Apr 29, 2013

You Know What Moves Faster than Light?

The Incomparable Merzbodau, tethered to Pluto by a sturdy spirit cord, received a distressing report from the planet with all the filthy biomass on it.

The pseudo-sentients had misspoken his name! And in a story, too. Merzbodau sent them a comet-warning; it crashed near Chelyabinsk, one of their hives.

We could pretend that's the Incomparable Merzbodau on the right, having just
finished an impromptu meal of methane cubes and silica. Or smoked a funny pipe.

The image above appears in the Nuremberg Chronicle, one of the earliest printed books (in the West). The Chronicle receives its name from the German town of Nuremberg, where it was originally published in 1493. Hartmann Schedel, the author, was also a physician and historian, not to mention one of the first cartographers to rely on the printing press as a publishing method.

People saw comets as bad omens, signs of impending doom, heralds to the birth of monsters. 

Monsters like the Blackpudlian Car-tree.

Nobody knew where comets came from, much less what they were made of. Aristotle, for instance, claimed that certain drynesses gathered in the upper atmosphere and then exploded, giving rise to visible comets. Seneca the Younger observed that comets moved more regularly than, say, clouds -- the wind seemed to have no effect on them -- but Aristotle's view prevailed. Aristotle also believed that the sky was made of glass, crystal or some such thing. Because... because you can just make stuff up when everyone thinks you're wise.

It wasn't until the 16th century CE that observers established comets as celestial, rather than atmospheric phenomena.

And the answer to "You know what moves faster than light?" -- as far as the Incomparable Merzbodau is concerned, only one thing: "Reputation!"

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