dimanche 5 octobre 2008

Ursa Major 15

Hebrew observers called the constellation Dōbh; Phoenician, Dub; and Arabian, Al Dubb al Akbar, the Greater Bear, — Dubhelacbar with Bayer and Dub Alacber with Chilmead, — all of these perhaps adopted from Greece. Caesius cited the "Mohammedans' " Dubbe, Dubhe, and Dubon; and Robert Browning, in his Jochanan Hakkadosh, repeated these as Dob.
But whence came the same idea into the minds of our North American Indians? Was it by accident? or is it evidence of a common origin in the far antiquity of Asia? The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal, — indeed the contrary; yet they called them Okuari and Paukunawa, words for a "bear," before they were visited by the white men, as is attested by Le Clercq in 1691, by the Reverend Cotton Mather in 1712, by the Jesuit missionary La Fitau in 1724, and by the French traveler Charlevoix in 1744. And Bancroft wrote in his history of our country:
The red men . . . did not divide the heavens, nor even a belt in the heavens, into constellations. It is a curious coincidence, that among the Algonquins of the Atlantic and of the Mississippi, alike among the Narragansetts and the Illinois, the North Star was called the Bear.
In justice, however, to their familiarity with a bear's anatomy, it should be said that the impossible tail of our Ursa was to them either Three Hunters, or a Hunter with his two Dogs, in pursuit of the creature; the star Alcor being the pot in which they would cook her. They thus avoided the incongruousness of the present astronomical ideas of Bruin's make-up, although their cooking-utensil was inadequate. The Housatonic Indians, who roamed over that valley from Pittsfield through Lenox and Stockbridge to Great Barrington, said that this chase of the stellar Bear lasted from the spring till the autumn, when the animal was wounded and its blood plainly seen in the foliage of the forest.
The long tail of the Bear, a queer appendage to a comparatively tailless animal, is thus accounted for by old Thomas Hood in his didactic style:
I marvel why (seeing she hath the forme of a beare) her tail should be so long.
Imagine that Jupiter, fearing to come too nigh unto her teeth, layde holde on her tayle, and thereby drewe her up into the heaven; so that shee of herself being very weightie, and the distance from the earth to the heavens very great, there was great likelihood that her taile must stretch. Other reason know I none.
Reverend Doctor Robert M. Luther of Newark, New Jersey, tells me that a similar story was current with the Pennsylvania Germans of forty years ago. The same "weightie" reason will apply equally well to the Smaller Bear; indeed the latter's tail is even proportionately longer, although the kink in it takes a different turn. It is probably this association of these Seven Stars with our aborigines that has given them the occasional title of the Seven Little Indians.
Trevisa derived the title thus: "alwey thoo sterres wyndeth and turneth rounde aboute that lyne, that is calde Axis, as a bere aboute the stake. And therefore that cercle is clepid the more bere." Boteler borrowed this for his Hudibras:
And round about the pole does make
A circle like a bear at stake.
The great epic of the Finns, the Kalewala, makes much of this constellation, styling it Otawa and Otawainen, in which Miss Clerke sees likeness to the names used by our aborigines for "the great Teutonic King of beasts." But that people also said that the Bear stars, and especially the pole-star, were young and beautiful maidens highly skilled in spinning and weaving, — a story originating from a fancied resemblance of their rays of light to a weaver's web.
The Century Dictionary has a theory as to the origin of the idea of a Bear for these seven stars, doubtless from its editor, Professor Whitney, that seems plausible, — at all events, scholarly. It is that their Sanskrit designation, Riksha, signifies, in two different genders, "a Bear," and "a Star," "Bright," or "to shine," — hence a title, the Seven Shiners, — so that it would appear to have come, by some confusion of sound, of the two words among a people not familiar with the animal. Later on Riksha was confounded with the word Rishi, and so connected with the Seven Sages, or Poets, of India; afterwards with the Seven Wise Men of Greece, the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, the Seven Champions of Christendom, etc.; while the Seven Stars of early authors, as often used for Ursa Major as for the Pleiades, certainly is much more appropriate to the Ursine figure than to the Taurine. Minsheu had "the Seven Starres called Charles Waine in the North," and three centuries earlier Chaucer wrote of "the sterres seven" with manifest reference to this constellation. The Kalewala had the equivalent Seitsen tahtinen; the Portuguese Camões, Sete Flammas; and the Turks, Yidigher Yilduz.
