Allerlei - Classical Constellations: Lupus to Perseus

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Lupus

Lupus, the Wolf, was at one time simply called the Beast. Later it became known as a wolf. You can't see it in the picture above but often the Centaur (Centaurus) is shown hunting the Wolf.

Ophiuchus

Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, represents the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. In his starry arms he holds a snake, a symbol of the medical arts. The parents of Asclepius were the god Apollo and the nymph Coronis. When Asclepius was yet to be born Coronis became unfaithful to Apollo. He was so angry that he killed her. Her body was to be burned on a funeral pyre but at the last instant Apollo relented a little in his anger and tore the unborn Asclepius from the womb of Coronis. Apollo placed his baby son in the care of the centaur Chiron who raised Asclepius as if he were his own. Chiron taught Asclepius all he knew about the healing arts. When Asclepius grew up he traveled all over and healed the sick. One day it so happened that Artemis, a huntress and moon goddess, had just lost her longtime friend Hippolytus. By now Asclepius' fame as a physician had spread far and wide and so Artemis implored Asclepius to help her. Through his great power Asclepius rescued Hippolytus from Hades (the Underworld). Now, healing the sick was one thing, but bringing back the dead was an insult to the god of Hades. So Zeus settled the matter by striking Asclepius dead with a thunderbolt. His image can now be seen in the stars.

Orion

Orion, the Hunter, is a brilliant constellation whose stars have been admired since ancient times. In a Greek myth Orion and Artemis, a huntress and moon goddess, fell in love. Artemis had a brother named Apollo and he did not like Orion so he played a dirty trick. One day Apollo was walking on the seashore with Artemis. He pointed out an object that was so far out to sea that she could not tell what it was. He challenged Artemis to try to hit it with an arrow. Artemis' aim was perfect but with horror she suddenly realized that the object she had aimed at was the head of Orion who had waded far out into the sea (you see Orion was a giant). Artemis was so heart-broken that she persuaded Zeus to place Orion in the sky as the most brilliant constellation.

Another story tells how Orion was attracted to seven sisters. To protect themselves from Orion's advances they changed themselves into doves and flew up into the sky where they became the stars called the Pleiades. Orion still pursues them but they are protected by Taurus, the Bull.

In yet another Greek story Orion boasted that he could slay any creature alive. Hera, the queen of all the gods and goddesses, put an end to his boasting by having a tiny scorpion sting and kill him. Orion was honored by being placed in the sky. Artemis, who loved Orion, asked that Orion be placed at the opposite end of the sky from the scorpion. If you go outside and look at the right time you will see that when Orion is rising the constellation Scorpius is setting.

Pegasus

Pegasus, the Winged Horse, can be easily found around early October. If you look up at the night sky you will see a large rectangle made up of four stars. This asterism is called the Great Square of Pegasus and marks the fore-body of the Winged Horse. Look a bit more and you will see where the neck and head of the Pegasus are. Remember, this Horse is upside down in the sky!

In Greek mythology, when Perseus slew the Medusa drops of the monster's blood fell into the sea. Poseidon, god of the sea, commanded that the mixture of blood and sea-foam give rise to Pegasus, the Winged Horse. Now this wonderful horse was coveted by many a man but only one, the hero Bellerophon, was able to tame him. Bellerophon knew that it would be difficult to capture Pegasus so he asked Athena, the goddess of wisdom, for help. Athena listened to Bellerophon and gave him a golden bridle whose magic could tame the Winged Horse. Bellerophon knew Pegasus' favorite watering hole and he waited there in hiding. When Pegasus came to get a drink Bellerophon held out the golden bridle and Pegasus willingly came to his new master. At first Bellerophon found it difficult to control the flying horse but in a short time the two soared as if they were made for each other.

During his travels Bellerophon came to the country of Lycia and found the land in complete disarray. A monster had been terrorizing the countryside and the king of Lycia asked Bellerophon for help. The monster was the Chimaera, part goat, part lion, and part dragon. No one had been able to kill it and few even had the courage to try. Bellerophon accepted the king's request. He flew on Pegasus to the Chimaera's lair and after a terrific battle slew the monster and saved the kingdom. Pegasus and Bellerophon were to have many grand adventures together but they were not destined to remain companions forever. After a while Bellerophon became very prideful and thought that he deserved a place with the gods. When he flew Pegasus towards heaven Zeus became furious with his arrogance. Zeus sent a gadfly to bite Pegasus. He bucked so strongly that Bellerophon fell off and plummeted to earth. Bellerophon survived the fall and wandered about the countryside lonely and lame until the end of his days. Pegasus continued flying up to heaven and worked with Zeus by carrying his thunderbolts.

Lyra

Lyra, the Lyre, is a small constellation in the summer sky. Today it is known only as a musical instrument but in days past it was also thought of as an eagle or vulture.

An often told story concerning Lyra comes from Greek mythology. Hermes was born from the union of Zeus and Maia (one of the Pleiades). He was a curious child and shortly after his birth he traveled about to explore the world. One day he came across a herd of cattle and promptly stole them. The cattle belonged to Hermes' half-brother, Apollo. To make amends Hermes invented the lyre and gave Apollo the new musical instrument. It was a beautiful sounding instrument that was made by stretching seven strings across a turtle shell.

