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ASTRONO´MIA astronomy. It is not proposed in the present article to give a technical history of the rise and progress of astronomy among the ancients, but to confine ourselves to what may be regarded as the popular portion of the science,--the observations, namely, upon the relative position and apparent movements of the celestial bodies, especially the fixed stars, which from the earliest epoch engaged the attention of those classes of men who, as shepherds or mariners, were wont to pass their nights in the open air. We shall consider :--
  • 1. The different names by which the constellations were distinguished among the Greeks and Romans, and the legends attached to each; but we shall not attempt to investigate at length the origin of these names, nor the times and places when and where they were first bestowed. The materials for this first section have been carefully collected by Ideler in his essay entitled Untersuchungen über den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Sternnamen (Berlin, 1809), a work which we now mention specially once for all to avoid the necessity of constant references; in the Historische Untersuchungen über die astronomischen Beobachtungen der Alten, by the same author (Berlin, 1806); in a paper by Buttmann, Ueber die Entstehung der Sternbilder auf der griechischen Sfäre, contained in the Transactions of the Berlin Academy for 1826; in Delambre, Hist. de l'Astr. Ancienne; and in the Geschichte der Astronomie of Schaubach.
  • 2. The risings and settings of the fixed stars considered with reference to the position of the sun in the ecliptic,--a series of phenomena which, recurring regularly every tropical year, served in the most remote ages as the sole guides for the operations of the husbandman, and which, being in later times frequently appealed to by the poets, are sometimes designated the “Poetical Risings and Settings of the Stars.” Here we chiefly depend upon the compilations and dissertations, ancient and modern, brought together in the Uranologion of Petavius; upon the disquisition by J. F. Pfaff entitled Commentatio de Ortibus et Occasibus Siderum apud auctores classicos commemoratis (Gotting. 1786); upon a paper by Ideler, Ueber den astronomischen Theil der Fasti des Ovid, in the Transactions of the Berlin Academy for 1822-1823, and on the Handbuch der Chronologie by the same author.
  • 3. The division of the year into two, three, or more seasons, according to the risings and, settings of particular stars or clusters of stars. The Handbuch der Chronologie contains a full examination of all the most important passages from the Greek and Roman authors which bear upon these points. The determination of the length of the year, and the distribution of time into months, days, hours, and other periods, which in some degree belong to the same subject, are treated of separately under the heads of CALENDARIUM and DIES; and confining our attention for the present to the fixed stars, we shall make a few remarks on the bodies of the solar system under PLANETAE

The history and names of the constellations.

The only constellations known to Homer Hom. Il. 18.485-489; Od. 5.272-275) appear to have been the Great Bear or Waggon, Boötes, and Orion, with the two clusters of the Hyades and Pleiades. Hesiod mentions the Pleiades (Op. et Di. 383), Arcturus (possibly for Boötes; see below: ib. 566), Sirius (repeatedly), the Hyades (Op. 615), and Orion (Op. 598, &c.).

Pliny (H. IV. 2.31) attributes the invention of the signs of the zodiac to Cleostratus of Tenedos (fl. B.C. 500), and asserts that Aries and Sagittarius were marked out before the rest. Aristotle more than once mentions κύκλος τῶν ζῳδίων. The first distinct information with regard to the Grecian heavens was contained in the Ἔνοπτρον and the φαινόμενα of Eudoxus of Cnidus, who died B.C. 352. Both of these works are, it is true, lost with the exception of a few fragments (cf. Papyrus Grecs du Museé du Louvre, pp. 7-76; Paris, 1860), but their contents are known to us from the poem of Aratus (fl. B.C. 260), which, as we are assured in the commentary which bears the name of Hipparchus, does little more than represent in verse, with very few variations, the matter contained in the two treatises named above, especially in the latter. The great popularity enjoyed by the production of Aratus ( “Cum sole et luna semper Aratus erit,” Ov. Am. 1.15, 16) must have depended upon the attractions presented by his theme, and certainly not upon the spirit or grace with which that theme was handled. We know the names [p. 1.215]of thirty-five Greeks who composed commentaries upon it, and we are acquainted with no less than three translations into Latin verse--one by Cicero, of which fragments only remain; another by Caesar Germanicus, of which a considerable portion has been preserved; and a third by Rufus Festus Avienus, which is entire. Virgil borrowed largely from this source in those portions of his Georgics which contain references to the heavenly bodies, and particularly in that section which is devoted to prognostics of the weather. There are also valuable Greek scholia ascribed to the younger Theon, but manifestly compounded of materials derived from many different quarters. The work itself is divided into three parts:

  • 1. A description of the constellations, extending to line 452.
  • 2. A short account of the Planets, of the Milky Way, of the Tropical Circles, and of the Equator, followed from 5.559 by a full detail of the stars which rise and set as each sign of the zodiac appears in succession (συνανατολαί).
  • 3. At line 733 commences what is frequently regarded as a separate poem, and placed apart under the title Διοσημεῖα, consisting of a collection of the various appearances which enable an observer of nature to predict the weather. It will be seen below that the constellations described by Aratus still retain, with a few variations, the names by which he distinguishes them.

