How are craters aged on the moon

The art is like the dog: Both are incurably drunk by the moon and the sight of it

No science has cured people from seeing more in the moon than a pile of rocks. And no celestial object has stimulated the imagination into bolder and more sentimental dreams.

In April 1972, Charles Duke placed a photo in the dust of the moon. On the back of the slightly faded Kodacolor picture it says: "This is the family of the astronaut Duke from planet Earth." The four people in the photo look very American. They embody the small town, happiness and the belief that anything is possible if you just want to. Charles Duke was part of the crew of Apollo 16, the penultimate US lunar mission.

It had been known for three years that it was humanly possible to travel to the moon and back again, but this is a private story: the Dukes in space. If no comet impact and no extraterrestrial colonization project hits the small photo of a married couple with two children, then it will lie in the Descartes crater for centuries. Far out there, the Dukes will survive. Because one of them was actually on the moon.

The stories of the astronauts are modern fairy tales. They talk about technology, but they also have something archaic about them. Because travel is what this is about. About the incomprehensible that becomes tangible, and for that the moon is perhaps the symbol par excellence. 380,000 kilometers away, but so close that you think you know it. He is just there. White, yellow, reddish. He does what he always does: shine, rise, set. His restraint makes him a folk hero of the universe, to whom the refrains of his eternal journey can be sung. Lines like this: «Good moon, you walk so quietly».

A big hurt

With its kind, the moon is easy prey for kitsch, but art doesn't have a hard time with it either. In addition to its unmistakable existence there is an ontological indeterminacy. A lack of purpose. To this day, it is not even possible to say exactly how it came about. When you talk about the moon, everyone knows what it is.

But you don't know either, because this rock itself has become a whole cosmos of metaphors. From landscape painters to astrologers, from writers to philosophers, everyone has their own idea of ​​celestial mechanics, which, in addition to their cosmic necessities, are also something completely different: pictures. Images of inner worlds. Projections, misunderstandings.

At the time of Aristotle one explained the spots on the moon with the assumption that they could be reflections of the continents. You have seen a second Africa or a second Italy on the moon. The Copernican Enlightenment put an end to this belief. One has to live with the hurt that the moon has something else to do than mirror the earth.

Apropos offense: The fact that the moon is male in German distinguishes it from its role in many other languages. The historian Francis Palgrave has an explanation for this in his "History of the Anglo-Saxons". The mythology of the Greeks and the Romans assumed a female deity for the moon as a matter of course. According to Palgrave, however, the ancient Teutons were afraid of losing their patriarchal power if they worshiped the moon as a goddess.

Viewed from the earth and human imagination, the moon can be many things. It is not surprising that its white round has been a symbol of immaculateness for many centuries. In religious art, the Virgin Mary was often depicted on the crescent moon. Twice purity, twice rays, but when the first telescopes appeared and we knew more precisely what the surface of the moon looked like, this iconography was suddenly wrong. The illustrations in Galileo's «Star Messengers» showed the moon with its desert-like surface, with spots and craters.

What inconstancy!

A struggle between theologians and the knowledge of science began. In view of the fact that suddenly the earth was no longer in the center of the cosmos, that was a sideline, but still. In the arsenal of images and symbols, the church fought for supremacy until Lodovico Cigoli broke the Gordian knot in the ceiling frescoes of the Capella Paolina of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 1612. His Maria Immacolata stands on the scarred and not at all flawless surface of the moon.

Mary in the moon is an image of purity and metaphysical eternity, but it was not without reason that this dark sphere was seen quite differently. As a symbol of fickleness and impermanence. Increasing and then decreasing again, the moon is hardly ever itself. That is why Shakespeare's Juliet asks Romeo not to swear by the moon of all places when it comes to love.

The myths only get cracked when the first telescopes are pushed into space.

In art, this satellite of change and predictability is, for its part, always there and always different. In the Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian culture, early humans looked up to the sky and carved the phases of the moon into a piece of bone. That was over 30,000 years ago. Such finds were made in today's Dordogne, in Germany and at the source of the Nile. They show attempts to portray the mystery of the moon and are at the beginning of millennia of myths.

The myths only get cracked when the first telescopes are pushed into space. In 1609, Galileo Galilei looked at the moon with the telescope he had constructed, and a year later he wrote his “Sidereus Nuncius”, the “Star Messenger”. Fearing that someone might precede him in view of the spread of new technologies, Galileo made this work in the greatest hurry. He looks at the jagged surface of the moon, the fixed stars, the Milky Way. He draws and describes.

The woodcuts, etchings and texts of the "Star Messenger" are the products of a concentration that has to re-focus every second of its activity. Back on paper over the hundreds of thousands of kilometers. From the matter out there into the casing of the words and sentences. And Galileo, who can also do so many other things, masters this with the utmost brilliance. The «messenger of the stars» is science and art in one. The upright look into space while bowing to its incredible beauty.

The time of the wolves

But Galileo is also one of those who see the moon as a light source of longing and rapture, magic and shudder. Of course, art makes the earth's satellite yours. Caspar David Friedrich can't get enough of casting the moonlight over pine forests, crosses and rocks.

