The Inca Empire, at its peak, was the largest kingdom on Earth. The Incas were known as master builders, fearsome warriors, and practitioners of human sacrifice. Yet in the year 1532, this mighty state was conquered, overnight, by fewer than 200 Spanish adventurers. How could this happen? Step by step, clue by clue, Sullivan decodes the myths of the Incas to reveal that they embody an astoundingly thorough record of astronomical events - a record so precise it can be checked against a modern computer program. And he uncovers the Incas' tragic secret: they knew they were doomed. As they watched the skies for over a thousand years, the priest-astronomers of the Andes came to believe that great transitions in the heavens foretold great transitions here on earth. In the fifteenth century, they read the sky and saw the signs of an apocalypse. So the Incas took a desperate gamble: if events in the heavens could influence those on earth, perhaps the reverse was true. Their rituals of warfare and human sacrifice were nothing less than an attempt to stop time, to forestall the cataclysm that would sweep their world away. The Inca gamble failed, for just at the time the prophecy predicted, the Conquistadors arrived. Yet even as their world collapsed, the Andean shamans set their wisdom afloat in the waters of time, aboard the vessel of myth. In this book, after four centuries of oblivion, their message has been received.
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(230mm x 152mm x 28mm)
Publisher: Random House USA Inc
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US Kirkus Review »
A sometimes murky, frequently meandering excursion into the meaning of ancient Andean beliefs, arguing that in a series of sophisticated myths Incan soothsayers foretold their own civilization's doom at the hands of Pizarro and his conquistadors in 1532. Sullivan, a scholar of Native American 0cultures, begins with a question that has perplexed historians of the Spanish conquest: How could the vast Inca Empire, with its millions of subjects, have been conquered overnight by a band of 170 Spanish adventurers? Sullivan digs into the history and mythology of Andean civilization to find what he feels is the answer: For hundreds of years the sages of the Andes had believed that astronomical transitions presaged earthly cataclysms; reading changes in the night skies in the 1400s, Incan priest-astronomers foretold the imminent destruction of their own recently founded empire. Sullivan argues, in a sometimes hyperbolic first-person account ("In that moment I had, I believed, touched for an instant the terrible burden and tragic urgency of the Inca vision"), that the Incas followed the planets, recorded precessional events in their myths, and equated social and celestial changes. He further asserts that elements in Incan culture preceding Pizarro's arrival - constant warfare and the Incan ritual of human sacrifice - represented an attempt to halt the march of time and prevent the apocalyptic events foreshadowed by changes in the night sky. The Incas assumed that the arrival of Pizarro represented the culmination of the prophecy and the failure of their own efforts to prevent its occurrence. The thread of the author's argument can be hard to follow. Still, Sullivan's deep feeling for Andean folk materials, and the originality of his observations about Andean astronomy, make his text worthwhile for those interested in the history of South American civilization and for those who, in the wake of Joseph Campbell's works, seek enduring meaning in ancient mythology. (Kirkus Reviews)
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