earth. 6. The flames of Phaethon's fire also set fire to the earth. – Now, with all of these certain meteoric phenomena are completely in accord.

Again and again, not only in modern times but also long ago in antiquity, meteors have been observed which resemble the sun in respect of size and brilliance, and cross the sky at great speed in various directions, not rarely exploding, to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning, sometimes setting fire to terrestrial settlements and fields with their glowing debris. That, according to the popular and poetic conception, such an unexpected apparition should bring the stars into confusion, can be readily understood.(15)

In the appearance of this meteor, Kugler finds the only similarity between the two legends, since his examination of the actual development of the battle shows that from here on events diverge completely. There is, he finds, "both in the overall plan and in every detail of the battle, a fundamental difference":

Nonnos has deliberately devised a highly fantastic picture of extreme confusion among the stars; the author of Sibyls V, 512ff., on the other hand, has portrayed actual astral changes, as they come about according to the accepted order in the course of seven months, as the effect of a battle. This is, after all, a quite basic distinction. . . . It is enough to compare what Dionysiaca XXXVIII, 356ff. says of Draco and Taurus, Sirius and Leo, with Sibyls V, 519-526.(16)

Kugler's first preoccupation in his detailed examination of the sections referring to the universal fire and Deucalion's flood is to establish whether or not there can be found any real historical event which can be taken as the basis for the legend. It is here that he begins to break new ground: but it is here, too, that his uniformitarian preconceptions begin to endanger the analytical method.

He begins by establishing a definite location:

The place of action is identified by the Sibyllist as "the entire country of the Ethiopians". Of this the Dionysiaca XXXVIII says nothing, and Ovid (the alternative source of the Phaethon legend) mentions the effect of the fire on the Ethiopians only in passing (Metamorphoses II, 235):

Sanguine tunc credunt in corpora summa vocato Aethiopium populos nigrum traxisse colorem.(17)

Against this, the earlier interpreters of the passage in Plato, Timaeus 22, where the fire of Phaethon and the flood of Deucalion are mentioned together, assume Ethiopia as the location of the former and Thessaly as the scene of the latter.(18)

We return to this passage from Timaeus below: the reader may judge for himself how far Kugler's understanding of Plato's story is justified. – Other witnesses called by Kugler to establish a place of action are Eusebius and Paulus Orosius, and to affirm the credibility of these reports Celsus as reported by Origen, and Origen himself.

Kugler is now satisfied that the fire and flood legends he is dealing with are identifiable with those of Phaethon and Deucalion respectively (another assumption we might question), and, finding that "a number of witnesses speak for this simultaneity of fire and flood", he goes on to seek a date for these, a quest in which he must be granted a fair degree of success. From Tatian(19) he gleans the information that both took place "at the time of Crotopas"; both Eusebius(20) and Augustine, quoting Varro,(21) agree that a flood took place under Deucalion: Eusebius reports fires "under Phaethon in Ethiopia" as being contemporary with this. More definite fixes on the date are given by Clement of Alexandria(22) as 330/340 years before the fall of Troy, by Paulus Orosius(23) as 810 years before the founding of Rome (which would give 1563 BC), and by Cyril of Alexandria(24) as the 67th year of Moses.

Having amassed such a redoubtable store of information, Kugler returns to his major thesis and develops an argument which we shall quote in its entirety:

Even if we have no intention of ascribing certain chronological value to these dates, or of accepting the old chronological tables based on them (cf. Petavius, De doctrina temporum, lib. XIII), yet we have no right to deny the traditions concerned any core of historical fact.

If, then, there really were at one time simultaneous catastrophes of fire and flood, then – if we wish to exclude chance from playing a role – we must look for a common cause for the two phenomena. Now, it has already been shown that the fire of Phaethon resulted from the appearance of a meteor: therefore the Great Flood must be traced back to this same event. But is this possible? Without question! In doing so, it is necessary to a proper evaluation of our answer that one should first make oneself acquainted with a few scientific facts.

1. The larger meteors (fireballs) appear by no means always singly: they also appear in flocks or streams of enormous width (thousands or millions of miles). Thus, it can happen that widely separated tracts of land can at the same time come under the optical or mechanical effects of these celestial bodies.

2. The meteoric stones reaching the earth show great variety in respect of size and speed. The greater the mass, the less the original cosmic velocity (up to and above 60 km/sec) is reduced by air resistance. Thus, while small fragments strike barely harder than hailstones, the largest drive deep into the earth with an awesome force. The effects of such a giant meteorite are best illustrated by the meteorite crater of Coon Butte in central Arizona. This apparently volcanic "crater" has a diameter of 1150 metres and a depth in the centre of 125m, whilst the crater walls are raised some 40-50m above the level of the surrounding country. To a range of 6½km around this wall there lies a belt of ejected sandstone boulders, some of which show a thickness of 20-30m even at a distance of 1 km. All this, as Merrill's researches put beyond all doubt, is the effect of a meteorite impact. Following the traditions of the native population, one can even assume that the event lies not too far in the past.

