It is now time (1h 34 min 12s) to leave the Earth behind for a while, and turn our eyes up to the heavens, and the Zodiac. The narrator announces (without citing any source) that:
Four signs of the Zodiac are associated with four of the brightest stars of the sky, once dubbed "the Guardians of the Sky." The stars are Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus; Regulus, in Leo; Antares, in Scorpio; and Fomalhaut. Following modern-day changes
to the boundaries of the constellations, Fomalhaut is nowadays shown
as lying above Pisces , although formerly it was part of the constellation
A few words about these "Guardians of the Sky." Although the term is sometimes found on amateur astronomy sites, it is most frequently used in an astrological context; for instance, this short Wikipedia article on the "Guardians of the Sky," more commonly known as the "royal stars," is classified under "History of Astrology". The internet sites on these "royal stars" have a very idiosyncratic dating method. The identification is always associated with the astronomy or astrology of Persia, and an astonishingly early date attributed to it: "roughly 5,000 years ago," "about the thirtieth century BC" .... But the Persian Empire did not come into being until about 550 BC, the first Achaemenid rulers not appearing until about 650 BC; and, even applying the very broadest definition to the concept of the Persian people, their first settlement of the region of present day Iran is not documented until the first millennium BC. So what is the source of this idea of Persian astronomers from 3000 BC, and the concept of "royal stars" or "Guardians of the Sky," about which modern archaeology seems, to say the very least, so unforthcoming?
If we go back in time a little, we find the "Guardians of the Sky" in a work by Camille Flammarion, which, aimed at the popular market, was entitled Les étoiles et les curiosités du ciel (Stars and curiosities of the sky), part of L’Astronomie populaire (Popular Astronomy) series, published in 1882. Flammarion wrote (page 441):
Earlier, we discussed Fomalhaut, or α Piscis Austrini [Southern Fish]. At this point, let us note that Aldebaran in Taurus, Antares in Scorpio, Regulus in Leo, and Fomalhaut, are located almost at right angles to one another, partitioning the sky into four equal sections. These four stars, dazzling in their brilliance, also called royal stars, were venerated by the Persians in 2500 BC as the four Guardians of the Sky.
And, indeed, there in plain sight are the names of the four Guardians of the Sky, along with the reference to third millennium BC astronomers in Persia.
Aldebaran of the Bull, Antares of the Scorpion, Regulus of the Lion, and Fomalhaut of the Southern Fish divide the sky into four almost equal parts. These four stars, very brilliant and very remarkable, called therefore (aussi) royal stars, were, without doubt, the four Guardians of the heavens of the Persians in the year 3000 BC.
[English translation: Davis, G. A., Jr., "The so-called royal stars of Persia", Popular Astronomy, April 1945, Vol. 53, p.150].
But what Arago has done is to copy these individual pieces of information from other works of the late eighteenth century. One example is a work by Citizen Dupuis published in 1795, L’origine de tous les cultes, ou la religion universelle [The origin of all religious worship, or universal religion].
After the planetary system, the mystagogue presents us with the tableau of the Heaven of the fixed Stars, and with the four Celestial figures, which were placed at the four corners of Heaven, according to the astrological system. These four figures were the Lion, the Bull, the Waterman and the Eagle, which divided the whole zodiac into four parts, or from three signs to three signs, in the points of the sphere called fixed and solid. The stars, which corresponded to it, were called the four royal stars.
(New Orleans translation, 1872, pg 412)
In Dupuis’ original (Part II, pg 720), the text reads:
Ormuzd then placed around the sky four sentinels to watch over the fixed stars. These were most probably the four royal stars of our astrologers. The star Taschter guards the east; Satevis, the west; Venand, the south; and Hastorang, the north.
("Ormuzd" is Ahura-Mazda).
