Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Star Gayzing - Gemini

Some double vision today with 2 identifications for the constellation Gemini.  The common identification of Gemini is with the twins from Greek mythology Castor and Pollux. The ancient Babylonian constellation in the same part of the sky was called The Great Twins. This may have influenced this idea.

A few gay men have kinky fantasies about gay twins, and Castor and Pollux have been mentioned from time to time as being incestuous. This is perhaps more an interpretation of their close relationship rather than an actual myth.

But there are clues to a forgotten identification of Gemini. In the time of the Roman Empire Gemini was sometimes representing Apollo and Hercules. Like Castor and Pollux they were sons of Zeus, making them brothers but not twins. However, an really old name for the constellation was Dioscuri which means exactly that - “sons of Zeus”. Pictured here is one of the many illustrations of the constellation from star maps over the centuries. They are often shown holding a bow, a club and a lyre. This picture comes from a set of cards printed in London in the 1820s.

In Greek mythology each god and hero had their own signs and symbols to help people recognise them. Apollo was the god of music, so he was often seen with a lyre. He was also a champion archer, so you’d see him with a bow and arrow (just like his own twin sister Artemis). Hercules is usually depicted carrying a large club. The picture of Gemini shows just that, and the “twins” have been pictured with these attributes for many centuries, suggesting that the Babylonian identification of the twins was given to the constellation after the Greeks identified it with Apollo and Hercules.

The Roman writer Gaius Julius Hygenius was among the first to actually mention that Gemini was Apollo and Hercules. The great Greek writer Ptolemy supported this view, naming the star Castor as “Star of Apollo” and Pollux as “Star of Hercules”. Interestingly, Castor and Apollo were born immortal gods, while Pollux and Hercules were born mortal humans. Castor and Apollo were renowned marksmen (with arrows and swords) while Pollux and Hercules were renowned for their physical prowess.

So, perhaps Gemini really started out as Dioscuri, bearing in mind that Dioscuri is an ancient Greek word, and Gemini is a Latin word from much later. Later, perhaps through Persian invasion in the 5th century BC, the constellation was given the Babylonian identification of the Twins. This is turn influenced the Romans who renamed it Gemini. But I’m only guessing.

To connect Gemini, as Apollo and Hercules, to our Star Gayzing series I’ll just hint at future posts. Both are well-known for having same-sex relationships. Apollo will be dealt with in July when I describe the Spartan sporting festival founded in honour of his boyfriend. As for Hercules, as said last time he has a constellation of his own, apart from Dioscuri, and his gay conquests and gender crisis will be dealt with later in the year also.

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