dimanche 5 octobre 2008

Ursa Major 13

Twas noon of night, when round the pole
The sullen Bear is seen to roll.
Thomas Moore's translation of the Odes of Anacreon.
. . . round and round the frozen Pole
Glideth the lean white bear.
Robert Williams Buchanan's Ballad of Judas Iscariot.

Ursa Major, the Grande Ourse of the French, the Orsa Maggiore of the Italians, and the Grosse Bär of the Germans, always has been the best known of the stellar groups, appearing in every extended reference to the heavens in the legends, parchments, tablets, and stones of remotest times. And Sir George Cornewall Lewis, quoting allusions to it by Aristotle, Strabo, and many other classical writers, thinks, from Homer's line,
Arctos, sole star that never bathes in th' ocean wave
(by reason of precession it then was much nearer the pole than it now is), that this was the only portion of the arctic sky that in the poet's time had been reduced to constellation form. This statement, however, refers solely to the Greeks; for even before Homer's day we know that earlier nations had here their own stellar groups; yet we must remember that the Ἄρκτος and Ἅμαξα of the Iliad and Odyssey consisted of but the seven stars, and that these alone bore those names till Thales formed our Ursa Minor. Later on the figure was enlarged "for the purpose of uranographic completeness," so that Heis now catalogues 227 components visible to his naked eye, although only 140 appeared to Argelander, down to the 6th magnitude.
It is almost the first object to which the attention of beginners in astronomy is called,— a fact owing partly to its circumpolar position for all points above the 41st parallel rendering it always and entirely visible above that latitude, but very largely to its great extent and to the striking conformation of its prominent stars. It is noticeable, too, that all early catalogues commenced with the two Ursine constellations.
Although the group has many titles and mythical associations, it has almost everywhere been known as a Bear, usually in the feminine, from its legendary origin. All classic writers, from Homer to those in the decline of Roman literature, thus mentioned it, — a universality of consent as to its form which, it has fancifully been said, may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen North. Yet it is remarkable that the Teutonic nations did not know this stellar group under this shape, although the animal was of course familiar to them and made much of in story and worship. With them these stars were the Wagen, our familiar Wain. Aratos wrote in the Phainomena:
Two Bears
Called Wains move round it, either in her place;
Ovid, in the Tristia, Magna minorque ferae; and Propertius included both in his Geminae Ursae; while Horace, Vergil, and Ovid, again, called them Gelidae Arcti. We also meet with Arctoi and Arctoe. The Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy of the 10th century adopted the Greek Arctos, although it adds "which untaught men call Carles-waen"; rare old Ben Jonson, in 1609, in his Epicoene, or the Silent Woman, called Kallisto
a star Mistress Ursula in the heavens;
and La Lande cited Fera major, Filia Ursae, and Ursa cum puerulo, referring to Arcas.
The well-known, although varied, story of Καλλιστώ, — as old as Hesiod's time, — who was changed to a bear because of Juno's jealousy and transferred to the skies by the regard of Jove, has given rise to much poetical allusion from Hesiod's day till ours, especially among the Latins. In Addison's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, where this myth is related, we read that Jove

snatched them through the air
In whirlwinds up to heaven and fix'd them there;
Where the new constellations nightly rise,
And add a lustre to the northern skies;
although the dissatisfied Juno still complained that in this location they
proudly roll
In their new orbs and brighten all the pole.
This version of the legend turned Kallisto's son Arcas into Ursa Minor, although he was Boötes; Matthew Arnold correctly writing of the mother and son in his Merope:
The Gods had pity, made them Stars.
Stars now they sparkle
In the northern Heaven —
The guard Arcturus,
The guard-watch᾽d Bear.

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