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Notes on ''Polaris''


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#1 Dabbler

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 06:31 PM

Incidentally, if my notes are uninteresting, please let me know and they will stop!

 

''Polaris'' -- the Pole-Star, that presently is very close to the north celestial pole. Not the only, nor the permanent pole-star.

 

''Cassiopeia'' – a constellation representing a queen of Greek myth.  In the first book of the Astronomica of Hyginus we find the following passage, saying of her that ''Euripides and Sophocles and many others have said of her that she boasted that she excelled the Nereids in beauty. For this she was put among the constellations, seated in a chair. On account of her impiety, as the sky turns, she seems to be carried along lying on her back.''
 
''Charles' Wain'' – the Plough of English astronomers, to Americans a portion of Ursa Major, vulgarly called ''the Big Dipper''. A wain is a wagon. 
 
The name  derives from the appearance of the asterism (it is not a recognised constellation, being cotermious with part of Ursa Major)  with the plough-handle interpreted as the shafts. It has, however, no direct connexion with anyone bearing the the name Charles, this element being a corruption of the Old English carles waen, churl's (peasant's) wagon. The name Charles itself derives from the same root as carle, both from proto-Germanic karlaz, freeman.
 
''Arcturus'' – the brightest star in the constellation Boötes and indeed the brightest in the Northern Hemisphere. As observed by H.P.L., it has a ruddy hue – in modern astronomical terms it is a ''red giant''. The name itself is Greek and denotes ''guardian of the bear'', a reference to its position adjacent to Ursa Major.
 
''Coma Berenices'' – A Latin name denoting the hair of Berenice, a constellation of the Northern Hemisphere, mentioned by Callimachus and by Eratosthenes in the 3rd century B.C.  It is said to have been named by Conon of Samos, also of the third century B.C., to console Berenice, wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes, for the loss of part or all of her hair. There are numerous reasons given, the Britannica gives that a lock of her hair, dedicated to the temple of Venus, had been stolen. Other sources elaborate that Berenice made a sacrifice of her hair as a votive-offering to Aphrodite for the safe return of her husband from the wars.
 
''Aurora'' – the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, the result of the excitation and subsequent return to ground-state of the electrons making up part of atmospheric gases as a result of bombardment by charged particles (protons, electrons) borne on the solar wind. As the excited electrons return to the ground-state, they emit the energy absorbed as photons, visible as light. The wavelength of the energy emitted determines the colour of the Aurora.
 
''Aldebaran'' – the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, a red giant. The name is from the Arabic al-dabaran, the follower, presumably because it rises near and soon after the Pleiades.
 
''Lomar'' – the land of Lomar, and one of two conflicting accounts of its end, finds its first reference here. Others may be found in  ''The Other Gods'' (In Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, once dwelt an old man avid to behold the gods of earth; a man deeply learned in the seven cryptical books of Hsan, and familiar with the Pnakotic Manuscripts of distant and frozen Lomar.), in ''The Quest of Iranon'' (I have been to Thraa, Ilarnek, and Kadatheron on the winding river Ai, and have dwelt long in Olathoë in the land of Lomar), in ''At the Mountains of Madness'' (Here sprawled a palaeogean megalopolis compared with which the fabled Atlantis and Lemuria, Commoriom and Uzuldaroum, and Olathoë in the land of Lomar are recent things of today), in ''The Shadow out of Time'' (with that of a king of Lomar [i.e. with the mind of a king of Lomar] who had ruled that terrible polar land 100,000 years before the squat, yellow Inutos came from the west to engulf it) and in ''The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath'' (in Ulthar, beyond the river Skai, there still lingered the last copy of those inconceivably old Pnakotic Manuscripts made by waking men in forgotten boreal kingdoms and borne into the land of dreams when the hairy cannibal Gnophkehs overcame many-templed Olathoë and slew all the heroes of the land of Lomar.).
 
Lomar occurs also in three of the collaborative works, to wit, in ''The Mound'' [collaboration purely nominal] (The cult [of Tsathoggua] flourished until it almost rivalled the ancient cults of Yig and Tulu, and one branch of the race even took it to the outer world, where the smallest of the images eventually found a shrine at Olathoë, in the land of Lomar near the earth’s north pole. It was rumoured that this outer-world cult survived even after the great ice-sheet and the hairy Gnophkehs destroyed Lomar, but of such matters not much was definitely known in K’n-yan.), in ''The Horror at the Museum'' (There were things in the north before the land of Lomar—before mankind existed—and this was one of them.), and in ''Through the Gates of the Silver Key'' (For this Shape was nothing less than that which all the world has feared since Lomar rose out of the sea and the Winged Ones came to earth to teach the Elder Lore to man.) 
 
