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Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth [Paperback]

Giorgio de Santillana , Hertha von Dechen
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 1, 1992 0879232153 978-0879232153
Ever since the Greeks coined the language we commonly use for scientific description, mythology and science have developed separately. But what came before the Greeks? What if we could prove that all myths have one common origin in a celestial cosmology? What if the gods, the places they lived, and what they did are but ciphers for celestial activity, a language for the perpetuation of complex astronomical data? Drawing on scientific data, historical and literary sources, the authors argue that our myths are the remains of a preliterate astronomy, an exacting science whose power and accuracy were suppressed and then forgotten by an emergent Greco-Roman world view. This fascinating book throws into doubt the self-congratulatory assumptions of Western science about the unfolding development and transmission of knowledge. This is a truly seminal and original thesis, a book that should be read by anyone interested in science, myth, and the interactions between the two.

Editorial Reviews


A book wonderful to read and startling to contemplate. If this theory is correct, both the history of science and the reinterpretation of myths have been enriched immensely. --Washington Post Book World

Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine (August 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879232153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879232153
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For dedicated scholars only October 18, 1999
By A Customer
The Reader will find that this book is quoted in the bibliography of many if not all recent books concerning the origins of human civilisation and the extent of knowledge possesed by our ancestors, that it has almost become a bible to modern researchers in this field. However, upon reading, it is not hard to see why this should be.
The authors show compelling evidence that myth was a way of handing down complex information in easy to manage packages within stories, and that modern man has lost all understanding of the true nature of the myth. They also boldly state that the majority of this information pertains primarily to the mechanics of celestial movements and the precessional cycle.
However, it can be at times a very heavy text and can indeed be hard to understand upon first reading, but perseverence is most rewarding. At times the text is interupted by periodic quotes of German, Latin or French which, if one does not know the language can cause the reader to feel that he/she has missed some major point of the argument. Having been published in 1969, this book is beginning to feel its age especially with the help of modern authors explaining many of its main arguments in a much more simple and effective way.
It is an excellent book, and one that you may go back upon in future to study again and again. However, it is not advised for the casual reader, and most definately not for any one with a less than passing interest in myth.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars i've read it 3 times and still refer to it often June 28, 2000
I must admit, this book is DEEP. The first time I read Hamlet's Mill, I was confused, but my interest was sparked. The second time, I sat in awe as I mentally organized the content. The third time, I got it. This book is not for the casual reader, but for one that is ready for a shift in his way of thinking about astronomy, history and mythology. Hamlet's Mill focuses on the symbolism of Old World mythology and the transmission of knowledge through archaic language. Refering to mythologies from Sumer, Egypt, China, Japan, Iceland and MesoAmerica, it is an indespenseable addition to anyones library interested in the transmission of knowledge through symbolism. Although not organized in a very systematic way, it is by far the most comprehensive book so far written on such subjects. Main themes include the Precession of the Equinoxes, gods as constellations, World Tree as Earth's axis, Deluge as the shifting of the visible sky and much, much more. The info along with the fairly new science of Archeoastronomy should, and one day will, bring about a paradigm in thought about the notions of early civilizations and their knowledge of the heavens in realation to man on Earth.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I found this book to be an amazing analysis of world mythological systems. The authors are two historians of science that make a convincing argument (in my opinion) that
myths and mythical stories are, in fact, how archaic astronomy had been past from generation to generation. They
reinterperet catastrophic mythical events as reference to the precession of the equinoxes. Mythical personage (Gods, Titans, Dragons, Heroes etc.) from China to Ancient Egypt to Greece to Meso-America are shown to be, in fact, referencing constellations and their positions as these changed due to the precession of Earth's axis over centuries.

Moreover, the authors discuss myths from linguistically, culturally, temporally distinct societies and show the astonishing commonality of names, events, and motifs.
They make a cogent argument that the knowledge base of archaic people was far deeper and wider; that the archaic people have had empirical knowledge of the precession of equinoxes-a knowledge that requires at least a couple of hundred years of continuous observation to arrive at-and that they encoded their knowledge in the language of myths. This was knowledge for the elect and unlike our contemporary sciences it was not for everyone.

