Friday, 17 August 2012

Star Gayzing - Frederick's Glory

Today is the anniversary of the death of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. This year is also the 300th anniversary of his birth. We’re going to look at something created in his honour by looking to the night sky and bring back, for one day, the “lost” constellation that was named after him.

This star map shows where this constellation, called Honores Frederici (or Frederick’s Glory,) was situated. It was squeezed in between Andromeda and Lacerta and was formed out of stars in Andromeda and Cassiopeia. On the star map I’ve shown the rough area covered by Honores Frederici with a yellow outline.

In my series on “The 12 Gays of Christmas” I included Frederick the Great as one of my Three Gay Kings. His rise to power coincided with conflict arising from the succession to the Austrian empire, and he was able to capitalise on this to pursue his own programme of Prussian expansion. It was to lead to the creation of the core around which the future German Empire was to form.
Frederick was a firm patron of arts and sciences. He re-organised the Royal Academy of Sciences into an organisation which was able to attract significance scientists and mathematicians of the day. Frederick was also a promoter of the Enlightenment, and encouraged new philosophy and art. Indeed, he was a bit of a musician and composer himself. Perhaps he was also an early advocate of what was the 19th century equivalent of a gay subculture. He even began collecting art with homoerotic or gay subject matters.

Frederick had a new palace built (with a no-female entry policy) called Sans Souci, and it was here that he led discussions with famous philosophers like Voltaire.

When he died in 1786 at the age of 74, Frederick was probably the most popular monarch in Europe (in his own country). It comes as no surprise that a constellation was created and named in his honour. Astronomy was beginning to be the biggest scientific subject in Europe, with new planets, comets and asteroids being discovered almost every week.

The year after Frederick’s death a German astronomer called Johann Bode created a star map on which he put his new constellation called Friedrich’s Ehre (Frederick’s Glory), which he later renamed Honores Frederici. Bode envisioned the constellation as a laurel branch entwining a ceremonial sheathed sword, a quill and a crown. It was to represent Frederick the Great as a hero, wise statesman and peacemaker. The picture below, taken from a set of cards, shows Andromeda with Honores Frederici over her shoulder. This picture, however, does not show the sword but a staff of office. It also omits the crown, which would have been placed where the word “Cepheus” is situated.

Frederick’s Glory was popular for a while but fell victim to the general “tidy up” of the constellations by the International Astronomical Union in the early 20th century. The stars that made up Frederick’s Glory returned to Andromeda.

No comments:

Post a Comment