In March, Taurus the Bull starts to dominate the southern sky. Dr Stuart Clark’s
illustrated talk to the Society in late March kept returning to the constellation as
Stuart opened his remarks by suggesting that he would be “boringly
predictable”. (In truth he meant that he would be plugging his latest book).
However, his talk was anything but boring. He ranged over human history,
explaining his view that the development of mankind was intimately linked to
the influence that had been ascribed to the heavens. By way of illustration, he
referred to the 4000-year-old Sumerian “Epic Of Gilgamesh” – thought to be the
earliest example of literature – which referred to the “Bull of Heaven” being sent
down to punish Gilgamesh.
Reaching even further back into history Stuart demonstrated that markings
associated with the bull inscribed on the wall of the caves of Lascaux could
plausibly represent Aldebaran, the Hyades and the Pleiades.
Stuart offered the view that developments in astronomical science during the
Enlightenment, far from weakening the myths and stories associated with the
heavens, actually encouraged ideas such as the “Music of the Spheres” and links
between astrology and medicine.
Moving closer to the present day, he surmised that Van Gogh’s Starry Night had
been influenced by the recent discovery of the Whirlpool Galaxy’s shape and
structure. Stuart suggested that efforts to develop the means to leave the
planet had been driven by human aspirations to eternal life, perhaps to become
Dr Stuart’s book Beneath the Night: How the stars have shaped the history of
humankind (2021 – 304 pages, ISBN: 9781783351541) is published by Guardian