I recently published this review of Hamlet's Mill: an essay on myth and the frame of time, by Girogio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend (1969):
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 ancient astronomical knowledge through mythology and legend. Perhaps the fact that a reader must wrestle with this text is part of the reason that it has generated so many fruitful inquiries and theories by later authors. The entire book is rich with ideas, many of which the authors drop and then pick up again and again later in the text, some of which are simply left for later analysts to pursue further on their own. Slice into it at any point and you will find a rich vein of material that can suggest new avenues for you to explore in the ancient history and literatures of the world. Sometimes an easy read or a text that hands you all of its answers and does the work for you is not "what the doctor ordered." Hamlet's Mill definitely makes more sense the second and even third time through. That in and of itself makes this book worth your while -- it's a gift that keeps on giving, a book you can keep on reading, even after you reach the end!
That being said, I have tried to make part of their thesis and some of the threads of their argument more clear in my own recent book, the Mathisen Corollary!
Hamlet's Mill was a seminal influence on my own work. Here are a few ways in which my text amplifies or takes different paths and reaches different conclusions:
- While the authors of Hamlet's Mill believe that all flood legends deal primarily with astronomical matters alone (ie are metaphors and not literal events), I believe there is strong evidence that these legends reveal a cataclysmic global flood during human memory, and that this flood event was associated with the start of the phenomenon known as precession, which is encoded in many of the same flood myths and almost always related to the flood in those myths.
- The explanation of the celestial phenomena is much more expansive than what is found in Hamlet's Mill. Instead of simply using the term "colures," for example, the Mathisen Corollary explains exactly what the colures are and why they turn with precession. All the important aspects of the precession of the equinoxes and the turning of the celestial "millstone" of heaven are explained in detail.
- New evidence of precessional numbers is discovered in certain archaeological finds at Teotihuacan (including a pecked cross opposite to the Way of the Dead, and in certain measurements pioneered by the indefatigable Hugh Harleston).
- New evidence of precessional numbers and themes in the ancient mithraea of the Persian Mysteries is discusssed, including some original observations I have never seen published anywhere else (in addition to discussion of the groundbreaking work by Professor David Ulansey).
- Geological evidence is presented in juxtaposition with archaeological and mythological evidence.
I would urge anyone interested in this subject to read de Santillana and von Dechend's Hamlet's Mill.
It is not an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one. If you want to make it a little easier on yourself, read the Mathisen Corollary first and then read Hamlet's Mill, but either way, Hamlet's Mill is essential and may start you on your own journeys of exploration!