Page images
[blocks in formation]




Hæc ego admirans, referebam tamen oculos ad terram identidem.-Cic. Somn. Scip.

In the close of the fourth volume a comparison was instituted between a few hieroglyphics and their prototypes, and the connexion between them satisfactorily pointed out; but the bringing together objects so connected, in order merely to establish their several applications to each other, ends only in the gratification of an idle curiosity. Utility is the true and genuine object of all labour and research; and it is expedient, therefore, to shew, by some solid example, that the study of these matters may lead probably to useful results. Now it is certain that the signs of the zodiac are really hieroglyphics, however little they may have been esteemed so in later times: not only

[blocks in formation]

are they frequently found individually among other hieroglyphics, but there are several zodiacs in specie, and many Isiac tablets in the nature of zodiacs, still existing in the temples of Egypt, where the other hieroglyphics are found, and they are not to be distinguished from these last, either in respect of method of invention or style of execution while almost all other hieroglyphics have sunk into oblivion, these have survived the wreck, and having a known application to fixed spaces in the heavens, are in daily use in the important science of astronomy.*

What was the origin of the signs of the zodiac? what induced the early astronomers to designate particular portions of the heavens by the symbols of a ram, a bull, or a lion, rather than by any other animals? These questions are to this day a subject of dispute. That the choice of those and

*The symbols that lie in the province of heraldry are still likewise in common use; and they are most of them of the nature of hieroglyphics, and many of them real hieroglyphics and of the greatest antiquity; but they are no longer, like the signs of the zodiac, applied to any scientific purpose, that for which they seem to have been originally employed, namely, to furnish evidence in matters of genealogy, and thereby in family property, being now utterly obsolete.

the other animals and objects of which the zodiac is composed, originated in any positive likeness between them and the portions of the heavens which they represent, or of any detached number of stars therein, a transient view of those stars, whether with a telescope or the naked eye, is sufficient to negative. Still less can these denominations be supposed to have their origin in the usefulness of those animals and objects to mankind; for however true it may be that some of them are useful to mankind, it can by no means be said of the greater part: yet still the universal convention which has stamped upon those portions of the heavens the names by which they are designated, can never be deemed to have been the effect of mere accident: it appears, indeed, satisfactorily, that this matter may be traced to a more rational cause.

The twelve signs or constellations, collectively taken, occupy the ecliptic, or that space in the heavens through which the sun passes in the complete period of a year, of which, therefore, one-twelfth part is traversed in the time of a month; and since the earth itself, during the period of the sun's annual circuit, comes back again to the same point nearly from whence it had set out at the beginning of the year, (by which, in fact, it is evidenced that the sun has completed

his circuit,) and of course performs a twelfth part of his progress towards that point in the time of a month, that circumstance might lead, naturally enough, to the notion of establishing an artificial connexion between the space in the heavens traversed by the sun, and the correspondent quantity of space on the earth, through which the earth in the same time, that is, in any given number of months, should advance in its return towards its original point of outset. This again might lead, as naturally, to the fancying of an ideal resemblance between the several portions of the circumference of the globe, and the corresponding monthly portions of the sun's circular path in the ecliptic, as marked there by the stars successively traversed by him: such idea being controled only by the propriety of ascribing those portions of the globe which lie under the tropics to those portions of the heavens. (or, in other words, to those constellations) which the sun traverses when in the tropics, and contriving the other signs or constellations in the heavens as nearly as possible in conformity with a like rule.

Upon these simple principles I conceive the invention of the signs to have been originally founded; the only thing remaining necessary, in order to determine how much of his course the sun had at any time run, being, to agree which

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »