Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pluto...a reader's contribution

Hades, Persephone, and Cerberus the three headed dog that guarded the entrance to Hell.

Since I have posted material regarding Pluto and its status as a bona fide planet, I have received some comments from Laurel Kornfeld, an aficionado of astronomy and quite passionate about the planet Pluto. At Tyson, Weintraub, Tombaugh & Pluto she stated that there were numerous literary references to Pluto and Ms. Kornfeld supplied some samples. Rather than have them buried as merely a reply, I have chosen to reproduce them below.

From: astropoetry

Banishing Pluto

I can hear them talking outside my door,

stalking in their new, shrunken

solar system’s shadows,

hoping I don’t know they’re there,

daring each other to be

The One who Knocks and

breaks the news to me:

my old planetary identity has

been wiped away, replaced

by something smaller, feebler,

and given grudgingly at that,

sentencing me to exile in

the icy wastes of the Great

Out There.

Surprise, surprise, no-one wants to take

the knife and stab me in my back personally

after their 80 years of flattery

and false colour declarations

of devoted love. Demoted now,

a planet no longer, I’d be lying if I said

I wasn’t bitter; no quitter I,

I always tried to be the world

Clyde wanted me to be.

I thought I was safe! After all,

around me three moons loyally swooned –

Ha, shows how much I knew! Their fine

committee has decreed beloved Charon to be

nothing but a mere near neighbour,

declared that all we had in common

all along was a barren barycentre.

Listen to them arguing!

Flinging blame, claiming they

had never really wanted to wrench

away my hard-won title;

that they’d felt all long I was entitled

to the same respect as Sol’s

other whirling worlds! What weasel words!

I heard them call me cruel names,

blaming the inferior eyes of those

sepia-toned stargazers for giving me more credit

than my size and style deserves.

But most bizarre of all, some seem to

truly believe they’re showing me a kindness,

being merciful, delivering me from

the misery of my celestial self-delusion;

by taking away my name, and claim

to planetary fame they feel they do me good,

pull me back to reality

where Copernicus’ runts know their place

and only real, grown-up planets pace

patiently around the Sun.

So what grim fate awaits me now?

Banishment, from the crumpled maps and charts

that children hunch over in their rooms

as science project deadlines loom;

exile from the Sun’s grand mansion,

thrown onto the KBO-hobo littered street

to seek a new life for myself

on a dusty shelf in the IAU’s

spare room, dumped there like some

tasteless piece of memorabilia

from an older, embarrassing age.

But the rage I feel at being

reduced from true ice world to “dwarf planet”

will never go away! Make up your minds!

Am I a planet or am I not?

If not then do not use that precious

word to describe me for it is cruel!

Under your petty rules

then your so-beloved Neptune

and Jupiter should be exiled too;

tumbling Trojan rocks and rubble

trail and lead Jove as he rolls around

the Sun, and why, when cerulean Neptune’s

orbit intersects with mine am only I

cast out from the light?

As for the precious Homeworld,

Earth’s “area” has not been cleared of clutter

any more than mine! Jagged Atens,

Apollos and Amors jostle as they fire

like tracer rounds ‘cross Terra’s bows,

so how exactly does her rock-saturated,

swooping path around the Sun not sentence her

to exile in the Kingdom of the Dwarves?

Shame on you, shame on you all

for all those years of lies.

True, my size may be suspiciously small,

and my orbit I’ll admit is unconventional,

more drawn-out loop than perfect ratio ring –

and yes I swoop first high above then fall

far below the plane in which my surviving

solar siblings play.

But why exile me for that?

You think that with your clapping hands

and silly, flapping cards you voted me

out of existence; that now I am

“no more”, a mere bad memory banished

to the far shore of this solar system

but you are wrong, and when your tiny,

metal flea buzzes by me in 2015 you’ll see

how cruel you were.

When my craters and canyons fill

its cameras’ field of view,

and images of my frost-bright, ice-white

landscapes fill the pages of the papers

that so gleefully decreed me dead

you’ll lift your heads to the starry sky

and sigh “We were wrong, it was

a planet all along…”

© Stuart Atkinson 2006

From Ms. Kornfeld's website:

As a writer, I cannot help but view this phenomenon from a literary perspective. In "Star Trek," Kirk and Spock make the interesting observation that every myth has some modicum of truth in it. I have always had a personal fascination with mythology, and Pluto, named after the Greek/Roman lord of the underworld, has a wealth of mythological folklore associated with it. The underworld, viewed as the abode of the dead, also represented to ancient peoples the physical underground where seeds lie buried in the winter--and sometimes for many years--only to germinate and be "reborn" when spring comes or when sunlight long blocked by a tree or other object finally reaches that seed. In Babylonian mythology, the spirit of vegetation was represented by the god Tammuz, who descended to the underworld as summer ended, the harvest commenced, and the sun began to wane.

