Malcolm Lowery

The work by Kugler discussed here was first published in 1927 (in German) by the Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung,
Münster in Westfalen, in the series Aschendorffs Zeitgemässe Schriften 17.

This article is copyright 1975 by R. M. Lowery.

In 1907 Father Franz Xaver Kugler published the first part of his monumental work Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel (1), a tour de force of “assyriological, astronomical and astral-mythological research” which he completed in 1913, and which is still referred to today. A lesser known work by Kugler is the later monograph Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaėthon in naturgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung (2) (The Sibylline Star-Battle and Phaėthon read as Natural History), mentioned by L.C. Stecchini in The Velikovsky Affair (3), in which Kugler examines these ancient legends for the natural events around which they were written. Malcolm Lowery offers below a digest of the content of this work, based on his own partial translation.

WRITING ON KUGLER in “Astronomical Theory and Historical Data” (3), Stecchini cites the following passage from Kugler’s introduction, taking it as a leitmotiv for the whole work:

Our monograph . . . conveys the urgent lesson that ancient traditions, even in the form of 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 of a religious nature, such as are offered in abundance in the Old Testament.

Stecchini then goes on to explain that Kugler, in this work, 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”, not further identified. A more thorough reading of the 56-page work – and a thorough reading is certainly necessary, as Kugler is careful to found every point he makes upon a wealth of close reasoning, accompanied by copious passages quoted from classical authors, and even by tables of astronomical calculations – shows that this grossly oversimplifies the argument that Kugler puts forward, even to the extent of transferring to the Sibyls conclusions which Kugler came to in respect of the Phaethon legend (for which he takes the version given by Nonnos in the Dionysiaca), but emphatically rejected in the case of the former.

In fact, Kugler draws a sharp distinction between the two legends he examines; in short, whilst he attributes the events of the Phaethon 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:

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.

(He 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 (4).)

BEFORE GOING ANY FURTHER, it will be as well to consider Kugler’s aims in writing his study, and the underlying assumptions he started from: we will then have a clearer idea of the advance he made as a result of his research.

First and foremost, 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 (as a member of the Jesuit order) 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 recorded therein took place. 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 refers to the time immediately after the Flood. It goes without saying that Kugler adopts a similarly uncritical, but detailed reading of the ancients.

From his uniformitarian training, Kugler inherited two distinctive attitudes: first, he regards the progress of knowledge as a development ever upwards; and this naturally leads to the uniformitarian’s typically naļve view of the naļveté of earlier observers (5). This provides a convenient way of explaining away most of the legends ascribing peril to the approach of a comet; along with 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 naļve 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 (6). . . . 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 at the time of a full moon.”

Second, a practice familiar to all who have studied the methods of those committed to a uniformitarian cosmogony: a-posteriori reasoning, or circular arguments. As we shall see, having obtained, whether from ancient sources or from his own calculations, a figure for the date and duration of the events under examination, Kugler labours to interpret the actual evidence so as to tie in with these findings (7).

KUGLER, IN FACT, seems to have set out in an attempt to explain away both legends by finding a perfectly rational base for each of them. And as a result of this he reaches the conclusion that they deserve 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.”

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 investigation, he found 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 modern 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 end 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 finally 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 position 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.

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 further action, accepting them, presumably, as no more than the excuse the ancients needed to write a poem about the events following (8). The parallel passage which he brings in, and which all agree relates to the ancient legends of periodic world destruction, is used to corroborate his conclusions by its similarity to the main extract.

We will pass quickly over his treatment of the Books of the Sibyl: the following samples of his comments on the text will serve to give some insight into his method and approach.

Line 512: źélios (poetic form of hźlios – helios) is certainly not the diurnal luminary here: for it appears en astrįsin: 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, criss-cross 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 hypsōma, i.e. the location where it develops its greatest power: Taurus.

(Kugler, by now, has established that the new moon on which the battle ends is not that immediately following the last crescent – “two horned figure of mourning” – on which the battle began. How many intervening months are involved, he derives “with consistency and increasing clarity” from the lines following.)

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 522: “The Pleiades shone no more” = the Pleiades had completed their heliacal setting. . . . 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.

(Following on this, which is based on calculations pertaining to latitudes 30-33ƒ N, Kugler presents 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 100 BC, Draco never set anyway, this must mean, according to Kugler, that the place of the action is Lower Egypt. – The dating of 100 BC seems to be taken for granted throughout the paper, and must be taken from some generally accepted (uniformitarian?) conclusion regarding the date of the poem’s origin.

