"WONDER," said Aristotle, in the first chapter of his book on Metaphysics, "the origin of all philosophy is wonder." It was a word the Greeks loved to use, and it had the same duofold meaning for them that it has for us--admiration and awe, coupled with curiosity. Every primitive man knew it in both senses; for as he began to marvel at the place in which he found himself, he began to construct theories about the form of the universe and its origin.
For the creation myths there are the egg theories, scattered from Phoenicia to Peru; and almost immediately after the egg is broken, it is found to have both a yolk and a white. Dualism arises early. Sometimes the opposition merely reflects family life; from Northwest American Indians to Greeks, nephews fight their uncles, and one or the other steals fire and light to give to mankind as a weapon against darkness. Or it is the fight of man against nonman, dragons and demons and devils. Most of these legends have their astronomical counterparts, and undoubtedly the myths and the studies of the heavens grew up together, each furnishing the other with symbols and stories. Only late in cosmological stories did "reason" appear as an influence--only when the mind of man had grown rich enough to allow such a profound thought. The idea came from India originally and found its way throughout the civilized world until Saint John the Divine took it from the Greeks, and furnished a new conception for the Biblical God of the Hebrews: "In the beginning was Reason, and Reason was with God, and Reason was God."
For the shape of the universe there is always the round disc at first--the location of the inventor in the exact center; the universe around him, and an ocean to bear it up. But that theory can go on indefinitely in one direction only. Something must hold up the ocean so there is a tortoise to carry it on his back; he in turn floats on a sea of milk, and as imagination grows firmer and stronger, more beasts appear, each below the other, like a pyramid of acrobatic circus animals, until at last the Sanskrit peoples brought the whole structure toppling to the ground with a single reductio ad absurdum. The elephant, they said, was the basic animal, and he needed nothing to stand upon, because his legs were long enough to reach all the way down. After that, cosmological theories had to follow some other track.
Whether or not man was created in the image of the universe, at least he tried to copy the universe in all his creations. When the mountaineers, living about Babylon, descended upon the plains, they brought with them the idea that the universe was shaped just like a mountain, only more perfectly made, so that its corners were pointed to the equinoxes. And after the habit of wandering peoples (their imagination no doubt fostered by homesickness) they told the lowlanders that the mountains whence they came had reached up to the sky; and they deprecated that here there were no hills on which to place the altars for their gods.
Accordingly they started to build just such mountains in their new surroundings, making ziggurats in the form of step pyramids, set to the cardinal points of the Earth. "And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." There were no stones along the TigrisEuphrates Valley, but they made bricks by mixing straw with mud and burned them thoroughly. They used slime for mortar. It was a magnificent conception, but of course the local inhabitants failed to understand these newcomers with their boasting and strange ideas. "This they begin to do: said the Lord, and now nothing will be restrained from them. . . . Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city."