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This old sole.

What other body--terrestrial or celestial--has received as much adulation as the sun?

Old Sol has served as one of the supreme forces in a great variety of religions (1): Egyptian Ra and Horus, Sumerian Utu, Mesopotamian (Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian) Shamash, Canaanite Shapash (also known as the "torch of the gods"), Syrian Elagabalus, (2) Roman Apollo, Incan Inti, Aztec (also known as "people of the sun") Tonatiuh, Hindu Surya, Shinto Amaterasu Omikami (Great Divinity Illuminating Heaven), and Slavic Dajbog, just to mention some of the major figures. (3) Little wonder, since nearly all of the natural changes occurring in the environment originate, directly or indirectly, in solar activity and position: light and heat (and their lack), plant growth, every form of precipitation, wind activity that ranges from gentle breezes to major cyclones, tidal phenomena, and even some earthquakes. We can easily understand the motivation of earthly rulers to not only compare themselves to the sun (as did Louis Quatorze (4)), but even to claim direct descent from it (as does the Japanese imperial family): What monarch would not welcome an association with a life-giving (and life-taking), all-seeing source of immense power?

Monarchs do not stand alone in their desire for an association with the sun. Look at the variety of both abstract and concrete entities, which carry Old Sol's name (5): An element (Helium), a body part (solar plexus), a geographical area (the Sun Belt of the United States), several plants (e.g., Helianthus annuity or the sunflower, heliotrope, also known as turnsole, and Helenium or sneeze-weed, also called swamp sunflower), and a North American Indian ceremony (sun dance); the latter first became the source of the name of a small town in Wyoming (Sundance with a population of 1182), then of Harry Alonzo Longabaugh's nickname (the Sundance Kid, for having stolen a horse there in 1887). And the list continues.

--The ancient Canaanite and modern Israeli city of Beit Shemesh (the house of sun), an ancient city (Heliopolis), from the latter an Egyptian university (Ein Shams or "the sun's eye"), a Druze village on the northern part of the Golan Heights (Majdal Shams or "tower of sun"), thoroughfares in countless cities (Sunrise and Sunset boulevards), and an entire country (Nipon, Japan's endonym, which literally means the land "where the sun originates").

--A well-liked ice cream dessert (sundae, probably invented to circumvent the prohibition to sell ice cream on Sundays), a king (Louis XIV, le Roi-Soleil or the Sun King), as well as a famous horse that raced for a king (Sun Chariot, for George VI), two female given names (Helen and its dozens of variants, as well as Solana (6)), a Yoga position (Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation), a popular name for a vessel used in church (the sunburst monstrance), and a hero of the Jewish Bible (Samson or Shimshon, "little sun" in Hebrew).

--An artistic circus (the Canadian Cirque du Soleil), the first (or last) day of the week in some languages (Sunday, Sonntag, Sondag, Zondag), (7) and "day" in Hungarian (nap), a long list of newspapers (as in "Toronto Sun," "Sonne Zeitung," "The Sun" of the United Kingdoms, "Le Soleil" of Quebec, and many more), one or two of the cardinal directions (namely east and/or west) in several languages (some as different from each other as in English, Hebrew, Hungarian, and most Slavic tongues, each of which refers to these points of the compass as [where the sun] rises or sets), a famous Neapolitan song (O sole mio), a computer company, as well as an operating system (Sun Microsystems, superseded by the Solaris Operating system (8)).

--"Sunbeam" (with over 22 million hits on Google) serves, inter alia, as the name of six U.S. towns, eleven different means of transportation, two movies, five business enterprises, a series of nuclear tests, a snake, and a butterfly. "Sunshine" receives nearly ten times as many hits, including several movies, songs, and hotels. "Sunshine Girl" alone has over 3 million hits, "Sonnenschein" (9) nearly 23 million, including its use as a German (often Jewish) surname.

--The major component of many idiomatic expressions, such as "sunny side up", "sunny disposition", "the sunny side of the street," "a place in the sun" (also a movie), "hello sunshine," "you are my sunshine."

Though I feel a great temptation, I try to avoid anthropomorphizing when I salute Old Sol. So let me just end up by mentioning that the sun has shone for some 4.6 billion years and will continue to do so for 5 billion more, totally unperturbed by what I write here.

References

Heim, F. (1999). Solstice d'hiver, solstice d'ete dans la predication chretienne du Ve siecle. Latomus, 59, 640-660.

Mouravieff, B. (1961-1965). Gnosis-Etudes et commentaires sur la tradition Esoterique de I'Orthodoxie orientate, Tome I. Paris: La Colombe.

Sonnino, P. (Ed.) (1970). Memoires for the instruction of the Dophin, by Louis XIV. New York: Free Press. (Originally published 1662).

Notes

(1.) Expressly forbidden in Judaism; see Deuteronomy 4:19, Deuteronomy 17:3, 2 Kings 23:4.

(2.) Sometimes referred to as Heliogabalus, thus providing a spurious connection between El (god) and Helio (sun).

(3.) See also a possible connection to Christianity: Heim (1999) summarized the debates around the birthday of Jesus, probably taken over by the Christian church from the feast of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun), celebrated by the Romans on December 25.

(4.) See also his Latin motto "Nec pluribus impar" or "Not unequal to many," about which he wrote: "I would be just as capable of ruling still other empires as would the sun of illuminating still other worlds with its rays" (Sonnino, 1970, p. 104).

(5.) I intentionally avoid nonsymbolic or nonmetaphorical uses, such as sundial, sunstroke, solar oven, and so on, as well as similes, as in Shakespeare: "Love comforteth like sunshine after rain." Notice also that helicon, helicopter, solenoid, and a few others bear no etymological relation to Old Sol. Mouravieff (1961, p. 91) mistakenly suggested that the "sol" of solfege received its name from the sun.

(6.) But not Solange, even though some have (mistakenly) interpreted it as Sol-Ange, or sun-angel.

(7.) Several Indic languages also use a sun-related word for Sunday, as in Ravi-vasara or Aditya-vasara, where vasara means day, and Aditya and Ravi serve as a manner of address for the solar deity Surya.

(8.) "Solaris" receives over 81 million hits on Google.

(9.) See also "Sonnheim" and "Sonnenheim."

Michael Moore is a professor in the Department of Education in Science and Technology, Technicon-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, and a frequent contributor to ETC.
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Title Annotation:the sun
Author:Moore, Michael
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2013
Words:1093
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