Under the Influence of Saturn

In medieval cosmology, each of the seven planets has a different sort of influence on human affairs and even the movement of our souls. Mars brings war, for example, and Jupiter has a jovial effect. Relatedly, each of the planets is typically associated with an element or metal—the Sun with gold, Mercury with quicksilver, Mars with iron, etc. Saturn, the planet C. S. Lewis describes as “the last planet, old and ugly,” rules over lead. 

Saturn is indeed ugly. Taking inspiration (or horror) from the classical legends of the god Saturn, the Romantic painter Francisco Goya’s disturbed Saturn Devouring His Son captures the essence of the saturnine influence as something cold, sorrowful, unmerry, and occasionally apocalyptic. Twelfth-century scholar Alan of Lille, referring to when Earth passes Saturn in orbit, writes, “There Saturn ranges over the territory with greedy tread. … Here by his cold he robs spring of its joys, ravishes the charms of the meadow and the glory of the flowers. … He is an old man.” 

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