Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations


the Microscope

Urania's Mirror 1825

Named after the microscope invented in 1590. The first inventors of the microscope were probably two brothers, Hans and Zacharias Janssen of Holland.

The micro- of microscope is from Greek mikros: Related to: micro-, micr-. Micro- is cognate with Latin mica, 'crumb or meal', mica (the aluminum silicate mineral), Micronesia, and microbe. MIC is the abbreviation for this constellation.

The purpose of a microscope is to magnify that which is microscopic, to make greater in size, to enlarge, from the Indo-European root *meg- 'Great'. Derivatives: mickle (great), much, magnate, magnitude, magnum, magnanimous (magnus, + animus, soul, mind), magnific, magnificent, magnifico, magnify, magniloquent, (these words from Latin magnus), major, major domo, majority, majuscule, mayor, (these words from Latin maior, greater), maestoso, majesty, majestic (from Latin maiestas, greatness, authority), maestro, magisterial, magistral, magistrate, master, mister, mistral, mistress, (these words from Latin magister, master, high official < 'he who is greater'), maxim, maximum (from Latin maximus, greatest), may², May (from Latin Maia, the goddess of growth), mega, megalo (large; of exaggerated size or greatness), omega (the letter o + mega, the 24th letter of the Greek alphabet, the end, from Greek megas, stem megal), Almagest (a comprehensive treatise on astronomy, geography, and mathematics compiled by Ptolemy about A.D. 150), Hermes Trismegistus ('thrice greatest', tris + megistos), maharajah, maharani, maharishi, mahatma, Mahayana, mahout (the keeper and driver of an elephant, from Sanskrit maha, mahat, great), magnum, Magna Carta, magna cum laude, megaphone, megalomanic, Cro-Magnon (these words from Latin magnus). [Pokorny meg(h)- 708. Watkins] To this root can be added magnate, magnet, and Magnesia in Thessaly, Greece, home of the Magnesian Mares, mothers of the Centaurs.

"Words formed with meg-, mega- often have contrasting terms formed with micr-, micro- and sometimes also synonyms formed with macr-, macro-" [Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology].

The words micro- and macro- are used in pairs as in microcosm and macrocosm. Hermes Trismegistus's axiom 'As above, so below', meaning that all that is in the Cosmos is mirrored in man the small universe, reflects the macro/micro correspondence [1]. Macro- comes from the Indo-European root *mák- 'Long, thin'. Derivatives: meager (from Latin macer, thin), macro-, macron (mark indicating long sound), amphimacer (three syllables with second unstressed, from Greek makros, long, large), emaciate (to make or become extremely thin, from Latin maciare), mecopteran (insect with beaky structure on head), paramecium (a single-celled microscopic aquatic organism", from Greek mekos, length. [Pokorny mak- 699. Watkins] Macedonia.

The Greeks seem to have used the word mikros in the same way as we use the words 'small' and 'little':

"Greek mikros ‘small,' a variant of smikros, which may be distantly related to English "small" [Ayto].

The words micro- and million are equivalent in connotation. One common microscopic length scale unit is the Micrometer - one millionth of 1 meter. The prefixes mega- and micro- are sometimes used to denote a multiple by one million, and the millionth part, respectively, as for example microgram denotes the millionth part of a gram. Mega is a unit prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one million (106 or 1000000). Mega comes from the Greek megas, meaning 'great, or much' from the above Indo-European root *meg- .

A million is a 'thousand-thousand,' it is a Middle English word, from Old French milion, augmentative of mille, thousand, from Latin mīlle; meant 'a big thousand', comes from the Indo-European root *gheslo- 'Seen by some as a base for words meaning thousand.' Derivatives: chiliad (thousand), kilo- (from Greek khilioi, thousand), mile, millenary (a millenarian is a thousand years), milli- (one thousandth), milliary (the distance of an ancient Roman mile, which equaled 1,000 paces), million, milfoil, millefleur, millennium, millipede, per mil. [Pokorny ghéslo- 446. Watkins]

"One thousand' (mille) comes from 'great number' (multitudo), and whence also 'the military' (militia), as if the word were multitia; and whence also 'thousands' (milia), which the Greeks call myriada (i.e. 'myriads'), with letters changed" [p.90.] “A soldier (miles) is so called because formerly there were a thousand (mille) in one troop, or because one in a thousand was chosen” [p.201.] [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD]

The word military comes from the stem of Latin miles ‘soldier’, from Latin militaris, of uncertain origin.

