The Leo story, as promised
Here at the Perkins Observatory, we often get calls from folks who want to come to one of our public programs because they are interested in “astrology,” by which they mean “astronomy,” or at least I hope so.
We do not believe that the position of the stars and planets influence the course of our lives in some mystical way. They do indeed influence my life. If somebody wants to see the rings of Saturn, they’re going to have to wait until April to see them. Otherwise, your astrological sign is irrelevant. When people ask me my sign, I reply, “Yield to Pedestrian in Crosswalk.”
However, the astrological significance of any given constellation reveals much about our emotional makeup as humans, and no constellation does so more than Leo, the Lion.
Leo resembles its namesake more than most constellations. But don’t take my word for it. Just after dark, the Lion is rising in the southeast about half way up to the top of the sky. Look for a backward question mark of stars, called the Sickle, that form the head and front paw of the lion.
Humans have always had mixed feelings about the king of beasts. We admire its strength but we fear its power. We want to be like the lion. We just don’t want to be its mid-afternoon snack.
That ambivalence is reflected in the old stories about the constellation.
Leo was born of the beautiful moon goddess Selene. It lived in a cave with two entrances near the Greek town of Nemea. It emerged every so often from its lair to lunch on the local inhabitants. Such behavior was considered anti-social in those days.
Hercules, the greatest hero of the time, was called upon to kill the lion, which was harder than it sounds, and it doesn’t sound easy. Leo’s parentage gave him powers that even an ordinary lion does not possess.
Much to Hercules’ chagrin, the arrows he sent flying at the beast caromed off its skin like line drives off a left-field fence.
Our hero heaved up his club and went chasing after Leo, but the lion escaped to its cave. When Hercules entered the cavern, Leo ran out the back door. After a few repetitions, the whole thing began to look like an old Three Stooges short.
So Hercules blocked off one of the entrances, entered the cave and dispatched the animal Tarzan-style — with his bare hands. He locked his arm around the lion’s neck until the breath of the mighty beast was stilled.
Recognizing the fearful nature of the lion, Hercules decided to become one. Henceforth, he wore the lion’s skin around himself as a cloak. As he approached his enemies, they would see the lion’s gaping, dead mouth bobbing above his head. Hercules looked even more formidable than he had already, but afterward he wasn’t invited to many parties. “Hi. You must be Hercules. Would you like a drink? Can I take your lion?”
Leo lies upon the path that the sun, moon, and planets travel as they move across the sky. We now know that they all pass through Leo because the planets, Earth included, are in orbit around the sun along the same plane.
The ancient believed that the planets were gods. Their presence in a constellation at the time of a person’s birth thus supposedly influenced the course of that person’s life.
All of this gets a little strange in Leo’s case. At the base of the question mark is the brightest star in the constellation, Regulus, the “little king.” Our forebears sometimes called it Cor Leonis, the “heart of the lion.” If planets were near Regulus at the time of your birth, you were lion hearted, and good things come your way.
If you’re wondering why people like me don’t believe in astrology, take a look toward the rear of the constellation at the star called Denebola. It represents the other end of the lion, if you know what I mean and I think you do. A quick trip to the zoo will help you to see just how unpleasant Denebola’s astrological influence can be.
The star’s influence brings misfortune, disgrace, and an untidy apartment. Born under its power, you will be the butt of many foul jokes, and I ain’t lion.
Tom Burns is director of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Perkins Observatory in Delaware, and he’s glad to here from you. He can be reached at email@example.com.