Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations

Canis Minor

the Lesser Dog

Urania's Mirror 1825

Canis Minor used to have the title Procyon which is also the name of its alpha star, Procyon. Procyon is a combination of two Greek words; pro-, 'before' + Greek kuon, 'dog'; meaning the constellation rises before Canis Major, or before Sirius, the main star in Canis Major. Canis Minor is situated by the Great Celestial River, the Milky Way.

Procyon is the genus name for the raccoons, animals that live by water. Robson in The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology says "it is noteworthy that the ideas of water and drowning seem to be universally associated with this constellation". A raccoon will drown its opponent if attacked in water. "Dogs are thought to have descended, in an evolutionary sense, from an ancient ancestor of the raccoon family. The raccoons were thought to have evolved first, so raccoons are 'before dogs'" [1].

This little dog with the Greek title Procyon, and the Roman title Antecanis both meaning "before the dog" since it precedes the "Dog Star", Sirius, as they travel across the sky. Procyon was known as "The Dog in Front", "The Preceding Dog", "Rising before Sirius". The beta star in this constellation, Gomeisa, was known by the Arab astronomers as one of the announcers that announced the coming of Sirius, the rising of Sirius; rather like a prophet? In another sense this constellation could relate to some of these terms; ancestor, progenitor, descendant, roots, precursor, forebear, etc. Manilius tells us that this constellation is interested in origins, he used the words genus and proavis meaning ancestor; in giving the astrological influences for Canis Minor:

"To rear keen scented whelps and to tell their class by their pedigree, their qualities by their place of origin" [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century AD]."

Manilius used these words in the above sentence, the approximate meaning is given  in brackets: catulos (puppy) nutrire (rear) sagacis (know) et genus (genetics, birth) a proavis (ancestors, pro- 'before', avia, 'female ancestors,' avus, 'male ancestors').

Allen (see below) says Arab astronomers had a number of titles for Canis Minor meaning the sycamine tree, still seen in the name of the beta star of this constellation, Gomeisa, meaning a sycamine tree, from Arabic Al Jummaiza, with much varied spelling. The German astronomer Johan Bayer gave Canis Minor the Greek titles Sukaminos (sycaminos), and Morus. "The sycamore is etymologically either the 'fig-mulberry' or the 'mulberry-mulberry'" [Ayto]. The Greeks knew the sycamine as sycamenea which is the black mulberry (Morus nigra), grown for its fruit. The white mulberry (Morus alba) is called sycamore and grown for food for silk-making caterpillars.

Virgil wrote that mulberry is the cleverest plant because it buds at the latest, waiting for warm weather to avoid frosts, and when it starts to bud, it buds in one night. As such plant it was dedicated to goddess Minerva [2]. Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. She was born from the head of Jupiter fully armed with weapons. The Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena. Manilius (see below) says Canis Minor bestows not hunting, but its weapons".

The generic name of the Mulberry, Morus, is believed to have derived from the Latin word mora (delay), from their tardy expansion of the buds, from the Indo-European root *mere- To hinder, delay. (Oldest form *mere2-), moratorium, moratory (authorizing delay in payment, which is cognate with Old Irish maraim, 'I remain'), demur, remora, from Latin mora, a delay. [In Pokorny (s)mer- 969. Watkins

The above root *mere was included in Pokorny's (s)mer- page 969-970. See under "Root / lemma: (s)mer-" in his book which is online http://dnghu.org/indoeuropean.html. The *(s)mer root has since been separated into three roots by modern linguists. *(s)mer root included the words from Latin mora, 'delay' which is now in the Indo-European root *mere-, it also included the words; memory (root *(s)mer-1), and Moira (root *(s)mer-2), the Greek goddess of fate, Latinized as Moerae.

The word memory is now from *(s)mer-1 "to remember". Derivatives;

*(s)mer-1 To remember.
1. Suffixed zero-grade form *m-no-. Mourn, from Old English murnan, to mourn, from Germanic *murnan, to remember sorrowfully.
2. Reduplicated form *me-mor-.
a. Mimir, from Old Norse Mimir, a giant who guards the well of wisdom, from Germanic *mi-mer-;
b. memoir, memorable, memorandum, memory, commemorate, remember, from Latin memor, mindful.
[Pokorny (s)mer- 969. Watkins]

The Ancient Greek word moira (μοῖρα) means a portion or lot of the whole, and is related to meros, "part, lot" and moros, "fate, destiny, doom", Latin meritum, "desert, reward", English merit, derived from the PIE root *(s)mer, "to allot, assign" [2]. Derivatives;

*(s)mer-2 To get a share of something.
1. Suffixed (stative) form *mer-ē-. meretricious, merit, demerit, emeritus [Retired but retaining an honorary title corresponding to that held immediately before retirement: ], turmeric , from Latin merēre, merērī, to receive a share, deserve, serve.
2. Suffixed form *mer-o-. - -mere (part; segment: blastomere), allomerism, dimer, isomer, monomer, polymer, trimer, from Greek meros (feminine meris), a part, division. [In Pokorny (s)mer- 969. Watkins]

Latin moera, a degree of a sign in the Zodiac, from Greek moira, a division [3].

Myth of the Mulberry: In Ovid's Metamorphoses Pyramus and Thisbe were two young Babylonians who loved each other but could not marry because of parental opposition. They saw each other secretly through a chink in the wall which separated their two houses. One night they arranged a rendezvous at the tomb of Minus. A mulberry tree grew there. Thisbe was the first to arrive but saw a lioness after a kill. She fled, but lost her scarf, which the lioness seized in her bloody mouth and tore into pieces. When Pyramus arrived and saw the scarf, he assumed that Thisbe had been eaten by a wild animal, and ran himself through with his sword. When Thisbe returned, she found him dead, and killed herself with the same sword. The fruit of the mulberry, which had until then been white, turned red, then black, with all this spilt blood [Grimal] [Morus alba, sycamore, turned to Morus nigra, sycamine?]. They asked to be buried in the same tomb under the mulberry bush and their wish was granted.

"Alison Keith shows how Ovid shapes the Pyramus and Thisbe narrative around anagrammatic and paronomastic puns on mora ('mulberries') - amor - mors - mora ('delay') and the Greek etymology of mora ('flowing blood')" [3].

Along with meaning a sycamine tree, Al Jummaiza, some Arabian astronomers thought that this could be Al Ghumaisa, the Dim, Watery-eyed, or Weeping One. Because Al Shi'ra, Sirius (the main star in Canis Major), and Procyon (the main star in Canis Minor), are seen on opposite sides of the Milky Way, there is an Arab story describing how these two companions became separated by the great Sky River. They tell of two sisters (Sirius and Procyon) of Suhail (Canopus) and his marriage to Al Jauzah (Orion) who tried to follow their brother Suhail (Canopus) across the sky. When they came to the great Sky River they plunged in to swim across. The older and stronger sister (Sirius) managed and today can be seen on the southern bank of that great river. But the younger sister was too weak and remained weeping on the northern bank, where we still see her today as Procyon. [Allen, Star Names].

"It [Canis Minor] bestows not hunting, but its weapons" [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century AD).

The words weep and weapon both had the same spelling in Middle English; wepen.

A morula (Latin, morum: mulberry) is an embryo at an early stage of embryonic development, consisting of cells (called blastomeres) in a solid ball contained within the zona pellucida. The morula is produced by a series of cleavage divisions of the early embryo, starting with the single-celled zygote [Orion has a title 'Jugula, the Joined', which has the cognate zygote]. Once the embryo has divided into 16 cells, it begins to resemble a mulberry, hence the name morula (Latin morus: mulberry). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morula

“If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, ‘Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea’; and it should obey you.” — Luke 17:6 [4]

The New York Stock Exchange was founded under a sycamore tree.

There is another myth that might be relevant:

One day, Glaucus, son of King Minos and Queen Pasiphaë of Crete, was playing with a ball or mouse [as cats do] and suddenly disappeared. His parents went to the Oracle at Delphi who told them; "A marvelous creature has been born amongst you: whoever finds the true likeness for this creature will also find the child." They interpreted this to refer to a newborn calf in Minos' herd of cattle. Three times a day, the calf changed color from white to red to black. Polyeidos observed the similarity to the ripening of the fruit of the mulberry plant, and Minos sent him to find Glaucus [8].

Owl-eyed Glaucus, the sea-god was a name for Homer's glauk-opis, Greek glaucoma originally meant a cataract (cata-, down, + arassein, to strike) of the eye, where the pupil turned white.

The site Tel Shiqmona (in Arabic Tell al-Samak), ancient Shikimonah, in the suburbs of Haifa, was referred to by many different names over the ages that are derivatives of the name Sycaminos, sycamine, Hebrew shikmah.

