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Book Reviews

The Mythology of the Night Sky
Author: David E Falkner

Publisher: Springer

ISBN: 978-1-4614-0136-0

Price: £ 31.99 (Pb) 238pp

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I thought I was fairly clued up on basic constellation mythology, but after reading The Mythology of the Night Sky sub-titled An Amateur Astronomer’s Guide to the Ancient Greek and Roman Legends – it turns out I hadn’t even scratched the surface.

As the author forewarns, the tales of mythology that have earned the constellations their names and placing in the night sky are on a par with modern day soap operas, with tangled plots involving everything from love, lust and incest to jealousy, murder, deceit and punishment. Jupiter and his wife Juno seem to play a role in the majority of legends, with jealous Juno unleashing her wrath on the numerous illicit partners Jupiter lusts after.

Orion also has some secrets under his belt. Smitten with the seven sisters – the Pleiades – alas he was never able to catch them; Jupiter grew tired of the pursuit and placed them just out of his reach in the sky. In another Orion-related legend he was sent a scorpion to slay, having claimed there was no beast he couldn’t beat. The battle raged on and Orion, who had the ability to wade into oceans without drowning, sought refuge in the sea. Meanwhile, Moon goddess Diana – Orion’s romantic partner – was challenged by her brother Apollo, who did not like Orion, to fire an arrow at the speck on the horizon. Not knowing it was Orion she took aim and killed him. Distraught, she pleaded with Jupiter to place him in the stars, which he did, but he also placed the scorpion that lead to Orion’s eventual death on the opposite side of the sky, thoughtfully so they would never be seen at the same time.

Organised by seasons, the book tackles each of Ptolemy’s 48 constellations in turn, with individual chapters dedicated to the legends of Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules and Perseus. The legends of the planets are also tackled. Each legend is preceded by a brief description of the constellation, a star chart and, in some cases, a photo taken by the author to illustrate the constellation. Imaging details are included should the reader wish to photograph the constellations using a digital camera.

I enjoyed reading the book, but feel that £31.99 is a little steep.

Emily Baldwin

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