Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tiamat the Dragon

One of the most ancient stories that survives to the present comes from the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish. This tells the tale of Tiamat the Dragon and Marduk the Hero.

"In the beginning there was nothing. Total blackness. Creatures emerged from the ether and roamed the dark universe. There existed a huge she-dragon named Tiamat who was 7 miles long from head to tail and ruled the darkness. She had a mob of other monsters who carried out her bidding and kept everyone in constant terror.

"There was a god named Marduk who decided to stand up to Tiamat and the monsters. Marduk had a giant net, a bow, and arrows. He was said to be able to control the seven winds and feared no monster. Marduk made it his quest to defeat Tiamat and free the fledgling world from her tyranny. When Marduk approached Tiamat, the mighty dragon towered over him. 'You dare to challenge me, little man,' she croaked. With barely a thought Tiamat snatched Marduk up in her right claw and brought him close to her fire-breathing snout. Marduk was not afraid. In fact, everything was going according to plan. He threw out the net which was carried by the seven winds to encircle the dragon's body. This slightly impressed Tiamat but all she said was, 'You'll make a nice appetizer after all.'
"She then opened up her mile-wide jaws and was about to devour Marduk when he sent the seven winds right down her throat. The winds puffed her up like a balloon while the net held her down. Then Marduk notched an arrow to his bow and let one fly down her open mouth, past her sharp fangs, through her long esophagus, and 'Thunk!' smack dab into her heart.
"Tiamat was dead. Marduk took her body and cut it in two parts. One half he threw upward to become the heavens, the other half became the Earth. He rounded up the monsters and threw them into the sky to become the stars around the once-mighty Tiamat who you can still see today in the constellation Draco."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Draco the Dragon

In the northern sky in summer, we come across Draco the Dragon. Draco, along with Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are CIRCUMPOLAR constellations - meaning they circle the pole star and never set throughout the year.

Draco's place in the heavens is easy to locate even if it's stars are difficult to find. Look for the coiling curve of faint stars that runs between the much brighter stars of the Big and Little Dipper. The Dragon looks more like a coiled snake and the four stars marking her head are the most pronounced. The brightest of the head stars, Eltannin, points near Vega and is the farthest point away from the Big Dipper.

Draco played a much more central role in the earliest astronomy than it does today. Even though it has few bright stars, it had one that beared many names:

Thuban - "Judge of Heaven," "High Horned One," "Proclaimer of Light," "The
Favorable Judge," "Crown of Heaven."

Why so many exalted names for a mediocre star? Because of the Earth's wobble - also called precession - Thuban was Pole Star around 2800 BC. It was the only star that didn't move and was always there to guide the ancients as the North Star does today. Egyptians built pyramids to Thuban, so that its light penetrated huge shafts at key dates and times.

Draco's brightest star is Eltannin- "Dragon's Head" (Arabic) "Isis" (Egyptian). In 3500 BC, the temple of Hathor in Greece was dedicated to Eltannin. The adjoining town was named the city of the dragon.