This constellation had the Roman titles Catellus and Catulus, Catulos (of Manilius), these words are related to our word cat. It was rather late in history, around the 5th century, that the domesticated cat, with the corresponding Latin word cattus, makes its apparition, replacing Latin feles. Felis was another title given to this constellation meaning 'feline'. Some etymologists think that the word cat, Latin cattus, probably derives from a Nubian source, kadis and Berber kaddiska cat. "The Celtic word evidently began with the sense of 'baby animal', then specialized as 'kitten', and eventually came to mean the cat animal at any age" [5]. "It is based on *khath- 'cat', from which are derived verbs meaning 'give birth' (to small animals) and names for the young of small animals" [Trends in Linguistics p.514] which is what Latin catulus also means (young of animals, especially puppies and kittens) and according to etymologists it is hard to distinguish formally and semantically from words meaning to "give birth" (to small animals) in many languages.

Egyptian Bast, Bastet, or Pasht, was the goddess of cats, and of the city of Bubastis. In Julius Schiller star atlas Coelum Stellatum Christianum where the constellations were replaced with Christian figures; Canis Minor was the Paschal Lamb, from ecclesiastical Latin pascha (resembling Pasht the alternative name for Bastet, the cat goddess?) 'Utchats' [ut-chat?] was another name for her. She was goddess of birth, pleasure (Latin felis, the generic word for cat is believed by some people to be related to Latin felix, meaning 'happy'; cats purr when happy), and the protector against contagious diseases and evil spirits (perhaps plague, cats kill vermin).

The astrological influences of the constellation by Manilius:

"Procyon rises at the moment when Cancer's twenty-seventh degree ascends from the waves to the stars. He bestows upon those born under him not hunting, but its weapons. To rear keen scented whelps [catulos nutrire sagacis] and to tell their class by their pedigree [et genus proavis], their qualities by their place of origin [mores numerare per urbes]; to produce nets and hunting-spears tipped with strong points, and pliant shafts with knots smoothed out and to manufacture and sell at a profit whatever the art of hunting is likely to require: these are the gifts Procyon will bestow" [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century AD, book 5, 317.]

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Canis Minor
Fixed Star Long 1900 Long 2000 Decl 2000 Lat 2000 R A Sp. Cl. Mag
Gomeisa Beta (β) 20CAN48 22CAN12 +8° 17' 22" -13.29 7h 27m 9s B8 3.1
Procyon Alpha (α) 24CAN24 25CAN47 +5° 13' 30" -16.01 7h 39m 18.1s F5 0.5
Hevelius, Firmamentum, 1690

from Star Names, 1889, Richard H. Allen

The Dog's-precursor, too, shines bright beneath the Twins.

—  Brown's Aratos.

Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog, is der Kleine Hund of the Germans; le Petit Chien of the French; and il Cane Minore of the Italians; Proctor, ignoring La Lande, strangely altered it to Felis.

It was not known to the Greeks by any comparative title, but was always Prokuon (pro, before + -kuon, dog), as rising before his companion Dog (Sirius, Canis Major), which Latin classic writers transliterated Procyon, and those of late Middle Ages as Prochion and Procion. Cicero and others translated this into Antecanis, — sometimes Anticanis, — Antecedens Canis, Antecursor, Praecanis, Procanis, and Procynis; or changed to plain Canis. To this last from the time of Vitruvius, perhaps before him, the Romans added various adjectives; septentrionalis, from its more northerly position than that of Canis Major; minor, minusculus, and parvus, in reference to its inferior brightness; primus, as rising {Page 132} first; and sinister, as on the left hand, in distinction from the Canis dexter on the right (referring to Canis Major). Lucan described both of the Dogs as semi deosque Canes (the Latin plural for dogs).

It was also Catellus and Catulus, the Puppy. Horace wrote of it,

Jam Procyon furit,

which Mr. Gladstone rendered,

The heavens are hot with Procyon's ray,

as though it were the Canicula (Canis Major), and he was followed by others in this; indeed, Pliny began the dog days with its heliacal rising on the 19th of July, and strangely said that the Romans had no other name for it.

With mythologists it was Actaeon's dog, or one of Diana's, or the Egyptian Anubis; but popularly Orions 2nd Hound, often called Canis Orients, and thus confounded as in other ways with the Sirian asterism. Hyginus had Icarium Astrum, referring to the dog Maera; Caesius, Erigonius and Canis virgineus of the same story, but identified by Ovid with Canis Major; and Firmicus, Argion, that perhaps was for Ulixes' dog Argos (Argus). It also was considered as representing Helen's favorite, lost in the Euripus, that she prayed Jove might live again in the sky.

It shared its companion's much mixed, degenerate nomenclature, as in the 1515 Almagest's "Antecedens Canis et est Alsehere Ascemie Algameisa“; while the industrious Bayer as usual had some strange names for it. Among these are Fovea, a Pit, that Caesius commented much upon, but little to our enlightenment; and Sukaminos (sycaminos), or Morus, the Sycamine tree [a tree mentioned in the New Testament, thought to be a species of mulberry which is from the genus Morus], the equivalent of one of its Arabic titles. His Aschemie and Aschere, as well as Chilmead's Alsahare alsemalija, and mongrel words from the foregoing Almagest, etc., can all be detected in their original Al Shira al Shamiyyah, the Bright Star of Syria, thus named because it disappeared from the Arabs' view at its setting beyond that country.

We also find Al Jummaiza, their Sycamine, although some say that this should be Al Ghumaisa, the Dim, Watery-eyed, or Weeping One; either from the fact that her light was dimmer than that of her sister Al Shi'ra (Sirius), or from the fable connected with Suhail (Canopus) and his marriage to Al Jauzah (Orion) and subsequent flight, followed by Al Shi'ra below the Milky Way, where she remained, the other sister, Al Ghumaisa, being left in tears in her accustomed place, or it may be from a recollection of the Euphratean title for Procyon, — the Water-dog. Bayer wrote the word Algomeiza; Riccioli, Algomisa and Algomiza; and others; Algomeysa, Algomyso, Alchamizo, etc. Thus the Two Dog-stars were the Arabs' Al Aliawat al Suhail, the Sisters {Page 133} of Canopus. Still another derivation of the name is from Al Ghamus, the Puppy; but this probably was a later idea from the Romans.

Also borrowing from them, the Arabians called it Al Kalb al Asghar, the Lesser Dog, — Chilmead's Alcheleb Alasgar, Riccioli's Kelbelazguar, — and Al Kalb al Mutakaddim, the Preceding Dog.

In Canis Minor lay a part of Al Dhiraal Asad al Makbudah, the Contracted Fore Arm, or Paw, of the early Lion; the other, the Extended Paw, running up into the heads of Gemini.

Like its greater neighbor, Procyon foretold wealth and renown, and in all astrology has been much regarded. Leonard Digges wrote in his Prognostication Everlasting of Right Good Effect, an almanac for 1553, —

Who learned in matters astronomical, noteth not the great effects at the rising of the starre called the Litel Dogge.

Caesius made it the Dog of Tobias, in the Apocrypha, that Novidius had claimed for Canis Major; but Julius Schiller imagined it the Paschal Lamb.

Who traced out the original outlines of Canis Minor, and what these outlines were, is uncertain, for the constellation with Ptolemy contained but two recorded stars, and no amorphotoi; and even now Argelander's map shows only 15, although Heis has 37, and Gould 51.

Canis Minor lies to the southeast from the feet of Gemini, its western border over the edge of the Milky Way, and is separated by Monoceros from Canis Major and Argo.

alpha, Binary, 0.4, and 13, yellowish white and yellow.

Procyon, varied by Procion and Prochion, Prokuon, in the original, — has been the name for this from the earliest Greek records, distinctly mentioned by Aratos and Ptolemy, and so known by all the Latins, with the equivalent Antecanis.

Ulug Beg designated it as Al Shira al Shamiyyah, shortened to Al Shamiyyah; Chrysococca transcribing this into his Low Greek Siaer Siame, and Riccioli into Siair Siami; all of these agreeing with its occasional English title the Northern Sirius. The Alfonsine Tables of 1521 quote it as Aschere, Aschemie and Algomeysa; those of 1545, as prochion & Algomeyla.

It thus has many of its constellation's names; in fact, being the magna pars of it, probably itself bore them before the constellation was formed.

{Page 134} Jacob Bryant insisted that its title came to Greece from the Egyptian Pur Cahen.

Euphratean scholars identify it with the Kakkab Paldara, Pallika, or Palura of the cylinders, the Star of the Crossing of the Water-dog, a title evidently given with some reference to the River of Heaven, the adjacent Milky Way; and Hommel says that it was the Kak-shisha which the majority of scholars apply to Sirius.

Dupuis said that in Hindu fables it was Singe Hanuant; and Edkins that it, or Sirius, was the Persian Vanand.

Reeves' Chinese list gives it as Nan Ho, the Southern River, in which beta (Gomeisa) and eta were included.

With the natives of the Hervey Islands it was their goddess Vena.

In astrology, like its constellation, it portended wealth, fame, and good fortune. Procyon culminates on the 24th of February.

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