Posted by: Lister | February 18, 2007

Venus and the spread of knowledge

The planet we call Venus has been known to many cultures. Which of the following data do you think were made up, and which do you think are different kind of data?

According to wiki, the Babylonians called Venus ‘Ishtar’.

Ishtar is a mother goddess, fertility goddess, the goddess of spring, a storm goddess, a warrior goddess and goddess of war, a goddess of the hunt, a goddess of love, goddess of marriage and childbirth, and a goddess of fate.

She was also an underworld deity, her twin sister being Ereshkigal, the Goddess of Death, but her dominant aspects are as the mother goddess of compassion and the goddess of love, sex and war.

[…] As the most prominent female deity in the late Babylonian pantheon, she was equated by the Greeks with either Hera (Latin Juno) or Aphrodite (Latin Venus), hence the current name of the planet.

[…] The meaning of Ishtar is Babylonian “Star”. […] She is referred to in the Bible as Ashtoreth or Anath, and the name Esther is an apparent late borrowing of Akkadian “Ishtar” into Hebrew.

The ancient Egyptians and Greeks thought that Venus was two different planets, the Morning and Evening Stars — Phosphorus (bringer of light) and Hesperos in Greek, becoming Lucifer and Vesper in Latin. But the Greeks eventually realised it was just one planet. And at some time the name of Aphrodite (Venus) was applied. Had the Babylonian ideas spread by this time?

How about the fall of Lucifer….?

In the Vulgate, an early-5th-century translation of the Bible into Latin by Jerome, Lucifer occurs in Isaiah 14:12-14 as a translation of the Greek word heosphorus (“dawn-bearer”), an epithet of Venus. The original Hebrew text of this verse was (heilel ben-schahar), meaning “Helel son of Shahar.” […]

Helel was the god of the morning star and his father was Shahar, god of the dawn. […] In Isaiah, this title is specifically used, in a prophetic vision, to reference the king of Babylon’s pride and to illustrate his eventual fate by referencing mythological accounts of the planet Venus. […] The Helel-Lucifer (i.e. Venus) myth was later transferred to Satan.

The Maasai people called Venus Kileken.

In the myth, the planet Venus is called Kileken, and visits the Earth in the form of a small boy. The boy befriends an old farmer and tends his cattle, the man agreeing to let the boy keep the only thing he has: the secret of his origin. When the man betrays his trust and spies on Kileken, the boy vanishes in a bright light and returns to the heavens. The myth explains why the planet Venus is seen during the morning and evening.

That’s very different to the Babylonian influenced story.

Shukra is the Sanskrit name for Venus — after Guru Shukracharya. So Venus is male this time also. But she is female to the Yolngu people in Northern Australia, and associated with talking to the dead.

And the Maya also had religious ideas about Venus. But the thing I would like to point out is this: The Mayan astronomers calculated the synodic period of Venus as 584 days.

Modern measure: Synodic period: 583.92 d

The cause for the agreement is obvious — there is a real planet there to see and its orbit is something that can be objectively measured. The other qualities I listed above are a different category of data.

Which, I think, explains the huge variety of religions. Science, for sure, has controversy and disagreement. But not on the same scale.



  1. From a conversation with Dr Kitten:

    There’s no particular reason for stories about Venus being the mother Goddess or a small boy to stick around. One might become more popular for one reason or another. But those reasons aren’t likely to be repeated in different cultures. So, even if both stories are invented in all cultures, the story which sticks will vary from culture to culture.

    The Maya and the Babylonians both employed a variety of fictions to explain astronomy, etc. Given time, they or their ancestors invented counting. This was a very useful fiction, and so it stuck in both cultures.

    That leaves maths as fiction — as made up as Star Wars.

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