Phaenomena Book I - ARATUS of SOLI



Definition: [Source Texts of Astrology] Aratus of Soli [c 315 - 240 BC] in Phaenomena ["Appearances"] set into verse the Phaenomena of Eudoxus [c 390 - 340 BC], a description of the risings and settings of the Greek constellations. Eudoxus' Phaenomena is lost to us, leaving Aratus poem as the first comprehensive description of the constellations which has come down to us intact. The poem is reproduced below, with modern constellation names for the various sections interpolated in bold type face [and Zodiac Constellations underlined].

Aratus' descriptions correspond to over 40 of the modern constellations. It is notable that the Zodiac Constellations were not particularly important when this work was written [they are not discussed either first or together], and that as yet Libra, the Scales, had yet to be invented. Other differences from our modern constellations include the treatment of the Pleiades as a separate constellation, whereas it is now considered part of Taurus.

Aratus does not mention any constellations from around the Southern Celestial Pole, indicating that the constellations were named by those living in the Northern Hemisphere. Various commentators have used further positional constellation evidence to conclude that the constellation-namers were the Babylonians, and that Aratus [and Eudoxus before him] was providing a Greek version of their signs.

[Book II of Aratus' Phaenomena concerned weather lore and is not reproduced here.]

Introduction: From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelibood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last.

Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men. Hail to thee and to the Elder Raced! Hail, ye Muses, right kindly, every one! But for me, too, in answer to my prayer direct all my lay, even as is meet, to tell the stars. They, all alike, many though they be and other star in other path, are drawn across the heavens always through all time continually. But the Axis shifts not a whit, but unchanging is for ever fixed, and in the midst it holds the earth in equipoise, and wheels the heaven itself around.

(1) Ursa Major, the Great Bear and (2) Ursa Minor, the Little Bear: On either side the Axis ends in two Poles, but thereof the one is not seen, whereas the other faces us in the north high above the ocean. Encompassing it two Bears wheel together—wherefore they are also called the Wains. Now they ever hold their heads each toward the flank of the other, and are borne along always shoulder-wise, turned alternate on their shoulders. If, indeed, the tale be true, from Crete they by the will of mighty Zeus entered up into heaven, for that when in olden days he played as a child in fragrant Dicton, near the hill of Ida, they set him in a cave and nurtured him for the space of a year, what time the Dictaean Curetes were deceiving Cronus. Now the one men call by name Cynosura and the other Helice. It is by Helice that the Achaeans on the sea divine which way to steer their ships, but in the other the Phoenicians put their trust when they cross the sea. But Helice, appearing large at earliest night, is bright and easy to mark; but the other is small, yet better for sailors: for in a smaller orbit wheel all her stars. By her guidance, then, the men of Sidon steer the straightest course.

(3) Draco, the Dragon: Between them, as it were the branch of a river, circles in wondrous way the Dragon, winding infinite around and about; on either side of his coil are borne along the Bears, that shun evermore the blue sea. Now towards the one he stretches the end of his tail, but with the coil he intercepts the Lesser Bear. The tip of his tail ends by the head of Helice, but in the coil Cynosura has her head. For his coil circles past her very head and comes near her feet, but again, turning back, runs upward. Not one lone star shines on his head, but on his brows are two stars lit, and two in his eyes, and one beneath is set upon the chin-point of the dread monster. Aslant is his head, and he seems most like as if he were nodding to the tip of the tail of Helice; his mouth and right temple straight confront the end of her tail. That head wheels near where the limits of setting and rising blend.

(4) Hercules: Right there in its orbit wheels a Phantom* form, like to a man that strives at a task. That sign no man knows how to read clearly, nor on what task he is bent, but men simply call him On His Knees*. Now that Phantom, that toils on his knees, seems to sit on bended knee, and from both his shoulders his hands are upraised and stretch, one this way, one that, a fathom’s length. Over the middle of the head of the crooked Dragon, he has the tip of his right foot.

*Eidolon and Engonasin respectively in Greek.

(5) Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown: Here too that Crown, which glorious Dionysus set to be memorial of the dead Ariadne, wheels beneath the back of the toil-spent Phantom.

(6) Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, (7a) Serpens Caput & (7b) Serpens Cauda, the Serpent's Head &Serpent's Tail and (8) Scorpius, the Scorpion: To the Phantom’s back the Crown is near, but by his head mark near at hand the head of Ophiuchus, and then from it you can trace the starlit Ophiuchus himself: so brightly set beneath his head appear his gleaming shoulders. They would be clear to mark even at the midmonth moon, but his hands are not at all so bright; for faint runs the gleam of stars along on this side and on that. Yet they too can be seen, for they are not feeble. Both firmly clutch the Serpent, which encircles the waist of Ophiuchus, but he, stedfast with both his feet well set, tramples a huge monster, even the Scorpion, standing upright on his eye and breast. Now the Serpent is wreathed about his two hands—a little above his right hand, but in many folds high above his left. Toward the Crown leans the Serpent’s jaw, but beneath his coiling form seek thou for the mighty Claws; they are scant of light and nowise brilliant.

(9) Boötes, the Bear Driver: Behind Helice, like to one that drives, is borne along Arctophylax whom men also call Boötes, since he seems to lay hand on the wain-like Bear. Very bright is he all; but beneath his belt wheels a star, bright beyond the others, Arcturus himself.

(10) Virgo, the Maiden: Beneath both feet of Boötes mark the Maiden, who in her hands bears the gleaming Ear of Corn*. Whether she be daughter of Astraeus, who, men say, was of old the father of the stars, or child of other sire, untroubled be her course! But another tale is current among men, how of old she dwelt on earth and met men face to face, nor ever disdained in olden time the tribes of men and women, but mingling with them took her seat, immortal though she was. Her men called Justice; but she assembling the elders, it might be in the market-place or in the wide-wayed streets, uttered her voice, ever urging on them judgements kinder to the people. Not yet in that age had men knowledge of hateful strife, or carping contention, or din of battle, but a simple life they lived. Far from them was the cruel sea and not yet from afar did ships bring their livelihood, but the oxen and the plough and Justice herself, queen of the peoples, giver of things just, abundantly supplied their every need. Even so long as the earth still nurtured the Golden Race, she had her dwelling on earth. But with the Silver Race only a little and no longer with utter readiness did she mingle, for that she yearned for the ways of the men of old. Yet in that Silver Age was she still upon the earth; but from the echoing hills at eventide she came alone, nor spake to any man in gentle words. But when she had filled the great heights with gathering crowds, then would she with threats rebuke their evil ways, and declare that never more at their prayer would she reveal her face to man.

*The star we now call Spica.

(11) Gemini, the Twins, (12) Cancer, the Crab and (13) Leo, the Lion: Beneath the head of Helice are the Twins; beneath her waist is the Crab; beneath her hind feet the Lion brightly shines. There is the Sun’s hottest summer path. Then the fields are seen bereft of corn-ears, when first the Sun comes together with the Lion. Then the roaring Etesian winds fall swooping on the vasty deep, and voyaging is no longer seasonable for oars. Then let broad-beamed ships be my choice, and let steersmen hold the helm into the wind.

(14) Auriga, the Charioteer: But if it be thy wish to mark Charioteer and his stars, and if the fame has come to thee of the Goat herself and the Kids who often on the darkening deep have seen men storm-tossed, thou wilt find him in all his might, leaning forward at the left hand of the Twins. Over against him wheels the top of Helice’s head, but on his left shoulder is set the holy Goat*, that, as legend tells, gave the breast to Zeus. Her the interpreters of Zeus call the Olenian Goat. Large is she and bright, but there at the wrist of the Charioteer faintly gleam the Kids*.

