The Fallen Sky by Christopher Cokinos (Tarcher) In this acclaimed volume, prizewinning poet and nature writer Christopher Cokinos takes us on an epic journey from Antarctica to outer space, weaving together natural history, memoir, and in-depth profiles of amateur researchers, rogue scientists, and stargazing dreamers to tell the riveting tale of how the study of meteorites became a modern science. In 1894, fifteen years before his storied expedition to the North Pole, Robert Peary crossed a treacherous expanse of ice in Greenland in search of another prize: a massive meteorite laden with rare metals from outer space. In this hefty, industrious book, Cokinos retraces Peary’s steps, and those of other meteor “obsessives,” in an idiosyncratic hunt of his own. The book pairs, sometimes awkwardly, exciting tales of scientific adventure and unself-conscious rumination—particularly on the subject of the author’s failed first marriage, the pain of which, he insists, is “part and parcel of the hunt, my hunt, for the meteorite hunters.” As often as not, though, the original meteorite hunters had a more prosaic view of their quests. Peary, for instance, had a simple desire for glory and riches; when he finally found that meteorite, which the local Inuits had dubbed Woman (another, nearby, they called Dog), he called it “the brown mass.”
Excerpt: On any clear night, under a dark enough sky, we can see shooting stars. We wish upon them, even if we don't quite know what they are—of course they're not really stars—and even if we don't know where they come from or what they might tell us about the universe. It's as if we're eager to pin our chances on something strange and sudden, something beautiful beyond our ken. Across cultures and time, we have written ourselves into the sky. We create constellations, transforming the random spatter of stars into shapes and stories. We name planets after gods. And we associate meteors and meteorites—the light of dust or rocks burning passage through the air, and the stones, after such fire, that sometimes fall to Earth—with the most elemental aspects of our lives: good luck, ill fortune, and even death.
Meteorites are, in fact, implicated in the seeding of life's ingredients on Earth. And even the most indifferent know that these bits of former asteroids have rained devastation in the past and threaten to do so in the future. Meteorites are the alpha and omega of geology. These rocks—mere rocks—encompass the origins of life and the reality of death on our planet.
Not surprisingly, we try to tame the wildness of meteorites by incorporating them into popular culture. Movies show humanity outgunning asteroids or comets headed for Earth or, at least, surviving the effects of massive impacts.
Accounts of actual space rocks whizzing by are now relegated to the inside pages of newspapers; it seems we've had too many close calls to get excited about them. Then again, the front page of the July 5, 2004, Weekly World News announced, "Another Meteor Fells Pope!" Amazingly, the 900-pound stone did not kill him, though a photo shows the pontiff unhappily pinned under all that weight. An episode of Gilligan's Island called "Meet the Meteor" featured a meteorite that accelerated the aging of the hapless castaways, but they survived, and the Professor even made a Geiger counter out of bamboo. In the otherwise forgettable movie My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Uma Thurman got her hottie superpowers from a meteorite. So humor dilutes threats—as does possession, literal or metaphoric. We can set meteorites on our mantels, displaying them as "specimens," including some iron meteorites that have been ablated into fantastic shapes, like Henry Moore sculptures and sometimes just as pricey. An English breakfast cereal, Shreddies, once included little packets of meteorite dust as a promotional giveaway, and I've wondered how many kids sprinkled their new treats over cereal and milk. Grown-ups might be interested to know that a sex-toy manufacturer offers a line of shapely "Meteor Plugs" in small, medium, and large, while a lingerie company sells stockings in a color dubbed "meteorite gray." More poignantly, we christen asteroids to make them serve our needs: Astronomers have bestowed the names Solidarity, Magnanimity, and Compassion upon three asteroids as tributes to the victims of the September I I attacks. Eros and Thanatos indeed, Freud might have said.
Some of the meteors—shooting stars—that flash across the sky contain rocks that are large enough to fall more or less intact onto the Earth's surface: meteorites. This has been happening for billions of years. Covertly dark or blandly gray, often woefully misshapen—that's what many meteorites look like, lumps so ordinary-seeming that most people never notice these rocks have landed on farm fields, deserts, shorelines, or backyards. The untrained eye can even mistake some meteorites for chunks of concrete, as if a cosmic road crew had jackhammered a solar highway and sent its discarded congeries spilling down, briefly lit, to land among soybeans or ferns. Those who quest for meteorites, however, recognize them amidst the average rubble of the Earth the way a birder hears rare song untangling itself from a forest full of sound. Passion does that: It sharpens one's senses, it changes the world. Amateur collectors, professional dealers, and planetary scientists are eager to obtain and understand these stones. They have gone and still go to great lengths to gain such exotica as a water-trapping H5 chondrite, a "snick" from Mars, or an igneous, calcium-poor ureilite.
Many people, myself among them, discount the notions of heavenly jurisdiction over a person's life, whether it's thinking your wish-upon-a-falling-star has come true or simply believing in a horoscope. Yet I have found that in actual and often moving ways the fallen sky can reveal secrets not only of the solar system but of our hearts. That is why this is an intimate history of shooting stars. We go out hunting meteorites, and some of us find ourselves as well.
Years ago, when I lived in eastern Kansas, I was trying to deepen my connection to the tallgrass prairie, to find stories that might enrich those austere horizons. Thumbing through a volume by the nature writer Edwin Way Teale, I came across the history of a homesteading farmwife who harvested not only wheat but one of the rarest meteorites known to science. I was then also writing a book about extinct birds and I couldn't yet fathom that the grief I felt about their fates was also, in part, an expression of many inarticulate griefs I carried in my life. Prompted by those inner darknesses and by the words of Teale and others, I went outside at night and looked up. I saw and learned the stars. I used them as a balm. And I saw meteors—sudden, thin streaks on any given night; showers of them in the summer, watching with my wife as we camped beside a marsh and sand dunes in Colorado; and in our front yard, the one I'd walk away from, long after fireballs had exploded one November, golden shocks in the sky.
All this led me to learn more about meteorites than I ever thought I could, and so this book has also become a chronicle of some of the most important meteorites we know of—stones that have altered our knowledge of the solar system and our place in it—and as such serves as a kind of informal record of scientific recognitions over the past 200 years. The science—so fast-moving it's been difficult to keep up--ranges from studying the primordial delivery of amino acids in meteorites to assessing the dangers of asteroids classified by the epic names "Atens" and "Apollos." I've especially tried to convey how individuals and cultures have valued meteorites, how they have been venerated as objects of power and continue to be objects of profit. But also, and this is crucial, how meteorites have become, through the rigors of science and the marvels of story, objective correlatives for our desire to live with both explanation and mystery.
Whether someone wishes to possess a meteorite to sell it or to crack one open in a laboratory for discovery, the meteorite must first be found or hunted. Which often means you have to be willing to go where the meteorites are (rather than have them mailed to you by suppliers). I've traveled to meteorite sites around the world, from the nearby to the far-flung, from a small-town street corner in Kansas to the iceberg-clotted coast of northwest Greenland, from a stranger's driveway in Portland, Oregon, to a German church made of rock born in the fire of a meteorite impact. Such journeys have impressed on me that wonder—whether from discovering a geological rarity or tracking down a hidden history or finding a lover—is not as pristine a feeling as some would think. I found that mine was a journey into wonder and its costs. Along the way, I bore changes in my life and realized that I was hunting the lives of the meteorite hunters—not just the stones themselves—and I began to understand these strangers' lives better when I accepted my own. Quests, after all, can come at a very high price. This was never more clear than when I suffered a breakdown in a wind-racked tent in Antarctica; outside were boxes of meteorites.
As to the meteorite clan, they're a complicated, colorful lot. There's an early twentieth-century backwoodsman who stole a 15-ton meteorite, then lost it and his marriage; an engineer and businessman whose heart burst after receiving calculations concerning the vaporization of high-velocity iron; a little-known and single-minded naturalist who changed the course of meteoritics (the science of meteorite study) while pushing himself, his wife, and their children to the brink of disaster during the Depression; a man who once sold "space passports" at a mall before becoming an affluent and controversial meteorite dealer; and a researcher nicknamed "Mongo," whose annual expeditions retrieve thousands of meteorites from the hostile polar plateau at the bottom of the planet.
If a meteoroid (as small rocks are called when they're in space) becomes a meteor (as the flashes of light are called when grit and rocks burn through the atmosphere), then if the meteor survives to become a meteorite (the rock that lands), and if someone happens along to find it . . . what an unlikely chain of events! Yet this happens, and to be the first human to touch that bit of space, to catch that fallen star, is exhilarating, is sweet and beautiful, and, for some, feels like a brief mastering of the universe and its cold indifference. The rock and iron that cross the Earth's orbit can seem less daunting if, in some wild country, you can place a sliver of former asteroid into a bag that elsewhere might hold your lunch-hour sandwich.
And what feelings fill, not the hunter, but the shopper, who might be standing in an air-conditioned room before a tray of meteorites, contemplating whether to buy a nubbin of Mars? Should he fork over $3,500 for a Martian meteorite the size of a pencil eraser?
