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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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Hic vertex nobis semper sublimis; at illum

Sub pedibus Styx atra videt, Manesque profundi.

Vergil's 1st Georgic.

Octans Hadleianus,

now known simply as Octans, was formed and published by La Caille in 1752 in recognition of the octant invented in 1730 by John Hadley. It is the French Octant, the German Oktant, and the Italian Ottante. The French edition of Flamsteed's Atlas has it as l'Octans Réflexion.

Gould assigns to it 88 naked-eye stars down to the 7th magnitude; the brightest, ν, being only of 3.8; but the constellation is noteworthy as marking the south pole, its 5.8‑magnitude σ being about ¾ of a degree away. A straight line from α Crucis to β Hydri almost touches the pole at ⅓ of the distance from the latter star.

Ancient references to a south pole are of course infrequent; Ovid, however, makes Phoebus allude to it in his instructions to Phaëthon; Vergil mentions it as in our motto; Creech thus renders from Manilius:

the lower pole resemblance bears

To this above, and shines with equal Stars;

and Pliny [N. H. V.69] tells us that the Hindus had given it a name, Dramasa,º —

Austrinum Polum Indi Dramasa vocant.

The heathen Arabs, too, seem to have had some knowledge of it, for they imagined that, like its northern counterpart, it exercised a healing power on all afflicted persons who would attentively observe it.

The early navigators commented more or less correctly on the blankness of the heavens in this region, and Peter Martyr wrote [De Orbe Novo, Book Ifin.]:

They knewe no starre there lyke unto this pole, that myght be decerned aboute the poynte;

Pigafetta, in his description of the Magellanic Clouds:

Betweene these, are two starres not very bigge, nor much shyninge, which move a little: and these two are the pole Antartike, —

probably the colored stars β and γ Hydri of about the 3d magnitude; and Camões:

Vimos a parte menos rutilante,

E por falta d'estrellas menos bella

Do polo fixo,

which probably refers to the same thing, but which his translator Aubertin claims as an allusion to the Coal-sack, or Soot-bag. Vespucci, on the other hand, strangely stated, in his Lettera of 1505, that "the stars of the pole of the south . . . are numerous, and much larger and more brilliant than those of our pole"; and that he saw in the southern sky about twenty stars as bright as Venus and Jupiter. Ideler's comment on Vespucci, in this connection, is "the greater part of his news is of this reliable character!" Even now it is the popular opinion that the South is richer in stars than is the North; Tennyson expressing this in Locksley Hall:

Larger constellations burning.

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Page updated: 30 Sep 07