Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations


the Air Pump

Urania's Mirror, 1825

The constellation Antlia commemorates the air pump which had been invented by 17th-century British chemist and physicist Robert Boyle. Boyle used his air-compressing pump to lead to the understanding of the laws of gas behavior and laws of thermodynamics. Air pumps were used to either fill something up with air (make high pressure) or to take air away (make a vacuum). Scientists could then study how air acted under different pressures. Using this pump, now known as vacuum pump and at the time also referred to as a 'pneumatic engine' [1], Boyle and Hooke noticed that vessels filled with air become warmer as their internal pressure is increased. In time the ideal gas law was formulated.

Antlia lies north of the great Ship Argo Navis. The word Antlia comes from Latin antlia, pump, from Greek antlos, 'ship's hold, bilge water'. Greek hyperantlos ousa symphorai, is a metaphor taken from a ship which can no longer keep out water [2]. The water that collects in the bilge must be pumped out if it becomes too full and threatens to sink the ship. The bilge is the rounded portion of a ship's hull, forming a transition between the bottom and the sides, 'lowest internal part of a ship', also "the foulness which collects there", variant of bulge 'ship's hull', also 'leather bag', from Late Latin bulga, 'leather sack' [3].

"The antlia usually used in ancient Greece was probably the pole and bucket for drawing water out of a well" [4].

Jesus said:

"Now draw (Greek antlesate) some [water] out, and take it to the chief steward" (v. 8). [5]

‘Draw out now’; ‘Antlesate’: The verb is used of drawing water out of a well or baling out a ship, but can be used more generally to signify drawing out by means of some vessel, thus the noun for ‘bucket’, antlema, is etymologically similar [6]. A bucket in Greek was antlema or antleo.

The word Antlia comes from Latin antlia, pump, from Greek antlos, 'ship's hold, bilge water'. The Latins seemed to have used antlia for the pump, and had another word, sentina, which meant the bilge (lowest part of a ship), bilge water, a sink, it also had the meaning of 'rabble', 'dregs of the population' [8]. A link between the two words; Greek antlos and Latin sentina is suggested:

What then is the etymological connection of antlos? We can hardly hesitate to place it with the Latin sent-ina of the same meaning, s (sigma) having fallen off [as in these examples eteos (Sanskrit satyas), alokos (for salokos)... &c.]; they would thus originally have expressed stationary, as opposed to running, water. Uperantlos is of course formed from antlos and means "overcharged with bilge water" ... [The Hippolytus of Euripides, ed. by J.P. Mahaffy and J.B. Bury, 1881, Note 767]

Wikipedia says Latin sentina 'bilge water', from Ancient Greek amao, 'to gather', ame, 'water bucket', Lithuanian semti 'to scoop', is related to the word 'sand' from the Indo-European root *bhes-1 To rub, 1. Derivatives: sand, from Old English sand, from Germanic *sam(a)dam, *sandam. 2. Suffixed extended zero-grade form *(bh)sa-dhlo-. sabalous, from Latin sabulum, coarse sand. 3, Perhaps suffixed zero-grade form *(bh)s-a-. a. palimpsest, from Greek psen, to rub, scrape (but more likely of uncertain origin); b. psephology (the study of political elections), from Greek psephos, ballot, pebble, (from the ancient Greeks' use of pebbles for voting) but more likely of uncertain origin). 4, Perhaps suffixed zero-grade form *bhs-ilo-, epsilon [5th], upsilon [20th], from Greek psilos, smooth, simple (but more likely of uncertain origin). [Pokorny I. bhes- 145.] Latin sabulum, Ancient Greek aμαθος (amathos), sand. "Of the same family as amathos, sand; amathuno, 'I make to vanish, like letters written on sand.' Also amalos, plain, level, amauron is, whatever is made level with the ground" [Valpy, Greek..., p.19]. Psamathe was the Nereid goddess of sand beaches.

