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Argo Navis – Puppis

Etymology – The Stern

Pronunciation: PUP-is

Also known as: The Stern or Poop Deck

Argo Navis – Obsolete Constellation

The name Argo Navis is the name of a now-obsolete constellation, it had long been known and observed by the ancient Greeks and other stargazers. For the Greeks and much of the Western World, the Argo Navis is associated with the story of Jason and the Argonauts

Early modern astronomers simply referred to this constellation as Navis. This constellation was rather large, taking up much of the southern sky. By the time we get to 1752, French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille decided to divide the Argo Navis into three smaller constellations of Carina, Puppis, and Vela. The final, breaking up Argo Navis into smaller constellations came in 1841 and 1844 by Sir John Herschel.  In 1930, the IAU officially acknowledged this break up with the formalization of the 88 modern constellations used. Puppis is the largest of the three newish appointed constellations, it does represent the bulk of the ship for the ship, The Argos.

The constellation Pyxis, the compass locates an area of the night sky near the mast of the Argo Navis. Some scholars will include and say it was part of the Argo Navis, others will point out that magnetic compasses were not known or used by the ancient Greeks. Lacaille thought of Pyxis as separate from the Argo Navis. Herschel proposed Pyxis be formalized as part of a new constellation, Malus in 1844 to replace Lacaille’s Pyxis.

Had Argo Navis not been divided up, it would be the largest constellation in the night sky. Nowadays, Hydra claims that spot as the largest constellation.

The First Ship?

Going by Greek mythology and history, Eratosthenes said that Argo Navis represented the first-ever ocean ship built. Even the later Roman writer Manilius agreed with that idea. Those paying attention to the mythology are quick to point out that this distinction belongs to the myth or story of Danaus as building the first ship. Danaus is the father of the 50 Danaids and with the help of the goddess Athena, set sail to Argos from Libya.

Western Astronomy

The constellation known as Puppis is one of three constellations that make up the Argo Navis and once one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Ptolemy describes the Argo Navis as sitting in the night sky between Canis Major and Centaurus. He goes on to describe asterisms for the “little shield,” the “steering-oar,” the “mast-holder,” and the “stern-ornament.” With the appearance of moving backward through the heavens, the Greek poet and historian Aratus calls the Argo Navis as “Argo by the Great Dog’s tail drawn,” referring to Canis Major. Today Puppis is one of the 88 current or modern constellations. The Puppis constellation is found in a region of the sky called “The Sea” with other water-based constellations of Aquarius, Capricornus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, and Pisces.

As Argo Navis, Puppis would appear along the southern horizon in the Mediterranean during winter and spring when the ship appears to be sailing along the Milky Way. Due to the equinox precessions over the millennia, Carina, Puppis, and Vela are no longer easily seen from the northern hemisphere. It is 20th largest constellation found in the night sky and is best seen during the month of February. Bordering constellations to Puppis are Carina, Canis Major, Columba, Hydra, Monoceros, Pictor, Pyxis, and Vela.

Nowadays, only the stern of the Argo can be seen in the night sky. Cartographers have tried explaining this by saying that’s because the prow has vanished into a bank of mist or the other half has passed through the Clashing Rocks. Mythographers like Robert Graves said the missing prow is due to when Jason returned to Corinth and while sitting beneath the rotting ship, the prow fell off, killing the hero. That’s when Poseidon is to have placed the ship up in the heavens.

Chinese Astronomy

There are portions of two ancient Chinese constellations within modern-day Puppis. The sources differ and don’t agree on which stars are which as this could change too with time.

Tianshe – This constellation represents an altar or temple to the Earth god Julong. One source places the stars Puppis Pi, Nu, and four fainter ones as forming this constellation. Another source pulls one star from Carina and one star from Vela with four stars from Puppis forming the constellation. A third source places this constellation as being fully within Vela.

Hushi – The bow and arrow. One source has Xi Puppis marking the north end of the bow with the rest of the stars found within Canis Major to form this constellation. Another source has the bow become a larger figure, taking five stars from Puppis to form it, though which five stars those are is not agreed on.

Stars of Puppis

It’s of note that neither Puppis nor Vela has stars designated as Alpha or Beta as those stars are found within the Carina constellation.

Nosaxa – Has the designation HD 48265 from the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Tislit – Has the designation WASP-161 from the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Pi Puppis – Also known as Ahadi it is the second brightest star and more accurately, a binary star in the constellation.

Rho Puppis – Also known as Tureis, it is the third brightest star in the constellation.

Xi Puppis – Also known as Azmidi. It is a yellow supergiant.

Zeta Puppis – Also known as Naos from the Greek language meaning “ship.” Another name is Suhail Hadar from the Arabic phrase meaning “the roaring bright one.” It is the brightest star in the Puppis constellation. It is a hot blue supergiant star and one of a few O-class stars that can be seen without binoculars.

Skull & Crossbones Nebula

Also known as NGC 2467, this is a star-forming region of space with large hydrogen clouds within the Puppis constellation.

Calabash Nebula

Also known as OH 231.84 +4.22 and Rotten Egg Nebula, it is a protoplanetary nebula.

