Comets have been featured in several works of literature over the years. They were viewed as omens in ancient times, either of tragedy or of a significant shift in history. Knowledge of comets grew so much that comets became more than simply symbols; they became strong energies capable of wreaking havoc in their own right. In more modern times, comets have been referred to as potential landing sites for interstellar voyages.
Like in art, the comet image has traditionally been associated in literature with unfavourable astrological connotations. It was not until the Enlightenment that comets could be used as a metaphor in other circumstances. Comets have been a major theme in science fiction since the second half of the nineteenth century.
Comets were seen as bad omens
In German-speaking nations, it was the same until well into the eighteenth century. The “Kometspiegel” also known as “Comet mirror” by Thomas Hartmann, which was published in Halle in 1606 and is notable among many other tales of a similar nature, describes the dangers a comet poses to humanity using astrological interpretation and Christian fear of comets. He claims that all comets do, in fact, demonstrate a great deal of misfortune, affliction, peril, and danger. Generally, as a comet burns in the air, eight different types of suffering take place:
1) A lot of sickness, death, and pestilence
2) Hard times, scarcities, and starvation
3) Extreme heat, dry conditions, and infertility
4) Violence, murder, arson, riots, jealousy, anger, and discord
5) Frost, cold, storms, inclement weather, a lack of water, and a significant rise in the number of 6) Individuals who are ill and dying.
7) Earthquakes and fires in numerous locations
8) Significant governmental changes
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But God sends us catastrophes and suffering in order for us to repent from the heart.
Comet hitting the earth
Comets in Elizabethan times
In Renaissance cosmology, comets and other ephemeral celestial occurrences challenge the cosmos’ inherent regularity. In astrology, they are frequently signs of bad luck or divine wrath. Shakespeare would have seen Halley’s comet in 1607 firsthand.
Henry likens himself to a comet in Henry IV. He says,
By being seldom seen, I could not stir
But like a comet I was wonder’d at;
That men would tell their children ‘This is he;’
Others would say ‘Where, which is Bolingbroke?’
And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,
And dress’d myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts.
Henry’s unexpected ascent to the throne and defiance of the established order of events make the comet a perfect metaphor for him. In this scene, Henry might also be concerned that, like a comet, his time of fame will be fleeting and fleeting.
A comet in the outer atmosphere
Shakespear has also mentioned comets in his renowned tragedy Julius Caeser.
When beggars die there are no comets seen
the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes
Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar, from which this well-known passage is taken, was first performed in 1599. Shakespeare reduced the entire literary significance of comets to a single statement, which he gave to Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife. The comment fits the ancient astrological interpretation fairly well.
The literary connotation associated with comets changed during enlightenment
The literary perspective altered in the middle of the eighteenth century, concurrently with scientific discoveries regarding comets. Comets were regarded by writers of the Enlightenment as the ideal motif. They needed to be set free from the astrological constraints first, though. The French philosopher Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis stated in 1742 that these stars, which had previously terrorised the earth, had suddenly lost their credibility and could now only give one a head cold.
In his farce “The Comet,” August Wilhelm Iffand (1759–1814) also addressed the excessive dread of comets. In a lighthearted manner, this tells the story of a charlatan who, in response to the perceived impending end of the world posed by a comet, tries to advance his own interests before his deception is ultimately exposed in a humiliating and humorous moment.
In his renowned book War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy commemorated the Comet Flaugergues of 1811. Pierre, one of the two major protagonists, notices it in the starry night sky extended above the unkempt, poorly lit streets and the gloomy roofs. The enormous and brilliant comet of 1812, which was said to herald various ills and the end of the world, shone almost in the centre of it, above the Prechistenka Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars. However, it stood out from them all by being close to the earth, emitting white light, and having a long uplifted tail. Pierre, on the other hand, was energised and fortified by the sight, and he gladly regarded this brilliant comet.
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The Russian author mistook the year as 1812 since Comet Flaugergues was no longer visible to the unaided eye at that time.
Comets in Science fiction
The brightest comets of the nineteenth century were not visible to Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) because of his short lifespan. The American author was influenced by the end-of-the-world mindset of the Adventists in the USA in the 1830s when writing The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion (1839). In it, two corpses talk about how a comet that poisoned Earth’s atmosphere has brought about the end of the world.
In the tale Hector Servadac, written by Jules Verne (1828–1905) and translated into English as Off on a Comet, the protagonists travel on a comet. A tour of the Solar System is given by the tail, which passed by Earth and carried a number of humans along with it. Amazingly, Jules Verne’s comet “Gallia” is composed primarily of metals, with a significant portion being gold, and it contains active volcanoes. When the comet makes its way back to Earth, two air balloons are used to securely land the space travellers.
Comet in the Sky
The tail of a comet forces humanity to be “exalted” into a utopian, peaceful community without property in H.G. Wells’ (1866–1946) novel In the Days of the Comet. The author makes some astounding forecasts, predicting both the impending First World War and the Earth’s 1910 passage through the tail of Halley’s Comet.
Hannes Stein, a German novelist, uses a similar concept in his 2013 book Der Komet, in which he imagines a world free of the tragedies of the 20th century.
Present-day apocalyptic fiction frequently features comet impacts. The many movies on the subject, including the 1998 Hollywood blockbusters Deep Impact and Armageddon, reflect this.