vendredi 19 septembre 2008

Lepus 1

Hermes placed the hare in the sky because of its swiftness, Eratosthenes tells us. Both Eratosthenes and Hyginus referred to the remarkable fertility of hares, as attested to by Aristotle in his Historia Animalium: ‘Hares breed and bear at all seasons, superfoetate (i.e. conceive again) during pregnancy and bear young every month. They do not give birth to their young all at once, but bring them forth at intervals.’

The celestial hare makes an interesting tableau with Orion and his dogs. Aratus wrote that the Dog (Canis Major) pursues the hare in an unending race: ‘Close behind he rises and as he sets he eyes the setting hare.’ But judging by its position in the sky, the hare seems more to be crouched in hiding beneath the hunter’s feet.
Hyginus tells us the following moral tale about the hare. At one time there were no hares on the island of Leros, until one man brought in a pregnant female. Soon, everyone began to raise hares and before long the island was swarming with them. They overran the fields and destroyed the crops, reducing the population to starvation. By a concerted effort, the inhabitants drove the hares out of their island. They put the image of the hare among the stars as a reminder that one can easily end up with too much of a good thing.
The constellation’s brightest star, third-magnitude Alpha Leporis, is called Arneb, from the Arabic al-arnab meaning ‘the hare’.

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