Dancing with the Asterisms
When Heraclitus gazed into the heavens searching for the Logos, he found constellations which had been there already for thousands of years. He was looking eastward toward the gift of the Persians, who were bringing to pre-Socratic Greece the traditions and institutions which had been hammered out over a few millennia, and he decided to abdicate the throne in favor of his brother. Alas, the spiked towers of Thermopylae and Salamis held fast, sinking the treasure-boxes of Xerxes! Athens prevailed to continue to make slaves of the nations, now with all the blessings of their handmade gods. Heraclitus looked east because looking west made him glower with righteousness.
Yet Homer had salted that ice two centuries before, revealing from Anatolia the mind of the Sumerians projected onto the sky. Boötes, the herdsman, is one of the guides helping Odysseus dispose of his crew. Far away from Boötes are the Hyades, ever weeping, their shoulders hunched beneath the figure of that mighty hunter, Orion. He draws his bow against the Great Bear, Ursa, and Odysseus, while pondering the shield of Achilles, offers his soliloquies on the vicissitudes of life governed by the stars, who belong to the realm of the lesser light.
It seems reasonable that the first known Mesopotamians would put the herdsman in the sky, Boötes, who would force the plow into the ground with one of his herd, and all of civilization sang a glorious song to technology, and to its advance, and to the ingenuity of man for the benefit of mankind. How many more people would live and die because Boötes invented the plow! All the more necessary to hear weeping, tears for the multitudes who would perish, first under the oppression of the greater light, then under Orion’s bow, whereupon wooden bows gave way to bronze bows, and they to iron-tipped spears, and they to forged swords, and all the pride thereof, so that the beneficiaries of Boötes’ ox plow would be run under by the hunter’s wheeled troops. Would that the hunter cease his ways that Boötes might ever prosper us!
There’s a dog up there, too, to lick our sores. Who will save us from this poverty?
A queen appears! Cassiopeia! But she is the vain queen, boasting of her children before the gods, and not just any god, but the god of chaos and death, the ruler of the dark and capricious seas. The very idea that she and her daughter were more beautiful than the offspring of death! She who boasts that she had given birth to God himself would be chained to her throne of boasting so that she would be forced to endure helplessly while she watches the drama of the fruit of her womb.
Perhaps a king, then? Where is Cassiopeia’s lord? He is diminished, merely a handful of dim stars, Cepheus, he who argues with his buddies over the virtues of the newest game controllers. We hate virtuous kings, anyway; we kill them. Oh, we long for a virtuous king with our mouths, but when one appears, our loud praises are cover for the sound of a million daggers being unsheathed from our hearts. Give us Barabbas! Give us a man-child! Give us an adolescent, and let this one be led out to the place of a skull. There is no place in the heavens for the tender-hearted and the satisfied.
The queen, of course, is the most powerful piece roaming the field, but she rules the field vainly, for when her husband dies, she becomes nothing, and the pieces are reset for the next play, like the constellations, as they reset the generations. Perhaps the queen gives her lord the victory! The field is nevertheless reset, the next generation taking their turns around the field under the constellations. It is said Cepheus chained his own daughter to a rock as a meal for the angry Cetus and also to satiate the people in order to keep his throne. Let us thank our lucky stars that technology and philosophy has progressed us far beyond such rank will to power.
They put these into the sky, those who wearied of following after animals, as soon as they dug the first canal. They put a vain queen into the sky, pride of the wrong sort, and a king who would abdicate in order to keep his throne. They put a hunter into the sky, with the weeping daughters, mourning the disordered violence of the dawning civilization. Blind Homer saw what they saw and shouted them westward. Heraclitus saw what they saw, and he found his Logos, the great relationship of one person with the actualities projected into the tumultuous asterisms. He abdicated, and in abdicating, he found a throne in the swiftly flowing river. “You, as for you, you may not actually step into the same river twice…”
Asterisms, personified as so many lords and queens, rule us, but they do not govern with a static scepter. The scepter is a prop, a baton, in truth, as they dance. Science has demystified and, sadly, demythologized the asterisms, so that we now know the sky does not wheel around and around us, but that the earth rotates on a wobbly axis as it revolves around a single star which is moving in a galaxy of stars which are moving imperceptibly, yet hurtling, among countless galaxies in an unknowable universe of gases and darkness. Was there any more comfort in Orion’s dance through the heavens with his ever-drawn weapon?
Indeed, even Bugs Bunny knows that you bow to your partner, whomever it may be at any given time, and you do-si-do. The fiddler fiddles and the dancers dance, and at least we have it that we jig and reel in the expeditious years, even if it is with the most unsavory of characters who are backed by the chorus of the Hyades. Without the Friday night dances, Saturday night truly does become for fighting, and there is no rest for the wicked.