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. 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. L.211). According to the popular-poetic conception of the author this is connected with the setting of the above-mentioned 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 throughout the day. Naturally there is then no star visible in the sky. Gaķa () has always up to now been taken as indicating the whole earth . . . nothing other is intended but “the whole land” (cf. hólź gź Aithiopź'ōn line 213).

Nothing particular need be said of Kugler’s treatment of the parallel passage, except that it is clear by now that he will take one reading, while catastrophists (and the ancient Greeks) will take another. Kugler, of course, identifies the “new nature” as the rebirth of Spring, and calls 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.

(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 Kugler’s 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).

TURNING TO THE PHAETHON STORY (see Appendix II), we find Kugler able to adopt a quite different attitude. Heading this part of the study “The Naturalistic Premise of the Phaėthon Legend and its Duplication in the Sibylline Version”, he proceeds methodically in three stages: the identity of Phaethon, the different 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 “naļve” ancients would need an astounding poetic imagination to construct a legend out of the materials suggested by earlier scholars. Kugler’s answer can by now be guessed:

. . . 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-Phaėthon hypostasised, and the myth was ready.” Against this, others, most recent among them Wilamowitz and Knaack, interpret Phaėthon 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 clearly 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 domination in the heavens. But a Phaėthon in the sense of the “Hesiodeic” or the Alexandrine version (which latter has been regarded as the source for the narratives of Ovid, Lucian, Nonnos et 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. Phaėthon appears not only as a cognomen for Helios; he is also set fully equal to Helios (especially in Nonnos). 2. Phaėthon is not the driver of the 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 enflamed. 5. Phaėthon is struck by lightning, and falls to earth. 6. The flames of Phaėthon’s fire also set fire to the earth. – Now, with all of these certain meteoric phenomena are completely in accord. Meteors have been observed again and again, not only in the modern era, but also long ago in antiquity, 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.

In the appearance of this meteorite, 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.

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.

First, a definite location:

The place of action is identified by the Sibyllist as “the entire country of the Ethiopians”. Of this the Dionysiaca XXXVIII say nothing, and Ovid (the alternative source of the Phaėthon 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. (9)

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

We return to this passage from Timaeus below; the reader can 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 in support of acceptance as facts 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 try and find a date for these, a quest in which he must be granted a fair degree of success. From Tatian (10) he gleans the information that both took place “at the time of Crotopas”; both Eusebius (11) and Augustine (12), quoting Varro, 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 (13) as 330/340 years before the fall of Troy, by Paulus Orosius (14) as 810 years before the founding of Rome (i.e. 1563 BC), and by Cyril of Alexandria (15) as the 67th year of Moses. Having amassed such a redoubtable store of information, Kugler makes another statement destined to be singled out by Stecchini, following it with 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 of the two phenomena. Now, it has already been shown that the fire of Phaėthon 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, whilst small fragments strike barely any harder than hailstones, the largest drive deep into the earth with fearsome 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 depth of 6 1/2 km 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 meteor 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 Sturzflut. In this way the Deucalion flood and its simultaneity with the fire of Phaėthon can be explained.

(There follows a brief diversion seeking to show that the name Eridanus originates from a Babylonian constellation named after the ancient holy city of Eridu, which lay at the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates: this need not concern us here).

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 draws the sharpest of distinctions between these and the local catastrophes he has so far examined: whilst he will admit the latter as facts, he sees the former merely as insupportable extrapolations of dogma. (In this he ignores the implications of the Timaeus passage already referred to).

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 of the destruction of the earth (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 ekpyrō'sis 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, seas and all life) will destroy themselves by their own strengths (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) (16). 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, through these their end.” And this general philosophical-theological reasoning is not yet enough for him: he turns also to the sciences 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 different paths (17), 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 (18).

The two catastrophes, therefore, can be distinguished from the fire of Phaėthon 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 of time, and recur at intervals. In the same way, the events among the stars are of a completely different nature to those of Phaėthon’s fire. Here 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 neighbour in a blind rage. There, on the other hand, we see self-annihilation, a falling upon each other to accelerate the common Feuertod destined 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 obviously baseless (as Origenes also shows). But it suggested itself the more readily to Celsus, as the fire of Phaėthon 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 First Empire (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,
Arserunt gentes, timuitque incendio coelum,
Fugeruntque novas ardentia sidera flammas
Atque uno timuit condi natura sepulcro.
In tantum longo mutantur tempora cursu
Atque iterum in semet redeunt. Sic tempore certo
Signa quoque amittunt vires, sumuntque receptas.

