Ptolemy, he knew the skies –
At least, that much he saw of them
Of course, he only had his eyes,
And only words for drawing them.
He plotted out the vibrant stars
Upon each underlying figure,
But where ran the linking-bars
Were sketched with far less rigour.
And then there were the hinterlands,
The unincorporated flames
Between the cities – roguish bands
Too faint to ever warrant names.
He never saw the very South,
The depths beneath the Argo’s keel,
The Eridanus to its mouth,
The wings and scales which pole-wards wheel.
So later gazers filled the gaps
With modern and precision tools –
They’re lacking in some myths, perhaps,
A free-for-all where logic rules.
But Ptolemy has the last laugh,
Those empty spaces serve their turn –
For ev’ry dim and dull giraffe,
Shall help his bears to brightly burn,
And sailors through the years are wise,
From triremes to ships-of-the-line,
To just ignore the cluttered skies
And let Polaris shine.
Infact, Ptolemy named hardly any of the stars in his Almagest, with only the following:
Bootes: Arktouros (Arcturus)
Lyra: Lyra (now called Vega)
Heniochos (Auriga): Aix (now Capella) & Haedi (now called Haedus I & II, except Haedus I is now called Sadatoni). Also of note is a passing reference to some stars being known as ‘Antonous’, a sort of mini constellette.
Aetos (Aquila): Aetos (now called Altair, which like Vega is a later Arabic name)
Tauros (Taurus): Hyádes (The Hyades) & Pleias (The Pleiades) clusters, but not their individual stars.
Karkinos (Cancer): Onoi (Aselii, now Aselius Borealis & Australis).
Leon (Leo): Basiliskos (Regulus), and also mentions an asterism called Plokamos (Coma Berenices) but doesn’t consider it a separate constellation (unlike today). So should I have named this poem Fifty ?
Parthenos (Virgo): Protrygeter (now Vindemiatrix) & Stachys (Spica)
Skorpios (Scorpius): Antares – the anti-Ares, or rival of Mars.
Kyon (Canis Major): Kyon (Sirius) – Ptolemy names both the constellation and its brightest star ‘The Dog’, even though the name Sirius (or rather, Seirios) is both Greek and older. He also thought it looked reddish, which makes no sense (and it couldn’t be the final red giant phase of Sirius B, as there would still be in evidence through lingering nubulosity).
Prokyon (Canis Minor): Prokyon (Procyon, as in pre-Kyon) which name he also gives the constellationas a whole – all two stars of it – I’ve always thought it looks more like Canis Major’s bone).
Argo: Kanobos (Canopus)
Interesting that all bar two are still non-Arabic, though only Antares survives unscathed, with a few others receiving a light Latin makeover. Surprisingly, no mention is made of the two brightest stars in Gemini being named as Castor & Pollux. These are also the names of the Twins themselves, so presumably their transfer onto the stars is later. But even more surprising is that the Greeks apparently didn’t think it worth naming Betelgeuse, Rigel or Alpha Centauri.
2 thoughts on “Forty-Eight”