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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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 p335  Phoenix,

the French Phénix, the German Phönix, and the Italian Fenice, is one of Bayer's new figures, between Eridanus and Grus, south of Fornax and Sculptor, — its ακμβν, and γ in a line curving toward the south like that of a primitive Boat, by which figure, as Al Zauraḳ, the Arabs knew them. Al Sufi cited another name, — Al Ri᾽āl, the Young Ostriches, — which Hyde wrongly read Al Zibal, perhaps a synonymous title; and Kazwini used Al Sufi's term in describing some stars of Al Nahr, the River, in which our Phoenix was then included by Arabian astronomers.

 p336  Others changed the figure to that of a Griffin, or Eagle, so that the introduction of a Phoenix into modern astronomy was, in a measure, by adoption rather than by invention.

But, whether Bayer knew it or not, his title is an appropriate one, for with various early nations — at all events, in China, Egypt, India, and Persia — this bird has been "an astronomical symbol of cyclic period," some versions of the well-known fable making its life coincident with the Great Year of the ancients beginning at noon of the day when the sun entered among the stars of Aries; and, in Egypt, with the Sothic Period when the sun and Sirius rose together on the 20th of July. Thompson further writes of this:

A new Phoenix-period is said to have commenced A.D. 139, in the reign of Antoninus Pius; and a recrudescence of astronomical symbolism associated therewith is manifested on the coins of that Emperor.

Coincidently, Ptolemy adopted as the epoch of his catalogue the year 138, the first of Antoninus. With the Egyptians, who knew this bird as Bennu and showed it on their coins, it was an emblem of immortality; indeed it generally has been such in pagan as well as in Christian times.

In China the constellation was Ho Neaou, the Fire Bird, showing its derivation there from the Jesuits.

Julius Schiller combined it with Grus in his Aaron the High Priest.

Gould catalogues 139 naked-eye stars here, from 2.4 to 7.

α, of 2.2. magnitude, was Al Tizini's Nā᾽ir al Zauraḳ, the Bright One in the Boat, rendered in Hyde's translation lucida Cymbae. It culminates just above the horizon of New York City on the 17th of November, and is quite conspicuous from its solitary position southeast from Fomalhaut.

A 14th‑magnitude companion, purple in tint, has recently been discovered by See, 9″ away, with a position angle of 280°.

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Page updated: 25 Sep 07