And now to the case in point:- Taking what we have said, it is possible that one and the same stream of meteors passed over Africa (in particular, Ethiopia) and the Aegean, producing respectively great fires and violent flood waves. If we assume that a meteor similar to Arizona's visitor plunged into a Thessalonian inlet, the devastating effect must have been much greater, especially as a result of the expansive force of the massive amount of water vapour developed, which would be bound to produce a violent tsunami. In this way the Deucalian flood and its simultaneity with the fire of Phaethon can be explained.(25)


Almost a Catastrophist

Kugler completes his tract in almost the same confusion reported by the ancients as the cosmic background to fires and floods. He now turns to legends concerning destructions of (as it seems to him) more sensational impact and universal effect, and, ignoring the implications of the Timaeus passage referred to above, draws the sharpest of distinctions between these greater catastrophes and the local disasters he has so far examined: whilst he will admit the latter as facts, he sees the former merely as unsupportable extrapolations of dogma:

Besides these local catastrophes, antiquity knows yet another fire and a flood of universal extent, but not on the basis of historical or legendary tradition, rather based on cosmological speculation. According to this, the world is destroyed periodically, by fire and water alternately, to be recreated complete on each occasion. This was in particular the teaching of the Stoa, which however follows Democritus in respect of the means by which the earth is destroyed (cf. Alleg. hom. chap. 25). The whole is based on the "mutability of the elements". Just as the world arose from the Primaeval Fire, earth and water in turn change completely to fire.... A particularly graphic picture of the ekpnrwsis is drawn by Seneca at the end of his consolatio ad Marciam: "And when the time is come when the world destroys itself to be renewed, then these (Earth, the seas and all life) will destroy themselves by their own strength (viribus ista se suis caedent), stars will fall upon stars (sidera sideribus incurrent), and when all material things are in flames, everything which now shines according to a planned distribution will rise up into a single fire (uno igne ardebit)." Even more vivid is Seneca's picture of the flood (Nat. quaest. III, 27ff.), which grows to a monstrous sea which rises above even the highest mountains and to whose growth there is no limit (solutus legibus sine modo fertur).(26) Fire and flood, according to Seneca, have the same cause: "Each occurs when God finds it good that something better should start, and the old come to an end. Water and fire dominate earthly things: from these their beginning, by these their end." And this general philosophical-theological reasoning is not yet enough for him: he turns also to the science of that time. Of the information that has been preserved he is attracted among others by the explanation given by the Babylonian priest Berosus, who considered both great events to be decided by the courses of the stars. The universal fire comes about when all the stars, which now travel separate paths(27) come together in one and the same point in Cancer, and the flood when they meet in Capricorn. Both constellations contain the solstice points, and this circumstance has a great significance for the given conjunctions. Agreement about this is found in Censorinus' statement (De die natali 18, 11) about the Great Year.(28)

The two catastrophes, therefore, can be distinguished from the fire of Phaethon and the flood under Deucalion not only by their universality and the complete difference in the natural factors which bring them about, but also by the fact that they do not take place at the same time, but rather are separated by considerable periods, and recur at intervals. The events among the stars are likewise of a completely different nature to those of Phaethon's fire. In the latter, confusion, conflict and flight dominate – as, for example, in a fire at a circus or a menagerie, where each animal will seek escape for its own preservation, or, if this is impossible, will fall on its weaker neighbours in a blind rage. In the former, on the other hand, we see self-annihilation, a falling upon each other to accelerate the common Feuertod prescribed by eternal Fate: this is no "star-battle". And yet, it is by no means excluded that the two dissimilar fires and floods could have been thought of in connection with each other. Such a mistaken connection appears to have been Celsus' reproach to the Christians when he maintained (Origenes contra Celsum IV, 11):


The supposed error, however, could only lie in their supposing the Deucalion flood to be the latest of the great universal floods presaged by the return of the stars (planets) to the same part of the sky, and in their expecting, on the grounds of cosmic revolution necessitated by natural law, a coming universal fire. This objection is clearly baseless (as Origen also shows). But it suggested itself the more readily to Celsus, as the fire of Phaethon and the flood at the time of Deucalion counted within the later Stoic school itself as two of these great, periodically recurring catastrophes. This can be seen with complete clarity in Manilius, the stoic poet of the time of Augustus (Astronomicon IV, 829ff.):

