Figuratively Speaking... Commentary from Marion Blackburn

Figuratively Speaking... Commentary from Marion Blackburn

Greenville, NC – You know, words can take us on incredible trips. Just give me a big Russian novel and there I am, on the banks of the Neva River looking out over St. Petersburg.

But even without Dostoevsky, simple words can take us on exotic journeys.

So let's take a little journey, starting with the name of our month: March.

In ancient times, March was considered the New Year because it brought warm weather and growth. For the Romans, that meant time to start a war.

Today we continue that warring tradition every time March rolls around, since in Roman mythology Mars was the god of war, who gave us our month's name.

Now, the Greeks had another name for the god of war: Ares.

The Greek god Ares shouldn't be confused with Aries, the constellation of a ram, though in mythology they are related.

The constellation Aries is said to represent the great ram who provided the mythical golden fleece. You probably remember the story of how the sailor Jason captured this golden fleece in order to claim the throne (it's a long story).

To steal the fleece, Jason set out in his ship, Argus, along with a crew of Argonauts, which comes from the Greek "naut," or sailor, a word we use today whenever discussing the high seas nautical mile, nautical sciences, even nautical fashion. And when we launch ourselves into the atmosphere we become "astronauts" - literally, a sailor of the stars, from the Greek and Latin "aster" or star.

But, back to Jason.

The coveted golden fleece was guarded by a dragon in a garden for Ares, the war god, until Jason liberated and requisitioned it and returned to Greece a hero.

The Greeks commemorated Jason with the constellation Argus -- a grand swath of stars visible from the Southern Hemisphere. In eastern North Carolina, we can see the very tip of the Argus. It's a star group, or asterism, called puppis. "Puppis" is Latin for "stern" and gives us "poop deck," or a ship's rear deck.

You can easily see puppis overhead since it contains the brilliant summer star Sirius. Coincidentally, Sirius is also called the Dog Star, because it appears to us to be following the heels of Orion, the hunter.

Could the Dog Star's nickname have anything to do with puppis sounding like puppy? Probably not. But you can always imagine the dog Sirius sailing around the ancient world in search of a giant golden fleece to curl up and take a nap in.