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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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p135

Thy Cold (for thou o'er Winter Signs dost reign,

Pull'st back the Sun, and send'st us Day again)

Makes Brokers rich.

Thomas Creech's translation of Manilius' Poeticon Astronomicon.

Capricornus

next to the eastward from Sagittarius, is our Capricorn, the French Capricorne, the Italian Capricorno, and the German Steinbock, — Stone-buck, or Ibex, — the Anglo-Saxon Bucca and Buccan Horn.

The common Latin name was varied by the Caper of Ausonius [Epigr. 65], flexus Caper of Manilius, Hircus corniger of Vergil, hircinus Sidus of Prudens, Capra and aequoris Hircus, the Sea Goat; while Minsheu's "Capra illa Amalthea" indicates that it was identified by some with the goat usually assigned to Auriga. All this, doubtless, was from oriental legends, perhaps very ancient, which made Capricorn the nurse of the youthful sun-god that long anticipated the story of the infant Jupiter and Amalthea. The Latin poets also designated it as Neptuni proles, Neptune's offspring; Pelagi Procella, the Ocean Storm; Imbrifer, the Rain-bringing One; Signum hiemale, and Gelidus, because then at the winter solstice, the equivalent Ἀθαλπής appearing with the Greeks, which Riccioli repeated as Athalpis.

Aratos called it Ἀιγοκέρως, the Horned Goat, to distinguish it from the Ἀιξ of Auriga, as did Ptolemy, but Ionic writers had Ἀιγοκέρευς; and this word, Latinized as Aegoceros, was in frequent use with all classical authors who wrote on astronomy. The Arabo-Latin Almagest of 1515 turned this into Alcaucurus, explained by habens cornua hirci; and Bayer mentioned p136Alcantarus. Eratosthenes knew it as Πάν, and Ἀιγι‑Πᾶν, the Goat-Footed Pan, half fishified, Smyth said, by his plunge into the Nile in a panic at the approach of the monster Typhon; the same story being told of Bacchus, so that he, too, always was associated with its stars.

In Persia it was Bushgali, Bahi or Vahik, and Goi; in the Pahlavi tongue, Nahi; in Turkey, Ughlak; in Syria, Gadjo; and in Arabia, Al Jady, usually written by us Giedi; all meaning the Goat, or, in the latter country, the Bādan, or Ibex, known to zoologists as Capra beden. Burritt's Tower of Gad, at first sight presumably Hebrew, would seem rather to be a bungled translation1 from the Arabic, and in no way connected with the Jewish tribe. Riccioli had Elgedi, Elgeudi, and Gadio.

Very frequent mention was made of this constellation in early days, for the Platonists held that the souls of men, when released from corporeity, ascended to heaven through its stars, whence it was called the Gate of the Gods; their road of descent having been through Cancer. But some of the Orientals knew it as the Southern Gate of the Sun, as did the Latins in their altera Solis Porta. Berōssōs is reported by Seneca to have learned from the old books of Sargon2 that the world would be destroyed by a great conflagration when all the planets met in this sign.

Numa Pompilius, the second mythical king of Rome, whose date has been asserted as from 715 to 673 B.C., began the year when the sun was in the middle of Capricorn, and when the day had lengthened by half an hour after the winter solstice.

In astrology, with Taurus and Virgo, it was the Earthly Trigon, and black, russet, or a swarthy brown, was the color assigned to it; while, with Aquarius, it was the House of Saturn, as that planet was created in this constellation, and whenever here had great influence over human affairs; as Alchabitus asserted, in the Ysagogicus of 1485, caput et pedes habet; and it always governed the thighs and knees. It also was regarded as under the care of the goddess Vesta, and hence Vestae Sidus. Ampelius [Lib. Mem. 4] singularly associated it with the burning south wind Auster, and Manilius said that it reigned over France, Germany, and Spain; in later times it ruled Greece, India, Macedonia, and Thrace, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg, p137Saxony and Wilna, Mexico and Oxford. Manilius also wrote of it as in our motto, and

at Caesar's Birth Serene he shone.

