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date: 07 March 2021

constellations and named starslocked

  • G. J. Toomer
  •  and Alexander Jones

Extract

From the earliest times the Greeks, like many other peoples, named certain prominent stars and groups of stars. Homer speaks of the Pleiades, the Hyades, Orion, Boötes, the Bear (‘also called the Wain’, Od. 5. 273), and the ‘Dog of Orion’ (i.e. Sirius, Il. 22. 29). Hesiod mentions all of these, and uses their heliacal risings and settings to mark the seasons and times for agricultural operations (e.g. the rising of the Pleiades for harvesting, and their setting for ploughing, Op.383–4). This traditional ‘agricultural calendar’ was elaborated and codified in the later ‘astronomical calendars’ of *Meton, *Euctemon and their successors (see astronomy). The above are the only stars and star-groups known to have been named in archaic times, and although it is likely that some of the later constellations were identified before the 4th cent. bce (*Democritus, for instance, is said to have used Lyra, Aquila, and Delphinus for calendrical purposes), the division of the whole visible sky into constellations seems not to precede *Eudoxus (1).

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