Very similar ideas were expressed by Jean Sylvain Bailly, author of Histoire de l’astronomie ancienne, depuis son origine jusqu’à l’établissement de l’école d’Alexandrie [A history of ancient astronomy, from its origin to the establishment of the School of Alexandria], first published in 1775:
In his translation of the Zend-Avesta, M. Anquetil provides various details about the ideas of the ancient Persians concerning the stars. [...] According to these ideas, four great stars keep watch over the others. These stars are Taschter, watching the east; Satevis, the west; Venand, the south; and Hastorang, the north. We believe that the Persians wanted to these stars to the sky into four equal regions, and that they viewed these particular stars as corresponding to the four cardinal points. Now, the cardinal points themselves are indicated by the locations where the zodiac is intersected by the equinoctial and solstitial points, and, therefore, as we can clearly see, the stars denoting east, west, north and south also designated the equinoxes and solstices. Accordingly, we find that, around the year 3000 BC, the stars at that time being located at a position less advanced than 66° [60° in the 1781 edition – Ed.], Aldebaran was situated at the precise point of the spring equinox. It was therefore possible that this beautiful star was seen as the guardian of the equinox or the east. Antares, or the heart of the Scorpion, was also situated at the precise point of the autumnal equinox: so Antares was the guardian of the west. Regulus was only 10° from the point of the summer solstice, and Fomalhaut only 6° from the winter solstice. The four first magnitude stars, all dazzling in their brilliance, segment the sky into four roughly equal parts, a concept which corresponds so closely with Persian ideas about the demarcation of the sky as to suggest that they were actually identical, and that 3000 BC was the date of this segmentation of the zodiac into at least four parts.
So here we have the origin of the idea of the four Guardians of the Sky dating back to 3000 BC. Bailly’s beautifully circular reasoning about that date is worthy of our admiration.
The "Zend-Avesta" mentioned by Bailly is the Avesta, containing the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. The first French translation of the Avesta had been published a few years earlier, in 1771, by Anquetil-Duperron, under the title Zend-Avesta, ouvrage de Zoroastre, contenant les idées théologiques, physiques et morales de ce législateur, les cérémonies du culte religieux qu’il a établi, et plusieurs traits importants relatifs à l’ancienne histoire des Perses [Zend-Avesta, the book of Zoroaster, containing the legislator’s theological, physical and moral ideas, ceremonies of religious worship established by him, and several important features related to the ancient history of Persia]. On page 349 of Volume II appears the following text:
Then Ormuzd designated, at the four corners of the sky, four sentinels to watch over the fixed stars. This he did in such a way that the sentinels were able to watch over the numerous stars of the constellations. One he decreed to be in one part of the sky, over such-and-such a location; another, in another part of the sky, over such-and-such another location. By his own mighty efforts, he set up the fixed stars. So it is said: Taschter guards the east; Satevis, the west; Venand, the south; and Hastorang, the north.
To summarise the sequence of events: the first mention of these four "guardians" appears in 1771, in Anquetil-Duperron’s translation of the Avesta. This is then repeated by Bailly; then by Arago and Flammarion in the 19th century; and finally by various astrologers, and then by Jacques Grimault himself.
There is, however, a slight problem with the identification of these four guardians. The Avesta, of course, gives their name in ancient Iranian (Avestan). Anquetil-Duperron identifies the four stars as follows:
– Taschter is Sirius (page 186 note 1);
– Satevis is the southern eye of Taurus (Aldebaran - page 186 note 2);
– Venand or Venant is the foot of Orion (Rigel - page 187 note 1);
– and Hastorang, Ursa Major or Ursa Minor (Anquetil-Duperron translates “Hastorang” as "the seven stars" - page 187 note 2).
Now: it is important to bear in mind that, even though Bailly’s History of Ancient Astronomy repeats the Avestan names of the four "guardian stars," he does not identify them with the same stars as noted in Anquetil-Duperron’s translation of the Avesta. As far as Bailly is concerned:
– Taschter is not Sirius, but Aldebaran;
– Satevis is not Aldebaran, but Antares;
– Venand is identified with Regulus;
– and Hastorang is identified with Fomalhaut (neither Regulus nor Fomalhaut being mentioned by Anquetil-Duperron in this context).
As we have seen in the passage quoted above, Bailly’s reasoning is well-nigh flawless in its circularity: it starts with the conclusion that the Persian astronomy began around 3000 BC; notes that, at that date, those four particular stars are then in the positions required by this conclusion; deduces that these are the four stars which are the four "Guardians of the Sky;" and ends by concluding that this is proof that Persian astronomy began in 3000 BC. So the argument, coming, as it were, full circle, is now neatly buttoned up.
All of the subsequent authors repeat the four stars identified by Bailly. So we find the four stars mentioned by Dupuis (pages 258-9 of Volume I of L’origine de tous les cultes): Aldebaran and Antares for the east and west, and Regulus and Fomalhaut for the south and north, although we should note that Dupuis seems slightly confused about this latter point, for, in Volume I page 69, he tells us that Hastorang "takes its name from the stars of the Bear" ... Apparently, it was also Dupuis who was responsible for introducing the concept of "royal” stars, a description nowhere to be found in the Avesta, where the stars in question are in fact described as "sentinels", "watchers", and often "generals", the "leaders” of celestial armies formed by stars opposed to Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, the spirit of evil. Bailly speaks of “watchers" and "guardians", while Dupuis says that: "these stars received the pompous name of royal stars" (Volume I page 259).