The first time I held meteorites was in a natural-history store, and I half-expected them to be warm with creation. One even looked like a bakery roll. They were disappointingly cool and metallic to the touch. Still, I hefted them in my palm, felt their ridges and pits, imagined that mineral skin on fire. Then I set the meteorites down, thinking I could not buy the sky, though I wanted, somehow, to find my own piece of it.
So of course this is a study of obsession, and obsession is a characteristic with the potential to cause harm as well as nurture calm. As one veteran space-rock aficionado told me years ago, "Meteorite people ... are a little weird." We all carry our compulsions, and soon after I began this project I began to wonder if compulsions not only lead us to extremities of experience but also, at least sometimes, to places of connection and peace. Recall Gilgamesh, who, raging over his kingdom of Uruk, dreamed of a meteorite he could not move, then found his fast friend and lover Enkidu, with whom he went on adventures and misadventures. The heroes of this book have had their own versions of the same. Some of my protagonists have even triumphed. They have found rare meteorites that are the envy of others and that convey discoveries about the deep past, they have found meteorites that have brought wealth and fame, they have found meteorites that infused purpose into lives that otherwise might have been too commonplace. They have found, in a word, joy.
It's these stories and how I came to discover them that have helped me to organize the book the way I have. I begin at the beginning—with both the origin of the solar system and the origin of my quest to understand meteorites and those who are so taken by them. My first research trip happened to fall on an important scientific anniversary, one that took me back to the first discovered asteroid. From then on, the chapters unfold from around the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day (with a chapter-length flashback about the timeless folklore of meteorites and our first scientific discoveries about them in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries). At the end of the book, readers can find both a glossary and a chart to help keep track of terms and types of meteorites. Rather than take the approach of a textbook, introducing technical information and historical facts in dry sequence, I found myself learning about meteorites and our relationships to them as the events of my life dictated. The book mirrors that personal process of discovery. The advantage to this approach was that I learned about my characters and their insights regarding meteorites at the same time I learned some things about myself. In a strict sense, this isn't a book about meteorites. It's a book about my pursuit to understand the passions of meteorite hunters. This pursuit concludes not with my finding meteorites in the wild, which I did, but at my home in Utah, the book having also become, unexpectedly, an extended meditation on departure and arrival, on distance and place.
WHEN CHICKEN LITTLE FELT AN ACORN (or rose petal or pea) land on her head, she thought the sky was falling and sounded her insistent alarm. In some versions of this story, many of Chicken Little's animal friends are eaten by the duplicitous fox. A mistaken perception about some wider accident is enough to trigger a different disaster closer to home. And we're meant to understand, therefore, that skepticism and courage are laudable traits—and many who seek shooting stars have them—but it's important to recall that in other versions of the story, the sky does fall. Perhaps it matters little whether that sky is the big one we walk under or the one we carry inside ourselves.
When I began this book, I believed the story of Chicken Little was just a children's tale I could deploy for poetic effect or maybe as a parable for the threats to civilization posed by rogue asteroids. I couldn't yet see the story as a parable for my own life or even the lives of meteorite hunters, lives I hoped would be so ascendant, so engaging, so full of simple awe that I could skim across difficulties like a stone thrown across water. I could write an adventure. About this, as with other things, I was mistaken.
I did recover a sense of wonder and I did have adventures, and it turns out that in spite of—or perhaps because of—the price that can be paid for astonishment, I can better understand many of the ancient metaphors: meteors as blood, as tears, as burning hearts in the sky, and meteorites as gods, gods being, always, of course, versions of ourselves.
We each have found ourselves lost in the dark wood, whatever we thought the true way had been or can be, but for me, in no small measure, the path out was lit at times with the passage of shooting stars. This book is an exploration of lives, including my own, caught in such light.
Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook Containing "The Constellations" of Pseudo-Eratosthenes and the "Poetic Astronomy" of Hyginus translated by Theony Condos (Phanes) THE NIGHTLY APPEARANCE of the stars, their arrangement in the sky, their regular risings and settings through the course of the year, have been a source of endless wonder and speculation. But where did the constellations come from and what are the myths associated with them?
Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans is the most comprehensive work ever published on the forty-eight classical constellations. Included in this handbook are the only surviving works on the constellation myths that have come down to us from antiquity: an epitome of The Constellations of Eratosthenes—never before translated into English—and The Poetic Astronomy of Hyginus. Also provided are accurate and detailed commentaries on each constellation myth, and complete references for those who wish to dig deeper. This book is a comprehensive sourcework for anyone interested in astronomy or mythology—and an ideal resource for the occasional stargazer.
Excerpt: The present volume provides an English translation and commentary for two classical texts, the Catasterismi of Pseudo-Eratosthenes (first/second century C.E.), and Book 2 of the Latin work variously titled Poeticon Astronomicon or De Astronomia, which is attributed to Hyginus (first century B.C.E.). Together, these two texts offer a comprehensive picture of the myths associated by the Greeks and Romans with the constellations familiar to them. Those constellations were forty-eight in number by the time of Ptolemy (second century C.E.).
The translation of the Catasterismi follows the edition of Olivieri, which shows, separately, the consensus of readings of the five complete manuscripts and of manuscript R (Venetus Marcianus 444), a partial manuscript that stems from a different archetype than the complete manuscripts and contains some differences from them. Where manuscript R differs significantly from the consensus of readings in the other manuscripts, as for example, in the myth associated with the constellation Corona Borealis, the variant readings of R are identified by angle brackets (< . . . >) in the translation below. Lacunae in the text are identified by square brackets ([ .. . ]).The translation of the De Astronomia follows the edition of Viré.
Greek and Latin names are retained in form, but the spelling of Greek names is Latinized, e.g., Heracles and Hercules. A list of Greek names and their Latin counterparts is provided in Appendix 1.
The spot illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are taken from woodcuts in the first edition of Hyginus, Poeticon Astronomicon (Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 1482). In most cases, the illustrations do not accurately depict the location or number of the stars described in the Greek and Latin texts translated below. A more accurate depiction of the constellations can be found in the star maps reproduced in Appendix 3. The reader should also note that most star maps and pictures of the constellations show the constellations as they would appear from the Earth, i.e., from inside the celestial sphere, while many texts describe the figures as they would appear from outside the celestial sphere.
The proposed identification of stars by their modern designation in the translation of the Catasterismi is based on a comparison of the language used in the Greek text and in Ptolemy's Almagest to describe the location of a particular star. Where the descriptions are similar, e.g., "there is one star on the head," "the star on the head," identification is fairly straightforward. However, when the descriptions do not coincide, e.g., "there is one star on the head," "the northernmost of the three stars on the head," identification is more problematic. In such cases, the star of the greatest magnitude is proposed, followed by a question mark. When the Catasterismi describes a star for which there is no corresponding reference in Ptolemy, a question mark appears in the translation. Since Hyginus's descriptions of star locations rarely vary from those in the Catasterismi, an identification is proposed only in those instances when Hyginus's text varies significantly from the Greek. The proposed modern designation of stars listed in Ptolemy's Almagest was derived from two recent works: Paul Kunitzsch, Der Almagest (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1974) and G. J. Toomer, Ptolemy's Almagest (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1984). It should be noted that the stars enumerated in the Greek and Latin texts do not always coincide with the total number indicated in those same texts.
When the star identified by a modern designation belongs to the constellation that is the subject of the Greek text, no constellation name is indicated. When, however, the star belongs to another constellation, a constellation name is noted, e.g., the stars in the "Claws of the Scorpion" belong not to the constellation Scorpio, but to the constellation Libra; thus, in the translation of the Greek text that treats Scorpio they are designated as a Lib, Lib, etc., following the standard abbreviations for the names of the constellations listed in Appendix 2.
The campaigns of Alexander the Great during the last half of the fourth century B.C.E. expanded the horizons of the Greek world by bringing Greeks and their culture into direct contact with the civilizations of the Ancient Near East. The ensuing juxtaposition of differing perspectives regarding the state, the gods, and the individual caused learned men throughout the Eastern Mediterranean to reassess their understanding of the world and human experience. An explosion of scientific inquiry and new knowledge resulted that was unequaled until modern times. By the third century B.C.E., Alexandria in Egypt had become one of the principal centers of literary and scientific studies in the Mediterranean world. At the center of this scholarly activity were two institutions: the famous Library, founded by Ptolemy I (311-283 B.C.E.), organized under Ptolemy II (283-246 B.C.E.), and maintained by their successors, and the lesser-known Museum, also established by Ptolemy I, as a residential center for research. The Museum's history is obscure—it appears to have been the victim of political tensions—while the Library, under a succession of learned head librarians including Zenodotus of Ephesus, Apollonius of Rhodes, and Eratosthenes of Cyrene, flourished for over 500 years, until its burning by Aurelian in 272 C.E.
