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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.

References

  1. W. Spiegelberg, Der demotische Text der Priesterdekrete von Kanopus und Memphis (Rosettana) (Heidelberg, 1922), p. 70.
  2. Natural History 11. 37.
  3. “Astronomy and Chronology”, Supplement to Peoples of the Sea (New York, 1977), pp. 205-244.
  4. 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.
  5. Ibid., p. 34.
  6. W. Carl Rufus and Hsing-Chih Tien, The Soochow Astronomical Chart (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1945), p. 5.
  7. Ibid., p. 3.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Ibid., p. 276 (Assurbanipal’s Cyl. B, col. v 16ff.)
  11. Ibid., p. 277.
  12. 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).

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