NGC 2440

This planetary nebula gets special mention as it is referenced in the Battlestar Galactical series, episode “Crossroads: Part II” where it is one of the major markers on the trek to Earth. Another nebula shown in that episode is the Ionian Nebula which looks similar to NG 2440 but is actually the remains of a supernova.

Heavenly Waters Family

The constellation of Puppis belongs to the Heavenly Water Family. Other constellations included in this group are Carina, Columba, Delphinus, Equuleus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, Pyxis, and Vela.

Puppids

There are three meteor showers associated with the Puppis constellation. These are the Pi Puppids that occurs between April 15th and April 28th every five years, the Zeta Puppids that occurs between May 20th and July 5th, and the Puppid-Velids that occur between December 1st and December 15th.

Jason & The Argonauts – Part 2

Cybele’s Home

In a Roman self-insert and connection, the Argonauts continue on to where the goddess Cybele lives, spending some time there before going on.

Giant Encounter!

Next on their journey, the Argo stopped along the northern coast of Asia Minor where they encountered the fearsome giant Amycus. This giant would challenge everyone passing by. The twins Castor and Pollux succeeded at subduing Amycus and tie him up to a tree with arms outspread.

The Island of Salmydessus

After Amycus’ defeat, the Argonauts continued on this time to Salmydessus where King Phineus lived. Phineus had once been able to see the future but had found himself blinded in punishment by the gods for abusing his powers. Now every time that Phineus tried to eat, giant birds known as Harpies would come and steal all of his food.

By the time the Argonauts arrived, poor Phineus was near starved. The heroes quickly offered to help and sat as guests at Phineus’ table awaiting the birds’ arrival. When the harpies came, the heroes tried to fight them. Due to the iron wings of the Harpies, they were not successful, not until Calais and Zetes flew up from their seats and pursued the harpies. The two chased after the harpies until the birds’ fells from exhaustion into the sea below. Phineus was so grateful for the Argonauts’ help that he told them of the clashing rock cliffs known as the Symplegades.

Symplegades – The Clashing Rocks

Forewarned with the knowledge of these cliffs from Phineus, the Argo sailed on to where these clashing rocks guarded the entrance to the Black Sea, sliding in and out to crush ships trying to pass between them.

As the Argo rowed parallel to the Bosporus (strait of Istanbul), the Argonauts could hear the clashing of the Symplegades. As the Argonauts watched the rocks clash, they decided to release a dove to see how it fared passing through the rocks. As the dove flew, the crew watched as the rocks rapidly clashed together, narrowly catching the tail feathers.

Seeing this, the Argonauts now knew how fast they needed to row and to do it with all their might. As they rowed, Orpheus pulled out his lyre and began to play, slowing down the progression of the Symplegades as they came crashing together. The Symplegades clashed together for what would be the last time, managing to crush the mascot from the Argo’s stern. With the Argo being the first ship to ever get past the Symplegades, the clashing rocks ceased their motion, never moving again. For its deed, the goddess Athena set the dove up into the heavens as the constellation Columbia which can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere.

Safely through, the Argo continued on its journey to Colchis.

Sidenote: Bulfinch’s Mythology says it is on the Island of Lemnos where they find Phineus and that the Symplegades are a pair of floating, rocky islands that clash together.

The Calydonian Boar

This was the next adventure for the Argonauts, having a stop in Calydon. The goddess Artemis has sent a massive, wild boar to attack the people when they failed to give the proper sacrifices to her. This is where Atlanta was able to shine with her archery skills when she slew the massive boar.

Arrival In Colchis

The Argo finally arrived at Colchis and when King Aeetes received his guests, he became very upset on hearing the purpose of their visit. Aeetes would not easily give up the Golden Fleece. He informed the Argonauts that they could have the fleece, but they would need to perform some tasks first.

King Aeetes had been given several dragon’s teeth by the goddess Athena. King Aeetes thought he would be given an impossible task. Jason was to yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls and plow a field to sow the dragon’s teeth and slay all the arising Spartoi from them before the end of the day.

This would not be an easy task, the fire-breathing bulls were a pair of metallic bulls constructed by the god Hephaestus. Making the task more daunting is that the bulls had never been tamed or yoked for doing farm labor before.

A Little Divine Help & Love

Making this task easier, is that Medea, King Aeetes daughter, fell in love with Jason thanks to the influence of Aphrodite. Jason went so far as to promise her marriage and the two stood before the altar of Hecate so the goddess could witness their oaths. The vows said Medea gave Jason a potion that would make him immune to fire and freezing cold. Jason needed only to rub it all over his face, hands, and body.

Taming The Bulls

Come the next morning, King Aeetes, Medea, and various members of the court arrived at the field to watch. Taking the potion, Jason rubbed it all over himself before entering the stable where the bulls were kept and grabbed each with one hand on a horn before dragging them out. The beast bellowed in rage, fire erupting out from them. As the bulls struggled, Jason yoked them both to a heavy iron plow. A bit more struggling and Jason had them both subdued. When Jason would later unyoke the two bulls, they took off for the mountains never to return.