Later authors, from Arago onwards, including Flammarion, Théophile Moreux (references to the “royal stars” appearing on pages 123-124 of the 1943 new edition of La science mystérieuse des Pharaons), and several other writers, some better than others, copied the tradition originally created by Bailly and Dupuis. So this is the version that has finally emerged: that there are four "guardian" or "royal" stars, Aldebaran, Antares, Regulus and Fomalhaut, all dating back to about 3000 BC.
But the assimilation of the four "guardian stars" to the four stars named above is far from undisputed. It is based, as we have seen, on a piece of circular reasoning unsupported by any linguistic, historical or archaeological evidence. According to George Allen Davis Jr., for example, the author of an article entitled "The so-called royal stars of Persia" published in the journal Popular Astronomy, three of the "sentinel stars" should in fact be associated with constellations:
– Satevis ("Satevaesa," "one hundred dwellings") is the constellation Aquarius rather than Fomalhaut alone (pg 155);
– “Venant” ("Vanant," the victorious, but also the stinger, the chastiser) is the constellation Scorpio, including Antares (pg 156);
– and Hastorang ("Haft-Aurang", the seven thrones or the seven heavens) is Ursa Major (pg 156-157).
And according to Gary David Thompson: "Only 2 of the 4 can be reasonably identified (i.e., Tišhtya with the star Sirius, and Haftoreng with the stars of Ursa Major. However, many popular publications still proceed to identify Aldebaran, Antares, Formalhaut, and Regulus as the four leader (royal) stars of Persia. This error is obviously based on the 105 year old book Star Names by the amateur American star-lorist Richard Allen. (The identification Aldebaran, Antares, Formalhaut, and Regulus was first proposed by the 18th-century French astronomer and historian Jean Bailly.)"
Importantly, Anquetil-Duperron’s identification of Taschter (which now tends to be written as Tishtrya or Tishtar) with Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, is accepted by contemporary translators and authorities on the Avesta, who point to the star’s role as a deity connected with the bringing of rain, whereas the identification of Taschter with Aldebaran (Davis, pg 150) is repeated only by those using either Flammarion or Bailly as their source, and is neither proposed nor defended by anyone else.
The identity of the four "Guardians of the Sky" named in the film is therefore based solely on the interpretation of Bailly in 1775, for which there is no evidence at all ... What is more, according to this site (fr):
The reconstruction of the ancient skies shows that this quartering of the heavens by the four stars is no more than an approximation. In 3150 BC, Aldebaran and Antares were more or less in their ideal positions, but Regulus and Fomalhaut were about ten degrees away from theirs. In about 2300 BC, however, Regulus and Fomalhaut were in their ideal positions, but Aldebaran and Antares had moved away from theirs. In the subsequent millennium, this particular configuration of celestial locations eventually lost all meaning; and even more so in the time of Ezekiel.
[Bailly] seeks to prove that, 3,000 years before our era, the inhabitants of India were making astronomical observations.
The Zend-Avesta tells us that there were four stars standing guard over the four cardinal points of our world. It would be difficult to think of a more misguided statement. According to Bailly, Aldebaran and Antares were at that time only 40’ from the locations of the equinoxes. Indeed, it can be seen that these stars are diametrically opposed, at least in longitude. So where are the other two stars, stars that should be at 90° to Aldebaran and Antares? All we can find are at most some fifth or sixth magnitude stars. So that Bailly has to fall back on Regulus and the Southern Fish, who occupy positions at 6° and 11° from the other two cardinal points.
At the 1h 38 min 14s point, we finally reach the heart of Jacques Grimault’s theory: that the pyramids and the Sphinx are a "clock" designed to warn the world of looming cyclical cataclysm:
I searched through ancient texts. Strangely enough, the myths, legends and beliefs of a great many peoples across the world expressed the same idea of cyclical events. Destruction by water was a recurring motif, as was future destruction by fire, as evidenced by the Apocalypse of St. John, or the Hindu sacred texts known as the Puranas.
