Venus and Sirius
The Greek version of the Canopus Decree speaks of the
rising of the star of lsis (to astron to tés Isios) as marking
the beginning of the new year; the hieratic and hieroglyphic versions,
however, assign the same role to Sothis, or Sirius.1
Velikovsky, on the authority of Pliny,2
identifies the star of Isis as the planet Venus3
and explains that both Venus and Sirius had a role in the Egyptian calendar,
the real purpose of the Decree being to make the calendar independent
of Venus. Egyptologists generally consider both “star of Isis” and “Sothis”
to refer to Sirius. Of the arguments put forward by Velikovsky against
this interpretation, I consider the strongest to be the fact that a calendar
based on a fixed star would not result in festivals moving through the
seasons—only if tied to the observations of a planet, in this case Venus,
would festivals originally celebrated in the summer fall in midwinter.
That the star of Isis and Sirius are not one and the
same is clearly indicated in one of the Isis-Aretalogies from Memphis
where Isis is made to say: “I am she who goes out to the Dog-Star.”4
Dieter Müller, trying to find the meaning of this text, expresses his
puzzlement: “But what can the foregoing sentence signify? That Isis goes
out to the constellation of the Dog-Star certainly cannot be meant, for
they are one and the same. Also that Isis is conceived of as dwelling
in Sirius appears not very enlightening; besides, one could think of the
depictions of Isis as riding on a dog...”5
Miiller, puzzled, resorts to an emendation, a favorite device of many
scholars faced with discordant data. Not finding enlightenment in his
own field of Egyptology, Müller does not even think to look for a solution
in a wholly different time or place. Yet, if the phenomena that so fascinated
the ancients were real events—if, in this case, the fact of Venus going
out to Sirius is based on actual observation—it is legitimate to investigate
the records of other civilizations to find what light they may shed on
the Egyptian text.
In the Soochow Astronomical Chart, an eight-centuries-old
inscription in stone, in a section that deals with past irregularities
in the heavens, there is the following statement: “Once T’ai-P’ai (Venus)
suddenly ran into Lang Hsing (Wolf Star, Sirius), though it is more
than 40 degrees south of the Yellow Road.”6
The Yellow Road is the ecliptic.7
The same ancient tradition was referred to by the early eighth-century
A.D. Chinese astronomer Y-hang. As told by Gaubil,8
Y-hang wrote that “in the time of Tsin one saw the star Sirius eclipsed
by the planet Venus. Y-hang, after having reported this alleged observation,
assures that Sirius has 40 degrees south latitude, and that therefore
Heaven changed the course of this planet in the time of Tsin.”
As the Chinese astronomer correctly observed, the ancient
records of Venus’ movements cited by him would require the planet to travel
outside of the ecliptic, on an orbit quite different from its present
course. Whereas the Soochow Astronomical Chart might leave the
impression of a one-time event, the more detailed records cited by Y-hang
tell of a regular phenomenon. The brightest of the planets approaching
the brightest of the fixed stars and merging its light with it — if that
is the correct interpretation of the texts—must have been an impressive
sight. It may have given rise to the Egyptian expression Isisothis—Venus
and Sirius shining as one.
Among the Babylonian astronomical texts the so-called
Dilbat tablet links the planet Venus with various fixed stars; it says
that “the Bow Star [Sirius] is Dilbat [Venus] in the month ofAbu.”9
Dilbat, or Venus, is linked with other fixed stars in other months of
the year. If we may interpret this text in the sense that Venus approached
Sirius in Abu and other fixed stars in other months of the year, the tablet
may help trace the planet’s ancient path.
Assurbanipal, in the seventh pre-Christian century, celebrated
a festival for Venus when Sirius was rising heliacally: “In the month
of Abu, the month of the heliacal rising of the Bow Star, the festival
of the honored queen, the daughter [Ishtar] of Enlil, while, to render
homage to her great godhead, I sojourned in Arbela, her beloved city.
. .”10 This statement of
Assurbanipal is interpreted as meaning that the king “considered Ištar
of Arbela the divine impersonator of Sirius.”11
Ištar of Elam and Ištar of Babylon are also defined as the Bow Star, or
Sirius. This link of the Venus festival with Sirius persisted until the
Middle Ages among the Harranians.12
The celebration of the Assyrian and Harranian festivals to Venus when
Sirius was rising heliacally should not be neglected by students of the
Canopus Decree, and of Sothic chronology.
- W. Spiegelberg, Der demotische
Text der Priesterdekrete von Kanopus und Memphis (Rosettana) (Heidelberg,
1922), p. 70.
- Natural History 11.
- Astronomy and Chronology, Supplement to Peoples
of the Sea (New York, 1977), pp. 205-244.
- D. Müller, “Aegypten und die
griechischen Isis-Aretalogien in Abhandlungen der sachsischen
Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, phil.-hist. Klasse, 53.1
(Berlin, 1961), pp. 33ff.
- Ibid., p. 34.
- W. Carl Rufus and Hsing-Chih
Tien, The Soochow Astronomical Chart (Ann Arbor: University
of Michigan Press, 1945), p. 5.
- Ibid., p. 3.
- P. Gaubil, Histoire de
l’Astronomie Chinoise in P. E. Souciet ed., Observations mathematiques,
astronomiques, geographiques, chronologiques et physiques tirées des
anciens livres chinois (Paris, 1732), p. 86.
- H. Lewy, “Ištar-sad and the
Bow Star, Studies in Honor of Benno Landsberger on his Seventy-fifth
Birthday, April 21, 1965; Assyriological Studies 16, University
of Chicago Press, pp. 275ff.
- Ibid., p. 276 (Assurbanipal’s
Cyl. B, col. v 16ff.)
- Ibid., p. 277.
- Ibid., p. 276. In
Persia, Sirius and Venus also appear to be linked in some way. There,
the star Tistrya, many times mentioned in the Zend-Avesta,
is usually identified as Sirius. Velikovsky, on the other hand, brings
evidence to show that it is Venus (see Worlds in Collision,
p. 201, n. 10).