ARGO NAVIS

 



 

Argo Navis is a symbolic archetype of a great ship, which crosses the waters of the Deluge as in the Biblical tale of Noah's Arc. It lies entirely in the southern hemisphere, east of Sirius (Canis Major), south of the Constellations of Monoceros and Hydra and is largely in the Milky Way. It covers a great extent of the sky; nearly 75 degrees in length, teeming with masses of stars. Consequently, modern astronomers have divided Argo Navis into three smaller constellations; - Puppis, the Stern; Carina, the Keel; and Vela, Sail. Malus, the Mast, was a fourth constellation created of Argo Navis, but this has fallen into disuse. This constellation is still recognized by many astronomers as Argo Navis. [SLM p.64].

In ancient Egypt it was seen as the boat which carried Isis and Osiris over the deluge. And the Hindus said that it performed the same function for Isi and Iswara, they called it the ship Argha, which is similar to the Greek title. Others say that the word Argo comes from the Semitic word arek meaning 'long'. The Babylonian Epic of Creation relates how the gods decided to destroy the earth with a flood. The god Ea took pity on humanity and secretly warned a mortal named Uto-Napishtim of the forthcoming disaster. The man set about building a boat 120 cubits high to carry his family, possessions and sundry animals and birds. After the flood subsided, Uto-Napishtim and his passengers were the only survivors. Another Greek tradition according to Eratosthenes, asserted that Argo Navis represented the first ship to sail the ocean which carried Danoes and his fifty daughters from Egypt to Rhodes. [SLM p.65].

The Ship appears to have no bow, this loss of its bow is said to have occurred when Argo passed "Through Bosphorus betwixt the jostling rocks" - the Symplegades, yet it has often been, as in The Alfonsine Tables, illustrated and described by artists and authors, as a complete double-masted vessel with oars, and Lubienitzki, in the Theatrurn Comelicum of 1667, as a three-masted argosy with a tier of ports and all sails set full to the wind. [SLM].

It has been known since classical times, the great ship of the Argonauts, built by Glaucus for Jason, leader of the fifty Argonauts, whose number equaled that of the oars of ship. Aided by Pallas/Athene/Minerva, who herself set in the prow a piece from The Speaking Oak of Dodona; the Argo being "thus endowed with the power of warning and guiding the chieftains who form its crew", she carried the famous expedition from Colchis in Thessaly to Aea in Colchis (Colchia was the district along the eastern shore of the Euxine Sea, now Mingrelia) in search of the Golden Fleece, and when the voyage was over, Athene placed the boat in the sky. The story of how Jason, with the help of the fifty Argonauts and the sorceress, Medea, who sailed in Argo Navis to win the Golden Fleece, is one of the most famous of the old Greek myths (see below). [SLM]. 

To the Romans it always was Argo and Navis, Argolica Navia and Argolica Puppis; Ovid called it Pagasaea Puppis, from, the Thessalian seaport where it was built; Manilius called it the Heroes' Raft, 'which now midst Stars doth sail' and also referred to it as Nobilis Argo. The Romans also called it Navigium Praedatorium, the Pirate Ship. While somewhat similar are Glirrus Naris, the Sea Chariot.
The Arabians called it Al sariuah, a Ship, and Markab, something to ride upon. The biblical school naturally called it, Noah's Ark, the Arca Noachi, or Archa Noae as Bayer wrote it; Jacob Bryant, the English mythologist of the last century, making its story another form of that of Noah. Indeed in the 17th century the Ark seems to have been its popular title. The constellation is noticeable in lower latitudes for its great extent and the splendour of Canopus. [SLM].

As bearers of the Sun and Moon ships represent fecundity and the fertility of the waters; they also represent adventure, exploration, setting out on the sea of life and thus the symbol of life "the journey of life", but also crossing the waters of death; in this connection ships share the bridge symbolism in crossing from this world to the next. The architectural form of the Church was compared with a ship; the nave from Latin navis is the central part of a church. [IEC p.152, HSD p.172]. Ships conjure up ideas of strength and safety in dangers of a voyage and the symbolism is as applicable to space-flights as to sea-travel. The ship is like a star which orbits about its pole, the earth, but under human control. It is a picture of life in which the individual must choose a goal and steer a safe course through the waves of worldly dangers. There is another aspect which shows the exaggerated, or perverted qualities of the ship symbolism; it is told in the old Scandinavian legend of a ghost-ship, on which Wagner based his Flying Dutchman, symbolizing the quest for fidelity in love and the shipwreck of that ideal, exposed as nothing more than a phantom. The ghost-ship symbolizes those dreams inspired by the highest ideals, but which are impossibly idealistic and cannot be realized. [PDS p.876].