The film illustrates this idea of "cyclical events" with two pages mentioning the Chinese Annals; and with reference to contacts between the Egyptians and the Chinese:
These pages come from a paper by Joseph de Guignes, published in 1774 in Volume 36 of Histoire de l’Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres[History of the Royal Academy of Monumental Inscriptions and Literature] under the title "Examen critique des Annales chinoises, ou Mémoire sur l’incertitude des douze premiers siècles de ces annales, et de la chronologie chinoise" ["Critical Review of the Chinese Annals, or Paper on the uncertainty of the first twelve centuries of these annals, and of Chinese chronology"] (from page 164).
As can be seen from this paper, and also from the following one in the same volume ("Idée de la littérature chinoise en général" ["Idea of Chinese literature in general"]), Joseph de Guignes was obsessed with the idea of finding links between the Egyptians and the Chinese. He had already begun to develop his ideas on the subject in 1758, in another paper read before the Académie royale des inscriptions et belles lettres, "Mémoire dans lequel on prouve que les Chinois sont une colonie égyptienne" [In which it is shown that the Chinese are an Egyptian colony]. Needless to say, this idea was quickly ridiculed, as shown in this example from 1759, the work of the orientalist Le Roux Deshauterayes,who proceeded to read Joseph de Guignes the following lecture (pg 3):
I am certainly not saying that I do not think it permissible to discuss anomalies of a nature similar to, or even more extraordinary than, those discussed here. I do believe, nonetheless, that those proposing such claims should either employ a great degree of caution in the way in which they express them, or come armed with absolutely incontrovertible evidence. When all that is presented are passing similarities and vague possibilities, is one justified in adopting the decisive and authoritative tone that properly belongs to certainty alone? Historical discoveries should consist, not so much in proclaiming marvels, but rather in publishing facts.
We might therefore ask ourselves precisely what "truths" Jacques Grimault was able to extract from this text by Joseph de Guignes. One thing is for sure: that, contrary to what the narration of the film might suggest, de Guignes was unable to obtain any information whatever on "the concept of cyclical events" in ancient China. De Guignes in fact does no more than provide a description of the historical records of various Chinese dynasties, and attempts to show that these records are very inaccurate for periods prior to the Christian era. The concept of a "cycle" appears in these annals only in connection with the calendar (a 60-year cycle), and never with reference to events of any sort, much less of a cataclysmic kind (destruction by fire or water). The viewer could be forgiven for finding him- or herself wondering quite what this reference is doing at this point in the film, unless perhaps it is meant to hint that the Chinese shared the idea of cyclical destruction described in the Hindu sacred texts.
In parenthesis, it should just be noted that, if the concept of a cycle of destruction/creation of a world age (Mahayuga) of four cycles (Yugas) is indeed present in the Puranas, particularly the Vishnu Purana, the relevant time scale has little connection with the one mentioned in the film (where the only cycle mentioned is the 25,800-year period of the precession of the equinoxes). The length of the Mahayuga, on the other hand, is 4 million years, and the Kali Yuga, in which we are supposed to be living at the moment, is over 400,000 years long.
The concept of cyclical cataclysms is at this point (1h 38 min 34s) reinforced by a reference to Greek philosophers (illustrated with "The School of Athens" by Raphael):
Several Greek authors also mention periodic cataclysms, one of them even specifying that they occur every 10,000 to 12,000 years. Strangely, this seems to tie in with the famous account by Plato about the disappearance of Atlantis, a story rejected by modern science, and ties in with what Aristotle - seen as another Greek scholar of a more reliable sort – had to say on the subject of great upheavals in the regions of space surrounding the Earth, resulting in the cyclical destruction of everything covering the globe.
Unfortunately, this paragraph contains numerous conjectures of a rather hit-and-miss sort. The Greek writers mentioned here probably include Heraclitus, who is often credited with the idea of "cyclical cataclysms", a concept subsequently taken up by the Stoics, who envisaged the world ending in a conflagration before starting all over again in exactly the same way, in an eternal return (see "Eternel retour et temps périodique dans la philosophie stoïcienne" [The eternal return and periodic time in Stoic philosophy] by Jean-Baptiste Gourinat). The worldview of Heraclitus, known to us only from a hundred or so fragments included by other authors, is quite complex, and, because it suffered contamination from Stoic ideas, was very different from the way in which it is often presented.
First of all, we find the idea of fire as a fundamental principle of the cosmos:
The same world of all things, neither any of the gods, nor any one of men, made. But there was, and is, and will be ever-living fire, kindled according to measure, and quenched according to measure.