To Be Continued…

Argo Navis – Carina for Part 1

Argo Navis – Vela for Part 3

Argo Navis – Carina

Etymology – The Keel

Pronunciation: kuh-REE-nuh

Also known as: Ἀργώ (Greek for the Argo Navis)

Argo Navis – Obsolete Constellation

The name Argo Navis is the name of a now-obsolete constellation, it had long been known and observed by the ancient Greeks and other stargazers. For the Greeks and much of the Western World, the Argo Navis is associated with the story of Jason and the Argonauts

Early modern astronomers simply referred to this constellation as Navis. This constellation was rather large, taking up much of the southern sky. By the time we get to 1763, French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille decided to divide the Argo Navis into three smaller constellations of Carina, Puppis, and Vela. This final, breaking up Argo Navis into smaller constellations came in 1841 and 1844 by Sir John Herschel.  In 1930, the IAU officially acknowledged this break up with the formalization of the 88 modern constellations used. While Carina is the smallest of the three newish appointed constellations, it does represent the bulk of the ship, The Argo.

The constellation Pyxis, the compass locates an area of the night sky near the mast of the Argo Navis. Some scholars will include and say it was part of the Argo Navis, others will point out that magnetic compasses were not known or used by the ancient Greeks. Lacaille thought of Pyxis as separate from the Argo Navis. Herschel proposed Pyxis be formalized as part of a new constellation, Malus in 1844 to replace Lacaille’s Pyxis.

Had Argo Navis not been divided up, it would be the largest constellation in the night sky. Nowadays, Hydra claims that spot as the largest constellation.

The First Ship?

Going by Greek mythology and history, Eratosthenes said that Argo Navis represented the first-ever ocean ship built. Even the later Roman writer Manilius agreed with that idea. Those paying attention to the mythology are quick to point out that this distinction belongs to the myth or story of Danaus as building the first ship. Danaus is the father of the 50 Danaids and with the help of the goddess Athena, set sail to Argos from Libya.

Western Astronomy

The constellation known as Carina is one of three constellations that make up the Argo Navis and once one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Ptolemy describes the Argo Navis as sitting in the night sky between Canis Major and Centaurus. He goes on to describe asterisms for the “little shield,” the “steering-oar,” the “mast-holder,” and the “stern-ornament.” With the appearance of moving backward through the heavens, the Greek poet and historian Aratus calls the Argo Navis “Argo by the Great Dog’s tail drawn,” referring to Canis Major. Today Carina is one of the 88 current or modern constellations. The Carina constellation is found in a region of the sky called “The Sea” with other water-based constellations of Aquarius, Capricornus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, and Pisces.

As Argo Navis, Carina would appear along the southern horizon in the Mediterranean during winter and spring, where the ship appears to be sailing along the Milky Way. Due to the equinox precessions over the millennia, Carina, Puppis, and Vela are no longer easily seen from the northern hemisphere. Carina is the 34th largest constellation found in the night sky and best seen during the month of March. Bordering constellations to Carina are Centaurus, Chamaeleon, Musca, Pictor, Puppis, Vela, and Volans.

Nowadays, only the stern of the Argo can be seen in the night sky. Cartographers have tried explaining this by saying that’s because the prow has vanished into a bank of mist or the other half has passed through the Clashing Rocks. Mythographers like Robert Graves said the missing prow is due to when Jason returned to Corinth and while sitting beneath the rotting ship, the prow fell off, killing the hero. That’s when Poseidon is to have placed the ship up in the heavens.

Chinese Astronomy

In northern China, the constellation of Carina can barely be seen.

The star Canopus is identified as the south polar star and the Star of the Old Man. This Old Man of the South Pole is the deified version of the star in Taoism, the symbol of longevity and happiness. This star is also associated with the Vermilion Bird of the South or Nán Fāng Zhū Què. With access to Western star charts, the rest of the stars were classified by Xu Guanggi during the Ming Dynasty and placed with The Southern Asterisms or Jìnnánjíxīngōu.

The star Eta Carinae is sometimes called Tseen She or “Heaven’s Altar”

Egyptian Astronomy

It is thought perhaps that the ancient Greeks got their constellation of Argo Navis from the Egyptians circa 1000 B.C.E. Plutarch makes mention of the “Boat of Osiris” that the god Osiris would travel in as he traveled the lands of the dead.

Mesopotamian Astronomy

Other scholars had suggested that the Greeks got the myth of the Argo Navis from Sumerian myths, specifically the Epic of Gilgamesh. Due to the lack of evidence, this idea is discarded.

Polynesian Astronomy

The Maori of New Zealand called this group of stars by several names. Te Waka-o-Tamarereti or “canoe of Tamarereti,” Te Kohi-a-Autahi, an expression meaning “cold of Autumn settling down on the land and water,” and Te Kohi.

The star Canopus is called Ariki or “High-Born” by the Maori and Ke Alii-o-kona-i-ka-lewa” or “The Chief of the Southern Expanse” by the Hawaiians. Due to Canopus’ seeming solitary nature and being the last star seen before sunrise, it is also known as Atutahi, “First Light” or “Single Light, the Tuamotu Te Tau-rari. Marere-te-tavahi or “He who stands alone” by the Maori. There are also the names Kapae-poto for “Short horizon” and Kauanga for “Solitary.”

Vedic Astronomy

In India, people saw this constellation as “the Boat.”

Stars of Carina

Alpha Carinae – Also known as Canopus, it is the second brightest star in the night sky behind Sirius. It is a white supergiant star located some 313 lightyears from the Earth. The name Canopus is the Latinized spelling for the Greek Kanobos who the pilot of King Menlaus’ fleet of ships. This star is seen as the rudder, steering the ship across the night sky. Canopus is also the namesake city for where he died along the northern coast of Egypt on their way home from Troy. Menelaus founded the city there in his pilot’s honor. It was known as the star of Osiris was worshipped by many ancient cultures. It is the star used by Posidonus in Alexandria, in 260 B.C.E. to plot out the degrees of the Earth’s surface. Additionally, Canopus is the star that modern spacecraft use for celestial navigation.

Beta Carinae – Also known as Miaplacidus is a blue-white star. It is the second brightest star in the Carina constellation. The name Miaplacidus means “placid waters” and comes from the Arabic word miyah for waters and the Latin word placidus for placid.

Epsilon Carinae – Also known as Avior, it gained this name in 1930. It is published in a navigational almanac that the British Royal Air Force uses for navigating.

Eta Carinae – Also known as Foramen and Tseen She (“Heaven’s Altar” in Chinese). A prominent variable star has approximately 100 solar masses and is 4 million times as bright as the Sun. It was discovered by Edmond Halley in 1677. Eta Carinae is located inside the Carina Nebula. Eta Carinae is also a binary star. Because of the activity or outbursts that this star has shown, it is expected to go supernova or hypernova in the next million years or so.

Iota Carinae – Also known as Aspidiske, Turais, and Scutulum, all meaning “shield” in Greek, Arabic and Latin. Iota Carinae is part of the False Cross asterism.

Theta Carinae – This star forms part of the Diamond Cross asterism. It is also part of a cluster of stars sometimes called the Southern Pleiades as they look very similar to the Pleiades asterism found in Taurus.

Upsilon Carinae – Also known as Vathorz Prior from the Old Norse-Latin words meaning “Preceding One of the Waterline.” It is part of the Diamond Cross asterism.

Diamond Cross

This is an asterism found within Carina, that while larger than the Southern Cross constellation, is fainter. The stars Beta, Theta, Upsilon, and Omega Carinae form this asterism.

False Cross

This is an asterism often confused for the Southern Cross constellation. The stars Iota Carinae and Epsilon Carinae along with two stars each from Kappa, Vela, Velorum, and Delta Velorum make up this asterism.

The Southern Pleiades

Also known as the Theta Carinae Cluster. The brightest star within this cluster is Theta Carinae. This cluster is called the Southern Pleiades because it resembles the Pleides of the Taurus constellation. It was by Lacaille in 1751.

Carina Nebula

Also called NGC 3372, this is the nebula that Carina got its name from when French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille discovered it in 1751. The Carina Nebula contains several nebulae within it. It covers a region of space that is some 8,000 light-years away and 300 light-years wide. The central region of the Carina Nebula is covered by another, smaller Nebula called the Keyhole Nebula.

Keyhole Nebula

Covering the central part of the Carina Nebula, the Keyhole Nebula or Keyhole appears as a dark cloud with bright filaments of fluorescent gas. The Keyhole Nebula is roughly seven light-years wide. It was described in 1847 by John Herschel and it got its name from Emma Converse who named it the Keyhole in 1873.

Homunculus Nebula

This is a planetary nebula that can be seen by the naked eye and has the erratic Eta Carinae star within it. The word Homunculus means “little man” in Latin.

Wishing Well Cluster

Also known as NGC 3532, this open cluster of stars gets it name as when seen through a telescope, the stars appear like coins tossed into a Wishing Well. Speaking of telescopes, the Wishing Well Cluster was the first object observed by Hubble Space Telescope. This cluster can be found between the Crux constellation and the False Cross asterism.

Heavenly Waters Family

The constellation of Carina belongs to the Heavenly Water Family. Other constellations included in this group are Columba, Delphinus, Equuleus, Eridanus, Piscis Austrinus, Puppis, Pyxis, and Vela.

Carinids

There are two meteor showers associated with the Carina constellation, they are the Alpha Carinids and the Eta Carinids which occur between January 14th and 27th each year. The Eta Carinids was first discovered in 1961 in Australia.

Jason & The Argonauts – Part 1

This is the myth that is identified with the Argo Navis by the ancient Greeks. The constellation represents the 50-oared galley that Jason and his crew sailed when heading off to Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece. The kingdom of Colchis was located somewhere near the eastern shores of the Black Sea in modern-day Georgia. This Golden Fleece is the fleece from the Golden Ram forming the constellation of Aries. The same Golden Ram that flew Nephele’s children, Helle (who fell off on the way) and Phryxus to safety in Colchis.

Apollonius Rhodius is the ancient Greek poet and scholar who wrote the Argonautica chronicling the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts that we know this epic from. Apollonius describes the Argo as the finest ship that ever sailed, she would ride before the wind when her crew pulled at the oars.

Now, to start the story proper, it begins with Jason’s grandfather, King Athamas of Boeotia. When Athamas died, his eldest son Aeson was to inherit the throne. The younger son, Pelias held other plans. Aeson was a pacifist and abdicated the throne to Pelias’ ambitions on the condition that when his son, Jason reached his majority, the throne was to be returned to him.

Shortly after ascending to the throne, an oracle approached Pelias and warned him that Aeson’s son would retake the throne by force. This same oracle also told Pelias to beware of the man with one sandal.

Pelias couldn’t do anything about the later prophecy, but he could do something about the former. He sent his soldiers to go kill his nephew. Before the soldiers ever arrived, Athamas had already sent his son, Jason on to learn from the centaur Chiron. So, when the soldiers did come, Athamas informed them that Jason was dead and the soldiers returned to Pelias to relay the news.

Years later, Chiron told Jason of what happened between his father and uncle. Angry, Jason headed home to right some wrongs. Aeson was more than happy to see his son again and after that bit of family reunion, Jason set off to confront his uncle.

While on his way to Boeotia, Jason needed to cross a river. An old woman greeted Jason, asking him to help her across. Jason agreed and as he carried the old woman, he lost one of his sandals. In some accounts, this old woman is the goddess Hera in disguise, aiding Jason on his quest and forcing a prophecy to be self-fulling.

Thus, Jason entered Boeotia with only one sandal. Seeing the youth with only one sandal, reminded Pelias of the prophecy given to him years ago and he became worried. Jason requests an audience with Pelias, demanding that the throne be given back to him.

Seeking to postpone the inevitable, a worried Pelias says that he will give up the throne only if Jason can prove himself by bringing back the Golden Fleece in Colchis. Pelias tells Jason that this golden fleece is rightly theirs. Secretly, Pelias hoped this quest would prove futile. Either Jason would die along the way on the 2,000-mile journey or get lost.

Building The Ship

Such a voyage would require a ship to undertake it. Jason enlisted the services of Argus to construct this vessel. The gods had a vested interest in this journey as well and the goddess Athena supervised Argus as he built the ship with timber from nearby Mount Pelion brought down to the port of Pagasae.

For the prow of the ship, Athena used an oak beam from the oracle of Zeus at Dodona. By the time Argus finished the ship, this oak beam allowed the Argo to speak, calling out for action. Jason would take with him, 50 of the greatest Greek heroes.

The Argonauts

These are some of the more notable crew. Sometimes the names can vary slightly, notably if Atlanta will be listed as part of the crew.

Argus – The shipwright and name’s sake of the Argos

Jason

Atlanta – An archer and the only woman on the crew

Castor & Polydeuces – Twins

Calais & Zetes – The sons of the North Wind

Glaucus – The Argo’s helmsman

Orpheus – One of the greatest musicians of the Greek era.

Heracles – The strongest man alive in ancient Greece, taking a break from his Twelve Labors.

Nestor

Theseus – Slayer of the Minotaur

Launching The Argo

If there was one flaw to Argus’ ability as a shipwright, it is that the Argo was too heavy that they could move the ship into the water. Enter stage right, Orpheus who played his lyre as he sang, that the oak beam of the Argo’s bow began to move, taking the whole ship into the water.

Visiting The Mentor

As the Argonauts sailed, the ship passed near Mount Pelion, where Chiron lived. Jason decided to visit his old mentor and the crew spent a night resting there. To help Jason and the Argonauts on their quest, Chiron placed a likeness of himself up in the heavens. One version of the story says that this constellation is Sagittarius, though scholars will disagree and say that it is the constellation Centaurus that represents Chiron. Either way, throughout his journey, Jason would speak with Chiron through the stars of this constellation.

Hercules’ Departure

As the Argo sailed, they reached a point where they needed to resupply their stores of freshwater. Hercules and Hylas were the two who volunteered to go ashore and get more water. After a bit of searching, the two found a well and as they were pulling water up, Hylas was suddenly pulled down by the naiads living there. It is here that Hercules parted ways with the Argonauts as he decided to try and find a way to rescue Hylas.

Side Note: An old 1963 Ray Harryhaussen movie for Jason and the Argonauts sees Hercules and Hylas encountering a giant statue named Talos that attacks everyone when they take some treasure.

To Be Continued…

Argo Navis – Puppis for Part 2

Argo Navis – Vela for Part 3

Cassiopeia

Etymology – Unknown

Also Known As: The Queen

Alternate Spellings: Κασσιόπεια, Κασσιέπεια, Κασσιόπη, Casseipeia, Kassiope, Kassiopeia, Kassiepeia.

Pronunciation: kas-ee-oh-pee’-uh

In Greek mythology, Cassiopeia is the name of a few different women, all of whom were Queens for their respective country and area. For the constellation, Cassiopeia refers to Queen of Andromeda and Perseus fame.

As punishment from Poseidon for her vanity and haughtiness, Cassiopeia is described as being a chained woman in a throne or a Queen in her throne holding a mirror to represent her vanity.

In more modern times, the Cassiopeia constellation is known as the Celestial “W” and Celestial “M” all depending on which way you’re looking at the W Asterism that characterizes this constellation.

The image represented in this constellation, shows Cassiopeia tied or chained to a chair as she circles the Pole Star where she can sometimes appear to be going headfirst into the water as part of her punishment and hubris with the god Poseidon. Other depictions of Cassiopeia will show her holding a mirror to symbolize her vanity and in other depictions she is holding a palm leaf whose symbolism has been lost.

Parentage

Father – Coronus, a mortal, since there is more than one Coronus, it’s not clear which one is to be her father.

Mother – Zeuxo, an Oceanid.

In his Dionysiaca, Nonnus refers to Cassiopeia as a nymph, which given her parentage could accurate or it just refers to Cassiopeia’s beauty.

Story Of Perseus

In Greek story of Perseus, Cassiopea was the Queen of Acrisios or Aethiopia, the wife of King Cepheus and the mother to Andromeda.

The story begins when Cassiopea starts bragging about how Andromeda is more beautiful than the Nereids. This kind of attitude of extreme arrogance and pride, especially when a person claims being better than the gods, creates what’s known as hubris.

Offended by Cassiopeia’s remarks, the Nereids approached Poseidon and complained, asking him to punish this mortal woman. Poseidon agreed and he sent a flood as well as the sea monster Cetus (or Kraken) to destroy the coastline of Aethiopia.

After consulting with the oracle of Ammon (identified by the Greeks with Zeus,) located at an oasis near Siwa in the Libyan desert, Cepheus is told that he would be able to end the destruction of his country by giving up his daughter Andromeda in sacrifice to Cetus. At the urging of his people, Cepheus had Andromeda chained to a rock by the sea to await her fate.

Luck was with Andromeda, for the hero Perseus is flying by on the Pegasus and on seeing her, he flew down to ask her why she was bound to the rocks. Andromeda told her story to the hero Perseus.

After hearing the story, Perseus went to Cepheus, saying he could save Andromeda from the sea monster and that in return, he wanted her hand in marriage. Cepheus tells Perseus that he could have what he wanted.

At that, Perseus then, depending on the accounts given, pulled his sword and found a weak spot in the scales of the sea monster Cetus or he used the severed head of Medusa to turn the monster to stone.

In either event, the monster is slain, Perseus saves Andromeda and a grateful Cepheus and Cassiopeia welcomed them to a feast where the two are married.

The story doesn’t completely end there as it seems Andromeda had also been promised to her uncle Phineus to marry. This wouldn’t have been disputed or contested if Phineus had been the one to save Andromeda and slay Cetus himself. So Phineus picks a fight with Perseus about his right to marry Andromeda at the wedding.

After slaying a Gorgon and a Sea Monster, a mere mortal man is no challenge for Perseus who once again pulls out Medusa’s head and turns Phineus to stone. Given variations of the story, sometimes this is when Cepheus and Cassiopeia are also turned to stone when they accidentally look at the gorgon’s severed head. Another variation to the story, is that Cassiopeia is turned to stone when she objects to Perseus and Andromeda’s marriage. With Phineus now dead, Andromeda accompanies Perseus back to his home Tiryns in Argos where they eventually founded the Perseid dynasty.

Some accounts give that Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons and two daughters. Others place this count a little differently saying its seven children all together, six sons and one daughter. Most accounts agree that the eldest son, Perses founds his own kingdom and becomes the ancestor to the kings of Persia. A variation to this account is that Perses was adopted by his grandfather Cepheus and named heir to the throne.

Eventually, years later, as the major figures of the story died and passed away, the goddess Athena placed Cepheus and the others up into the heavens as constellations to immortalize and commemorate this story.

Further, it is the god Poseidon who places both Cepheus and Cassiopeia up into heavens to become constellations, explicitly as punishment.

The price for hubris, still another version for the ending of the story still has Cassiopeia punished for her bragging by being chained to her throne to forever circle the North Star. This is why she can sometimes be seen upside down in the heavens as a warning to others.

Hyginus’ Account – By his account, Cepheus’ brother is Agenor who confronts Perseus as he was the one to whom Andromeda had been promised in marriage. So, this is who Perseus ends up killing instead of Phineus.

Clash Of The Titans – In the original 1981 movie, the actress Siân Phillips plays Cassiopeia. This version of Cassiopeia is never punished by Poseidon and it is the goddess Thetis who states that Andromeda will be given to the Kraken. The 2010 remake sees Polly Walker play Cassiopeia and this character is aged rapidly to death by the god Hades.

Aethiopia or Ethiopia?

The accounts can vary and much of this owes to some lack of clarity among the ancient Greek Scholars and Historians. Homer is the first to have used the term Aethiopia in his Iliad and Odyssey. Greek historian Herodotus uses the name Aethiopia to describe all of the inhabited lands south of Egypt. The name also features in Greek mythology, where it is sometimes associated with a kingdom said to be seated at Joppa, (what would-be modern-day Tel-Aviv) or it is placed elsewhere in Asia Minor such as Lybia, Lydia, the Zagros Mountains and even India.

Modern day Ethopia is located on the horn of Africa and has some tentative ties to the legend of Andromeda. The Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived around 300 BCE called Egypt’s Kushite dynasty the “Aethiopian dynasty.” And with the translation of the Hebrew Bible or Torah into Greek around 200 BCE, the Hebrew usage of “Kush” and Kushite” became the Greek “Aethiopia” and “Aethiopians.” This again changes later to the modern English use of “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopians” with the arrival of the King James Bible.

Given the way that Countries, Empires, Kingdoms and Nations rise and fall, expand and shrink, it’s very well possible that both Aethiopia and Ethiopia are one and the same and that modern-day Tel-Aviv once known as Joppa (Jaffa) may have once been part of Ethiopia. Some sources cite Joppa as having been a city of Phoenicia. There is a lot of history that has been lost to the sands of time that can only be guessed at and speculated upon.