This connection with the seasonal cycle continued in the Greek/Roman myth of Pluto's abduction of Persephone, the maiden of spring. In the wake of Persephone's having been abducted, her mother, the grain goddess Demeter, also known as Ceres, in her grief withheld her bounty and refused to allow anything to grow, thus leading to the desolation of winter. Only when a compromise was reached, and Persephone was permitted to spend a portion of the year above ground with her mother, did Demeter allow vegetation to return and even teach agriculture to human civilization.

Ancient peoples resorted to stories to explain the cycle of the seasons because they knew these phenomena occurred but did not fully understand why. Yet these myths contain within them a greater truth, an understanding of life as a cycle of death and rebirth in which nothing is truly lost, only transformed.

At the Great Planet Debate, one participant asked whether any of us interpreted any symbolism in the banishment of the planet named after the lord of the dead. That's the type of question literary types like me love to ponder. Pluto was named after the god of the underworld by 11-year-old Venetia Burney, a child fascinated by both mythology and astronomy, because it is a dark and cold place. Though it is not scientific, in my literary mind, I think there is significance in our effectively banishing the planet that represents the unknown, the dark, the enigmatic, the mysterious, the intense representation of death and new life, to some sort of astronomical netherworld. Both the mythology and the astronomy of Pluto challenge the limits of what we know and make us think about subjects that make us uncomfortable, subjects we often would rather stay buried.

Symbolically, Pluto's refusal to "die" as a planet fits beautifully with the entire mythology and folklore for which it is named. In this era when education focuses on learning across the disciplines, namely examining the same subject in the areas of science, math, history, literature, art, music, etc., it will make a fascinating research paper topic for students.

Speaking of literature, I would like to share, with proper attribution, a poem I found online linking Pluto the planet with Pluto the god of the underworld and with Tammuz, the Babylonian vegetation deity. It is titled, "The Death of Pluto."

"The Death of Pluto"

Adapted by Robert Croog (by substituting Pluto for Tammuz) from the poem by Saul Tchernichowsky, "The Death of Tammuz," Hebrew, translated by L. V. Snowman, published in A Treasury of Jewish Poetry from Biblical Times to the Present, edited by Nathan and Marynn Ausubel.

"Pluto is dead," Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology, discoverer of Eris, told reporters in a teleconference, August 25, 2006.

"And behold, there sat the women, weeping." Ezekiel 8:14

"Go, daughters of Zion
And weep you for Pluto,
For Pluto, the beautiful Pluto is dead;
And days dark with cloud and eclipse of the soul,
Autumn days endless the days are ahead.

Let us rise with the sun
In the spring of the morning,
To the forest where lingers the

darkness of night,
To the forest where visions and secrets are hidden,
To the altar of Pluto-- high place of the light.

What dance shall we dance
Around the high altar?
What dance shall we dance for

Pluto this day?
To the left, to the right, and sevenfold seven,
We shall bow to him, calling 'return to our play.'

To the left, to the right,
And seven by seven,
But hand in hand straightly, and

footing it slow;
Pluto wherever he be we shall seek him,
The lads and the maidens apart they will go.

We have sought on the roads
And the highways for Pluto,
Where the crossroads lie bathed in the

light of the sun,
Sweet to the heart in their warmth and their peace,
The sparrows fly there and the larks carillon.

We have sought Pluto
In thickets where leaves fall,
In mazes of holly and forests of pine;
Peradventure he sleeps among incense

of spices,
In the circle of toadstools, the faery shrine.

We have sought Pluto
But vain 'twas to find him,
We clambered the hills and came down

through the dell,
We followed the traces of all mystic wonders--
The abode of the gods and wherever they dwell;

In the grove, in the hedges,
By trees that are altar fuel,
The woodland recesses-- all fodder for

But only the sparrows cried in their hunger
About the high place-- ruins trodden in mire.

No trace of the fairies
Was found in the meadows,
With the whispering brook their

laughter ceased, too,
Calves graze in the meadows and there the lambs frolic
Round the springs and the wells with fall of the dew.

