CONVERSING WITH THE PLANETS by Anthony Aveni

CONVERSING WITH THE PLANETS

How Science and Myth Invented the Cosmos
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 How ``the common sense of one era becomes the superstition of another,'' by Aveni, astronomer-anthropologist at Cornell and author of Empires of Time (1989). Aveni wants to understand how our ancestors made scientific discoveries, in order to know how we make them. The key is imagination, which ``makes visible that which before was invisible.'' In the minds of ancient Greece and Maya, he contends, nature was not compartmentalized, and humans and nature were intimately linked. Aveni traces this worldview through the history of naked-eye astronomy, focusing on the planets, especially Venus. He shows how ancient astronomers were first-rate observers, able to trace the strange motions of our sister planet through the skies. But unlike modern astronomers, who describe these motions in mechanical terms, the ancients saw them through the lenses of metaphor and analogy. The movements of Venus were those of a goddess, wanton or chaste according to the season, and intimately allied to cycles of human gestations, rainfall, the lives of bees, and so on. In time, this understanding gave rise to the queen of ancient sciences, astrology. Aveni acknowledges that such thinking seems antiquated today (he calls astrology a ``misfit''), but he does lend a sympathetic ear to the Gaia hypothesis, which perceives the earth as a single living being, analogous to an ancient Greek goddess. Aveni suggests that truth, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder, and that modern science may well be yet another mythology. As this troubling conclusion indicates, his is a brilliant effort, bubbling with ideas and showing unusual sympathy for outmoded points of view. (Thirty b&w illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1992
ISBN: 0-8129-1975-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1992