Jupiter and Venus face off across the vast horizon of stars

Relief depicting Aphrodite (Venus) and Anchises, with their child Aeneas on Aphrodite’s lap, from the second major temple of Aphrodisias. The only witness to this affair is Selene, the Moon, depicted in the upper left, and which will sweep into the scene on the stage of the sky this week, after New Phase on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

This week the stage is set for some love tricks among the planets, with Jupiter and Venus facing one another across the great horizon of stars, and the crescent Moon sweeping in, to witness the goings on.

The set up of Moon and planets this week brings to mind an intriguing myth from the Ancient world that has to do with the God of the Olympians Jupiter/Zeus and his trick to get even with the Goddess of Love and Beauty, Venus/Aphrodite.  Here’s the set up:

Aphrodite went about bragging that she was so powerful, she could make the gods fall in love with mere mortals. The all-powerful Zeus chafed at her bragging, so he played a trick on the goddess, and made her fall in love with the mortal Anchises. The offspring of this union was Aeneus, who proved himself a worthy warrior in the Trojan War, but who then wandered away to far off Rome, losing some of his allure among the Greeks. But for the Romans, Aeneus was legendary, not only because he was the triumphant warrior son of the Goddess, but because he was their link to the Ancient Greek culture. Virgil’s epic poem, “The Aeneid” is about the his wanderings.

In this painting by Frederico Barocci c.1598 Aeneas is shown fleeing burning Troy, carrying his father, Anchises, who was crippled by a thunderbolt from Zeus because he bragged, while drunk, that he had made love with the goddess.  (Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy)

Here’s how to get a handle on this story in the sky this week. Looking west after sunset, you’ll see the brilliant planet Venus, our goddess of love and beauty. Once you spot Venus, turn 180 degrees to the east and you’ll see brilliant Jupiter ~ not quite as bright but still holding his own. Long after Venus sets in the west, Jupiter will remain a king among the stars, demonstrating his greater power and not setting until the Sun begins to rise in the morning. In the myth, the Moon, witnesses Jupiter’s trick of making Venus fall in love with a mortal, and true to the story, will join the scene as early as Wednesday, but especially Thursday and Friday evenings, when the beautiful crescent will sweep past Venus in the west.

If you go out to find this scene and this story among the stars, ask yourself, as Virgil did:  “Do the gods light this fire in our hearts or does each man’s mad desire become his god?”

Find the myth of Aeneus at this link.

You can hear my weekly radio segment on this topic here!