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This webpage reproduces a section of
Star Names
Their Lore and Meaning

Richard Hinckley Allen

as reprinted
in the Dover edition, 1963

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Thou hast loosened the necks of thine horses, and goaded their flanks with affright,

To the race of a course that we know not on ways that are hid from our sight.

As a wind through the darkness the wheels of their chariot are whirled,

And the light of its passage is night on the face of the world.

Algernon Charles Swinburne's Erechtheus.

Auriga, the Charioteer or Wagoner,

in early days the Wainman, is the French Cocher, the Italian Cocchiere, and the German Fuhrmann.

It is a large constellation stretching northward across the Milky Way from its star γ, which also marks one of the Bull's horns, to the feet of Camelopardalis, about 30° in extent north and south and 40° east and west; and is shown as a young man with whip in the right hand, but without a chariot, the Goat being supported against the left shoulder and the Kids on the wrist. This, with some variations, has been the drawing from the earliest days, when, as now, it was important, chiefly from the beauty of Capella and its attendant stars so prominent in the northwest in the spring twilight, and in the northeast in early autumn. But the Hyginus of 1488 has a most absurd Driver in a ridiculously inadequate four-wheeled car, with the Goat and Kids in their usual position, the reins being held over four animals abreast — a yoke of oxen, a horse, and a zebra (!); while the Hyginus of Micyllus, in 1535, has the Driver in a two-wheeled cart with a pair of horses and a yoke of oxen all abreast. A Turkish planisphere shows  p84 these stars depicted as a Mule, and they were so regarded by the early Arabs, who did not know — at all events did not picture — the Driver, Goat, or Kids. In this form Bayer Latinized it as the Mulus clitellatus, the Mule with Panniers.

Ideler thinks that the original figure was made up of the five stars α, β, ε, ζ, and η; the Driver, represented by α, standing on an antique sloping Chariot marked by β; the other stars showing the reins. But later on the Chariot was abandoned and the reins transferred to their present position, the Goat being added by a misunderstanding, the word Ἄιξ, analogous to Ἀιγίς, simply meaning a Storm Wind that, apparently, in all former times the stars α, η, and ζ have portended at their heliacal rising, or by their disappearance in the mists. Still later to α as the Goat were added the near-by η and ζ as her Kids, the Ἔριφοι, — an addition that Hyginus [Astron. II.13] said was made by Cleostratos.

But the results of modern research now give us reason to think that the constellation originated on the Euphrates in much the same form as we have it, and that it certainly was a well-established sky figure there millenniums ago. A sculpture from Nimroud is an almost exact representation of Auriga with the Goat carried on the left arm; while in Graeco-Babylonian times the constellation Rukubi, the Chariot, lay here nearly coincident with our Charioteer, perhaps running over into Taurus.a

Ἑνίοχος, the Rein-holder, was transcribed Heniochus by Latin authors, and personified by Germanicus and others as Erechtheus, or more properly Erichthonius, son of Vulcan and Minerva, who, having inherited his father's lameness, found necessary some means of easy locomotion. This was secured by his invention of the four-horse chariot which not only well became his regal position as the 4th of the early kings of Athens, but secured for him a place in the sky. Manilius thus told the story:

Near the bent Bull a Seat the Driver claims,

Whose skill conferr'd his Honour and his Names.

His Art great jove admir'd, when first he drove

His rattling Carr, and fix't the Youth above.

Vergil had something similar in his 3d Georgic.

These names appear as late as the 17th century with Bullialdus and Longomontanus, Riccioli writing Erichtonius.

Others saw here Myrtilus, the charioteer of Oenomaus, who betrayed his master to Pelops; or Cillas, the latter's driver; Pelethronius, a Thessalian; and Trethon; while Euripides and Pausanias identified him with the unfortunate Hippolytus, the Hebrew Joseph of classical literature. Additional  p85 titles in Greece were Ἁρμελάτης, Διφρηλάτης, Ἱππηλάτης, and Ἐλάσιππος, all signifying a Charioteer; while La Lande's Bellerophon and Phaëthon are appropriate enough, and his Trochilus may be, if the word be degenerated from τροχᾶλός,º running; but his Absyrthe, correctly Ἄψυρτος, the young brother of Medea, is unintelligible.

