Tech UPTechnologyComets, heralds of misfortune?

Comets, heralds of misfortune?


The most famous is undoubtedly the Halley, whose first recorded appearance in the West was in 1066 and is associated with William the Conqueror. Thus, the passage of the Halley in April of that year was for the chroniclers of the time an omen of the defeat of the last Saxon king, Harold II , at the Battle of Hastings that October.

A comet is also responsible for the first deification of a Roman leader: Julius Caesar . Assassinated on the Ides of March 44 BC, after a series of political skirmishes, Octavian decided to organize the games promised by Julius Caesar to celebrate his latest victories. Dedicated to Venus Genetrix, they took place between July 20 and 30 of that year. On the first day of the games a very bright comet was seen in the sky to the north; Octavio quickly assured that it was the soul of the conqueror of Gaul (Sidus Julium) taken to heaven. Needless to say, this sparked a whole campaign of Caesar’s deification that culminated a year and a half later when the Senate officially declared him to be a god .

Using the Sidus Julium as an example, the Romans learned that comets also bring misfortunes for emperors : “when beggars die, comets do not rain; it is the death of a prince that dazzles the skies”, says Calpurnia to Julius Caesar in the work namesake of William Shakespeare . The comet of 54 AD was associated with the death of Claudius , although it was not a natural death but the poisoning of his wife Agrippina, who placed their son Nero on the throne at the age of 16. When a comet appeared in the sky over Rome in August 60, Tacitus wrote: “The general thought is that a comet signifies a change of emperor. People already speculate about his successor because they are sure that Nero is indeed dethroned. The emperor had it easy: he sent his possible successor into exile and had him assassinated there.

Seneca , who tutored Nero, wrote a treatise on comets intended to placate his former student’s anger. In it he focused on physical theories without any allusion to their divine implications . He even argued that “his” comet was traveling through the sky in the opposite direction to that of Julius Caesar, so he had nothing to fear. At this point Nero was no longer going to believe the slightest argument of his mentor. At the end of 64 another comet reappeared and Suetonius tells us that his astrologer, Balbillus, told him that monarchs used to avoid the misfortunes they brought by executing prominent figures in society and thus divert the wrath of heaven. Neither short nor lazy the emperor ordered the execution of the high Roman nobility and forced Seneca to commit suicide .

On the other side of the Atlantic, things have not been very different either. There the Aztec empire dominated much of Central America after its expansion in 1427. It lived in a continuous state of war that provided slaves and human sacrifices ; it is estimated that 20,000 people were ritually killed each year. Tenochtitlán was one of the greatest cities in the world in the early 1500s: commerce, perfectly ordered markets, botanical gardens, zoos, great monuments… Montezuma II ascended the throne in 1502 and continued his endless wars to provide his priests with blood.

In 1517 the chronicles speak of the appearance of a “flaming corn” at midnight that remained visible until sunrise. Montezuma , who saw the comet before his diviners , had them tortured to death for their painful lack of attention and In passing, he plundered their houses and enslaved their families Nezahualcóyotl, the king-prophet of Texcoco, was consulted and told him that his vision predicted the fall of the empire Montezuma, terrified, increased the number of sacrifices and had altars built to placate the gods And by those coincidences of life in 1519 – the year in which the Aztec tradition said that their god Quetzalcoatl was going to return to reclaim his land -, Hernán Cortés appeared with 508 soldiers. Montezuma believed that it was his god, As the comet had confirmed, the presents in the form of gold sent by the Aztec made the Spaniards feverish, who directed their steps to Tenochtitlán, where they arrived on November 8, 1519. Overwhelmed by the prophecies s, Montezuma surrendered his empire without the slightest resistance .

The West has also not escaped the ominous prophecies of comets, generating outbursts of panic . The most recent cases have been those of 1773, 1798, 1843 and 1857. But the most famous was that of 1910 , with the return of the always fateful Halley . To add fuel to the fire, astronomers declared that the comet’s tail was going to cover our planet and that a terrible poisonous gas, cyanogen, had been found in it. This caused newspapers to appear with headlines such as “women close doors and windows to protect themselves from cyanogen”. From France to Haiti, from the USA to South Africa, gas-proof rooms were built all over the world. Suicides, attacks of madness and panic, murders, even the false story of the sacrifice of a virgin by a cult in Oklahoma… everything was attributed to the comet.

Yale University astrophysicist Bradley E. Schaefer has compiled a catalog of 35 comets that were seen as omens by the Romans: only 2 were seen as omens of something good . In Sweden, the 90 recorded sightings have always been a precedent for bad news, a constant shown by ethnographic studies carried out around the world. And because of human stupidity we have witnessed ritual suicides like those of the Heaven’s Gate sect. The reason? Getting on a spaceship that was, of course, on the tail of a comet.

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