A blog raveled in randomness
May 11, 2013
The first time I saw the 20 second performance of the Astronomical Clock, I was not pleased. I did not understand why every hour of every day of every year, people would gather in front of this (beautiful) clock to watch a small performance. However after listening to the explanations, I continued to visit the clock as many times I could. Though my brother was not as interested in the clock, I was fascinated by its design as well as the meaning behind the performance. This post might be too much since this clock does contain a lot of meaning and story, so if you do have a chance to see this performance (is there a YouTube video?), I suggest you watch it first before reading this long post. If you don’t want to, then I hope you can follow through!
i) The 20 second performance
Keep your eyes on the skeleton that stands on the left side (next to the upper half of the round clock). At the start of every performance, the skeleton will lift its head up and will pull the string to ring the bell that is situated on top of the whole clock. While the skeleton is ringing the bell, telling the people that the ‘time’ has commenced, the hourglass that the skeleton has on its other hand will turn and start measuring the 20 second performance.
The skeleton will nod its head as the two windows, situated above the upper circle, will open to show the twelve desciples of Jesus. There will be six on each window and the wooden puppets will walk slowly in circle showing their faces by the window. They are telling the people that there is only few time (and only this time) to ask for forgiveness, repent and enter the heavens with God. The twelve apostles contain a religious context and the skeleton has a more general meaning in the performance. The skeleton is nodding while ringing the bell, reminding the people that there is not much time and that death is inevitable.
However, the three wooden puppets on the same row of the skeleton will shake their heads. They are not agreeing with the skeleton who is nodding (and saying ‘death is inevitable; time is not forever’) but they are disagreeing by saying that they will live forever. Who are these people who think that death is not close by? The one on your furthest left is holding a mirror, which represents vanity. He is shaking his head while admiring himself in the mirror. Next to vanity, there is a man holding a bag of gold, which represents greed. The one next to the skeleton is holding a lute, which represents pleasure and entertainment. With these materialistic distractions, the three persons were not able to realize that death was upon them, so they lost their chance to repent or understand that their mortal lives were not forever. So as the last two disciples make their appearances, the doors close and the cockerel above the upper circle will flap its wings and cry. Death has come, and now it is too late.
ii) The design of the Astronomical Clock
The upper half circle is the astronomical dial, which shows the position of the Sun as well as the movement of the Moon (including the Lunar phase). This clock was made in the early fifteenth century, so it was during the olden times when people believed that our planetary system was geocentric. So if you look cosely at the astronomicl dial, the Sun and the Moon are moving around the Earth, which is drawn at the center. Other than the dials and the outer circle, there is an inner circle that contains the zodiacal signs.
The lower circle is the calendar, which was later added to the clock. The circle in the center has a tower that symbolizes the Prague city, and then there are numerous circles surrounding the center, which contains each zodiac being. Then the next ring of circles are twleve pictures depicting the months, and the platform turns according to the present month. January is depicted with Mother Mary and baby Jesus, and when I saw this clock, May was depicted as a couple having fun on the green grass with a nice weather. The last outer circle have many names, and the needle that stays in the same place indicates the month as well as the name you can give to your baby. It is hard to see but you will see a needle with a small boarder showing which names are appropriate for the baby born on that day. I doubt that all the people in Prague practice this tradition now, but it is an interesting story.
iii) The inanimate figures
Other than the nodding skeleton, disapproving men and crying chicken, there are four other wooden figurines on the clock that do not move. They are placed on the same as the calender (lower circle of the clock). The one on the furthest of your left is holding pen and paper, which represents a historian. Then starting to the right, there is the angel holding a shield and a sword (representing religion), a man holding a telescope (representing an astronomer) and a man holding a book (representing a philospher). These three were the main elite occupations at the city during that time.
iv) Story behind the creation of the clock
This is a very sad story even though it happened often in the olden days. The creator of this Astronomical Clock was Hanus. Hanus made the clock so wonderfully that the king ordered to lock the man away forever so that another clock like this can never be made. So at the bottom of the clock, there is a medium sized metal door. It was supposedly where Hanus was locked forever…
So what is the moral of the story? That we should never try our best? Just joking–of course not! But it is still a sad and scary notion that this type of story (where creators of fascinating buildings were locked away or injured) did happen once upon a time.