The almanac of 1386 has: "Whoso is borne in Capcorn schal be ryche and wel lufyd"; in 1542 the Doctor, as Arcandum was called, showed that a man born under it would be a great gallant, would have eight special illnesses, and would die at sixty; and according to Smyth it was "the very pet of all constellations with astrologers, having been the fortunate sign under which Augustus and Vespasian were born," although elsewhere, in somewhat uncourtly style, he quotes: "prosperous in dull and heavy beasts." It also appears to have been much and favorably regarded by the Arabians, as may be seen in their names for its chief stars, and in the character assigned by them to its lunar mansions. But these benign qualities were only occasional, caused probably by some lucky combination with a fortunate sign, as is known only to the initiated, for its general reputation was the reverse; and, in classical days, when coincident with the sun, it was thought a harbinger of storms and so ruler of the waters, — Horace's

tyrannus Hesperiae Capricornus undae.

Aratos had clearly showed this long before:

Then grievous blasts

Break southward on the sea, when coincide

The Goat and sun; and then a heaven-sent cold.

Ovid expressed much the same opinion in connection with the story of Acaetes; but ages before them this seems to have been said of it on Euphratean tablets.

Caesius and Postellus are authority for its being Azazel, the Scapegoat of Leviticus; although Caesius also mentioned it as Simon Zelotes, the Apostle. Suetonius in his Life of Augustus, and Spanheim in his De Nummis, said that Capricorn was shown on silver coins of that emperor, commemorating the fact that it was his natal sign; and it always has been regarded in astrology as the Mansion of Kings. It is seen, too, on a coin found in Kent, struck by the British prince Amminius, and was the most frequent of the zodiacal figures on uranographic amulets of the 14th and 15th centuries, "worn as a kind of astral defensive armor."

Its figuring generally has been consistent, and as we now see it, with the head and body of a goat, or ibex, ending in a fish's tail. Manuscripts from the 2nd to the 15th century show it thus; a Syrian seal of 187 B.C. has it in the same way; as also an early Babylonian gem, surmounted, not p138inappropriately, by the crescent moon, for Capricorn was a nocturnal sign; and the same figure is on a fragment of a Babylonian planisphere, now in the British Museum, supposed to be of the 12th century B.C. So that this may be considered its original form, in full agreement with its amphibious character, and with some resemblance, in the grouping of the chief stars, to a goat's horns and a fish's tail. From this figuring Camões, in Os Lusiadas of 1572, called it the Semi-Capran Fish, as it now is with us the Goat-Fish and the Sea Goat. Still at times it has been a complete goat-like animal, and was so considered by Aratos, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy, as by the more modern Albumasar, Kazwini, Ulug Beg, and in occasional mediaeval manuscripts. It was thus shown on some Egyptian zodiacs; although on that of Denderah it appears in its double form, where "an ibis-headed man rides on Capricornus, under which sign Sirius rose anti-heliacally"; the ibis being sacred to Isis, with which Sirius was identified. Still differently, a silver bowl from Burma engraved with the Brahmin zodiac, probably copied from original sources, makes the Fish entire in Capricorn, and omits the Goat; while Jensen says that in Babylonia the Goat and Fish, both complete, were occasionally used together for the constellation.

Jewish Rabbis asserted that the tribe of Naphtali adopted this sign as their banner emblem, — "Naphtali is a hind let loose," — as if Capricorn were a deer, or antelope; others ascribed it to Benjamin, or to Reuben; but Aquarius more fitly represented the latter.

Some connect the sign in Egyptian astronomy with Chnum, Chnemu, Gnoum, or Knum, the God of the Waters, associated with the rising of the Nile and worshiped in Elephantine at the Cataracts, this divinity bearing goat's, not ram's, horns. Others have said that it was the goat-god Mendes; and La Lande cited the strange title Oxirinque from the Greek adjective descriptive of a Swordfish,a our constellation sometimes being thus shown, when it was considered the cause of the inundation. In Coptic Egypt it was Ὀπέυτυς, Brachium Sacrificii; and Miss Clerke says that it was figured in that country as a Mirror, emblematic of life.

Earlier Hindu names were Mriga and Makara, — the Cingalese Makra and the Tamil Makaram, an Antelope; but occasionally it was shown with a goat's head upon the body of a hippopotamus, signifying some amphibious creature, and a later term was Shī-shu‑mara or Sim-shu‑mara, the Crocodile, although this originally was marked by stars of Draco. Varāha Mihira took his title for it, Akokera, from the Greeks; and it was the last in order of the zodiacal signs of India, as on the Euphrates. In the Aztec calendar it appeared as Cipactli, with a figure like that of the narwhal.

p139 It was the zodiacal Bull, or Ox, of Chinese astronomy, that later became Mo Ki, the Goat-Fish. Williams says that, with stars of Sagittarius, it was Sing Ki, the Starry Record, and with a part of Aquarius Hiuen hiau; while in very early days, with Aquarius and Sagittarius, it was the Dark Warrior, etc., the so‑called Northern one of the four large divisions of the zodiac. Flammarion asserts that Chinese astronomers located among its stars a conjunction of the five planets 2449 B.C.

