Of Comets or blazing stars, Plinius book II

Of Comets or blazing stars, and cœlestiall prodigies, their nature, situation, and diverse sorts.

THESE blazing starres the Greekes call Cometas, our Romanes Crinitas: dreadfull to be seene, with bloudie haires, and all over rough and shagged in the top like the bush of haire upon the head. The same Greekes call those starres Pogonias, which from the nether part have a maine hanging downe, in fashion of a long beard. As for those named Acontiæ, they brandish and shake like a speare or dart: signifying great swiftnesse. This was it, whereof Tiberius Cæsar the Emperour wrate an excellent Poeme in his fift Consulship, the last that ever was seene to this day. The same, if they be shorter and sharpe pointed in the top, they use to call Xiphiæ: and of all other palest they be, and glitter like a sword, but without any raies or beames: which, another kind of them, named Disceus (resembling a dish or coit, whereof it beareth the name, but in colour like to amber) putteth forth here and there out of the brimmes and edges thereof. As for Pitheus, it is seene in forme of tunnes, environned within a smokie light, as if it were a concavitie. Ceratias resembleth an horne: and such a one appeared when the whole manhood of Greece fought the battaile of Salamis. Lampadias is like to burning torches: and Hippeus to horse maines, most swift in motion, and turning round. There is also a white Comet with silver haires, so bright and shining, that hardly a man can endure to looke upon it, and in mans shape it sheweth the verie image of a god. Moreover, there be blazing starres that become all shaggie, compassed round with hairie fringe, and a kind of maine. One heretofore appearing in the forme of a main, changed into a speare, namely in the hundred and eight Olympias, and the 398 yeere from the foundation of Rome. Noted it hath ben, that the shortest time of their appearance is a seven-night, and the longest eightie daies. Some of them move like wandering planets: others are fixed fast, and stir not. All in manner are seene under the very North star called Charl le maignes waine: some in no certaine part thereof, but especially in that white, which hath taken the name of the ***Milke circle. Aristotle saith, That many are seene together: a thing that no man but hee hath found out, so farre as I can learne. Mary, boisterous winds, and much heat of weather, are foretokened by them. There are of them seene also in winter season, and about the Antarticke South pole: but in that place without any beames. A terrible one likewise was seene of the people in æthyopia and Ægypt, which the king who raigned in that age, named Typhon. It resembled fire, and was plaited or twisted in maner of a wreath, grim and hideous to be looked on; and no more truly to be counted a starre, than some knot of fire. Sometimes it falleth out, that the Planets and other stars are bespread all over with hairs. But a Comet lightly is never seene in the West part of the heaven.

A fearefull starre for the most part this Comet is, and not easily expiated: as it appeared by the late civile troubles when Octavius was Consull: as also a second time by the intestine warre of Pompey and Cæsar. And in our daies about the time that Claudius Cæsar was poysoned, and left the Empire to Domitius Nero, in the time of whose raigne and government, there was another in manner continually seene, and ever terrible. Men hold opinion, that it is materiall for presage to observe into what quarters it shooteth, or what starres power and influence it receiveth: also what similitudes it resembleth, and in what parts it shineth out and first ariseth. For if it be like unto flutes or hautboies, it portendeth somewhat to Musicians: if it appeare in the privie parts of any signes, let ruffians, whoremaisters, and such filthie persons take heed. It is respective to fine wits and learned men, if it put forth a triangular or fouresquare figure with even Angles, to any situations of the perpetuall fixed starres. And it is thought to presage, yea, and to sprinckle and put forth poyson, if it be seene in the head of the Dragon, either North or South.

In one onely place of the whole world, namely, in a temple at Rome, a Comet is worshipped and adored: even that, which by Augustus Cæsar himselfe of happie memorie, was judged very luckie and fortunate to him: who, when it began to appeare, gave attendance in person as overseer to those plaies and games which he made to Venus Genetrix, not long after the death of his father Cæsar, in the colledge by him instituted and erected. For, that joy of his he testified in these words, In those very daies during the solemnitie of my Plaies, there was seene a blazing star for seven daies together, in a region of the skie which is under the North starre Septentriones. It arose about the eleventh houre of the day, bright it was and cleere, and evidently seene in all lands. By that starre it was signified (as the common sort beleeved) that the soule of (Iulius) Cæsar was received among the divine powers of the immortall gods. In which regard, that marke or ensigne of a starre was set to the head of that Statue of Iulius Cæsar, which soone after we dedicated to him in the Forum Romanum. These words published he abroad: but in a more inward joy to himselfe, hee interpreted and conceived thus of the thing, That this Comet was made for him, and that himselfe was in it borne. And verily, if we will confesse a truth, a healthfull, good and happie presage that was, to the whole world. Some there be who beleeve, that these be perpetuall stars, and go their course round, but are not seene, unlesse they bee left by the Sunne. Others againe are of opinion, that they are engendred casually by some humour and the power of fire together, and therby do melt away and consume.

Hipparchus his opinion of the starres. Also historicall examples of Torches, Lampes, Beames, Fierie darts, opening of the Firmament, and other such impressions.

Hipparchus the foresaid Philosopher (a man never sufficiently praised, as who proved the affinitie of starres with men, and none more than he, affirming also, that our soules were parcell of heaven) found out and observed another new starre engendred in his time, and by the motion thereof on what day it first shone, he grew presently into a doubt, Whether it happened not very often that new starres should arise? and whether those starres also mooved not, which we imagine to be fast fixed? The same man went so farre, that he attempted (a thing even hard for God to performe) to deliver unto posteritie the just number of starres. Hee brought the said starres within the compasse of rule and art, devising certaine instruments to take their severall places, and set out their magnitudes: that thereby it might be easily discerned, not only whether the old died, and new were borne, but also whether they moved, and which way they tooke their course? likewise, whether they encreased or decreased? Thus he left the inheritance of heaven unto all men, if any one haply could be found able to enter upon it as lawfull heire.

There be also certain flaming torches shining out in the skie, howbeit, never seen but when they fall. Such a one was that, which at the time that Germanicus Cæsar exhibited a shew of sword-fencers at utterance, ran at noonetide in the sight of all the people. And two sorts there be of them. Namely, Lampades, which they call plaine torches; and the other Bolides, i. Launces, such as the Mutinians saw in their calamitie, when their cittie was sacked. Herein they differ, for that those lampes or torches, make long traines, whiles the forepart onely is on a light fire. But Bolis burneth all over, and draweth a longer taile. There appeare and shine out after the same manner certaine beames, which the Greekes cal Docus. Like as, when the Lacedemonians being vanquished in sea fight, lost the Empire and dominion of Greece. The firmament also is seene to chinke and open, and this they name Chasma.


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