Letter | Published:

“Primitive Constellations”

Nature volume 60, page 31 | Download Citation



THE writer of the review did not suggest that Mr. Brown had discovered the Babylonian origin of the signs of the Zodiac. The theory which the reviewer laid to his charge was to the effect that the Greeks of the pre-Homeric and Homeric ages had a full knowledge of the constellations known to their descendants in Ptolemaic times; and, further, that they obtained such knowledge at this early period from the Babylonians through intercourse with the Phœnicians and the “Hittites.” It is from this theory that the reviewer entirely dissents. Mr. Brown's wholesale assertions that representations of animals in early Greek art are astronomical symbols it was thought might be charitably explained by supposing that he began his studies with this part of his theory “ready made.” Of the two cuneiform signs which Mr. Brown cites as proving the existence of the h in Assyrian, the first only represents the vowel a, the second is only used to indicate the smooth breathing; that he should rely on a grammar published more than twenty years ago shows that he has not made himself acquainted with the recent literature on this subject. It is satisfactory to learn that Mr. Brown is aware of the force of the determinative particle ki; but to transliterate such a determinative (which was not pronounced) as though it formed a syllable of the word to which it is attached is, to say the least, misleading—particularly so in a book for general readers. Mr. Brown's numerous blunders in citing Hebrew, Phœlnician, and Assyrian words, show that he is not acquainted with these languages at first hand; and it was stated that such a knowledge is essential to a writer who treats the subject of Babylonian astronomy from the linguistic side.

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