The starry pillars of wisdom: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Apr 9, 2018


I loved you, so I drew these tides of

Men into my hands

And wrote my will across the

Sky in stars…

 

With these famous opening lines of dedication to his autobiography from 100 years ago, British officer TE Lawrence (also known as Lawrence of Arabia) could very well have been describing this week’s evening sky scene, where Venus is sweeping up close on the Pleiades after sunset.

 

Lawrence called his book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and it was about his experiences during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the first world war.. The title is a reference to a passage in the Book of Proverbs, where it’s stated that “Wisdom hath builded her temple, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.”

 

These “Seven Pilars” are also known as the “Seven Sisters” or, more technically, as the star cluster of the Pleiades, which indicate the shoulder region of the constellation Taurus the Bull.

 

The Pleiades are the most storied about group of stars in the sky, and even though we now know there are more than seven stars that make up this sparkly smudge of light, the influence of there being seven has been notable in the cultural development of humanity. For example, n the middle ages the highest academic honor was bestowed on those who had mastered the seven liberal arts including among them geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy. There are also seven naked eye planets or celestial bodies in our solar system when you include Sun and Moon; and each of these, in turn, lend their names and influence to the seven days of the week.

 

So what makes these seven so special this week? Looking west about an hour after sunset, you’ll see the guardian goddess Venus, planet of love and beauty, gathering these seven pillars of the Pleiades into her hands, like in Lawrence’ poem of dedication, as if she were saying:

I loved you, so I drew these tides of

Men into my hands

And wrote my will across the

Sky in stars

To earn you freedom, the seven

Pillared worthy house,

That your eyes might be

Shining for me

When I came.