Plot: Aratus describes the constellations visible in the Northern Hemisphere sky, their physical and rotational relationships to each other as a way of determining the time, month and season (particularly with regard to agricultural and maritime ventures) and various other signs of foretelling the weather, including animal behaviour.
My version is the Oxford University Press volume Constellation Myths, containing both Aratus’ Phaenomena and Eratosthenes’ Catasterismi, translated by Robin Hard (ISBN 9780198716983)
My thoughts: Aratus and Eratosthenes were not even on my radar until a recent and timely post on the excellent On Bookes blog.
Constellation myths are used to describe how figures or items from mythological stories became enshrined in the Heavens, and are often ‘tacked on’ to the myths. Sometimes Zeus or another god will commemorate some mortal by creating their image in the stars, and other times the myth actually suggests the hero is changed into the constellation. Either way, Aratus assumes the reader is up on all their mythological stories and spends the bulk of his poem describing the spatial arrangement of the various constellations.
I have always found it hard to see the various figures depicted without the helpful drawing and join-the-dots efforts of more imaginative people. My favourite part is therefore the third section which describes the way to predict weather by the look of the sun and the moon, and the behaviour of birds and animals – much more my forte. Signs of bad weather include boisterous play from lambs, butting each other, springing up with all four feet in the air, and eating grass all the way home; cattle licking their front hooves, lone wolves howling, and mice squeaking louder than usual and dancing around. (You have been warned – ignore these signs at your peril)
His poem was actually used as a textbook in schools of the Ancient World, and accordingly survived the passage of the years. His successor Eratosthenes (more on him next week) did not survive as well, except as annotated copies of Aratus.
Diversions and digressions:
Catasterize : to set someone or something in the sky as a constellation (a real word – I kid you not!)
Personal rating: 4.
Kimmy’s rating: Kimmy sat politely in my lap and did not display any signs of approaching inclement weather, neither howling nor digging at the ground.
The sanity in between: Murder on the Links, Agatha Christie’s second Poirot novel. Arrrgh, will I never solve one of her mysteries?!!
Next : The poetry of Callimachus (305-240 BC), followed byThe Argonautica (Voyage of the Argo) by Apollonius of Rhodes, and finally, the companion to today’s post, Eratosthenes’ Catasterismi (Constellation Myths) to finish the literature of the Ancient Greeks.