In this month’s edition, we trace an ancient Greek myth through six constellations.
The story will begin high in the sky, near Polaris, the North Star, and plummet southward.
Many of the constellations were not invented by the Greeks, but by earlier civilizations, especially the Sumerians. With the rise of Greek civilization, almost half of today’s modern constellations were created.
However, the Greeks updated many constellations with stories of heroes and villains described in their mythology.
Constellation stories usually represent two types of purposes: to relate a moral truth or to relate a practical function. For example, the Haudenosaunee story of the bear chase tells us why leaves change color, when they change color, and that the stars in the Big Dipper appear to move.
In this month’s featured story, we’ll learn about the destructive powers of boasting through the Greek mythological story of Queen Cassiopeia and her husband, King Cepheus, and how Perseus rescues his daughter, Princess Andromeda, from the clutches of a monster
Queen Cassiopeia was married to King Cepheus of Ethiopia. They had an only daughter named Andromeda.
Cassiopeia was very vain and often boasted that she and her daughter were the most beautiful who had ever lived. Andromeda was the complete opposite, polite and shy.
While some boasting could be tolerated, the incessant way Cassiopeia talked about it infuriated the sea nymphs. In their anger, they turned to Poseidon, god of the oceans and seas, and asked for his help in destroying the kingdom of Cassiopeia and Cepheus.
Poseidon accepted their request and sent a sea beast, Cetus, to destroy the kingdom’s coastal villages. Cetus looked like a combination of a giant fish, snake, and dragon. The beast crossed the Mediterranean Sea and began to destroy the towns of the kingdom.
Despite all attempts, any kind of battle against the creature failed. In desperation, King Cepheus turned to the wise Oracle of Amun (some say Delphi) in an attempt to discover what could be done to stop Cetus.
The Oracle suggested that they sacrifice their only daughter to the powerful Cetus on the ancient coast of Jaffa. King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia accepted this fate and sadly chained Andromeda and abandoned her for Ceto.
All would have been lost if it had not been for the timely return of Perseus.
Perseus, the demigod son of Zeus and Danae, was one of the greatest Greek heroes. Perseus was on Pegasus, the flying horse, when he saw poor Andromeda facing the mighty Cetus.
As he approached the coast of Jaffa, he asked Andromeda what was happening. Upon learning of his dire situation, he made a deal with King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. He offered to free them from Cetus if he could have Andromeda’s hand in marriage.
With King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia agreeing to allow him to marry Andromeda, Perseus headed to the coast to confront the monster.
In common history, Perseus killed Cetus with his diamond sword.
In another story, Perseus removed the protective cloth covering the head of the Medusa he had previously killed. Seeing the head, Cetus immediately turned into stone. According to this story, these remains can still be seen today.
The Cassiopeia constellation faces the repercussions of this story. Cassiopeia is close to the North Star and never sinks below the horizon as it revolves in full view around the North Star.
This has been interpreted in two ways. The first is that she spends half the time hanging from her throne. The second interpretation refers to the representation of the horizon as water. She claims that she was never able to bathe because she could never reach the horizon.
Both insults are punishment for his bad behavior and boasting.