Hsi and Ho
The tale exists: under Chung K'ang, the two court astronomers are said to have been "decapitated for having failed to predict an eclipse of the sun which took place while the two delinquents were absent and given to debauchery instead of attending to their duties" (Hirth 40). Newton translates from the French (which was translated from the Chinese):
- "Chung K'and had just mounted the throne . . . Hsi and Ho, drunk with wine, had made no use of their talents. Without regard to the obligations which they owed the Prince, they abandoned the duties of their office, and they are the first who have troubled the good order of the calendar whose care has been entrusted to them: for on the first day of the last moon of Autumn, the sun and moon in their conjunction not being in agreement in Fang, the blind one beat the drum, the mandarins mounted their horses, and the people ran up in haste. At that time, Hsi and Ho, like wooden statues, neither saw nor heard (understood?) anything, and by their negligence in calculating and in observing the movement of the stars, they violated the law of death promulgated by our earlier Princes. According to our inviolable laws, astronomers who advance and set back the time shall implacably (or, without pardon) be punished with death" (62-3). Yu, the first emperor of the Xia Dynasty, originally established positions for two astronomers named Hsi and Ho and ordered them to "Observe the Heavens, calculate and delineate the movements of the sun, the moon, the stars, and the zodiacal spaces; and so deliver respectfully the seasons to the people."
The appearance of Hsi and Ho in Chung K'ang's period, then, is explained by the titles that were given to the followers of the originals: Ho, the Second Brother, &c. Hirth claims that these are descendants of of the first astronomers, but 'Hsi' and 'Ho' could just as likely be the names of the positions. Newton also explains that Hsi and Ho might also have been the names of minor solar deities, thereby making the Hsi-Ho story a description of a ritual that takes places when something goes wrong in the heavens during autumn (65).
Thanks to Keith Woodward for this.