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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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Looke! how the crowne which Ariadne wore

Upon her yvory forehead, . . .

Being now placed in the firmament,

Through the bright heavens doth her beams display,

And is unto the starres an ornament,

Which round about her move in order excellent.

Spenser's Faerie Queen.

Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown,

is the French Couronne Boréale, the German Nördliche Krone, and the Italian ancestral Corona.

It was the only stellar crown known to Eratosthenes and the early Greeks, but they called it Στέφανος, a Wreath; and their successors, who had begun to locate the Southern Crown, added to this title of the original the distinguishing πρῶτος and βόρειος to show its priority and its northern position. The Latins adopted the Greek name and adjectives in Corona borea, borealis, and septentrionalis; and further knew it as the Crown of Vulcan fashioned ex auro et indicis gemmis; or of Amphitrite, probably from its proximity in the sky to the Dolphin associated with that goddess. But generally it was Ariadnaea Corona, Corona Ariadnae, Corona Ariadnes, Cressa Corona, Corona Gnosida, Corona Cretica and Gnossis, varied by Minoia Corona and Minoia Virgo found with Valerius Flaccus and Germanicus, and Ariadnaea Sidus with Ovid; these classical designations referring to Ariadne, or to her father Minos, king of Crete, and to her birthplace in that island, at Gnosos, where Theseus married her. When deserted by him she became the wife of Liber Bacchus, and so took his name Libera; while the crown that Theseus — or, as some said, the goddess Venus — had given her was transferred to the sky, where it became our Corona; and, as early as the 3rd century B.C., Apollonius Rhodius [3.1000 ff.] wrote in his Argonauticae:

Still her sign is seen in heaven,

And midst the glittering symbols of the sky

The starry crown of Ariadne glides.

Keats changed this in his Lamia to Ariadne's tiar; and others made it the Coiled Hair of Ariadne as companion to the Streaming Tresses of Berenice (Coma Berenices). Some authors, however, — Ovid among them in his Fasti [3.459‑561] — said that Ariadne herself became the constellation; and Mrs. Browning, in her Paraphrases from Nonnus of How Bacchus comforts Ariadne:

 p175  Or wilt thou choose

A still surpassing glory? — take it all —

A heavenly house, Kronion's self for kin.

This legend of Ariadne and her Crown seems to have been first recorded by Pherecydes early in the 5th century before Christ.

Dante, referring to Ariadne's descent, called these stars la Figliuola di Minoi, the poet giving much prominence to her father,​1 who "was so renowned for justice as to be called the Favorite of the Gods, and after death made Supreme Judge in the Infernal Regions."

In all ages Corona has been a favorite, popularly as well as in literature, and few of our stellar groups have had as many titles, although the English of the Middle Ages usually wrote its wearer's name "Adrian" and "Adriane."

Chaucer had this strange passage on the constellation:

And in the sygne of Taurus men may se

The stonys of hire coroune shyne clere;

but this seems unintelligible, unless from some confusion in the poet's mind with the location of Koronis of the Hyades. These, however, lie in the heavens just opposite the Crown, and Skeat ingeniously suggests that Chaucer may have meant that when the Sun was in Taurus the Crown was specially noticeable in the midnight sky, as is exactly the case.

"England's Arch Poet," Edmund Spenser, wrote in the Shepheard's Kalendar2 of 1579:

And now the Sunne hath reared up his fierie footed teme,

Making his way between the Cuppe and golden Diademe;

one of the early titles of Corona being Diadema Coeli.

The Wreath of Flowers, occasionally seen for it, is merely the early signification of the words Στέφανος and Corona.

Oculus was another name of the constellation — a term common in poetry and post-Augustan prose for any celestial luminary; and Prudens​3 called it Maera, the Shining One.

As the ardens corona of the Georgics, Vergil included it with the Pleiades as a calendar sign, May translating the passage:

 p176  But if thou plow to sowe more solid graine,

A wheat or barley harvest to obtaine:

First let the morning Pleiades be set,

And Ariadne's shining Coronet,

Ere thou commit thy seed to ground, and there

Dare trust the hope of all the following yeare.