Manilus 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 Phaėthonteic fire, to escape death by a fingernail. (21)

Thus we see in Kugler the triumph of preconceived ideas over objective investigation of all available evidence – the more surprising as Kugler could accept one interpretation of Plato to back up one aspect of his theory, but was unable to see its obvious similarity to Celsus and Manilius. In the last reckoning, it seems, he was unable to escape the yoke of uniformitarianism (22).

As a fitting close, we give at length the passage from Timaeus so unfairly ignored by Kugler: the Greek sage Solon is talking with the Egyptian priests (23):

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. Franz Xaver Kugler S.J.: Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel (Astronomical Science and Astronomical Observations in Babylon), Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Münster/Westfalen, 1907-1913. [Return to Text]

2. Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1927. [Return to Text]

3. Livio Catullo Stecchini, “Astronomical Theory and Historical Data”, in: The Velikovsky Affair, ed. De Grazia, University Books 1966, Sidgwick & Jackson 1966; pp. 138ff. [Return to Text]

4. 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 Phaėthon 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 Phaėthon legend: his Hź'lios phaéthōn, the ‘brilliant sun’, whose threat he sees in the sky, is like Phaėthon 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 judgement: 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 moonlike 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 Phaėthon is transferred to the stars. As a consequence, they must also be presented as the immediate cause of the fire on earth, whilst Hź'lios phaéthōn brought it about indirectly”. [Return to Text]

5. It is the more surprising that Stecchini should be to all appearances oblivious of these faults, as he claims in another work to have learned “a couple of things” from Heidegger whilst a student at Freiburg: “One was that the idea of the progress of human civilization, on which practically all historians operate, is a theological doctrine developed by the Church Fathers. The other, more specific, was that scholars of Greek culture have murdered the texts of early Greek philosophers, on the assumption that since they were early philosophers they must have had infantile conceptions.” (“Notes on the Relation of Ancient Measures to the Great Pyramid”, in: P. Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid, Allen Lane, 1973, p. 287.) [Return to Text]

6. Kugler’s example: “Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven . . .” (Gen. 11:4) [Return to Text]

7. In another place, Stecchini states: “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. 745 BC. Those who today keep repeating the earlier conclusions of Kugler do injustice to his scientific genius.” (The Velikovsky Affair, p. 162) No reference is given for these conclusions of Kugler (which would antedate Velikovsky handsomely if substantiated), but these remarks have been taken as referring to the work under consideration, believed to be the last published during Kugler’s lifetime. However, it is to say the least difficult to read these findings into the work. [Return to Text]

8. See note 4. [Return to Text]

9. “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.” (This and the following translations of classical material provided by Ian Grant.) [Return to Text]

10. Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 60. [Return to Text]

11. Eusebius, Chronicles 26-28.

12. 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 vicina pervenit. &150 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 own 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.”

13. Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromata I (Potter p. 401), by reference to Thrasyllos. [Return to Text]

14. 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 I, 9:

“In the 810th year before the founding of Rome Amphictyon III king after Cecrops reigned in Athens. In his time a flood wiped out most of the inhabitants of Thessaly. Plato testified that virulent plagues and terrible diseases suddenly struck Ethiopia, leaving the country almost unpopulated.”

15. Cyrillus Alexandrinus, Contra Julianum I. 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. ” [Return to Text]

16. 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.” [Return to Text]

17. Kugler’s note: “Only the planets are, of course, meant here, and not ‘all the stars’ . . . ” [Return to Text]

18. 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 natali 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.” [Return to Text]

19. “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.” [Return to Text]

20. “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 again.” (Kugler’s emphasis) [Return to Text]

21. Manitius’ scheme is not too far removed from catastrophic theory: this poem may contain a good deal of useful information regarding the “World Ages” of the past. [Return to Text]

22. An interesting sidelight on the orthodox scientist’s unwillingness to postulate an identity between “proven” total occurrences and theoretical universal catastrophes can be found in D.V. Ager, The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (London, 1973): “Within the sludge there is a clear black horizon, only an inch or so thick, which has been recognised all over southern Britain. The black coloration is due to charcoal fragments from burnt wood. In fact, at one stage in this study our thoughts ran on catastrophism of a biblical kind and we pictured half-seriously a universal conflagration to account for the black band. It is more likely, however, that it represents a short period of dry climate when there were frequent brush fires.” (p. 40) “The Pleistocene glaciations . . . were the most obviously catastrophic event in our history . . . in our near-sighted way of looking at the stratigraphical column, we tend to forget that these recent events, if considered on the normal geological time-scale, were virtually instantaneous and certainly catastrophic. . . . The final conclusion I come to therefore is that, though the theories of plate tectonics now furnish us with a modus operandi, they still seem to me to be a periodic phenomenon. Nothing is world-wide, but everything is episodic. In other words, the history of any one part of the earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror.” (p. 100) [Return to Text]

