Classical Stargazing Daniel Selzle
Battle of Alesia, September, 52 BCE SerpensGallicus in nocteoccisus limo se immergit Iuppiterdumsurgit cum victoria et gloriosus. Graecus qui fundavitovantematqueantiquumurbem CaputquetractavitMedusaesurgit in caelum Hincetiamsurgentnuncvis et virtutesomnes Quos trahatRomanusexercitus cum se et honores. Bellum Gallicum hoc nocteinterfatum pace iamest Et serpenteoppressoIuppiter in gloria stat. The Gallic serpent, having fallen in the night, sinks into the mud while Jupiter rises with victory and glorious. The Greek who founded the jubilant and ancient city and wielded the head of Medusa surges into the sky and from here will now rise the strength and all the virtues and the honors that the Roman army brings with them. The Gallic War this night is now interrupted by peace and, with the serpent having been quelled, Jupiter stands in glory.
Battle of Alesia, September, 52 BCE • Roman victory and last battle of the Gallic War • Serpens setting in west • Gallic kingdoms in western Europe now under Roman control • Jupiter rising just above eastern point on the horizon • King of gods and symbol of power and authority • Perseus rising • Founder of Mycenae, important city in ancient Greece • Killed the Gorgon Medusa and used her head in battle • One of the earliest Greek heroes; used as an archetype by later literature
Battle of Cannae, August 2, 216 BCE Cannensispugna die hoc destruxit in toto ExercitumRomanum et diffractusperdiditur hic. Urbemiam Mars ad mortem delerinquitira cum, Nam similemmotumvirPiscibusmandavit in nos. Vis plus quam esseRomae se demonstravitintoleranter. Draco super nospendit in caelo et dentibusacris MordetvirginesillasVestae quae pro nosignem Serverepugnam ante praeposteram et pures acres. The battle of Cannae on this day has completely destroyed the Roman army and, shattered, it has been lost here. With anger Mars now abandons the city to death, for the man ordered a motion like Pisces against us. His strength has shown itself to be excessively greater than that of Rome. The dragon hangs above us in the sky and with with sharp fangs bites those virgins of Vesta who guarded the fire for us before this awful fight and the acrid venoms.
Battle of Cannae, August 2, 216 BCE • Roman defeat by the Carthaginians under Hannibal • Carthaginians were severely outnumbered • One of the worst defeats in Roman history • Planet Mars not visible • God of war and very important in Roman culture • Pisces (twin fishes) rising from eastern point of the horizon • Hannibal used a pincer movement to surround and overwhelm Roman forces • Draco near zenith • Vestal Virgins symbolically tended the sacred fire in Rome, symbolizing Roman strength
Naming of Augustus, January 16, 27 BCE Imperator tituloprincepsnuncnobiliter dux Imperat in Roma. Caesar Augustus leone Ascendittimoremincutiens in cordibusillis Quae provocant nostrum imperium sine causibusarmis. Tresstellaedivumsurgent super ac oriente IamfuneremPegasifaciantutdictatorisque. Nuncautemest tempus epuliscelebrationisque Nam orientenovusprincepsRomaeelucens est. An emperor by the title “princeps” now rules with distinction as a leader in Rome. Caesar Augsutus ascends like a lion, striking fear in the hearts of those who attack our empire without reason for arms. Three stars of the gods rise above and from the east, that they may make a funeral for Pegasus and the dictator. Now, however, is a time for feasting and celebration, for a new princeps of Rome shines forth from the east.
Naming of Augustus, January 16, 27 BCE • First emperor of Rome, came to power after Julius Caesar was assasinated • Leo rising just above the horizon at sundown • Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter aligned southeast of the zenith • Gods of harvest, war, and king of the gods, all with major temples in the Roman empire • Pegasus sets very early • Symbolizes Julius Caesar, consul and dictator, who posthumously adopted Octavius (Augustus) and whom Augustus claimed as the source of his legitimate authority
Trying to combine astronomy with my main area of study, classics, was no simple task, but I decided to focus on one thing our culture shares with the ancient Romans: the shapes we see in the sky, and the stories behind them. Using the program Stellarium, I was able to calculate what the night sky looked like on the dates and in the locations of several important events in Roman history. Examining which stars, planets, and constellations were rising and setting, I connected the mythological characters in the sky with the historical events occurring below, and used this as inspiration for several short poems written in Latin, in a traditional epic meter, which I also translated into English for my presentation. It was fascinating to be able to look at the same stars that shone above soldiers and emperors two thousand years ago, and the fact that we see the same gods and heroes in the sky made that huge period of time seem a lot smaller, and those ancient Romans seem a lot closer.