In a little tract ascribed to Eratosthenes (fl. B.C. 230), entitled Καταστερισμοί, probably an abridgment of a more complete treatise, in which he details the mythological origin of the constellations, together with the number and place of the stars in each, we find the same forms arranged in the same order as in Aratus, who is followed step by step. The Bird, however, is here termed the Swan ; the Centaur is individualised into Chiron; and the Hair of Berenice appears for the first time, having been introduced by Conon in honour of the sister-wife of Ptolemy Euergetes.

Scientific astronomy commenced at Alexandria in the early part of the third century before our era; and the first steps were made by Timocharis and Aristyllus, who flourished about B.C. 290. They invented the method of determining the places of the fixed stars, by referring them to one of the great circles of the heavens, and for this purpose selected the equator. By them, as we learn from Ptolemy, the right ascension and declination of many stars were observed, among others of Spica in the Virgin, which they found to be 8° from the equinox of autumn.

Hipparchus, about 150 years later, followed up the track which they had indicated: his observations extended from B.C. 162 to B.C. 127; and, whether we regard the originality, the magnitude, or the importance of his labours, he is well entitled to be regarded as the father of the science. (See Plin. Nat. 2.95.) In addition to many other services, he first drew up a regular catalogue of the fixed stars, pointing out their position and magnitude; he first delineated accurately the shape of the constellations; and he first discovered the precession of the equinoxes by comparing his own observations with those of Timocharis and Aristyllus. It is much to be lamented that all the works of so great a man should have perished, with the exception of a commentary in three books upon the description of the fixed stars by Eudoxus and Aratus (Ἐξήγησις τῶν Ἀράτου καὶ Εὐδόξου φαινομένων the least valuable perhaps of all his productions. We have, however, every reason to believe that the substance of his most valuable observations has been preserved in the Almagest of Ptolemy, which long enjoyed such high fame that all former authors were allowed to sink into oblivion.

The catalogue of the fixed stars by Ptolemy (fl. A.D. 150), contained in the seventh and eighth books of the Almagest, and derived in all probability in a great measure from that compiled by Hipparchus, long served as the model for all subsequent labours in the same field, and little more than two centuries have elapsed since any attempt was made to supersede it by something more perfect. It embraces 48 constellations (21 northern, 15 southern, and the 12 signs of the zodiac), comprising 15 stars of the first magnitude, 45 of the second, 208 of the third, 474 of the fourth, 217 of the fifth, 49 of the sixth, 9 obscure, and 5 nebulous, in all 1022. These are the constellations, usually denominated the Old Constellations, to distinguish them from the additions made in modern times, and these we shall consider in regular order. The stars are enumerated according to the place which they occupy in the figures; the latitude, longitude, and magnitude of each being specified. In connexion with many constellations, several stars are mentioned as ἀμόρφωτοι,--that is, not included within the limits of any one of the figures; among those near the Lion he notices the Hair of Berenice, among those near the Eagle the Antinous. The single stars and small groups to which particular names are assigned are, Arcturus, the Lyre, Capella, the Kids, the Eagle, the Hyades, the Pleiades, the Manger, the Asses, Regulus (βασιλίσκος), Vindemiatrix, Spica, Antares, the Hound (he does not give the name Sirius), Canopus, and Procyon.

Among our Greek authorities we must not pass over Geminus, whose work Εἰσαγωγὴ εἰς τὰ φαινόμενα contains in sixteen chapters an exposition of the most striking facts in astronomy and mathematical geography. We know nothing of him personally; but it has been inferred from his book that he was a native of Rhodes, and that he flourished about B.C. 70 at Rome, or at some place under the same parallel. The second chapter treats of the constellations and of those stars and small clusters distinguished by particular names. The Coma Berenices, which is not included in the 21 northern constellations of Ptolemy, has here an independent place assigned to it; the Foal, or Little Horse, is termed προτομὴ ἵππου καθ̓ Ἵππαρχον, which seems to indicate that it was introduced by Hipparchus; in addition to the 15 southern constellations of Ptolemy, we find the Stream (χύσις ὕδατος) issuing from the urn of Aquarius, and the Thyrsus of the Centaur. The sixteenth chapter is particularly interesting and valuable, since it contains a parapegma or calendar of the risings and settings of the fixed stars, with prognostics of the weather, according to Meton, Euctemon, Eudoxus, Callippus, and others, the observations of each being quoted separately.

