Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/95

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THE mysterious picture of a nude man surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, which forms a prominent feature of nearly all patent-medicine almanacs, is familiar to every one, yet few realize the great antiquity of the symbolism implied and the interesting history of this persistent relic of astrology.

The supposed connection between the zodiac and the anatomy of the human body is related in the following lines:

"The Head and Face the Princely Ram doth rule,
The Neck and Throat falls to the sullen Bull,
The lovely Twins guide Shoulder, Arm, and Hand,
The slow-paced Crab doth Breast and Spleen command,
The Lion bold governs the Heart of Man,
The modest Maid doth on the Bowels scan,
The Reins and Loins are in the Ballance try'd.
The Scorpion the Secret Parts doth guide,
The Shooting Horse lays claim to both the Thighs,
The Knees upon the headstrong Goat relies,
The Waterman he both the Legs doth claim,
The Fishes rule the Feet, and meet the Ram again."

Moore's Vox Stellarum, 1721.

As commonly drawn, this "repulsive picture" has changed very little in the last fifty years; a study of the bizarre conception takes us back to the earliest records of civilization: Chaldean astronomers laid its foundations, Hebrew sages and Greek philosophers built on them, Christian mystics and mediæval astrologers enlarged them so that a popular superstition arose which still has a hold on the common people. The first step in the evolution of this conception was taken more than four thousand years ago, when the star-gazers of Babylon observed the circular zone through which the sun appears to pass in the course of a year, and divided it into twelve constellations, creating what is known as the zodiac. To these twelve divisions signs were given, some of which are said to be Babylonian ideographs of the months. The astronomers of Egypt adopted this system, and their lively imaginations peopled the constellations with genii; thus arose a symbolism in which each group of stars is likened to a given animal or human character; these zodiacal signs are found sculptured on Egyptian temples and inscribed on papyri.

The second step was taken when philosophers, who "in the infancy of science are as imaginative as poets," assumed that the

  1. Abstract of a paper read at the Baltimore meeting of the American Folklore Society December 28, 1897.