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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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p201 Dorado, the Goldfish,

first published by Bayera among his new southern figures, is still thus known in Germany and Italy, but the French say Dorade; and Flammarion has Doradus, perhaps from confusion with its supposed genitive case. The word is from the Spanish, and refers not to our little exotic cyprinoid, but to the large coryphaena of the tropical seas, of changing colors at death.b On the planisphere in Gore's translation of l'Astronomie Populaire it is strangely rendered p202Gold Field; and Craver, in the Colas' list of the Celestial Handbook of 1892, is equally erroneous. Chilmead mentions it as the Gilthead fish, but this, in ichthyology, was a very different fish, the Crenilabrus melops of British coasts.

Caesius combined its stars with the Greater Cloud and the Flying Fish to foment his Old Testament figure of Abel the Just.

The alternative title Xiphias, the Swordfish, I first find in the Rudolphine Tables of 1627; Halley used it, in addition to Dorado, in his catalogue of 1679; Flamsteed gave both names in his edition of Sharp's catalogue; and the modern Stieler's planisphere still has Schwerdtfisch. Xiphias, however, had appeared in astronomy in the first century of our era, for Pliny [II.89] applied it to sword-shaped comets, as Josephus [Bell. Jud. VI.5.3] did to that "which for a year (!) had hung over Jerusalem in the form of a sword," — possibly Halley's comet of A.D. 66.

The Rudolphine Tables and Riccioli catalogued here 6 stars of 4th and 5th magnitudes, but Gould 42 from 3.1 to 7.

The head of Dorado marks the south pole of the ecliptic, so that, according to Caesius, the constellation gave its name to that point as the Polus Doradinalis. Within 3° of this pole is the very remarkable nebula 30 Doradūs, that Smyth called the True Lover's Knot, although now known as the Great Looped Nebula, NGC 2070, described by Sir John Herschel as an assemblage of loops and one of the most extraordinary objects in the heavens, — "the centre of a great spiral."

ε appears in Reeves' list as Kin Yu, but this star being only a 5th‑magnitude, and these words signifying a Goldfish, they doubtless were designed for the whole figure introduced into China by the Jesuits.

ζ, a 5th‑magnitude, bears the Chinese title Kaou Pih.


Thayer's Notes:

a A much more tangled tale, actually; see Ridpath, Star Tales, Chapter 1; I am indebted to Diana K. Rosenberg of Fixed Stars and Constellations for alerting me to the better reference.

b But the French dorade, now usually spelled daurade, refers to either of two different fish altogether, the sea bream or gilthead bream (Sparus aurata) and the other gilthead which will be mentioned further on.


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Page updated: 4 Mar 14