Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
by Thomas Inman, M.D. (1874)
Pagan and Christian symbolism
Figures 23, 24, are discs, circles, aureoles, and wheels, to represent the sun. Sometimes the emblem of this luminary is associated with rays, as in Plate iii., Fig. 8, and in another Figure elsewhere. Occasionally, as in some of the ancient temples in Egypt discovered in 1854, the sun's rays are represented by lines terminating in hands. Sometimes one or more of these contain objects as if they were gifts sent by the god; amongst other objects, the crux ansata is shown conspicuously. In a remarkable plate in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature (second series, vol. i., p. 140), the sun is identified with the serpent; its rays terminate in hands, some holding the handled cross or tau, and before it a queen, apparently, worships. She is offering what seems to be a lighted tobacco pipe, the bowl being of the same shape as that commonly used in Turkey; from this a wavy pyramid of flame rises. Behind her, two female slaves elevate the sistrum; whilst before her, and apparently between herself and her husband, are two altars occupied by round cakes and one crescent-shaped emblem.
The aureole was used in ancient days by Babylonian artists or sculptors, when they wished to represent a being, apparently human, as a god. The same plan has been adopted by the moderns, who have varied the symbol by representing it now as a golden disc, now as a terrestrial orb, again as a rayed sphere. A writer, when describing a god as a man, can say that the object he sketches is divine; but a painter thinks too much of his art to put on any of his designs, "this woman is a goddess," or "this creature is a god"; he therefore adds an aureole round the head of his subject, and thus converts a very ordinary man, woman, or child into a deity to be reverenced; modern artists thus proving themselves to be far more skilful in depicting the Almighty than the carpenters and goldsmiths of the time of Isaiah (xl. 18, 19, xli. 6, 7, xliv. 9-19), who used no such contrivance.
Figure 24 is another representation of the solar disc, in which it is marked with a cross. This probably originated in the wheel of a chariot having four spokes, and the sun being likened to a charioteer. The chariots of the sun are referred to in 2 Kings xxiii. 11 as idolatrous emblems. Of these the wheel was symbolic. The identification of this emblem with the sun is very easy, for it has repeatedly been found in Mesopotamian gems in conjunction with the moon. In a very remarkable one figured in Rawlinson's Ancient Monarchies, vol. ii., p. 249, the cross is contrived as five circles. It is remarkable that in many papal pictures the wafer and the cup are depicted precisely as the sun and moon in conjunction. See Pugin's Architectural Glossary, plate iv., fig. 5.