Concutitur tellus variis compagibus haerens,
Subducitque solum pedibus. Natat orbis in ipso,
Et vomit Oceanus pontum, sitiensque resorbet,
Nec sese ipse capit. Sic quondam merserat urbes,
Humani generis cum solus constitit heres
Deucalion, scopuloque orbem possedit in uno.
Nec non cum patrias Phaethon tentavit habenas,
Arsemnt gentes, timuitque incendio coelum,
Fugeruntque novas ardentia sidera flammas
Atque uno timuit condi natura sepuloro.
In tantum longo mutantur tempora cursu
A tque iterum in semet redeun t. Sic tempore certo
Signa quoque amittunt vires, sumuntque

Manilius is clearly in some difficulty explaining the two partial catastrophes; therefore he makes of them universal catastrophes, but, in contrast to the Stoic system, which requires total destruction, he lets Deucalion live, and allows the world, quailing under the heat of the Phaethonteic fire, to escape death by a finger nail.(31)

Thus we see in Kugler the triumph of preconceived ideas over open minded investigation of all available evidence – the more surprising as Kugler could accept a mildly catastrophic interpretation of Plato to back up his contention that the disasters of Phaethon and Deucalion were caused by the fall of a meteorite, but was unable to see through the varying details of the accounts of Celsus and Manilius to their obvious similarity with the events mentioned by Plato.

In the last reckoning, it seems, he was unable to escape the yoke of uniformitarianism:(32) the glimmerings of insight which can be seen in the treatment reported above remain, sadly, only glimmerings. – A fitting close is provided by the passage from Timaeus so unfairly ignored by Kugler: the Greek sage Solon is talking with the Egyptian priests:(33) –

"Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Phaethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals; at such time those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the sea-shore. And from this calamity we are preserved by the liberation of the Nile, who is our never failing saviour. When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below; for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient.... Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilised life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children . . .".

1. The bibliographical material following is from: lesuitenlexikon (ed. J.L. Koch; Paderborn, 1934); Lexikon fur Thedogie und Kirche (Freiburg, 195 7-6 7); New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1967).
2. L.C. Stecchini, "Astronomical Theory and Historical Data" in: The Velikovsky Affair, ed. A. de Grazia (Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1966), p. 152. - It is now disputed that these tablets date from the reign of Ammizaduga, and suggested that the year-formula which led Kugler to this conclusion may have been inserted by a later copyist. See "Babylonian Observations of Venus", by Lynn E. Rose, in Pensee III (Winter, 1973), pp. 18-22.
3. Koch,lesuibnlexikon,Sp. 1047.
4. See also Stecchini, loc. cit., pp. 153-7, for a discussion of Kugler's battle with the advocates of this theory.
5. F.X. Kugler, SJ., Sibyllinischer Sternkunpf und Phaethon (hereinafter SSP), p. 7.
6. It may be a cursory reading of the work that caused L.C. Stecchini's mistaken interpretation of Kugler's thesis (see Stecchini, loc. cit., pp. 138ff). In his outline he explains that Kugler, in this paper, dismisses the views of scholars who have referred to the Sibylline Oracles, especially the finale, in terms such as "insane" and "nonsensical", and establishes that the action of the legend has its roots in real natural events, finally attributing the cause of these to the fall of a "sunlike meteorite". Regrettably, this gravely misunderstands the argument that Kugler puts forward, even to the extent of transferring to the Sibylline Finale conclusions which Kugler came to in respect of the Phaethon legend, but emphatically rejected with regard to the Sibyls' Battle of the Stars.
7. Kugler regards obvious similarities between the two traditions, which, however, do not obscure the more important differences, as being corruptions of one story by the other. The most obvious example of this is the presence of two meteors in the Sibylline legend: this is a transmutation of the thunderbolt motif. (In the Phaethon legend the chaos among the stars is brought to an end by Zeus' throwing the troublemaker into the sea with a thunderbolt.) Kugler explains: "The Sibyllist knew and used the Phaethon legend: his Hlios yaejwn, the 'brilliant sun', whose threat he sees in the sky, is like Phaethon a sunlike meteor. However, the author of the Sibyls is unwilling to do without the effect of the lightning-bolt scene of the legend. But Zeus (Jupiter), being heathen, must go. In his place there appears a natural symbol of divine judgment: the observer sees beside the threat of the 'brilliant sun' also the 'terrible wrath of a moon wrapped in lightning' (V, 513). It is a moon-like meteor, exploding amid lightning and thunder. Now we can see why, in the prologue to the Sibyls' star-battle, two meteors appear, of which, however, only the meteor 'sun' is given a causal relationship to the following 'star-battle' it being said only of this body that 'long flames' (= fiery meteor tails) are fighting for it (or in place of it). Its fall is not expressly mentioned; instead, the revolution it introduces into the world of stars comes to an end when the stars are thrown into the ocean. Thus, the fate of Phaethon is transferred to the stars. As a consequence, they must also be presented as the immediate cause of the fire on Earth, whilst Hlios yaejwn brought it about indirectly. "
8. SSP p.43.
9. SSP pp. 34 and fn.: "The word 'host' {sabã) appears in the O. T. for the first time in Gen. 2:1: 'Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.' Here, of course, it merely means the whole of the multitudes of different creatures. Only much later do the stars appear in the O. T. as a heavenly host in the strict sense, and first of all as the object of heathen worship. The home of this cult was Canaan, the goal of the Israelite campaign of conquest. The warning regarding the cult of 'the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven' (Deut. 4:19 and 17:3) was thus only too well founded. In the summary indictment of the King and people of Israel (2 Kings 17:15ff) it is said that, against all warnings to the contrary, they copied the peoples around them and 'made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.' An almost identical reference is found in the register of the sins of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2ff.), who even erected 'altars for all the host of heaven' in the two courts of the Temple of Jahweh. This cult of the star host was certainly in existence both before and during the time of Judges, even though Judges 2:11ff; 3:7 (6:25ff.); 10:6 only mention the 'Baalim' and Ashtaroth, local versions of the two major deities. Moreover, it can be seen from Judges 5:20 that the stars were regarded as fighters. - 'They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.' In this there clearly lies a fine irony. The kings of Canaan had trusted the stellar host as allies, but the troops of their generals met their end in the waves of the Kison, which - thanks to heavenly intervention - had been swelled to a raging flood following a heavy storm." Kugler follows this with an exposition of how "naive" observers might have come to visualise the stars as armies.
10. Kugler's example: "Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven..."(Gen. 11:4).
11. SSP p. 5.
12. SSP p. 36.
13. SSP pp. 9-1 1.
14. See note 7.
15. SSP pp. 36-8.
16. SSP p. 43.
17. "It was then, men think, that the Ethiopians took on their black colour, since the blood was drawn to the surface of their bodies by the heat" (The author is grateful to lan Grant for his assistance in translating this and the following classical quotations, of which no translations are provided by Kugler.)
18. SSP pp. 44-5.
19. Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 60.
20. Eusebius, Chronicles 26-28.
21. His temporibus, ut Varro scribit, regnante Atheniensibus Cranao, successore Cecropis, ut autem nostri Eusebius et Hieronymus, adhuc eodem Cecrope permanente, diluvium fuit, quod appellatum est Deucalionis, eo quod ipse regnabat in earum terrarum partibus, ubi maxime factum est. Hoc autem diluvium nequaquam ad Aegyptum atque ad eius vidna pervenit. - Augustinus, De civitate Dei (The City of God), XVIII chap. 10:

