A Mythological Perspective of the Great Conjunction
After last night’s great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, the internet has been swamped with beautiful images of these 2 planetary behemoths side by side, but we thought it was time to regale readers with the mythological history that is poignant considering their relative proximity in the sky.
For countless millennia, the night sky has been the ultimate storyboard upon which mankind has sketched out the thoughts and experiences of our history. Whilst every culture has its own interpretation, the epic tales of Greek heroes and their adventures dominate popular star lore, thanks to their influence on the western world.
Most readers may know that Jupiter is the Roman representation of Zeus, the Greek king of the gods, but few know of the tumultuous events that led to his rise to power. Saturn is the embodiment of Zeus’s father, Cronus (or Kronos) and as with many great sagas, a central part of this story is the relationship between father and son.
Cronus himself was the offspring of the god of the sky, Uranus (in keeping with the patriarchal lineage of the exterior planets) and the goddess of the Earth, Gaia. Cronus eventually overthrew his father by castrating him with a sickle, and along with his brothers, collectively known as the Titans and took control of the kingdom, ushering in what was to become known as the Golden Age in classical Greek mythology.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
However, Cronus learned of a prophesy whereby his reign was destined to be ended by one of his own progenies, just as he had done to his father. During his time as ruler, his wife, Rhea, bore him 6 children; 3 daughters: Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture, Hestia, goddess of the family and home, Hera, goddess of women, and 3 sons: Hades, god of the underworld, Poseidon, god of the oceans and finally Zeus, the god of the air and the sky.
In order to quell the threat of his impeding coup, Cronus devised an extreme measure to protect himself and soothe his growing paranoia. As each of his children were born, Conus devoured them in order to ensure his continued reign. Rhea soon became distraught at the fate of her beloved children and hatched a plan to save their 6th and final son, Zeus, from the same horrible fate. Rhea tricked Cronus into eating a stone wrapped in cloth and arranged for Zeus to be sent away and raised in secret so that he may live.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Theoi.com
When Zeus had become of age, Rhea sought retribution for the loss of her other offspring and with Gaia’s help, hatched a plan to resurrect them from the pit of their father’s stomach. Gaia was only too happy to help since Cronus had also imprisoned some of her children in Tartarus, a hellish realm beneath the underworld where all those that entered suffered eternal pain and suffering. Zeus was given an emetic that he was able to slip into Cronus’s food, causing him to regurgitate his siblings.
Upon their return, the new generation of gods set about removing Cronus from the throne and a great battle between the Titans and the Olympians raged for over 10 years that became known as the Titanomachy. They were not without help however. Zeus had freed the children of Gaia from Tartarus that included the 3 Cyclopes, renowned for their forgery of great weapons. In return for their emancipation, they forged a trifactor of powerful weapons to aid the brothers in their plight: Thunderbolts for Zeus, a Trident for Poseidon and a Helmet of Invisibility for Hades.
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After a decade of war, the Olympians emerged victorious and Cronus and his Titan brothers were imprisoned in Tartarus, with the notable exception of Atlas who was tasked with holding up the sky for all eternity. Following their victory, the 3 brothers divided up the world between them, with Zeus being consider the overlord and god the sky, Poseidon was gifted the oceans and water while Hades took control of death and the Underworld. The Earth itself was left to mankind, although the gods would intervene on occasion when required.
It is worth noting however, that not all of the Titans fought on the side of Cronus. Perhaps the most famous deserter was Prometheus, who helped Zeus and his siblings, but ultimately overstepped his boundaries by stealing fire from the gods and gifting it to man. In his wrath, Zeus chained the immortal Titan to a rock and sent his pet eagle, Aquila, to feed from his liver night after night for all eternity. This story, and his eventual rescue by Hercules, is immortalised in the constellations of the same names, although Prometheus himself is not directly represented.
Painting by Theodore Rombouts
Whilst there are many versions of this tale in Greek mythology, this story will hopefully give readers a new perspective on the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, looked forward to and witnessed by so many over the past few days. Whilst it certainly classifies a great astronomical spectacle, we should not forget that the night sky is host to a plethora of ancient sagas, passed down through hundreds of generations as a way to explain our place in the world. In today’s age of instant-gratification and vast knowledge available at the touch of a button, it is important not to lose sight of our heritage, and to keep alive these great stories that have influenced our society for countless millennia.
Human’s need imagination. Knowledge is indeed power, but the ability to dream and interpret our world in our own words is what keeps the human spirit alive.