During the Hellenistic period (323-30 B.C.E.), intellectual activity in Alexandria produced significant results in two broad areas: science and literary scholarship. Guided by the Aristotelian model of scientific inquiry—that is, of gathering, classifying, and studying all available data before arriving at a conclusion—Alexandrian scientists achieved spectacular advances in fields such as astronomy, mathematics, medicine, geography, architecture, and urban planning.' In the literary sphere, Alexandrian scholars collected, catalogued, and systematically studied the Greek literature of the past, giving rise to the field of textual criticism. They prepared critical editions of Homer, drew up "canons" of authors by genre, including lyric, epic, tragedy, and comedy, and wrote commentaries on older literary works. Out of this intensive study of earlier Greek authors developed a literary aesthetic that became the uniquely Alexandrian contribution to Greek and Latin literature. Eschewing the universal themes of Greek epic and tragedy, numerous Alexandrian writers, the most famous of whom was Callimachus (c. 310–c. 240 B.C.E.), cultivated genres such as the epyllion (a kind of "mini-epic" focused on a single episode in the life of the protagonist), pastoral, hymn, and epigram—genres that were amenable to the treatment of more personal, sometimes even mundane, themes. These writers sought to impress their audience and each other with their craftsmanship: polished language, the felicitous turn of phrase, breadth of learning, and wit. The new aesthetic was reflected in the advice Callimachus claimed he had received from Apollo: "tread the paths the wagons do not go by; do not drive your chariot in the paths of others, nor on the broad road, but by untrodden paths, even if you drive a narrower way."3 Finely wrought literary productions of moderate length were the order of the day and were eagerly received by an increasingly literate public. Callimachus described his audience as being "those who like the clear note of the cicada, not the noise of donkeys." Changing literary tastes were reflected in the great literary debate of the period—perhaps the original contest of the "ancients" and the "moderns"—which pitted Callimachus, as the champion and primary exponent of the emerging Alexandrian preference for narrowly focused, sophisticated, and highly polished literary productions, against Apollonius of Rhodes, himself the author of a long epic poem about the quest for the golden fleece, as defender of the older tradition of lengthy literary productions that treated universal themes, albeit with an Alexandrian infusion of romanticized sentiment.
The presence of an avid reading public combined with the literary tastes and scientific proclivities of the age inspired a type of literary experiment that was peculiarly Alexandrian: the compilation and literary treatment of thematically related knowledge. Thus we encounter poems enumerating the antidotes to snake-bite, tracts on cooking, and poetic handbooks for amateur astronomers or fishermen.' To the extent these literary productions were intended to instruct their readers—and that intent was surely present—such poems and treatises were the most recent manifestation of a long tradition of didactic literature that included Hesiod and his Ancient Near Eastern antecedents.' The original contribution of Alexandria to the didactic tradition was to combine attention to literary form with originality of content, and, once again, to focus more narrowly on the human experience by offering the reader knowledge not as a guide for social interaction or for survival, but for its own sake. Thus, while Hesiod offered his reader advice on when to plough and when to sail, Alexandrian authors offered their readers a glimpse into a realm of arcane knowledge which, although entertaining, usually had little practical value. Later critics sometimes took a dim view of this type of literature. Strabo in the early first century C.E., for instance, took Eratosthenes soundly to task for having said that the purpose of poetry is to entertain rather than to instruct its reader.'
Perhaps related to this peculiarly Alexandrian didactic literature was an intense interest in aetiology, as manifested in the profusion of literary works dealing with origins, i.e., how various aspects of the physical world, customs, cults, or cities came to be.' Scientific learning, as represented by the didactic literature of the day coexisted happily with aetiological literature, which drew almost exclusively on myth and legend to achieve its purpose. Indeed, Eratosthenes of Cyrene embodied the two approaches to reality in his own writings.
Eratosthenes was about thirty years of age in 245 B.C.E., when he was summoned by Ptolemy III (246-221 B.C.E.) from Athens, where he was pursuing philosophical studies, to assume the post of head librarian of the Library at Alexandria, a post he held until his death, at age eighty, in 194 B.C.E. As head of the Library, and himself a scholar and poet, Eratosthenes was at the center of the intellectual ferment in Alexandria during the last half of the third century. His scholarly endeavors covered numerous fields: lexicography, chronology, geography, literary history, mathematics, and philosophy. Of his scholarship, we have little more than titles: he wrote a lengthy treatise on ancient comedy; his geographical works included On the Measurement of the Earth, in which he calculated the circumference of the Earth as well as distances between cities; his philosophical essays treated themes such as wealth and poverty and good and evil; he compiled a list of Olympic victors, and he wrote the Chronographiae, one of the first systematic chronologies!' Although a vigorous participant in the scholarly activity in his day, Eratosthenes appears to have been more a product than an architect of his age. His own contemporaries assigned to him the nickname "Beta," judging him to be only "second best" at any one his many pursuits.
As a pupil of Callimachus, Eratosthenes was squarely in the camp of the "moderns" in the literary debate between Callimachus and Apollonius. And, indeed, he appears to have enjoyed a good reputation as a poet. A few verses survive of his Erigone, an elegiac poem recounting how Dionysus introduced wine to mankind through Icarius, bringing about the tragic death of both Icarius and his daughter Erigone. The literary critic Longinus (second/third century C.E.) refers to Eratosthenes's Erigone as a "flawless little poem."" Another of Eratosthenes's poems, the Hermes, consisted of about 1600 hexameter verses. The precise content of that poem is unclear; one surviving verse notes that "the planets possess the same harmony as the lyre."
Among Eratosthenes's prose works was the Catasterismi, a compilation of myths explaining the origin of the forty-eight constellations familiar to the Greeks of the Hellenistic era. The Catasterismi of Eratosthenes is not extant. What survives under this title is a collection of forty-four stories in all, forty-two explaining the origin of the various constellations, and two additional stories, one providing an account of the origin of the Milky Way, the other enumerating the names of the five planets. It is generally agreed that these forty-four stories constitute an epitome of the original work by Eratosthenes compiled by an anonymous author labeled Pseudo-Eratosthenes (hereafter Ps-Eratosthenes) in the first or second century C.E. The question of whether the Catasterismi of Eratosthenes can be extricated from the surviving epitome (hereafter The Constellations) occupied many classical scholars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—without great success.
Eratosthenes was one of several Greek authors to devote an entire literary work to the heavens. We know of three poetical astronomies, now lost, by Cleostratus of Tenedos (sixth century B.C.E.), Sminthes (fourth? century B.C.E.), and Alexander Aetolus (fourth/third centuries B.C.E.), respectively. We know also that the sole surviving poetical astronomy, the Phaenomena of Aratus, was a versification of the prose work of the same name by Eudoxus of Cnidus (fourth century B.C.E.).
The Phaenomena of Aratus of Soloi (315-250? B.C.E.), an older contemporary of Eratosthenes, survives in its entirety; it is a poem of some 1150 verses describing the relative positions of the constellations, with occasional reference to a myth associated with a particular constellation. Its purpose was clearly descriptive, i.e., to lay out for the reader the organization of the stars in the sky. The Phaenomena was a singularly popular and influential work in antiquity, inspiring a score of Greek imitations, Roman translations—including those by Cicero (first century B.C.E.), Germanicus (first century C.E.), Avienus (fourth century C.E.), and the eighth century C.E. author of the Aratus Latinus—as well as lengthy commentaries in both Greek and Latin. The reasons for the popularity of the Phaenomena are rendered elusive by the passage of time." They are, perhaps, related to Aratus's espousal of Stoic ideas, or it may be, simply, that the Phaenomena was a particularly useful guide to the stars, whose presence was more strongly felt in a world without artificial light than it is in our own enlightened age.
It is not clear to what extent the authors preceding Aratus included in their works mythological explanations for the origin of the constellations. In the few instances when Aratus himself alludes to a myth, as for example, in connection with the constellation Virgo, the myth serves less as an aetion for the constellation than as support for the tenets of Stoic philosophy. Unless Aratus's sparse allusions to constellation myths are misleading, it may be safe to infer that the earlier works did not provide a mythological explanation for each constellation. It would appear, then, that while the works of Aratus and his predecessors described the location of constellation figures in the sky, it was Eratosthenes who first systematically assembled mythological material associated with each of the constellation figures. The only work of similar intent by a classical author is the Poeticon Astronomicon or De Astronomia (hereafter Poetic Astronomy) attributed to Hyginus, the librarian of Augustus and author of the Fabulae, a compendium of classical myths. The date and attribution of the Poetic Astronomy have both been contested; however, a recent editor of the Poetic Astronomy argues convincingly that similarities in content between it and the Fabulae, along with the absence of astrological allusions in the Poetic Astronomy, point both to a common authorship and to a date of composition before astrology became fashionable in Rome, i.e., a few years B.C.E. If that date is accurate, then Hyginus's work may have antedated The Constellations, and his repeated citing of Eratosthenes as source in the Poetic Astronomy may well be a reference to the original Catasterismi of Eratosthenes.
