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Pseudo-history, Babylonians, and precession of the equinoxes

Hamlet's Mill, by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend (1969) is a rambling work which advances the theory that the Babylonians were aware of the precession of the equinoxes and that this led a number of ancient civlizations, for example in ancient India and in Scandinavia, to conceive of the idea of eternal recurrence. There is also the idea, hinted at but not worked out explicitly, that these ancient societies knew things that we had forgotten.

I read this book soon after it came out and it stayed in my mind, becoming linked with the Isma'ilis about whom I wrote in my book The Assassins of Alamut. The Isma'ilis had a notion of repeated cycles, each with its own Adam as founder, and this seemed to connect with the theory advanced in Hamlet's Mill. Later, however, I discovered that the "scholarship" of the authors of this book was suspect and so I deleted all the references to precession.

I did this thanks to email correspondence with Gary D. Thompson, whose excellent website on the history of the constellations is strongly recommended. He has now added an essay on the shortcomings of Hamlet's Mill (The myth of Babylonian knowledge of precession), which is likewise recommended to anyone who, like me, read the book and found it persuasive.

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