The Rings of Saturn
One instance of the Saturn myth can be verified with
the help of a small telescope: Saturn is in chains. Instead of solving
anything, this fact presents a new problem that demands a solution. How
did the ancient Greeks and Romans know that Saturn is encircled by rings?(1)
It is strange that this question was not asked before.(2)
The existence of these rings around Saturn became known in modern times
only in the seventeenth century, after the telescope was invented. They
were first seen, but misunderstood, by Galileo(3)
and understood by Huygens.(4)
If the myth did not by mere chance invent these rings,
the Greeks must have seen them. The last case could be true if the Greeks
or some other oriental people possessed lenses adapted for the observation
of celestial bodies, or if the rings around Saturn were visible to the
naked eye at some time in the pasttoday they are not visible without
magnifying instruments. There are cases of exact observations by the Chaldeans
which suggest the use of some accurate technical means.(5)
These means could consist of a sort of astrolabe like that of Tyche de
Brahe who made most accurate observations of celestial bodies without
the help of a telescope; also Copernicus, prior to Tyche de Brahe, made
all his calculations of the movements of the planets before the telescope
was invented. But neither Tycho de Brahe nor Copernicus saw the rings.
The statue of Saturn on the Roman capitol had bands
around its feet,(6) and
Macrobius in the fifth century of our era, already ignorant of the meaning
of these bands, asked: But why is the god Saturn in chains?
In the Egyptian legend Isis (Jupiter) swathes Osiris
(Saturn). The Egyptian apellative for Osiris was the swathed.
In the Zend-Avesta it is said that the star Tistrya
(Jupiter, later Venus) keeps Pairiko in twofold bonds.(8)
Saturn is encircled by two groups of ringsone larger and one smaller,
with a space in between. To see this a better telescope than that used
by Galilei or that used by Huygens is needed; the twofold structure of
the girdle was first observed in 1675.(9)
The rings of Saturn were known also to the aboriginees
of America before Columbus discovered the land; this means also before
the telescope was invented at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
An ancient engraved wooden panel from Mexico shows the family of the planets:
one of them is Saturn, easily recognizable by its rings.(10)
Nor were the Maoris of New Zealand ignorant of them:
One of the great mysteries connected with Saturn is the still unanswered
question of how the ancient Maoris of New Zealand knew about her ringsfor
there is evidence that they did have a Saturnian ring legend long before
the days of Galileo. (11)
In the myth it is said that Jupiter drove Saturn away
and that on this occasion Saturn was put in chains. If these words mean
what they say and are not a meaningless portion of the mythin a
dream, at least, there are no meaningless partsthen the knowledge
of the ancients about the rings of Saturn could have been acquired because
of better visibility: in other words, at some time in the past Saturn
and Earth appear to have been closer to one another.
Originally I assumed that the rings of Saturn may consist
of water in the form of ice, but since the ancient lore all around the
world tells that it was Jupiter that put these rings around Saturn,(12)
I considered that they might have some other components, too. Since the
1960s spectroscopic study of the Saturnian rings has confirmed that
they consist most probably of water in the form of ice.(13)
rings of Saturn are referred to by Aeschylus, Eumenides 641:
He [Zeus] himself cast into bonds his aged father Cronus
; cf. Lucian, Astrology, 21: Moreover, it is not true,
neither, that Saturn is in chains. Neoplatonists like Proclus
In Timaeo, tr. by Festugiere, vol. III, p. 255 and n. 4; In
Cratylo 209.3f) and Porphyry (De Antro Nympharum 67.21ff.)
sought a philosophical or mystical meaning in the tradition. Cf. also
Clemens Alexandrinus, Homilia, VI. xiii in Patrologiae
Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, J.-P. Migne ed., vol. II.207f;
Dio Chrysostom, Fourteenth Discourse 21ff: And yet the
King of the Gods, the first and eldest one, is in bonds, they say,
if we are to believe Hesiod and Homer and the other wise men who tell
this tale about Cronus. Cf. Hesiod, Works and Days, 169ff.
Augustine, refuting those who asserted that the Jewish Sabbath was
held in honor of Saturn, wrote: ita patres nostri longe fuerunt
a Saturniacis catenis, quamvis pro tempore propheatiae sabbati
vacationem observaverint. (Contra Faustum Manichaeum
XX. 13. in Migne ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series
Latina, Vol. XLII, p. 379). Cf. also Arnobius, Contra Gentes IV.
24 in ibid., vol. III: Numquid paricidii causa vinctum
esse Saturnum, et suis diebus tantum vinculorum ponderibus
revelari? and Minucius Felix, Octavius XXI, in ibid.,
vol. III, col. 304: Quid formae ipsae et habitus? . . . Saturnus
compeditis. An epigram of Martial (III. 29) refers to the
bonds of Saturn, comparing them to rings: Has cum gemina
compede dedicat catenas, Saturne, tibi Zoilus anulos priores.