Although Auriga was the usual name with the Latins, their poets called it Aurigator; Agitator cursus retinens habenas; Habenifer and Tenens habenas, the Charioteer and the Rein-holder; some of these titles descending to the Tables and Almagests down to the 16th century. Arator, the Ploughman, appeared with Nigidius and Varro for this, or for Boötes; in fact the same idea still holds with some of the Teutonic peasantry, among whom Capella and the Kids are known as the Ploughman with his Oxen. Grimm mentions for the group Voluyara, as stars that ploughmen know. The Acator occasionally seen may be an erroneous printing of Arator.

From the Goat and Kids came Custos caprarum, Habens capellas, Habens haedos, and Habens hircum. Habens oleniam capram and Oleniae sidus pluviale Capellae of Ovid's Metamorphoses are from the Ὠλενίνην of Aratos, thought to be derived from ὠλένη, the wrist, on which the Kids are resting. Some, however, with more probability have referred the word to Olenus, the father and birthplace of the nymph Amalthea in ancient Aetolia.

Isidorus of Hispalis1 — Saint Isidore — called it Mavors, the poetical term for Mars, the father of Romulus and so the god of the shepherds; Nonius, the Portuguese Pedro Nuñez of the 16th century, similarly said that it was Mafurtius; and Bayer found for it Maforte; but his Ophiultus, probably a Low Latin word also applied to α, seems to be without explanation.

Some have thought that Auriga was Horus with the Egyptians; but Scaliger said that the Hora of the translation of Ptolemy's Τετράβιβλος should be Roha, Bayer's Roh, a Wagoner; Beigel, however, considered it a misprint for Lora, the Reins.

The barbarous Alhaior, Alhaiot, Althaiot, Alhaiset, Alhatod, Alhajot, Alhajoth, Alhojet, Alanac, Alanat, and Alioc, — even these perhaps do not exhaust the list, — used for both constellation and lucida, are probably degenerate forms of the Arabs' Al ʽAnz and Al ʽAyyūḳ, specially applied to Capella as the Goat, which they figured as the desert Ibex, their Bādan; and Ideler thinks that this may have been the earliest Arabic designation for the star.

The 1515 Almagest says, "et nominatur latine antarii . . . id est collarium," this Collarium perhaps referring to the collar in the Charioteer's harness;  p86 but the Antarii has puzzled all, unless it be Professor Young, who suggests that it may be the reins diverging from the Driver's hand like guy-ropes, which the original means as used by Vitruvius in his description of a builder's derrick.

The Arabians translated the classic titles for the Rein-holder into Al Dhu al ʽInān, Al Māsik al ʽInān, and Al Mumsik al ʽInān, — Chilmead's Mumassich Alhanam; but the rabbi Aben Ezra2 mixed things up by calling the figure Pastor in cujus manu est frenum.

Some have illustrated it as Saint Jerome, but Caesius likened it to Jacob deceiving his father with the flesh of his kids; and Seiss says that it represents the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. A Chariot and Goat are shown on the coins of consular Rome, and a Goat alone on those of Paros, that may have referred to this constellation.

Argelander counts 70 naked-eye stars here, and Heis 144.

Capella's course admiring landsmen trace,

But sailors hate her inauspicious face.

Lamb's Aratos.

α, 0.3, white.

This has been known as Capella, the Little She-goat, since at least the times of Manilius, Ovid, and Pliny [XVIII.248], all of whom followed the Κινῆσαι Χειμῶνας of Aratos in terming it a Signum pluviale like its companions the Haedi, thus confirming its stormy character throughout classical days. Holland translated Pliny's words the rainy Goat-starre; Pliny and Manilius treated it as a constellation by itself, also calling it Capra, Caper, Hircus, and by other hircine titles.

Our word is the diminutive of Capra, sometimes turned into Crepa, and more definitely given as Olenia, Olenie, Capra Olenie, and the Olenium Astrum of Ovid's Heroides. In the present day it is Cabrilla with the Spaniards, and Chèvre with the French.

Amalthea came from the name of the Cretan goat, the nurse of Jupiter and mother of the Haedi, which she put aside to accommodate her foster-child, and for which Manilius wrote:

The Nursing Goat's repaid with Heaven.

