Babylonian Northern Lights

October 27, 2019

 

There are many wonderful sights to see in northern Canada, and one of the great joys are the Northern Lights.  But as new research reveals, these majestic celestial shows have been fascinating people for thousands of years — and thousands of kilometres from the Yukon.

The earliest records of the aurora have now been identified as coming from the middle of the 7th century BC — almost 3,000 years ago — and from the royal archives of Nineveh in the Assyrian Empire.  Three separate observers — known by cuneiform specialists for their regular and accurate astronomical observations — report “red glow”, “red cloud”, and “red sky” in reports to their royal masters. Exact dates are elusive, but they appear to be from about 660 BC.

We may wonder how the “Northern” lights could be seen in the Middle East.  The researchers explain:

“the Middle East was closer to the north geomagnetic pole in the Assyrian epoch. While the north geomagnetic pole is situated near the region of North America today, it was situated in the region of Eurasia in the mid- to early 7th century BCE due to the secular variation of the geomagnetic field.”

When we are lucky enough to witness these sky dances, we are sharing the pleasures and excitements of hundreds of generations of those who have gone before.


Image: Lighthouse Park #1

October 27, 2019


In Honour: Dylan Thomas

October 27, 2019

Alfred Janes - Dylan ThomasToday would have been the 105th birthday of Dylan Thomas, one of the finest writers (for me, perhaps, the finest) of the generation before mine.

Thomas was very popular when I was a boy and I was lucky enough to be in two different productions of “Under Milk Wood“, as well as doing a solo turn reciting large sections of “A Child’s Christmas“.  For decades, at least into my 40s, much of my own work was highly derivative of Thomas’ style, with aggregations of melodious adjectives cascading through the sing-song lilt of a Welshman speaking English.

He was a master poet, able to craft the most exquisite sonnets and villanelles, difficult forms to manage, concerning both the ordinary and extraordinary things of life and death.  “The Force That Through The Green Fuse“, “Fern Hill“, and his paean to his father’s death, “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night“, are sublime beyond measure..

His mastery of prose was equally fine, shown best in “A Child’s Christmas In Wales” which needs to be heard as read by the poet himself.

And then there is the extraordinary masterpiece, the radio play “Under Milk Wood“.in which Thomas’ talent, both as a writer and as an observer of rambunctious village life, are shown to the full.  If you can get a chance to listen to the Richard Burton version, then that is an experience not soon forgotten.

Thomas didn’t think much of being Welsh, let’s be frank about it.  And in just a couple of weeks we will celebrate the 66th anniversary of his sorry and inebriated death at the early age of 39. But he was an original, a genius, and I suspect he got more out of his 39 years than most of us do with three-score-and-ten.