Star Lore: Myths, Legends, and Facts

Star Lore: Myths, Legends, and Facts

by William Tyler Olcott
     
 

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Generations have delighted in this guide to the myths and legends surrounding stars and constellations. Captivating retellings of the origins and histories of the ancient star groups include stories of Pegasus, Ursa Major, the Pleiades, the signs of the zodiac, and other constellations. "Classic." — Sky & Telescope. 58 illustrations.  See more details below

Overview



Generations have delighted in this guide to the myths and legends surrounding stars and constellations. Captivating retellings of the origins and histories of the ancient star groups include stories of Pegasus, Ursa Major, the Pleiades, the signs of the zodiac, and other constellations. "Classic." — Sky & Telescope. 58 illustrations.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780486140803
Publisher:
Dover Publications
Publication date:
04/13/2012
Series:
Dover Books on Astronomy
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
544
Sales rank:
686,120
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19 MB
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Star Lore

Myths, Legends, and Facts


By WILLIAM TYLER OLCOTT

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14080-3



CHAPTER 1

Andromeda

The Chained Lady

ANDROMEDA

ANDROMEDA THE CHAINED LADY

And there revolves herself, image of woe, Andromeda, beneath her mother shining.

ARATOS.

THE origin of the constellation known to us as Andromeda is lost in remote antiquity, but the myth that relates to Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, and associated with the constellation, is probably as well known to- day as any that has come down to us. According to this myth, Cassiopeia boasted that she was fairer than the sea nymphs. This attitude was offensive to Neptune, who despatched a monster of the deep to ravage the seacoast. Cassiopeia, terrified at the prospect, besought the aid of the all-powerful Zeus, who ruled that her daughter Andromeda must be sacrificed to appease the wrath of the sea god. Consequently Andromeda, amid great lamentation, was chained to a wave-washed rock, there to await the coming of the sea monster to devour her.

In accordance with this legend, we find the constellation Andromeda depicted in the old star atlases as a beautiful maiden chained to a rock, with Cetus the Whale or the sea monster represented near at hand about to devour her.

In Burritt's atlas, Andromeda is represented with chains attached to her wrists and ankles. The rock to which she was said to have been bound does not appear in the picture.

In the edition of the Alphonsine tables, Allen tells us Andromeda is pictured with an unfastened chain around her body, and two fishes, one on her bosom and the other at her feet, showing an early connection with the neighbouring constellation Pisces.

In the Leyden Manuscript, Andromeda is represented as lying partly clothed on the sea beach, chained to rocks on either side, and on a map printed at Venice in 1488 she is pictured as bound by the wrists between two trees.

The legend further relates that Perseus, flying through the air on his steed Pegasus, fresh from his triumph over the Medusa, espied the maiden in distress, and like a true champion flew to her assistance.

Chained to a rock she stood; young Perseus stay'd His rapid flight, to woo the beauteous maid.

Holding the Medusa's head before him, he assailed the sea monster that threatened Andromeda, and immediately the creature was turned to stone, and the hero had the pleasure of releasing the wretched maiden.

For the statement that Perseus when he freed Andromeda was mounted on his winged steed Pegasus, there is however no classical authority.

The constellation Andromeda is bounded on the west by Pegasus, and on the east by Perseus, and thus links the two constellations together. This doubtless accounts for the presence of Pegasus in the myth.

Brown thinks that in this legend of Andromeda and Perseus we have but another version of the all-pervading solar myth. Perseus may be Bar-Sav, the solar Herakles, and Andromeda his bride Schachar (the morning red).

The Hindus have almost the same story in their astronomical mythology, and almost the same names that have come down to us. They call the constellation "Antarmada." In an ancient Sanscrit work are found draw-ings of Antarmada chained to a rock with a fish beside her.

Sappho, the Greek poetess of the 7th century B.C., refers to Andromeda, and Euripides and Sophocles both wrote dramas about her,—but there is little doubt, as Allen states, that the constellation originated far back of classical times in the valley of the Euphrates.

Plunket is of the opinion that the constellation of Andromeda dates from 3500 B.C. in accordance with the other constellations around it, and there is some ground for believing that its date goes back to 6000 B.C.

In Dr. Seiss's mythology, Andromeda was intended for a prophetic symbol of the Christian church. Sayce claims that she appeared in the great Babylonian Epic of Creation of more than two millenniums before our era, in connection with the story of Bel Marduk and the dragon Tiamat, which doubtless is the foundation of the story of Perseus and Andromeda.

The constellation Andromeda has borne the following names:

Mulier Catenata, the woman chained.

Persea, as the bride of Perseus.

Cepheis, from her father.

Alamac, from the title of the star Gamma.

Some authorities claim that Andromeda was a native of Æthiopia and regard her as a negress. The Arabian astronomers knew these stars as "Al mar'ah al musalsalah," and to them they represented a sea calf or seal with a chain around its neck that united it to one of the two fishes.