The earliest Greek references to constellations are found in Homer, who describes as follows the intricate decorative scenes depicted on the shield that the god Hephaestus forged for Achilles:
He made the earth upon it, and the sky, and the sea's water,
and the tirelesss sun, and the moon waxing into her fullness,
and on it all the constellations that festoon the heavens,
the Pleiades and the Hyades and the strength of Orion
and the Bear, whom men give also the name of the Wagon,
who turns about in a fixed place and looks at Orion
and she alone is never plunged in the wash of the Ocean.
On it he wrought in all their beauty two cities of mortal men.
And there were marriages in one, and festivals ...
But around the other city were lying two forces of armed men shining in their war gear.
For one side counsel was divided whether to storm and sack,
or share between both sides the property and all the possessions the lovely citadel held hard within it. (Iliad 18.483-92, 509-12. tr. R. Lattimore)
The depiction of earth, sea, and sky on the shield of Achilles is comprehensive in scope. The human activity of the two cities is described in such minute detail that it is tempting to take Homer at his word when he represents "all the constellations that festoon the heavens" as being four in number, namely, the Pleiades, Hyades, Ursa Major and Orion. A passage in the Odyssey mentions the Pleiades, Ursa Major, and Orion, and also refers to "late-setting Bootes"; however, given the context—Odysseus is sailing by the stars, as instructed by Calypso—it is not clear whether "Bootes" refers to the constellation Bootes or to its brightest star, Arcturus.
Glorious Odysseus, happy with the wind, spread sails
and taking his seat artfully with the steering oar
he held her on her course, nor did sleep ever descend on his eyelids
as he kept his eye on the Pleiades and late-setting Bootes,
and the Bear, to whom men give also the name of the Wagon, who turns about in a fixed place and looks at Orion,
and she alone is never plunged in the wash of the Ocean. (Odyssey 5.269-75. tr. R. Lattimore)
There is no explicit reference to constellation myths in Homer; however, there are two oblique references, both with reference to the Bear (Ursa Major), which is said "to keep a watchful eye" on Orion, who as a hunter is presumably on the lookout for prey. Homer also refers to the fact that the Bear, uniquely, does not set—i.e., is always visible above the horizon—implying that there is a reason for this unique phenomenon.
Hesiod refers to the same constellations as Homer, citing their rising or setting as the appropriate signal to undertake certain tasks such as harvesting or ploughing, pruning, harvesting grapes and making wine, or sailing.
Start reaping when the Pleiades rise, daughters of Atlas,
and begin to plow when they set.
(Hesiod, Works and Days, 383-84, tr. A. N. Athanassakis)
When—Zeus willing—counting from the winter solstice
sixty days have passed, then the star Arcturus
leaves the sacred stream of Okeanos
and first rises brilliant at eventide,
then ... it is best to prune your vines .. .(Works and Days, 564-70)
When Orion and the dog star rise to the middle of the sky
and rosy-fingered dawn looks upon Arcturus,
then, Perses, gather your grapes and bring them home . . .
When the Pleiades, the Hyades, and mighty Orion set,
remember the time has come to plow again ...
When the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
and plunge into the misty deep
and all the gusty winds are raging,
then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea. (Works and Days, 609-22)
In addition to the four constellations of the Pleiades, Hyades, Ursa Major, and Orion, Homer and Hesiod both refer to the individual stars Arcturus and Sirius. Thus it would seem safe to say that the Greeks of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. distiguished at least four constellations—or five, if Homer's Bootes is counted—and several individual stars. There was a tradition, referred to by Hyginus, that the constellation Ursa Minor was introduced by Thales of Miletus in the sixth century B.C.E., and it is clear that Coma Berenices was added in the third century B.C.E., and Antinous in the second century C.E. Concerning the remaining constellations, it is impossible to say when they became part of the Greek sky.
The Constellations cites Hesiod as the authority for several of the myths recounted, but modern scholars have been for the most part unable to detect any traces of constellation myths in the extant works of Hesiod, or to determine whether any such myths were included in the lost work entitled Astronomia, which is attributed to Hesiod. Similary, it is difficult to know the precise content of lost works by early authors such as Epimenides and Pherecydes, who are cited both in The Constellations and the Poetic Astronomy as sources. But even in those instances when the reference is to an existing work, such as a play of Euripides or Aeschylus, it does not appear that the references in The Constellations point to anything beyond the myth itself; i.e., the ending of the myth as recounted in the source cited by the The Constellations does not entail the changing of the personages in the myth into constellations. With one exception (the myth related about the constellation Piscis Austrinus), the myths recounted in the The Constellations are familiar Greek myths that are well-attested in classical literature. What is unclear is when and how these myths became associated with a particular constellation. Either the linking of myth and constellation was a literary construct invented by Eratosthenes in his Catasterismi, or, more likely, it evolved slowly in popular imagination during the centuries between Homer and Hesiod and the Hellenistic age.
On the other hand, there are certain myths, attested only in literature similar to The Constellations, which most scholars believe to have originated from the relative position and movement of two or more constellations in the sky. Such myths, called astral or astronomical myths, may include the death of Orion from the sting of the Scorpion; the "heavenly hunt scene" consisting of Orion, his dogs (Canis Major, Canis Minor), and his game (Lepus); the pursuit of the Pleiades by Orion; and, according to one scholar, the Perseus-Andromeda story.
Anyone who has confronted the starrysky on a moonless night, away from the lights of civilization, can begin to imagine how the nightly appearance of the stars and their regular risings and settings through the course of the year might invite speculation. Certain groupings of stars, such as those constituting Orion or Ursa Major, stand out from the rest; other less prominent groupings such as the Pleiades or the Hyades are, nevertheless, easily distinguished and are useful as seasonal markers. But there are many more stars in the sky than those comprising the four constellations just mentioned, and many of those stars can be grouped together. And if Orion, the Pleiades, and the Hyades are familiar as mythological figures, why cannot other mythological figures also be represented among those other groups of stars? Furthermore, if one constellation rises when another sets, might there not be a connection between the two? Some such speculation might have resulted in populating the Greek sky with the plethora of mythological birds, beasts, heroes, and inanimate objects that some Greek deity or deities saw fit to honor by placing them among the stars. Some of the constellations form groups comprising a common mythological theme: e.g., the five constellations of the Perseus-Andromeda group, and the five constellations mythologically connected with Orion: Scorpio, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Lepus, and the Pleiades.
The constellation figures of the Greeks included heroes of mythology (Heracles, Perseus, Orion, Castor, Polydeuces and Asclepius), nymphs (Hyades, Pleiades), animals and birds (two bears, three serpents, a scorpion, two dogs, a crab, lion, goat, bull, horse and ram, three fish, a swan, an eagle, a crow, hare, dolphin and sea-monster), and inanimate objects (a crown, triangle, lyre, arrow, altar, crater, river, ship, and lock of hair). Most of these figures were known to the Babylonians and some were known to the Egyptians (only Coma Berenices and Antinous can be dated with certainty to the Hellenistic and Roman periods, respectively), but there is little correspondence between Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek constellations, either in their location or in their delimitation.
The earliest surviving artistic representation of the constellations known to the Greeks and Romans is the Atlas Farnese, a marble globe depicting the five heavenly circles and most of the constellation figures, but not the individual stars comprising each constellation. The Atlas Farnese is variously dated between the second century B.C.E. and about 150 C.E. and appears to be based on Hipparchus. The only other pre-modern representations of the constellation figures are twenty-nine illustrated manuscripts dating from the ninth century and later, the chief of which are Vaticanus Graecus 1291 and Vaticanus Graecus 1087. According to ancient tradition, Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, and Eudoxus constructed sphaerae, i.e., graphic representations of the heavens, but these sphaerae have been lost.
Star Lore: Myths, Legends, and Facts by William Tyler Olcott (Dover Books on Astronomy: Dover Publications) unabridged republication of Star Lore of All Ages published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1911. New introduction by Fred Schaaf. 58 black-and-white illustrations. 56 unnumbered plates. Generations of readers, stargazers, and fireside dreamers have delighted in this guide to the myths and legends surrounding the stars and constellations. Originally published in 1911, William Tyler Olcott's beloved classic offers captivating retellings of ancient celestial lore from around the world.
Star Lore recounts the origins and histories of star groups as well as the stories of individual constellations: Pegasus, the winged horse; Ursa Major, the Greater Bear; the seven daughters of Atlas known as the Pleiades; the hunter Orion, accompanied by his faithful dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor; the signs of the Zodiac; and minor constellations such as the ship Argo, the Giraffe, and the Unicorn.
Fifty-eight black-and-white images include photographs of the actual stars as well as scenes from their related myths portrayed by Michelangelo, Rubens, Veronese, and other artists. This edition features a new introduction by astronomer Fred Schaaf, in addition to an extensive appendix and index.
Some man of yore
A nomenclature thought of and devised,r /> And forms sufficient found.
So thought he good to make the stellar groups,
That each by other lying orderly,
They might display their forms.
And thus the stars At once took names and rise familiar now. ---ARATOS.