(Fragment 30, Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, V, 104, 2)
The world, eternal, is fire; but the fire fluctuates, becoming "non-fire" (land and sea), which in turn feeds the fire:
There are transmutations of fire,—first, the sea; and of the sea the half is land, the half fiery vapour. [...] The sea is diffused and measured according to the same rule which subsisted before it became earth.
(Fragment 31, Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, V, 104, 3 and 5)
… the death of earth is to become water, and the death of water is to become air, and the death of air is to become fire, and reversely
(Fragment 76, Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IV, 46)
For an analysis of these fragments, see Fragments d’Héraclite[Fragments of Heraclitus] with a translation and commentary by Marcel Conche (pages 279-286, 289-292 and 297-298).
So, rather than an "end of the world", what Heraclitus imagines is a permanent transformation, a passage from fire to non-fire: "The future is a series of deaths and births, births and deaths, and this necessarily, because these opposites are one: death is birth, birth is death. The fate of everything that comes to an end, that has an identity (what is “earth” and not something else, etc..), is to disappear, to give way to another ending, another identity. " (Marcel Conche, page 298). And this transformation takes place on a periodic basis, "according to measure" (fragment 30). But how long are these periodic intervals? There is nothing in the known Heraclitus fragments that explains how they are calculated, but later writers, particularly the Roman Censorinus in De Die natali [The birth day], credit Heraclitus with the idea of a cycle lasting 10,800 years, which fits in relatively well with the "10,000-12,000 years" mentioned in the film. Other authors, probably because of some translation error, claim that, according to Heraclitus, the cycle lasts 18,000 years (Plutarch, Opinions of the Philosophers, Bk. II, chapter XXXII).
The idea of a "cycle of 10,800 years", attributed to Heraclitus, is to be found in Censorinus, in a section (Chapter XVIII) of his book on the concept of the “Great Year”, which is mentioned by many other Greek authors. One example appears in Plato, in the Timaeus, under the name of the "Complete Year":
Nevertheless, it is still quite possible to perceive that the complete number of Time fulfils the Complete Year when all the eight circuits, with their relative speeds, finish together and come to a head, when measured by the revolution of the Same and Similarly-moving.
The “Great Year” or "Complete Year" is the time required for the five planets known to the ancient Greeks, together with the Sun and Moon, to reach the same configuration with respect to the Earth and the sphere of the fixed stars. Plato gives no figure for this period of time, but Censorinus observes that every Greek author gives a different value (De Die Natali, Chapter XVIII):
According to the opinion of Aristarchus this year was composed of 2,484 solar years; according to Arestes of Dyrrachium, it was 5,552 years; according to Heraclitus and Linus it was 10,800; according to Dion it was 10,884; according to Orpheus it was 10,020 years; and according to Cassandrus it was 3,600,000 years. Others have thought it infinite; and that it would never recur.
This latter view is probably more justified since, according to the newsletter of December 2012 (No. 85) of the Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Ephémérides [Institute of Celestial Mechanics and Calculation of the Ephemerides]:
These cycles have no physical reality. The known mean sidereal revolutions of the planet, even rounded up to whole days, give a hypothetical synodic period for the planets that is greater than the present age of the universe!
On this "Great Year," Censorinus also mentions the belief of Greek authors that floods and conflagrations alternated with one another:
This year has a great winter called by the Greeks the Inundation and by the Latins the Deluge; it has also a summer which the Greeks call the Conflagration of the world. The world is supposed to have been by turns deluged or on fire at each of these epochs.
Of the Greek philosophers, only the Stoics in fact took up the idea of alternating kataclysmos and ekpyrosis, a concept that comes directly from the Babylonian Berossus, priest and astronomer/astrologer (see also French Wiki on Berossus and the Great Year):
Berosus, the translator of [the records of] Belus, affirms that the whole issue is brought about by the course of the planets. So positive is he on the point that he assigns a definite date both for the conflagration and the deluge. All that the earth inherits will, he assures us, be consigned to flame when the planets, which now move in different orbits, all assemble in Cancer, so arranged in one row that a straight line may pass through their spheres. When the same gathering takes place in Capricorn, then we are in danger of the deluge. Midsummer is at present brought round by the former, midwinter by the latter. They are zodiacal signs of great power
seeing that they are the determining influences in the two great changes of the year.
