ROMANIAN ASTROHUMANISM (VI)
"LUCEAFARUL" THE EVENING STAR,
AN ASTROPOETIC MASTERPIECE
An essay by Alastair McBeath
(Vice-President of the International Meteor Organization)
and Andrei Dorian Gheorghe
first published as
LUCEAFARUL: A METEOR-INSPIRED POEM
(the Journal of the International Meteor Organization),
Design (including photo 1 - Venus - and photo 2 - Jupiter):
The poem Luceafarul, written by Mihai Eminescu and first published in 1883,
is considered as being the greattest Romanian poetic masterpiece.
In commemorating the 110th anniversary of the author's death in 1999,
we present here a short discussion of the poem's astronomical imagery,
which includes the re-using of long-held beliefs about meteors
from old Romanian myths and folklore.
Poets and authors have long been inspired by the wonders of the night sky.
Many people reading this will have taken up astronomy after being shown
the beauties of the night sky when they were very young.
This is certainly true in the case of both the present authors.
As such, this imagery tends to make a very lasting impact on
impressionable young minds.
Although many IMO members later became involved in the scientific study
of meteors and other aspects of astronomy, it is clear from conversations
we have had with people at the last few International Meteor Coferences,
and also in Godfrey Baldacchino's global survey of meteor astronomers (1),
that a sizeable proportion of current meteor astronomers also feel an
emotional attraction and response to viewing the night sky and meteors.
This is of course unsurprising, as humans are not emotionless creatures.
The fact that occasional poems, articles, and letters concerning meteor
mythology have appeared in the pages of WGN is a further reflection of this.
Indeed, we have already presented some discussion of Romanian meteor mythology
to the meteor community (2) ourselves.
Here, we take this concept a little further by examining the
astronomical and meteor imagery in the Romanian poem Luceafarul,
itself based on much earlier Romanian myths and tales.
Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) is considered the Romanian national poet
par excellence, and the greatest Romanian spirit of modern times.
Although this "Romanian Shakespeare" worked as a librarian, schools inspector,
and journalist to earn a living, he loved astronomy and took astronomical courses
during his time as a student in the 1870s at the universities of Vienna and Berlin.
In many of his poetic works, he touched on astronomical topics, including
cosmogony, astrometry, the Sun, Moon, stars, and various atmospheric phenomena,
so much so that several later Romanian astronomical researchers,
including Armand Constantinescu, Al. Dima, Virgil V. Scurtu, Danut lonescu
and Ion Holban (from the Moldavian Republic), have prepared dedicated
studies concerning astronomy in Eminescu's creations.
By far the most important of Eminescu's astronomically-influenced poems
is Luceafarul, still regarded as the masterpiece of Romanian literature,
despite being first published at Vienna
in 1883 (in the Almanac of the Young Romanians Society).
We have used a recent version published in (3) to draw upon,
but have specially translated all the quotes into English here.
It is a lengthy work, comprising 98 stanzas (392 lines), and was chiefly inspired
by an aspect of Romanian meteor mythology, a variant concerning the
fireball-dragon-man (in Romanian, the balaur or the zmeu - see (2)) as an
erotic wizard, who magically appears in the dreams of young maidens.
In the poem, this being is called Luceafarul, a name which in Romanian folklore
is used to represent the brightest evening star (in practice, this is generally the
planet Venus or Jupiter, whichever is more prominent at dusk,
dependent obviously on the time of year and the location of the two planets).
However, Luceafarul is at the same time a phonetic variant
of Lucifer, proceeding from the Latin lux = "light" and ferre = "to bring."
Lucifer can still be used in English as a, generally poetic, term for Venus,
but as the morning star, heralding sunrise.
The tale-poem Luceafarul begins with the beautiful princess Catalina, proud like
The Maiden among priests,
Or the Moon among the stars,
falling in love with the sky-being Luceafarul as the evening star,
and asking him to visit her:
Come down, mild Luceafarul,
Sliding on a beam,
Enter into my house and my thoughts,
To lighten my life!
Thus she gives Luceafarul the means of entering her dreams as the magical balaur.
On his first dream-appearance, Luceafarul seems beautiful like an angel,
saying he is the son of the sky and the sea, and physically looking like a
young king with soft, blonde hair.
He asks Catalina to become his wife, and go to live with him beneath the sea,
among coral palaces, where he promises her an eternity of having
the ocean world fulfill her every wish.
