Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Astronomy, Ephemera and Gay History in the Skies


I've been lucky today to be able to have a play with this really great piece of rare ... ephemera I suppose you would have to call it. These are a few of the 32 cards that go to make up Urania's Mirror, Or a View of the Heavens which was published by Samuel Leigh of London in 1824. The cards all have small holes at the centre of the stars illustrated so that one can hold them up to the light and see what the constellation would have looked like in the night sky. There is a great piece on Ian Ridpath's great astronomy site about the publication details of the set where he treats is among the genre of Star Atlases.

Just this selection here will show you that alongside the very familiar there are also constellations here that we have not heard of today. I was, of course, entranced to see that there was once a constellation called Antinous, a little bit of gay history in the sky. I bow to Ridpath again when he takes the creation of this constellation back to Hadrian himself: after the tragic drowning of his lover, Antinous, it wasn't enough to make him a God and to found a city in his name, the bereaved Emperor gave him a place in the stars. In the 1930s when the constellations were internationally standardised, Antinous was merged into Aquila but one has to wonder if Hadrian, in placing Antinous in the claws of the celestial Eagle was adding another level of meaning to the constellation, comparing his love for the young Antinous to that of Zeus for Ganymede. Sadly, we no longer have the constellation in our books but the stars are still there to be seen and interpreted how you wish.









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