Венера-6

Venera6

On May 17th 1969 the Soviet Union dropped the Venera 6 probe into the Venusian atmosphere, one day after deploying the Venera 5 probe.  While the USA were focused on putting men on the moon the CCCP were continuing their series of explorations of Venus.

The Venera program ran from 1961 with the failure of Venera 1 until the successful  Venera 16 stopped sending data in 1984.

The Venera 5 and Venera 6 probes were deemed successful missions.  Each operated for over 50 minutes as they descended by parachute through the atmosphere, sending back data to Russia.

In 1972 the Russians recorded the first successful landing of a craft on another planet with the Venera 8 lander.  Venera 7 had landed successfully but rolled awkwardly and was able to send back only very limited data, so was deemed a failure.

In 1975 the Venera 9 lander returned the first images from another planet.

If Nasa and the Soviet Union had maintained the momentum of the 1960’s and 70’s we would have a colony on Mars today.  Now it seems that Mars may be the story of commercial space exploration.  SpaceX, the Elon Musk led agency is working on the Big Falcon rocket to ship cargo in 2022 with a plan to send men in 2024.

The Russians and Europeans have developed the EXOMARS2020 program combining an ESA Rover and an ROSCOSMOS landing platform.  To this day the Russians are still building the best launch vehicles.  If you want to put a man in space you talk to the Russians.

NASA have a rover mission on the books for 2020.

The Chinese plan a Mars landing in 2020.

The UAE Space Agency also plan a Mars mission in 2021.

It may now be time to start thinking about how the solar system will be carved up.  Will it become a new Antarctica, dedicated to science in favour of national or commercial interests?  Or will the solar system become another “Scramble for Africa” as nations and businesses compete to establish exclusive ownership of areas of planets, asteroids or even areas of space?

 

Happy Parilia

Romulus

Parilia is an ancient Roman spring festival which came to mark the founding of the City in the late Roman Republic.   It was held to fall on April 21st and legend says Rome was founded in the year 753 BC.

Parilia was a spring festival which is said to pre-date the foundation of Rome.  Pales  was a rustic deity and a patron of Shepherds and their Flocks.  It is no accident that a festival for shepherds falls at this time of year when most of the lambs are born.  The shepherd can count his likely wealth from this moment.  It is time to offer thanks for a fertile flock and healthy lambs.

Parilia was a purification festival, absolving the shepherd and the sheep from any sins they may have committed by unintenionally trespassing on sacred ground, drinking from sacred wells or in any way falling afoul of higher authorities.  Sweet cakes were consumed and the night ended in rowdy drinking of boiled wine and milk (fresh from the newly purified sheep).

There are nascent elements of later Easter celebrations in the rituals, which involved making wreaths of foliage, setting them on fire and leaping through.  Stepping or leaping through a hoop or circle is a common trope in ceremonies of renewal and rebirth.  These days the sweet cakes and the flaming hoop are reduced to a chocolate egg.

This innocent bucolic festival was given two gory elements by the Republican Romans:  the Fordicidia and the Equus October.

The Fordicidia involved the slaughter of a pregnant cow to the Earth Mother Tellus as a plea for continued fertility of the cattle, the fields and the state.

The October horse was the head cut from right hand horse of the pair who pulled the winning chariot in the races in the previous years Ides of October.  The head was taken in a ritual battle honouring Mars and displayed for winter in the winning neighbourhood.  Remnants of this festival live on in the Italian town of Sienna which stages the Palio twice a year.  Palio / Pales / Parilia?  Sound alike?

The ashes of the unborn calf and the blood from the October Horse were mixed by the Vestals for the final offering of the festival.

Over the years the dedication of the festival moved from the old rural deities Pales, Tellus and Vesta to celebrate Roman Republican deities Jupiter, Mars and Venus until ultimately it celebrated the God Roma himself.

 

A hateful son

apocalypse

Now that the Covid-19 media apocalypse is upon us here in Ireland I am taking a moment to think about the boy who gave us the name for next month.

The painting above is the Benjamin West 1795 “Death on a pale horse” which depicts the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death, riding successively horses coloured white, red, black and pale.

In the ancient world disease killed more armies than battle, and was a constant companion of any assembled army.  Famine followed in the wake of every army as they stripped the land bare of food, like a plague of locusts.  Death of course is the bride of war.

So it is interesting to look at the parallels between the apocalyptic horsemen and the earlier Greco-Roman depictions of the Roman Mars (for whom we name March) and his Greek origination as the God Ares.

Homer, in the Illiad, quotes Zeus as calling Ares the god most hateful to him.  Such a thing to say to your own son!

The Greeks, for all their warlike tendencies, had a suspicion of unbridled passion.  They saw Eros (uncontrolled love) as a form of madness.  In Ares they saw the passion needed to succeed in battle, but they also saw the brutality.  Untamed aggression was achieved by letting slip the reins of mental discipline.

Like the later four horsemen Ares travelled in a gang of four.  Himself, the God of war, accompanied in his chariot by his two sons Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror) and his daughter/lover Enyo (Discord).  Indeed it was Enyo who started the Trojan war.  But that’s a different story.

Ares had four sure-footed, gold bridled, immortal horses who pulled his chariot; Aithon, Phlogios, Konabos and Phobos (same name as his son).

The Greeks saw Ares as a destabilising force, and saw war as a necessary evil, both to be avoided if possible.  Ares is often ridiculed or embarrased in Greek mythology.

Rome took a different line.  Rome placed Mars in the top 3 of their Gods.  The Romans viewed War as the means to Peace and they treated their god of war with reverence and dignity.  Instead of being incestuously linked to Discord like Ares the Roman Mars is married to Nerio, the Goddess of Valor.

So we can see that the four horsemen of the bible have more in common with the Greek god of war than they do with the Roman Mars.

And now back to the painting.  In a twist of fate it carries its own apocalyptic tale.  When the first American Academy of art burned down a volunteer fireman cut the painting from its frame and saved it from the conflagration.

Marching out to war

mars

When the Greco-Roman God of War rides to battle he carries with him in his chariot his two sons and his lover/sister.  His sons (the moons of the planet Mars) are Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Terror) and his sister/lover is Enyo (Discord).

The Greeks did not love Ares.  They, who valued mental discipline, saw him as an embodiment of the madness aroused by the passions of battle.  Something to be avoided in favour of good planning and strategy.

 

Life on Mars; by David Bowie

It’s a God-awful small affair
to the girl with the mousy hair
but her mummy is yelling no
and her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
now she walks through her sunken dream
to the seat with the clearest view
and she’s hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
for she’s lived it ten times or more
she could spit in the eyes of fools
as they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
oh man look at those cavemen go
it’s the freakiest show

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy
oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
he’s in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again

See the mice in their million hordes
from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
rule Britannia is out of bounds
to my mother, my dog, and clowns

But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
it’s about to be writ again
as I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
oh man look at those cavemen go
it’s the freakiest show

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy
oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
he’s in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?