''Pnakotic manuscripts'' – this is the first reference to these fragments, for which several obscure and perhaps contradictory origins are suggested. See also in  ''The Other Gods'' ((In Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, once dwelt an old man avid to behold the gods of earth; a man deeply learned in the seven cryptical books of Hsan, and familiar with the Pnakotic Manuscripts of distant and frozen Lomar.), in ''The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath'' (there still lingered the last copy of those inconceivably old Pnakotic Manuscripts made by waking men in forgotten boreal kingdoms and borne into the land of dreams when the hairy cannibal Gnophkehs overcame many-templed Olathoë and slew all the heroes of the land of Lomar.) – N.B. the first proposed origin of the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the work of men rather more than 26,000 years ago [the last glacial maximum], in the Upper Palaeolithic – , in ''At the Mountains of Madness (''A few daring mystics have hinted at a pre-Pleistocene origin for the fragmentary Pnakotic Manuscripts, and have suggested that the devotees of Tsathoggua were as alien to mankind as Tsathoggua itself'') – N.B. the second possible proposed origin of the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the work of a race older than Man, being two million, six hundred thousand years old at least (two million, four hundred thousand years older than Mankind). 
 
Note, however, that the quotation from ''Kadath'' can be scanned two ways – that the Pnakotic manuscripts were made by waking men, or that the last copy of the said manuscripts was made by waking men and pre-human copies existed before. The discovery of a comma after ''Manuscripts'' in any text would tip the question decisively onto the latter.
 
Another reference, from ''The Shadow Out of Time'' suggests the latter also, reckoning among the few survivals of the Great Race on Earth ''only certain ruins of great stones in far places and under the sea, and parts of the text of the frightful Pnakotic Manuscripts.''
 
Nevertheless, Lovecraft was not a ''world-builder'',  he was an artist concerned with capturing atmospheres of horror, not churning out sham-history. Given the acknowledged fact that there are several possible locations for the Plateau of Leng, that mythology and occult knowledge is often contradictory, and that ''contradictions'' may be only apparent to the human mind, I do not intend to draw any final conclusion. 
 
''Inutos'' – evidently the Esquimaux, a form of their aboriginal name Inuit ('the folk'')
 
''the spheres'' – the Classical astronomers erroneously held the Earth to be fixed and the stars to be mounted in crystalline spheres that revolved around the Earth.
 
''Six and twenty thousand years'' – this is the period of the circle described by the axis of the Earth, which rotates in a manner rather akin to that of a spinning top. As time passes, the stars appear to move (in fact, the axis of the earth is moving, the so that one star followed by another is nearest to the Pole. Thus the present Pole-Star will be the Pole-Star again in twenty-six thousand years' time. 
 
The essential meaning of the poem is that the  dreamer, who has found a life in a dream-city, will slumber until once again the same star is over the Pole, and will awake twenty-six thousand years hence when Lomar and all he knows is gone. This second dream is our own post-glacial world and we are left rather doubtful as to which – if any – is ''the real world'', a conceit of human arrogance and belief in the absolute nature of our perceptions.

Edited by Dabbler, 14 September 2017 - 06:36 PM.

''In theory, I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist.''



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#2 yockenthwaite

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Posted 15 September 2017 - 01:24 PM

Thanks for that. I wrote a review of "Polaris" as part of the latest stage of my Lovecraftathon read through of the original stories. In particular I reflected on astronomical issues, including my own interest in the subject, and thinking about things from Lovecraft's perspective.

#3 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 24 September 2017 - 03:33 AM

Would you be interested in contributing the notes to the Yog-Sothoth DotCom Wiki?

 

I'd been meaning to add entries for the stories to the Wiki, with this sort of information in each of them, but I fear I've bitten off more than I can chew already with other Wiki projects at the moment, and I'm sure you caught a lot more detail on these notes than I ever would have!


Edited by yronimoswhateley, 24 September 2017 - 03:33 AM.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal