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Mighty Hercules climbs high across the sky on June nights. Look for a lopsided square of moderately bright stars — the Keystone. It represents his body, with his legs below and his arms spread to either side.
Hercules was created by the Greeks, and represented a character from their mythology. Other cultures around the world have also seen those stars as a person — but not necessarily a mighty one. To the Potawatomi culture, for example, he’s exhausted.
Before the arrival of European settlers, the Potawatomi were members of a confederacy in the Great Lakes region. They drew pictures in the stars to pass along their culture and lore, and to describe objects and events that were part of their everyday lives.
An example is in the constellation Corona Borealis, the northern crown, which is to the upper right of the Keystone in early evening. To the Potawatomi, the semicircle of stars was Mdodoswen — the sweat lodge. The stars climb to prominence in late spring — the time traditionally reserved for sweat-lodge rituals.
After a few hours, a participant would come out of the lodge completely exhausted. Such a man was depicted in the stars as Wenondeshik — the exhausted one — the same stars as Hercules.
The Potawatomi and other native cultures are making new efforts to preserve their skylore — teaching new generations the stories passed down through many generations before them.
More about Hercules tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield