Myths of the Moon: Dione (Saturn)

Some of the mythically named moons of our solar system point to huge narratives; for instance, last week we examined Tethys, and there was barely enough space in one post to gloss over her stories, bound up as they are with the events of the Trojan War.

One isn’t faced with the same difficulty when it comes to Dione.

She might be a Titaness, or she might be Oceanid, a water nymph. She might be cognate with Venus/Aphrodite, or she might be Aphrodite’s mother (in most versions of Aphrodite’s story, Aphrodite is born from the sea foam that arises when Zeus castrates his father, Cronus, and tosses his genitals into the ocean).

She might even be connected to Asherah/Astarte, the Canaanite goddess who is intimately connected with El, the leader of the gods, who would one to day go on to be the only god for the Hebrew people.

And as the daughter of Atlas, she might have married king Tantalus,  and given him three children. One of her sons was named Pelops, who Tantalus offered up as a cannibal dish to trick the Olympians. As a punishment, he was banished to the lowest parts of Tartarus, where a tree with low hanging fruit always moved out of reach when he grabbed for sustenance, and a pool filled by ever dripping water receded whenever he approached it to quench his thirst. The Olympians also undid his heinous crime by restoring Pelops to life.

(Tantalus’ name is the root of the word tantalize; to be spellbound by something that is forever out of one’s reach).

Will the real Dione stand up? And why is she with Saturn, when her only primary association is through Venus/Aphrodite, which is tenuous at best?

This is where we have to leave the primacy of the Greco-Roman world, and consider other mythologies that grew out of the Greek tradition. Among these other myths are those of the Phoenicians.

The same Phoenicians who gave us the beginnings of our modern alphabets – hence the term phonics.

One of the Phoenician texts that we have fragments of is attributed to a Sanchuniathon; however, we know far more about his translator, Philo of Byblos, who lived between the first and second centuries CE. According to his translations of Sanchunaithon, texts Philo claimed were composed before the Trojan war, Dione had a relationship with Cronus.

Some academics suspect Philo of poor scholarship, or even intentional deceit. Still, regardless of authorship or age, this myth fits into the Phoenician temple remains archeologists have discovered, so it is likely an accurate representation of a Phoenician myth.

Here, Dione is one of the first generation of Titans, being a child of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth). This make Cronus (also known as Elus) her brother. Their parents instruct Dione and her sisters to kill Cronus, but the attempt fails, and Cronus takes Dione as his wife. As a wedding gift, he gives her the town of Byblos.

Another name for Dione is Baaltis; some scholars consider this an abbreviation of Ba`alat Gebal, the patron goddess of Byblos.

So Philo of Byblos translated a work about Dione, who was given the city of Byblos, and whose other epitaph, Baaltis, might be short for the patron goddess of Byblos.

So let’s take about Byblos for a minute. For the Phoencians, it was called Gebal, hence Ba`alat Gebal. The Greeks took the name Gebal, and somewhere in translation, it became Bublos.

This city was renowned for one important trade item: papyrus. Paper came from Egypt into the Mediterranean world through the port city of Bublos, also known as Byblos.

Why does this matter? Well, if you’ve ever head of The Bible, you now know why it’s called that: The Bible means the book, i.e., the papyrus. All of this from Bublos, which in turn came from Gebel, which was the city that Cronus/Elus/Saturn presented his sister-bride Dione as a wedding gift. The same city where Philo would translate the story, which is the only extant version that we have.

Okay, onto the moon:

Dione is one of the larger moon in our solar system. It is the fifteenth largest moon, but that still makes it larger than all of the smaller moons combined.

Let’s go through a lunar checklist:

Thin oxygen atmosphere (thin enough that astronomers call it an exosphere as opposed to an atmosphere. Still, oxygen): Check.

Icy protective surface: Check.

Large under ice oceans, containing liquid water: Check.

Life? Check back in, Dione only knows.

Next on our list of Saturn’s moon is Rhea, which shares many similarities with Dione.

Until next time, keep checking the heavens.

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