Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The original storybook

Winter is the best time of year for story-telling. If your storybook is the stars.

The night sky is full of stories, but the best story of all is Andromeda's. All of the characters are on stage.

Brielfy, in one version of the story, Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia, wife of Cepheus, bragged that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. Poseidon (off stage) was naturally offended, and sent a sea monster, Cetus, to ravage the coast of the kingdom. Cepheus, the king, sought advice of an oracle who said the only way to appease Poseidon's wrath was to sacrifice his daughter. Accordingly, Andromeda was stripped naked and chained to a rock at the shore where she would be devoured by Cetus.

Meanwhile, Perseus was returning on his flying horse Pegasus from have slain the snaky-haired gorgon Medusa, who was so ugly that the sight of her turned the viewer to stone. (Perseus had slain her by looking at her reflection in his shiny shield.) Now he carried her decapitated head in a bag. Looking down, he saw Cetus approaching beautiful Andromeda. He whipped Medusa's head out of the bag, taking care to avoid looking at her himself. Cetus looked, turned to stone, and sank beneath the waves. Perseus and Andromeda lived happily ever after.

Not exactly the version you see above in the painting by Edward Burne-Jones, but, my goodness, all the drama is there, and where in all of story or art have you seen a more magnificent monster. (Click to enlarge.)

And there they are, in tonight's sky, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, Cetus, Perseus, Pegasus, and even the gorgon's head in the bag (the star Algol, "the ghoul," in Perseus). Many a time I told the story under a starry sky, to kids and adults of all ages.