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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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In dreams it seemed to me I saw suspended

An eagle in the sky, with plumes of gold,

With wings wide open, and intent to stoop,

And this, it seemed to me, was where had been

By Ganymede his kith and kin abandoned,

When to the high consistory he was rapt.

Longfellow's translation of Dante's Purgatorio.


lies in the Milky Way, directly south from the star Altair; the head of the figure at η and σ, the rest of the outline being marked by θικλν and δ, all now in Aquila. Flamsteed omitted σ and ν from his catalogue, but added i.

The constellation is said to have been introduced into the sky, in the year 132, by the Emperor Hadrian, in honor of his young Bithynian favorite, whose soul his courtiers had shown him shining in its lucida after the youth's self-sacrifice by drowning in the Nile from his belief that his master's life might thus be prolonged. This was because the oracle at Beza had asserted that only by the death of the object which the emperor most loved could great danger to the latter be averted.​a The new asterism, however, was little known among early astronomers; and although Ptolemy alluded to it, he did so but slightingly in calling half a dozen of the ἀμόρφωτοι of Aquila ἐφ᾽º ὦν ὁ ἀντίνοος.

After his day it seems unnoticed till Mercator put it on his celestial globe of 1551 with six components; Bayer following him in illustrating it with Aquila, although with no distinct list of its stars. Tycho also utilized it; but it first separately appeared in print on a plate in Kepler's Stella Nova of 1606, and in his Rudolphine Tables. Longomontanus (Christian Longberg of Denmark) had it in his Astronomica Danica of 1640; Hevelius included it in the Prodromus, but added a Bow and Arrow, the ancient Sagitta; Flamsteed mentioned it in the Historia Coelestis as Aquila Antinous, Aquila vel Antinous, and Aquila cum Antinoo; and the Hungarian Jesuit Abbé Maximilian Hell had it in constant use in his Ephemerides Astronomicae of 1769 and 1770. Bode also distinctly catalogued and illustrated it; but Argelander omitted its title from his Uranometria Nova of 1843, although he showed it as a part of Aquila. It is now hardly recognized, its stars being included with those of the latter constellation.

Bayer substituted Ganymedes for Antinoüs, and others have used both names indiscriminately; Tennyson describing the youth as

Flush'd Ganymede, his rosy thigh

Half buried in the Eagle's down.

This same name occasionally has appeared for Aquarius, but is given by La Lande, with many other titles, for our Antinoüs; among these are Puer Adrianaeus, Bithynicus, Phrygius, and Troicus; Novus Aegypti Deus; Puer Aquilae; Pincerna and Pocillator, the Cup-bearer.

Caesius saw in it the Son of the Shunammite raised to life by the prophet Elisha; and La Lande said that some had identified it with the bold Ithacan, one of Penelope's suitors slain by Ulixes.

Two of the Arabic globes bear the stars δθκ and λ Aquilae, which mark the distinguishing rhombus of Antinoüs, as Al Ṭhalīmain, the Two Ostriches; but Ideler assigned this title to ι and λ; giving δη, and θ as Al Mizān, the Scale-beam. Simone Assemani said that they were Alkhalimain, that more correctly is Al Ḣalīlain, the Two Friends, or Al Ḣalimatain, the Two Papillae; but his assertions as to star-names are often unfavorably criticized by Ideler as "a confused medley, raked together without criticism."

These globes are so frequently referred to as indicative of the character and progress of the astronomy of Arabia, that I may be pardoned a brief digression as to them.

 p42  One, of the year 1225, now rests in the museum established by the Cardinal Borgia at Villetri;º another, of 1289, is in the Mathematical Salon at Dresden; Mr. A. V. Newton claims the early date of the 11th century for one lettered in Arabo-Cufic characters, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, as does Signor F. Meucci for one in Florence; another, of bronze, from Arabian times, the stars lettered in silver, but not figured, is in the rooms of the Royal Astronomical Society of London; and the Emperor Frederick II of Italy, in the 13th century, is said to have had one of gold, the stars being shown by inlaid pearls. All these seem to have been of comparatively small dimensions, five to eight inches in diameter, a great contrast to the six-foot globe of Tycho Brahē, now in the castle at Prague. Those of Mercator were about sixteen inches.

But celestial globes were known long anterior to these. One that is considered very correct as to the location of the early constellations, although it does not show the individual stars, is in the Farnese collection of antiquities, surmounting the statue of Atlas. This globe, supposed to be a copy of the sphere of Eudoxos, and perhaps antedating Ptolemy, although somewhat defaced, has preserved to us more than forty of the sky figures of its day;​b while another, of brass, said to have been constructed by Ptolemy himself, — doubtless an apocryphal statement, — was found in 1043 in an old public library in Kahira, the modern Cairo. Ptolemy described the globe of Hipparchos that is illustrated in Halma's edition of the Syntaxis, published with a French translation in Paris in 1813‑16; Eudoxos is said to have constructed one 366 B.C., as did Anaximander of Miletus 584 B.C.

The actual invention of celestial globes has been credited to Thales, as the mythical was to Atlas; but Flammarion nearly rivals this last when he seriously tells us of Chiron's sphere — "the most ancient sphere known, constructed about the epoch of the Trojan War, 1300 B.C."; and Sir Isaac Newton, induced by an incorrect translation from Diogenes Laertius,​c asserted that Musaeus, one of the Argo's crew, was the first to make a celestial sphere, on which he located the ship and many others of the Greek constellations derived from the story and characters of the Argonauts.

Thayer's Notes:

a What happened to Antinoüs is not known. Already in Antiquity several theories were current: that he did devote himself as a sacrifice to preserve his lover; that, as Hadrian himself is supposed to have written, he drowned accidentally; and the author of the Historia Augusta, always one for the scabrous tale, suggests (Hadr. 14.5‑7) that some claimed ". . . what both his beauty and Hadrian's sensuality suggest." What a way to go, I guess.

Allen's account abridges Cassius Dio (LXIX.10.2‑4); that webpage includes a photo of a bust of the young man.

b The Farnese Globe or Farnese Atlas, as it has come to be called, is currently in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples; it has given rise to a great mass of scholar­ly literature. The most useful set of photographs of it online, from the standpoint of the student of the constellations, is probably the series of nine published by Georg Thiele in Antike Himmelsbilder (1898), Plates II‑VI.

c Diog. Laërt. I.3.

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Page updated: 31 Aug 20