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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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p182

. . . the generous Bowl

Of Bacchus flows, and chears the thirsty Pole.

— Creech's Manilius.

Crater, the Cup,

is the French Coupe, the German Becher, and the Italian Tazza, formed by several 4th- and 5th‑magnitude stars above the Hydra's back, just westward from Corvus, and 30° south of Denebola, in a partly annular form p183opening to the northwest. This was long considered a part of the threefold constellation Hydra et Corvus et Crater; but modern astronomers catalogue it separately, Argelander assigning to it 14 stars, and Heis extending the number to 35.

In early Greek days it represented the Κάνθαρος, or Goblet, of Apollo, but universally was called Κρατήρ, which in our transliterated title obtained with all Latins, Cicero writing it Cratera; while Manilius described it as gratus Iaccho Crater, so using the mystic, poetical name often applied to Bacchus. In ancient manuscripts it appears as Creter. The Greeks also called it Κάλπη, a Cinerary Urn; Ἀργεῖον, Ὑδρεῖον, and Ὑδρία, a Water-bucket.

The Romans additionally knew it as Urna, Calix, or Scyphus, and, poetically, as Poculum, the Cup, variously, of Apollo, Bacchus, Hercules, Achilles, Dido, Demophoön, and Medea; its association with this last bringing it into the long list of Argonautic constellations.

Hewitt connected it with the Soma‑cup of prehistoric India; and Brown with the Mixing-bowl in the Euphratean myth of Istar-Kirke, referring to the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand.

But any connection here would seem doubtful, although the Jews knew it as Cōs, a Cup. Hewitt also identifies it with "the Akkadians' Mummu Tiāmut, the chaos of the sea, the mother of heaven and earth, and the child of Tiamut, the mother (mut) of living things (tia)"; but all this better suits Corvus.

It was known in England two or three centuries ago as the Two-handed Pot; and Smyth tells us of a small ancient vase in the Warwick collection bearing an inscription thus translated:

Wise ancients knew when Crater rose to sight,

Nile's fertile deluge had attained its height;

although Egyptian remains thus far show no allusion to the constellation.

In early Arabia it was Al Ma’laf, the Stall, — a later title there for the Praesaepe of Cancer; but when the astronomy of the Desert came under Greek influence it was Al Bāṭiyah, the Persian Badiye, and the Al Batinah of Al Achsasi, all signifying an earthen vessel for storing wine. Another title, Al Kās, a Shallow Basin, — Alhas in the Alfonsine lists, — has since been turned into Alker and Elkis; but Scaliger's suggestion of Alkes generally has been adopted, although now applied to the star α. These same Tables Latinized it as Patera, and as Vas, or Vas aquarium.

p184 Riccioli's strange Elvarad and Pharmaz I cannot trace to their origin.

Its more conspicuous stars, with χ and others in Hydra, twenty-two in all, formed the 10th sieu, Yh, Yih, or Yen, Wings or Flanks; and the whole constellation may have been the Chinese Heavenly Dog shot at by Chang, the divinity of the 9th sieu in Leo, which also bore that god's name.

Caesius said that Crater represented the Cup of Joseph found in Benjamin's sack, or one of the stone Water-pots of Cana, or the Cup of Christ's Passion; others called it the Wine‑cup of Noah, but Julius Schiller combined some of its stars with a part of Corvus as the Ark of the Covenant.

Astrologically it portended eminence to those born under its influence.

α, 4.1, orange.

Alkes is our title from Scaliger, but it also has been Alker, and in the Alfonsine Tables Alhes: all from Al Kās of the constellation.

The Latin designation for it — Fundus vasis — well describes its position at the base of the Cup.

Since it is the only named star in the figure, and the first lettered, it may have been brighter 300 years ago; but δ, a 3.9‑magnitude, is now the lucida.

α has several optical companions, and culminates on the 20th of April, about 32° nearly due south from β Leonis.

β, of 4.4 magnitude, at the southern edge of the base, was one of Al Tizini's Al Sharāsīf, the Ribs, — i.e. of the Hydra, — and the first of the set.


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Page updated: 26 Sep 07