Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations


the Bull

Urania's Mirror 1825

"The Bull plays a splendid part in the Greek mythology. It was under this form that Jupiter carried Europa into Crete, and thereby gave the name of Europe to one of the quarters of the Earth." [The Analytical Dictionary, David Booth, 1836.]

The Taurus constellation is for the most part composed of two main groups of stars; the Pleiades and Hyades. Both groups have connections to rain; pluvial, a word related to Pleiades is a Latin term for rain; and hyein, a Greek term meaning 'to rain' is related to the word Hyades.

Taurus comes from the Indo-european root *tauro-, Bull. Derivative of stā-, but an independent word in Indo-European.
1. taurine (taurocholic acid and found in the fluids of the muscles and lungs of many animals), Taurus, toreador (bull-fighter), torero (a matador); bittern (wading birds of the genera Botaurus), from Latin taurus, bull.
[In Pokorny tēu- 1080.] 

The Greek word tauros is related to the English word steer, the animal. Wikipedia explains:

The term s-mobile designates the phenomenon where a PIE root begins with an *s- which is sometimes but not always present. This "movable" prefix s- appears at the beginning of some Indo-European roots, but is absent from other occurrences of the same root. For example, the stem *(s)tauro-, perhaps 'bison', gives Latin taurus and Old English steor (Modern English steer), both meaning 'bull'.

There is a large Indo-European root *sta- with a large number of extensions that includes the root steer:

Suffixed form *steu-ro-, a larger domestic animal. steer, from Old English stēor, steer, from Germanic *steuraz, ox. 
Suffixed extended form *stau-ro.
a. i. store; instauration (establishment of something) , from Latin īnstaurāre, to restore, set upright again (in-, on; see en);
ii. restore, from Latin restaurāre, to restore, rebuild (re-, anew, again; see re-);
b. staurolite (a mineral), from Greek stauros, cross, post, stake.
Variant *tau-ro-, bull (see tauro-).
[Pokorny stā- 1004. Watkins]

The word 'bull' is from the Indo-European root *bhel-2 'To blow, swell'.

Derivatives: bowl¹, bulk, boulder, bull¹, phallus (a representation of the penis and testes as an embodiment of generative power), ball¹ (and balls, the synonym for testicles), balloon, bold, bawd (a woman in charge of a brothel), bawdy, bald, follicle (a hair follicle), fool and folly. [Pokorny 3. bhel- 120. Watkins]

Bullshit is "foolish, deceitful, or boastful language." [AHD]

"Base *bhelgh-, is an enlargement of base *bhel-2- (above), 'to swell' (Klein)."

Derivatives: bellows (to make the deep roaring sound characteristic of a bull. Bellows started out as the plural of belly), belly from Old English bel(i)g, baelig, bag, bellows, billow (a swelling wave), bolster (a swollen cushion), blagging (informal talk, usually among men, occurring in a public place), budget, bulge. [Pokorny bhelgh- 125. Watkins]

Pleiades: The Pleiades are the daughters of Pleione from where it is said they got their name. There are three suggested derivations for the word Pleiades:

  1. from Greek plein, 'to sail', pleusis, 'sailing', from Indo-European *pleu- 'To flow' (Greek pneuma comes from this root). Pleione is said to mean `sailing one' and her daughters `sailing ones', because the helical rising of the group in May marked the opening of navigation to the Greeks because sailing was safe after they had risen; the setting in the late autumn marked the close of navigation.
  2. from peleiades, flock of doves, from Indo-European *pel-2 'Pale, dark-colored, gray', 'the gray bird'. Some of the classic poets made them a flock of pigeons flying from the celestial hunter Orion. Some versions made them the Seven Doves that carried ambrosia to the infant Zeus [Star Names]. In Hinduism the Pleiades were the Krittikas, the six nurses of Skanda, the infant god of war, who took to himself six heads for his better nourishment.
  3. from pleos, 'full or many' from Indo-European *pele-¹ 'To fill'.

Doves, peleiades (*pel-2), have associations with the 'holy Spirit' or 'holy Ghost' which is a translation of Greek pneuma (*pleu-). Greek pneuma is a loose term used in translation from Greek for spirit, holy ghost, breath, air, and wind.

"The Pleiades are said to have made away with themselves from grief at the death of their sisters, the Hyades, or at the fate of their father, Atlas, and were afterwards placed as stars on the back of Taurus, where they form a cluster resembling 'a bunch of grapes', whence they were sometimes called botrus (botrys, or Butrum)" [1].