The Romans adopted the knowledge of the stars communicated by the Greeks without in the slightest degree extending it. Only two [p. 1.216]Latin writers discourse specially on the subject, Manilius and Julius Firmicus, and their treatises belong rather to Judicial Astrology. The poets, however, especially Ovid and Virgil, make frequent allusions to the risings and settings of the fixed stars, to the most remarkable constellations and to the legends attached to them. Cicero, Germanicus, ant Avienus, as we have stated above, executed translations of Aratus; while in Vitruvius, Pliny, Columella, Martianus Capella, the Scholiast on Germanicus, and Hyginus, we find a multitude of details. Manilius, it is clear, took Aratus for his guide in so far as the constellations were concerned ; for he does not notice the Hair of Berenice, the Foal, nor the Southern Crown.

Pliny speaks of the constellations as seventy-two in number; but he seems to have eked out the sum by counting separately portions of figures, such as the Pleiades, the Hyades, the Urn and the Stream of Aquarius, the Thyrsus of the Centaur, the Head of Medusa, the Scimetar of Perseus, the Manger, the Two Asses, Capella, the Kids, the Hair of Berenice, the Throne of Caesar, and probably the more conspicuous among the individual stars, such as Arcturus and Sirius. He sets down the number of observed stars at 1600, which far exceeds the catalogue of Ptolemy.

The Scholia on Germanicus do not constitute a regular commentary like the Scholia on Aratus, but are translations from Eratosthenes, with some excerpts, added subsequently perhaps, from the Sphaera Graeca et Barbara of Nigidius Figulus and other works on astronomical myths.

The Poéticon Astronomicon, which bears the name of Hyginus, is written in the style of Eratosthenes, and is in a great measure borrowed from him. No notice is here taken of the Foal nor of the Southern Crown, which proves that at the time when it was composed, whenever that may have been, more attention was paid to Aratus than to Hipparchus and Ptolemy.

Names of the Constellations.

In what follows we arrange the constellations, with one or two trifling exceptions, in the order adopted by Ptolemy, enumerating first the twenty-one northern signs ; secondly, the twelve zodiacal signs; and lastly, the fifteen southern signs. In each case we give, first, the name by which the constellation is known among ourselves ; secondly, the name ascribed to it by Aratus; and lastly, the other Greek and Latin names which most frequently occur or which deserve particular notice.

Northern Signs.

1. The Great Bear, The Plough, Charles' Wain

Ἄρκτος (μεγάλη), Ἑλίκη (Arat. 27, &c.), Major Arctus, Major Ursa (German.), Helice (Cic., Manil. 1.303). The most remarkable cluster in the northern hemisphere, both on account of its brilliancy and from the circumstance that it never sinks below the horizon in Europe and those parts of Asia known to the ancients, is that which as early as the time of Homer was known by the names of Ἄρκτος, The She Bear, or Ἅμαξα, The Waggon (Il. 18.487 ; Od. 5.275), which the Romans translated by the equivalent terms Ursa and Piaustrum or Currus. At a later period when the Lesser Bear had been added to the number of the celestial signs, the epithets
hide References (51 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (51):
    • Aristophanes, Birds, 710
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.436
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.487
    • Homer, Iliad, 3.4
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.489
    • Homer, Iliad, 5.5
    • Homer, Odyssey, 11.191
    • Homer, Odyssey, 19.519
    • Homer, Odyssey, 5.272
    • Homer, Odyssey, 5.29
    • Homer, Odyssey, 7.118
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.187
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.485
    • Homer, Iliad, 22.25
    • Homer, Iliad, 22.26
    • Homer, Odyssey, 5.275
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2.195
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2.81
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.594
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.535
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 4.52
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.719
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.122
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.205
    • Vergil, Georgics, 4.232
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.218
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.225
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.244
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.246
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 9.3
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 9.2
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 9.4
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.127
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.66
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.120
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 18.65
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.95
    • Ovid, Amores, 1.15
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.9
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 2.21
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.1
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.10
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 9.14
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.51
    • Ovid, Fasti, 1
    • Ovid, Fasti, 2
    • Ovid, Fasti, 3
    • Ovid, Fasti, 4
    • Ovid, Fasti, 5
    • Ovid, Fasti, 6
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