Sayce, Bosanquet, and others think that they have without doubt identified it with the Assyrian Munaχa, the Goat-Fish; and we see other probable names in Shah or Shahu, the Ibex, and in Niru, the Yoke, this last perhaps a popular one. Brown gives for it the Akkadian Su‑tul of the same meaning; and another possible title, resembling the early Hindu, was Makhar, claimed also for Delphinus. It seems likewise to have been known as the Double Ship. Jensen says that "the amphibious Ia Oannes of the Persian Gulf was connected with the constellation Capricornus"; Sayce, that a cuneiform inscription designates it as the Father of Light, — a title which, astronomically considered, could not have been correct except about 15,000 years ago, when the sun was here at the summer solstice; that "the goat was sacred and exalted into this sign"; and that a robe of goatskins was the sacred dress of the Babylonian priests. So that, although we do not know when Capricornus came into the zodiac, we may be confident that it was millenniums ago, perhaps in prehistoric days. It was identified with the 10th Assyrian month Dhabitu, corresponding to December-January.

Its symbol, , usually is thought to be τρ, the initial letters of τράγος, Goat, but La Lande said that it represents the twisted tail of the creature; and Brown similarly calls it "a conventional representation of a fish-tailed goat." Indeed it is not unlike the outline of these stars on a celestial globe.

The sun is in the constellation from the 18th of January to the 14th of February, when, as Dante wrote in the Paradiso,

The horn of the celestial goat doth touch the sun;

and Milton mentions the latter's low elevation during this time,

Thence down amain

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As deep as Capricorn.

The title Tropic of Capricorn, originating from the fact that when first observed the point of the winter solstice was located here, now refers to the sign and not to the constellation, this solstice at present being 33° to the westward, in the figure of Sagittarius, near its star μ.

p140 Capricorn is, after Cancer, the most inconspicuous in the zodiac, and chiefly noticeable for the duplicity of its lucida.

Argelander charted 45 naked-eye stars within its borders; and Heis 63.

α1, Double, 3.2 and 4.2, yellow.
α2, Triple, 3, 11.5, and 11.5, pale yellow, ash, and lilac.

These are the Prima and Secunda Giedi, or plain Algedi, from the Arabian constellation title Al Jady.

Other titles, Dabih and the degenerated Dschäbbe and Dahabeh, applied to them, but more commonly to β, have been traced by some to Al Jabbah, the Forehead, although the stars are nearer the tip of the horn; but the names undoubtedly come from Al Saʽd al Dhābiḥ, the Lucky One of the Slaughterers, the title of the 20th manzil (of which these alphas and β were the determinant point), manifestly referring to the sacrifice celebrated by the heathen Arabs at the heliacal rising of Capricorn. And of similar signification was the Euphratean Shak-shadi and the Coptic Eupeutōs, or Opeutus, for the same lunar asterism of those peoples.

Brown thinks that α, then seen only as a single star, with β and ν was known by the Akkadians as Uz, the Goat; and as Enzu in the astronomy of their descendants; while Epping is authority for the statement that this, or perhaps β, marked the 26th ecliptic asterism of the Babylonians, Qarnu Shahū, the Horn of the Goat. Brown also says that α represented the 8th antediluvian king Amar Sin, — Ἀμέμψινος.

In Hipparchos' time the two alphas were but 4′ apart, and it was not till towards Bayer's day that they had drifted sufficiently away from each other to be readily separated by the naked eye. Their distance in 1880 was 6¼′, and this is increasing by 7ʺ in every hundred years.

They culminate on the 9th of September.

Smyth described a minute blue companion of α2 which he caught "in little evanescent flashes, so transient as again to recall Burns's snow-flakes on a stream"; and mentioned Sir John Herschel's suggestion that this might shine by reflected light. Alvan G. Clark doubled this in 1862, the distance being 1ʺ.2, and the position angle 239°.

β1, and β2, 2.5 and 6, each double, orange yellow and sky blue.

Dabih Major and Dabih Minor are the names of this so‑called double, but telescopically multiple, star, taken from the title of the manzil of which, with α, it formed part.

p141 These betas, with ανοπ, and ρ farther to the south, were the 20th sieu of China, Nieu, or Keen Nieu, the Ox, anciently Ngu, or Gu, themselves being the determinants. The lunar asterism was in some way intimately connected in religious worship with the rearing of the silkworm in that country.