Hyades: The other cluster of stars in Taurus form the face or forehead of the bull, are called the Hyades, and were put there to commemorate the sister's mourning of their brother Hyas who was the first-born of the Hyades. The Hyades lived on Mount Nysa and nurtured the infant Bacchus/Dionysus (God of wine; wine is from grapes). The word comes from Greek Huades, probably from Hys meaning 'pig'. In ancient Greek the Hyades cluster of stars were 'the rain-bringers' from hyein, 'to rain'; so called because the wet weather begins when they set. Aldebaran, the alpha star marking the left eye of the bull was sometimes included with the Hyades, and was called a 'Sow'; the colloquial title among the Roman country-people for the Hyades was Suculae, 'the Little Pigs', from Sus, 'Sow'. It was said that the title might come from the resemblance of this group of stars to a pig's jaws; or because Aldebaran and its companion stars were like a sow with her litter. Pliny accounting for it by the fact that the continual rains of the season of their setting made the roads so miry that these stars seemed to delight in dirt, like swine [Allen, Star Names, p.388.].

Hyades comes from the Indo-European root *su- 'Pig'.

Derivatives: swine, hog, Hogan, Hogg, Kellogg, socket, sow², soil², Hyades, hyena. [Pokorny su-s 1038. Watkins]

Hyades was Suculae, 'the Little Pigs'. Pokorny says *su- is probably a derivative of *seue-2

Derivatives: suck, soak, suction. [Pokorny 1. seu- 912. Watkins]

"Callistratus claims the Jews honored the pig because it is from this animal that the Jews learned how to plow the land, witnessing a hog dig his snout into the earth. He further states this explains the relation between the words hynis (”ploughshare”) and swine." http://framingbusiness.net/2006/why-do-the-jews-abstain-from-pork/

The astrological influences given by Manilius for the constellation Taurus:

"The Bull will dower the countryside with honest farmers and will come as a source of toil into their peaceful lives; it will bestow, not gifts of glory, but the fruits of the earth. It bows its neck amid the stars and of itself demands a yoke for its shoulders. When it carries the sun's orb on its horns, it bids battle with the soil begin and rouses the fallow land to its former cultivation, itself leading the work, for it neither pauses in the furrows nor relaxes its breast in the dust. The sign of the Bull has produced a Serranus and a Curius, has carried the rods of office through the fields, and has left its plough to become a dictator [eque suo dictator venit aratro]. Its sons have the love of unsung excellence; their hearts and bodies derive strength from a massiveness that is slow to move, whilst in their faces dwells the boy-god Love (Cupido)." [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, book 4, p.233].

The astrological influences given by Manilius for the Pleiades:

"The Pleiades, sisters who vie with each other's radiance. Beneath their influence devotees of Bacchus (god of wine and ecstasy) and Venus (goddess of love) are born into the kindly light, and people whose insouciance runs free at feasts and banquets and who strive to provoke sweet mirth with biting wit. They will always take pains over personal adornment and an elegant appearance they will set their locks in waves of curls or confine their tresses with bands, building them into a thick topknot, and they will transform the appearance of the head by adding hair to it; they will smooth their hairy limbs with the porous pumice, loathing their manhood and craving for sleekness of arm. They adopt feminine dress, footwear donned not for wear but for show, and an affected effeminate gait. They are ashamed of their sex; in their hearts dwells a senseless passion for display, and they boast of their malady, which they call a virtue. To give their love is never enough, they will also want their love to be seen".  [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, book 5, p.310-313].

The astrological influences given by Manilius for the Hyades:

"The Hyades are a stormy star group and was regarded as a separate constellation. Those born at this time take no pleasure in tranquillity and set no store by a life of inaction; rather they yearn for crowds and mobs and civil disorders. Sedition and uproar delight them; they long for the Gracchi to harangue from the platform, for a secession to the Sacred Mount, leaving but a handful of citizens at Rome; they welcome fights which break the peace and provide sustenance for fears. They herd their foul droves over untilled countryside, for this constellation also begot Ulysses' trusty swineherd (Eumaeus, or Eumaios, was Odysseus' swineherd ). Such are the qualities engendered by the Hyades at the rising of their stars". [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, book 5, p.308-311].

