Lord Byron’s Star Identified

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Lord Byron's star
Greece holding Lord Byron | Lazaros Papandreou | Shutterstock.com

A Texas State University professor did some detective work and found out that Jupiter is the “star” in Byron’s magnum opus, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.”

George Gordon Byron, aka Lord Byron (1788-1824) was a British poet whose life on earth was too short. Nevertheless, he left a romantic indelible mark that’s still vivid today.

Jupiter is the 'star' that appears next to the moon in Byron's 'Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage'Click To Tweet

Almost two centuries after his death, Byron oeuvre is still resonating. This isn’t just true for different walks of art. Byron has also enticed scientists, who you would think being at odds with the more subjective romantic arts, to step into his world and try decoding his work.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Byron’s Skywatch Recount

Lord Byron wrote and published the four-canto “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, a lengthy narrative poem, between 1809 and 1818. He finished the first two cantos in 1911 during a journey he made through the Mediterranean. It was an attempt to control his capricious nature that had led him to excesses of all sorts and the dilapidation of his health and wealth.

Through the travel twists and turns of a character named Harold, stanzas recount the impressions of the disabused and unsatisfied poetic soul of Byron. As would become a tenant of the Romantic movement, illusions of love and the fleeting nature of happiness abound. The word “pilgrimage” in the title is used instead of, for example, journey or travel to evoke redemption and spirituality.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage had influenced many European poets and had a big impact on arts as a whole.

In 1825, French poet Lamartine wrote “The Last Canto of Harold’s Pilgrimage” as an homage to Byron–who died of fever the previous year in Greece.

J.M.W. Turner, English landscape painter, was deeply influenced by Byron’s entire oeuvre. Most importantly, his eponymous painting, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, is a direct reference to Byron’s poem.

Commissioned by violinist Niccolò Paganini, Hector Berlioz composed a symphony, called “Harold in Italy”, in 1834.

What Jupiter has to do With Lord Byron’s Star?

“The Moon is up…” Byron wrote in the fourth canto of Harold’s Pilgrimage, “…A Single Star is at her side.”

Donald Olson, an astronomer and physics professor at Texas State University, took it upon himself to determine to which star Byron was referring.

In a “celestial” detective style, Olson used clues from the poem, correspondence between Byron and his friend John Cam Hobhouse, and specialized software to come to his conclusion.

Byron was living in Villa Foscarini on the Brenta Canal (La Mira, Italy) when first sa-+ the twilight scene. The diary of Hobhouse, who was Byron’s guest, provided Olson with the exact date: it was on Wednesday, August 20th, 1817.

Using an astronomical algorithm, Olson went back in time and recreated the scene that Byron would have witnessed that evening.

According to Olson’s findings, published in the last issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, Lord Byron’s star is none other than Jupiter, which appeared next to the moon that night in 1817.

Luckily, you can experience a twilight scene similar to the one that inspired Byron 200 years ago, or the “waxing gibbous” in astronomy jargon. Jupiter and the Moon will line up near each other on four occasions, July 28th and 29th, and August 24th and 25th.

Does the identification of Lord Byron’s star change anything about “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” for you?

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