Eratosthenes & Hyginus - Constellation Myths: with Aratus's Phaenomena

Constellation Myths: With Aratus's Phaenomena - Eratosthenes

TITLE:  Eratosthenes & Hyginus - Constellation Myths: with Aratus's Phaenomena


AUTHORS:  Eratosthenes, Hyginus, Aratus




PUBLICATION DATE:  2015 (originally +/- 194 B.C)


EDITION:  Oxford World's Classics


FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  9780198716983




The constellations we recognize today were first mapped by the ancient Greeks, who arranged the stars into patterns for that purpose. In the third century BC Eratosthenes compiled a handbook of astral mythology in which the constellations were associated with figures from legend, and myths were provided to explain how each person, creature, or object came to be placed in the sky. Thus we can see Heracles killing the Dragon, and Perseus slaying the sea-monster to save Andromeda; Orion chases the seven maidens transformed by Zeus into the Pleiades, and Aries, the golden ram, is identified flying up to the heavens.

This translation brings together the later summaries from Eratosthenes's lost handbook with a guide to astronomy compiled by Hyginus, librarian to Augustus. Together with Aratus's astronomical poem the Phaenomena, these texts provide a complete collection of Greek astral myths; imaginative and picturesque, they also offer an intriguing insight into ancient science and culture.




This book translates four texts: (i) the Epitome and (ii) the Fragmenta Vaticana, which are versions of the Catasterisms of Eratosthenes, (iii) the Astronomica of Hyginus, and (iv) the Phaenomena of Aratus. 


The translations and commentary about the mythological origins of the constellations are interesting, though somewhat repetitive.  Under each of the book's 50 constellations are set out the sections of Eratosthenes and Hygenius, followed by a short commentary.  The layout of this book does not follow the layout of the originals and is concerned primarily with the mythology of the constellations and not any additional material.  This book lacks sufficient diagrams - there are only two fuzzy diagrams at the beginning of the book which are inadequate.  Additional diagrams of each constellation should have been included, especially in light of the modern reader's presumed lack of star gazing knowledge.  The prose translation of Aratus's Phaenomena consists of:  (i) The Constellations, (ii) Measuring of Time through Observation of the Heavens, and (iii) Weather Signs, followed by extracts from Geminos' Introduction to the 'Phaenomena' included as an appendix. 


This is a nice introduction to stellar mythology, but I suggest having a star atlas or constellation map on hand while reading it.