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in in the Pleiades (on the shoulder of the Bull)
Fixed Star Long 1900 Long 2000 Decl 2000 Lat 2000 R A Sp. Cl
Electra 17 28TAU01 29TAU25 +24° 6' 48" +04.11 3h 44m 52.5s B5
Celaeno 16 28TAU02 29TAU26 +24° 17' 22" +04.21 3h 44m 48.2s B7
Taygeta 19 28TAU10 29TAU34 +24° 28' 2" +04.31 3h 45m 12.5s B7
Maia 20 28TAU17 29TAU41 +24° 22' 4" +04.23 3h 45m 49.6s B9
Merope 23 28TAU18 29TAU42 +23° 56' 54" +03.57 3h 46m 19.6s B5
Asterope 21 28TAU21 29TAU44 +24° 33' 17" +04.34 3h 45m 54.4s B9
Alcyone Eta (η) 28TAU36 00GEM00 +24° 6' 18" +04.03 3h 47m 29.1s B7
Parents of the Pleiades
Atlas 27 28TAU58 00GEM21 +24° 3' 12" +03.55 3h 49m 9.7s B9
Pleione 28 28TAU59 00GEM23 +24° 8' 12" +03.59 3h 49m 11.2s B8
The stars in the Hyades (on the face and the eyes of the Bull. Aldebaran is on the left, southern eye. Ain on the right, northern eye)
Prima Hyadum Gamma (γ) 04GEM24 05GEM48 +15° 37' 39" -05.43 4h 19m 47.6s G9
Hyadum II Delta (δ) 05GEM28 06GEM52 +17° 32' 33" -03.58 4h 22m 56.1s G8
theta (θ) 06GEM34 07GEM57 +15° 57' 44" -05 45 03 4h 28m 34.5s G8
Ain Epsilon (ε) 07GEM19 08GEM28 +19° 10' 49" -02.34 4h 28m 37s G8
Aldebaran Alpha (α) 08GEM23 09GEM47 +16° 30' 33" -05.28 4h 35m 55.2s KM
The two Horns of the Bull, Al Hecka is on the tip of south horn, iota is on the south horn El Nath on the north tip
Al Hecka Zeta (ζ) 23GEM23 24GEM47 +21° 8' 33" -02.11 5h 37m 38.7s B2
iota (ι) 15GEM24 16GEM47 +21° 35' 24" -01 12 18 5h 3m 5.7s A5
El Nath Beta (β) 21GEM11 22GEM35 +28° 36' 27" +05.23 5h 26m 17.5s B7
On the underbelly of the Bull
omicron (1) (ο) 19TAU47 21TAU10 +9° 1' 44" -09 20 20 3h 24m 48.8s 3.80
xi (ξ) 20TAU32 21TAU55 +9° 43' 58" -08 48 12 3h 27m 10.2s 3.75
On the right foot
lambda (λ) 29TAU15 00GEM38 +12° 29' 25" -07 57 56 4h 0m 40.8s B3

Hevelius, Firmamentum, 1690

from Star Names, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Ere the heels of flying Capricorn

Have touched the western mountain's darkening rim,

I mark, stern Taurus, through the twilight gray,

The glinting of thy horn,

And sullen front, uprising large and dim,

Bent to the starry Hunter's sword at bay.

— Bayard Taylor's Hymn te Taurus.

Taurus, the Bull, le Taureau of France, il Toro of Italy, and der Stier of Germany, everywhere was one of the earliest and most noted constellations, perhaps the first established, because it marked the vernal equinox from about 4000 to 1700 B.C., in the golden age of archaic astronomy; in all ancient zodiacs preserved to us it began the year. It is to this that Vergil alluded in the much quoted lines from the 1st Georgic, which May rendered:

When with his golden homes bright Taurus opes,

The yeare; and downward the crosse Dog-starre stoopes;

and the poet's description well agrees with mythology's idea of Europa's bull, for he always was thus described, and snowy white in color. This descended to Chaucer's Whyte Bole, in Troilus and Criseyde, from the candidus Taurus of the original. The averse, "crosse," in the second line of this passage:

. . . averso cedens Canis occidit astro, —

adversus with Ovid, and aversaque Tauri sidera with Manilius, — generally has, however, been translated "backward," as a supposed allusion to the constellation rising in reversed position; but quite as probably it is from the mutual hostility of the earthly animals.

Tauros, its universal title in Greek literature, was more specifically given as Tome and Protome, the Bust, the Bull generally being drawn with only his forward parts, Cicero following this in his prosecto corpore Taurus, and Ovid in his

Pars prior apparet Posteriora latent,

{Page 379} which the mythologists accounted for by saying that, as Taurus personified the animal that swam away with Europa, his flanks were immersed in the waves. This association with Europa led to the constellation titles Portitor, or Proditor, Europae; Agenoreus, used by Ovid, referring to her father; and Tyrius, by Martial, to her country. This incomplete figuring of Taurus induced the frequent designation, in early catalogues, Sectio Tauri, which the Arabians adopted, dividing the figure at the star omicron, but retaining the hind quarters as a sub-constellation, Al Hatt, recognized by Ulug Beg, and, in its translation, as Sectio, by Tycho, the line being marked by omicron, xi, s, and f. Ancient drawings generally showed the figure as we do, although some gave the entire shape, Pliny and Vitruvius writing of the Pleiades as cauda Tauri, so implying a complete animal.