So here at last we find the concept of cyclical cataclysms referred to in the film, although, again, with a time scale that has no connection at all with the precession of the equinoxes, since, according to Eusebius of Caesarea (Universal History, Chronographia, Armenian and French version), what Berosus had in mind for a “Great Year” was a period of 432,000 years:
In his second book, he speaks of the ten kings of the Chaldeans and the lengths of their reigns, one hundred and twenty saroi, that is to say, four hundred and thirty two thousand years until the cataclysm.
If Berosus seems to have directly inspired certain Stoics, in whose eyes ekpyrosis precedes apocatastasis, the restoration of the world to its original state, the film’s attempt to link these ideas of the cyclical destruction of the world with the ideas of Plato or Aristotle is nevertheless on much shakier ground. Although, as already noted, the Timaeus does indeed contain a reference to the "Complete Year", at no time does Plato draw a correlation between the “Great Year” – mentioned in his description of the creation of the world – and one or more cataclysms. Nevertheless, the Timaeus does describe one cataclysm in particular, the one responsible for the destruction both of the Athenian army and of Atlantis itself:
But at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods, and one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished; wherefore also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal mud which the island created as it settled down.
But there is little of a "cyclical" aspect to this particular disaster. Although the Egyptian priest who describes Atlantis to Solon unquestionably refers to several disasters, the paragraph in question does not really convey the concept of either widespread destruction, or of a periodicity linked to any cycle:
There have been and there will be many and divers destructions of mankind, of which the greatest are by fire and water, and lesser ones by countless other means. For in truth the story that is told in your country as well as ours, how once upon a time Phaethon, son of Helios, yoked his father’s chariot, and, because he was unable to drive it along the course taken by his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth and himself perished by a thunderbolt,—that story, as it is told, has the fashion of a legend, but the truth of it lies in the occurrence of a shifting of the bodies in the heavens which move round the earth, and a destruction of the things on the earth by fierce fire, which recurs at long intervals. At such times all they that dwell on the mountains and in high and dry places suffer destruction more than those who dwell near to rivers or the sea; and in our case the Nile, our Saviour in other ways, saves us also at such times from this calamity by rising high. And when, on the other hand, the Gods purge the earth with a flood of waters, all the herdsmen and shepherds that are in the mountains are saved, but those in the cities of your land are swept into the sea by the streams; whereas In our country neither then nor at any other time does the water pour down over our fields from above, on the contrary it all tends naturally to well up from below. Hence it is, for these reasons, that what is here preserved is reckoned to be most ancient; the truth being that in every place where there is no excessive heat or cold to prevent it there always exists some human stock, now more, now less in number.
Plato describes natural disasters: earthquakes, floods, scorching temperatures or conflagrations, but does not specifically connect them with the “Great Year,” and obviously visualizes catastrophes restricted to a certain scale.
We have no text by Aristotle referring to a “Great Year”; instead, all we have are a few very indirect hints. Some believe that a lost work of his, the Protrepticus [Exhortation], could have provided the basis for another lost work, this time by Cicero, the Hortensius [On philosophy], which refers to a Great Year lasting 12,954 years. This figure of 12,954 years is also mentioned by Tacitus, although he does not make any mention of Aristotle:
For if it be true, as Cicero says in his treatise called Hortensius, that the great and genuine year is that period in which the heavenly bodies revolve to the station from which their source began; and if this grand rotation of the whole planetary system requires no less than twelve thousand nine hundred and fifty-four years of our computation …
(Tacitus, A Dialogue concerning Oratory, XVI)
What does Aristotle have to say about the “great upheavals in the regions of space surrounding the Earth that result in the cyclical destruction of everything covering the globe," as the film would have it? Whilst I cannot claim to have read the whole of Aristotle, it seems to me that the text closest to this idea of “cyclical destruction of everything covering the globe" comes from Chapter XIV of Book I ofMeteorology:
The same parts of the earth are not always moist or dry, but they change according as rivers come into existence and dry up. And so the relation of land to sea changes too and a place does not always remain land or sea throughout all time, but where there was dry land there comes to be sea, and where there is now sea, there one day comes to be dry land. But we must suppose these changes to follow some order and cycle. The principle and cause of these changes is that the interior of the earth grows and decays, like the bodies of plants and animals. Only in the case of these latter the process does not go on by parts, but each of them necessarily grows or decays as a whole, whereas it does go on by parts in the case of the earth. Here the causes are cold and heat, which increase and diminish on account of the sun and its course. It is owing to them that the parts of the earth come to have a different character, that some parts remain moist for a certain time, and then dry up and grow old, while other parts in their turn are filled with life and moisture.