Western Astronomy

The constellation known as Cassiopeia is one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Today it remains as one of the 88 current or modern constellations. Cassiopeia is the 25th largest constellation in the night sky. Bordering constellations to Cassiopeia are Andromeda, Camelopardalis, Cepheus, Lacerta, and Perseus.

Cassiopeia has the nickname of the W constellation as this is asterism comprised of the five brightest stars is easily recognizable. In English, Cassiopeia is known as the “The Queen.”

The Cassiopeia constellation is found year-round on the northern hemisphere near the pole star. The best time to see this constellation is in November. This constellation is able to be seen by those countries north of the Tropic of Capricorn come late spring.

French Depiction – Cassiopeia is shown sitting on a marble throne holding a palm leaf in her left hand while holding her robe with her right hand. This image is found in Augustin Royer’s 1679 Atlas.

Arabic Astronomy

This constellation was known as the Lady in the Chair. In some Arabic Atlases, the stars of Cassiopeia are associated with a figure known as the “Tinted Hand” that represented a woman’s hand that’s been dyed red with henna. Later, in Islamic religion, this red hand is the bloody hand of Muhammad’s daughter Fatima.

Another Arabic constellation found within Cassiopeia is a Camel. The head is comprised of the stars Lambda, Kappa, Iota and Phi Andromedae with the hump being formed by Beta Cassiopeia and the rest of the Cassiopeia constellation forming the body and the legs extending into stars within Perseus and Andromeda constellations.

Chinese Astronomy

In Chinese Astronomy, the Cassiopeia constellation is located in the areas of the night sky known as Zi Wei Yuan (the Purple Forbidden Enclosure), Bei Fang Xuan Wu (the Black Tortoise of the North), and Xi Fang Bai Hu Zu (the White Tiger of the West).

Wangliang – In Chinese star lore, the W-shape of Cassiopeia; three stars of this asterism are associated with a group known as Wangliang that commemorate a legendary Chinese charioteer of the same name. Old Chinese star charts show this asterism as a fan-shape comprising of four stars, Gamma, Eta, Alpha and Zeta Cassiopeiae that represent a team of horses. A fifth star, Beta Cassiopeiae represents Wangliang himself. The star Kappa Cassiopeiae or Ce, is Wangliang’s whip.

Wangliang features in a Chinese moral story where he was asked to drive a carriage for a hunter named Hsi. On the first day, they failed to catch any birds. When Hsi returned from his hunt, he complained how Wangliang was the worst charioteer. Hurt by these comments, Wangliang convinced Hsi to let him drive again. Hsi agreed and the next day they went out, they were able to snare ten birds in the morning. This impressed Hsi so much so that he asked Wangliang to stay on as his full-time charioteer. Wangliang turned down the offer, stating that the first time, he had driven the carriage by the rules and that the second time he drove, Wangliang had cheated by driving into the birds in order to make it easier for Hsi to bring down the birds. Wangliang finished his statement by saying that he couldn’t drive for a hunter who wasn’t honorable. The moral being that: “A man cannot straighten others by bending himself.”

Gedao – The stars Delta, Epsilon, Iota, Theta, Nu and Omicron Cassiopeiae form a chain of six stars that represent a pathway to the Central Palace. The Central Palace is located within the Ursa Minor constellation. This asterism, Gedao is sometimes depicted as the flag or banner for Wangliang. Next to this, the star Zeta Cassiopeiae or Fulu represents a side road.

Chuanshe – This is a chain of nine stars that passes over from Cepheus to northern Cassiopeia and into the Camelopardalis constellation. This chain of stars represents guest rooms just outside the wall of the Central Palace. It isn’t clear which stars actually represent this asterism.

Huagai & Gang – Located further north to the entrance of the Central Palace, these two groups of stars represent the Emperor’s gilded canopy used in processions. The asterism Huagai has seven stars and Gang has nine stars.

Eastern Boundary Wall – Comprised of the stars Cassiopeiae 21 & 23, these two stars mark the boundary wall for the Central Palace. Some Chinese astronomical texts will place this boundary wall within the Cepheus constellation.

Christian Astronomy

Sometime in the 1600’s, a few Biblical characters began to be associated with the Cassiopeia constellation. Some of these figures are: Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, Deborah, an Old Testament Judge and prophetess and Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ followers.

Chukchi Astronomy

The Chukchi people of Siberia saw five reindeer in the five brightest or main stars of Cassiopeia.

Micronesian Astronomy

In the Marshall Islands, the constellations of Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Triangulum, and Aries are all part of a same greater constellation representing a porpoise. Andromeda’s bright stars form the body of the porpoise; Cassiopeia represents its tail and Aries its head.

Persian Astronomy

In Persia, Cassiopeia is depicted as a queen holding a staff with a crescent moon with her right hand and wearing a crown. A two-humped camel will also be drawn with her.

Polynesian Astronomy

In Hawaii, the stars Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Cassiopeiae all have individual names. Alpha Cassiopeiae is called Poloahilani, Beta Cassiopeiae is called Polula, and Gamma Cassiopeiae is called Mulehu.