*The Goat corresponds to Alpha Aurigae, or Capella. The Goat and the Kids are now thought of as parts of the constellation Auriga.

(15) Taurus, the Bull: At the feet of Charioteer seek for the crouching horned Bull. Very lifelike are his signs; so clear defined his head: not by other sign would one mark the head of an ox, since in such wise those very stars, wheeling on either side, fashion it. Oft-spoken is their name and not all unheard-of are the Hyades. Broadcast are they on the forehead of the Bull. One star occupies the tip of his left horn and the right foot of the Charioteer, who is close by. Together they are carried in their course, but ever earlier is the Bull than the Charioteer to set beneath the West, albeit they fare together at their rising.

(16) Cepheus: Nor all unnamed shall rest the hapless family of Iasid Cepheus. For their name, too, has come unto heaven, for that they were near akin to Zeus. Cepheus himself is set behind the Bear Cynosura, like to one that stretches out both his hands. From her tail-tip to both his feet stretches a measure equal to that from foot to foot. But a little aside from his belt look to find the first coil of the mighty Dragon.

(17) Cassiopeia: Eastward his hapless wife, Cassiepeia, gleaming when by night the moon is full, wheels with her scanty stars. For few and alternate stars adorn her, which expressly mark her form with lines of light. Like the key of a twofold door barred within, wherewith men striking shoot back the bolts, so singly set shine her stars. But from her shoulders so faint she stretches a fathom’s length. Thou would’st say she was sorrowing over her daughter.

(18) Andromeda: For there, too, wheels that woeful form of Andromeda, enstarred beneath her mother. Thou hast not to wait for a night, I ween, whereon to see her more distinct! So bright is her head and so clearly marked are both the shoulders, the tips of her feet and all her belt. Yet even there she is racked, with arms stretched far apart, and even in Heaven bonds are her portion. Uplifted and outspread there for all time are those hands of hers.

(19) Pegasus, the Winged Horse: Beneath her head is spread the huge Horse, touching her with his lower belly. One common star gleams on the Horse’s navel and the crown of her head. Three other separate stars, large and bright, at equal distance set on flank and shoulders, trace a square upon the Horse. His head is not so brightly marked, nor his neck, though it be long. But the farthest star on his blazing nostril could fitly rival the former four, that invest him with such splendour. Nor is he four-footed. Parted at the navel, with only half a body, wheels in heaven the sacred Horse. He it was, men say, that brought down from lofty Helicon the bright water of bounteous Hippocrene. For not yet on Helicon’s summit trickled the fountain’s springs, but the Horse smote it and straightway the gushing water was shed abroad at the stamp of his forefoot, and herdsmen were the first to call that stream the fountain of the Horse. From the rock the water wells and never shalt thou see it far from the men of Thespiae; but the Horse himself circles in the heaven of Zeus and is there for thee to behold.

(20) Aries, the Ram: There too are the most swift courses of the Ram, who, pursued through the longest circuit, runs not a whit slower than the Bear Cynosura - himself weak and starless as on a moonlit night, but yet by the belt of Andromeda thou canst trace him out. For a little below her is he set. Midway he treads the mighty heavens, where wheel the tips of the Scorpion’s Claws and the Belt of Orion.

(21) Triangulum, the Triangle: There is also another sign, fashioned near, below Andromeda, Deltoton, drawn with three sides, whereof two appear equal but the third is less, yet very easy to find, for beyond many is it endowed with stars. Southward a little from Deltoton are the stars of the Ram.

(22) Pisces, the Fishes: Still farther in front of the Ram and still in the vestibule of the South are the Fishes. Ever one is higher than the other, and louder hears the fresh rush of the North wind. From both there stretch, as it were, chains, whereby their tails on either side are joined. The meeting chains are knit by a single beautiful and great star, which is called the Knot of Tails*. Let the left shoulder of Andromeda be thy guide to the northern Fish, for it is very near.

*Probably Alpha-Piscium, now called Alrescha, the Cord.

