273 BABYLONIA-ARTS AND SCIENCES.
the celestial wheel, to note recurrences and then to expect them-these were but natural
and necessary stages in the sublime lore of the heavens.
Thus would soon be developed a correct perception of the differences between the planets
and stars, and a knowledge of the diverse laws by which they were respectively governed.
By and by the moon, as being a wanderer, was associated with those five planetary bodies
discoverable by the naked eye, and finally the sun himself was added as the seventh globe
of fire which seemed to change place among the fixed orbs of the skies. The paths of these
seven "planets" were carefully mapped, and the rudiments thus obtained of a true science
of astronomy. Of course, the fundamental hypothesis of the solar system was at fault, as
it continued to be until the days of Copernicus.
Beyond their knowledge of the planetary system, the Babylonians made considerable progress
in the study of the fixed stars. These were arranged in groups and constellations, and
upon them was conferred the imperishable poetry of names. The imagination of the observer
caught a resemblance in the heavens to the things on earth. The figures of the great
animals of the terrestrial sphere were transferred to the celestial, and sky-maps were
drawn with the outlines of these figures. The poles of the heavens were fixed, and
Arcturus and Orion took their place, the one with his bow and the other with his club, in
the blue pavilion spangled with points of fire.
In the British Museum is a conical, black stone upon which are figured the Signs of the
Zodiac as taught by the Babylonian astronomers. Several of the outlines are identical with
those presented on a modern celestial sphere. The Ram, the Bull, and the Scorpion are
easily recognized among the groups.
After the manner of their system and under the limitations of their knowledge, the
Babylonians labored at the practical problems of the heavens. Eclipses were calculated and
predicted; the phenomena sometimes happening as foretold and sometimes falling wide of the
Of course, the calculations were based upon observations of recurrences and other data of
a misleading character rather than upon the well-known principles of modern astronomy.
Certain facts were recognized, however, with respect to the motions of the sun and moon,
tending to make the calculations-of the Babylonian seers more trustworthy than at first
sight would be conjectured. In the first place, the sun*s course through the Zodiac was
carefully traced. The signs of the great belt were called the "Houses of the Sun"-for
there the deity seemed to lodge from month to month. In like manner the path of the moon
was accurately mapped through the same zone of the heavens. The "Houses of the Moon,"
marking the monthly stages of the silver orb, were located as were the "Houses of the
Sun." Albeit, the two classes of "Houses" did not exactly coincide owing to the
inclination of the moon's orbit; but the relations of the two paths through space were so
well determined as to afford a fair basis of expectancy in the matter of eclipses. The
laws of nature, however, were not sufficiently understood to remove such striking
phenomena from the realm of superstition to the cool domain of science. The Babylonians,
like the other peoples of antiquity, looked on and shuddered while the great mystery of of
darkness was accomplished. Lists of eclipses as recorded by the astronomers of Babylon
and preserved by the Greek historians have been verified by modern mathematicians.
The Babylonians also succeeded in a tolerably accurate measurement of time. They fixed the
length of the year at three hundred and sixty-five days, six hours, and eleven minutes-a
very close approximation. By means of the gnomon and the polos, two varieties of sun-dial,
they kept the hours of the day. The period of the moon's revolution in her orbit was
accurately determined and the relative--though not the absolute-distances of the planets
from the earth and from each other seem to have been known. It is also in evidence that
some of the secondary planets as the four moons of Jupiter, had been ob-