"According to Varro, in this period when Cranaos, successor to Cecrops (who, as our Eusebius and Jerome tell us, was then still alive), ruled the Athenians, there was a flood, called after Deucalion on account of his ruling those parts of the earth where the flood was most in evidence. This flood, however, in no wise reached Egypt and the neighbouring areas."
22. Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromata I (Potter p. 401), by reference to Thrasyllos.
23. Anno DCCCX ante urbem conditam Amphictyon Athenis tertius a Cecrope regnavit, cuius temporibus aquarum inluvies maiorem partem populorum Thessaliae absumpsit . . . Tunc etiam in Aethiopia pestes plurimas dirosque morbos paene usque ad desolationem exaestuavisse Plato testis est. - Paulus Orosius, Advers Paganos 1, 9:
"In the 810th year before the founding of Rome Amphictyon 111 king after Cecrops reigned in Athens. In his time a flood wiped out most of the inhabitants of Thessaly. Plato testifies that virulent plagues and terrible diseases suddenly struck Ethiopia, leaving the country almost unpopulated."
24. Cyrillus Alexandrinus, Contra Julianum 1. Kugler: "According to his reckoning, the first year of Cecrops identifies with the 35th year of Moses, and in the 67th year of the latter - it is said - the Deucalian flood and the fire of Phaethon took place."
25. SSP pp. 46-8.
26. Kugler's note: "According to Heraclitus and Censorinus, not only the earth but the entire universe is overtaken by the flood: this is a necessary consequence of their system."
27. Kugler's note: "Only the planets are, of course, meant here, and not 'all the stars' . . ."
28. Annus, . . . quem solis et lunae vagarumque quinque stellarum orbes conficiunt, cum ad idem signum, ubi quondam simul fuerunt una referuntur; cuius anni hiemps summa est CATACLYSMOS, quam nostri diluvionem vocant, aestas autem ECPYROSIS, quod est mundi incendium. - Censorinus, Liber de die nabli XVIII, 11:

"A year . . . which is completed by the sun, moon and five planets when they come together again at the same time in the same configuration (may also be read: constellation) in which they were once. The winter of this year is a kataklysmos, which we call the deluge, and the summer an ekpyrosis, that is, world conflagration."
29. "They got the idea (and in this they misunderstood their informants, the Greeks or Barbarians) that conflagrations and inundations recur after long periods, with the stars coming together in the same places; and that, following the deluge in the time of Deucalion, in accordance with the cosmic transformation, the cycle requires a conflagration. Hence their erroneous statement that a god will descend bearing fire, in the manner of a torturer."
30. "The earth, cleaving to uncertain fastenings, is convulsed, and takes the ground from under our feet. The heavens swim; the Ocean spews forth its waters, and parched it sucks them in again, but cannot hold them. So once it had immersed cities. when Deucalion as sole heir to the human race possessed a world in one rock. So too, when Phaethon held the reins of his father's chariot, the peoples of the earth were consumed by fire, the heavens feared a conflagration, the blazing stars fled from new flames, and Nature feared embalmment in a single grave. Time runs in very long cycles. So, at fixed times, the constellations lose their power, and recover it again. " (Kugler's emphasis)
31. SSP pp. 51-56.
32. Two further examples suggesting that Kugler may frequently have been hampered by his training from making the "intuitive leap" are provided by Stecchini (loc. cit.). In his campaign against the Panbabylonists' principal witness, Venus cornuta, he never once thought to question the idea that Venus was, then as now, a planet in a fixed orbit inside that of the Earth; and in maintaining that there was no formalised science of astronomy in Mesopotamia prior to the beginning of the "era of Nabonassar" in the eighth century BC, he refrained from seeking a cause for its sudden burgeoning at that time.

(We have come across no evidence in this paper to enable us to support Stecchini's statement (loc. cit., p. 162): "Kugler kept wrestling with the problem and finally, just before his death, came out with the only possible answer, namely, that there must have been a cosmic upheaval. The upheaval he described was the earlier of what were probably two, ca. 1500 BC and ca. 748 BC." The reference is given earlier (loc. cit., p. 157) as "his last published work, in which he spoke of a cosmic catastrophe at the middle of the second millennium BC." These conclusions attributed to Kugler would, if substantiated, antedate Velikovsky handsomely, but they are not apparent in the work under consideration. Nor does Kugler at any point suggest, as stated by Stecchini, that Venus plays any major part in the action. His explanation of line 516 (the only mention of Venus in the passage chosen) is rooted in a uniformitarian premise: the sun being in Virgo (see notes to line 521 in Appx. I), the Morning Star, rising immediately before it, would occupy the western part of Leo. Similar uniformitarian precepts are manifest in his explanations of the Phaethon text ( (cf. note f. to Appx. II). – Kugler also refers back to the section in his Sternkunde dealing with the Venus tablets, to point out that the identity of Morning and Evening Star was known to the Babylonians, giving no hint that he has reconsidered his view that normal planetary movements were involved.)
33. Quoted here in J. V. Luce's translation, as given in selections from Plato in his book, The End of Atlantis (Thames and Hudson, 1969), pp. 207ff.


THE BATTLE OF THE STARS in the 5th Book of the Sibylline Oracles, with a translation following Kugler's German version.

512 The threat of a burning "sun" amongst the stars I saw
And the terrible wrath of a "moon" 'wrapped in lightning;
The stars had battle in their faces; God let them fight.
515 In place of the "sun" long flames interwove.
516 The Morning Star directed the battle, mounting the back of Leo;
The moon's two-horned figure of mourning changed;
Capricorn pushed back the young Taurus' neck;
But Taurus robbed Capricorn of his day of homecoming.
520 And Orion pushed away Libra, so that she was no longer present
Virgo exchanged the twins' fate with the ram (Aries);
The pleiades shone no more; the Dragon denied (=shunned) the belt;
The Fish hid opposite the Lion's belt;
Cancer did not stand fast, for he feared Orion;

525 [Kugler's conjecture] Scorpio set to on the tall of the most terrible Lion
And the Dog (Canis Maior) set as a result of the flame of the sun;
But Aquarius enflamed strong Phaeinos (Saturn's) might;
Uranus himself arose, until he shook the fighters;
In rage threw them down to earth
530 Thus suddenly fallen to Okeenos' bath
They set fire to the whole land (earth?);
the Ether was left without stars

206 Ye Indians, do not believe yourselves safe, nor ye, proud Ethiopians!
For when the great wheel of Capricorn's axis turns around these,
And Taurus with Gemini around the centre of Heaven,
(when) Virgo Is rising and the sun, around the stars
210 Its belt fixed, rules the universe all around;
A great celestial fire will arise on earth
And by force of the battling stars a new nature, so there will perish
213 In fire and anguish the whole Iand of the Ethiopians

The following examples of Kugler's treatment of these lines will give some idea of the meticulousness of his critical approach:

Line 512: helios (poetic form of helios – helios) is certainly not the diurnal luminary here: for it appears en astrain: or among the stars. In reality it is a meteor of the size of the sun, which flares threateningly in the sky. Such a meteor of the apparent diameter of the sun or the moon has often been observed: the Babylonians called it Shamshu ("sun"). Its form, however, is by no means always circular or spherical, but very variable, and not rarely resembles the partly illuminated lunar disc. And this is undoubtedly what is referred to in line 513.

