Some Medieval Astronomy

Going deeper into quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, I find that the brightest stellar event in recorded history was a supernova which took place in the home Milky Way galaxy, just about a thousand years ago, in 1006; it was the only event recorded for the year by the anonymous monk serving as chronicler for the St-Gall Abbey.  Thanks to the care with which Markus Griesser, director of the Eschenberg Observatory in Winterthur, cites the exact words of the chronicler-monk [the quote is on p. 5 of the learned Dr (I presume) Greisser’s “Ein Supernova, so hell wie der Halbmond,” Orion, 1997, No. 278, pp. 4-7.] :

Nova stella apparuit insolitae magnitudinis, aspectu fulgurans, et oculos verberans non sine terrore.

the which our helpful local authority renders into the modern German tongue as

Ein neuer Stern von ungewöhnlichem Aussehen erschien.  Er war glänzend in seinem Aussehen, blendete die Augen und sorgte für Angst.

On my own rather modest authority I assure you a reasonable translation of the medieval inscription [Dr Greisser attributes the quotation to side (Seite) 222 of Codex 945 of the library of the Abbey of Saint Gall, of which a photographic reproduction is provided — and the words match] is as follows:

— well, but first I really must insert a note on that German translation.  We (I am one) translators are a bookish bunch, and when we render a text of prose into our home language — poetry is different — we virtually always word in a more abstract, vaguer way than the more direct original.  The classic example is Ernest Jones’ “ego” serving to translate the straightforward original of Sigmund Freud “das ich” — the I — in the first English-language translation of the Collected Works.  As there, so here.  Dr Griesser made a number of choices, but the most striking one was the use of “Angst”, which whatever the color given it still means something of concern or worry, to convey the Latin “non sine terrore” a pretty straightforward “not without terror”.

A new star of unusual size appeared, with a brilliant appearance which struck all who saw with terror.

Now dear, Faithful Reader (and only the Faithful Readers among you have gotten this far), Intrepid Reporter can at last draw the conclusion that the Government of the United States, in declaring a War on Terror, has declared war on the Ways of God: the bright light in the night sky of 1006 A.D. was seen by the mountaineers and monks of St-Gall as a terrible warning by the Lord God of the Wrath to Come.  That was the terror which accompanied an unusually bright (the brightest in recorded history — it cast a shadow, this star) light in the sky.

Arguably, the Lord God no longer makes use of terror as one of His tactics of reminding humanity of its eternal damnation.  But it is clearly there in the history of astronomy, that God did terrify the Christian world with awful portents in the heavens.

If the Government of the United States is going to go to war with the Lord God, I am not going to bet on the government.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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