From this came the occasional Jovis Nutrix.

 p87  But, according to an earlier version, the nurse was the nymph Amalthea, who, with her sister Melissa, fed the infant god with goat's milk and honey on Mount Ida, the nymph Aigē being sometimes substituted for one or both of the foregoing; or Adrasta, with her sister Ida, all daughters of the Cretan king Melisseus. Others said that the star represented the Goat's horn broken off in play by the infant Jove and transferred to the heavens as Cornu copiae, the Horn of Plenty, a title recalled by the modern Lithuanian Food-bearer. In this connection, it was Ἀμαλθείας κέρας, also brought absurdly enough into the Septuagint as a translation of the words Keren-happuch, the Paint-horn, or the Horn of Antimony, of the Book of Job xlii.14, — the Cornus tibii of the Vulgate. Ptolemy's Ἄιξ probably became the Arabo-Greek Ἀιοὺκ of the Graeco-Persian Chrysococca's book, and the Ayyūḳ, Alhajoc, Alhajoth, Alathod, Alkatod, Alatudo, Atud, etc., which it shared with the constellation; but Ideler thought ʽAyyūḳ an indigenous term of the Arabs for this star, Assemani's Alchaela may have come from Capella. The Tyrians called it ʽIyūthā, applied also to Aldebaran and perhaps also to other stars; but the Rabbis adopted the Arabic ʽAyyūḳ as a title for their heavenly Goat, although they greatly disagreed as to its location, placing it variously in Auriga, Taurus, Aries, and Orion. The "armborne she goat," however, of Aratos, derived from the priests of Zeus, would seem to fix it positively where we now recognize it. Hyde devoted three pages of learned criticism to this important (!) subject, but insisted that the Arabic and Hebrew word ʽĀsh designated this star.

With ζ and η, the Kids, it formed the group that Kazwini knew as Al ʽInāz, the Goats, but others as Al ʽAnz, in the singular.

The early Arabs called it Al Rākib, the Driver; for, lying far to the north, it was prominent in the evening sky before other stars became visible, and so apparently watching over them; and the synonymous Al Hāḍī of the Pleiades, as, on the parallel of Arabia, it rose with that cluster. Wetzstein, the biblical critic often quoted by Delitzsch, explains this last term as "the singer riding before the procession, who cheers the camels by the sound of the hadwa, and thereby urges them on," the Pleiades here beginning regarded as a troop of camels. An early Arab poet alluded to this Hāḍī as overseer of the Meisir game, sitting behind the players, the other stars.

Bayer's Ophiultus now seems unintelligible.

Capella's place on the Denderah zodiac is occupied by a mummied cat in the outstretched hand of a male figure crowned with feathers; while, always an important star in the temple worship of the gate the Egyptian god Ptah, the Opener, it is supposed to have borne the name of that divinity and probably was observed at its setting 1700 B.C. from his temple, the  p88 noted edifice at Karnak near Thebes, the No Amon of the books of the prophets Jeremiah and Nahum. Another recently discovered sanctuary of Ptah at Memphis as was oriented to it about 5200 B.C. Lockyer thinks that at least five temples were oriented to its setting.

It served, too, the same purpose for worship in Greece, where it may have been the orientation point of a temple at Eleusis to the goddess Diana Propyla; and of another at Athens.

In India it also was sacred as Brahma Ridaya, the Heart of Brahma; and Hewitt considers Capella, or Arcturus, the Āryaman, or Airyaman, of the Rig Veda.

The Chinese had an asterism here, formed by Capella with β, θ, κ, and γ, which they called Woo Chay, the Five Chariots — a singular resemblance in title to our Charioteer; although Edkins say that this should be the Chariots of the Five Emperors.

The Akkadian Dil‑gan I‑ku, the Messenger of Light, or Dil‑gan Babili, the Patron star of Babylon, is thought to have been Capella, known in Assyria as I‑ku, the Leader, i.e. of the year; for, according to Sayce, in Akkadian times the commencement of the year was determined by the position of this star in relation to the moon at the vernal equinox. This was previous to 1730 B.C., when, during the preceding 2150 years, spring began when the sun entered the constellation Taurus; in this connection the star was known as the Star of Mardūk, but subsequent to that date some of these titles were apparently applied to Hamal, Wega, and others whose position as to that initial point had changed by reason of precession. One cuneiform inscription, supposed to refer to our Capella, is rendered by Jensen Askar, the Tempest God; and the Tablet of the Thirty Stars bears the synonymous Ma‑a‑tu; all this well accounting for its subsequent character in classical times, and one of the many evidences adduced as to the origin of Greek constellational astronomy in the Euphrates valley.

The ancient Peruvians, the Quichuas, whose language is still spoken by their descendants, appear to have devoted much attention to the stars; and José de Acosta, the Spanish Jesuit and naturalist of the 16th century, said that every bird and beast on earth had its namesake in their sky. He cited several of their stellar titles, identifying this star with Colca, singularly prominent with their shepherds, as Capella was with the same class on the Mediterranean in ancient days; indeed in later also, for the Shepherd's Star has been applied to it by our English poets, although more commonly to the planet Venus.

In astrology Capella portended civic and military honors and wealth.

Tennyson, in some fine lines in his Maud, mentions it as "a glorious crown."

 p89  As to its color astronomers are not agreed; Smyth calling it bright white; Professor Young yellow; and others say blue or red, which last it was asserted to be by Ptolemy, Al Ferghani, and Riccioli; while those whose eyes are specially sensitive to that tint still find it such.

Capella perhaps has increased in lustre during the present century; but, brilliant as it is, its parallax of 0ʺ.095, obtained from Elkin's observations, indicates a distance from our system of 34¼ light years; and, if this be correct, the star emits 250 times as much light as our sun.

Its spectrum resembles that of the latter; indeed spectroscopists say that Capella is virtually identical with the sun in physical constitution, and furnishes the model spectrum of the Solar type,3 yellow in tinge and ruled throughout with innumerable fine dark lines.

Vogel thinks it receding from our system at the rate of 15¼ miles a second. It is the most northern of all the 1st‑magnitude stars, rising in the latitude of New York City at sunset about the middle of October, and culminating at nine o'clock in the evening of the 19th of January. Thus it is visible at some hour of every clear night throughout the year.

β, 2.1, lucid yellow.

Menkalinan, Menkalinam, and Menkalina are from Al Mankib dhiʽl ʽInān,º the Shoulder of the Rein-holder, which it marks, the solstitial colure passing it 2° to the east; the star itself being about 10° east of Capella. It is supposed to be a very close binary, receding from us about 17½ miles a second; the two practically equal stars that compose the pair being only 7½ millions of miles apart, and revolving in a period of about four days, with a relative velocity of fully 150 miles a second. This discovery was made by Pickering from spectroscopic observations in 1889. The lines in the spectrum double and undouble every two days.

γ, 2.1, brilliant white,

was Al Ḳaʽb dhiʽl ʽInān, the heel of the Rein-Holder, of Arabian astronomy, so showing its location in the figure of Auriga. From the earliest days of descriptive astronomy it has been identical with the star Al Nath, the β of Taurus at the extremity of the right horn, and Aratos so mentioned it. Vitruvius, however, said [IX.4.2] that it was Aurigae Manus, because the Charioteer was supposed to hold it in his hand, which would imply a very different drawing from that of Rome, Greece, and our own; and Father Hell, in 1769,  p90 correctly had this expression for the star θ. The later Arabian astronomers also considered it in Taurus by designating it as Al Ḳarn al Thaur al Shamālīyyah, the Northern Horn of the Bull; but Kazwini adhered to Auriga by giving "the two in the ankles" as Al Tawābiʽ al ʽAyyūḳ, the Goat's Attendants, Ideler identifying these with γ and ι.

δ, 4.1, yellow,

is on the head of the Charioteer. It is unnamed with us, but, inconspicuous as it is, the Hindus called it Praja-pāti, the Lord of Created Beings, a title also and far more appropriately given to Orion and to Corvus. The Sūrya Siddhānta devotes considerable space to it; but "why so faint and inconspicuous a star should be found among the few of which Hindu astronomers have taken particular notice it is not easy to discover."

The Chinese include it, with ξhki, and others near Cassiopeia, in their asterism Pa Kuh, the Eight Cereals.

ε, variable, 3 to 4.5.

Hyde cited Arabic authority for this, being at one time Al Maʽaz, the He Goat, and later on it so appeared in one of the commentaries on Ulug Beg; but Kazwini knew it by the general title Al ʽAnz, although it was not in his Al ʽInāz, the group of Goats, — αζ, and η. Some modern lists include it with the Kids.

Ita variability, in an irregular period, was suspected by Fritsch in 1821, confirmed by Schmidt in 1843, and independently discovered by Heis in 1847. ζ and η are about 5° southwest of Capella.

ζ, 4, orange,

is the western one of the Ἔριφοι or Kids, of Hipparchos and Ptolemy, the Haedi of the Latins. Pliny made of them a separate constellation.