The two stars mark the head of the Goat, the components 205ʺ distant from each other, and each very closely double. The duplicity of β1 was first recognized in 1883 by Barnard from its behavior at an occultation by the moon, this discovery being soon verified and measured by Professor Young, Hough, and other observers.

γ, 3.8.

Nashira is from Al Saʽd al Nashirah, the Fortunate One, or the Bringer of Good Tidings, which the early Arabs applied to this when taken with δ. Smyth gave it as Saʽdubnáshirah; and the Standard Dictionary repeats this as Saib' Nasch-rú‑ah!

Bayer had the later Deneb Algedi, the Tail of the Goat, that is more proper for δ; the Alfonsine Tables of 1521, Denebalchedi, which has degenerated to Scheddi; and the fine wall star-map of Doctor Ferdn. Reuter, Deneb Algethi; but this is erroneous, and a confusion with the Arabian title for the constellation Hercules.

γ marked the 27th Babylonian ecliptic asterism, Mahar sha hi-na Shahū, the Western One in the Tail of the Goat.

With δεκ and stars in Aquarius and Pisces it was the Chinese Luy Pei Chen, the Intrenched Camp.

δ, 3.1.

Deneb Algedi is the transcription by Ulug Beg's translator of Al Dhanab al Jady, the Tail of the Goat; changed to Scheddi in some lists, — a name also found for γ.

Ideler said that these stars were Al Muḥibbain, the Two Friends, an Arabic allegorical title for any two closely associated objects; but Beigel differed with him as to this, and wrote it Al Muhanaim, the Two Bending Stars, — in the flexure of the tail, — for "moral beings are foreign to the nomad sky."

It marked the 28th ecliptic constellation of Babylonia, Arkat sha hi‑na Shahū, the Eastern One in the Tail of the Goat.

5° to the eastward is the point announced by Le Verrier3 as the position p142of his predicted new planet, — Neptune, — where Galle, first assistant of the celebrated Encke at the Berlin Observatory, under Le Verrier's direction, visually discovered it on the 23d of September, 1846. It had been suspected by Bouvard in 1821, and seen six times from France and England just previous to its discovery, but without knowledge of its character.

ζηθ, and ι, 4th- and 5th‑magnitude stars on the body, were respectively Yen, Chow, Tsin, and Tae, names of old feudal states in China.

λ, 5.4, with ξ Aquarii and others near by, was Tien Luy Ching, the Heavenly Walled Castle; and μ, 5.24, was Kuh, Weeping. λ and μ mark the extreme end of the tail.

ν, 4.7, was Kazwini's Al Shat, the Sheep that was to be slaughtered by the adjacent Dhābiḥ, the stars β.

The following also seem to be named only in China: υ, 5.3, marked Loo Sieu, the Lace-like asterism; φ, 5.3, and χ, 5.3, taken together were Wei, the name of one of the old feudal states; ψ, 4.3, was Yue, a Battle‑ax; while the 5th‑magnitudes Ab, and m also bore titles from feudal times of the states Tsoo, Tsin, and Chaou.

Bayer gave A, b, and c as Tres ultimae Deneb Algedi; but Heis puts A in the right fore arm, b in the belly, and c — Flamsteed's 46 — outside of and beyond the tail, in the ribs of Aquarius, thus showing a change of figuring in the past three centuries.


The Author's Notes:

1 The Arabic word Burj signifies both Constellation and Tower, or Fortress.

2 This Sargon has been considered the almost mythical founder of the first Semitic empire, 3850 B.C., but inscriptions recently unearthed at Nuffar, and only deciphered in 1896 at Constantinople by Professor Herman V. Hilprecht of the University of Pennsylvania, make it evident that Babylonia was an important kingdom at least three or four millenniums before him. Sargon's astronomical work, the Illumination of Bel, in 72 books, was compiled by the priests of that god, and translated into Greek by Berōssōs about 260 B.C. Fragments of this last work still remain to us.

3 Flammarion, who was intimate with Le Verrier, thinks that the latter never had the curiosity to observe his planet through the telescope, strangely content with his mathematical achievement! And it is interesting to know that Doctor Galle, in his 85th year, in 1896 received the congratulations of the astronomical world upon the 50th anniversary of the finding of Neptune.


Thayer's Note:

a OxirinqueOxyrhynque, or Oxyrhyncus; not so strange after all.


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