Allen states that according to Cæsius, Andromeda represented the biblical Abigail of the Books of Samuel, and Julius Schiller in 1627 made of these stars the Sepulchrum Christi, the new Sepulchre wherein was never man yet laid.

Milton in his Paradise Lost thus refers to Andromeda:

the fleecy star that bears

Andromeda far off Atlantic seas Beyond the horizon.

Kingsley's Andromeda is beautifully descriptive of the constellation.

Pluche accounts for the names of the constellations Perseus, Andromeda, and Cepheus in the following in-genius way:

It was an ordinary turn of the Hebrew and Phoenician languages to say that a city or country was the daughter of the rocks, deserts, rivers, or mountains that surrounded her or that were enclosed within her walls. Thus Jerusalem is often called "the daughter of Sion," that is, the daughter of drought or daughter of the barren hills contained within its compass. Palestine originally was nothing more than a long maritime coast consisting of rocks and a sandy flat shore. It was proper to speak of this long coast as the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiope, Cepha signifying a stone. If you would say in Phœnician, a long coast or a long chain or ridge, you would call it Andromeda. Palestine would have been destroyed had it not been for the assistance of the barks and pilots that voyaged to Pharos and Sais to convey provisions. Strabo informs us that the Phoenicians were accustomed to paint the figure of a horse upon the stern of their barks, but there was beside the winged horse (the emblem of navigation) a horseman bearing a peculiar symbol, and, as it were, the arms of the city of Sais. This was the Medusa's head. Furthermore, a bark in the vulgar tongue was called Perseus, which means a runner or horseman. This then according to Pluche was the meaning of the fabled sacrifice of Andromeda:—Exposed to a cruel monster on the rocks of Joppa, in Syria, Andromeda (or the coast towns of Palestine), owed her deliverance to a flying rider, Perseus (the Phœnician barks), to whom the goddess of Sais had lent the frightful head of Medusa to turn all her enemies into stone with terror. Josephus wrote that in his day the inhabitants of Joppa showed the links and remains of the chain that bound Andromeda to the rock, and the bones of the sea monster.

Burritt suggests that the fable of Andromeda might mean that the maiden was courted by some monster of a sea captain who attempted to carry her away, but was prevented by another more gallant and successful rival.

Maunder claims that in the 12th chapter of the Apocalypse there is an allusion to what cannot be doubted are the constellations Andromeda, Cetus, and Eridanus: " And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman, water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream." Andromeda is always represented as a woman in distress, and the sea monster has always been understood to be her persecutor, and from his mouth pours forth the stream Eridanus.

The constellation Andromeda presents a beautiful appearance rising in the eastern sky in the early evening during the months of autumn. Low over the hills twinkle her chain of stars, sweeping down in a long graceful curve from the Great Square of Pegasus, like tiny lamps swinging from an invisible wire, a chain of gold with which heroic Perseus holds in check his winged steed.

Astronomically speaking, the great feature of interest in the constellation is the famous nebula, the so-called " Queen of the Nebulæ," or A1 Sufi's " Little Cloud," said to have been known as far back as A.D. 905. In the West it seems to have been first observed by Simon Marius, Dec. 15, 1612. It is the only naked eye nebula, and according to Marius it resembles "the diluted light from the flame of a candle seen through horn." An arc light glimpsed through a dense fog is also descriptive of its naked eye appearance. It is an enormous body, estimated to be in length as much as thirty thousand times the distance of the earth from the sun (ninety-three million miles), a proportion inconceivable. Herschel thought that the nebula was resolvable into separate stars, although his glass failed to prove the fact. Later observations with more powerful telescopes confirmed his opinion. An examination made at Cambridge in 1848 proved the existence of upwards of fifteen hundred minute stars within the nebula, while the nebulous character of the whole was still apparent. In the spectroscope this nebula gives clearly a continuous spectrum, thus proving that it is not a mass of incandescent gas but rather a highly condensed cluster of stars. Recent and more reliable calculations of its distance give it a light journey of about nineteen years.

The star Alpha Andromedæ, or Alpheratz as it was called by the Arabs, was formerly associated with the constellation Pegasus, and called Delta Pegasi. The Arabs also knew this star as "Sirrah," and it represented to them the horse's navel. Alpheratz is situated at the north-eastern corner of the Great Square of Pegasus, a stellar landmark, and is known as one of the "Three Guides," marking the equinoctial colure, the prime meridian of the heavens, Beta Cassiopeiæ and Gamma Pegasi being the other two guides. In astrology Alpheratz portended honour and riches to all born under its influence. It culminates at 9 P.M., on the 10th of November. Alpheratz is situated in the head of the figure of Andromeda, and was familiarly known as "Andromeda's Head" in England two centuries ago. In all late Arabian astronomy taken from Ptolemy it was described as the "Head of the Woman in Chains." According to Prof. Russell, Alpheratz has a dark companion spectroscopically revealed, revolving about it in a highly eccentric orbit, in a period of about one hundred days.

