Phoebe is a medium-sized satellite of Saturn, NASA claims that its radius is 106.5 kilometers, which makes it considerably smaller that Titan but larger than such small chunks of rock as Pan and Daphnis. It traces a giant-size ellipse as it revolves around its mother planet. The semimajor axis of its orbit is more than eight million miles, according to NASA.
It is a dark moon. Wikipedia compares its albedo to that of lampblack. One wonders how William Pickering could have discovered it way back in 1898, when astronomers did not have our current advanced technology at their disposal. He probably could not have done it without the help of photographic plates.
Phoebe is a strange moon. It goes backwards around Saturn in an eccentric orbit tilted to the plane of Saturn’s equator. It gives its name to the Phoebe ring, the particles of which might have come from the satellite Phoebe.
The name “Phoebe” comes from Greek mythology. According to Hesiod, Phoebe was a Titaness, a daughter of the Earth and the starry Heaven. She was the mother of Leto and Asteria. She became a grandmother when Leto gave birth to Artemis and Apollo, while Asteria gave birth to Hecate.
Greek mythology also supplies the names of the physical features of Phoebe. Twenty-four craters and one regio have received official names.
A regio is “an area, sometimes of distinctive color and topography, on a planetary surface,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy. Quite appropriately, the single regio on Phoebe is called Leto Regio. Leto was a daughter of the Titaness Phoebe, as I mentioned above. The father of Leto was none other than Zeus, the chief god in the Greek pantheon.
All twenty-four craters are named after the heroes who sailed from Greece to Colchis in a ship called the Argo. They are collectively called the Argonauts. They made this difficult voyage to get a marvelous golden fleece that was guarded by a sinister serpent or dragon.
As I look over the list of craters given by the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, I notice that some of the most famous Argonauts are conspicuous by their absence. Theseus sailed on the Argo. So did Castor and Pollux, as well as the musician Orpheus. Even Hercules was a member of the expedition, though he left before the Argo reached its destination. However, none of these heroes gave their names to craters on Phoebe.
According to the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, the craters of Phoebe are named after the following heroes: Acastus, Admetus, Amphion, Butes, Calais, Canthus, Clytius, Erginus, Euphemus, Eurydamas, Eurytion, Eurytus, Hylas, Idmon, Iphitus, Jason, Mopsus, Naupilus, Oileus, Peleus, Phlias, Talaus, Telamon, and Zetes.
Jason Crater is named after the leader of the expedition, and Acastus was Jason’s cousin. Calais and Zetes were children of Boreas, the North Wind. Other Argonauts are well-known because their children took part in the ten-year siege of Troy. Peleus was the father of Achilles The son of Telamon was the huge Ajax, and Oileus was the father of the Ajax who violated Cassandra.
When you see Amphion in this list, you may jump to the conclusion that he is the Amphion who built the walls of Thebes by playing his lyre. However, this Amphion is a more obscure character.
Another familiar figure is Admetus, whose wife Alceste was willing to die for her husband, as Euripides informs us in his play. Alceste was rescued by Hercules, who had to wrestle with Death in order to save her.
Hylas was a close friend of Hercules. Hylas somehow got lost in Asia Minor during the expedition of the Argonauts. Hercules left the expedition to find him.
Other Argonauts also figure in legends concerning Hercules. Since my recollection of this data was not as clear as I would have liked it to be, I had recourse to Wikipedia for the following information.
Hercules was interested in a maiden named Iole. The Argonaut Eurytus, Iole’s father, did not agree to the marriage because of the fits of madness to which Hercules was subject. Hercules later killed Eurytus and took Iole as his concubine. Iphitus and Clytius were sons of Eurytus.
Iphitus was friendly to Hercules, but the unpredictable Hercules killed him in a fit of anger. As a punishment, he had to serve as a slave to Omphale, the queen of Lydia, for a while.
Iphitus also had contact with Odysseus. Apollo had given his father Eurytus a golden bow. Iphitus gave this bow to Odysseus. This bow came in handy when Odysseus encountered a host of obnoxious suitors who were trying to steal his wife.
Other Argonauts are more obscure. For example, Butes does not play a significant role in Greek mythology. According to Wikipedia, when the Argo sailed past the sirens, Butes was the only member of the crew who jumped overboard and tried to swim to them. Aphrodite rescued him, took him to Sicily, and bore him a son named Eryx. Eryx later died when he had the temerity to compete with Hercules in a boxing match.
Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature: Phoebe
Wikipedia: Phoebe (Moon)