This thread explores references to the Dragon and Bear in ancient writings against the hypothesis that they describe accurate observation of precession of the North Celestial Pole stars. The pole has precessed from the constellation of Draco the Dragon in ancient times to its present position in the constellation of the Little Bear, Ursa Minor, near Polaris as shown at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Precession_N.gif . What did the ancients know about this astronomical movement?
There are many references to the dragon in ancient myth which support the idea that the ancients knew more than is now generally acknowledged. For example, the story of Jason and the Argonauts, writings of a Gnostic group called the Peratae, and the Biblical Revelation contain references that plausibly indicate knowledge of precession of the pole.
While this material obviously relates to speculative mythology, I have no wish to see this thread derailed by any off topic matters that are outside of BAUT scope. My agenda here is purely to ask what the ancients knew about the astronomy of precession of the pole, and whether accurate observation is encoded in textual references.
The wobble period of earth’s axis is well explained by Newtonian mechanics, due to the torque of the sun and moon acting on the oblate spheroid shape of the earth. The movement of the north pole is shown at the link above, with the celestial pole (the pole of the earth) rotating around the ecliptic pole (the pole of the solar system or sun) over a period estimated at 25765 years, known as the Great Year.
Ancient astronomers could easily see that the celestial pole is the position around which the heavens revolve each night. However, what they knew in addition to this simple observation is far from clear. The Greek astronomer Hipparchus, writing in the second century BC, used ancient Babylonian star records to discover precession, observing that the star Spica in Virgo had moved from its earlier recorded position at the equinox point, at a speed he estimated at one degree per century. Later work refined this precession speed to one degree every 72 years, and modern astronomy calculates it at one degree per 71.6 years.
Sir Norman Lockyer, founder of the science journal Nature and discoverer of helium, had a strong interest in ancient astronomy. In his book The Dawn of Astronomy, Lockyer argued that knowledge of precession is apparent from the alignments of Egyptian temples. Other writers have claimed that an air shaft in the Great Pyramid of Giza pointed to the former pole star Thuban.
Thuban is in the tail of the constellation Draco the Dragon. Since ancient times the pole has precessed out of Draco and through Ursa Minor. One famous text that contains an apparent reference to this observation is in the Bible, Revelation 13:2 - “The beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.”
Could this symbolic text encode an actual empirical knowledge of the movement of the pole? The case looks persuasive. The north pole was considered a symbol of the unchanging eternal stability of the heavens. As such, “power, throne and authority” could refer to the celestial point about which the whole cosmos revolves. The dragon correlates directly to the constellation Draco. The bear-lion-leopard is more complex. The constellation Leo is adjacent to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. As the pole has moved into Ursa Minor, Leo has also moved to its most northerly point on the precession cycle. Looking at the sky, the symbolic language of a creature with bear’s feet and a lion’s head makes sense as describing the movement of the pole. As to the leopard, the spots of the leopard were used in ancient mythology as symbols for the stars, for example in the cloak of Seshat, wife of the Egyptian God of astronomy Thoth.
The gift of power, seat and authority from the dragon to the bear-lion-leopard correlates quite precisely to observation of precession of the north pole over historical times. I would welcome questions on detail or comment on whether this hypothesis appears sound. I will also use this thread to investigate other supportive ancient writings.