These chains with their double fetter Zoilus dedicates to
you, Saturnus. They were formerly his rings."transl. by W. Kerr
(London, 1919). The shrines to Saturn in Roman Africa portrayed the
god with his head surrounded by a veil that falls on each of
his shoulders, in a way reminiscent of the planets rings.
See J. Toutain, De Saturni Dei in Africa Romana Cultu (Paris,
1894), p. 42 and figs. 1 and 2.].
- [But cf. Th. Taylor in The
Classical Journal 40 (1819), pp. 324-326, and A. de Grazia, Ancient
Knowledge of Jupiters Bands and Saturns Rings, KRONOS
II.3 (1977), pp. 65ff.]
Galileo first saw the rings in July of 1610, he thought them to be
two satellites on either side of Saturn, and this is what he also
announced in his Sidereus Nuntius. Cf. A. Alexander, The
Planet Saturn, (1962), pp. 84ff.]
Huygens, Systema Saturnium (1659); Cf. Alexander, The Planet
Saturn, loc. cit.]
Die Kosmologie der Babylonier, p.
The Saturnalia, I.8.5, transl. by P. V. Davies (New York, 1969):
Saturn, too, is represented with his feet bound together, and,
although Verrius Flaccus says that he does not know the reason . .
. Apollodorus says that throughout the year Saturn is bound with a
bond of wool but is set free on the day of his festival. Cf.
- See below, section Tammuz and Osiris
. Cf. A. S. Yahuda, The Osiris Cult and the Designation of Osiris
Idols in the Bible, Journal of Near Eastern Studies III
(1944), pp. 194-197.
xvi, transl. by J. Darmesteter (1883), p. 107. [The
text of the Zend-Avesta reads: Tistrya, bright star, keeps Pairiko
in twofold bonds, in threefold bonds. A third ring around Saturn
was observed in 1980. Velikovsky also thought that Mithraic representations
of Kronos with his body encircled by a snake (cf. F. Cumont, The
Mysteries of Mithra , figs 21-23) may attest to a memory
of the rings of Saturn. Cf. the Hindu Sani (the planet Saturn) shown
in an ancient woodcut reproduced in F. Maurice, Indian Antiquities
(London, 1800), vol. VII, and described by the author as encircled
with a ring formed of serpents. Tammuz, who represented the
planet Saturn in Babylonia (E. Weidner, Handbuch der Babylonisches
Astronomie [Leipzig, 1915], p. 61) was called he who is
bound. See also Thorkild Jacobsen, Toward the Image of Tammuz
(Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 85. and A. E. Thierens, Astrology
in Mesopotamian Culture (Leiden, 1935). Ninib, who was also Saturn,
was said to hold the unbreakable bond or der
maechtigen Schlange"Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens
und Assyriens, ch. xvii, p. 463.].
was made by G. D. Cassini.
Antiquities of Mexico (London, 1830), vol. IV, the fourth plate
from the end of the volume. See fig.
Music of the Spheres (Boston, 1961), p. 94. [A
useful discussion of Maori astronomical ideas is provided in a monograph
by E. Best, The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and
Empirical, New Zealand Dominium Museum Monograph no. 3 (Wellington,
1922), p. 35:
PAREARAU represents one
of the planets. Stowell says that it is Saturn; that Parearau is
a descriptive name for that planet, and describes its appearance,
surrounded by a ring. The word pare denotes a fillet or headband;
arau means entangled"or perhaps surrounded
in this case, if the natives really can see the pare of Saturn
with the naked eye. If so, then the name seems a suitable one. .
. . Of the origin of this name one says, Her band quite surrounds
her, hence she is called Parearau. ].
the process of formation of Saturns rings, Velikovsky thought
that it might have been analogous to the formation of a disc-like
ring of gaseous material around some stars in binary systems, as described
by H. Friedman in Science 181, (Aug. 3, 1973), p. 396: The
gas enters into Keplerian orbits and accumulates in a disc somewhat
resembling Saturns rings. . . . ].
1965 Tobias Owen, writing in Science, (p. 975) reported that
the reflection spectrum from the ice block gave best match to
the absorption observed in Saturns ring"but that the
most likely alternatives would be ices of methane and
ammonia"both known ingredients of the Jovian atmosphere, methane
being also in the composition of the Saturnian cloud envelope. See
also Appendix 26. [As early as 1947 Kuiper (The
Atmospheres of the Earth and Planets ), concluded on the
basis of spectral measurements in the infrared that the rings
are covered by frost, if not composed of ice. Cf. A. Cook et
al., Saturns RingsA Survey, Icarus
18 (1973), p. 317: Although frozen H2O is a major
constituent, the spectral reflectivity indicates the presence of other