Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of September 12th - September 18th,  2003

Sailing High Overhead

Columns Archive

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Summer Triangle

Summer Triangle

  As we enter September, the nights begin to cool and lengthen. During the days of the waning Moon this month, the lunar light rises in the morning hours, long after most folks have retired. Taken together, this means longer nights combined with darker skies make for a greater visibility of the stars.

  The ancients thought of the stars as a part of the divine fire of life. When we look out on evening skies, we are seeing the canvas upon which they left their stories. One of the myths which has passed down to us records what Zeus (Jupiter) did with his son, Hercules, right after he was born. In order to enhance the divine attributes of his new born, the proud Dad placed him at Hera's (Juno's) breast while she slept. Hera awoke suddenly and pushed the child away, spilling her divine milk across heaven, in what we now regard as the Milky Way.

Lyra

Lyra, held by a two-headed eagle

  These Greek myths cascade across the skies, and while many of the stories have been relabeled with Roman names, in most instances they were originally Greek. As we look up during the waning weeks of the season, the Summer Triangle is high overhead, marking one of the brightest configurations at this time of the year. The first star in our magical triangle is Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the brightest star in the northern hemisphere. The image of the Lyre is often depicted with an eagle either behind or carrying it. The Lyre was the instrument Hermes (Mercury) made as a one-day old infant in front of his cave. After killing a tortoise he found there and placing gut across the shell, he fashioned the first musical instrument and later gave it to Apollo, Patron of the Arts. Apollo in his turn gave it to his son, Orpheus, who so excelled in its use he was not only able to magically enchant people (similar to our modern pied piper), but even the trees and rocks followed him. When his wife passed away he was able to seduce the spirits of the Underworld with his music and visit their abode, where they allowed him to return to the Land of the Living with his wife on the condition that he not look back at her before reaching the upper world.

Aquila

Aquila

  The lower star at the 'point' of the Summer Triangle is Altair, part of Aquila, the Eagle. It was said to have provided an omen to signal the defeat of the Titans and was also the bird Zeus sent to retrieve Ganymede from Troy and brought to Olympus to become the Sky Lord's' cupbearer.

  The final star of the Summer Triangle is Deneb, Tail of the Swan, Cygnus. Zeus is once again woven into the celestial plot. It was in this form that he seduced Leda, appearing as a swan so that she might suspect nothing. Leda later gave birth to Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, together with Castor and Polydeuces, the heavenly twins.

Cygnus

Cygnus

  Zeus is involved in all three myths of the stars of the Summer Triangle. He was picked to arbitrate between Apollo and Hermes in the myth about the Lyre. Since Zeus is Lord of the Sky, it makes sense he would be interwoven into so many of the constellations we seeing travelling overhead every night.

  Vega, Altair and Deneb are the brightest stars in the Summer parade of heaven, representing the constellations Lyra, Aquila and Cygnus, all flying high overhead in the cool clouds of late summer evenings. Come on out and say hello.



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