Sunday 19 September 2010


The purpose of Uranus is, of course, to make me snigger. The planet was originally called Georgium Sidus - George's Star - after King George the Third. The name was then changed to Neptune, which, though it's less obviously patriotic, was still meant to celebrate the victories of the British over the revolting Americans. Then a compromise was suggested of Neptune George III, but it was, of course, a foreigner, and a German at that, called Johann Bode who proposed Uranus.

You see, Mars is the son of Jupiter and Jupiter is the son of Saturn and Saturn is the son of Uranus (or Ouranos), so the solar system was allowed to progress like a divine family tree heading outward into the dark.

Bode's suggestion was backed up by a German chemist who had just discovered a new element and decided to call it Uranium in order to make the name fashionable. To the delight of schoolboys all over the anglosphere, it worked.

Uranus, in Greek, simply meant sky or heaven, the god being but a personification. This is the root of the lovely word Ouranophantor, one who reveals heavenly mysteries, and Uranomania, the belief that you are of divine descent.

However, Uranian also used to mean homosexual. This was not because homosexuality might be heavenly, but to do with the birth of Aphrodite as recounted in Plato's Symposium. There are two accounts of the birth of Aphrodite, goddess of love. The first is that she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione, the second that she was the child of Uranus. In the latter case she would have no female parent, and so Plato took the story of Uranian descent to imply that love need not involve a woman.

The term popped up in English in 1893 in the works of John Addington Symonds, who may have invented it. He wrote:

Thou standest on this craggy cove,
Live image of Uranian love.

Uranian was Oscar Wilde's preferred term for his proclivities. In 1898 he wrote a letter to Robert Ross saying:

To have altered my life would have been to have admitted that Uranian love is ignoble. I hold it to be noble - more noble than other forms.

Symonds also called Uranian love l'amour de l'impossible - love of the impossible - whether he or Wilde delighted in the Uranian pun is not, alas, recorded.

Oscar Wilde contemplating Uranus


  1. After all that intellectual rigour, the caption. Such bathos!

  2. Upon reading the caption, I turned and mooned my laptop screen. So, I guess he really was!

    1. And I must exert a considerable degree of self-control to stop myself from doing the same. I am very glad I am not alone!