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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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Kepheus is like one who stretches forth both hands.

Brown's Aratos.


the French Céphée and the Italian Cefeo, is shown in royal robes, with one foot on the pole (Polaris), the other on the solstitial colure, his head marked by a triangle, the 4th‑magnitudes δ, ε, and ζ; γ and κ, near the knees, forming an equilateral triangle with Polaris; and almost universally has been drawn as Aratos described in the motto. Some see in his stars a large K open towards Cassiopeia, — ε, ζ, ξ, β, and κ, with ν and γ. Achilles Tatios, probably of our 5th century, claimed that the constellation was known in Chaldaea twenty-three centuries before our era, when the earthly King was recognized in that country's myths as the son of Belos, of whom Pliny wrote [VI.121], Inventor hic fuit sideralis scientiae.

 p156  In Greek story, like so many other stellar personages, Cepheus was connected with the Argonautic expedition.

The figure bore our title among all early astronomers and classic authors, but Germanicus added Iasides from the Ιασίδαο of Aratos; Nonnus had Ἀνήρ βασιλήϊος;º from his royal station, which became Vir regius and even Regulus. Others said that he was the aged Nereus and thus also Senex aequoreus, and others strangely called it Juvenis aequoreus.

Cantans, Sonans, and Vociferans show early confusion with the not far distant Boötes; while Dominus solis, Flammiger, Inflammatus, and Incensus are fiery epithets that do not seem appropriate for so faint a figure, unless originating from the fable that the tables of the Sun were spread in Aethiopia, the land where Cepheus reigned when on earth. Someone, however, has suggested that they are from the fact that his head is surrounded and illuminated by the Milky Way, although itself in an entirely bare spot in that great circle of light. This appeared in Horace's lines:

Clarus occultum Andromedae pater

Ostendit ignem.

Cepheus is an inconspicuous constellation, but evidently was highly regarded in early times as the father of the Royal Family, and his story well known in Greek literature of the 5th century before Christ. The name Κηφεῦς, compared by Brown to Khufu of Great Pyramid fame, was the source of many queer titles from errors in Arabic transcription — first into Ḳifaūs, Ḳikaūs, Kankaus; later into Fikaus, Fifaus, and Ficares, or Phicares, its usual designation in Persia, and Phicarus. Chilmead suggested that Phicares was a Phoenician title equivalent to Flammiger, and identical with Πυρκᾶεύς,º the Fire-kindler, which, transliterated as Pirchaeus, has been used for these stars. Later on in astronomical literature we find Caicans, Ceginus, Ceichius, Chegnius, Chegninus, Cheguinus, and Chiphus, some of which also are seen for Boötes.

The later Hindus knew Cepheus as Capuja, adopted from Greece; but Hewitt claims that with their prehistoric ancestors it represented Kapi, the Ape-God, when its stars α and γ were the respective pole-stars of 21,000 and 19,000 B.C.

Dunkin derives our title from the Aethiopic Hyk, a King, but the connection with Aethiopia probably can only be allowed by considering that country the Asian Aethiopia, for our Cepheus is unquestionably of Euphratean origin. Still Bayer's illustration of it is that of a typical African.

In China, somewhere within this constellation's boundaries, was the Inner Throne of the Five Emperors.

 p157  Arabian astronomers translated Inflammatus into Al Multahab; but the nomads knew Cepheus, or at least some of its stars, as Al Aghnām, the Sheep, and thus associated with the supposed Fold, a large figure around the pole very visible traces of which appear in the nomenclature of components of this and other circumpolar constellations. Bayer specified certain of these, — η, θ, γ, κ, π, and ρ, — as the Shepherd, his Dog, and the Sheep; but Smyth alluded to the whole of Cepheus as the Dog, Cassiopeia being his mate. Riccioli quoted from Kircher, as to these, the Arabic "Raar, KeldsSan: nempe Pastorem, Canem, Oves," more correctly transcribed Raiʽ, Kalb, and Shām.

A translator of Al Ferghani's​1 Elements of Astronomy called the constellation Al Radif, the Follower, which may have come by some misunderstanding from the near-by Al Ridf in the tail of the Swan, for Cepheus does not seem ever to have been known by any such title. The early Arabs' Kidr, the Pot, was formed by the circle of small stars from ζ and η on the hand of our figure extending to the wing of the Swan.

In the place of Cepheus, Caesius wished to substitute King Solomon, or Zerah, the Aethiopian, whom King Asa overthrew, as told in the 2nd Book of the Chronicles, xiv, 9‑12; but Julius Schiller said that it should be Saint Stephen.

Argelander gives 88 naked-eye components; Heis, 159.

