A World Lit by Shooting Stars

The exhalations whizzing in the air
Give so much light that I may read by them.

Julius Caesar Act 2 scene 1

The annual Perseid meteor shower was not quite that spectacular but the shooting stars were out last night as our planet sailed through a stream of ancient cosmic dust emanating from the constellation of Perseus. Out in the moonless dark, stretching the neck up to the night sky is an awe inspiring August ritual.

It may be just little bits of comet debris vaporizing in the earth’s atmosphere but to watch for the flash and streak as the “stars” shoot and trail across the sky is to be in touch with an ancestral wonder at the natural world. No surprise the ancient world ascribed significance to powerful natural phenomena.

One required text for High School humanities this summer is William Manchester’s A World Lit Only by Fire – a wonderfully evocative title. It is books like Manchester’s and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror that give us not only the sweep of social and political change but also an insight into the medieval mind – what it was like to live in the “dark ages” and stare at the sky and wonder.

The view of the night sky must have been spectacular.

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