Monday, September 13, 2010

Selene Still Loves Endymion

This month and next month are interesting times for Moon watching.

Venus is about to make the transition from being an evening object to a morning object. But right now Venus is low in the west after sunset.

Jupiter is already an evening object, low in the east after sunset.

This month and next month, after the new Moon, the crescent Moon appears in the west after sunset not far from Venus. Then, slowly, night by night, by just about 12ยบ per night—less than the distance from pinkie-to-thumb of a spread, out-stretched hand—the Moon moves closer to Jupiter.

After the very start of October, Venus will leave the evening sky and disappear as the planet passes between the Earth and the Sun.

The whole look of the evening sky will change.

Well, the “whole look” of the evening sky will change to astronomers, just about the only people who actually keep track of what the sky looks like these days.

Strangely, astrophysicists have become so focused on data gathering and interpretation that—in their own, scientific way—they have become like astrologers in that they seldom actually look at the sky in the real world, but rather maintain, at most, a mental, diagrammatic understanding of the sky derived from columns of numbers compiled by computer programs and computer-operated telescopes.

Too bad for them!

For the rest of this month and the very start of next month the sky is putting on the kind of show that inspired early man—at least, the astronomers among our ancestors, the ones who actually looked at the sky—to construct wildly wonderful narrative metaphors for the beautiful sights overhead.

The Moon starts the month near Venus and moves across the sky to Jupiter. It appears as if the Moon is traveling from one to the other. It appears as if the Moon is making the trip on purpose.

Centuries ago the scientific reality around us was rich with poetry and tales of romance.

People regarded the Moon as a beautiful woman, a goddess and the sister of the Sun.

Did the ancients once watch the Moon travel from Venus, the goddess of love, to Jupiter, ruler of the gods and—seeing in the sky the romance and passions within their human hearts—create one of the famous myths about the Moon?

Apollonius of Rhodes refers to Selene, daughter of Titan, who madly loved a mortal, the handsome hunter or shepherd—or, in the version Pausanias knew, a king—of Elis, named Endymion, from Asia Minor. In other Greek references to the myth, he was so handsome that Selene asked Zeus to grant him eternal sleep so that he would stay forever young and thus would never leave her: her asking permission of Zeus reveals itself as an Olympian transformation of an older myth: Cicero recognized that the moon goddess had acted autonomously. Alternatively, Endymion made the decision to live forever in sleep. Every night, Selene slipped down behind Mount Latmus near Miletus to visit him.

adapted from “Selene” at Wikipedia

The Moon has fallen in love with Endymion and talked over her love for the mortal with Aphrodite. Now the Moon is hurrying across the sky to beg Jupiter to allow their love to become eternal.

Pliny says that Endymion was the first human to watch and study the Moon and that’s why she fell in love with him.

This is the kind of stuff that goes on at night!

This is the kind of stuff astrologers—and astrophysicists!—don’t see because they’re inside with books and computers.

The ancients watched the Moon make this trip from Venus to Jupiter, the same trip we can watch the Moon make every night this month and next month.

The Moon is still in love with Endymion. It is as if love can be eternal.

This is the kind of stuff that goes on at night!

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