The origin of the constellations is still open to conjecture, for, though all nations since the dawn of history have recognised these ancient stellar configurations, and at one period or another employed them in some symbolic or representative capacity, the fact remains that the researches of archeologists have failed to yield definite proof as to who first designed them and where they were first known.
There is little doubt that the constellations were the result of a deliberate plan, as La Place affirms. Possibly they were an endeavour on the part of some patriarch of the ancient world to grave an imperishable record of a great event, or a series of noteworthy occurrences in the world's history, for all posterity to read, and although no Rosetta stone has been found as yet to enable the present race of man to decipher their meaning, still the problem attacked by the ablest savants of all nations has yielded theories respecting the origin and purposes of the constellations that cannot be far from the truth.
In the very dawn of the world, when human instinct first inspired observation, primitive man began to look about him and take stock of his environment. The daily wants of nature supplied, the natural phenomena would claim man's attention, and first he would take cognisance of the sun, moon, and stars that provided life's chief essential, light.
For purposes of identification alone, there must have been at an early date certain designations for the individual stars that gave rise to all subsequent stellar nomenclature. The sun, moon, and planets, the brighter luminaries, would first excite man's interest and attention, and then the brightest stars would attract and mystify him.
As time went on, observation would soon indicate to human intelligence the relationship of the sun and moon to the fixed stars, and the seasonable difference in the appearance of the nocturnal skies.
All this would be in strict accord with the natural laws of the observational faculties. Such elementary knowledge of the heavenly bodies would presently lead to the establishment of certain facts relative to the stars, features concerning their apparent change in position, that if marked would render a service to the race.
Very early in the history of the world the stars must have served to record the passage of time, a service they have faithfully and accurately rendered mankind through all the ages to the present day.
The first tillers of the soil must have marked well the stars, and certain of them doubtless proclaimed the time of sowing and reaping. The circumpolar stars guided the rude crafts of the early navigators, and unquestionably in the earliest times they singled out "the star that never moves," Polaris, as an unfailing and reliable beacon to direct their course.
The rising and setting of the stars thus became matters of paramount importance, governing alike the actions of the husbandmen and those who sailed the seas. Certain stars were also indicative of impending meteorological changes, and their appearance at particular seasons was watched for with keenest interest.
The wonder and mystery the stars inspired, and their utility in daily life, soon led to their becoming objects of idolatry, and as their importance increased, astrology, that pseudo-science, Kepler's "foolish daughter of a wise mother," sprang into being, and for a time suppressed, discouraged, and hampered the legitimate and scientific study of the heavens.
Thus early in the history of man we find the stars all-important to his welfare. No course was pursued or plan adopted without first consulting the heavenly bodies. They governed alike the policies of nations and the actions of individuals. They ruled absolutely over the destinies of the high and lowly, the rich and poor, and horoscopes became a necessity of life, and divination the highest pursuit of man.
In Sabianism, or star worship, we have, therefore, the earliest form of religion, and in astrology and the adoration of the stars the progenitors of the modern science of astronomy.
From this universal attention to the stars, there sprang up the myriad fancies and peculiar notions, the products of imagination, that peopled the sky with animals and quaint figures, and gave rise to the constellated stellar groups that have come down to us, and figure on the modern charts of the heavens.
There are many traditions that have emerged from the mists that shroud the distant past respecting the origin of the constellations, and the science of astronomy, and as that origin is antediluvian, the knowledge that we have of the subject must perforce be largely traditional in its character.
An early tradition affirms that the immediate descendants of Adam cultivated a knowledge of the stars, and that Seth and Enoch inscribed upon two pillars, one of brick, the other of stone, the names, meanings, secret virtues, and science of the stars, with the divisions of the zodiac.
Josephus states that he saw in Syria the pillar of stone, which alone remained in his day. The history of two mysterious pillars entwined with a serpent, the symbol of revolution, can be traced through all the ages, from remote antiquity until it reaches our dollar sign Then there is a tradition that has survived the ages, that Noah, who was also known as Oannes and Janus, was the inventor of astronomy. It is certain that Noah and his family were soon worshipped and inextricably mixed with stars and gods.
The Chaldeans attributed their knowledge of the stars to Noah, who became a two-faced deity, as he could look backwards and forwards. He was known as "the God of Gates," as he opened the door which God shut, and Noah and the Ark became Janus and Jana, solar and lunar deities. Of all this tradition meets us everywhere.
It is a remarkable fact that, from the earliest times, as far as we can judge from the cuneiform inscriptions and hieroglyphics that have been deciphered, the sign for God was a star.
Astronomy unites with history and archaeology in pointing to the Euphrates Valley, and, as we might expect, the region of Mt. Ararat, as the home of those who originated the ancient constellation figures.
Authorities agree, for the most part, that the originators of Sabianism and stellar lore in this region were not the Semitic Babylonians, but a people generally termed "Akkadians," a word meaning highlanders, or mountaineers, the most ancient race known to us, who came down from the mountainous region of Elam or Susiana, to the east of Assyria, bringing with them the rudiments of writing and civilisation.
The Babylonians, previous to the invasion of the Akkadai, unquestionably had some knowledge of the stars. It was thought in those early times that the mountains on the east supported the firmament, and that the zenith was fixed over Elam. There were observatories established in all the large cities of Chaldea, many of the shrines on the topmost terraces being dedicated to this purpose, and at an early date the stars were named and numbered.
The Babylonian Tablets, the oldest records extant, reveal that the Akkadians introduced their sphere and zodiac into Babylonia before the year 3000 B.C., and the zodiac of the Akkadians corresponds almost exactly with the signs we know to-day.
It seems almost folly to endeavour to set the date of the invention of the constellations, for that period must approximate the age of the habitable world, and in all probability the stellar figures known to us were not designed at any one time, and lost their originality by the varying conditions that time has wrought in the past, for even in comparatively recent years there have been many attempts to alter them.
Bailly, a brilliant scholar and eminent astronomer, contends that the phenomena of astronomy had been closely observed before the great races of mankind separated from the parent stock. He claims, and few would dispute him, an antediluvian race as the originators of astronomical science. In proof of this he cites the fact that there are ancient Persian records which refer to the four famous "Royal Stars" as having marked the four colures (the meridian points of the solstices and equinoxes), a fact only possible in antediluvian times.
Maunder, who has made a very careful study of archaeology in its relation to the constellational figures, has revealed many interesting features in connection with them. He writes :
"The first feature which the old constellation figures present to us is a very striking one. They cover only a portion of the heavens, and a large region roughly circular in the southern hemisphere is left entirely vacant. Swartz was the first to make the significant suggestion that this space was left vacant because the inventors of the constellations lived too far north to permit of their viewing this part of the heavens."
Pursuing this line of thought, Maunder considers that the designers of the figures lived, in all probability, between 36° and 42° north latitude, so that the constellations did not originate in Egypt or Babylon. By computing where the centre of the vacant space coincided with the southern pole, we get the date 280o B.C., which was probably the date when the ancient work of constellation making was completed.
It has been remarked that among the constellation figures conspicuous by their absence are the following animals: the elephant, the camel, the hippopotamus, the crocodile, and the tiger, so it is reasonably safe to assume that neither India, Arabia, nor Egypt was the birthplace of the sphere. Greece, Italy, and Spain may be excluded on the ground that the lion figures as one of the constellations. We have left Asia Minor and Armenia, a region bounded by the Black, Mediterranean, Caspian, and .Aegean seas, as the logical birthplace of the stellar figures. The fact that we find a ship among the stars warrants us in believing that it is on the coast of this country, and not in its interior, that we should expect to find the land where the constellations were first known.
The division of the zodiac into twelve signs, the number of months in the year, is one of very great significance, for we infer from the fact that it was so arranged to assist in the observation of the position of the sun among the stars.
Many of the authorities hold that the zodiac was planned while the spring equinox fell in the constellation Taurus. In support of this claim it may be said that, if this is the case, the sun was ascending all through the signs that face the east, and was descending all through the signs that face the west, a significant and logical arrangement which could hardly be accidental.
The date of the zodiac is given as 300o B.C., which agrees very well with the significant position of the four Royal Stars previously mentioned which marked the four cardinal points, and were thus especially prominent.
A close inspection of the stellar groups yields many points of interest, notably the fact that everywhere there is indication of design and not chance in the arrangement and configuration. There seems to have been a definite idea in some one's mind respecting them, a desire to perpetuate a vitally important record. It may be of interest to mention a few of the facts that have inclined scholars to this belief :
To begin with, we find many figures duplicated, and in most cases the two figures are close together in the sky. Thus we see the figures of two Dogs, two Bears, two Giants subduing Serpents, each pair in close proximity. Then there are two Goats, two Crowns, two Streams, and two Fishes bound together.
The zodiacal constellations are often clearly connected with neighbouring figures. We observe the Bull attacked by the Giant Hunter Orion, Aquarius pouring a stream of water into the mouth of the Southern Fish, the Scorpion attempting to sting Ophiuchus, and the Ram pressing down the head of the Sea Monster.
