Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of May 3rd - May 9th,  2002

The Raven, Snake and Bowl

Columns Archive


   "Three constellations are grouped together- the Raven, the Snake, and the Bowl, which lies midway between the other two. On the Ides they are invisible: they rise the following night."

The Crow, the Cup and the Serpent

The Crow, the Cup, and the Serpent

   This week we examine yet another day from the ritual calendar of Ovid's Fasti, and an important piece to our puzzle now falls into place. Since the start of this series, I have been wondering whether Ovid was aware of the astronomical correlation of the Sun and Moon to the holidays of the calendar, or whether he is merely passing them on as time and tradition had preserved them. In reading the Loeb Classical Library translation by Sir James G. Frazer, it is evident that Ovid is having some problems with the dates of the risings and settings of the constellations. While we have been examining the holidays which have ritual attached to them, there are other days of which Ovid makes brief mention, but includes no specific reference to any tradition associated with that day. For instance, on January 5th, the entire text for the day reads:
   "Should the Nones (the 5th) be at hand, showers discharged from sable clouds will be your sign, at the rising of the Lyre."

   For this day, Frazer includes a footnote, stating that, "The apparent rising is on November 5th (and therefore not on January 5th), the real rising still earlier." For many of these days of astronomical observation of the risings and settings, Ovid is, quite simply, wrong. The risings and settings take quite a bit of observational skill and diligence, requiring that one observe the skies closely at sunrise and sunset daily. The observation of the lunar position is much easier, however. It can be noted at any time throughout the evening as the Moon moves at a much slower rate, holding its constellational position on average for a little over two days. Was Ovid aware that most of these holidays were being orchestrated by the Moon, while not fully cognizant of the twilight positions, or, was he merely reporting what tradition had recorded?

Regulus and Spica

Our same constellaitons, showing Regulus, the heart of the Lion,
and Spica, the sheaf of wheat of the Virgin.

   His opening reference for the ritual observed on this day seems to solve this riddle. Ovid may be a good Latin poet, but he is no astronomer. The myth is relevant for February 14th in the Julian calendar not because these constellations are rising (which Frazer duly notes), but because this is the lunar placement, in the correct sequence, according to the alignments framed by the calendar of the Republic. Last week we looked at the Ides of February, and its association to the Full Moon in Leo. This correlation was ritualistically remembered as the Fabii, with their noble hearts, valor and bravery being compared to "... lions of the Libyan breed...", clearly indentifying their Leonine souls. Next week's holiday will feature Virgonian themes. In between these two constellations, lying just below the ecliptic, are the three groupings of the Raven, Snake and Bowl. Ovid is in error because he does not realize that it is the more easily identifiable Moon which is choreographing our constellations in question, and not their rising. But his error nevertheless shows that the original sequence of the calendar was correct, and that the priests who had created this chronometer had it right when they authored the calendar and its holidays; a calendar based upon both solar and lunar alignments.


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