Betelgeuse ~ On the Shoulders of Giants

Orion with his glittering belt and sword

Gilded since time has been, while time shall be…

~Lucy Larcom’s “Orion”

Have you been wondering about the news regarding the star Betelgeuse and how it’s inexplicably dimming? Betelgeuse defines the right shoulder of the constellation Orion, a giant in the night sky and in humanity’s cultural history, ranging from the ancient Egyptian God of the Dead to the Old Testament Book of Job to the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.

For the Star Lore Historian, the dimming of Betelgeuse brings to mind the “shoulders of giants”, and of Atlas, who was described in Homer’s “Odyssey” as ‘deadly-minded,’ as knowing the depths of all the seas, and as holding the pillars far out in the Atlantic Ocean which hold the heavens and earth apart.

Atlas was given the task of holding up the heavens as punishment from Zeus for leading the Titans in their battle with the Olympian Gods for control of the heavens.

There is a similar tale of Tane in the creation myth of the Maori of New Zealand, the god who separates earth and sky.

The Ancient Greeks went further with their myth, describing how Atlas placed the pillars of the heavens on the shoulders of Hercules, the hero, during his 11th Labor to get the golden apples of the Hesperides. As with many Greek myths, this was a myth of preparation, pointing to a time when the wisdom borne on the shoulders of giants would fall to mortal human beings to bear.

This “wisdom” was of the stars (they are the pillars of heaven, after all), which wisdom was borne aloft by the feminine in Ancient Egyptian art, then by the masculine for the Ancient Greeks. These divine beings then gave way to the celestial mechanics of Isaac Newton until our own age, when we live rather remotely from the idea that there are divine beings populating the environment, be it celestial or terrestrial.

The concept of “standing on the shoulders of giants” as a description of having used the genius and achievement of those that came before has been traced to the 12th century, and according to Wikipedia is attributed to Bernard of Chartres. Its most familiar expression in English is by Isaac Newton in 1675: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

This image, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), shows the red supergiant Betelgeuse — one of the largest stars known. In the millimeter continuum the star is around 1400 times larger than our Sun. The overlaid annotation shows how large the star is compared to the Solar System. Betelgeuse would engulf all four terrestrial planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars — and even the gas giant Jupiter. Only Saturn would be beyond its surface.

All of this to say that there is a great deal in the cultural sphere that points to an eventual time when human beings must take up their tasks, must “shoulder the burden” that has heretofore been held aloft by the divine, by those powers that wait on noble deeds among men, to use Tennyson’s description.

Is Betelgeuse signaling that the time is now?

For the some of the science on what’s up with Betelgeuse, follow this link.

~Mary, 1.23.2020