Columella, in a similar connection, called it Gnosia Ardor Bacchi, and Naxius Ardor, from Naxos, where Ariadne had been deserted by Theseus; and specially designated its lucida as clara stella.

Its stars were favored also by the astrologers, Manilius expressing this in:

Births influenc'd then shall raise fine Beds of Flowers,

And twine their creeping Jasmine round their Bowers;

The Lillies, Violets in Banks dispose,

The Purple Poppy, and the blushing Rose:

For Pleasure shades their rising Mounts shall yield,

And real Figures paint the gawdy Field;

Or they shall wreath their Flowers, their Sweets entwine,

To grace their Mistress, or to Crown their Wine.

Bayer said of it Azophi Parma, by which he meant that Al Sufi called it a Shield; but the majority of Arabian astronomers rendered the classical title by Al Iklil al Shamāliyyah, which degenerated into Acliluschemali and Aclushemali, and appeared with Ulug Beg as plain Iklīl.

But in early Arabia there was a different figure here, Al Fakkah, the Dish, which Ulug Beg's translator gave as Phecca, and others as Alphaca, Alfecca, Alfacca, Foca, Alfeta, and Alfelta; while Riccioli said Alphena Syrochaldaeis; and Schickard, Alphakhaco.

Hyde quoted Ḳasʽat al Sālik, and Ḳasʽat al Masākīn, the Pauper's Bowl; and the Persians had the same in their Kāsah Darwishān, the Dervish's Platter, or Kāsah Shekesteh, the Broken Platter, because the circle is incomplete. Bullialdus latinized some of these titles in his Discus parvus confractus, evidently taken from Chrysococca's Πινάκιν κεκλασμένον, a Small Broken Dish, which, however, should read Πινάκιον.

The Alfonsine Tables have Malfelcarre, "of the Chaldaeans," Riccioli's Malphelcane, considered by Ideler a degenerate form of the Arabic Al Munīr al Fakkah, the Bright One of the Dish; though Buttmann derived it from Al Malf al Khatar, the Loop of the Wreath, or the Junction of the Crown; and Scaliger suggested Al Malif al Kurra, of somewhat similar meaning, more correctly written Al Milaff al Kurrah. Bayer said Malphelcarre quod est sertum pupillae, the Circle of the Pupil of the Eye; and, although he did not explain this, may have written better than he knew,  p177 for Pupilla is the Latin equivalent of Κόρη, which, as a proper name, was a title for Persephone. In La Lande's Astronomie Dupuis devoted much space to his identification of this goddess, the Latin Proserpina, with the Chaldaean Phersephon, taking the title from Pheʽer, Crown, and Serphon, Northern. Thus, if Dupuis be correct, the origin of the figure, as well as of the name, may lie far back of Cretan days.

The Hebrews are said to have called it ʽAṭārōth, the Crown, — perhaps of the Semitic queen Cushiopeia; and the Syrians, Ashtaroth, their Astarte, the Ἀφροδίτη of the Greeks and the Venus of the Latins; but all this seems doubtful, as also is Ewald's conjecture that it was the biblical Mazzārōth.

Blake quotes from Flammarion, Vichaca, but without explanation.

Reeves catalogued it as the Chinese Kwan Soo, a Cord.

In Celtic story Corona was Caer Arianrod, the House of Arianrod or Ethlenn, the sister of Gwydyon and daughter of Don, the Fairy King, this name bearing a singular resemblance to that of the classical owner of the Crown.

The Shawnee Indians knew it as the Celestial Sisters, the fairest of them being the wife of the hunter White Hawk, our Arcturus.

Caesius said that it represented the Crown that Ahasuerus placed upon Esther's head, or the golden one of the Ammonite King of a talent's weight, or the Crown of Thorns worn by the Christ.

The Leyden Manuscript shows it as a laurel wreath, and thus, or as a typical crown, it appears on the maps. In the Firmamentum Firmianum, a work of 1731, in honor of the persecuting bishop of Salzburg, of the Firmian family, the figuring is that of the Corona Firmiana, with a stag's antlers from the coat of arms of that family. But an exception to the rule may be noted in an illustration, in the original Alfonsine Tables, of a plain three-quarter circle, entirely unlike either crown or wreath. Proctor suggested that in the earliest astronomy it may have formed the right arm of Boötes.