Again, one portion of the sky was known to the ancients as "the Sea," and here we find, as we might expect, many marine creatures,—the Dolphin, the Whale, the Fishes, the Sea Goat, and the Southern Fish.
Other features in support of the theory of design are found in the half-figures, Pegasus, Taurus, and Argo, and the so-called Deluge group, comprising the Ship stranded on a rock, the Bird, the Altar, the Centaur offering a sacrifice, and the Bow set in the Cloud.
It is supposed that, at a time far remote, the Akkadians were conquered by the Semitic race, and that the conquerors imposed only their language on the conquered, adopting, it is said, the Akkadian mythology, laws, literature, and system of astronomy.
At an early date in the world's history we find astronomy and astrology flourishing in China, India, Arabia, and Egypt.
The early astronomical annals of the Chinese reveal the fact that, before the year 2357 B.C., the Emperor Yao had divided the twelve zodiacal signs by the twenty-eight mansions of the moon.'
The Arabians are said to have received their astronomical knowledge from India, and in China, Arabia, and India we find an almost identical system, i.e., that of the Lunar Stations, or Lunar Mansions, employed to indicate the daily progress of the moon amid the stars.
India has been claimed as the birthplace of the constellation figures, but modern research, says Allen, finds little in Sanscrit literature to confirm this belief.
There is a controversy as to whether Indian astronomy was derived from Greece or independent of it. In support of the latter theory, it is said that the Brahmins were too proud to borrow their science from the Greeks or Arabs, and also that it was improbable that two rival Hindu sects, the Brahmins and Buddhists, should have adopted the same innovations in their calendars and religious symbolism. Again, the Greeks held Indian astronomy in high esteem, while the Hindus only bestowed a moderate praise on the Grecian science.
The Egyptians, on whose early monuments the twelve zodiacal signs are found, acknowledged that they derived their knowledge of the stars from the Chaldeans, and they were in turn the teachers of the Greeks as early as the time of Thales and Pythagoras.
Herodotus states that the Egyptians were the first of all mankind who invented the year and divided it into twelve parts, a statement much at variance to the accepted testimony of the Babylonian Tablets.
Of the constellations outside the zodiac, we find a few groups and stars mentioned at an early date, notably in the Old Testament, where, in the Book of Job, there are references to the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, names that have come down to us. Homer and Hesiod both mentioned the same constellations, which is indicative of the importance of these star groups in the eyes of the ancients. Hesiod also refers to the stars Arcturus and Sirius, and these two stars may well be considered the most ancient of all the stars from the standpoint of stellar nomenclature.
Authorities differ as to the source from which the Greek knowledge of the stars was derived, but in all probability it did not come from any one source but was imported from Egypt, Chaldea, and Phoenicia.
The founder of the science of astronomy in Greece was Thales, the head of the Ionic School of Philosophy, a citizen of Miletus, who lived about 540 B.C. It is said that he first taught the Greek navigators to steer by the Little instead of the Great Bear.
Eudoxus, a native of Cnidus, who lived about the fourth century B.C., a contemporary of Plato, was the first Greek who described the constellations with approximate completeness. He is reported to have visited Egypt and to have there received astronomical instruction. He wrote The Enoption, or The Mirror, and The Phenomena or Appearances, both prose works and unfortunately not extant, but Aratos, the Alexandrine poet, versified the latter work about 270 B.C., and it has descended to our day.
Aratos was a native of Soli in Cilicia, and Court Physician to Antigonus Gonatas, King of Macedonia. He was a contemporary of Aristophanes, Aristarchus, and Theocritus, and he always mentions the constellations as of unknown antiquity. His sphere accurately represented the heavens of about 2000 B.C. His poem has been considered an authority on stellar nomenclature, and has been closely followed by all subsequent delineators of the constellation figures.
This sphere of Eudoxus, which has been transmitted to us through the verses of Aratos, contained forty-five constellations, twenty in the northern hemisphere, twelve in the southern, and thirteen in the zodiacal group, the Pleiades being considered as a separate constellation in addition to Taurus.
Allen makes the following interesting reference to this famous poem: " When the poem entitled The Phenomena of Aratos was introduced at Rome by Cicero and other leading characters, we read that it became the polite amusement of the Roman ladies to work the celestial forms in gold and silver on the most costly hangings, and this had previously been done at Athens, where concave ceilings were also emblazoned with the heavenly figures."
The Phenomena is the most ancient description of the constellations extant, and has been translated into all languages. Cicero and Germanicus Cesar both made translations of it, and no less than thirty-five Greek commentaries on the work are known to us.
Eudoxus considered the heavens as divided up into constellations with recognised names. "He did not deal with the stars singly, but gave a sort of geographic description of their territorial position and limits, according to groups, distinguished by a common name." His work's chief value consists in the comprehensive view of the heavens it affords, and in the description of the constellated heavens in their entirety.
Although the contributions of Eudoxus and Aratos to astronomical literature are highly regarded and authoritative, the acknowledged founder of our scientific astronomy is Hipparchus, who was the first to discover the perpetual and apparent shifting of the stars known as the Precession of the Equinoxes. Only two of his works have come down to us, his Commentary, and the reproduction of his Star Catalogue by Ptolemy, who was known as "the Prince of Astronomers." This catalogue enumerated 1022 stars, of which 914 form constellations, and 108 are unformed. It is held in much respect even by modern astronomers, and agrees in the main with the enumeration of Aratos. Procyon, however, appears as a constellation, and the asterism Equuleus, the foremost Horse, is added, an asterism that figures on modern star maps. The observations of Hipparchus were made between 162 and 127 B.C., while those of Ptolemy embodied in the Syntaxis, as his work was entitled, were made from 127 to 151 A.D.
The Syntaxis was practically an epitome of the results of the early star-gazers of Greece and Western Asia, and comprised a list of 1028 stars classified in forty-eight constellations. Each star is named by its position in the figure supposed to include the stars of the group. Thus the constellation Draco contains thirty-one stars, some of which received the following descriptive names: "the star upon the tongue," " the star in the mouth," " the star above the eye," etc. This method of naming the stars continued in use until the eighteenth century, when a letter or a number with the Latin genitive of the constellation was used. In Ptolemy's catalogue appears the first comparative list of stellar magnitudes.
The constellations of the Greeks were ultimately accepted and adopted by the Persians, Hindus, Arabs, the nations of Western Asia, and the Romans, from whom they have been borrowed by the modern world. To Greece, then, we are indebted for the figures now depicted on our celestial globes and the many interesting myths associated with them, notably the legend of Perseus and Andromeda, which is fully illustrated in the starry skies.
Although the savages of prehistoric times first bequeathed the stellar configurations to science, we listen to their harsh ideas, as Bacon puts it, "as they come to us blown softly through the flutes of the Grecians."
From the time of Ptolemy till the year 1252, no advance of importance was made in the matter of cataloguing the stars, but in this latter year there appeared the celebrated Alphonsine Tables compiled by Arabian or Moorish astronomers at Toledo under the auspices of the subsequent King Alphonso X., known as "the Wise."
A correction of Ptolemy's sphere was published by the Arabian astronomer Ulugh Beg in 1420 A.D., in which there was a description of the constellations derived from Al-Sufi's translation of five centuries previously.
The catalogues of Copernicus and Tycho Brahe followed, the former's great work laying the foundations of modern astronomy. In 1603 the Uranometria of Johann Bayer appeared in Gel many. This chart contained forty-eight constellations and a list of 709 stars. Bayer invented the system in vogue to-day of denoting each star by a letter of the Greek alphabet, the brightest star in each figure being designated Alpha with the Latin genitive of the constellation. It was soon found that the stars in many of the groups exceeded the number of letters in the alphabet, and such stars were denoted by the letters of the Roman alphabet.
Succeeding Bayer's catalogue there appeared consecutively the charts of Bartsch, Schiller, Kepler, Royer, Halley, and in 1690 that of Hevelius, who added the asterisms of the Hunting Dogs, the Giraffe, the Lizard, the Unicorn, the Lynx, the Sextant, Fox and Goose, and Sobieski's Shield, all recognised by modern astronomers.'
Flamsteed's catalogue, published in 1719, comprised fifty-four constellation figures, and exhibited a new method of stellar designation, the stars being consecutively numbered in the order of their right ascension, a method employed in modern charts for the fainter stars.
La Caille, known as "the true Columbus of the southern sky," in his publications of 1752 and 1763, invented fourteen new star groups which included the names of many instruments of the sciences and fine arts, the majority of which have been rejected by modern delineators of the constellations.
Subsequently Le Monnier, Bode, and Lalande published stellar catalogues, adding new asterisms, the latter's chart containing a total of eighty-eight constellations.
In 1840 the famous German astronomer Argelander published his star catalogue, the most complete that had appeared up to that time. It contained 210,000 stars. Argelander brought order where there had been much confusion, by separating one constellation from another by irregular boundary lines, so that all the stars would be embraced within the borders of some stellar figure. His system is employed in many of the modern charts of the heavens.'