Gamma Andromed was known to the Arabs as "Al-mach." Allen tells us this name was derived from a phrase meaning a small predatory animal similar to a badger. The propriety of such a designation here is not obvious in connection with Andromeda, and the name would indicate that it belonged to a very early Arab astronomy. In the astronomy of China, Gamma, with other stars in Andromeda and Triangulum, was "Tien Ta Tseang," "Heaven's Great General." Astrologically this star was "honourable and eminent." The duplicity of Almach according to Allen was discovered by Johann Tobias Mayer of Gottingen in 1778, and Wilhelm Struve in 1842 found that its companion was a close double. Herschel regarded Almach as one of the most beautiful objects in the heavens, and Webb, Proctor, and Serviss all speak in glowing terms of the beautiful contrast in colour between the gold and blue of the primary and its companion. Almach certainly vies in beauty with the famous double Beta Cygni, and is perhaps with this exception the most charming of all double stars. It is an easy double for small telescopes and is consequently a great favourite with amateur astronomers. It requires a 5" glass at least to split the blue companion star. The celebrated meteor shower known as "the Andromedes II.," the so-called Bielid meteors of November, radiate from the vicinity of this star. There was a wonderful display of these meteors in 1872 and 1885. Delta Andromedæ marks the radiant point of the Andromedes I., a meteor shower due the 21st of July.

The fourth magnitude stars λ, χ, ε Andromedæ and the fifth magnitude star ? Andromedæ form a "Y"-shaped figure which bears the name of "Gloria Frederica" or Frederick's Glory, an asterism formed by Bode in 1787 in honour of the great Frederick II., of Prussia, who died in 1786. The figure is thus described: "Below a nimbus the sign of royal dignity hangs, wreathed with the imperishable laurel of fame, a sword, pen, and an olive branch, to distinguish this ever to be remembered monarch, as hero, sage, and peacemaker." This figure, with the exception of the nimbus, appears on Burritt's Atlas, but later atlases omit the asterism entirely, and it is seldom mentioned.

The remaining stars in this constellation require no special mention.

CHAPTER 2

AQUARIUS THE WATER BEARER

While by the Horse's head the Water-Pourer Spreads his right hand.

ARATOS.

THE astronomers of all nations, with the exception of the Arabians, have adopted the figure of a man pouring water from a jar or pitcher to express this constellation. The Arabs, being forbidden by law to draw the human figure, have represented this sign by a saddled mule carrying on his back two barrels of water, and sometimes by only a water bucket. They called the constellation "Al-Dawl," the "Well Bucket," and not the "Water Bearer."

For some reason, all the ancients imagined that the part of the sky occupied by the Water Bearer and neighbouring constellations contained a great celestial sea. Here we find the Whale, the Fishes, the Dolphin, the Southern Fish, the Sea Goat, the Crane, (a wading bird), and even Eridanus, the River Po, is sometimes shown as having its source in the Waterman's Bucket. It also seems appropriate that Pegasus is situated in this region of the sky, for the winged horse was the Phoenician emblem of navigation, and the star Markab, as Alpha Pegasi was called by the Arabs, signifies a ship or vehicle.

According to Ideler, the reason for this designation of "the Sea" for this region of the heavens is because the sun passes through this part of the sky during the rainy season of the year.

An Egyptian legend averred that the floods of the Nile were caused by the Water Bearer sinking his huge urn into the fountains of the river to refill it, and accordingly this constellation represented to the Egyptians the rainy period of the winter season. However, the Egyptians were probably indebted to some other people for their knowledge of this constellation, for Egypt is not a land subject to heavy rains.

Aquarius is represented even on very early Babylonian stones as a man or boy pouring water from a bucket or urn; around the waist is a scarf, part of which is held up by the left hand. For some reason, which is lost to us, his right arm is stretched backward to the fullest extent possible so as to reach over almost the entire length of the constellation Capricornus, which bounds Aquarius on the west.

The significance of the pouring of the water from the urn into the mouth of the Southern Fish is also unaccounted for. The conception is such a singular and striking one that it was evidently the result of design rather than fancy. Maunder referring to this peculiar figure says: "Strangely enough through all the long centuries that the starry symbols have come down to us, Aquarius has always been shown as pouring forth his stream of water into the mouth of a fish, surely the strangest and most bizarre of symbols."

According to Norse mythology, Aquarius was considered Wali's palace, and it was supposed to be covered with silver. In the Indian zodiac, the name of the constellation is "Kumbha," meaning "Water Jar." Allen states that Kumbha is from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] or Storm-god. Here again we find the constellation associated with rain and tempest.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Star Lore by WILLIAM TYLER OLCOTT. Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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