Tag: GoT

Of Astrolabes and Wine

Further evidence that astrolabes are infiltrating culture is the name of winery in New Zealand: Astrolabe.

A winery in New Zealand has adopted the name “Astrolabe.”

Unfortunately, this winery is not really named after the instrument. Instead, situated in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the winery is named “after the ship that in 1827 charted and explored the Marlborough Coast.” That ship was called “L’Astrolabe” (presumably after the instrument).

The L’Astrolabe was certainly the name of a ship, but an astrolabe isn’t now nor ever was a navigational instrument.

As much as I like the connection to the ship and the instrument, I regret that the owners have been mislead by a common myth about astrolabes being used as navigational instruments. Despite what we often hear and read, astrolabes were not navigational instruments. Yes, they could be used to determine elevation of celestial objects (as well as doing a whole host of calculations), but they were never used to navigate.[1]

Whatever the case, references to astrolabes are turning up more often in popular culture (even GoT jumped on the “astrolabe” bandwagon). Before long we are likely to see Astrolabe return the lists of popular baby names. Abelard and Héloïse were just a few centuries ahead of their time.

  1. Yes, the “Mariner’s astrolabe” was used to determine the elevation of celestial objects and thereby help to determine location. But that’s a different instrument. And while some people will argue that they are similar enough to allow for the slippage from one term to another, I am not such a person. Moreover, I would argue against the validity of claiming that one was subset of the other. And because this is my little sandbox, I get to be as pedantic and particular as I wish.  ↩

GoT Starbucks Cups and Astrolabes

Game of Thrones fans, and a disturbingly large part of the internet, erupted over an errant paper coffee cup, complete with plastic sippy lid that somehow found its way onto a table on set. For a few seconds during the feast celebrating the defeat of the Night King, on the table near Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen etc. etc. etc., sharp-eyed viewers caught a glimpse of the offending cup and immediately turned to the internet to express dismay and outrage. News outlets picked it up and ran with the story, trying among other things to determine if it was a Starbucks cup.[1]

Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen etc. etc. etc. and her cup of coffee.

To be fair, a paper to-go cup seems a bit casual for a banquet celebrating the survival of humans all over the seven kingdoms, as well as Essos and Sothoryos (I assume they too would have eventually fallen to the Night King). At least have one of those plastic, branded reusable cups. But whatever.

NY Times worried about that coffee cup.

Anyway, the uproar over the paper cup as some a violation of authenticity and veracity seems a bit misplaced in light of the willful disregard for both in every discussion of the opening sequence. We read again and again (and again and again) about the astrolabe in the opening sequence.

The GoT “astrolabe” as rendered in the opening sequence.

Even the creative director at one of the design firms that produced imagery for the opening sequence talks about the astrolabe. He shared the original concept for the instrument. Here it seems the sun is at the center with various bands rotating about it.

GoT “astrolabe” concept art.

The only problem? It’s not an astrolabe! It’s nothing like an astrolabe. It doesn’t project the heavens onto a plane. It doesn’t allow for the calculation of anything (let alone the altitude of a celestial body). It doesn’t track or map the motions of the stars. There are no zodiacal (fictional or otherwise) on it. It looks to be akin to an armillary sphere, except again it doesn’t display any celestial information. Looking at the concept art, it seems inspired by Eudoxus model for planetary motion, with its concentric, off-axis rotating rings.

A simple example of Eudoxus’ model for planetary motion, complete with off-axis, concentric spheres.

In any case, let’s be clear. Whether or not it was a Starbucks cup next to Daenerys in that banquet, it was at least a to-go cup (complete with sippy lid) that seems out of place. By contrast, that is certainly not an astrolabe in the opening sequence, however much it might seems like such an instrument belongs in Westeros.

  1. The pixels dedicated to the cup and explanations of the cup and interviews of people about the cup suggests either a really slow news day or the profound need for a little fantasy and escapism. Either would be a welcome change from reality.  ↩