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Allegory of the World (1515) from the studio of  Joachim Patinir
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Allegory of the World (1515) from the studio of Joachim Patinir

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A planet is an astronomical object orbiting a star.

The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science, mythology, and religion. The planets were originally seen by many early cultures as divine, or as emissaries of deities. As scientific knowledge advanced, human perception of the planets changed, incorporating a number of disparate objects.

Mythology and naming

The names for the planets in the Western world are derived from the naming practices of the Romans, which ultimately derive from those of the Greeks and the Babylonians. In ancient Greece, the two great luminaries the Sun and the Moon were called Helios and Selene; the farthest planet (Saturn) was called Phainon, the shiner; followed by Phaethon (Jupiter), "bright"; the red planet (Mars) was known as Pyroeis, the "fiery"; the brightest (Venus) was known as Phosphoros, the light bringer; and the fleeting final planet (Mercury) was called Stilbon, the gleamer. The Greeks also made each planet sacred to one among their pantheon of gods, the Olympians: Helios and Selene were the names of both planets and gods; Phainon was sacred to Cronus, the Titan who fathered the Olympians; Phaethon was sacred to Zeus, Cronus's son who deposed him as king; Pyroeis was given to Ares, son of Zeus and god of war; Phosphoros was ruled by Aphrodite, the goddess of love; and Hermes, messenger of the gods and god of learning and wit, ruled over Stilbon.

The Greek practice of grafting of their gods' names onto the planets was almost certainly borrowed from the Babylonians. The Babylonians named Phosphoros after their goddess of love, Ishtar; Pyroeis after their god of war, Nergal, Stilbon after their god of wisdom Nabu, and Phaethon after their chief god, Marduk. There are too many concordances between Greek and Babylonian naming conventions for them to have arisen separately. The translation was not perfect. For instance, the Babylonian Nergal was a god of war, and thus the Greeks identified him with Ares. However, unlike Ares, Nergal was also god of pestilence and the underworld.

Today, most people in the western world know the planets by names derived from the Olympian pantheon of gods. While modern Greeks still use their ancient names for the planets, other European languages, because of the influence of the Roman Empire and, later, the Catholic Church, use the Roman (Latin) names rather than the Greek ones. The Romans, who, like the Greeks, were Indo-Europeans, shared with them a common pantheon under different names but lacked the rich narrative traditions that Greek poetic culture had given their gods. During the later period of the Roman Republic, Roman writers borrowed much of the Greek narratives and applied them to their own pantheon, to the point where they became virtually indistinguishable. When the Romans studied Greek astronomy, they gave the planets their own gods' names: Mercurius (for Hermes), Venus (Aphrodite), Mars (Ares), Iuppiter (Zeus) and Saturnus (Cronus). When subsequent planets were discovered in the 18th and 19th centuries, the naming practice was retained with Neptūnus (Poseidon). Uranus is unique in that it is named for a Greek deity rather than his Roman counterpart.

Some Romans, following a belief possibly originating in Mesopotamia but developed in Hellenistic Egypt, believed that the seven gods after whom the planets were named took hourly shifts in looking after affairs on Earth. The order of shifts went Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon (from the farthest to the closest planet). Therefore, the first day was started by Saturn (1st hour), second day by Sun (25th hour), followed by Moon (49th hour), Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus. Since each day was named by the god that started it, this is also the order of the days of the week in the Roman calendar after the Nundinal cycle was rejected – and still preserved in many modern languages. In English, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are straightforward translations of these Roman names. The other days were renamed after Tiw, (Tuesday) Wóden (Wednesday), Thunor (Thursday), and Fríge (Friday), the Anglo-Saxon gods considered similar or equivalent to Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus, respectively.

Earth is the only planet whose name in English is not derived from Greco-Roman mythology. Since it was only generally accepted as a planet in the 17th century, there is no tradition of naming it after a god. (The same is true, in English at least, of the Sun and the Moon, though they are no longer generally considered planets.) The name originates from the 8th century Anglo-Saxon word erda, which means ground or soil and was first used in writing as the name of the sphere of the Earth perhaps around 1300. As with its equivalents in the other Germanic languages, it derives ultimately from the Proto-Germanic word ertho, "ground", as can be seen in the English earth, the German Erde, the Dutch aarde, and the Scandinavian jord. Many of the Romance languages retain the old Roman word terra (or some variation of it) that was used with the meaning of "dry land" as opposed to "sea". However, the non-Romance languages use their own native words. The Greeks retain their original name, Γή (Ge).

Namesakes

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Planet" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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