What Aristotle is describing here is a situation in which continents are alternately drying up and suffering from flooding. (In the following part of the text, he cites the case of the Nile Delta, which, before being gradually filled with alluvium while the rest of Egypt was drying up, was formerly sea). Aristotle’s ideas, though, are very far from the sort of cataclysmic disasters characterised by deluge or scorching drought:
But the whole vital process of the earth takes place so gradually and in periods of time which are so immense compared with the length of our life, that these changes are not observed, and before their course can be recorded from beginning to end whole nations perish and are destroyed. Of such destructions the most utter and sudden are due to wars; but pestilence or famine cause them too. Famines, again, are either sudden and severe or else gradual. In the latter case the disappearance of a nation is not noticed because some leave the country while others remain; and this goes on until the land is unable to maintain any inhabitants at all. So a long period of time is likely to elapse from the first departure to the last, and no one remembers and the lapse of time destroys all record even before the last inhabitants have disappeared. In the same way a nation must be supposed to lose account of the time when it first settled in a land that was changing from a marshy and watery state and becoming dry. Here, too, the change is gradual and lasts a long time and men do not remember who came first, or when, or what the land was like when they came.
Unquestionably, we are now discussing very long timescales, and what Aristotle is describing seems more akin, in contemporary terms, to the phenomena associated with climate change, and with subsidence or siltation, than to the flood described in the Old Testament or to the "hail of fire" in the Apocalypse of John. But, again, neither of these latter events has any cyclical basis. Cyclicality would only clash with the eschatological agenda:
… we must take the cause of all these changes to be that, just as winter occurs in the seasons of the year, so in determined periods there comes a great winter of a Great Year and with it excess of rain.
So here, in the writings of Aristotle, we find the concept of the “Great Winter" mentioned above (see Censorinus), and therefore also the “Great Year”. Aristotle seems to be imagining a kind of "cosmic” year, with rainy winters (kataklysmos) and hot dry summers (ekpyrosis), but, unlike Berossus or the Stoics, he does not envisage an end of the world, a disaster affecting the whole planet:
But this excess does not always occur in the same place. The deluge in the time of Deucalion, for instance, took place chiefly in the Greek world and in it especially about ancient Hellas [ … ] But as time goes on places of the latter type dry up more, while those of the former, moist type, do so less: until at last the beginning of the same cycle returns.
Since there is necessarily some change in the whole world, but not in the way of coming into existence or perishing (for the universe is permanent), it must be, as we say, that the same places are not for ever moist through the presence of sea and rivers, nor for ever dry. And the facts prove this.
For Aristotle, the very idea of the destruction of the world is foreign. As far as he is concerned, the universe is eternal, uncreated, indestructible, following a regular pattern. In De Caelo [On the Heavens], for example, the philosopher seeks to show: "That there is one heaven, then, only, and that it is ungenerated and eternal, and further that its movement is regular …" (Book II, Chapter VI)
In order to finally arrive at this idea of cyclical disasters, it is clear that the film, none too subtly, combines sometimes contradictory ideas, and many different authors. It is also clear that the philosophical speculations of the ancient writers on "cycles" are just that: speculation. Trying to use these authors as authorities for the existence of a “Great Year,” with its attendant cyclical destruction, would be like, for example, trying to cite the authority of Aristotle to claim that earthquakes are caused by the wind or that the Earth is still the centre of the Universe ... Even in the eighteenth century, the astronomer François Arago (more critical on this point than on the "Guardians of the Sky", see above) was already demonstrating the fundamental flaws of these "ancient cycles:"
At a time when so many philosophers were convinced that the destinies of men, and even those of the Earth, when taken together and considered as a whole, were regulated by the course of the stars, it was hardly verging on the extreme to assume that each Great Year would bring in its wake the same succession of events; the same sort of moral and physical phenomena; the same course of political or military incidents; the same succession of people renowned for their virtues, their vices or their crimes. Under this system, the history of one Great Year would be the same as the history of the following one. [...]
The alternation of cataclysms and conflagrations was not an idea that found general acceptance. Some philosophers believed only in deluges; others believed only in conflagrations. Eventually, there were those who, comparing the ages of the world with human ages, imagined the natural world growing in strength and vigour during the first half of the Great Year, before, in the second half, declining into a state of decay. Plato, for his part, was one of those who believed that, during the first day of the great cycle, the world is at its strongest, and that, from this point onwards, it declines and gradually weakens. The tradition of the four ages characterized by four metals is the stock interpretation of Plato’s conception. [...]
