"O Gemini": Symbol of Brotherly Love
+ Von Del Chamberlain +
If you have been following my articles during the past two months, you should now be able to locate in the sky at least two of the constellations of the zodiac, Aries and Taurus. Moving eastward from Taurus, the next one we encounter is Gemini, known for thousands of years as the Twins. The constellation is marked by a pair of bright stars separated by about 5 degrees. This pair, coupled with ideas associated with them for thousands of years, can teach us a principle that has been treasured throughout time. Lets see how this comes down to us from the stars through cultural traditions.
The oldest ideas we can identify for Gemini seem to come out of India where the two stars were called "Aswins," twin horsemen of the dawn. This idea probably goes back some 6,000 years or so to the time when the pair of stars would have appeared just as the sky began to brighten on spring equinox mornings. Thus, the Aswin horsemen were through of as the forerunners of spring dawn. The concept of these stars representing twins apparently spread from India and Persia into Greece, Rome and then throughout Europe.
In classical Greece the stars were named Castor and Pollux, legendary twins born of immortal Zeus and the mortal Leda, wife of the king of Sparta. Thus, Pollux was immortal and Castor mortal. They were brothers of beautiful Helen of Troy, for whom the Trojan War was fought. The Twins were known as well educated, strong and daring, yet gentle lads, who became healers, physicians and protectors of humankind. They were among Jason's crew of argonauts in quest of the Golden Fleece. On that voyage, a fierce storm threatened the mission, but abated as a pair of stars appeared over the heads of Castor and Pollux. Since that time seamen have called upon the brothers for protection from peril, and the erie lightning phenomenon, sometimes called St. Elmo's Fire, has been thought of as the spirits of the twins playing in the sails, a good omen for sailors. Castor, a horseman, and Pollux, a boxer, fell in love with beautiful sisters who were already betrothed to suitors. The Twins challenged and slew their rivals, but Castor was mortally wounded. Overcome with grief, the immortal Pollux would have committed suicide in order to be with his brother, but this was impossible. In the end, Zeus placed both their immortal souls together in the sky as symbols of brotherly love, the precept they had so gallantly demonstrated throughout their lives on earth.
Romans called the stars the "Twin Brethren" and associated them with the principle of brotherhood considered to lie at the foundation of their empire. In Egypt they became Horus the Elder and Horus the Younger. In Babylon they were the "Great Twins," and they were viewed as twins in Arabia as well. In China they were Yin and Yang, representing eternal dualism, the two halves of a circle, and contrasting principles of existence.
Statues and temples have been erected to Castor and Pollux and they have been carved as figureheads of ships. Indeed, the Apostle Paul sailed on such a ship from the Isle of Melita on his journey to Rome. In Acts 28:11 we read: "And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux." Images representing these stars have been placed on Greek and Roman coins and Babylonian boundary stones as well as on charts of the sky. Most recently, they have been engraved again in history as a critical part of our journey into space. Project Gemini placed two men aboard one spacecraft into Earth orbit. Like argonauts of old, our astronauts went in quest of experience leading to new capability at the cutting edge of exploration.
Currently, the Twins of Gemini are up all night in our sky. They rise in the northeast at sunset, are well up north of east by 8:00 p.m, and have moved into the northwest by morning twilight. They will remain visible during evening hours for six months: evening by evening they will drift higher and across the sky until they are setting in the northwest as it grows dark in early June. Castor and Pollux are part of an arc of bright stars: highest is Capella in Auriga, then comethe Twins, followed by Procyon in Canis Minor and finally Sirius in Canis Major, brightest star of the night. As we head toward Super Bowl time, this arc can be completed into the Great Football in the sky: go up from Sirius, the bottom end of the football, to Rigel in the foot of Orion, then to ruddy Aldebaron in Taurus and back to Castor at the top end of the celestial football.
Although Castor and Pollux do resemble twins, as they have thought to be for these many centuries, they are not really close together. Pollux, the brighter of the two, is 35 light years away and Caster is 10 light years farther out. Castor itself is a twin, for it has a companion star that can be seen with a good telescope: where the eye alone sees one star, the lens splits it into a close pair. Still another dim star is also part of the tiny system. Scientific study of the spectrum of these three stars reveals that each of them is actually a pair. Thus the star that many generations of people have thought of as a one of the Twins is actually a tiny cluster of six stars.
Through time and history interesting ideas of value have come down to us because Castor and Pollux glows in the sky. Once, Greeks and Romans invoked Gemini in storms and wars, leading to the expression "O Gemini," corrupted in later generations to become "By Jiminy." Most of the concepts that have been culturally associated with these Twins in the sky focus on the principle of love that binds people into families and communities whose members care for and protect each other, leading to great accomplishments. As we look around and find them in our sky we can think with ancient people of India about horsemen riding out to herald the light of spring, or with Chinese philosophers about contrasting factors that yield growth through struggle. We can think of a brother fighting at our side, physicians skillfully preserving our lives, of argonauts and astronauts exploring new frontiers. We can contemplate the love we have for each other demonstrated in life from day to day. Surely this is a treasure we can extract from the light of a pair of stars to illuminate our homes and individual lives