To-day there are over a hundred large catalogues of the stars, but there is a discrepancy in the number of constellations accepted by astronomers. Prof. Young recognised sixty-seven as in ordinary use, and in these northern latitudes about fifty-five are generally known.
Allen tells us that "eighty or ninety may be considered as now more or less acknowledged, while probably a million stars are laid down on the various modern maps, and this is soon to be increased perhaps to forty million on the completion of the present photographic work for this object by the international association of eighteen observatories engaged upon it in different parts of the world."
In conclusion, it may be of interest to review briefly the conception of the firmament in vogue in ancient times among the different nations of the old world.
The Persians are said to have considered 3000 years ago that the whole heavens were divided up into four great districts, each watched over by one of the " Royal Stars," Aldebaran, Antares, Regulus, and Fomalhaut.
The Assyrians looked upon the stars as divinities, endowed with beneficent or evil powers.
Among the Chaldeans the sky was regarded as a boat, shaped like a basket. The space below was the earth, which was flat and surrounded by water.
The Egyptians worshipped Osiris and Isis as ancestors, and showed Plutarch their graves, and the stars into which they had been metamorphosed.
The ancient Peruvians thought that there was not a beast or bird on earth whose shape or image did not shine in the sky. They considered the luminaries and stars guardian divinities and worshipped them. They also thought that the stars were the children of the sun and moon.
The Hebrews had a notion that the sun, moon, and stars danced before Adam in Paradise.
The Bushmen, or early inhabitants of Africa, regarded the more conspicuous stars as men, lions, tortoises, etc. They believed that the sun, moon, and stars were once mortals on earth, or even animals, or inorganic substances which happened to get translated to the skies.
In New Zealand heroes were thought to become stars of greater or less brightness according to the number of their victims slain in battle.
The North American Indians believed that many of the stars were living creatures, and knew Ursa Major as a Bear, the same figure known in the Far East.
The Tannese Islanders divided the heavens into constellations with definite traditions to account for the canoes, ducks, and children that they see in the skies.
In the South Pacific islands dying men will announce their intention of becoming a star, and even mention the particular part of the heavens where they are to be looked for.
The Eskimos thought that some of the stars had been men and others different sorts of animals and fishes, which was also the mythical belief of the Greeks and Romans.
According to Slavonic mythology the stars are regarded as living in habitual intercourse with men and their affairs.
An ancient legend was that there were no stars till the giants of old, throwing stones at the sun, pierced holes in the sky, and let the light of that orb shine through the holes which we call stars,—and Anaximenes thought that the stars were fixed in the dome of heaven like nails.
Thus we find, as some one has put it, that "astronomy like a golden thread runs through history and binds together all tribes and peoples of the earth," and the girdle of stars we view nightly remains as the most ancient monument of the work of intelligent man, " the oldest picture book of all."
Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning tar Names: Their Lore and Meaning by Richard H. Allen (Dover Books on Astronomy: Dover)Slightly revised republication of original edition. Introduction by the author. Indexes to subjects, Arabic and Greek names, Biblical references. Bibliography. xiv + 563pp. 5% x 81/2. Paperbound.
Here is an unusual book for anyone who appreciates the beauty and
wonder of the stars. Solidly based upon years of thorough research
into astronomical writings and observations of the ancient Chinese,
Arabic, Euphrates, Hellenic and Roman civilizations, it is an
informative, non-technical excursion into the vast heritage of
folklore and history associated with the heavenly bodies.
From ills studies of the writings of scores of ancient astronomers, the author has come up with a fascinating history of the names various cultures have given the constellations, the literary and folkloristic uses that have been made of the stars through the centuries, and the often incredible associations that ancient peoples established with the stars. He covers, for example, the origins of the lunar and solar zodiacs; the use of stars and constellations in the Bible and other sacred writings, poetry, etc.; the idea of the Milky Way; how star pictures were originally set up and why; astrology and the use of stars to tell people's fortunes; and many other star curiosities. In this regard, the book touches upon not only all the constellations (including many that long ago dropped out of star catalogues), but their important stars and such other asterisms as the Hyades, the Pleiades, the Great Nebula of Andromeda, and the Magellanic Clouds.
The book is the only complete coverage of its kind in English. It is completely nontechnical, hence accessible to etymologists, anthropologists, and amateur star-gazers. But it contains so much unique reading material on early astronomical theory, so many delightful accounts drawn from the pages of books almost impossible to find today, that even the practicing astronomer will find it refreshingly new and instructive.
Excerpt: This list of star-names is published in the endeavor to fill an acknowledged vacancy in our popular astronomical literature. It is not intended for the professional astronomer, who, as a rule, cares little about the old designations of the objects of his study,— alphabets, numerals, and circles being preferable, indeed needful, for his purposes of identification. Yet great scholars have thought this nomenclature not unworthy their attention, — Grotius, Scaliger, Hyde, and our own Whitney, among others, devoting much of their rare talent to its elucidation; while Ideler, of a century ago, not without authority in astronomy as in other branches of learning, wrote as to inquiry into star-names :
This is, in its very nature, coincidently a research into the constellations, and it is so much more worth while learning their history as throughout all ages the spirit of man has concerned itself with a subject that has ever had the highest interest to him,— the starry heavens.
Old Thomas Hood, of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1590 asserted that they were " for instruction's sake . . . things cannot be taught without names "; and it is certain that knowledge of these contributes much to an intelligent pleasure when we survey the evening sky. For almost all can repeat Thomas Carlyle's lament :
Why did not somebody teach me the constellations, and make me at home in the starry heavens, which are always overhead, and which I don't half know to this day ?
Naturally these titles are chiefly from the Arabs, whose Desert life and clear skies made them very familiar with the stars, as Al Biruni 1 wrote :
He whose roof is heaven, who has no other cover, over whom the stars continually rise and set in one and the same course, makes the beginnings of his affairs and his knowledge of time depend upon them.
So that the shaykh Ilderim well told Ben Hur at the Orchard of Palms :
Thou canst not know how much we Arabs depend upon the stars. We borrow their names in gratitude, and give them in love.
But many star-names supposed to have originated in Arabia are merely that country's translations of the Greek descriptive terms, adopted, during the rule of the Abbasids, from Claudius Ptolemy's 'the Great System of Astronomy, of our second century. For it was early in this khalifate,
in the golden prime
Of good Haroun Alraschid
(Aaron the Just), that Ptolemy's was translated as Al Kitab al Mijisti, the Greatest Book. This, in its various editions, substituted among the educated classes a new nomenclature ; while, as revised by Al Thabit ibn Kurrah in the latter part of the 9th century, it eventually became, through a Latin version by Cremonaeus (Gerard of Cremona) of the 12th century, the groundwork of the first complete printed Almagest. This, published at Venice in 1515, so manifestly showed its composite origin that Ideler and Smyth always referred to it as the Arabo-Latin Almagest. The Greek text of the Syntaxis seems to have been practically unknown in Europe until translated into Latin from a Vatican manuscript by Trapezuntius (the monk George of Trebizond), several editions
of this issuing during the r 6th century. From all these and kindred works have come the barbarous Graeco-Latin-Arabic words that, in a varied orthography, appear as star-names in modern lists.
But there were other purely indigenous, and so very ancient, titles from the heathen days of the Ishmaelites anterior to Mediterranean influences, perhaps even from the prehistoric "'Arab al Baida," the Arabs of the Desert,— these titles generally pastoral in their character, as accords with such an origin. So that we find among them the nomads' words for shepherds and herdsmen with their maidens; horses, horsemen, and their trappings; cattle, camels, sheep, and goats ; predatory and other animals ; birds and reptiles. It should be remembered, however, that the archaic nomenclature of the Arabs — archaic properly so called, for we know nothing of its beginnings — in one respect is unique. They did not group together several stars to forth a living figure, as did their Western neighbors, who subsequently became their teachers; single stars represented single creatures,— a rule that seems rarely to have been deviated from,— although the case was different in their stellar counterparts of inanimate objects. Even here they used but few stars for their geographical, anatomical, and botanical terms ; their tents, nests, household articles, and ornaments ; mangers and stalls ; boats, biers, crosses, and thrones ; wells, ponds, and rivers ; fruits, grains, and nuts; — all of which they imaged in the sky.
They had, too, still another class of names peculiar to themselves, such as Al Saidak, Al Simak, Al Suha, respectively the Trusted One, the Lofty One, the Neglected One ; their Changers, Drivers, Followers, and Wardens ; their Fortunate, or Unfortunate, Ones, and their Solitary Ones, etc. None of these early asterisms, however, were utilized by the scientific Arabians, but, with their titles, became merely interesting curiosities to them, as to us. These were known as " of the Arabs," while Ptolemy's figures were " of the astronomers,"— a distinction maintained in this book by the use of " Arab " or "Arabic" for the first, and "Arabian" for the last. The Persian astronomical writer, the dervish `Abd al Rahman Atha al Husain, now better known as Al Sufi,' the Mystic or Sage, made mention of this early distinction, in 964, in his Description of the Fixed Stars ; Kazwini following, three centuries later, with the same expressions.