Hewitt says that these seven stars at first were known in India as Seven Bears, although also as Seven Antelopes, and again as Seven Bulls, the latter merged into one, the Great Spotted Bull, as the Seven Bears also were into Ursa Major, with our Arcturus for their keeper; and he gives their individual titles as Kratu for α, Pulaha for β, Pulastya for γ, Atri for δ, Añgiras for ε, and Marīci for η, the six sons of Brahma, who himself was Vashishṭha, the star ζ. The Vishnu-Dharma, however, claimed Atri as their ruler; indeed, there seems to be much variance in Sanskrit works as to the identity of these stars and titles.
When the figure of the Bear was extended to its present dimensions, four times as great as Homer's Arktos, we do not know, and, to quote again from Miss Clerke,
we can only conjecture; but there is evidence that it was fairly well established when Aratos wrote his description of the constellations. [He stretched it over Gemini, Cancer, and Leo.] Aratos, however, copied Eudoxus, and Eudoxus used observations made — doubtless by Accad or Chaldaean astrologers — above 2000 B.C. We infer, then, that the Babylonian Bear was no other than the modern Ursa Major. . . . Thus, circling the globe from the valley of the Ganges to the great lakes of the New World, we find ourselves confronted with the same sign in the northern skies, the relic of some primeval association of ideas, long since extinct. Extinct even in Homer's time.
And Achilles Tatios distinctly asserted that it was from Chaldaea. But Brown thinks, in regard to the identity of the archaic and modern constellations of this name in that country,
that at present there is no real evidence to connect the Kakkabu Dabi (or Dabu, the Babylonian Bear) with the Plough or Wain, still less with Ursa Major;
and identifies the latter with the Euphratean Bel‑me-Khi‑ra, the Confronter of Bel, — Bertin, with Bel himself. A group of seven stars is often shown on the cylinders from Babylonia, Layard's Culte de Mithra giving many instances of this, although the reference may have been to the Pleiades; while it is Sayce's suggestion that perhaps "the god seven," so frequently mentioned in the inscriptions, is connected with Ursa Major.
Theon's attribution of the invention of the constellation to the mythical Nauplius, son of Poseidon, and a famous navigator, hardly seems worthy of mention.
Among the adjacent Syrians it was a Wild Boar, and in the stars of the feet of our Bear (now Leo Minor) the early nomads saw the tracks of their Ghazal. Similarly, in the far North, it has been the Sarw of the Lapps, their familiar Reindeer, the Los of the Ostiaks, and the Tukto of the Greenlanders.
Smyth wrote in his Speculum Hartwellianum:
King Arthur, the renowned hero of the Mabinogion, typified the Great Bear; as his name, — Arth, bear, and Uthyr, wonderful, — implies in the Welsh language; and the constellation, visibly describing a circle in the North Polar regions of the sky, may possibly have been the true origin of the Son of Pendragon's famous Round Table, the earliest institution of a military order of knighthood.
Whatever may be the fact in this speculation, we know that the early English placed King Arthur's home here, and that the people of Great Britain long called it Arthur's Chariot or Wain, which appears in the Lay of the Last Minstrel:
Arthur's slow wain his course doth roll,
In utter darkness, round the pole.
In Ireland it has been King David's Chariot, from one of that island's early kings; in France, the Great Chariot, and it was seen on Gaulish coins. The Anglo-Norman poet De Thaun of the 12th century had it Charere; and La Lande cited the more modern la Roue, the Wheel. Occasionally it has been called the Car of Boötes.
And this carries us back to another of the earliest titles for our constellation, the Ἅμαξα, Wain or Wagon, — Riccioli's Amaxa, — of the Iliad and Odyssey, that Homer used equally with Ἄρκτος, although with the same limitation to the seven stars. Describing the shield made by Hephaistos for Achilles, the poet said, in Sir John Herschel's rendering:
There the revolving Bear, which the Wain they call, was ensculptured,
Circling on high, and in all its course regarding Orion;
Sole of the starry train which refuses to bathe in the Ocean;
which I have quoted, in preference to others more rhythmical, from the interest that we all feel in the translator as an astronomer, although but little known as a poet. Homer repeated this in the 5th book of the Odyssey, where Ulixes, in Bryant's translation, is

Gazing with fixed eye on the Pleiades,
Boötes setting late and the Great Bear,
By others called the Wain, which wheeling round,
Looks ever toward Orion and alone
Dips not into the waters of the deep.
For so Calypso, glorious goddess, bade
That, on his ocean journey, he should keep
That constellation ever on his left;

Ithaca, whither he was bound, lying due east from Calypso's isle, Ogygia. Pope rendered the original the Northern Team, and the lines on Orion:
To which, around the axle of the sky,
The Bear, revolving, points his golden eye.
These passages clearly show the early use of the Wain stars in Greek navigation before Cynosura was known to them; as Aratos wrote:
By it on the deep
Achaians gather where to sail their ships;
Ovid imitating this in the Fasti and Tristia. Orion seems to have been often joined in this use, for Apollonius wrote:
The watchful sailor, to Orion's star
And Helice, turned heedful.

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