In this case it goes without saying: The moon can make the metaphysical shadows of our existence visible better than the sun. When he shows himself in copperplate engravings and paintings, in operas or in films, you know that the world is just a few steps away.

Van Gogh's “The Starry Night” is completely churned up by the glow of the heavenly bodies and a buttercup yellow moon, while with Henri Rousseau's “The Sleeping Gypsy” good is possible. Under the guard of the moon, the gypsy sleeps in the desert next to her lute and a lion. Nothing will happen to her. In Edvard Munch's work, the full moon stands behind the «Four Girls on the Bridge», as befits the title. He is painted in the bright night sky and on the edge of the picture as if he was concocting a ruse. The girls have no idea.

For Kepler's attempt to popularize his groundbreaking knowledge through literature, fiction also serves to distract the already nervous church.

Whether Millet, Manet or Menzel, whether over sheep, Boulogne or Berlin: The moon is the guarantor of a temporary peace, but you know it can be different. Then comes the time of the wolves and the night figures, as painted by Max Ernst in 1953 in his "Locust Song on the Moon". The German painter Wilhelm Kranz designed early science fiction in 1919 with his "Ideal Moon Landscape". In this monumental picture, the moon does not have to be anything other than itself. A crater landscape, jagged rock. In the background the earth.

The old picture, created a century ago from scientific knowledge and imagination, was the sensation of an exhibition at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne on the subject of the moon ten years ago. It is the apotheosis of the loneliness of space, and it looks like a film still from Stanley Kubrick's “Space Odyssey”.

You can see it from the earth and cover the hundreds of thousands of kilometers in between in your imagination. At least until other modes of transport are invented. At the beginning of the 17th century, the astronomer Johannes Kepler was one of the first to look through a telescope and a short time later wrote the story "Somnium".

The work was not published until 1634, four years after Kepler's death. It's science fiction long before anything like it existed. The narrator of "Somnium" makes a trip to the moon in his sleep. There he notices that Copernicus is right: the earth revolves around the sun. In Kepler's attempt to popularize this groundbreaking insight through literature, fiction also serves to distract the already nervous church.

Fantastic missiles

The idea that the moon is inhabited by animals that have got used to its inhospitable weather is an added bonus in Kepler's story. Around the same time as "Somnium", Francis Godwin wrote "The Man in the Moone", where a man named Domingo Gonsales lets swans pull his flying machine to the moon. There he meets all upright Christians.

Domingo Gonsales also appears a few decades later in Cyrano de Bergerac's novel L’Autre monde ou les Etats et empires de la Lune, where he has to be told that the idea that there is a God is nonsense. Cyrano, the hero, who also took the name from his author, comes to the moon by fireworks. In 1768 Gottfried August Bürger blows Münchhausen's ship onto the moon with a hurricane. George Tucker chooses an anti-gravity material in his novel “A Voyage to the Moon”.

H. G. Wells did a similar thing in "The First Men in the Moon" in 1901. His “cavorite” is a substance that gravity has no chance. Travel aids such as springs, balloons and constructions that are modeled on the wings of birds are also popular in the literature. Ben Moore tells a beautiful story in his book "The Moon" about Konstantin Ziolkowski, who was born in a small Russian village in 1857.

Ziolkowski was a shy child and later a fantasy and rocket scientist rolled into one. In 1897 he set up the basic rocket equation and in 1893 published his science fiction novel "Auf dem Monde". For the first time in literature, the moon's weaker gravity is taken into account, and Ziolkowski's colleague Jules Verne has to listen to a lot for his space utopias.

A cannon that shoots a man at the moon would have to be of an exorbitant length, and any astronaut would be turned to a pulp under the tremendous acceleration forces. Ziolkowski wrote in a letter to a friend: "The earth is the cradle of mankind, but we cannot live in a cradle forever."

That is true, and long before the first space travelers actually set foot on the moon, the film builds sets in its studios that represent a whole universe. In 1902, Georges Méliès began working on the silent film “Le Voyage dans la Lune” for 20,000 francs. In terms of content, the film borrows from the moon driver novels by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

Technically, it is way ahead of its time. He works with stop motion and dissolves. Méliès herself plays the bearded professor Barbenfouillis, a cohort of bathing beauties is called up to say goodbye to the rocket on the ramp. After just a few seconds of film, to the displeasure of the cream-faced moon, it lands in his right eye.

The weather is bad on the earth's satellite, but the scholars have umbrellas with them, with which they then fight against the dangerous inhabitants of the interior of the moon. After a short adventure and a fifteen-minute film, the rocket is back on earth. Reason to celebrate and the end of a happy scientific travesty that delivers less exact than emblematic images.

The moon in Babelsberg

Méliès carelessly creates art, creates surreal icons, while less than three decades later Fritz Lang combines science fiction with actual science in the silent film "Woman in the Moon". Here, too, it is an expedition to the moon, but Lang hires the German rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth for his work. In the Babelsberg film studio, tons of sand from the Baltic Sea have been poured up.

When this extraterrestrial matter is flown over with the camera eye, the surface curvature of the film moon should correspond to the actual conditions. Oberth's calculations determine the shape of the rocket in "Woman in the Moon" and the trajectories. Even the separation of the space capsule has already occurred.

Forty years later, on the first manned mission to the moon, the countdown for the rocket launch on Cape Canaveral will be done in exactly the same way as in Fritz Lang's film. In 1968 Stanley Kubrick turned space into a great opera with his film "2001: A Space Odyssey". In two and a half hours, modern man is catapulted into the frenzied orbit of his technical possibilities in order to return to the slow pace of romanticism. In images of a cosmic timelessness.

Man's discoveries are disenchantments. The blinking from space became different when we knew more about the stars. What turns in an orderly way and shines down on us according to a simple and calculable physics of light is neither a miracle nor a warning sign. Already in the run-up to Romanticism one had foreseen the impending loss of symbolic meaning and turned on all the lights once again when it came to the moon and stars.

It was like a big Heuriger in the evening, and people became completely different in the glow of this literature. As an accomplice, the moonlight poured out over lonely hikers and deserted landscapes. It went on like this for a while, until the mocking Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote a «missive» to the moon.

Or rather: the earth writes it. It accuses the satellite of the earth of turning unchecked poets and philosophers out of moonstruck people and of interfering in German literature with "unheard of audacity, even with outrageous impudence". During the romantic era, the moon became very German. An ideal star for sentimentality weighing tons that wanted to make itself feel as though it were floating.

A piece of rotten wood

The story of the moon is also a story of disenchantment. In 1800, Goethe complained in a letter to Schiller that people no longer feel the moon, but want to see it. No damage without collateral benefit, at least according to Goethe: You can now meet interesting women in the observatories. The whole world looks through telescopes, and literature takes a much deeper look into the abysmal dark universe.

The Russian Gogol claims that the moon is usually made in Hamburg, "and very miserably". The German Georg Büchner sees the red moon rise and writes about its color: "Like a bloody iron." The fairy tale told by the grandmother in Büchner's “Woyzeck” is also about a deeply sad disappointment. It is the famous story, written before all existentialists, of the poor human child who no longer has a father or mother. In general, nobody is around anymore, everyone is dead. The child wants to go to heaven because at least the moon still looks so friendly: "And when it finally got to the moon, it was a piece of rotten wood."

In Austria, Adalbert Stifter describes the solar eclipse of July 8, 1842 in his own way. The writer has often conjured up the magic of creation. When the sky darkens above him, he thinks he is looking straight into ungodly nothing. Stifter, the romantic who has been deprived of his beautiful appearance, cannot help but protest against this process. “It was strange that this eerie, lumpy, deep black advancing thing that was slowly eating away the sun should be our moon, the beautiful, gentle moon that otherwise shone so brightly silver on the nights; but it was it, and in the star tube its edges also appeared studded with jagged edges and bulges, the terrible mountains that towered on the round that was smiling so friendly to us. "

If one were to think of a utopia today, it might be too close to what will soon be there anyway.

When it comes to the moon and its absurd presence, it often becomes surreal in literature. Stories can be invented about this star in which there is even less gravity than on the moon itself. Christian Morgenstern's “Moon Sheep” doesn't have to do anything else than just be there: “The moon sheep stands on its corridor. / It waits and waits for the great shear. / The moon sheep. "

The poet thought away everything that could still be around this strange animal. Our imagination stands with the moon sheep in the middle of a great void. Without sense or understanding, and that is also very nice.You can't deny it: when its best literary days were over, the moon took a beating.

Arno Schmidt was also one of those writers who took part in the abuse of the moon. In Schmidt's “Sitara and the way there” the heavenly body becomes a part of the body. To the huge butt. Luminous, plump and pale. The writer is thus very close to the cultures of abuse from the Anglo-American region. "Mooning" is the name of the process in which the bare rear part is stretched out, for example in a car window. It then has nothing to do with Matthias Claudius ’greatest classic of lunar poetry, the“ evening song ”(“ Do you see the moon standing there? ”).

Happy hit

As old as the moon is, it has aged so badly into the literary present. It is no longer really interesting as a place for dystopias, and if one were to come up with a utopia today, then it might be too close to what will soon be there anyway. The tech billionaires will take care of the moon. Or the expansive politicians who are declaring space to be the staging area of ​​national pride again.

Somewhat undamaged, the moon lives on in Schlager. There it can continue to blink from the sky as a pale sickle at Capri or to wreak havoc as the “Red Moon of Agadir”. If nothing helps, "I'll shoot you on the moon" will help. Due to the hit, the moon will probably continue to move its tracks, but maybe everything else will stay the same. A cycle.

In 1926 Joan Miró painted his picture «Dog barking at the moon». It perpetuates timelessness in an epic way. How long has the moon been in the sky, and how long have there been dogs on earth that bark at it? Decades after Miró's picture was created, the Beagle Snoopy from the Peanuts as well asks this question and finds answers that are philosophically open. "The moon hasn't changed, and dogs are still dogs." - "That proves something, but I don’t know what."