Thursday, March 27, 2014

Modern constructs

The phrase celestial science is meant to be inclusive of all of these activities [astronomy, astrology, and omen-based divination]. My use of this last phrase is a practical concession to the lack of consistency in the application of the terminology in both ancient Near Eastern studies and science history in general, and an indication of the fact that these sharp delineations between activities are essentially modern constructs.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 26

<idle musing>
Indeed. The ancient world didn't make a distinction between the secular and the sacred. If you read ancient documents realizing this, you will be confused by the continual references to checking the omens. Armies would camp across from each other and not engage in battle unless the omens were favorable—especially the Romans.

Can you imagine the U.S. Army—or any other "modern" army—not engaging in a battle because the liver of the animal sacrificed this morning didn't have good readings? I can just imagine it:

Good morning, Mr. President. I'm giving you the latest update on the D-Day invasion. We have delayed it for at least 3 days.
Yes, sir, I know that will put the landing boats at risk and cause the soldiers to have to run up the exposed beach longer because of the tide.
Yes, sir, I know that casualties will likely increase dramatically and that more boats will be sunk.
Yes, sir, I know it puts all of our plans for the last 4 years on hold.
Yes, sir, I understand that the public is getting impatient.
Yes, sir, I know we've had this conversation for the last 5 years and that it is now 1949, but the omens were bad again this morning!
Just an
</idle musing>

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