Scared, she refuses.
The second time he appears in her dreams, Luceafarul looks like a beautiful demon,
son of the Sun and the night, but is clad this time in a rather more meteoric form:
On his black hair,
A crown blazed forth fire.
He came floating in truth,
Bathed in the fire of the Sun.
As a child of the Sun and night, the picture of a brilliant meteor could easily be
conjured up by such an image, especially as balaur is also the
Romanian folkloric term for a bright meteor.
Again, he asks Catalina to become his wife, tempting her
with further meteoric promises:
I will place in your yellow hair
Coronets of stars,
And you will rise in my skies,
Prouder than them.
These two appearances are typical of the way balauri transform themselves
into superhuman conquerors of maidens' hearts in the girls' dreams,
as demonstrated in various old Romanian tales and legends.
The reactions of the maiden, both fascinated and scared or repelled by the
fireball-dragon-man, are also typical.
To this second call, Catalina again refuses Luceafarul's advances,
saying that although she hears his words, she does not understand them, but
her temptation is too great, and she relents enough to suggest that their
impossible love might become possible if only Luceafarul were a mortal man.
The love-struck Luceafarul shoots off immediately to seek permission from the
Father of the Universe to become fully human, streaking away across the
night sky, again with meteoric overtones:
Luceafarul started. His wings
Brought him up into the sky,
And the Way of Millennia
He crossed in seconds.
There are many fascinating flights described in various ways throughout
the world's mythologies, but it is clear that Eminescu in describing
Luceafarul's flight, has used the flight of a meteor as his starting point:
A sky of stars below,
A sky of stars above,
Lost between them.
After this, his flight goes off into the timeless, dark void between the stars:
It is nothing, but, it is
A thirst which drinks him,
It is an abyss like
Some have suggested such imagery as descriptive of a black hole, which
although generally thought of as modern concept,
may actually date to 1798 in the work of Pierre Laplace.
On reaching the Father of the Universe, Luceafarul asks,
And the fire from my glance,
And give me in exchange
A moment of love!
The Father is unimpressed and replies,
Hyperion rising from the abyss
With a whole world,
Do not ask me for signs and wonders
Without a face and name.
And unhappy destinies,
But we have not time and space,
And know not what death is.
From the eternal yesterday,
Today the mortals live,
If a star dies in the sky,
Another one rises again.
In this response, we find the popular tradition of shooting stars representing
candles in the sky, lit when a person is born, falling to be extinguished when he dies,
as well as the cosmological truth that life and death coexist in the Universe.
The Father continues by asking,
Do you want to die? For who?
Return, go back
To that wandering Earth
And see what awaits you!
His observation is well-founded.
In Luceafarul's absence, Catalina has fallen in love with Catalin,
a young man, though she cannot forget completely Luceafarul.
She has realized that Luceafarul must remain eternally far from the
world she inhabits, but continues to torture herself with thoughts of the
impossible love she holds for the Evening Star.
There is also a further meteoric possibility even here, as the love between
Catalina and Catalin is born in the springtime, beneath the linden trees,
and perhaps the swift-moving meteoric flash that helped inspire Eminescu's
description of Luceafarul's rapid flight was a fast-moving,
long-pathed Eta-Aquarid meteor
appearing in the morning spring twilight of late April or early May.
The poem ends with Catalina seeing Luceafarul returning to the evening sky,
and being overwhelmed by her feelings for him once more, calling to him
to come down to her again, as he did in the past.
Luceafarul is shocked by her betrayal of him, and remains in his high,
distant place this time.
He asks her,
What do you care, earth-face,
If I'd be your lover, or another one?
The final lines have little comfort in them:
Living in your narrow circle,
Luck is your ally.
But me, in my world,
I am immortal and cold.
(1) G. Baldacchino, "Observing the Meteor Observer:
A Global Survey of Meteor Observers",
WGN 24:6, December 1996. pp. 187-200.
(2) A.D. Gheorghe, A. McBeath, "Romanian Meteor Mythology",
in Proceedings 1997 IMC, Petnica, Yugoslavia, A. Knofel, A. McBeath,
eds., IMO, 1998, pp. 82-88.
(3) M. Eminescu, "Poems", Publishing House for Literature,
Bucharest, 1969 (in Romanian).
© 2007 SARM
(Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy)