The Big Bang theory is a major marvel of science. It is a conclusion drawn from the collusion of several scientists’ work and observation that all fit together and formed a theory so vast as to explain the universe itself. No one mind can be credited with the idea; Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity served as the nidus, and Georges-Henri Lemaître built on that to propose the Big Bang. Observations of Edwin Hubble and George Gamow also played a role in writing the birth of the universe.
But the poet Edgar Allan Poe may have beaten them to it by a hundred years.
Poe was a American poet, story author, editor and critic known for his particularly macabre tales, early detective fiction, and participating in the American Romantic Movement in regards to literature.
For all of his life, Poe was fascinated with the stars and their mysterious workings. He followed the popular astronomy books of his time, but had no natural aptitude for math, nor a specific education in either astronomy or physics. Nevertheless, it the year 1848– only a year before Poe’s death– Wylie and Putnam publishing released a prose poem that Poe spent years writing; the poem was called “Eureka”, and was a dismal failure. The first printing was only 500 copies.
In an era where the predominant view of the universe was that it was static and unchanging, only the size of what we call a galaxy, and some areas were still trying to convince fundamentalists that the Earth orbited the sun, Poe made a daring move. In “Eureka”, Poe postulated that the universe had a definite beginning, and that this beginning was as a single, unique primordial particle. The primary nature of this particle, he describes, is its oneness– its Unity. Poe continues to explain how at the universe’s inception, the Unity was surrendered and gave way to the abnormal condition of many, but the lost aspect of Unity was something that allowed this particle to be divided infinitely and not to be “totally exhausted by its diffusion into space.”
Further, he suggested that the particles which arose from this division are attracted back to one another (a concept he acknowledges came from Newton), and thus inexorably pull back toward each other in defiance of the energy which first split, then repelled them. He goes so far as to say everything with a beginning must have an end, and he believed the universe would end again as a single, primordial particle regaining Unity.
But science of the era paid his discourse no mind. Perhaps it was an announcement at the beginning of his work that stayed the interest of his contemporaries: “I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical—of the Material and Spiritual Universe—of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny.” Maybe his stated purpose was too grand for the era.
Some theorize that “Eureka” was Poe’s life work, and that he’d bore that particular piece in mind, mulling and concentrating his ideas for years before he died. In “Eureka” Poe also referred to a sequel that he never had the chance to write.