Saturday, 7 April 2012

Corvus in inktense

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is vocal, and this... oh man, did the scanner do a number on this. I'm posting it anyway, but it looks a heckuva lot different in person, I can promise you. Just imagine actual washes and a lot less vague scribbling, if you don't mind.

The reason for this response to the prompt? The story (well, one of the stories. Thought I'd leave out the cheating pregnant lover version on this one. I hope no one minds) of the constellations Corvus (the crow), Crater (the cup), and Hydra (the water snake. And not the same hydra as the one that Heracles fought, for those who know that story. At least, not the same one as far as I know). Bear in mind as I retell it that this is the somewhat cleaned-up version I tell to kids when I'm doing planetarium shows. I'm not usually too much in favour of censoring mythology, but there's a time and a place for everything. Ready? Ok, here goes...

Apollo was the god of many things to the ancient Greeks, and among those things were the sun and music. In his job as the sun god, he had to pull the sun across the sky every day, which was a lonely task. As the god of music, though, he was able to gather many musical friends around him.

Amongst those friends was Corvus the crow (and yes, I usually do explain that Corvus means crow. It's the scientific name for them even today). Corvus was a gorgeous bird with beautiful, shimmery white feathers. He was very clever, and had the best singing voice around. When Corvus sang, even the gods on Olympus stopped to listen. With all of those virtues you'd think that things were fine for Corvus, but he had one big fault. He was lazy, and to get out of work he'd tell the most incredible lies. Not the best idea when you're hanging around with the gods.

Eventually the lies started to wear on Apollo, but in fairness he decided to give the bird one more chance before he banned him from his presence. He handed Corvus his golden cup Crater and told him to go down to a sacred spring on earth to fill it with water for him. Corvus took the cup and winged his way to the fountain, fully intending to make a good job of things to please the god. Unfortunately for him, though, he spotted something on his way that sent things in a different direction.

A fig tree.

Figs were Corvus's favourite food, and the closer he got to the tree the more he kept thinking of figs. By the time he got there, figs were the only thing on his mind, and he put the cup down in the grass and flew up to the tree intending to have a feast.

The figs, however, weren't ripe yet.

Well, by this time Corvus was so intent on figs that he decided to wait for them to ripen instead of just doing his job and coming back later. He waited and waited -- some say for days -- and even sang to the figs with his beautiful voice to help them ripen sweeter. Finally, the figs were ready. So Corvus ate a fig. And another fig. And another. He kept eating figs until he was pretty much full to the top with figs. And just like one of us after Christmas dinner, after such a meal he didn't feel like doing anything but napping. So he flew down to the ground, snuggled into the grass, and started snoring.

Apollo, meanwhile, had been watching all of this as he drove the sun chariot across the sky, and to say that he wasn't happy is an understatement. He shone the sun down in just such a way that it reflected off of the golden cup and straight into Corvus's eyes. Corvus woke with a start, wondering why everything was so bright, and noticed Crater lying there in the grass. Remembering his mission, he grabbed the cup, flew off to the spring as quickly as he could, filled the cup with water, and headed off back to Apollo's palace.

Now, things might have been fine if he'd just told the truth when he got there, but Corvus wasn't used to thinking that way. By the time he'd got back to Apollo, he'd thought of what he figured must be the perfect story to keep himself out of trouble for his laziness. He handed the god his cup, saying, "here's your water, Apollo, and I sure hope it was worth the struggle to get it."

"Struggle?" said the god. "I should have thought that filling a cup with water would be an easy enough job for a clever bird like you."

"Well, it would have been," replied Corvus," but when I got there the water was all murky, and I had to do my best to clean things up. Then I had to wait for the water to run clear. And then, just as I was going to dip your cup in, Hydra the Water Snake leaped out of the fountain, stole the cup from my beak, and swam back under the water. He's been living in your sacred spring, and that's why things were so dirty. Well, I couldn't let the situation continue, so even though I'm not a water bird like Cygnus the swan I jumped in, swam to the bottom, and fought the snake. It was tough, because he's big and very strong, but finally I was able to get my claws around his neck and squeeze until he was dead. Then I found your cup, waited until the water was clear again, and came back here as quickly as I could. So I hope you enjoy your water..."

Corvus could see that Apollo wasn't happy. In fact, Apollo was angrier than Corvus had ever seen him. Apollo was so angry that he reached out and grabbed the frightened bird by the neck. He put his hand down Corvus's throat and pulled out that beautiful singing voice, throwing it away to the wind (who uses it to make the tree leaves sing even today).

But Apollo wasn't finished. He started pulling out shimmery white feathers by the handful, letting them fall to earth where they became the first snow.

When Apollo was done, poor naked Corvus hid himself away in shame for a long time. He hid, in fact, until all of his feathers could grow back. When everyone saw Corvus with his new feathers, though, they were shocked. No more fine, shimmery feathers for that bird. The feathers grew back deep, deep black to remind Corvus of the dangers of black lies. And when it was time for music and Corvus went to sing, everyone covered their ears because there was no more beautiful singing voice to be had. No, all that was left was the Caw! Caw! that Corvus and all of his children have had to carry with them ever since.

Apollo later put Corvus, Crater, and Hydra up in the sky as stars. You'll notice, however, that Corvus can never quite reach the cup for a drink to soothe his poor raw throat...


For anyone wanting a map to see the constellations for themselves, it's not hard for me to recommend Good, clear monthly PDFs with lots of added info. Don't go too closely by the plotting in my doodle -- I'll admit that I was mostly eyeballing it.

Incidentally, when I was trying in vain to fix the mess that the scanner made of the picture, I reversed it on a whim and I kind of like it that way. Gives you Corvus in his white form, if nothing else.

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