The Prague Astronomical Clock by Jonathan Fink


The Prague Astronomical Clock
by Jonathan Fink

Inside, it must resemble a great churning mouth,
the three co-axial wheels, all with nearly 400 cogs.
Ignore the trinkets and pawns, the puppet apostles

that march but on the hour, the tiny skeleton
striking the chimes. They all are additions,
centuries late, to pacify travelers on the Royal Way.

For six hundred years it has marshaled the stars,
the revolutions of the sun and moon, the minuscule
placement of zodiacal signs.

The maker’s intent, the chronicles claim, was to “publish” the paths
of celestial bodies and meter the universe to discernible
time. According to legend, he labored for years,

forging every pin and cog. So when the clock was
first unveiled and the hands moved like conductors’
batons, the city fathers searched out the maker

and carried him to the centre square. At once,
he must have thought it grand—the streets spilling
crowds. Then the politicians closed around him

and the leanest produced a curling blade. The legend
claims their motivation as pride, never wanting another
clock built. And when they were done, each departed

his way, leaving the maker blinded behind. One version
of the story asserts that the maker found his way
to the clock, and throwing the switches only he knew,

swung open the dial and inserted his hand. Like a magician
producing a coin from the dark, he removed the smallest
discernible part. So was a modest reciprocity served:

the clock hands stayed, the ticking stopped. Yet a realist
would decry the story’s most obvious flaw, that after
600 years the clock still works, the sun and moon pass

on the painted sky. More likely than the fable’s neat turn
is that the maker crawled his way back to his home,
or died at once in the square from the blade. In truth,

he was probably never blinded at all, going on
to celebrity, honor and gain. With due respect
to the unknowable past, only the justice of legend

remains. So hail to the clock, precision’s grand shrine,
and hail to its lies, the peddlers of fame. After 600 years
they both persist, a feat, in itself, deserving of praise.

PHOTO: The Prague astronomical clock is a medieval astronomical clock located in Prague, Czech Republic. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest clock still operating. The clock is  is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism has three main components — the astronomical dial, representing the position of the sun and moon in the sky; statues of various Catholic saints stand on either side of the clock; “The Walk of the Apostles,” an hourly show of moving Apostle figures and other sculptures, notably a figure of a skeleton that represents Death, striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months. (Check out a video of the clock striking the hour.)

Photo by Alan De La Cruz on Pixabay

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