vendredi 19 septembre 2008

Canis Major

Canis Major is one of the 88 modern constellations, and was also in Ptolemy's list of 48 constellations. It is said to represent one of the dogs following Orion the hunter (see also the constellations of Orion, Canis Minor, and Canes Venatici.) Canis Major contains Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and that star is part of what is called the Winter Triangle in the Northern Hemisphere, or the Summer Triangle in the Southern.

This constellation was known to the easterners from the time immemorial. In early European classical days, this constellation represented Laelaps, gift from Zeus to Europa; or sometimes the hound of Procris, Diana's nymph; or the one given by Aurora to Cephalus, so famed for its speed that Zeus elevated it to the sky. Most commonly, Canis Major is Orion's hunting dog, pursuing Lepus the Hare or helping Orion fight Taurus the Bull, and is referred to in this way by Aratos, Homer and Hesiod. The ancient Greeks refer only to one dog, but by Roman times, Canis Minor appears as Orion's second child.
Roman myth also refers to Canis Major as Custos Europae, the dog guarding Europa but failing to prevent her abduction by Jupiter in the form of a bull; and as Janitor Lethaeus, the watchdog of Hell.
Depending on the faintness of stars considered, Canis Major resembles a dog facing either above or below the ecliptic. When facing below, since Sirius was considered a dog in its own right, early Greek mythology sometimes considered it to be two headed. As such, together with the area of the sky that is deserted (now considered as the new and extremely faint constellations Camelopardalis and Lynx), and the other features of the area in the Zodiac sign of Gemini (i.e. the Milky Way, and the constellations Gemini, Orion, Auriga, and Canis Minor), this may be the origin of the myth of the cattle of Geryon, which forms one of The Twelve Labours of Heracles. Sirius was an object of wonder and veneration to all ancient peoples throughout human history. In the ancient Vedas this star was known as the Chieftain's star; in other Hindu writings, it is referred to as Sukra, the Rain God, or Rain Star. The Dog is also described as "he who awakens the gods of the air, and summons them to their office of bringing the rain." Sirius was revered as the Nile Star, or Star of Isis, by the ancient Egyptians. Its annual appearance just before dawn at the Summer Solstice, June 21, heralded the coming rise of the Nile, upon which Egyptian agriculture depended. This helical rising is referred to in many temple inscriptions, where the star is known as the Divine Sepat, identified as the soul of Isis. In the temple of Isis-Hathor at Dedendrah, Egypt, appears the inscription, "Her majesty Isis shines into the temple on New Year's Day, and she mingles her light with that of her father on the horizon." The Arabic word Al Shi'ra resembles the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian names suggesting a common origin in Sanskrit, in which the name Surya, the Sun God, simply means the "shining one."

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