Giorgio de Santillana’s Hamlet’s Mill is an exercise in un-forgetting. 

Ancients believed the world moved through various ages: “Each age brings a World Era, a Twilight of the Gods. Great structures collapse; pillars topple which supported the great fabric; floods and cataclysms herald the shaping of a new world.” And each at was marked by an astronomical shift, as “the secular shifting of the sun through the signs of the zodiac which determines world-ages” (2).

Each new world was organized by “Seven sages,” which “turn out to be the Seven Stars of Ursa, which are normative in all cosmological alignments on the starry sphere. These dominant stars of the Far North are peculiarly but systematically linked with those which are considered the operative powers of the cosmos, that is, the planets as they move in different placements and configurations along the zodiac” (3).

The basic astronomical view of things was widely diffused: “These notions appear to have been common doctrine in the age before history-all over the belt of high civilizations around our globe. They also seem to have been born of the great intellectual and technological revolution of the late Neolithic period. The intensity and richness, the coincidence of details, in this cumulative thought have led to the conclusion that it all had its origin in the Near East. It is evident that this indicates a diffusion of ideas to an extent hardly countenanced by current anthropology.”

But we miss it because ancient “science, although it has dug up a marvelous wealth of details, has been led by its modern evolutionary and psychological bent to forget about the main source of myth, which was astronomy - the Royal Science.”  Our “obliviousness is itself a recent turn of events - barely a century old.” 

Recent it may be, but our ignorance cuts us off from the ancients: “Aristotle was proud to state it as known that the gods were originally stars, even if popular fantasy had later obscured this truth. Little as he believed in progress, he felt this much had been secured for the future. He could not guess that W. D. Ross, his modern editor, would condescendingly annotate: ‘This is historically untrue.’” De Santillana points out the obvious: “we know that Saturday and Sabbath had to do with Saturn, just as Wednesday and Mercredi had to do with Mercury. Such names are as old as time; as old, certainly, as the planetary heptagram of the Harranians” (4).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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