α, 2.5, white.

Alderamin, from Al Deraimin of the Alfonsine Tables of 1521, originally was Al Dhirāʽ al Yamīn, the Right Arm, but it now marks that shoulder. Bayer wrote it "Aderaimin corrupte Alderamin"; Schickard, Adderoiaminon; Assemani, Alderal jemīn, while elsewhere we find Al Derab, Al Deraf, Alredaf, and Alredat. Kazwini mentioned it as Al Firḳ, but, although thus found on the Borgian globe, Ideler thinks it a mistake of that author, as a single star cannot represent a Flock, which Al Firḳ signifies. Ulug Beg more appropriately called α, β, and η Al Kawākib al Firḳ, the Stars of the Flock, although by this last word a Herd of Antelopes may be intended.

α culminates on the 27th of September.

It will be the Polaris of the year 7500; while midway between it and α Cygni lies the north polar point of the planet Mars.

 p158  β, Double, 3.3 and 8, white and blue.

Alfirk is now current for this star, although originally given to α; and Ficares is occasionally seen, from one of the degenerated names for the whole constellation that also may have been applied by the Arabs to others of its brighter stars.

The components are about 14″ apart, and the position angle is 251°.

γ, 3.5, yellow.

Errai of the Palermo and Er Rai of other catalogues, but sometimes Arrai, is from Al Rāiʽ, the Shepherd, a title indigenous to Arabia.

In China it was Shaou Wei, a Minor Guard.

γ now marks the left knee of the King, and will be the pole-star of 2600 years hence.

δ, ε, ν, and ζ, of about the 4th magnitude, were the Chinese Tsaou Foo, a charioteer of Mu Wang, the 5th emperor of the Chow dynasty, 536 B.C.

δ is a noted double, the yellow and blue components 41″ apart, at a position angle of 192°. The smaller is of the 7th magnitude, but the larger varies from 3.7 to 4.9 in a period of 10⅔ days. This was discovered by Goodricke​2 in 1784; and Belopolsky thinks it a spectroscopic binary, the period of revolution equaling the period of variation.

From its neighborhood radiate the Cepheid meteors, visible from the 10th to the 28th of June.

Surrounding δ, ε, ζ, and λ, which mark the King's head, is a vacant space within the southern edge of the Milky Way similar to the Coal-sacks of the Northern and Southern Cross.

η and θ, 4th‑magnitude stars on and near the right wrist, mark Al Ḳidr.

κ, a double star, 4.4 and 8.5, is the Chinese Shang Wei, the Higher Guard. The components are yellow and blue, 7″.5 apart, at a position angle of 124°.

μ, Irregularly variable, 4 (?) to 5 (?), garnet,

about 5° east of the head of Cepheus, is Sir William Herschel's celebrated Garnet Star, and so entered by Piazzi in the Palermo Catalogue, yet strangely omitted from Flamsteed's list, perhaps owing to its variability. This, suspected by Hind in 1848, was confirmed by Argelander.

 p159  It is one of the deepest-colored stars visible to the naked eye, and comparison with the near-by α will show its peculiar tint, which, however, sometimes changes to orange.

ξ, Binary, 4.5 and 7, blue.

Kazwini called this Al Ḳurḥaḥ, an Arabic word that Ideler translated as a white spot, or blaze, in the face of a horse; but thinking this not a proper stellar name, suggested Al Ḳirdah, the Ape. He seems here, however, to have forgotten Al Hiḳʽah of Orion,º of the same meaning as that to which he objected.

The components are 7″ apart, and their position angle is 285°.

ρ, a 5th‑magnitude, was Al Kalb al Rāʽi, the Shepherd's Dog, guarding the Flock shown by α, β, and η; k, h, and v, with others between the feet and Polaris, were Al Aghnām, the Sheep, apparently separated from the Flock.

υ1 and υ2, 5th‑magnitude stars, are given by Bayer, under the title Castula, as from Nonius, equivalent to Ταινία, the Front of the Garment, which they mark.

Sundry small members of this constellation and Camelopardalis were the Chinese Hwa Kae, the State Umbrella.

The Author's Notes:

1 This author was Aben al Khethir of Fergana in Sogdiana, prominent in 9th‑century astronomy and much quoted from the 16th to the 18th century is as Alfergan, Alferganus, Alfragani, and Alfraganus. His work, a valuable one for its day, was translated with notes by Golius (the Dutch Jakob Gohl), and published after the latter's death in 1669.

2 John Goodricke of York, England, is still remembered in the astronomy of the last century as a diligent and success­ful observer of variable stars, although he was a deaf-mute and died at the early age of 22 years.

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Page updated: 8 Dec 07