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FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
ON THE ANTIQUITY OF THE SURYA SIDDHUNTA.
I was astonished, some time since on reading a number of the Analectic Magazine, at the statement made by the Edinburgh Reviewers, and republished in that Journal without contradiction, that professor Playfair's papers, in the second volume of the Edinburgh Transactions, on the antiquity and truth of the Suryá Siddhuntá, (or, the Indian astronomical tables) were considered as unanswered. I had some indistinct recollection that they were completely answered, and shown to be incorrect. The imposing character of the Edinburgh Review, however, had to my regret, almost entirely persuaded me that I was wrong. I am now enabled to prove from the highest authority, that the first impression was correct. I beg of you, Mr. Oldschool, for the sake of truth, to present to your readers the following extract from the celebrated work of Magee, on Atonement. Magee is a senior fellow in Trinity College, and professor of Mathematics in the University of Dublin. A great variety of scientific and literary topics, as well as the great subject of the work, have received strong and durable touches from the hand of this giant-genius and profound scholar. Speaking, in page 410, of the Hindu Chronology, he says
"The astronomical tables of the Hindus, it is well known, supply the only reasonable data from which to judge of their chronology; their habitual exaggerations rendering every other source of chronological information altogether chimerical; insomuch, that Sir William Jones pronounces that the comprehensive mind of an Indian chronologist has no limits;' and has proved his assertion by a number of the most extraordinary instances indeed. Their astronomical calculations therefore, having become a subject of great curiosity and interest with men of science, the celebrated M. Bailly in 1787, published at Paris, a volume on the Hindu astronomy, in which he contended for its great antiquity, carrying it back to a period of more than 3000 years before the Christian
era. This conclusion he founded on the nature of certain of their astronomical tables, which he contended, contained internal evidence that they had been formed from actual observations, and must therefore be carried up to so early a date as 3102 A. C. His reasonings upon this subject in his elaborate Traité de l'Astronomie Indienne et Orientale, were followed by other astronomers, particularly by professor Playfair, of Edinburgh, in 1789and the Surya Siddhuntá, supposed to contain the most ancient treatise of astronomy of the Indians, was also carried up to a very high date, not less than 2000 years A. C. That the reasonings, however, which led to both these conclusions are erroneous, later discussions of the subject leave but little room for doubt. Mr. Marsden in an ingenious paper in the Philosophical Transactions for 1790, had, without attempting to impeach M. Bailly's astronomical arguments, pointed out a satisfactory mode of accounting for the apparent antiquity of the Hindu tables, by conceiving the computations to be founded not upon a real, but imaginary conjunction of the planets, sought for as an epoch, and calculated retrospectively. The celebrated M. La Place-(than whom, says Magee, a greater name has not arisen since the days of Newton, and upon whom, let us add, the Edinburgh Reviewers have passed as comprehensive an eulogy as it is within the power of language to convey,) has again after the most accurate mathematical investigation, not only pronounced upon the recent date of the tables, but has also pointed out the errors in the calculations from which M. Bailly deduced his results, and has clearly demonstrated the epoch in the table's not to be real, but fictitious. And last of all, Mr. Bentley seems completely to have settled the point in his two most ingenious and learned papers in the sixth and eighth volumes of Asiatic Researches, in which he not only contends that from the principles of the Hindu astronomy, the recent date of the tables can be deduced; but that from authentic testimony, independent of all calculations, the age of the Surya Siddhuntá can be proved such as not to carry the date of its composition farther back than the year 1068. In his endeavours to establish these points, he does not scruple to pronounce M. Bailly and professor Playfair to have been totally mistaken in their reasonings concerning the antiquity of the Hindu astronomy-and to have
proceeded upon an entire ignorance of the principles of the artificial system of the Hindus, the nature of which he states to consist in this, that certain points of time back are fixed on as epochs at which the planets are assumed to fall into a line of mean conjunction with the sun in the beginning of Aries; and from points of time so assumed as epochs, the Hindu astronomer carries on his calculations as if they had been settled so by actual observations; and determines the mean annual motions which he must employ in his system, from thence, as will give the positions of the planets in his own time, as near as he is able to determine the same by actual observation." Vol. 6th, page 542. He then proceeds to show by what means such fictitious epochs may be assumed without incurring the danger of a perceptible variation from the real mean motions; and upon the whole he has fortified his argument in a way which renders it not easy to be shaken. "At all events, the main foundation on which the extraordinary antiquity of the Hindu tables has been built, must be given up as no longer tenable, and the decided priority of the Mosaic scriptures can no longer be reasonably questioned."