23. As quoted in selections from Plato in: J.V. Luce, The End of Atlantis (Thames & Hudson 1969; BCA 1973), pp. 207ff.). [Return to Text]



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. [Return]
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; [Return]
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 Okeanos’ 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 land of the Ethiopians. [Return]


THE FALL OF PHAETHON in the Dionysiaca of Nonnos, Book XXXVIII, 356ff., according to Kugler’s German translation (Mercury is speaking to Bacchus):–

And confusion reigned in the Ether, and the order of the universe, which no one should touch, he (Phaėthon) 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, 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 (1), hissed at this latter, and Leo roared from a glowing throat at the Dog, warmed the ether with the violence of his fire, made a reckless leap, the shaggy creature, and shooed the eight-footed Crab. At the hind-quarters of the starry Lion, his burning tail whipped the Virgin, who was passing nearby. But winged Virgo sped past Arcturus, approached the Axis and collided with the Wain. The Morning Star sent erring rays to the western rim, and was even then pushing away the Evening Star, which stood opposite (2). The red of dawn was in flight. Instead of the harmless Hare (Rabbit), fiery Sirius reached for the greedy Bear. The star-set fish both left their places, one the south-west, the other the north-east, and sprang to Olympus, they, the neighbours of Aquarius. The curved Dolphin, the companion of Capricorn, turned a somersault and began to dance. Before Scorpio, who was driven in crooked lines from his path in the south, and was coming close, Orion took fright even at the height of his orbit (3), as he reached for the pincers; he could indeed, if he advanced only slowly, have cut the ends of his feet for the second time on the sharp spines (of the Scorpion). The moon, too, who was standing at noon, disdained half of the gleam of her face, made herself dark (4) 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, Phaėthon. From the flock of the Pleiades, standing in a circle and shouting, there surged across the seven-belted heavens a sevenfold, intertwined cry of complaint. Raising an echoing noise from as many throats, the constellations raced against each other, and seemed insane in their aimless running. Jupiter pushed Venus, Mars Cronos (Saturn); my star (Mercury) came close to the spring-time Pleiades in its motions, and after giving the Seven Sisters some of his related light he rose half-bright near my mother Maia, facing away from the Wain of Heaven, whose companion he always is at 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 “Power of the Sun”, for he follows the same path at the same pace as the sun. Stretching his dew-damp throat, the Celestial Bull, Europa’s affianced, roared and raised his bent foot to run. First he turned aside the pointed horn on the sloping brow for Phaėthon, and then with his burning “claws” he struck the rim of the Celestial Wain. Now Orion became bold, and drew his sword from its scabbard at his side, on his burning thigh. Arcturus brandished his curled shepherd’s crook. Pegasus neighed, throwing the knee of his starry foot high in the air; and thumping the firmament with his hooves the half-bright Libyan horse ran to his neighbour, the swan (Cygnus), and struck his wings, snorting, to throw yet another driver of the Chariot down from the Ether, just as he had indeed thrown down Bellerophontes. No longer did the stars in the Bear, moving in a circle fastened around his hips, dance up high near the northerly Pole, but moved to the southwest and wet their dry feet in the Lake of Hesperia at the unaccustomed Oceanos. [Return]


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 following are a few examples of Kugler’s notes:

(1) The sense is this: The dragon (Draco), a constellation in the region of the North Pole (“outside the Great Bear”), describes during the diurnal 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, his awkward dragon slithers to his goal. So, despite his clumsiness, Taurus cannot escape him.

(2) The meaning of this can only be: in place of the Evening Star, as which Venus had heliacally set shortly before (possibly the previous day) the latter now appears as Morning Star.

(3) kai en astrįsin: actually “even among the stars”, i.e. not merely on the (western) horizon, where he is caught up whilst setting by Scorpio, who has risen in the east, and wounded by his poisonous barbs. (Cf. also the legend of Orion’s death in Preller, Griechische Mythologie I, 355). In leaving his accustomed place, Scorpio rises earlier; therefore Orion must hasten his setting to escape the spines.

(4) The light of the moon (last quarter) dies in the dazzling brilliance of the approaching Phaėthon, i.e. the meteor, whose brightness equals that of daylight.


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