It is interesting to the astronomer from its many close binaries, and is a favorite object with youthful observers, who generally know it as Ariadne's Crown. It certainly is much more like that for which it is named than usually is the case with our sky figures; and it is equally suggestive to the Australian native of the Woomera, our Boomerang, his idea of Corona's stars.

Here appeared very suddenly, 58′ south of ε, on the 12th of May, 1866, the celebrated Blaze Star as a 2d‑magnitude visible to the naked eye for only eight days, declining, with some fluctuations, to the 10th magnitude at the rate of half a magnitude a day, but rising again to the 8th, where it  p178 still remains as T Coronae, a pale yellow, slightly variable star. Although called a nova, Argelander had already mapped it on the 18th of May, 1855, and again noted it on the 31st of March, 1856, probably at its normal magnitude. It was the first temporary star to be "studied by the universal chemical method" — the spectroscope.

Near its place the Variabilis Coronae, now lettered R, was discovered by Pigott in 1795, still varying from 5.8 to 13, but with much irregularity.

Professor Young repeats the βαγδει of Cassiopeia as a help to the memory in locating the stars of this constellation. The extreme northern one is θ, but then follow in order β, α, γ, δ, ε, ι. They form an almost perfect semicircle 20° northeast of Arcturus.

Argelander gives a total of 27 stars visible to the naked eye; and Heis, 31.

One plac'd i' th' front above the rest displays

A vigorous light, and darts surprising rays —

The Monument of the forsaken Maid.

Creech's Manilius.

α, 2.4, brilliant white.

Alphecca, the Alphaca of Burritt's Atlas of 1835, was Ulug Beg's Al Nāʽir al Fakkah, the Bright One of the Dish, this Nāʽir being equivalent to the Latin word lucida.

Bayer asserted that the Arabs knew this star as Pupilla, which also appears in the nomenclature of the constellation, with a possible clue to its derivation; but as the word belongs to Lyra, and is certainly not Arabic, we may have to recur to first principles for its origin in the classical Papilla.

Munir, found with Bayer as of the "Babylonians," — by whom he probably intended those gifted in astrology, — is from the Arabs, and synonymous with their Nāʽir. Chilmead gave this as Munic.

In Vergil's Georgics it was Gnosia Stella Coronae.

Gemma and Gemma Coronae were not used in classical times, but are later titles, perhaps from Ovid's gemmasque novem [Fasti, 3.515] that Vulcan combined with his auro to make Ariadne's Crown; but Spence said, in his Polymetis, that the word should be taken in its original meaning of a Bud, referring to the unopened blossoms and leaves of the floral crown, thus agreeing with the early idea of the figure. The Gema occasionally seen unquestionably is from an early type omission.

Alphecca is the central one of the seven brightest members of the group, and in modern times has been Margarita Coronae, the Pearl of the Crown,  p179 occasionally transformed into Saint Marguerite. It marks the loop, or knot, of the ribbon along which are fastened the buds, flowers, or leaves of the wreath shown in early drawings with two long out-streaming ends.

The spectrum is of Secchi's Solar type; and the star is receding from our system at the rate of about twenty miles a second. It has a distant 8th‑magnitude companion, and culminates on the 28th of June.

It marks the radiant point of the Coronids, the meteor shower visible from the 12th of April to the 30th of June.

β, a 4th‑magnitude northwest from Alphecca, is Nusakan in the 2d edition of the Palermo Catalogue, derived from the Masākīn of the constellation.

γη, and σ, though unnamed, are all interesting binary stars.

The Author's Notes:

1 Dante furnished him "with a tail (colla coda), thus converting him, after the mediaeval fashion, into a Christian demon." It was a long tail, too, for we read:

Who bore me unto Minos, who entwined eight times his tail about his stubborn back.

2 It may not be generally known that this was first published as the Twelve Aeglogues, Proportionable to the Twelve monethes.

3 Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, the Latin Christian poet of our 4th century.

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Page updated: 28 Apr 08