Monday, March 21, 2011

Leo the Lion

Spring has sprung in Cincinnati and we can finally focus on the constellations of spring.

The first of the major spring constellations, Leo is recognizable by the six stars which form his head shaped like a backwards question mark - also called the sickle or fishhook. The bright star Regulus is the dot in the question mark and designates this King of the Beasts. The back end of Leo is marked by a triangle of stars - the farthest east being his tail, Denebola.

In Greek mythology, Leo may represent the Nemean Lion which ravaged the Mediterranean countryside long ago. The boldest, bravest hunters were sent out to kill Leo but faced a nearly immortal enemy. Leo had an impenetrable hide. When the hunters shot arrows at the lion, they just bounced off. When they tried stabbing him with the sharpest swords, no cuts could be made.

Hercules comes on the scene to kill the lion as the first of his twelve labors. This is where he shows that he has some brains (unlike the dimmer Orion). Hercules stalks after the killer beast and, at the most opportune moment, leaps onto Leo’s back wrestling him about the neck. Using his mighty muscles, Hercules squeezes and squeezes until Leo the Lion is strangled to death.

But Hercules isn’t all muscles. If you ever see pictures drawn of Hercules, you may notice his un-stylish clothing. After killing the lion, Hercules decided to keep Leo’s hide as a bullet proof jacket. Now he could walk down the street - and people would be shooting arrows at him or throwing knives - without fear. It was grrrrrr-reat.

Question from a smart second grader in the planetarium: “If Leo’s hide could not be cut, how did Hercules make it into a suit?”