(23) Perseus: Her two feet will guide thee to her bridegroom, Perseus, over whose shoulder they are for ever carried. But he moves in the North a taller form than the others. His right hand is stretched toward the throne of the mother of his bride, and, as if pursuing that which lies before his feet, he greatly strides, dust-stained, in the heaven of Zeus.

(-) Pleiades: Near his left thigh move the Pleiades*, all in a cluster, but small is the space that holds them and singly they dimly shine. Seven are they in the songs of men, albeit only six are visible to the eyes. Yet not a star, I ween, has perished from the sky unmarked since the earliest memory of man, but even so the tale is told. Those seven are called by name Halcyone, Merope, Celaeno, Electra, Sterope, Taygete, and queenly Maia. Small and dim are they all alike, but widely famed they wheel in heaven at morn and eventide, by the will of Zeus, who bade them tell of the beginning of Summer and of Winter and of the coming of the ploughing-time.

* Now thought of as parts of the constellation Taurus.

(24) Lyra, the Lyre: Yonder, too, is the tiny Tortoise, which, while still beside his cradle, Hermes pierced for strings and bade it be called the Lyre: and he brought it into heaven and set it in front of the unknown Phantom. That Croucher on his Knees comes near the Lyre with his left knee, but the top of the Bird’s head wheels on the other side, and between the Bird’s head and the Phantom’s knee is enstarred the Lyre.

(25) Cygnus, the Swan: For verily in heaven there is outspread a glittering Bird. Wreathed in mist is the Bird, but yet the parts above him are rough with stars, not very large, yet not obscure. Like a bird in joyous flight, with fair weather it glides to the west, with the tip of its right wing outstretched towards the right hand of Cepheus, and by its left wing is hung in the heavens the prancing Horse.

(26) Aquarius, the Water Bearer and (27) Capricornus, the Sea Goat: Round the prancing Horse range the two Fishes. By the Horse’s head is stretched the right hand of Hydrochous*. He is behind Aegoceros, who is set in front and further down, where the mighty Sun turns. In that month use not the open sea lest thou be engulfed in the waves. Neither in the dawn canst thou accomplish a far journey, for fast to evening speed the dawns; nor at night amid thy fears will the dawn draw earlier near, though loud and instant be thy cry. Grievous then is the crashing swoop of the South winds when the Sun joins Aegoceros*, and then is the frost from heaven hard on the benumbed sailor. Not but that throughout the year’s length the sea ever grows dark beneath the keels, and, like to diving seagulls, we often sit, spying out the deep from our ship with faces turned to the shore; but ever farther back the shores are swept by the waves and only a thin plank staves off Death.

* Aquarius and Capricornus, respectively. These are the Greek names.

(28) Sagittarius, the Archer: But even in the previous month, storm-tossed at sea, when the Sun scorches the Bow and the Wielder of the Bow, trust no longer in the night but put to shore in the evening. Of that season and that month let the rising of Scorpion at the close of night be a sign to thee. For verily his great Bow does the Bowman draw close by the Scorpion’s sting, and a little in front stands the Scorpion at his rising, but the Archer rises right after him. Then, too, at the close of night Cynosura’s head runs very high, but Orion just before the dawn wholly sets and Cepheus from hand to waist.

(29) Sagitta, the Arrow and (30) Aquila, the Eagle: Further up there is another Arrow shot—alone without a bow. By it is the Bird outspread nearer the North, but hard at hand another bird tosses in storm, of smaller size but cruel in its rising from the sea when the night is waning, and men call it the Eagle (Storm-bird).

(31) Orion, the Hunter: Now these constellations lie between the North and the Sun’s wandering path, but others many in number rise beneath between the South and the Sun’s course. Aslant beneath the fore-body of the Bull is set the great Orion. Let none who pass him spread out on high on a cloudless night imagine that, gazing on the heavens, one shall see other stars more fair.

