chapter  3
26 Pages

Earthquake Genesis

Ever since human beings fi rst felt the earth shake, they have had the desire to know why that happens and developed, as a result, numerous explanations for it. For the most part, however, these explanations have been based on superstitious beliefs. For example, the ancient Japanese believed that the islands of Japan rested on the back of a giant catfi sh whose movements made the earth shake. The Algonquin Indians of North America believed that a giant tortoise supported the earth, which shook whenever the tortoise shifted from one foot to another. For the ancient Mexicans, the earth was a divine being with monster features, generally with those of a reptile and a fi sh, which caused earthquakes when it moved. In a similar fashion, a frog has been the culprit in parts of Asia, a giant mole in India, and an ox in China. Earthquakes were also often interpreted as a form of punishment from angry gods. In Greek mythology, Poseidon, ruler of the sea, caused earthquakes when he was angry. His counterpart in ancient Rome was Neptune, who not only could instill fear into people with earthquakes, but also could punish them with fl oods over the land and waves onto the shore. Even eighteenth-century European clergymen tended to view earthquakes from a moralistic standpoint. In 1752, a London journalist wrote: “Earthquakes generally happen to great cities and towns. The chastening rod is directed where there are inhabitants, the objects of its monition, not to bare cliffs and uninhabited beach.” After the famous Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which caused a great loss of life from a sequence of several shocks and a giant tsunami, a clergyman in England chastised the people of Lisbon for their lewdness and debauchery, whereas others blamed the dreadful inquisition and noted that the Palace of the Inquisition was one of the fi rst buildings destroyed. An early attempt for a scientifi c explanation was made by Aristotle, who found an explanation for the cause of earthquakes in the interior of the earth. Aristotle theorized that the winds of the atmosphere were drawn into the caverns and passageways in the interior of the earth and that earthquakes and the eruption of volcanoes were caused by these winds as they were agitated by fi re and moved about trying to escape.