The extract which Magee makes from La Place is too long to insert here. I have taken only the concluding sentences of it, and send you, Mr. Oldschool, an accurate translation of the French. "But besides the errors to which the results of the Hindus have been liable, it must be observed, that these astronomers have considered the inequalities of the sun and moon only in relation to eclipses in which the annual equation of the moon is added to the equation of the centre of the sun, and increases it by about 22'; which is nearly the difference between our results and those of the Hindus. Several elements, such as the equations of the centre of Jupiter and Mars, so widely differ, in the tables of the Hindus from what they must have been at their first epoch, that no conclusion can be drawn from the other elements favourable to their antiquity. The ensemble of these tables, and especially the impossibility of the conjunction which they suppose at the same epoch, prove, on the contrary, that they have been constructed, or at least corrected in modern times-which is confirmed by the mean motions which those tables assign to the moon, in respect to its perigee, its nodes, and to the sun-which motions
being (in those tables) more rapid than Ptolemy has made them, evidently show that the formation of the tables under view, is posterior to the time of that astronomer; for it has been seen that these three motions are accelerated from century to century." La Place-Exposition, etc.
It is somewhat surprising that notwithstanding the reasoning of this great astronomer, and illustrious Frenchman, the Edinburgh Reviewers should have asserted the contrary, particularly when it is obvious that only French viands can please their Gallic taste. An argument, Mr. Oldschool, which though not employed by Marsden nor La Place, yet appears to be of some weight, is submitted, with great diffidence, to your approbation.
The science of astronomy in modern times has drawn to its support and illustration, the whole force, and the irresistible results of mathematics. Almost every astronomical law or principle enters into the calculation of an eclipse; these principles are conducted to one result by mathematical calculation; and the truth of the process is proved by ocular demonstration, that the eclipse foretold six months ago, now actually happens at the very moment which astronomical principles had shown. Now if astronomers have demonstrated that an eclipse mentioned at such a time by profane historians, must have happened at the time, and would be visible where it is said to have been, the profane chronology which is precisely the same with the Christian chronology, must be true. If therefore a different chronology founded upon a different astronomy, would place the same event at a different period; if by taking the calculations of a different astronomy, it could not have happened at the time mentioned in history; we have nearly a demonstration that the latter chronology and the latter astronomy are false. Modern astronomers have proved that eclipses mentioned in profane history, must have happened at that time, and must have been visible where they are said to have been. Some of the most remarkable are the following-which have been verified by astronomers.
Before Christ 585, May 28, an eclipse of the sun foretold by Thales, by which a peace was effected between the Medes and Lydians.
B. C. 523, July 26, an eclipse of the moon, followed by the death of Cambyses.
B. C. 481, April 19, eclipse of the sun, on the sailing of Xerxes from Sardis.
B. C. 431, August 31, a total eclipse of the sun, and a comet, followed by the plague at Athens.
B. C. 168, June 21, a total eclipse of the moon, and the next day Persius king of Macedonia was conquered by P. Emilius.— These are a few eclipses mentioned in history to have happened at a certain time, and which have been verified by modern astronomy.
Dr. Priestley, in his Lectures selects the eclipse which, with its circumstances, is related by Thucydides, 1. 7,50. It happened 27th August, and was total. It so alarmed Nicias, the Athenian general, then besieging Syracuse, that he delayed for three days an intended retreat, a delay which proved fatal to him. The time or date of the defeat of Nicias is agreed on all hands, to have been in the Olympiad, answering to the year 413 before Christ. “Upon looking" says Priestley," at the astronomical tables, it appears that the moon was at the full about midnight at London, or one o'clock in the morning at Syracuse on the 27th of August of that year, when the sun was only four degrees, forty-eight minutes from the node, far within twelve degrees, the limit of lunar eclipses; and when consequently there must have been a total eclipse of the moon, visible from the beginning to the end of it, to the Athenians."
Take now the Indian astronomy as the basis of calculation of these eclipses, and they would never have happened at the time assigned to them by history, to which all give implicit credit; the conclusion is inevitable, that the Hindu astronomical tables are incorrect, and the chronology founded on them false. day has arrived, Mr. Oldschool, when science is furnishing in almost all her departments, irresistible evidence to the truth of that Holy Record, which constitutes the way of life and restoration to our fallen race, and which alone contains "that righteousness which can exalt us as a nation." R. H. L.
Staunton, 6th May, 1818.