Precipitation

We end this section on atmospheric phenomena with some general comments about the connection between weather phenomena and ancient astronomical work.

The "rainy Pleiades" refers to a Greco-Roman way of deciding the proximity to the rainy season, marking an appropriate time for planting crops. An equatorial star chart with the ecliptic marked on it shows that the Pleiades set cosmically in the fall. This is the meaning of the phrase from Hesiod: "plough, when they go down," because rains are imminent. [Works and Days, Wender tr., 1973, p. 71]; but refer back to ยง2.3.1 for a heliacal setting case.

A connection between the annual flooding of the Nile and the heliacal rising of the star Sirius was made in ancient Egypt. A main concern of ancient astronomy was the establishment and use of calendrical indicators, such as the noon altitude or azimuth of the Sun on the horizon, and the cos-mical or acronychal risings or settings of seasonal marker stars.

In some localities, the frequent occurence of clouds over high-altitude mountain peaks must have impressed the devisers of cultural myths profoundly. At places such as Mt. Olympus in Greece and, perhaps, Superstition Mountain in Arizona, the rush of a cool downdraft, the flash of lightning, and the following angry roll of the thunder became signs of the presence of the gods. Rudolf Otto (1958, p. 126) speaks of a "primal numinous awe" that mark "holy" sites as separate from many other sites, regardless of the animistic beliefs of the cultures concerned. In the Book of Exodus (19:12;16, King James ed.), Mt. Sinai seems to fulfil these conditions:

And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye not go up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death. .. .

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

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