probably were, used, without relying wholly on the shadows cast by the columns. The mean daily rate at which the point of sunrise moved along the horizon, and the length of the shadows increased or diminished, would also soon be determined, and thus an observation could be taken at sunrise, noon, and sunset, any day. The month and day of the month could thus be determined at any time with tolerable accuracy. The same arrangement would serve to ascertain the true solar time. Of course, it is now impossible, in the absence of any direct information, to arrive at all the details of the peculiar arrangement by which these ancient solar observations were made, but the main outline is without doubt correct. It was but a more extended application of the principle of the sundial, by means of which not only the hours of the day but the arrival of the sun at the solstitial and equinoctial points, was determined, together with the length of the year and other important particulars. These methods seem clumsy to us, being familiar with the wonderful "instruments of precision" which modern science possesses; but, in those ancient days, such primitive methods were the only ones known, and the accuracy of the results arrived at is a matter of wonder and surprise.
The whole arrangement of the porch and pillars of ancient temples for astronomical uses thus depended to a great extent upon the accurate laying of the cornerstone in the northeast corner, so that the outer corner of the same should point to exactly the proper place in the circle of the horizon. The great importance attached to the ceremony of laying the cornerstone is thus accounted for. This explanation, although founded partly on conjecture, harmonizes so well with all that is known as to the religious customs and ideas of the ancients, with the facts of astronomical science, and the whole system of solar worship, as to render its truth in the main almost certain. No investigation appears to have ever been made as to the probable connection between astronomy and the porches of ancient temples, beyond the fact, apparent at first sight, that they all face the rising sun; and this is attributed to religious ideas wholly, and not at all to scientific ones, although it was the well-known custom of the ancient priests to conceal the facts of astronomical science under religious allegories.
Those mysterious structures, the pyramids of Egypt, have been more carefully examined, and are found to have been constructed with direct reference to certain astronomical facts, if not uses. The pyramid of Cheops is placed so correctly on the true meridian that the variation of the magnetic needle may be determined by it. It is also so proportional that its height is the radius of a circle whose circumference is equal to the circuit of the Pyramid's base. The long slant tunnel, leading downward from the pyramid's northern face, points to the polestar of Cheop's time.
Professor R. A. Proctor, the astronomer, says in a late article, "The Mystery of the Pyramids" ("Popular Science Monthly Supplement," No. III), that the purpose for which the pyramids were erected "was in some way associated with astronomy, for the pyramids were built with the most accurate reference to celestial aspects." The following is quoted at length from Mr. Proctor's interesting article. We have italicized
a line or two as bearing more particularly on our subject.
Mr. Proctor says:
These buildings [the pyramids] are all, without exception, built on special astronomical principles. Their square bases are so placed as to have two sides lying east and west, and two lying north and south; or, in other words, so that their four faces front the four cardinal points. One cannot imagine why a tomb should have such a position. It is not, indeed, easy to understand why any building at all, except an astronomical observatory, should have such a position. A temple, perhaps, devoted to sun-worship, and generally to the worship of the heavenly bodies, might be built that way; for it is to be noticed that the peculiar figure and position of the pyramids would bring about the following relations: When the sun rose and set south of the east and west points, or (speaking generally) between the autumn and spring equinoxes, the rays of the rising and setting sun illuminated the southern face of the pyramid; whereas during the rest of the year, that is, during the six months between the spring and autumn equinoxes, the rays of the rising and setting sun illuminated the northern face. Again, all the year round the sun's rays passed from the eastern to the western face at solar noon. And, lastly, during seven months and a half of each year, namely, for three months and three quarters before and after midsummer, the noon rays of the sun fell on all four faces of the pyramid, or, according to a Peruvian expression (so Smyth says), the sun shone on the pyramid "with all his rays."
Mr. Proctor thinks the purpose of the pyramids was rather astrological than astronomical, for he says, "The slant tunnel above mentioned is precisely what the astrologer would require in order to get the horoscope correctly." This distinction between astrology and astronomy was unknown to the ancients. The two were one. Astrology assumes, it is true, to predict not only eclipses, but the future generally from the position and aspects of the heavenly bodies; but, in order to make those assumed predictions, it was first required, according to the rules of astrology itself, to obtain a correct knowledge of the position and aspects of the sun, moon, and planets. This necessitated, of course, correct astronomical observations, which might be and were put to uses entirely scientific and practical by the ancients, as well as serving as a basis for their pretended predictions of the future.
That the pyramids (whatever else they may have been intended for) were not temples, we are perfectly willing to grant, because the only object which has induced this notice of their astronomical proportions, is to show that is a demonstrated fact that the ancient Egyptians did allow the most exact astronomical ideas to greatly influence, if not wholly control, their most stupendous works of architecture—works so gigantic in size, and requiring such an expenditure of time, treasure, labor, and human life, as to render them the greatest wonder of all antiquity. It therefore becomes almost certain that astronomical considerations would not be neglected in the construction of their temples proper, devoted as they were to sun-worship, and the service of a religion having a purely astronomical function.
In ancient times the only astronomers were the priests, and the only observatories the temples. The mass of the people were ignorant and superstitious, and wholly dependent upon the priests for their knowledge required to carry on agriculture. Says Salverti:
From the observations of the stars, the return of the seasons and several meteorological phenomena were predicted by the priest. He regulated agricultural labors in a rational manner, and foretold its probable success with tolerable exactness. The ignorant men, therefore, under his direction, set no bounds in their own minds to the power of science, and doubted not that the futurity of the moral world, as well as that of the physical, was to be read on the face of the starry heavens. In this mistaken idea they were not undeceived by the priests.
In order to perpetuate these ideas, and so increase and preserve their power and influence, all scientific knowledge was locked up in the sacerdotal order and the Mysteries. Astronomical observations were thus of necessity secretly conducted in the temples, and the methods by which these observations were taken, and the real object of constructions for that purpose, were securely veiled beneath allegorical and religious rites and formulas.
The real and scientific reasons why the cornerstone was placed with such care in the northeast corner having been concealed by the priests, in process of time, when their religion was superseded, were entirely lost. The custom, however was first established under all the sanction and requirements of religion, and came at last to be superstitiously followed, not only as to temples, but all other buildings of any importance, whether built so as to face the east or not. The custom has even descended to this day, which shows that some very important reasons must have led to its adoption in the first place. It is thus that the superstitious observance of this custom required for centuries after the real scientific and the pretended religious reasons for it had not only ceased, but been forgotten. 178
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