The various Arabic titles that we see applied to a single star or group, and the duplicate titles for some that are widely separated in the sky, apparently came from the various tribes, each of which had to a certain extent a nomenclature of its own.
The rest of our star-names, with but few exceptions, are directly from Greek or Latin originals,— many of these, as is the case with the Arabian, although now regarded as personal, being at first only adjectival or merely descriptive of the star's position in the constellation figure; while some are the result of misunderstanding, or of errors in translation and oft-repeated transcription. But these are now too firmly established to be discontinued or even corrected.
Vergil wrote in the 1st Georgic :
Navita turn stellis numeros et nomina fecit ;
and Seneca, the traditional friend of Saint Paul, in his Quaestiones Naturales
Graecia stellis numeros et nomina fecit ;
both of these heathen authors almost exactly following the words of the sacred psalmist, who, at least four hundred years before, had sung :
He telleth the number of the stars ;
He giveth them all their names,
and of the prophet Isaiah :
He calleth them all by name.
While Seneca's statement may have some foundation, and Vergil's assertion as to the sailor's influence in star-naming may be true in part, yet for most of this we should probably look to the Desert, where the stars would be as much required and relied upon for guidance as on the trackless ocean, and so necessarily objects of attentive interest and study. Indeed, Muhammad told his followers, in the 6th Sura of the Qur'an God bath given you the stars to be your guides in the dark both by land and sea.
It seems safe to conclude that they were first named by herdsmen, hunters, and husbandmen, sailors and travelers, — by the common people generally, rather than by the learned and scientific; and that our modern lists are the gradual accumulation of at least three thousand years from various nations, but chiefly from the nomads, as well as the scholars, of Arabia,—those earthly godfathers of heaven's lights, That give a name to every fixed star,— and from Greece and Rome.
It may be thought that too much attention has been paid to stellar mythology, now almost a hackneyed subject ; but it serves to elucidate the literary history of the stars, and the age of its stories commands at least our interest. Indeed, we should remember that the stars were largely the source of these stories,— Eusebius, early in our 4th century, asserting in his Praeparatio Evangelica.
The ancients believed that the legends about Osiris and Isis, and all other mythological fables [of a kindred sort], have reference either to the Stars, their configuration, their risings and their settings, etc.
And Proctor wrote in his Myths and Marvels of Astronomy that the chief charm of this study does not reside in the wonders revealed to us by the science, but in the lore and legends connected with its history, the strange fancies with which in old times it has been associated, the half-forgotten myths to which it has given birth.
Yet these myths, old as the present forms of some of them may be, are but modern and trivial when one goes back into the dim past to their probable fountainhead among the Himalayas and on the Ganges, or along the banks of the Euphrates, where the recent study of mythology discovers their origin in serious connection with the most ancient of earthly religions, long antedating Moses,— " attempted explanations of natural phenomena," drawn from observations. on the earth and in the sky of the powers of nature and of nature's God.
The world-wide field of research that I have endeavored to
traverse, containing the records of four or five millenniums, it
need hardly be said demands for its exploration the best efforts, long continued, of
the scientist and scholar accomplished in archaeology, astronomy,
literature, and philology. None such, however, has appeared since
Ideler's day, nearly a century ago ; so that, with the desire of
taking up again this most interesting task, and the hope of thus
stimulating others more competent to carry it on, I have done what I
could, although frankly confessing that I have fallen very far short
of my ideal. Originality is not claimed for my book Much of it has
been gathered from widely scattered sources, brought together here
for the first time in readily accessible form, although doubtless
with errors and certainly with much omission; for while I have
sought, as did Milton's Il Penseroso,
to sit and rightly spell
Of every star that heav'n doth show,
yet in preparing my material I have seen, as Doctor Samuel Johnson wrote in the preface of his Dictionary,
that one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed.
So that, following him,
I set limits to my work, which would in time be ended though not completed.
While to temper such criticism as may be bestowed upon my efforts, I quote again from the same source :
Dictionaries 1 are like watches ; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.
Doctor Christian Ludwig Ideler's Untersuchungen über den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Sternnamen, dated in Berlin the 2d of April, 1809, is the main critical compendium of information on stellar names — Arabic, Greek, and Latin especially. It is to him that we owe the translation of the original Arabic text of Kazwini's 1 Description of the Constellations, written in the 13th century, which forms the basis of the Sternnamen, with Ideler's additions and annotations from classical and other sources. From this much information in my book is derived.
The Bedford Catalogue in Captain (afterwards Vice-Admiral) William Henry Smyth's 2 Cycle of Celestial Objects, a book of exceptional value as to information on star-names and unique in its racy style, also has been drawn from.
Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer's recent Dawn of Astronomy — a most interesting work even if all his deductions are not accepted — has furnished many of the references to Egypt and its temple worship of various stars; this new study in orientation having been initiated by Professor Nissen of Germany, although independently so, about the same time, by Lockyer.
Professor D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's Glossary of Greek Birds has been utilized as to the ornithological symbolism 3 on early coinage, sculpturing, etc.; for this, hitherto unintelligible, is now thought to be largely astronomical.
The details of star-spectra mainly are from the Spectralanalyse der Geslime, of 189o, by Doctor J. Scheiner, of the Royal Astrophysical Observatory of Potsdam, translated by Professor E. B. Frost, of Dartmouth College, in 1894.
The matter connected with the astronomy of China is chiefly from Mr. John Williams' work of 187 r,— the Observations of Comets from 611 B. C. to A. D. 164o, extracted from the Chinese Annals,— the star-names being from that or from Mr. John Reeves' Appendix 1 to Volume I, Part 2, of the Reverend Doctor Robert Morrison's Dictionary, published at Macao in 1819, with Bode's star-numbers. I have also been aided by the Reverend Doctor Joseph Edkins' recent papers in the China Review. The translations of the names in Reeves' list are by Professor Kazutami Ukita, of the Doshisha Theological School of Kyoto, Japan; but he expresses misgivings as to the correctness of many of them in their stellar application.
Professor Richard J. H. Gottheil, of Columbia University, has very kindly supervised the transcription and translation of the Hebrew and Arabic star-names, and has added the table of the Arabic alphabet and the English equivalents of its letters. But his absence abroad while the earlier pages were going through the press will account for some errors, which, however, I have endeavored to correct in the Index. The Euphratean 2 titles are from various sources.
The star-magnitudes are from the Estimates of the Harvard Photometry, a list of 4260 naked-eye stars north of the 30th parallel of south declination, published in 1884 by Professor Edward C. Pickering, or from the Uranometria Argentina 3 of the late Doctor Benjamin A. Gould, published in 1879.
The star-maps of the northern sky to which I generally refer are those of Doctor Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander in his Uranometria Nova, published at Berlin, in 1843, with 3268 stars down to the 6th magnitude; and of Doctor Eduard Heis in his Atlas Coelestis Novus of 1872. But the last-named acute observer includes those to the 6r2 magnitude t— 5421 stars from the pole to 400 of south declination, in eight tenths of the heavens. Smyth more conservatively wrote of this oft-mooted point in observational astronomy :
The number of those seen by the naked eye at once is seldom much above a thousand; though from their scintillation, and the indistinct manner in which they are viewed, they appear to be almost infinite. Indeed, albeit the keen glances of experience might do more, the whole number that can be generally perceived by the naked eye, taking both hemispheres, is not greatly above three thousand, from the first to the sixth magnitudes, in about these proportions :
3000 in all. Professor David P. Todd, in his New Astronomy of 1897, increases the number of 5th-magnitude stars to 1400, and of those of the 6th magnitude to 5000,— 7185 in all; but exceptional conditions of eyesight and atmosphere probably must exist for confirmation of this.
The star-colors generally are from Smyth's list whenever noted by him ; but it should be remembered that even good authorities sometimes differ as to stellar tints, and those assigned here will not be accepted by all, and in the case of minute objects are very doubtful.
I have begun my work with brief notices of the Zodiacs,—Solar and Lunar,— that necessarily are constantly alluded to in treating of the individual Constellations; following these with three chapters on the latter,—their history among the nations, cataloguing and early treatment by authors, and their connection with astrology, art, folk-lore, literature, and religion. The detailed list of the Constellations, in alphabetical order, and of their named components follows, with the derivation, signification, and history of their titles, and some facts as to the scientific aspects of the stars. In this last feature of my book Professor Charles A. Young, of Princeton University, has afforded me much valuable assistance, for which, although very inadequately, I here return my sincere thanks. A chapter on the Galaxy ends the work.
Where thought necessary, the accentuation of the star-titles is given in the Indices, although in some cases, from the uncertainty of origin, this may be doubtful.
And now, with the hope that my work, even with its imperfections, may serve to foster a more intelligent interest in the nomenclature and " archaeology of practical astronomy," I submit it to all lovers of the stars.
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