StarDate: August 17, 2009

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

audio/mpeg icon

The legends of the constellations are often tales of sadness -- tales of lost lovers, and lives cut short. Yet no legend is sadder than that of Lyra, the harp, which climbs high overhead on summer nights.

The legend tells the story of Orpheus, who was given a harp by the god Apollo. Orpheus's music was sweeter than that of any other mortal man. It could soothe any savage, bring joy to the heart of the weary. It was even said that rivers changed course to stay near its beauty.

Orpheus married the lovely maiden Eurydice. But after their wedding, as she walked with her bridesmaids, she was bitten by a snake and died.

Orpheus was so stricken with grief that he journeyed to the underworld to win her return. His music not only gained him entry to Hades, it caused Pluto to soften his heart and grant Orpheus's wish. But there was one condition: Eurydice would follow Orpheus, who could not look back until both had gained the upper world.

Despite his anxiety, Orpheus followed his instructions -- until he reached the surface. Before Eurydice could take the final steps into the light, he turned to gaze upon her. She vanished, with only one word to her love: Farewell.

Crazed with grief, Orpheus wandered the hills of Greece until he was murdered. The Muses buried him, and Apollo placed his magical harp in the sky -- as Lyra.

Lyra is high in the sky as night falls this month, marked by its brightest star, Vega -- which we'll talk about tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

The one constant in the Universe: StarDate magazine


©2014 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory