Which planet is closest to Earth? If we look at a typical model of the Solar System with each planet neatly lined up, we can see that Venus approaches Earth closer than any other planet. However, this is only one interpretation of the question.
Technically, Venus is the planet that comes closest to Earth. However, as they do not orbit in synchrony, this approximation happens about once a year. At other times, Venus will orbit away from Earth and can go on the other side of the Sun, making the distance between Earth and Venus vast. In those times, Mars may seem like the next obvious choice to be closest to Earth.
But then again, Mars has the same issue where it and Earth are often on opposite sides of the Sun. Because of the nature of circular orbits, the distances between the planets swing and fluctuate, meaning that the real question should be:
Which planet is closest to the Earth most of the time on average?
The answer to this question happens to be Mercury. If we look at a “top-down” model of the Solar System, we can see that Mercury – being closest to the Sun – orbits rapidly around the Sun and often lies between Earth and the two other planets, Venus and Mars. If we plot the distance between each of these three planets and Earth, we can see that on average, Mercury is closer to Earth because the distance fluctuates less.
Interestingly, if we take this question further, we find that Mercury is also Mars and Venus’ closest neighbour on average. This is a property of the Solar System being formed of concentric circles, meaning that Mercury’s smallest orbit makes it average a closer distance to all of these planets.
Fascinatingly, if we go even further than that, we find that the same pattern holds for every other planet in the Solar System, despite the vast distance between Mars and Jupiter due to the Asteroid Belt. Even Pluto (not formally a planet anymore) with its massive elliptical orbit has Mercury as its closest neighbour on average compared to the other planets, due to the unique property of concentric circles.
No matter the distance, if you are orbiting the Sun, Mercury is the closest planet to you.
The concept of the female body being the ideal subject for nude art only became popular around the 16th century when the Renaissance was in full bloom. Art before this time mainly focussed on the male figure that could portray the perfection of gods, such as the young and beautiful Apollo or Jesus Christ on the cross. In ancient Greece, the naked male figure was associated with triumph and victory (possibly related to the Olympic games being played in nude). Thus, statues focussed on nude male figures, with female figures tending to be clothed.
The point in history when this perception of nudity changed was when an Italian artist called Giorgione painted the Sleeping Venus in 1510. This painting portrays a nude Venus (or Aphrodite) lying peacefully on white and red cloths upon the backdrop of Venetia. This new type of nude art where the naked female form was displayed – with the figure posed with grace and shyness – sparked a revolution, changing the concept that the female body evoked an “uncomfortable feeling” in the audience. Many art historians consider this painting one of the starting points of modern art.
Pisces is the Zodiac sign for those born between February 19 and March 20. The symbol for Pisces is two fish connected by a ribbon.
The model for Pisces is Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and her son Eros. One day, the two were attending a banquet of the gods, having a good time. Suddenly, the banquet was interrupted by a monster named Typhon. Typhon was a terrifying monster 150km wide, with a hundred dragon heads, a hundred mouths through which he breathed fire and had limbs of snakes. He was a composite of various beasts such as oxens and lions, had a black tongue and had eloquent speech rivalling certain gods. When he appeared, the gods were frightened and all transformed into different animals to escape. Aphrodite and Eros jumped into the river, turned into a pair of fish and escaped. It is said that they tied a ribbon to their waists so that they would not lose each other in the stream.
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful girl named Psyche. Psyche was so beautiful that she even caught Aphrodite’s eyes. Despite being the goddess of love, Aphrodite was known to be very jealous and felt threatened by Psyche’s beauty. She commanded her son Eros, the god of love, to put a spell on Psyche. Eros uses the Bow of Love and anyone shot by his golden arrows falls immediately and helplessly in love with the first thing they see.
Aphrodite came up with a devious plan to have Eros shoot Psyche and have frogs around her, making her fall in love with frogs and fall into a despairing relationship. But her jealous plan was overthrown by an unexpected event. When Eros first saw Psyche’s face, he became entranced and accidentally pricked himself with his own arrow. Thus, Eros became madly in love with Psyche. Aphrodite, enraged by this, cursed Psyche to never find a mate for the rest of her life. Eros became depressed from not being able to see Psyche and gave up shooting golden arrows. After he gave up his job, no animals or human fell in love and no new life was born. Aphrodite could not bear to see such a scene and begged Eros to start shooting arrows again, offering him one thing that he wanted. Eros said that he desired Psyche without hesitation and Aphrodite reluctantly allowed them to meet.
While this happened, Aphrodite’s curse made no man come to propose to Psyche. Her parents became worried and asked the advice of the oracle at Apollo’s temple. The oracle stated that as she is destined to marry a monster, she must be placed atop a mountain in bridal attire. Accepting her fate, Psyche stood on the mountain but eventually jumped off a cliff in despair. But Zephyrus the West Wind caught her and brought her safely to Eros’ place, just as Eros planned. Psyche enjoyed a comfortable life in the beautiful castle with many maids at her service. However, her husband only came in the deep dark of the night. Whether it was because he feared Aphrodite’s wrath or the difference between a god and a mortal, he asked her to never try find out who he was and that if she truly loved him, she should trust him. But Psyche eventually fell victim to her jealous sisters’ scheme and her curiosity, leading to her accidentally dropping candle wax on Eros’ face as she took a peek at his face. Eros was awakened and became enraged. He chased her away and forbade her from coming back. Psyche fell in despair and threw herself into the river, but the river carried her to the riverside where the shepherd god Pan rescued and consoled her.
At first, Psyche tried to find Eros while avoiding Aphrodite, but eventually she decides to plea directly to her. Despite her bravery, Aphrodite threw challenging tasks one after another at her like a mean mother-in-law, ultimately commanding her to retrieve some beauty from Persephone, the queen of the underworld (since travelling to the underworld signifies death, Aphrodite must have truly hated Psyche).
However, Psyche was determined to see Eros even at the cost of her life. Admiring her commitment, a tall tower before the underworld gave her a hint. It told her to place two coins on her tongue and bread in each hand when going to the underworld. The coins would be to pay Charon the ferryman while the bread would distract Cerberus the three-headed dog guardian. She succeeded in seeing Persephone, who gave her a box of beauty and told her to never open it. But wanting to look beautiful in front of her lover (Eros), Psyche opened the box. The box did not contain beauty, but instead contained a death-like sleep from the underworld, putting Psyche in a deep sleep. Although he chased her away, Eros came back to see Psyche and found her in this sleeping state. He took the corpse-like Psyche and kissed her softly on her lips, awakening her from the deep sleep.
Eros eventually sought help from the king of gods, Zeus, to persuade Aphrodite. After Zeus’ persuasion and seeing the love the two have for each other, Aphrodite accepted the relationship and Zeus gave Psyche the immortal drink ambrosia to make her into a goddess. The now immortal Psyche and Eros were married and had a daughter named Hedone (like in Hedonism), the goddess of sensual pleasures.
Eros symbolises physical and sensual love while Psyche is a Greek symbol for butterflies, the soul and emotional love. Ergo, Eros and Psyche represent the union of physical and emotional love into perfect love. Love and the soul are inseparable things. The most basic instinct of any organism is to reproduce and human beings have evolved that into the sacred concept that is love. To speak bluntly and without philosophy, from a purely biological perspective there is no greater purpose to life than to find a suitable mate and leave descendants. There is nothing more fundamental than pure love.
Apples are strewn throughout history and mythology, acting as a key component of human societies. Its symbolism ranges from the sin of Adam and Eve to the love of Aphrodite. Let us look at some apples that have made a significant impact in the world – real or mythical.
Apple of Temptation: According to the bible, Eve is tempted by the snake to take the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. By taking from the tree and eating this fruit (then sharing it with Adam), the two are banished from the Garden of Eden and humanity is cursed to live in the harsh world and for women to suffer the pain of childbirth. Although the bible never defines the forbidden fruit as an apple, artistic depictions during the Renaissance has solidified the idea. The eponymous Adam’s apple (the lump on men’s necks) is said to be a piece of the apple being stuck in Adam’s throat.
Apple of Discord: According to Greek mythology, Eris (goddess of discord) threw a golden apple into a wedding after not being invited to it. The apple was inscribed with the message: “For the fairest one” and Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all claimed the apple was for them. Eventually, the judgement was delegated to Paris, prince of Troy. Each goddess bribed him with power, strength and love respectively but Paris eventually chose Aphrodite and in return, received the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen of Sparta. This sparked the great Trojan War, resulting in the destruction of Troy by the Greek alliance.
Apple of Love: Atalanta (Greek mythology) was a beautiful woman who had sworn virginity to the goddess Artemis. To avoid marriage, she challenged suitors to a footrace and only the winner would take her hand in marriage (the rest were killed). A man named Hippomenes went to Aphrodite’s temple to seek advice and was given three golden apples. He used the apples to distract Atalanta during the race by tossing it near her. This allowed him to win the race and ultimately took Atalanta’s hand in marriage. This story also shows how the ancient Greeks saw apples as a symbol of love, as evidenced by the gesture of one throwing an apple to the person they are in love with. Catching the apple was accepted as a sign of reciprocity.
Apple of Challenge: One of Hercules’ twelve challenges was to take the Golden Apples of Hesperides, protected by Ladon, a dragon with a hundred heads. Hercules bargained with Atlas to hold the Earth while he retrieved it. Atlas tried to walk away free from his damned task, but Hercules tricked him by asking to hold the Earth while he shifted his cloak.
Apple of Death: In the fairy tale, Snow White, the evil queen uses a poisonous apple to murder Snow White. The symbolism of the apple is similar to the biblical story mentioned above. Despite the dwarves warning her about stranger danger, Snow White takes the gift of a stranger without enough caution and suffers the consequences. However, she is resurrected by the kiss of the prince. Perhaps Aphrodite’s apple of love counters the evil apple of death and sin.
Apple of Revolution: A famous Swiss folklore describes how William Tell had to shoot an apple from his son’s head with his crossbow as punishment for not submitting to the occupying Austrians’ leader, Gessler. Being an expert marksman, he successfully hit his target instead of killing his son. When he was questioned why he drew two bolts from his quiver, Tell replied that he was aiming to shoot Gessler if he accidentally killed his son. This infuriated Gessler, who arrested William Tell. However, Tell escaped and went on to lead the revolution against the oppressors, aiding in the liberation of Switzerland (according to the legend).
Apple of Philosophy: There is a record of a young Martin Luther (who founded the protestant church) writing in his diary: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree”. The philosophy behind this saying is not that gardening is important. Here, Luther is saying that we should live every day as if it is the last day. Live without regrets. Besides, would we not look silly if the world did not end and we had wasted a day panicking and doing absolutely nothing productive?
Apple of Knowledge: The story of how Isaac Newton devised the theory of gravity after being hit on the head with an apple is a famous story. Although the “hitting on the head” part is dubious, evidence suggests that he used apples falling from a tree as an example of how gravity works. Although the concept of gravity was already established, Newton focussed on how apples always fell perpendicular to the ground and deduced that objects have a gravitational pull on other objects (as the Earth pulls the apple and vice versa). He extrapolated from the apple to discover how Earth’s gravitational field controls the orbit of the Moon. Thus, it can be said that apples played a “crucial” role in the advancement of modern physics (although Newton probably did not need the apples for his theory).
Apple of Innovation: In 1976, Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Inc. to develop the first personal computer. The company would go on to revolutionise mainstream digital technology by coming up with innovative products such as the iPod. Steve Jobs was the face of this new wave of innovation; with his bold outlook on the future and powerful leadership he made Apple Inc. one of the most successful companies in the 21st century. Jobs successfully popularised many pieces of technology, such as personal computers, portable music players and tablet PCs. Interestingly, he came up with the logo and name of the company after seeing a cartoon of Newton and his apple. Perhaps Jobs was seeking to create a company that would be one of the many “apples” that were turning points in history.
In 1968, Robert Rosenthal, a social psychology professor at Harvard University, and Lenore Jacobson, a primary school principal with 20 years experience, performed a spontaneous intelligence test on a primary school in San Francisco then randomly chose 20% of the students in one class. They then gave a list of the names of those students to the teachers and convinced them that they were “students with a high possibility of improving their intelligence and career success”. Eight months later, they performed the same intelligence test and found that the students on that list performed significantly better than other students on average. Not only that, but the score for the whole school was pulled up by those students. The most important factor was the expectations and encouragement from the teachers. This study proved that the expectations a teacher places on their students has a real effect on improving their grades.
The Pygmalion effect can be summarised as the phenomenon when a person’s efficiency or results improve due to the expectations and interests of another person. The eponymous story is from Greek mythologies, regarding a sculptor named Pygmalion. After seeing many women be so immoral and vulgar, he could not see beauty in any women anymore. This led him to sculpt the most beautiful woman out of ivory instead. After finishing his sculpture, he gazed upon its face and instantly fell head over heels for it. Every day Pygmalion would caress, stroke and truly love “her”. However, being a statue it could not return his love and he grew sadder and sadder. He went to the Temple of Aphrodite and begged her to help him achieve his true love. Upon returning home, he kissed and touched the sculpture like any other day. And lo and behold, every part of the sculpture his hands touched turned from hard ivory to soft, clear skin and the sculpture eventually turned into a gorgeous lady. Thus, thanks to Aphrodite’s grace the two could live happily ever after in love.
The Pygmalion effect is extremely useful in everyday life. When parents and teachers believe that a child has talent, they spend more effort trying to grow that talent and the child ends up more successful. The simple task of showing interest to the child promotes optimism and the child works harder to meet those expectations. The child did not receive any extra compliments or rewards but their efficiency goes up regardless, thanks to their parents’ and teachers’ beliefs. Similarly, when a boss shows passion towards and has great expectations of an employee, their efficiency will go up. The Pygmalion effect is particularly powerful in relationships, where if the two love each other and are good to each other, their love will naturally deepen and they will become happier.
Unfortunately, people have a tendency to underestimate the power of love and are unable to utilise this great effect. Therefore, children and employees are often plagued by the golem effect (the phenomenon of low expectations causing a fall in efficiency) instead.