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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,
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Others underneath the hunted Hare,

All very dim and nameless roll along.

Brown's Aratos.

Columba Noae, Noah's Dove,

now known simply as Columba, is the Colombe de Noé of the French, Colomba of the Italians, and Taube of the Germans, lying south of the Hare, and on the meridian with Orion's Belt.

Although first formally published by Royer in 1679, and so generally considered one of his constellations, it had appeared seventy-six years before correctly located on Bayer's plate of Canis Major, and in his text as recentioribus Columba; one of these "more recent" being Petrus Plancius, the Dutch cosmographer and map-maker of the 16th century, and instructor of Pieter Theodor. While these are the first allusions to Columba in modern times, yet the following from Caesius may indicate knowledge of its stars,​1 and certainly of the present title, seventeen centuries ago. Translating from the Paedagogus of Saint Clement of Alexandria, he wrote:

Signa sive insignia vestra sint Columba, sive Navis coelestis cursu in coelum tendens sive Lyra Musica, in recordationem Apostoli Piscatoris.

Still it was not recognized by Bartschius twenty-one years after Bayer, nor by Tycho, Hevelius, or Flamsteed; but Halley gave it, in the same year as Royer, with ten stars; and our Gould, two centuries later in Argentina, increased the number to seventeen. It was made up from the southwestern  p167 outliers of Canis Major, near to the Ship, — Noah's Ark, — and so was regarded as the attendant Dove.

Smyth wrote of its modern formation, and of its nomenclature in Arab astronomy:

Royer cut away a portion of Canis Major, and constructed Columba Noachi therewith in 1679. The part thus usurped was called Muliphein, from al‑muhlifein, the two stars sworn by, because they were often mistaken for Soheil, or Canopus, before which they rise: these two stars are now α and β Columbae. Muliphein is recognized as comprehending the two stars called Ḥaḍʽár, ground, and al‑wezn, weight.

Reference already has been made to Al Muḥlīfaïn at the stars γ, ζ, and λ Argūs, δ Canis Majoris, and α Centauri.

α, 2.5.

Phaet, Phact, and Phad are all modern names for this, perhaps of uncertain derivation, but said to be from the Ḥaḍar already noted under the constellation.

The Chinese call it Chang Jin, the Old Folks.

Although inconspicuous, Lockyer thinks that it was of importance in Egyptian temple worship, and observed from Edfū and Philae as far back as 6400 B.C.; but that it was succeeded by Sirius about 3000 B.C., as α Ursae Majoris was by γ Draconis in the north. And he has found three temples at Medinet Habu, adjacent to each other, yet differently oriented, apparently toward α, 2525, 1250, and 900 years before our era: all these to the god Amen. He thinks that as many as twelve different temples were oriented to this star; but the selection of so faint an object for so important a purpose would seem doubtful.

Phaet is 33° south of ε Orionis, the central star in the Belt, and culminates on the 26th of January.

β, 2.9.

Wezn, or Wazn, is from Al Wazn, Weight.

With α it was among the disputed Al Muḥlīfaïn; and Al Tizini additionally called both stars Al Aghribah, the Ravens, a title that Hyde assigned to a group in Canis Minor.

Chilmead's Treatise has this brief description of Columba:

11 Starres: of which there are two in the backe of it of the second magnitude, which they call the Good messengers, or bringers of good newes: and  p168 those in the right wing are consecrated to the Appeased Deity, and those in the left, to the Retiring of the waters in the time of the Deluge.

Heis locates α and β in the back: υ2 in the right wing, and ε in the left. θ and κ were included by Kazwini in the Arabic figure Al Kurud, the Apes.

In China they were Sun, the Child; λ being Tsze, a Son; and the nearby small stars, She, the Secretions.

The Author's Note:

1 But the faintness of this constellation is against the probability of such use, and would imply that some other, and more noticeable, sky-group was known as a Dove, possibly Coma Berenices.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 08