(32) Canis Major, the Greater Dog: Such a guardian, too, beneath his towering back is seen to stand on his hind legs, the Dog star-enwrought, yet not clearly marked in all his form, but right by his belly he shows dark. The tip of his terrible jaw is marked by a star that keenest of all blazes with a searing flame and him men call Seirius*. When he rises with the Sun, no longer do the trees deceive him by the feeble freshness of their leaves. For easily with his keen glance he pierces their ranks, and to some he gives strength but of others he blights the bark utterly. Of him too at his setting are we aware, but the other stars of the Dog are set round with fainter light to mark his legs.

* Now Sirius, the Scorcher, Alpha Canis Majoris.

(33) Lepus, the Hare: Beneath both feet of Orion is the Hare pursued continually through all time, while Seirius behind is for ever borne as in pursuit. Close behind he rises and as he sets he eyes the setting Hare.

(34-37) Argo*: Beside the tail of the Great Dog the ship Argo* is hauled stern-foremost. For not hers is the proper course of a ship in motion, but she is borne backwards, reversed even as real ships, when already the sailors turn the stern to the land as they enter the haven, and every one back-paddles the ship, but she rushing sternward lays hold of the shore. Even so is the Argo of Jason borne along stern-foremost. Partly in mist is she borne along, and starless from her prow even to the mast, but the hull is wholly wreathed in light. Loosed is her Rudder and is set beneath the hind feet of the Dog, as he runs in front.

* In modern constellations Argo has been split into four constellations: Carina, Puppis, Vela and Pyxis.

(38) Cetus, the Whale: Andromeda, though she cowers a good way off, is pressed by the rush of the mighty Monster of the Sea. For her path lies under the blast of Thracian Boreas, but the South wind drives against her, beneath the Ram and the Pair of Fishes, the hateful Monster, Cetus, set as he is a little above the Starry River.

(39) Eridanus, the River: For alone are those poor remains of Eridanus, River of many tears, also borne beneath the feet of the Gods. He winds beneath Orion’s left foot, but the Shackles, wherewith the Fishes’ tails are held, reach from their tails and join together, and behind the neck of Cetus they mingle their path and fare together. They end in a single star of Cetus, set where meet his spine and head.

(-) Nameless stars beneath the Hare: Other stars, mean in size and feeble in splendour, wheel between the Rudder of Argo and Cetus, and beneath the grey Hare’s sides they are set without a name. For they are not set like the limbs of a fashioned figure, such as, many in number, fare in order along their constant paths, as the years are fulfilled—stars, which someone of the men that are no more noted and marked how to group in figures and call all by a single name. For it had passed his skill to know each single star or name them one by one. Many are they on every hand and of many the magnitudes and colours are the same, while all go circling round. Wherefore he deemed fit to group the stars in companies, so that in order, set each by other, they might form figures. Hence the constellations got their names, and now no longer does any star rise a marvel from beneath the horizon. Now the other stars are grouped in clear figures and brightly shine, but those beneath the hunted Hare are all clad in mist and nameless in their course.

(40) Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish: Below Aegoceros before the blasts of the South wind swims a Fish, facing Cetus, alone and apart from the former Fishes; and him men call the Southern Fish.

(-) The Water: Other stars, sparsely set beneath Hydrochoüs, hang on high between Cetus in the heavens and the Fish, dim and nameless, and near them on the right hand of bright Hydrochous, like some sprinkled drops of water lightly shed on this side and on that, other stars wheel bright-eyed though weak. But among them are borne two of more lustrous form, not far apart and yet not near: one beneath both feet of Hydrochoüs, a goodly star and bright, the other beneath the tail of dark-blue Cetus. This cluster as a whole men call The Water*. But others low beneath the forefeet of the Archer (Centaur), turned in a circled ring, go wheeling round the sky.

* In modern constellations it seems that this region corresponds to part of Aquarius.

Translation originally placed on the internet at


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