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Ancient Astronomers Imagined the Constellations

By Edited Aug 22, 2016 1 0

Arcturus and Serpens

There are 88 constellations listed in the old science of astronomy. The ancient astronomers that named them were probably referring to them as symbolic instead of literal representations. It is difficult to look in the sky and actually see a true lion figure or a big bear (Ursa Major). Instead, the imaginations of those who named the constellations was at work, and it is to the delight of the watchers of the skies to enhance the imaginings to the watcher’s cultural world view.

The list of the constellations range from mythical creatures, furniture, a microscope, a human, and more. Here is the list of the constellation (Latin name) and the English name:

  1. Andromeda - Andromeda
  2. Antlia - Air Pump
  3. Apus - Bird of Paradise
  4. Aquarius - Water Carrier
  5. Aquila - Eagle
  6. Ara - Altar
  7. Aries - Ram
  8. Auriga - Charioteer
  9. Bootes - Herdsman
  10. Caelum - Chisel
  11. Camelopardalis - Giraffe
  12. Cancer - Crab
  13. Canes Venatici - Hunting Dogs
  14. Canis Major - Big Dog
  15. Canis Minor - Little Dog
  16. Capricornus - Goat
  17. Carina - Keel
  18. Cassiopeia - Cassiopeia
  19. Centaurus - Centaur
  20. Cepheus - Cepheus
  21. Cetus - Whale
  22. Chameleon - Chameleon
  23. Circinus - Compasses
  24. Columbia - Dove
  25. Coma Berenices - Berenice’s Hair
  26. Corona Australis - Southern Crown
  27. Corona Borealis - Northern Crown
  28. Corvus - Crow
  29. Crater - Cup
  30. Crux - Crucis
  31. Cygnus - Swan
  32. Delphinius - Dolphin
  33. Dorado - Goldfish
  34. Draco - Dragon
  35. Equuleus - Little Horse
  36. Eridanus - River
  37. Fornax - Furnace
  38. Gemini - Twins
  39. Grus - Crane
  40. Hercules - Hercules
  41. Horologium - Clock
  42. Hydra - Hydra (Sea Serpent)
  43. Hydrus - Water Serpent (Male)
  44. Indus - Indian
  45. Lacerta - Lizard
  46. Leo - Lion
  47. Leo Minor - Smaller Lion
  48. Lepus - Hare
  49. Libra - Balance
  50. Lupus - Wolf
  51. Lynx - Lynx
  52. Lyra - Lyre
  53. Mensa - Table
  54. Microscopium - Microscope
  55. Monocerous - Unicorn
  56. Musca - Fly
  57. Norma - Square
  58. Octans - Octant
  59. Ophiucus - Serpent Holder
  60. Orion - Orion
  61. Pavo - Peacock
  62. Pegasus - Winged Horse
  63. Perseus - Perseus
  64. Phoenix - Phoenix
  65. Pictor - Easel
  66. Pisces - Fishes
  67. Pisces Austrinus - Southern Fish
  68. Puppis - Stern
  69. Pyxis - Compass
  70. Reticulum - Reticle
  71. Sagitta - Arrow
  72. Sagittarius - Archer
  73. Scorpius - Scorpion
  74. Sculptor - Sculptor
  75. Scutum - Shield
  76. Serpens - Serpent
  77. Sextans - Sextant
  78. Taurus - Bull
  79. Telescopium - Telescope
  80. Triangulum - Triangle
  81. Triangulum Australe - Southern Triangle
  82. Tucana - Toucan
  83. Ursa Major - Great Bear
  84. Ursa Minor - Little Bear
  85. Vela - Sails
  86. Virgo - Virgin
  87. Volans - Flying Fish
  88. Vulpecula - Fox     (cosmobrain.com)


This alphabetical list may have some unfamiliar constellations. That has to do with whether you are in the Southern or Northern Hemisphere. Anyways, it is a good reminder of Latin, and etymology. I had to look up #70 - what is reticle? According to Merriam Webster’s Tenth edition Collegiate Dictionary, it means: “a scale on transparent material (as in an optical instrument) used esp. for measuring or aiming.” It’s also interesting that those ancient astronomers imagined serpents (#’s 42, 43, and 76) more than any other creature. Even a serpent holder (#59) is a constellation.

All the star stories in the constellations are imaginings, great tellings that we can’t prove as factual. They continue to fascinate and charm humans so much that new studies are being “born.” Why not finally connect the astronomy of the celestial objects with historical remains and current cultural beliefs?

Two studies: archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy look at the role of astronomy within cultures. Ethnoastronomy is the study of contemporary native astronomies. “The sky is the same. The constructions placed upon it vary by culture. Ethnoastronomy seeks to explore and understand these constructions and their places within the larger cultural milieu. It is basic research of the most important kind for it lays a foundation for theory construction. Perhaps it is research that archaeologists cannot understand, since they are limited to the detritus of the long-gone rather than being privy to the arcane of the still- here.” (Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News)

Archaeoastronomy is more the anthropology of astronomy, the world views and role of astronomy and astronomers in their cultures. Think of Stonehenge for example. It is a historical site that is highly regarded as tying in with astronomy and it had to have some astronomers to build such configurations. Similar sites worldwide have led most to believe they are mysterious places on earth. Both the studies are realtively new and exciting interdisciplinary fields that include professional and non-professional people.

Humans continue to wonder. In the field of astronomy the wonder often turns to wander - visiting ancient observatories, flying to the moon, discovering a star (from actual wandering around the night sky with a telescope or some such instrument), and even traveling to a viewing site. There is a connected vibe from the stars to our human nature, and it is wonderful! Reach for the stars and see how much closer we really are, especially in our imaginings.

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