Thursday 29 September 2011

Star Gayzing

One of my new projects is research into lgbt heavenly bodies. No, I don’t mean Matthew Mitcham! I mean stars and planets. When I was preparing my talk “Putting the Flags Out” I intended to begin with a history of the symbols and ,  and why the astronomical symbols for the planets Venus and Mars came to be used as gender symbols.

However, the more I looked the more I discovered there were many lgbt angles to the planets and stars and soon realised it could become the basis of a presentation in its own right.

Most of the constellations and planets have Greek or Roman mythology associated with them. Some originate much earlier in the Babylonian civilisation. Even way back then some stars had gay connections.

Star atlases over the centuries have seen constellations being chopped and changed as new were created or dropped. One of those that was dropped was called Antinous. The star maps below show you the before, during and after arrangements of this lost constellation.

Antinous was a real person. He was the boyfriend of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. A native of north-west Turkey, he was born probably 1900 years ago this year. After he met the emperor he was an inseparable companion. This came to an end in 130 AD when Hadrian and his court were in Egypt. After hunting for lions in the desert Antinous mysteriously drowned in the Nile. Legend says that Hadrian had received a prophecy saying the sacrifice of the thing he loved the most would guarantee future success. Stories of ritual sacrifice, suicide and murder have surrounded Antinous’s death ever since.

Whatever the truth behind Antinous’s death, Hadrian was utterly devastated. As is often the case even today a loved one’s death is commemorated. Rather than have a park bench with a plaque, Hadrian founded a city near to where Antinous drowned and name it Antinoopolis (that’s Antino-opolis). There were statues erected and coins minted with his image all around the empire, and Antinous was declared a god. To make sure that he could see his boyfriend every night wherever he was in his empire, Hadrian also created a new constellation called Antinous.

Constellations didn’t have fixed “boundaries” in those days. There were areas in-between which had no significant stars in them and weren’t assigned to any constellation. One constellation well known to the Romans was that of Aquila (map 1).

This represented the eagle which the Greek god Zeus sent to kidnap young Ganymede because he fancied him. Hadrian chose some stars below Aquila to turn into the constellation Antinous to show him being lifted away by the eagle (map 2).

It was symbolic location, with Antinous becoming a new Ganymede, a youth taken from the mortal world into the sky to be with the gods.

The constellation remained in the sky until quite recently. In 1930 the International Astronomical Union “cleaned up” the night sky in an effort to make proper scientific research more formalised and easier. As the third star map shows the stars on Antinous were absorbed back into Aquila (map 3).

Over the coming months I’ll be revealing more lgbt star tales as I go through the zodiac and other celestial bodies. So, if you’re star sign is Scorpio look out for my entry on 24th October.

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