Star Stories – January

by Mary Algozin, from the January 1988 issue

Probably the most famous twins who ever lived were Castor and Pollux, two brothers from the Greek city Sparta. They resembled each other so much that it was hard to tell them apart. Both boys were good athletes and fine horsemen. They were best friends.

One day when the twins were around 16 years old, exciting news reached Sparta. A man named Jason was seeking a sacred golden fleece, or sheepskin. He would have to sail his ship, the Argo, all the way to the Black Sea to find the fleece, and he needed brave companions to help him. The twins loved the thought of such a fine adventure and signed up for the trip.

On the day of their departure, the twins’ mother, Leda, brought them going-away presents — beautiful handwoven purple cloaks with white horses embroidered on the backs. Their father, Jupiter, ruler of the gods and lord of the thunderbolts, watched with approval from his home in the clouds.

Another member of the Argo’s crew was the famous musician Orpheus, whose music was so beautiful it could tame wild animals. Orpheus had an important job on the expedition. As each sailor pulled one of the boat’s 50 oars, Orpheus played his lyre so that they would all row together. When the winds were favorable, the sailors could hoist the ship’s sails and rest for a while.

A few days after the Argo left port, the weather changed. A wild storm lashed the ship. Vicious winds drove the waves higher and higher. The ship bounced around like a carnival ride — only it wasn’t any fun for the sailors. Drenched and terrified, the men tied themselves to the masts. If the storm smashed the ship to shreds, at least they might be able to float for a while with one of the pieces. As lightning lit the clouds, Castor and Pollux prayed to their father for help.

Then Orpheus picked up his lyre. He strummed the instrument and sang a sweet song. The sailors’ souls grew calm — and the waves grew quiet, as well. Looking on, the twins smiled. A last bolt of lightning blazed in the sky. It split into two parts that drifted slowly downward, like the sparks left over from fireworks, and came to rest over the twins’ heads. The storm was over. For may years afterward, sailors in Greece and Rome called upon the twins to rescue them from danger at sea.

It’s not hard to find the constellation Gemini, the twins, in the January sky. Some clear evening this month, look overhead, then a little way toward the east. You will see two bright stars close together — they’re the heavenly twins, Castor and Pollux, almost identical, still inseparable.

In case you’re wondering — Jason did find the golden fleece and bring it home. But that’s another, very long story.

GEMINI: GEM-in-eye
ORPHEUS: OR-fee-us
POLLUX: Pahl-ux