Line 515: The meteor has disappeared, or broken up in the atmosphere; the fragments, still glowing, cross each other's paths, leaving long, luminous, crisscross trails behind them.

Line 517: The battle began at the time when the sun was passing through the 15th degree of Virgo, and ended when it had reached the 15th degree of Aries, the Ram. These two dates lay (around 100 BC) 209.4 days or 7 synodical months and 2.7 days apart.... Is it accident or the result of careful choice that the revolution in the sky is completed after just seven synodical months? The latter seems more likely to me. "Seven" is, not only for the Babylonians but also for the Jews, an expression of perfection. It further deserves notice that the moon finishes in the sign of the ecliptic which is counted in Greek astrology as its nywma, i.e. the location where it develops its greatest power: Taurus.

The dating of 100 BC appears in the essay at this point with neither preamble nor justification, and is henceforth taken for granted throughout the paper. As this does not in any way correspond to the accepted dates for the Sibylline books, it can only have been arrived at in disregard to these and entirely on (uniformitarian) astronomical considerations. The supposed source of the sayings in the Sibylline Books, according to H. Bettenson's notes on Augustine {Penguin, 196 7), was the oracle at Cumae, one of a number of Sibyllai - prophetesses - located in various centres in Greece. The Books of the Sibyl were kept in Rome in the Temple of Zeus on the Capitol, and Apollo declared their patron, following the Greek tradition. Legend tells of their purchase by Tarquinius in the sixth century, and certainly there are records - for instance, in Livy - of their being consulted in the fifth and fourth centuries. At the time of the second Punic War {early in the third century) and the height of the worship of Apollo, these books achieved their greatest importance, and absorbed other prophetic writings from elsewhere. According to Bettenson (op. cit, p. 788, fn. 67): "These were destroyed by fire in 83 BC, and a collection was then made of similar documents from various places. The surviving oracles are of late Judaeo-Hellenic or Judaeo-Christian provenance, containing warnings of dreadful calamities. " Though there remains some confusion as to the actual nature of these writings, the authoritative Lempriere Classical Dictionary (London, 1832 edn.) confirms that they are a later collation: "The fate of these Sibylline verses, collected after the conflagration of the Capitol, is unknown . . . Nevertheless, there are still preserved, in 8 books of Greek verse, a collection of oracles, pretended to be Sibylline. Dr. Cave, well satisfied that this collection is a forgery, supposes that a large part of it was composed in the time of Hadrian, about AD 130; other parts were added to it in the time of the Antonines, and the whole completed in the reign of Commodus [180-192 AD]. Dr. Prideaux says that this collection must have been made between AD 138 and 167. . . "(p. 953). Thus we would seem to have two dates for the Sibyls on literary evidence: fifth century BC or earlier, but supposedly none surviving; and first or second century AD. Neither of these match the dating of 100 BC for the events in the legend, as assumed by Kugler, though the possibility that the sources from which the now extant books were compiled may have retained a record of the events of that time cannot be excluded. More reasonable, since Kugler nowhere offers this argument, is his reliance on the uniformitarian premise that, if the poem describes events in the sky, then these must be similar events to those observable today; back-calculation will supply a date where all the necessary factors match, and this date proves to be ca. 100 BC. (The reader will not need to be told that this supplies a clear case of circular reasoning.) Having obtained this date, Kugler is at pains to make the evidence tie in with it.

Kugler has now established that the new moon on which the battle ends is not that immediately following the last quarter - "two-homed figure of mourning" on which the battle began, and feels able to derive from the lines following, "with consistency and increasing clarity " how many intervening months are involved:

Line 520: On the last day of the battle Orion was, at nightfall, in almost the identical position on the western horizon to that of Libra at the start of the battle. This explains the wording of this line beyond doubt.

Line 521: The sense of this passage is: The role allotted at the beginning of the battle to Virgo - she held the sun, and Venus shone above her in the early morning - falls at the end of the battle, i.e. after the passage of seven months, to Aries; Virgo and Aries have dioscural character: Virgo disappears with the rising of Aries.

Line 522: "The Pleiades shone no more" = the Pleiades had set heliacally. . . . Thus we must take the last day of the battle as being 8th April (Julian), i.e. the day following the heliacal setting of h Tauri, in the Pleiades.

Here Kugler enters on a long, complex argument - with tables - to show that Draco {"The Dragon shunned the belt") is visible throughout the night: "the belt"is thus to be read as "the ecliptic" Since in Attica, around 100BC, Draco never set anyway, this must mean, according to Kugler, that the place of action is Lower Egypt. - He bases his calculations on a latitude of 30-33°N.

Line 525: A number of philologists have struggled in vain with this passage. Blass translates: "The Scorpion swung (conjecture) his tail through the terrible Lion." Lanchester suggests: "Scorpio drew up his tail because of savage Leo." . . . Kugler's statements are again based on precise timings of individual stars: The rising of Scorpio's head is the first clear development of the night on the eastern horizon, the terrible Lion meanwhile occupying the centre of the sky. . . . The complete setting of Leo is the last conspicuous event on the western horizon. Thus the whole night is witness to Scorpio's hounding Leo, or more precisely, his tail. With this, the true meaning of this passage becomes clear. Moreover, it can be corrected without difficulty by uniting dia and deinoio into one word. Only in this way do we reach a sensible meaning, and one which accommodates the facts; besides this, diadeinos is formed on analogy with diadhlos "quite clear" and diapeos "quite full", and thus philologically above reproach.

Lines 528-531: The situation is the following. At the beginning of the battle, with the sun in a central position in Virgo, the constellations Aries, Taurus, Gemini (with Orion), Cancer and Leo were above the horizon at daybreak. But seven months later, with the sun in the middle of the Ram, all these signs were already set with the approach of morning. Moreover, at this same time begins Ethiopia's hot season, which develops a truly fiery heat during the day [cf. Line 211] . According to the popular-poetic conception of the writer, this is connected with the setting of the aforementioned stars; for in contrast to the others, representing the winter and the rainy season, they comprise the hot region of the ecliptic: their descent to the ocean, which surrounds the earth, sets the latter afire during the day. Naturally, there is then no star visible in the sky. Gaia (gh) has always up to now been taken as indicating the whole earth . . . Nothing other is intended but "the whole land" (cf.olh gh line 213.)

In dealing with the parallel passage, Kugler indulges in one of his rare moments of dry wit: noting that the Indians mentioned in line 206 were missing from line 213, one of his contemporaries had apparently accused the poet of "forgetting the Indians as a result of the frequent mention of the Ethiopians" Kugler remonstrates: "One can be a bad poet without suffering from senile lapses of memory. If the whole passage were indeed nonsense, and the author therefore a half-witted dreamer, it would hardly be surprising if, after drawing a few breaths, he could not remember what he had just said. " - The explanation Kugler finds, on the other hand, is far simpler: the land of Ethiopia contained two races, the Libyans and the "Ethiopians of the sunrise': the latter being regarded by classical authors as part of the Indian race. They are thus included in both line 206 and line 213.


THE FALL OF PHAETHON in the Dionysiaca of Nonnos (Book XXXVIII, 356ff.), following Kugler's German translation.(a)

Mercury is speaking to Bacchus:

And confusion reigned in the Ether, and the order of the Universe, which no one should disturb, he (Phaethon) set in an uproar. Even the axis, which turns in the centre, began to totter through the whirling Ether. Likewise the stooping Atlas in Libya, who carries the domed firmament, could only maintain his crouched position with difficulty: for the burden was altogether too great. The Dragon (Serpent), who, with his sweeping and sinuous belly outside the Great Bear, slithers round his orbit in the same length of day as Taurus, his starry companion, completes his,(b) hissed at the latter, and Leo roared from a glowing throat(C) at the Dog (Sirius), warmed the Ether with the violence of his fire made a reckless leap, the shaggy beast, and shooed the eight-footed Crab.(d) The starry Lion's burning(e) tail whipped the Virgin, who was passing behind him; but winged Virgo sped past the Waggoner (Arcturus), approached the Axis and met with the Wain. The Morning Star sent erring rays to the western rim, pushing away the Evening Star, which faced him there.(f) The red of dawn was in flight; fiery Sirius reached for the greedy(e) Bear instead of the harmless(g) Hare. The star-set Fishes, neighbours of Aquarius, both left their places- one the south-west, the other the north-east – and sprang to Olympus. The curved Dolphin, the companion of Capricorn, turned a somersault and began to dance. Scorpio was driven on a wandering course from his path in the south, and came close to Orion: Orion took fright even at the height of his orbit(h) as he reached for the pincers:(i) if he had advanced only slowly, he could have cut his feet for the second time on the sharp barbs. Luna, too, who was standing at noon,(i) disdained half the gleam of her face, made herself dark,(k) and jumped aloft; for she would not use rays borrowed from the light-bearer of the male sex, nor drink sisterly brilliance from her opposite, Phaethon. From the flock of the Pleiades, who stand screaming in a circle, there surged across the seven-belted heavens a sevenfold, intertwined cry of complaint. Raising an echoing noise from as many throats, the stars raced against each other, and seemed insane in their aimless running. Venus pushed Jupiter, Mars Saturn; my star (Mercury) came close to the springtime Pleiades in its motions, and after giving the Seven Stars some of his related light he rose half-bright beside my mother Maia, turning away from the Wain of Heaven, whose companion he is at all other times either as a fore-runner in the morning, or, in the evening when the sun has set, by sending his light from behind. To him astrologers gave the name "Strength of the Sun'',(l) for he follows the same path at the same pace as the sun. Stretching his dew-damp throat, the celestial Bull, Europa's affianced, bellowed and raised his bent foot to run. First he turned the pointed horn on his sloping brow towards Phaethon, and then with his fiery hooves he struck the rim of the Celestial Wain.(m) Now Orion became bold, and drew his sword from the scabbard at his side, on his burning thigh. Arcturus brandished his curved shepherd's crook.(n) Pegasus neighed, throwing the knee of his starry foot high in the air; and thumping the firmament with his hooves the half-bright(o) Libyan horse ran to his neighbour, the Swan, and struck his wings, snorting, to throw yet another driver of the Chariot(m) down from the Ether, as indeed he had once thrown down Bellerophontes. No longer did the stars in the Bear, moving in a circle fastened around his hips, dance up on high near the northerly Pole,(P) but moved to the south-west and wet their feet in the unfamiliar Ocean at the Lalce of Hespena.


