It’s ten years today since the world lost the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, best known for coining the phrase ‘Big Bang’.
As well as being an important 20th Century astrophysicist, Cambridge University Professor Hoyle — born in 1915 — was also a talented novelist and screen-writer. Among his works is the science-fiction TV series A for Andromeda (1961) and its sequel The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962), in which Andromeda was a sort of super-computer built from specifications sent from a distant galaxy.
Most of the original series of A for Andromeda was lost, but it was remade by the BBC in 2006.
To commemorate the anniversary Hoyle’s passing, here’s a closer look at the alluring Andromeda.
The original Andromeda is a character of Greek mythology. The daughter of Cepheus, King of Ethiopia, and his queen, Cassiopeia, Andromeda was a beautiful princess, whose priviledged royal lifestyle took a nasty turn when her mother offended the Gods.
Cassiopeia failed to learn the classic Greek lesson that saying you were in some way better than the Gods was not a good idea. She boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids.
The Nereids got into a huff, and complained to Poseidon. He avenged them by sending a terrible sea-monster to ravage the land.
Cepheus and Cassiopeia learned that the only way to stop the monster was to sacrifice their only daughter Andromeda to it. And so they chained the poor girl to a rock and left her to her terrible fate.
Fortunately, the heroic Perseus turned up and saved the day by turning the sea-monster to stone with the head of the Medusa.
Beats a pocket knife.
He and Andromeda lived happily ever after, and when they died, were placed among the stars.
Andromeda is a Greek name, from anêr ‘man’ + medomai ‘to advise’ – i.e. ‘advising like a man’.
When interpreting the exact nuance of this, it is important to remember that in Ancient Greece, women had little status and were treated as chattels.
A comparison of a woman to a man, therefore, might be complimentary or condemnatory, depending on the context.
As the mythological Andromeda is a pretty conventional Greek woman (apart from the sea-monster business, which was hardly her fault), it is probably safe to assume that, in her case, it was complimentary.
The constellation of Andromeda contains a number of bright stars — Sirrah (also known as Alpheratz), Mirach and Almach.
It is also home to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the most distant object visible to the naked eye. Light from the Andromeda Galaxy takes two and a half million years to reach us on Earth.
A for Andromeda and its sequel aren’t Andromeda’s only forays into popular culture — particularly the realm of science-fiction. Andromeda (2000-05), was another Science Fiction TV show to bear the name, while Andromeda: A Space Age Tale (1957) is a Communist era Russian take on the genre by Ivan Efremov.
Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969), ventured into the slightly different science-fiction territory of superbugs.
Almost inevitably, Andromeda also turns up in Harry Potter. Andromeda Tonks is the mother of Nymphadora Tonks. Born a member of the infamous Black family, Andromeda — called Dromeda by her Muggle-born husband — bears a scary resemblance to her Death Eater sister Bellatrix, but is considerably nicer.
But it’s not all science fiction and fantasy; Andromeda polifolia is the botanical name of the pretty heathland shrub bog-rosemary, so-named by Linnaeus in the 18th Century.
Despite all its fictional use — perhaps over-use — I feel Andromeda still has integrity as a name in its own right. It shortens naturally to the familiar Andi or Andie — or the slightly more exotic Meda.
Although it has only ever been rare, it is found as a given name from the 19th Century; in more recent years occuring in such interesting combinations as Aerial Andromeda, Andromeda Breeze, Andromeda Ursa, Astra Andromeda, Andromeda Hesper, Andromeda Reign and Andromeda Starr.
All in all, a very sparkly name!