Divided though they were about the significance of the Great Year, the ancient philosophers were in even less agreement about its length. Some put it at 6,570,000 years; others reduced it to a few hundred years. Cicero, in the Dream of Scipio [Somnium Scipionis], wrote that he did not dare to decide the number of centuries that would compose a Perfect Year [...]
The presence of names as impressive as Plato, Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch, should not prevent us from judging the opinions of the ancients about the relationship of the Great Year with all observable natural phenomena on Earth as amongst some of the most futile ideas ever to come down to us from antiquity.
(François Arago, Popular Astronomy, Book XXXIII, chapter 43)
At the close of this review of some of the sources illustrated in the film, The Revelation of the Pyramids, I would like to note a few points:
– I am well aware of the limits of the exercise: a film, particularly a mainstream film, is not a scientific work, and can neither delve into exhaustive detail about complex questions, nor provide extensive references. However, following various legal complications, the book by Jacques Grimault on which the film was supposedly based was never actually published. And, during our various exchanges, Grimault has refused to provide (fr) even the smallest piece of bibliographic evidence, confining himself only to vague promises of revealing more in his next opus. An enquiry into the references cited in the film is, therefore, one of the few methods open to us that would allow an evaluation, not so much of the quality of the film, as of the processes underlying the construction and presentation of the author’s hypothesis.
– There is nothing to confirm that any of the works glimpsed in the film, and any of the authors mentioned, actually either appear in Jacques Grimault’s bibliography, or constitute the entirety of his list of sources. But, even if it can be conceded that the choice of certain covers and illustrations was based on artistic considerations, as stated by the director Patrice Pooyard, it is difficult to believe that all these works were selected at random, and it is far from clear quite what authors such as Agatharchides, Plato, and Aristotle could actually add to the visual aspect of the film.
– I have purposely avoided making any comment in this article about interviews with contemporary individuals in the film. On the one hand, their evidence has already been analysed by others (see here and here), and, on the other, I have preferred to concentrate on bibliographic references.
So, to summarize what has transpired from an examination of this list of sources, we find:
– a complete lack of contemporary references, particularly those of an Egyptological nature. The library shown in the film contains an abundance of works dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but the viewer searches in vain for any recent literature. We can see that the works pictured might have been chosen for their appearance, images of antiquated volumes being a way of symbolizing the scholarship of yesteryear that has instant appeal, but it is somewhat unfortunate that these particular "ancient tomes" are pressed into service so frequently as visual references in the sections of the film that critique Egyptology and "orthodox history."
– references about which the politest comment that could be made is that their scientific content is of a rather limited nature: Stephen-Chauvet on Easter Island; Taylor; the Abbé Moreux; Tompkins and the pyramids; the New Age shaman Aribalo on Cuzco .. .
– appeals to the authority of the ancients: Pliny, Agatharchides, Plato, and Aristotle, are frequently called upon to support the various conjectures in the film, sometimes at the cost of distorting those ancient authors’ own ideas. The viewer can hardly help smiling when the film then proceeds to strongly criticize Egyptologists who rely on Herodotus ...
– no checking of sources: trotting out hoary old pyramidological or astrological fictions when it is clear that no investigation and verification of primary sources has taken place. Examples of this are the "Guardians of the Sky" being incorrectly identified on the basis of an erroneous 18th century interpretation by Bailly; and references to a pseudo-citation of Agatharchides apparently conjured out of thin air by Stecchini in 1971 ...
– finally, manipulation of a work of reference - Cole’s paper on pyramid measurements - by the insertion of a bogus page. The director justifies this on two separate occasions, with the feeble claim that this manoeuvre was necessary to avoid the French viewing public having to convert Cole’s English measurements – despite the fact that the measurements in the original Cole document are all given in metres ...
As far as Jacques Grimault is concerned, all these points are trifling details. From Patrice Pooyard’s point of view, making a film necessarily involves a certain amount of "dramatisation and sensationalism," supplied in this case by these particular references and sources. From my own point of view, however, it would seem to me that there is a world of difference between, on the one hand, Egyptologists "publishing pretty books" and "polishing up their style", and, on the other, using, whether wittingly or unwittingly, non-existent or distorted references; or of deliberately ignoring the accumulated knowledge of an entire discipline. From Grimault’s and Pooyard’s responses, those of a cynical turn of mind might discern a certain contempt for the viewer, who is evidently considered quite incapable of grasping the complexity of "subjects that quickly exhaust the public’s attention span" ...