The Summer Triangle and the Stymphalian Birds
In western celestial cartography there is a grouping of three birds which are the constellations of Cygnus the Swan, Aquila the Eagle, and Lyra the Lyre, all found north of the ecliptic. Within each constellation, the three bright stars of Deneb Adige in Cygnus, Altair in Aquila, and Vega in Lyra constitute what is known today as the Summer Triangle, as they are visible in the summer months and form a triangle in the night sky. These stars carry a great deal of mythology: for the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, Deneb Adige was considered the birth canal of Nut, the great starry sky goddess, and from this place the Sun, Ra, was born anew every winter solstice; for the Greeks, Vega was the lyre of Orpheus, a Greek hero who could visit the Underworld and return; for the Romans Altair was linked with the eagle and they would release eagles over the pyres of dead emperors, believing the eagle would carry the newly-dead soul back to the land of the immortals. All three stars thus embody myths of death and rebirth. However, this paper argues that there is a myth that draws these three magical birds together. Using the work of Apollonius Rhodius (Argonautica 2, c.3rd century BCE) and Pseudo- Hyginus (Fabulae 30, c.2nd century CE), amongst others, this paper focuses on the myth of the three Stymphalian Birds (Ornithes Stymphalides) which haunted Lake Stymphalis in Arkadia and suggests that these Stymphalian birds are indeed the same transcendent creatures associated with Deneb Adige, Vega and Altair.
Darrelyn Gunzburg teaches in the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture, Faculty of Humanities and the Performing Arts, at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. She received her PhD from the University of Bristol (2014) with a thesis entitled 'Giotto's Salone: An Astrological Investigation into the Fresco Paintings of the First Floor Salone of the Palazzo Della Ragione, Padua, Italy.' Her research interests lie in the art historical and visual astronomical exploration of frescos in medieval Italy and abbey churches in Wales. She is the editor of The Imagined Sky: cultural perspectives (2016). She has also written extensively for The Art Book (Wiley-Blackwell) and Cassone: The International Online Magazine of Art and Art Books.