Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The chariot race in Ben-Hur and the motion of the planets

In the previous post, we discussed the counterclockwise orbit of the moon, and how it causes the monthly moon phases, beginning with the new moon and proceeding to the waxing crescent that is visible now on its way to the first quarter and eventually a full moon (on July 15).

Not only does the moon orbit earth in a counterclockwise direction, but the earth orbits the sun in the same counterclockwise direction, as do the other planets.

In Hamlet's Mill, authors Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend explain in a footnote that this fact was known in antiquity, and appears to have influenced the famous chariot races of the Roman circus, one of which forms the climactic scene of the epic 1959 movie Ben-Hur, winner of eleven Academy Awards.

De Santillana and von Dechend note that in De Mensibus, written in the sixth century AD by historian Joannes Laurentius Lydus (born circa AD 490), we are told that:
in the middle of the stadium was a pyramid, belonging to the Sun; that by the Sun's pyramid were three altars, of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and below the pyramid, altars of Venus, Mercury and the Moon, and that there were not more than seven circuits (kykloi) around the pyramid, because the planets were only seven. 206-207.
In other words, the racetrack itself was a metaphor for the orbits of the seven visible planets -- the three whose paths are outside the orbit of the earth (Saturn, Jupiter and Mars) and the three whose paths take them between the earth and the sun (Venus, Mercury, and the moon), as well as the sun itself. According to that ancient source, there were never more than seven laps in a race, indicating that the race represented the courses of the heavenly bodies (the scene from Ben-Hur is inaccurate in this regard, having nine competitors and nine laps, counted off by nine golden dolphins -- although the golden dolphins themselves are authentic, being attested to by ancient writers).

Note that these connections between the Roman circus and the orbits of the planets are generally not understood or not acknowledged by conventional academics and historians.

The counterclockwise direction of the race is clearly evident in the Ben-Hur clip above, and is described in this article from the University of Chicago, which states that:
there were thirteen turns, run counter-clockwise, around the metae [turning posts at either end of the spina or central divider] for a total of seven laps (spatia), a distance just over three miles (approximately twice that of a modern track), depending upon how close to the inside the driver could stay. It could have been run in eight to nine minutes, just about the length of the race in the movie Ben Hur.
The counterclockwise direction and number seven cannot have been a coincidence, judging by the ancient historical attestation of planetary altars in the center of the great circus. Below is a simple computer animation of the planetary motion of the solar system. If you partially close your eyes while looking at the whirling motion of the planets, you can imagine that you are watching a chariot race in the Circus Maximus:

Today, chariot races of the kind featured in Ben-Hur are no longer in vogue, but it is notable that NASCAR races such as the Daytona 500 proceed in the same direction as the ancient races in the Circus Maximus, and in the same direction as the planetary orbits (see clip below).

All of this is yet another indication that the mythology of the ancients was not simply religion, as it is usually portrayed, but rather a form of science, and that ancient myths and monuments (including the Roman circus) were a form of encoded scientific knowledge, intended to be passed along to subsequent generations, even if the recipients did not fully understand the meaning behind the traditions they were passing along.

Think about that the next time you find yourself at a NASCAR race on a Sunday afternoon.