Posted in astronomy, literature

Astronomers determine time of year an ancient poem was written

This is amazing! There is so much science in art, and art in nature and science.

Sappho Poem translated by Mary Barnard
by ancient Greek poet Sappho

In her poem…

Sappho talks about the Pleiades, a cluster of extremely bright stars near Taurus. What’s more, Sappho mentions two interesting facts:

  • she watches the Pleiades go down, sinking beneath the horizon. And …
  • … this occurs before midnight.

Recently, two scientists got interested in the poem, because they realized these two facts could be used to determine precisely what time of year Sappho wrote the poem.

After all, constellations change their position in the sky as the year progresses. That means in different months they’ll sink beneath the horizon at different times of day. Since we know that Sappho saw the Pleiades go down before midnight, first you have deduce where Sappho was located — geographically — when she wrote the poem (because this will determine what part of the sky she was looking at). Then you check the star charts from that vantage point, and figure out what time of the year the Pleiades would have been visible right until midnight.

That’s what the scientists did, in their fascinating paper “Seasonal Dating of Sappho’s ‘Midnight Poem’ Revisited”.

Read the analysis via the original article (worth the read!): Astronomers Crack The Secret of This Gorgeous Poem by Sappho

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Author:

Beth Kelley is a writer and researcher with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.