In addition, the authors claim that these myths are tatters of an archaic World-View that placed man in an orderely universe of change. A world view whose echoes may still be heard in the Illiad & Odyssey, Shahnameh,Timeaus, Mahabaharata, and Nihon-gi.

It is remarkable that this book, first published in 1968, has not made any waves in those circles that value such
understanding. It is also remarkable that how much more convincing the author's arguments have become in the light of the discovires chronicled by E. C.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A favorite book August 7, 2005
The other reviews go into the details of this book well. I won't rehash all that. It's not an easy read at times and it can be a bit confusing but since I first encountered it I was convinced that this was a major work--better documented than any book that delves into the idea that ancient peoples were no dummies and that world history may not quite be what we think. In fact, I no longer look at a clear night sky quite the same way any more since reading this--the geometric plane that defines our solar system is now far too obvious to me. I often imagine what night skies must have been like 5000 or 10,000 years ago. How could we ever have assumed our ancestors weren't paying close attention and asking hard questions? (Well, actually, that's easy to answer--current humans hardly pay any attention to the night sky, barely any attention to nature as a whole. I'm no tree hugger but this is NOT GOOD)

Unfortunately, (and treat this as a warning) all my friends and not-so-friends that love A&P (Atlantis and Pyramids) material, and who should be much more critical with their reading, never seem to have the patience to get through this book and often don't even have the desire to read it. No levitating monoliths, no alien gene splicers, no global catastrophe...B-O-R-I-N-G. That's probably just as well; this is a book for grown-ups with open and questing minds who have serious interests in archeology, anthropology, technological history, astronomy, and related fields. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Halfway through and...
..being an artist I am drawing out the descriptions used by the authors as relayed in the myths, they may or may not realize it but their interpretations corresponds with my... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Dave Mowers
5.0 out of 5 stars spellbound
Pure joy to read! Mythology and legends, even the most familiar ones, gradually acquire cosmic proportions, stellar layers of new meaning, the starry net of galactic metaphors,... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Yelena Shekhtman
4.0 out of 5 stars The wheel of the gods
I read this book long ago, and just as with Calazzo's "The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony", it made a lot more sense when I read it the second time. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Clay Kallam
4.0 out of 5 stars Loads of facts and great analysis, little organization
I took one star away for a lack of clarity and organization, despite wanting to give the book five stars for content. Read more
Published 21 months ago by David Montaigne
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book but hard to read
I like the book but the reason I gave it a three rating was because it's hard to read. It's not for the novice; it's more a college type text book for someone getting their... Read more
Published on February 14, 2012 by DF
4.0 out of 5 stars First Time Buyer
I was directed to this site to obtain a copy of an out of print book. I reviewed the various sources and picked one which sounded nearest to what I would accept. Read more
Published on January 16, 2012 by Ancient Admirer
3.0 out of 5 stars The key: "If it is true..."
I purchased this book for use in a doctoral seminar, and have subsequently used it (with caveats) with advanced undergraduate and masters level students. Read more
Published on December 12, 2011 by Paul J. Archibald
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed, good and bad
The authors here bring together a huge amount of probably related material surrounding stories of mills, and a number of other areas about concepts of time. Read more
Published on July 8, 2011 by Christopher R. Travers
5.0 out of 5 stars Seminal
As many have noted, Hamlet's Mill is not an "easy" read, but it is an absolutely worthwhile experience not only to read but to re-read this seminal thesis on the transmission of... Read more
Published on April 21, 2011 by David Warner Mathisen
4.0 out of 5 stars Good reference, but...
A wonderful book espousing the passage of knowledge from pre-history through to historic Greek, Roman, Pacific Island, Native American, African and Asian myths. Read more
Published on May 28, 2010 by Diogenes
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