The poet Callimachus, 240 B.C., wrote in an epigram of the Anthologia:

Tempt not the winds forewarned of dangers nigh,

When the Kids glitter in the western sky;

Vergil, commending in the Georgics their observation to his farmer neighbors, made special allusion to the dies Haedorum, and with Horace and Manilius called them pluviales, the latter author's

Stormy Haedi . . . which shut the Main

And stop the Sailers hot pursuit of gain.

 p91  Horace similarly knew them as horrida et insana sidera and insana Caprae sidera [III.VII.5]; and Ovid as nimbosi, rainy. They thus shared the bad repute in which Capella was held by mariners, and were so much dreaded, as presaging the stormy season on the Mediterranean, that their rising early in October evenings was the signal for the closing of navigation. All classical authors who mention the stars alluded to this direful influence, and a festival, the Natalis navigationis, was held when the days of that influence were past. Propertius wrote of them, in the singular, as Haedus; Albumasar, as Agni, the Lambs; the Arabians knew them as Al Jadyain, the Two Young He Goats; and Bayer, in the plural, as Capellae.

ζ appeared in the original edition of the Alfonsine Tables as Sadatoni; but in the later, and in the Almagest of 1515, as Saclateni; both strangely changed, either from Al Dhat al ʽInān, the rein-holder, or more probably from Al Said al Thani, the Second Arm, by some confusion with the star β that is thus located; or because itself was in that part of an earlier conception of the figure.

η is a half‑magnitude brighter than ζ, but not individually named.

ι, 3.1,

was Al Tizini's Al Ḳaʽb dhiʽl ʽInān, which other authors gave to γ; and Kazwini included it with the latter in his Al Tawābiʽ al ʽAyyūḳ.

λ, Double, 5 and 9½, pale yellow and plum color; μ, 5.1; and σ, 5.3,

in the centre of the figure, were Kazwini's Al Ḣibāʽ, the Tent; but he had other such in Aquarius, the Southern Crown, and Corvus, for this naturally was a favorite simile with the Arabs.

It is this star that may be the one lettered Al Ḥurr, the Fawn, on the Borgian globe.

The 5th‑magnitudes μρ, and σ were Tseen Hwang, the Heavenly Pool; and ντυφχ, with another unidentified star, Choo, a Pillar.

2° south from χ, on the 24th of January, 1892, an amateur observer, the Reverend Doctor Thomas D. Anderson of Edinburgh, discovered with an opera-glass a 5th‑magnitude yellowish nova, now known as T Aurigae, which has excited so much interest in the astronomical world by the character of its spectrum. Subsequent to the optical discovery it was identified on a photographic plate taken on the 10th of December previously, but not one taken on the 8th, thus indicating its appearance in the sky between those two dates. Other photographs show that its maximum, 4.4, occurred about the 20th. Its conflagration, however, is supposed to have occurred at least  p92 a hundred, perhaps many hundred, years ago, so great is its distance from our system. It became invisible towards the end of April, 1892, but was rediscovered from Mount Hamilton on the 19th of August as a planetary nebula, the nova Cygni of 1877 having been the first. It was still visible in 1895, its spectrum continuing distinctly nebular in its character; and it is worthy of notice that two others of the new stars discovered since the application of the spectroscope to this class of investigations have had nearly identical histories. Scheiner, who gives a detailed account of this phenomenon in his Spectralanalyse, alludes to the velocity of the two constituent bodies as being 400 miles or more a second; if indeed — which some doubt — the peculiar separation of the bright and dark lines of hydrogen noted in its spectrum is to be accounted for by the relative motion of gaseous masses involved in the phenomenon.

ψ1 to ψ10, 5th‑magnitude stars, were the Βουλήγες, or Goads, the Latin Dolones, called Stimulus by Tibullus. Bayer said of them: Decem stellulae flagellum constituentes. As figured by Dürer they are the several lashes of the whip in the Charioteer's hands.

The Author's Notes:

1 This early Hispalis, the modern Seville, was the site of the first European observatory of our era, erected by the Moor Geber in 1196.

2 This celebrated man, often cited in bygone days as Abenare, Avenore, Evenare, was Abraham ben Meir ben Ezra of Toledo, the great Hebrew commentator of the 12th century, an astronomer, mathematician, philologist, poet, and scholar, and the first noted biblical critic.

3 This is the 2d of the classification of Father Angelo Sacchi, the modern Roman astronomer.

Thayer's Note:

a Varro (R. R. I.2.17) mentions an astrological Goat, "not far from the Bull" — with a hint of a joke that goats, even heavenly, are not what you want noshing off your choice fields (i.e., the zodiac)!

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