Monday, January 2, 2012

Cassiopeia's Story - The W in the Sky

Constellations have been the GPS for travelers throughout history. To make them easier to remember, often stories were told about them. Sometimes the story involved multiple constellations. In Cassiopeia’s case, beside herself, five other constellations are involved – Cepheus, Andromeda, Cetus, Perseus, & Pegasus – at least in this version.

Cassiopeia was the vain wife of King Cepheus of Ethiopia. (They are the only husband and wife among the constellations.) Together they had a daughter Andromeda. One day, Cassiopeia boasted she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. The sea nymphs, who were goddesses, were outraged. One of them, Amphitrite appealed to her husband Poseidon, God of the Sea, to punish Cassiopeia for her vanity. Poseidon sent a sea monster Cetus to destroy Ethiopia. With his kingdom in peril, Cepheus consulted an oracle for advice. He was told the only way to save his realm was to sacrifice Andromeda to Cetus. Reluctantly, he had his poor daughter chained to a seaside rock. Just as Cetus was about to eat her, he felt a sharp pain in his back. He turned and there was the hero Perseus atop the winged-horse Pegasus, sword in hand. The battle between monster and hero raged until Perseus who had just returned from slaying the snake-headed Medusa dragged her head out of a sack. One look at Medusa’s face turns living creatures to stone. Cetus looked and was immediately solidified. Smitten, Perseus claimed Andromeda for his bride and took her home. While the gods made constellations of them all, the arrogant Cassiopeia was condemned to circle the star Polaris forever in her throne. This results in her hanging upside down in an undignified position for half the year. But even then, she is fussing with her hair.

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