ASTR-101: Intro & Favourite Constellation

5 Sep

ASSIGNMENT

As an introductory essay, you’ll be writing about your favourite constellation. This essay needs to be NO LESS than 200 wordslong, and needs to be comprised of three paragraphs – detailed below. In addition, you need to include a picture of your constellation.

  1. Paragraph 1 needs to detail which constellation you’ve chosen, why you’ve chosen that constellation, and some information about the constellation.
  2. Paragraph 2 needs to retell the creation myth for your constellation. Most constellations have a Greek or Roman creation myth, you need to research this and tell the story in your own words. You may use another culture’s myth if you find one; it is not required to use only Greek or Roman. If you happen to choose a constellation without a traditional creation myth, then please use this paragraph to explain when it was discovered, who discovered it, how it was named, etc.
  3. Paragraph 3 is where you get creative! You need to create an entirely new creation myth for your constellation. Your created myth needs to read like a short story. No points will be deducted if you chose to make this section more than one paragraph.

*

My favourite constellation is a pair of stars identified in the ancient world by the Nords, who named them the Eyes of Thjazi. This constellation is perhaps better known in modern times as Gemini, the Twins of the Zodiac, combining the stars Castor and Pollux. These two stars are matched in brightness and sit side by side, which is why they resemble a pair of eyes, and reach their peak in the sky in January. For this reason, they are associated with the winter goddess Skadi in the Nordic tradition. I’ve chosen this ancient and unique constellation for its simplicity, beauty, and the exciting tale which provides its namesake.

Thjazi (sometimes anglicized as “Thiassi”) was a giant of Jotenheim in Norse mythology, and the father of the goddess Skadi. According to legend, he conspired with the trickster god Loki of Asgard to kidnap Idunn, the goddess of youth who provided life-sustaining fruit to her fellow Asgardians. When it was discovered that Loki was responsible for this crime, he was commanded on pain of death to return to Jotenheim and steal Idunn back. With the aid of a magical falcon-cloak gifted to him by the goddess Freyja, he succeeded in rescuing Idunn, but Thjazi was killed in the process. This infuriated the giant’s surviving daughter Skadi, who demanded reparations for her father’s death. Three forms of compensation were offered to her by the gods of Asgard: she would be allowed to choose a husband from their number (on the condition that she would only be able to see their feet), she would be placated with a gift of laughter (which Loki himself provided by, perhaps rather boorishly, tying a goat to his own testicles), and her father’s eyes, cast into the heavens by the All-Father Odin, would be turned into a pair of bright and shining stars. Thus do the Nords remember these twin stars as the Eyes of Thjazi.

While this primeval tale is a ripping yarn, it fails to connect the constellation – namely, the stars Castor and Pollux – to a significant mythological event. Thjazi’s eyes hardly play a major role in the narrative, and it seems that a symbol of spirit, personality, and watchfulness as potent as the eye could be a much more compelling story device. If I could retell the origin of the Eyes of Thjazi, it would go something like this:

Thjazi, mightiest of Jotunheim’s giants, would often take the form of a great eagle – a creature known for its keen eyesight – and fly the length and breadth of his realm, observing all that transpired below. His daughter Skadi was the goddess of winter and delighted in the thrill of the hunt. One fateful night, she decided to brave the untamed wild of Jotunheim to track the mighty stag Dvalinn, who nipped with his brothers at the branches of Yggdrasil, the World-Tree. Skadi ventured forth into the snow, unaware that the trickster god Loki of neighbouring Asgard was following her, intent on causing mischief. Skadi tracked Dvalinn into the tallest and most treacherous mountain passes, until she was within range with her bow. As she tensed for her shot, Loki – watching from afar – used his magic to conjure an illusion, making it seem as though Dvalinn had multiplied. Skadi was confused, thinking that the stag had been joined by his brothers, and in her confusion she loosed her arrow too early. The stags, real and imagined, scattered – and Skadi spent the next five hundred years lost in the frigid peaks of the mountain range, in pursuit of a quarry that always seemed to elude her.

Thjazi, noticing that his daughter had not returned, took to the skies in eagle form, scanning Jotunheim with his sharp raptor vision for any sign of Skadi. But the snow and wind of the mountains concealed much, and he could not find her. Eventually Loki returned to check on his good work, and unwittingly revealed his presence to the searching eyes of Thjazi. They met on the side of a mountain, where the giant demanded to know why Loki had come. The god of mischief was boastful, and told Thjazi of the trick he had played. The giant became enraged and attacked Loki, their titanic battle sending avalanches cascading down the mountain’s face. Skadi, alerted by the tumbling snow, arrived to see Loki strike the killing blow on her father. She fled to Asgard in her grief, and demanded justice from the gods who lived there. Loki was humiliated as punishment for his crimes, forced to walk the halls of his homeland with a goat tied to his testicles. In reparation, Skadi was given her choice of Asgardian husbands, and her father’s ever-watchful eyes were cast into the heavens by the All-Father Odin, so that they might watch over his beloved daughter for all time.

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