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Bill Thayer

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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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Proxima sideribus numinibusque feror.

Flavius Avianus' 15th Fable.

Grus, the Crane,

is one of the so‑called Bayer groups, la Grue of the French and Italians,​a der Kranich of the Germans; and the title is appropriate, for Horapollo, the grammarian of Alexandria, about A.D. 400, tells us that the crane was the symbol of a star-observer in Egypt, presumably from its high flight as described in our motto.

Caesius, who carried his biblical symbols even to the new constellations, imagined this to be the Stork in the Heaven of Jeremiah viii.7, although the Crane occurs in the same verse; but Julius Schiller combined it with Phoenix in a representation of Aaron the High Priest.

The Arabians included its stars in the Southern Fish, Al Sufi giving its αβδθι, and λ as unformed members of that constellation.

The components, with the exception of the lucida, form a gentle curve southwest from this Fish, and among them are stars noted in astronomy.  p238 One hundred and seven are catalogued by Gould as being visible to the naked eye.

α, marking the body of the bird, is the conspicuous 2d‑magnitude southwest from Fomalhaut when the latter culminates in autumn evenings, itself coming to the meridian on the 11th of October. It was Al Tizini's Al Nā᾽ir, the Bright One, i.e. of the Fish's tail, when that constellation extended over the stars of our Grus. The Chinese knew it as Ke.

β, a 2.2‑magnitude red star, was Al Tizini's Rear One at the end of the tail of his Fish, thirty-five minutes of arc to the eastward from α. It is in the left wing of the Crane.

γ, a 3d‑magnitude, was the same author's Al Dhanab, the Tail itself, but now marks the eye in the bird's figure.

π1, a 6.7‑magnitude deep crimson star, and its somewhat brighter short companion, π2 are like "little burnished discs of copper and silver, seen under strong illumination."

The alternative title for the stars of Grus,

Phoenicopterus, the Flamingo,

is now seldom, if ever, used, nor can I find any record of its inventor, or date of its adoption as a constellation name. Chilmead's Treatise contains this reference to it:

The Phoenicopter we may call the Bittour [the old English word for Bittern].

. . . . . . .

The Spaniards call it Flamengo: and it is described with the wings spread abroad, and as it were striking with its bill at the South Fish, in that part where he boweth himselfe. This Asterisme consistith of 13 Starres: of which, that of the second magnitude in his head is called, the Phoenicopters Eye: and it hath two other Stars also of the same magnitude, one in his backe, and the other in his left wing. And those two which are in the middle of his necke, Paulus Merula in his first booke of his Cosmography, calleth his Collar or Chaine.

The absence of our titles in the foregoing description would show that the Bittern, or Flamingo, was the popular English figuring and title in the early part of the 17th century.

Thayer's Note:

a Properly, in Italian, la Gru.

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Page updated: 10 Mar 12