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Cicero and etymology of the names of celestial bodies

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

According to Greek mythology, Saturn or Cronos was to deprive his father of his masculinity, and Jupiter was to be imprisoned his father Saturn. As states Cicero:

Another theory also, and that a scientific one, has been the source of a number of deities, who clad in human form have furnished the poets legends and have filled man’s life with superstitions of all sorts. This subject was handled by Zeno and was later explained more fully by Cleanthes and Chrysippus. For example, an ancient belief prevailed throughout Greece that Caelus was mutilated by his son Saturn, and Saturn himself thrown into bondage by his son Jove: now these immoral fables enshrined a decidedly clever scientific theory. Their meaning was that the highest element of celestial ether or fire, which by itself generates all things, is devoid of that bodily part which requires union with another for the work of procreation. By Saturn again they denoted that being who maintains the course and revolution of seasons and periods of time, et deity actually so designated in Greek, for Saturn’s Greek name is Kronos, which is the same as chronos, a space of time. The Latin designation ‘Saturn’ on the other hand is due to the fact that he is ‘saturated’ or ‘satiated with years’ (anni); the fable is that he was in the habit of devouring his sons — meaning that Time devours the ages and gorges himself insatiably with the years that are past. Saturn was bound by Jove in order that Time’s courses might not be unlimited, and that Jove might fetter him by the bonds of the stars.

We do not know if Cicero knew about the so-called “rings” around the planet Saturn, but as usual, he hit the nail on the head.

Sources
  • Cicero, De natura deorum, 24

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