O, daughters of Zion,
Go mourn in beholding
How the world on its course dull and

troublous is sped,
The distress of a world whose spirit is darkened,
For Pluto, the beautiful Pluto, is dead."

The comment below is by Philip Brown, who quoted the above poem:

"I am inspired by this poem and its themes which are symbolic of Pluto: death, youth, hidden and mysterious places, occult energy and return to the Earth, decay and regeneration in nature, and a playful sense of foreboding. It is apropos of Pluto's recent demotion from planetary status, and the comments of Mike Brown."

The poem above is powerful, but I am as convinced as ever that Pluto is not dead, that this is not the end. It may not be a scientific assertion, but I believe Pluto the planet will follow the archetype of death and rebirth for which it is named, the death of winter giving way to the rebirth of spring.

And Ms. Kornfeld concludes with a teaser of some literary merit that in her willingness may share here at some future date.

On a personal note, while I wish Pluto's demotion had never happened, I am immensely grateful for the many wonderful people I have met in the quest to get this decision reversed; for the knowledge it has brought and love for astronomy it has rekindled in my life; for the numerous experiences I have had that would otherwise never have come my way--everything from the wonderful club known as Amateur Astronomers, Inc., in Cranford, NJ; to new friends around the world; to the opportunity to see Jupiter, Saturn, the Ring Nebula, and so many other celestial objects through a telescope; even to reconnect with various members of my family. Pluto's plight has also inspired the artist in me; the result is I have written a play of more than 100 pages incorporating the mythology and symbolism of Pluto in a fantasy-drama tale of its demotion and reinstatement. Just this Friday, I received the official copyright certification for this play, which I hope to publish and someday bring to production. It is no understatement to say that Pluto has changed my life.

For further reading:

A Double Planet?: Pluto and Charon


Isaac Asimov, Frank Reddy , and Greg Walz-Chojnacki

ISBN: 0836812328

Beyond Pluto


John Davies

ISBN: 0521800196

Clyde Tombaugh: Discoverer of Planet Pluto


David H. Levy

ISBN: 0816513171

How Did We Find Out About Pluto?


Isaac Asimov and Erika Kors [illustrator]

ISBN: 0802769926

Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System


Alan Stern and Jacqueline Mitton

ISBN 3-527-40556-9

Out of the Darkness the Planet Pluto


Clyde William Tombaugh and P. Moore

ISBN: 0451619978



Carmen Bredeson

ISBN: 0531117847



Larry Dane Brimner

ISBN: 0516264990



Steve Potts

ISBN: 1583401016



Dana Meachen Rau

ISBN: 0756502977



Gregory Vogt

ISBN: 1562943936

Pluto and Charon : Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System


Alan Stern and Jacqueline Mitton

ISBN: 0471152978

Pluto and Charon


Alan Stern, David J. Tholen and S. Alan Stern [editors]

ISBN: 0816518408

Pluto: The Ninth Planet


Michael D. Cole

ISBN: 0766019535

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto


Tim Goss

ISBN: 1588109186

"Naming Pluto"--a film

Persephone [Περσεφονηία]...change of seasons


Pluto not fitting definition

"The Pluto Files" by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson, Weintraub, Tombaugh & Pluto

Tyson's interview with "Time" on Pluto and planets

What's in a name?--Pluto

While I can understand Ms. Kornfeld's passion for Pluto, I have no problem keeping the planet's lore public and allowing the astronomer's to carry on their business of definition and reclassification, if necessary, for their scientific purposes. One does not preclude the other, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and neither invalidates opposing positions. Furthermore, I welcome Ms. Kornfeld to contribute relevant materials and perspectives.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

Thank you for taking the time to post all this! I appreciate it tremendously.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Just one clarification here regarding the illustration caption: the underworld of Greek and Roman mythology is quite the equivalent of "hell" as we conceive it. It was understood as the abode of the dead but not necessarily a place of suffering. All souls of the dead went to the underworld, but that realm contained many regions, including the Elysian Fields, a type of paradise, for those who had lived good lives; the plains of Asphodel, a neutral, shadowy realm; and Tartarus, the place of punishment. Souls could also depart from the underworld to be reincarnated but had to drink from the River Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness, before rebirth, thus erasing all memories of past lives and of the underworld.

Mercury said...


That is correct. I simply brought the caption with the image without attempting to clarify.

And, you are welcome.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Oops, I meant to say that the underworld of Greek and Roman mythology is NOT quite the equivalent of hell as we conceive it.