Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/822

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auroras more or less completely. Some authors, instead of giving a simple narration of events, seek for an explanation of what they observed. Of course, these attempts in the main are very naïve and without any scientific value.

Aristotle speaks of red beams in the heavens, of torches and of billows of fire. Seneca compares the phenomena to flashes of lightning, and writes about the blazing of the heavens. According to him, "the gleaming flashes may be caused by violent winds, or by the heat of the upper regions of the air; for, when the fiery phenomenon spreads far, it sometimes extends to the lower region, if it be inflammable."

Pliny writes: "Fiery beams occur likewise; such a one was seen when the Lacedæmonians, vanquished at sea, lost their sway over Greece. Sometimes the heavens cleave; this is spoken of as a 'chasma.' But naught is more terrible for mortals than when a blood-red conflagration starts in the heavens, and from there falls to the earth. This happened in the third year of the one hundred and seventh Olympiad, when King Philip warred in Greece. I, however, believe that these phenomena, as all others, occur at times regulated by Nature, and are not, as most people suppose, to be ascribed to a variety of causes which their fancies invent. They have, however, been premonitors of great misfortune. As they occur so very rarely, the law which they obey remains hidden, and may not be traced" Furthermore, "During the reign of the consuls Caius Cæcilius and Cneius Papirius, and also at other times, light was seen in the heavens, so that night became as day." The words of Lucan, "Fire storming from the north," remind us of the sagas of northern tribes.

The middle ages could not readily free themselves from the influence of the mysterious. Wondrous phenomena, the true nature of which was not grasped and understood, were veiled in mystery, and ascribed to the workings of demons. This is proved by many records and traditions. Does not Shakespeare possibly refer to northern lights in "King Henry VI," Part III, act ii, scene 1?—

Rich. See, how the morning opes her golden gates,
And takes her farewell of the glorious sun!
How well resembles it the prime of youth,
Trimm'd like a younker, prancing to his love!
Edw.Edw. Dazzle mine eyes, or do I see three suns?
Edw.Rich. Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;
Not separated with the racking clouds,
But sever'd in a pale clear-shining sky.
See, see! they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,
As if they vow'd some league inviolable:
Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.
In this the heaven figures some event.