Celestial Classics: Introduction

The constellation of Orion, Ancient Greek so we’ll leave his definitely #MeToo worthy past for when we cover his myth, but one of the most recognisable constellations in both hemispheres. You can read our article about spotting him in the sky here (Credit: Anirban Nandi CC BY 3.0)

After considering writing an article about ancient astronomy, my cursory research turned up something quite amazing.

You won’t believe this, but despite the fact that they didn’t have organised scientific bodies, specific, focussed research grants or even basic telescopy, ancient astronomy was bollocks.

In fact just about the only advantage they have over us these days is less light pollution.  

In short, there’s little the ancients can teach us about astronomy. Their knowledge may seem amazing to some white dude with dreadlocks who believes deodorant gives you autism and vaccines cause third world hunger, but you can probably do a better job with two toilet roll tubes held up to your eyes and ‘Baby’s First Stargazing’ book.

They might see a Mayan star map, or hear of the Egyptian Zodiac and think “Wow, they really knew a lot!” but really that’s just because they had nothing better to do so made a lot of stuff up that seems profound until you realise it’s a celestial fairy tale. They had never spoken to anyone who actually knows anything about space like we do now, and frankly we’d have blown their minds.

We’ve found exoplanet’s moons, for crying out loud. There are catalogues of stars upon stars with codified names you don’t know exist but that someone, in some dusty side-room off a corridor in an old building at a university somewhere (you know the building, it wouldn’t look out of place in Resident Evil), they’re hunched up in the corner like Doctor Frankenstein scanning their eyes frantically over reams and reams of data so they can be the foremost expert on Star 425—2B-Exon/C7212 because, you know, curiosity. Why not?

We’re using advanced techniques of telescopy and spectroscopy to work out the components of atmospheres of planets in completely different solar systems lifetimes away from us. Even then, most of our cosmologists and astonomers today would talk about how little we know.

Those old dudes whether they’re Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman – it doesn’t matter – Nowadays They’d struggle to get any points on University Challenge for their astronomical knowledge. I’m not saying they’re stupid they were ridiculously clever for their time.

The Space Goddes, Nut, on the tomb of Ramses VI. Nut swallows the day every evening and gives birth to it every morning. A fanciful, if off-base description of the astronomy involved. (Credit: Hans Bernhard (Schnobby) GFDL-CC-BY-SA-all)

It’s just their time also didn’t have the ability to have a sarcastic prick like me type a script on magic virtual paper, on a god-machine connected to a network of every technologically capable human on the planet, able to record his voice and edit video allowing him to be incisively witty on the internet. Even idiots like me can do that now. Back then you had to be a Hawking-level genius just to know how to write!

I’d say if they were born now they’d grow up to be academics but let’s be honest, if they were born now they’d be opioid addicted, internet trolling basement masturbators.

So there’s not a lot we can learn about astronomy from ancient civilisations, I am sorry to say. Well there is but it’s mostly superstition, the jumboest mumbo to have persistently mumbo-jumboed.

The twelve traditional signs of the Zodiac. Persistently jumboing mumbo if ever there was. Inherited by the Greeks via the Egyptians with a little bit of re-jigging along the way. From left to right, top to bottom the signs are Naked Crazy Man, FlyGoat, the Pokémon Krabby, Ugly Unicorn, Gay Pride, Thundercats, Broken Drums, Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley, Bow-Jack Horseman, Winds of Change by Scorpions, Collogen lips Cow and Flying Bint. (Credit: terski via Pixabay)

There is, however, a lot we can learn about the ancient civilisations from astronomy.

It’s hard to look at a patch of the Northern Hemisphere sky and see something that isn’t named after a God, a hero, a figure of myth, a monster of legend or an emperor’s mum.

Oh, and when I say there are ‘Gods in our stars’ I’m not going all von Däniken, I’m not about to start suggesting Jesus was a spaceman or Moses came from Uranus. I’ll leave that to disreputable media outlets like The History Channel. Here at We Lack Discipline we might say ‘fuck’ every once in a while, but we try and make sure our work stands up to academic rigour.

I’ll be an apologist for cryptozoology, because every once in a while we turn up a new species. Unknown animals exist. But that ‘Ancient Aliens’ crap? Even ignoring the inherent racism “Some beige mountain people couldn’t possibly have built this without help from some amazing technological force outside our solar system…”

How did I end up writing over 100,000 words on this blog since January? A near impossible task for any regular human? …Aliens (Credit: Memes)

Have you fucking met humans? People build Georgian townhouses out of Lego for fun! There’s a record for most number of clothespegs stuck on somebody’s face, people have rowed across the Atlantic – not sailed, rowed – with their own arms – for what? Because they can?

And these are people with televisions, internet, Nintendo Switch. I have a Nintendo Switch, a PS2, PS3, PS4 and gaming capable PC right here, right now and I’m choosing, instead, to have a go at pricks who want to belittle indigenous cultures by suggesting they couldn’t build shit.

They had so much time, so much in resources and Jesus Henry-Hoover Christ have you seen Cathedrals? You’re telling me that in 5,000 BC a bunch of people in Britain couldn’t lift some heavy rocks and lay them, half-planned, half-slapdash, in a circle, but a few thousand years later they could build an intricately scuplted church that looks like a Gothic wet-dream in Europe…Why?

It is wholly believed that, in 50AD, Roman humans built this remarkable aqueduct in Segovia, Spain that still stands to this day… (Credit:Z3144228 CC-BY-4.0)
…But a few thousand years earlier were incapable of stacking bricks in an increasing taper, to a pyramidal point, at Giza, without extra-terrestrial interference. I call bullshit, very often racist bullshit. (Credit: Morhaf Kamal Aljanee CC-BY-3.0)

Even besides that the whole Ancient Aliens deal has not turned up any solid evidence. Do you know what, I’ll even admit in my heart of hearts I would love it to be true. But prove it. The History Channel should not be promoting this bullshit.

So, back to the mainline – There are Gods, heroes and myths in our stars.

Where to begin, then? We can look to the constellations where Perseus, Hercules and Orion all dwell, like some sleazy heroic hotel on Corfu.

We could look to the planets, our Solar System housing the great Greco-Roman gods, one of whom is a gaseous giant, a grotesque and turbulent windbag who can turn himself into a swan to get laid (incels, there is no excuse).

There are even tales to be told of the Moons of Jupiter, the Galilean Moons being specifically named after lusty liasons with the turbulent shape-shifting swangod windbag himself, Jupiter (or Zeus).

Jupiter and the Galilean Moons – all of whom have mad myth of their own to explore. Maybe one day we’ll get to them. (Credit: Dennis CC-BY-4.0)

But I’m not going to start there. I’m going to start (celestially) much smaller but (mythologically) pretty respectable.

So welcome to my new series – Celestial Classics, where I hope I can combine my love of amateur astronomy with my love of classics and hopefully you’ll come to love it too.

You should do, there will be a lot of classical mythology which is about as absurd as a sock full of crabs on holiday in Peterborough.

Why not move on to our first installment – Vesta – The asteroid and Roman virgin Goddess of hearth and home.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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