The ant is of the family Formicidae: Latin mica, 'crumb or meal', is related to micro:

“The ant (formica) is so named because it 'carries bits of grain' (fert micas farris)". [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD, p.254.]

The -mica of Latin formica is related to Greek myrmex, ant, from the Indo-European root *morwi-, 'ant'. Ovid tells how after a plague had wiped out the population of Aegina, its king, Aeacus, prayed to Zeus to restore his people as he watched a line of ants crawling up a tree, carrying grains in their mouths. He asked Zeus for as many subjects as the number of ants he saw. That night he dreamed that the ants changed into human beings. Next morning, he found that the vision in his dream had come true. He named the new people Myrmidons from the Greek name of the ant from which they came, myrmex. According to Greek legend, the Myrmidons were a troop of fierce warriors (military) who fought tirelessly under the leadership of the hero Achilles in the Trojan War. Today the term myrmidon refers to an individual who carries out a command faithfully, regardless of how cruel or inhuman it might be [2]. 'Myrmex' means 'ant' in Greek, an image that evokes small and insignificant workers mindlessly fulfilling their duty. Ovid specifies their talents as 'industry, thrift, endurance; they are eager for gain, and never easily relinquish what they have won' (miserly?) [3].

The prophet Micah's name is short for Mîkâ’l, Michael, the suffix -el meaning God, translated to mean 'who is like god'. St. Michael the Archangel, Leader of the army (military) of God during the Lucifer uprising. He is considered in many Christian circles as the patron saint of the warrior. Police officers and soldiers, particularly paratroopers, regard him as their patron saint [4].

The great enigma of alchemy is the mystery between the Macrocosm and Microcosm. Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos [5]. In the 3rd century CE the Greek Olympiadorus, stated, "the mythic Hermes calls man a small cosmos", the literal meaning of mikro-kosmos. The Macrocosm/Microcosm schemata was developed further by the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus, who proposed that within man was an inner heaven with stars [6].

The physical body is constantly at war and under attack from a multitude of micro-organisms, and malignant bacteria. Like a military operation, the immune cells in response to these threats, rushes to the scene of battle to repel the microbe invaders.

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Microscopium
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 1950 Lat Mag Sp
alpha 04AQU15 05AQU38 311 42 45 -33 57 58 -15 26 26 5.00 G6
gamma 07AQU03 08AQU26 314 33 27 -32 27 16 -14 39 38 4.71 G4
epsilon 10AQU33 11AQU56 318 43 39 -32 22 58 -15 38 49 4.79 A0

Johann Bode, Uranographia, 1801

from Star Names, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Microscopium, formed by La Caille south of Capricornus and west of Piscis Australis, although small and unimportant, contains sixty-nine stars, varying in magnitude from 4.8 to 7, the lucida being theta1.

The constellation comes to the meridian in September, nearly due south of beta Aquarii.

In its vicinity, perhaps including it, was an early figure referred to, in a German astronomical work of 1564 from Frankfurt, as Neper, the Auger, Ideler's Bohrer, which he thus described:

"It is situated at the tail of Sagittarius and Capricornus, and has many stars. At the head of the Neper two, and on the iron three."

Brown alludes to it as an unknown object, and illustrates it in the 47th volume of Archaeologia as from a German astronomical manuscript of the 15th century; but Flammarion, in les Etoiles, probably referring to this same manuscript, thus mentions Neper, as the predecessor of Monoceros: Il est question de la constellation du Neper ou Foret, qui n'est autre que la Licorne.

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