 Latin sentino, "I work at the sentina." Also, "I avoid danger." A naval metaphor, taken from sailors in a storm emptying the sink of the ship to preserve themselves from impending danger. [An etymological dictionary of the Latin language, Valpy, 1828, p.427]

Antlia is the vacuum pump, or air pump, "at the time, the air pump was a major scientific instrument, since one could make a vacuum with one" [7]. Vacuum is from Indo-European root *eue- 'To leave, abandon, give out, whence nominal derivatives meaning abandoned, lacking, empty'. Derivatives: wane, wanton, (these words from Old English wanian), want, vain, vanity, vaunt, evanesce (to dissipate or disappear like vapor), vanish, (these words from Latin vanus, empty), evanescent, vacant, vacate, vacation, vacuity, vacuum, void, avoid, devoid, evacuate, (these words from Latin vacare, variant vocare, to be empty), waste (from Latin vastare, to make empty), devastate (from Latin vastus, empty, waste, from Latin evacuare ‘to empty’, from vacuus ‘empty’). [Pokorny 1. eue- 345. Watkins]

The void is generally seen to be in outer space, and the empty or vacant spaces between the stars:

"Parmenides (5th century B.C.) uses verbal reasoning to postulate that a void, essentially what is now known as a vacuum, in nature could not occur. This theory was disproved by the introduction of the vacuum pump. Yet the earliest conception of Chaos was that almost unthinkable condition of kosmic space or kosmic expanse, which to human minds is infinite and vacant extension of primordial Aether, a stage before the formation of manifested worlds, and out of which everything that later existed was born, including gods and men and all the celestial hosts. We see here a faithful echo of the archaic esoteric philosophy, because among the Greeks Chaos was the kosmic mother of Erebos and Nyx, Darkness and Night -- two aspects of the same primordial kosmic stage." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_thermodynamics

The word pump is said to be of imitative origin, related to French pompier, 'fireman', from pompe, 'pump', a fireman's scaling ladder, and to the metaphoric extension as in 'to pump' someone for information. These words are not recognized cognates of pomp, pomposity, and pompous, meaning pumped up with self-importance, but if they were related, they would parallel the meanings in the words vain and vanity of the *eue- root. Pomp, from Latin pompa, from Greek pompe 'a sending, solemn procession', related to pempein, 'to send', and pump, 'a kind of shoe', and apopemptic 'pertaining to sending away', 'addressed to one who is departing'; as in 'apopemptic hymns'. Pompholyx (of imitative origin), is a skin disease characterized by an eruption of vesicles — Latin, from Greek pompolux 'bubble', 'blister' (or maybe pimple?), a blister, contains watery fluid pumped into a bubble (Antlia commemorates the air pump invented by Robert Boyle - boil). Pomp, from Greek pempein, 'to send or "to bid a thing to be carried to one". Jesus gave an order when he said: "Now draw (Greek antlesate) some [water] out, and take it to the chief steward" (v. 8).

The city Pompeii vanished by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

There is an obsolete word pumper, meaning to break wind, from German dialectal pumpern, from which we get the word pumpernickel.

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Antlia
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 2000 Lat Mag Sp
epsilon [ε] 09VIR38 11VIR01 09h 29m 14.7s −35° 57′ 05″ -47 21 09 4.64 M0
alpha [α] 21VIR14 22VIR37 10h 27m 09.1s −31° 04′ 04″ -37 25 38 4.42 M0
iota [ι] 01LIB40 03LIB03 10h 56m 43.1s -37° 8' 16" -39 49 02 4.70 G5

Urania's Mirror, 1825

from Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Antlia Pneumatica, the Air Pump, is La Caille's Machine Pneumatique, created in 1752, at first Latinized as Machina Pneumatica; but astronomers know it as simple Antlia. In Germany it is the Luft Pumpe.

{Page 43} The constellation lies just south of Crater and Hydra, bordering on Vela, the Sails of Argo Navis along the branches of the Milky Way, and culminates on the 6th of April; Gould assigning to it eighty-five naked-eye stars.

[Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Richard H. Allen, 1889.]