Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Sagittarius: the Archer

The Fair Toxophilites   William Powell Frith 1872
© Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

It was Roger Ascham, tutor and later secretary to Queen Elizabeth I,  who coined the word "toxophily".  In 1545 he published his treatise on archery -- "Toxophilus", -- from toxon, the Greek word for bow, rather than the Latin arcus. His book takes the form of a debate between Philologus, the scholar, and Toxophilus the archer, on the respective virtues of learning versus shooting.  Toxophilus is clearly no mean scholar himself, drawing on as many classical writers - Plato, Aristotle, Hesiod and more - as the book-loving Philologus.  This was the first handbook on archery written in English, and Ascham's dialogue format was soon copied by other writers, including Izaak Walton in his Compleat Angler in 1653.

the Moon goddess, late 17th century engraving

The constellation of Sagittarius takes its name from the Latin for arrow, sagitta, and is often portrayed (as above) as a centaur, that half-man, half-horse beast from Greek mythology;   although it is perhaps that other archer,  Cupid, who is the more popular figure in western art and literature.

"With what sad steps, O Moon! thou climb'st the skies!
How silently! and with how wan a face!
What! may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?"

Sonnet 31, Astrophel and Stella  Sir Philip Sidney

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