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

by
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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p131

The Dog's-precursor, too, shines bright beneath the Twins.

Brown's Aratos.

Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog,

is der Kleine Hund of the Germans; le Petit Chien of the French; and il Cane Minore of the Italians; Proctor, ignoring La Lande, strangely altered it to Felis.

It was not known to the Greeks by any comparative title, but was always προκύων, as rising before his companion Dog, which Latin classic writers transliterated Procyon, and those of late Middle Ages as Prochion and Procion. Cicero and others translated this into Antecanis, — sometimes Anticanis, — Antecedens Canis, Antecursor, Praecanis, Procanis, and Procynis; or changed to plain Canis. To this last from the time of Vitruvius, perhaps before him, the Romans added various adjectives; septentrionalis, from its more northerly position than that of Canis Major; minor, minusculus, and parvus, in reference to its inferior brightness; primus, as rising p132first; and sinister, as on the left hand, in distinction from the Canis dexter on the right (referring to Canis Major). Lucan described both of the Dogs as semi deosque Canes.

It was also Catellus and Catulus, the Puppy.

Horace wrote of it,

Jam Procyon furit,

which Mr. Gladstone rendered,

The heavens are hot with Procyon's ray,

as though it were the Canicula, and he was followed by others in this; indeed, Pliny began the dog days with its heliacal rising on the 19th of July, and strangely said that the Romans had no other name for it.

With mythologists it was Actaeon's dog, or one of Diana's, or the Egyptian Anubis; but popularly Orion's 2nd Hound, often called Canis Orionis, and thus confounded as in other ways with the Sirian asterism. Hyginus [Fab. 130] had Icarium Astrum, referring to the dog Maera; Caesius, Erigonius and Canis virgineus of the same story, but identified by Ovid with Canis Major; and Firmicus, Argion,a that perhaps was for Ulixes' dog Ἄργος. It also was considered as representing Helen's favorite, lost in the Euripus, that she prayed Jove might live again in the sky.

It shared its companion's much mixed, degenerate nomenclature, as in the 1515 Almagest's "Antecedens Canis et est Alsehere Ascemie Algameisa"; while the industrious Bayer as usual had some strange names for it. Among these are Fovea, a Pit, that Caesius commented much upon, but little to our enlightenment; and Συκάμινος, or Morus, the Sycamine tree, the equivalent of one of its Arabic titles. His Aschemie and Aschere, as well as Chilmead's Alsahare alsemalija, and mongrel words from the foregoing Almagest, etc., can all be detected in their original Al Shiʽrā al Shāmiyyah, the Bright Star of Syria, thus named because it disappeared from the Arabs' view at its setting beyond that country.

We also find Al Jummaizā, their Sycamine, although some say that this should be Al Ghumaiṣāʽ, the Dim, Watery-eyed, or Weeping One; either from the fact that her light was dimmer than that of her sister Al Shiʽrā, or from the fable connected with Suhail and his marriage to Al Jauzah and subsequent flight, followed by Al Shiʽrā below the Milky Way, where she remained, the other sister, Al Ghumaiṣāʽ, being left in tears in her accustomed place, or it may be from a recollection of the Euphratean title for Procyon, — the Water-dog. Bayer wrote the word Algomeiza; Riccioli, Algomisa and Algomiza; and others; Algomeysa, Algomyso, Alchamizo, etc. Thus the Two Dog-stars were the Arabs' Al Aliawāt al Suhail, the Sisters p133of Canopus. Still another derivation of the name is from Al Ghamūs, the Puppy; but this probably was a later idea from the Romans.

Also borrowing from them, the Arabians called it Al Kalb al Asghar, the Lesser Dog, — Chilmead's Alcheleb Alasgar, Riccioli's Kelbelazguar, — and Al Kalb al Mutaḳaddim, the Preceding Dog.

In Canis Minor lay a part of Al Dhirāʽ al Asad al Maḳbuḍah, the Contracted Fore Arm, or Paw, of the early Lion; the other, the Extended Paw, running up into the heads of Gemini.

Like its greater neighbor, Procyon foretold wealth and renown, and in all astrology has been much regarded. Leonard Digges1 wrote in his Prognostication Everlasting of Right Good Effect, an almanac for 1553, —

Who learned in matters astronomical, noteth not the great effects at the rising of the starre called the Litel Dogge.

Caesius made it the Dog of Tobias, in the Apocrypha, that Novidius had claimed for Canis Major; but Julius Schiller imagined it the Paschal Lamb.

Who traced out the original outlines of Canis Minor, and what these outlines were, is uncertain, for the constellation with Ptolemy contained but two recorded stars, and no ἀμόρφωτοι; and even now Argelander's map shows only 15, although Heis has 37, and Gould 51.

Canis Minor lies to the southeast from the feet of Gemini, its western border over the edge of the Milky Way, and is separated by Monoceros from Canis Major and Argo.

α, Binary, 0.4, and 13, yellowish white and yellow.

Procyon, varied by Procion and Prochion, — Προκύων in the original, — has been the name for this from the earliest Greek records, distinctly mentioned by Aratos and Ptolemy, and so known by all the Latins, with the equivalent Antecanis.

Ulug Beg designated it as Al Shiʽrā al Shāmiyyah, shortened to Al Shāmiyyah; Chrysococca transcribing this into his Low Greek Σιαὴρ Σιαμὴ, and Riccioli into Siair Siami; all of these agreeing with its occasional English title the Northern Sirius. The Alfonsine Tables of 1521 quote it as Aschere, Aschemie et Algomeysa; those of 1545, as prochionAlgomeyla.

It thus has many of its constellation's names; in fact, being the magna pars of it, probably itself bore them before the constellation was formed.

p134 Jacob Bryant insisted that its title came to Greece from the Egyptian Pur Cahen.

Euphratean scholars identify it with the Kakkab Paldara, Pallika, or Palura of the cylinders, the Star of the Crossing of the Water-dog, a title evidently given with some reference to the River of Heaven, the adjacent Milky Way; and Hommel says that it was the Kak-shisha which the majority of scholars apply to Sirius.

Dupuis said that in Hindu fables it was Singe Hanuant; and Edkins that it, or Sirius, was the Persian Vanand.

Reeves' Chinese list gives it as Nan Ho, the Southern River, in which β and η were included.

With the natives of the Hervey Islands it was their goddess Vena.

In astrology, like its constellation, it portended wealth, fame, and good fortune. Procyon culminates on the 24th of February.

Elkin determined its parallax as 0ʺ.341, making its distance from our system about 9½ light years; and, according to Vogel, it is approaching us at a speed of six miles a second. Gould thinks it slightly variable.

Its spectrum is on the border between Solar and Sirian.

It is attended by several minute companions that have long been known; but in November, 1896, Schaeberle of the Lick Observatory discovered a 13th‑magnitude yellowish companion, about 4ʺ.6 away, at a position angle of 318°.8, that may be the one predicted by Bessel in 1844 as explaining its peculiar motion, — a motion resembling that of Sirius, which astronomers had found to be moving in an oval orbit entirely unexplained until the discovery of its companion by Alvan G. Clark in 1862. Barnard, at the Yerkes Observatory in 1898, makes the close companion of Procyon 4ʺ.83 away, at a position angle of 326°.

The period of revolution of this most magnificent system is about forty years, in an orbit slightly greater than that of Uranus, the combined mass being about six times that of our sun and earth, and the mass of the companion equaling that of our sun. Its light is three times greater.

β, 3.5, white.

Gomeisa is from the Ghumaisāʽ of the constellation, changed in the Alfonsine Tables to Algomeyla, and by Burritt to Gomelza.

Occasionally it has been Al Gamus, from another of the Arabians' titles for the whole; and Al Murzim, identical with the name of β Canis Majoris, and for a similar reason, — as if announcing the rising of the brightest star p135of the figure. The Arabs utilized this, with Procyon, to mark the terminal points of their short Cubit, or Ell, Al Dhirāʽ, their long Cubit being line between Castor and Pollux of Gemini. This same word appears in the title of one of the moon stations in that constellation.

β has some close companions of the 10th and 12th magnitudes.

ζθο, and π were the Chinese Shwuy Wei, a Place of Water, a designation that may have been given them from their nearness to the River of Heaven, the Galaxy.


The Author's Note:

1 It was this Digges who, nearly fifty years before Galileo, wrote of the telescope as though it were an instrument with which he was familiar, — perhaps from Roger Bacon's writings of 350 years before him.


Thayer's Note:

a No form of Argion is to be found in the Mathesis.


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Page updated: 9 Apr 14