Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pick a legend, any legend: Corona Borealis

In Hypnos (meaning god of sleep) we read, "a spot roughly marked by the constellation Corona Borealis.

Lovecraft knew this was one of the original 48 Ptolemaian constellaitions, albeit named only Corona then. Why did he pick this of all constellations for this passage? Perhaps it is a sly reference to Theseus abandoning Ariadne to fall asleep by pining his abandonment of her?

Corona (Borealis to contrast with Australis) is the "Crown of Ariadne", the crown she wore on her wedding day and was forged by Haephestus in his underwater forge.

Alternatively, it is connected to Ariadne and her sometime consort Theseus. She was half-sister to the Minotaur, and daughter of Minos, king of Crete. The king ordered each year, as sacrifice, seven young men and seven maidens from Athens to be served up to the Minotaur.

Theseus, hero, son of Poseidon, and heir to the Athenian throne volunteered to be one of the seven young men. He courted Ariadne and secured her trick: Ariadne had a magic ball of twine that could roll out by itself and follow the path to the centre of the labyrinth, where the Minotaur was kept.

She promised to help Theseus kill the Minotaur if he would marry her and take her back to Athens. Theseus agreed, so she gave him the ball of twine. Theseus followed the rolling twine to the centre of the labyrinth and promptly killed the Minotaur.

However, the myth becomes more tangled. One correlary that centers on Ariadne's crown has him just arrived in Crete and challegnged immediately by Minos to prove he was indeed the son of Poseidon. Minos threw a gold ring into the sea, and told Theseus to fetch it. Theseus dove into the deep, and was met by dolphins which escorted him to the palace of the Nereids. Thetis, one of the Nereid sisters (or sea nymphs), gave Theseus a jewelled crown that Hephaestus had made. With the gold ring and the crown, Theseus swam back to Crete. This feat received the loving admiration of Ariadne.

A second correlary to the myth has Theseus jilting Ariadne.

A branch of this story has him marrying Ariadne, giving her a jewelled crown as a wedding present. And then he later abandoned her on the isle of Naxos, on the way to Athens.
Another branch of the story has Theseus marrying Ariadne, and then sailing off, leaving a sleeping Ariadne to pine for her loss. (Somehow, though, she implored her father, Zeus, to make amends. Zeus took pity and sent Dionysus to comfort his daughter.)

Still another version has Dionysus visiting Naxos and falling in love with Ariadne, so Naxos cast a spell on Theseus. Theseus then forgot all about Ariadne and sailed off for Athens. In any case, Dionysus took her for his bride and placed the jewelled crown of Hephaestus on her head. They raised four sons and `lived happily ever after'. When Ariadne died Dionysus took the wedding crown and placed it in the heavens between Hercules and Bootes.

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