a. Kugler notes: "A literal translation is in many places quite impossible. However, it seemed inadvisable to dispense with a translation completely, as it presents difficulties which will baffle even the experienced classicist, if he is not sufficiently familiar with the skies." The Greek original is in verse, which of course compounds the difficulty. I have had the opportunity to compare Kugler's rendering of the passage with that by W.H.D. Rouse (Nonnos: Dionysiaca; Heinemann, 1940): although there is a difference of approach, as Rouse clearly follows Kugler's predecessors in assuming the description to be nonsense, there are also less important detail variations in interpretation (e.g. "in the setting region of the west" for "to the western rim"; and "leapt in Olympus" for "to Olympus"). The more important differences are dealt with in these notes.
b. Kugler: "The sense is this: The Dragon (Draco), a constellation in the region of the North Pole ('outside the Great Bear'), describes during the diumal revolution of the sky an orbit much smaller than that of Taurus, which lies near the Equator. Therefore, whilst the latter completes his day's journey at a hurried pace, the awkward Dragon slithers lazily to his destination. Thus, despite his clumsiness, Taurus cannot escape him." Rouse, however, has simply: Now the serpent scraped with his writhing belly the equator far away from the bear . . . (This again implies a belief in the nonsense element, in bringing the serpent, a polar constellation, far into the southern sky, but might also indicate a displacement of the Earth's axis - a possibility considered by neither translator.)
c. Rouse applies "glowing" to the Dog: Kugler suggests this as a possible alternative.
d. Rouse: stood boldly to attack the eight claws of the crab with his shaggy hair bristling.
e. Rouse has "thirsty", which he explains as meaning that the constellations in question never drink of the sea, i.e. never set.
f. Kugler: "The meaning of this can only be: in place of the Evening Star, in which character Venus had heliacaUy set shortly before (possibly the previous day), she now reappears as Morning Star."
g. Rouse: his usual Hare.
h. kai en astrasin: "even among the stars" (thus Rouse). In the legend, Orion's life on Earth was brought to an end by his wounding by Scorpio: hence the reference in the following lines. Regarding the significance of the position on Orion's orbit, Kugler explains: "not merely on the westem horizon, where he is caught up whilst setting by Scorpio . . . In leaving his accustomed place, Scorpio rises earlier; therefore Orion must hasten his setting to escape the spines."
i. Rouse: Scorpios . . . came near to Orion and touched his sword.
j. Rouse: The moon leapt up at mid-day. - This translation can again be taken as complying with the "nonsense" reading
k. Kugler: "The light of the moon (last quarter) dies in the dazzling brilliance of the approaching Phaethon, i.e. the meteor, whose brightness equals that of daylight." Rouse, in the following lines, applies all references to the sun ("Phaethon"); whereas Kugler distinguishes "the Light-bearer" (the sun) and "Phaethon" (the meteor).
l. Rouse: astronomers have named him the Sun's Heart.
m. Rouse has "firmament": Kugler may have been sidetracked by the mention of Bellerophontes; for "driver of the Chariot" Rouse has simply "rider" (of the heavenly vault).
n. Rouse: Bootes shook his cudgel.
o. Rouse has "half-seen", and explains this by the fact that the constellation Pegasus only represents the forequarters of the animal, thus only showing half. However, he uses the same translation for Kugler's "half-bright" applied to Mercury earlier in the text.
p. Rouse: No longer the circling Bears danced back to back beside the northern turning post on high. - Again a more plausible-sounding version.

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