Where Astronomy and Mythology Meet

Solar-SystemOne of my favorite things about speculative poetry is the interplay between astronomy and mythology. We see it throughout the cosmos: moons, planets, stars, galaxies… even the asteroids that have caused us such worry over the last few decades have names derived from mythology. With these names, it’s natural (for me, at least) to imagine these celestial bodies with the background and personality of their namesakes.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology recognize the names of the major players—Jupiter (Zeus), Mars, (Ares), Neptune (Poseidon), Venus (Aphrodite)—but most would raise the proverbial questioning eyebrow at the mention of lesser characters such as Ganymede, Deimos, and Charon, let alone the significance they, as moons, hold to the planets they orbit. I too had this lack of knowledge, but as I began to research the astronomical bodies and the mythological characters after which they’re named, the imagery unfurled like a tapestry depicting the Trojan War as if fought in space.

Callisto

Callisto

Similar to “Io’s Reality Check,” the following poem tells the story of how I imagined Callisto may have ended up orbiting Jupiter as one of the Galilean moons. Callisto was a minor character, best known for being turned into a bear by Juno for having an affair with Jupiter.

CALLISTO’S MURKY TALE
by Kurt MacPhearson

Your story began the moment
the Great Pretender lured you
from Diana’s train; bore him Arcus,
a strapping Greek lad, but with him
came Juno’s ire, which regardless
of her husband’s charms, got you
just what you deserved: transformation
into a bear, and a son dead-set
on spearing you

Your tragedy would have ended
at the point of a thrust
if Jupiter hadn’t stepped in
and flung you both to hang
like dippers in our northern sky,
so forgive us if your tale seems murky,
finding you the outmost Galilean —
a pitted bronze shell of your former self
with an icy-tear patina suggesting
your troubled history — yet no sign
of your wayward son

Some dare say you earned this fate
for lack of discerning core, yet few
resist godly charms; take solace
that your aren’t alone: Europa
knows how to handle stress,
Ganymede’s scarred shoulders
remain strong, and with stealthy plumes
of SO2, Io lags to warn
of a scornful wife’s attack

Though it may appear we’re onlyDreams and Nightmares #96
concerned with crater formation
and how your hidden seas
generate a magnetosphere,
the truth is that we have many eyes:
the heavens may be a forest in which
even legends get lost, but if
we ever develop tools with which
to penetrate myth, we’ll certainly do
all that we’re able to reunite you
with your long-lost cub

Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares #96

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One thought on “Where Astronomy and Mythology Meet

  1. Pingback: Where Astronomy and Mythology Meet, Part 2 | A Speculative Poetry Blog

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