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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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Next swims the Southern Fish which bears a Name

From the South wind, and spreads a feeble Flame.

To him the Flouds in spacious windings turn.

Creech's Manilius.

Piscis Australis, the Southern Fish,

is the Italian Pesce Australe; the French Poisson Austral; and the German Südliche Fisch. It lies immediately south of Capricorn and Aquarius, in that part of the sky early known as the Water, Aratos describing the figure as "on his back the Fish," and

The Fish reversed still shows his belly's stars;

but modern representations give it in a normal attitude. In either case, however, it is very unnaturally drinking the whole outflow from the Urn. This idea of the Fish drinking the Stream is an ancient one, and may have given rise to the title Piscis aquosus, found with Ovid and in the 4th Georgic, which has commonly been referred to this constellation; Vergil mentioning it in his directions as to the time for gathering the honey harvest; but the proper application of this adjectival title is uncertain, for Professors Ridgeway and Wilkins, in their admirable article on Astronomia in Doctor Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, write:

The Piscis in question has been variously supposed to be one of the Fishes in the Zodiac — the Southern Fish — Hydra — the Dolphin — or even the Scorpion.

Smyth said that

In the early Venetian editions of Hyginus, there is a smaller fish close under it, remora fashion, interfering with the Solitarius by which that astronomer, from its insulated position, designated Piscis Notius.

Accordingly the edition of 1488, with this representation, had it Pisces, and the German manuscript of the 15th century showed it with a still larger companion.

The figure is strangely omitted from the Farnese globe, the stream from the Urn of Aquarius ending at the tail of Cetus.

In early legend our australis was the parent of the zodiacal two, and has always been known under this specific title, varied by the other adjectives of equivalent signification, austrinus, meridionalis, and notius.

La Lande asserted that Dupuis had proved this to be the sky symbol of  p345 the god Dāgōn of the Syrians, the Phagre and Oxyrinque adored in Egypt; and it even has been associated with the still greater Oannes.

It also was Ἰχθύς and Ἰχθύς νότιος; Ἰχθύς μέγας and Piscis magnus; Ἰχθύς μονάζων and Piscis solitarius; Piscis Capricorni, from its position; and it is specially mentioned by Avienus as the Greater Fish. Longfellow, in the notes to his translation of the Divine Comedy, called it the Golden Fish, probably as being so much more conspicuous than those in the north.

When the Arabians adopted the Greek constellations and names this became Al Ḥūt al Janūbiyy, the Large Southern Fish, distorted in late mediaeval days into Haut elgenubi, and given by Chilmead as Ahaut Algenubi; but their figure was extended further to the south than ours, and so included stars of the modern Grus. Smyth wrote of it:

The Mosaicists held the asterism to represent the Barrel of Meal belonging to Sarephtha's widow; but Schickard pronounces it to be the Fish taken by St. Peter with a piece of money in its mouth.

Bayer said that it partook of the astrological character of the planet Saturn.

Gould assigns to it 75 naked-eye components.

α, 1.3, reddish.

Fomalhaut, from the Arabic Fum al Ḥūt, the Fish's Mouth, has long been the common name for this star, Smyth saying that Fom Alhout Algenubi appears, with its translation Os Piscis Meridiani, in a still existing manuscript almanac of 1340.

Aratos distinctly mentioned it as

One large and bright by both the Pourer's feet,

which is its location in the maps of today, although sometimes it has marked the eye of the Fish, and formerly was still differently placed, as is noted at β.

In addition to putting it in its own constellation, Ptolemy inserted it in his Ὑδροχόος, and Flamsteed followed him in making it his 24 of Piscis Australis and 79 of Aquarius, calling it Aquae Ultima Fomalhaut.

No other star seems to have had so varied an orthography.

The Alfonsine Tables of 1521 locate it in Aquarius as Fomahant and of the 1st magnitude, but they describe it in Piscis Meridionalis as in ore, omitting its title and calling it a 4th‑magnitude. The other editions of these Tables, and Kazwini, do not mention it at all in this constellation, but  p346 in Aquarius; nor does Bullialdus in his edition of the Rudolphine Tables, although in his reproduction of the Persian Tables of Chrysococca he calls it Os Piscis notii and Fumahaud. The Astronomica Danica of Longomontanus includes it in Aquarius as ultima in effusione Fomahant, giving no Piscis at all; Tycho's Rudolphine Tables, in Kepler's edition of 1627, have the same, and Hevelius also puts it there as Fomahandt. Bayer cites it, in Piscis Notius (Piscis Austrinus), as Fumahant, Fumahaut rectius Fumalhaut; Chilmead, Phom Ahut; Caesius has Fomahand and Fontabant; Riccioli's names for it are Fomauth, Phomaut, Phomault, Phomant, Phomaant, Phomhaut, Phomelhaut; La Caille's, Phomalhaut; La Lande's are Fumalhant, Fomahaut, and Phomahant; and Schickard's, Fomalcuti. Costard gives it as Fomahout; and Sir William Herschel had it Fomalhout, writing to his sister:

Lina, — Last night I "popt" upon a comet . . . between Fomalhout and β Ceti.

More correctly than all these, Hyde wrote it Pham Al Ḥūt. Burritt's Atlas has the present form Fomalhaut, but his Planisphere, Fomalhani. It generally, but wrongly, is pronounced Fomalo, as though from the French.

The Harleian Manuscript of Cicero's Aratos has the words Stella Canopus at the Fish's mouth, which is either an erroneous title, or another use of the word for any very bright star, as is noted under α Argūs, — Canopus.

Among early Arabs Fomalhaut was Al Difdiʽ al Awwal, the First Frog; and in its location on the Borgian globe is the word Ṭhalīm, the Ostrich, evidently another individual title.

Flammarion says that it was Hastorang in Persia 3000 B.C., when near the winter solstice, and a Royal Star, one of the four Guardians of Heaven, sentinels watching over other stars; while about 500 B.C. it was the object of sunrise worship in the temple of Demeter at Eleusis; and still later on, with astrologers, portended eminence, fortune, and power.

The Chinese knew it as Pi Lo Sze Mun.

With Achernar and Canopus it made up Dante's Tre Facelle; and sixty years ago, Boguslawski thought that it might be the Central Sun of the Universe.

It lies in about 30°15′ of south declination, and so is the most southerly of all the prominent stars visible in the latitude of New York City, but it is in the zenith of Chile, the Cape of Good Hope, and South Australia. To the uninstructed observer it seems a full 1st‑magnitude, perhaps from the absence of near-by stars. It culminates on the 25th of October. As one of the so‑called lunar stars it is of importance in navigation, and appears in the Ephemerides of all modern sea-going nations.

 p347  See calls its color white, and has discovered a 14.8 bluish companion 30″ away, at a position angle of 36°.2.

β, Double, 4.3 and 8.

Al Tizini knew this, instead of α, as Fum al Ḥūt, — evidence either of a different figuring of the constellation from that of Ptolemy, which we follow, or of its extension towards the northeast by the Arabian astronomers. This may account for the location of Fomalhaut in Aquarius by some early authors.

With δ and ζ it was the Chinese Tien Kang, the Heavenly Rope.

Al Tizini mentioned the stars, now γα, and β of Grus, as the Tail, the Bright One, and the Rear One of the Fish, — additional proof that our lucida of Piscis Australis was not his nā᾽ir of Al Ḥūt al Janūbiyy.

νθι, and μ were Tien Tsien, Heavenly Cash.

Bayer's lettering extended only to μ, and there seems to be no star lettered κ in the constellation.

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Page updated: 2 Feb 08