How did historical cultures view celestial events?


I wrote last week on what it would be like to view a supernova, as well as describing accounts of supernovae that have occurred through history.

What must historical cultures have thought of events like supernovae, comets, or eclipses, before the scientific understanding of what these things actually were came to light?

I believe a lot of religious and mythological stories had their origins with these types of events.

We all know the planets are named after Roman gods, and that these gods were drawn from the Hellenic religion of the ancient Greeks. Did the Greeks and Romans believe the points of light in the sky were literally gods?

The Aztecs performed human sacrifice to appease their gods. Perhaps in their ancient history, the custom developed as they witnessed a solar eclipse, and, fearing they had angered their gods, performed a sacrifice to appease them? Perhaps the Aztecs believed the human sacrifice worked, as the sun would soon return. And when once again a solar eclipse occurred, another sacrifice was performed, and again the sun returned. Perhaps the custom was established this way, and human sacrifices were made in an attempt to prevent eclipses from occurring altogether?

A solar eclipse occurred during a battle between the ancient Medes and Lydians somewhere in Anatolia, causing the battle to immediately stop, where they agreed to a truce. Perhaps they believed the battle had angered their gods?

The Christian story of the Star of Bethlehem could be explained with a number of different types of celestial events. Perhaps a supernova or a comet, or it could even have been a conjunction of the bright planets Venus and Jupiter, where the two planets overlap each other in the sky.

Haley’s Comet would have been visible in 12 BC. A Florentine painting from the 14th century shows what appears to be a comet above the three wise men.

Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-18-_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi cropped.jpg

In the months after Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, a spectacular comet appeared, perhaps the brightest comet ever recorded. The comet was visible in daylight.

Romans interpreted the comet to be a sign of the deification of Caesar, and that the comet was Caesar’s soul itself.

Without this comet, perhaps the tradition of Roman Emperors becoming deified upon death would not have occurred, and maybe traditional Roman paganism would have been supplanted by Christianity or other religions sooner.


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