The people of Pukapuka call this constellation by the name Na Taki-Tolu-A-Mataliki.

Roman Astronomy

While the Romans adapted many of the Greek beliefs and myths for their own, for them, this constellation is known as the Woman of the Chair.

Sami Astronomy

The Sami see elk antlers in the W Asterism in Cassiopeia.

Welsh Astronomy

In Welsh Mythology, the Cassiopeia constellation is known as Llys Don or “The Court of Don.” The goddess Don is the Mother of the Gods. In addition, the Milky Way is known as Caer Gwydion or “The Fortress of Gwydion” and the Corona Borealis constellation is known as Caer Arianrhod or “The Fortress of Arianrhod.”

Perseus family

The constellation of Cassiopeia, along with eight other constellations of: Andromeda, Auriga, Cepheus, Cetus, Lacerta, Pegasus, Perseus and Triangulum.

All of these constellations have some connection to the overall legend and myth of the Grecian hero Perseus.

Stars Of Cassiopeia

Alpha Cassiopeiae – Also called Schedar or Schedir, from the Arabic word sadr meaning: “breast.” The name is in reference to the star’s location for Cassiopeia’s heart. This is the brightest star in the constellation.

Beta Cassiopeiae – Also called Caph, from the Arabic word kaf meaning: “palm. This star’s other names are al-Sanam, al-Nakah, al-Kaff, and al-Khadib. It is a subgiant or giant star, it is the 12th brightest star in the night sky. Caph, along with the stars Alpheratz in Andromeda and Algenib in Pegasus is known as one of the Three Guides. These three bright stars mark an imaginary line from Caph to Alpheratz for the celestial equator where the Sun crosses during the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.

Gamma Cassiopeiae – Also called Tsih in Chinese, meaning “The Whip. This star is called Navi, a name given to it by American astronaut Virgil Ivan Grissom. Navi happens to be Ivan’s name spelled backwards. This central star in a W shape that characterizes and is the brightest star within this constellation. This star has been used as a navigational reference by astronauts.

Delta Cassiopeiae – Also known as Ruchbah, from the Arabic word rukbah meaning “the knee.” This star is known by the name Ksora. It is the fourth brightest star in the constellation.

Epsilon Cassiopeiae – Also known as Segin.

Eta Cassiopeiae – Also known as Achird. It is the closest star in Cassiopeia to the Milky Way Galaxy. It is a yellow-white G-class dwarf star that is slightly cooler than the Sun. There is also a companion orange K-class dwarf star.

Zeta Cassiopeiae – This star is a blue-white subgiant star located some 600 light years away.

Rho Cassiopeiae – Is a rare yellow hypergiant star, of which only seven have been identified within the Milky Way Galaxy. It is thought that this star may have already gone supernova, we just have yet to the light from it.

W Asterism

This asterism is the most distinct and recognizable feature of the Cassiopeia constellation. It is comprised of the five brightest stars of Epsilon, Delta, Gamma, Alpha, and Beta Cassiopeiae. Some scholars like Aratus have described this asterism being like a key or folding door.

Tycho’s Star

In November of 1572, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe spotted and recorded a new star appearing within the Cassiopeia constellation. Naturally, this would be called Tycho’s Star and he wrote a treatise about this new star the next year. It’s known now that this star was really a Supernova and it was visible to the naked eye for over a year. In his 1603 Uranometria atlas, Johan Bayer included this star as a starburst beside Cassiopeia’s throne. Then in 1690, on the Hevelius atlas, this star appears on Cepheus’ left hand.

Owl Cluster

Also known as NGC 457, this is an open star cluster that resembles an owl. It is also known as the E.T. Cluster and Caldwell 13. This cluster was discovered in 1787 by William Herschel and is located some 10,000 light years away from Earth.

The Pacman Nebula

Also known as NGC 281, a large gas cloud where a star formation took place. There are several young, blue stars within. The name Pacman comes from the character of the same name in a videogame. The nebula is about 9,500 light years away from Earth and was first discovered in 1883 by the American astronomer E.E. Barnard.

The White Rose Cluster

Also known as NGC 7789 or Caroline’s Rose, it is an open star cluster roughly 7,600 light years away from the earth. This star cluster gets its name of The White Rose due to the loops of stars within this cluster resembling a pattern similar to a rose’s petals. It was discovered in 1783 by British astronomer Caroline Herschel.

Cassiopeiids

A meteor shower known as the Phi Cassiopeiids occurs in early December.

Perseids

This meteor shower though named for the hero Perseus is associated with the Cassiopeia constellation and passes through in August.

Others Named Cassiopeia

There are a couple of others named Cassiopeia in Greek mythology.

  • The wife to the demigod Epaphus, a King of Egypt. Epaphus was also a rival to Phaethon who had a disastrous journey with his father Helios’ chariot of the Sun. Another name for this Cassiopeia is Memphis, also the name of an Egyptian city that Epaphus is to have founded.
  • Also spelled as Cassiepeia. According to Hesiod, she is the daughter of Arabus and the wife of King Phoenix. This Cassiopeia would become the mother of the hero Atymnius by either Phoenix or Zeus. Some accounts will have her be the mother of Phoenix and Carme. Though Carme is reputed more often to be the daughter of Eubuleus.