Years later Apollo gave the lyre to his son, Orpheus. Orpheus became very good at playing the lyre and few gods or mortals could withstand its musical charm. Perhaps that is how he won the hand of the beautiful nymph, Eurydice. One day Eurydice was running across a meadow so fast that she did not see a snake at her feet and stepped on it. The snake bit her and she died. Orpheus was so grief struck that all he could do was play his lyre and sing sad songs. Finally he decided to try to get Eurydice back. He went down to the Underworld and sang his songs for its rulers, Hades and his wife Persephone. The songs of Orpheus were so wonderful that Ixion's wheel stopped revolving, the Danaides ceased pouring water into their sieves, the vulture relented at tearing Prometheus' liver, Sisyphus rested besides his boulder, Tantalus forgot his thirst, and even the Furies were brought to tears. Hades and Persephone agreed to let Eurydice go but with one condition, that Orpheus must not look back at his wife while she followed him to the surface.

So Orpheus made the journey home and though he longed to look back at Eurydice he instead forced himself to gaze straight ahead. Soon he neared the surface and Orpheus could not stand it any longer. He had to know - was Eurydice really following behind him? He turned around and did indeed see that Eurydice was following but just as he saw her she disappeared. Orpheus had broken his promise. There was no longer any chance of reuniting with Eurydice, she was to remain in the Underworld. Heartbroken, Orpheus reached the surface alone and wandered the countryside singing his lamenting songs and vowing never to love another woman.

One day Orpheus came upon the Thracian Meanads (followers of the god Dionysus) and they invited Orpheus to join them in a festival but he refused. Orpheus preferred to sit alone and sing his melancholy songs. That so upset the Meanads that they attacked Orpheus with spears and stones but the music of his lyre caused the missiles to drop harmlessly at his feet. Seeing this, the Meanads screamed and screeched their hatred so loudly that it drowned out the notes of the lyre and their weapons hit their mark. The Meanads then threw the lyre into a river where it was carried away by the current. Later it was lifted up into the sky and became the constellation Lyra.

A lyre is a kind of harp. Lyres were being played as early as 5000 years ago.

Perseus

Perseus, was a great hero and a member of the Royal Family of constellations (other members are Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Andromeda).

Acrisius was king in a land called Argos and he had a daughter named Danae. One day the king went to an oracle to find out about his future. The oracle said, "The princess Danae will bear a son and you will end up dying by his hand." The king was shocked by the news. He decided that he had to stop Danae from having a baby. The king locked Danae in an underground house so no suiters could visit her. Of course an underground house could not stop Zeus, king of the gods! He was attracted to the beautiful princess and came to visit her in the disguise of a shower of gold. Nine months later Danae gave birth to Perseus. When the king discovered Perseus he knew that he had to take more drastic measures. King Acrisius placed Danae and Perseus inside a trunk and set it adrift far out to sea. But instead of floating away to their death the trunk washed up on a foreign seashore and the princess and her son were rescued by fisherman. The land was called Seriphus and the king, named Polydectes, soon fell in love with Danae. But even though Danae was grateful for everything the king had done for her she refused to marry him.

The years passed and Perseus grew tall and strong. Still however, Danae would not marry the king. "That Perseus is always getting in the way," thought Polydectes. "Maybe if he wasn't around then Danae would marry me. I need to get rid of Perseus!" So Polydectes sent Perseus on a dangerous quest, he was to find Medusa and bring back her head.

Medusa was the name of a Gorgon, a monstrous looking woman with snakes for hair. Anyone looking directly at a Gorgon was turned to stone.

Perseus knew that the quest was very dangerous but he did as he was told. He managed to get help from the Hyperboreans, people that lived far in the north. They gave him winged sandals, a magic wallet, and a cap that made the wearer invisible. Perseus also received a sword from the god Hermes and a brightly polished shield from the goddess Athena.

He had everything he needed and so Perseus put on the winged sandals and flew to the land of the Gorgons. He looked into his mirror-like shield to find Medusa because gazing at her reflection was harmless. Perseus cut off her head with his sword, put her head into his wallet (which magically shrunk down to a very small size), and flew away unseen for he was still wearing the cap of invisibility. On his way home Perseus rescued Andromeda, just before she was about to be devoured by a sea monster. The two of them sailed back to Seriphus where they found Perseus' mother, Danae, in jail for refusing to marry the king. Perseus went to the palace and pulled Medusa's head out of his wallet. Everyone turned to look at it and instantly the king and his followers were all turned to stone. Perseus rescued his mother and then returned to his real home in Argos.

Perseus hoped that his grandfather, King Acrisius, had forgiven him but instead found that the king's brother, Proteus, had driven Acrisius away and became king himself. Perseus punished Proteus for his treason by turning him into stone. After that things settled down for Perseus and life was quiet.

One day Perseus decided to enter an athletic contest. When it came time for the discus throw Perseus reared back and threw it as hard as he could. But the discus veered off course and struck a spectator, killing him. The spectator was none other than King Acrisius and so the oracle's prophecy from so long ago was fulfilled. Perseus felt so bad that he could no longer remain in Argos and he lived out his days in a land to the south-east called Tirynas.


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