Aratos qualified his Tauros by pepteos, "crouching"; Cicero, by inflexoque genu, "on bended knee "; Manilius, by nixus, "striving"; and further, in Creech's translation:

The mighty Bull is lame; His leg turns under;


Taurus bends as wearied by the Plough;

this crouching position also being shown in almost all Euphratean figuring, as are the horns in immense proportions. The last descended to Aratos, who styled the constellation Keraon, and is seen in the Cornus of Ovid. The latter author wrote again of the sky figure:

Vacca sit an taurus non est cognoscere promptum,

from the conflicting legends of Io and Europa; for some of the poets, changing the sex, had called these stars Io, the Wanderer, another object of Jupiter's attentions, whom Juno's jealousy had changed to a cow. They also varied the title by the equivalent Juvenca Inachia and Inachis, from her father Inachus. She afterwards became the ancestress of our Cepheus and Andromeda. Still another version, from the myth of early spring, made Taurus Amasius Pasiphaes, the Lover of Pasiphae; but La Lande's Chironis Filia seems unintelligible.

The story that the Bull was one of the two with brazen feet tamed by the Argonaut Jason, perhaps, has deeper astronomical meaning, for Thompson writes:

The sign Taurus may have been the Cretan Bull; and a transit through that sign may have been the celestial Bosphorus of the Argonautic voyage.

{Page 380} It bore synonymous titles in various languages: in Arabia, Al Thaur, which degenerated to El Taur, Altor, Ataur, Altauro, by Schickard; Tur, by Riccioli; and even now Taur, in our Standard Dictionary. In Syria it was Taura; in Persia, Tora, Ghav, or Gau; in Turkey, Ughuz; and in Judaea, Shor, although also known there as Reem, a word that zoologically appears in the Authorized Version of our Bible as the "unicorn," but better in the Revised as the "wild ox."

Latin writers mentioned it under its present name, to which Germanicus added Bos from the country people, although it also was Princeps armenti, the Leader of the herd, and Bubulcus, the peasant Driver of the Oxen, a title more usual and more correct, however, for Bootes; La Lande quoting it as Bubulum Caput.

Manilius characterized Taurus as dives puellis, "rich in maidens," referring to its seven Hyades and seven Pleiades, all daughters of Atlas, and the chief attraction in a constellation not otherwise specially noticeable. An early Grecian gem shows three nude figures, hand in hand, standing on the head of the Bull, one pointing to seven stars in line over the back, which Landseer referred to the Hyades; but as six of the stars are strongly cut, and one but faintly so, and the letter P is superscribed, Doctor Charles Anthon is undoubtedly correct in claiming them for the Pleiades, and the three figures for the Graces, or Charites. These were originally the Vedic Harits, associated with the sun, stars, and seasons; and this astronomical character adhered to the Charites, for their symbols in their ancient temple in Boeotia were stones reputed to have fallen from the sky.

A coin, struck 43 B.C. by P. Clodius Turrinus, bore the Pleiades in evident allusion to the consular surname; while earlier still — 312-64 B.C. — the Seleucidae of Syria placed the humped bull in a position of attack on their coins as symbol of this constellation. The gold muhrs, or mohurs, and the zodiacal rupees, attributed to Jehangir Shah, of 1618, show Taurus as a complete, although spiritless, creature, with the gibbous hump peculiar to Indian cattle. This is always drawn in the Euphratean stellar figure, and was described as Kurtos (curved) by an early commentator on the Syntaxis. But the silver rupees of the same monarch have the customary half animal in bold, butting attitude exactly as it is now, and as it was described by Manilius in his flexus and nisus, and by Lucan in his curvatus. A very ancient coin of Samos, perhaps of the 6th century before Christ, bears a half-kneeling, sectional figure of a bull, with a lion's head on the obverse; and one of Thuru, in Lucania, of the 4th century B.C., has the complete animal in position to charge. Another of this same city bears the Bull with a bird on its back, perhaps symbolizing the Peleiad Doves.

{Page 381} Plutarch wrote, in his De Facie Orbe Lunae, that when the planet Saturn was in Taurus, i, e. every thirty years, there took place the legendary migration from the external continent beyond the Cronian, or Saturnian, Sea to the Homeric Orgyia, or to one of its sister islands.

South American tribes held ideas similar to our own about Taurus, for La Condamine, the celebrated French scientist of the last century, said that the Amazon Indians saw in the > of the Hyades the head of a bull; while Goguet more definitely stated that, at the time of the discovery of that river, by Yanez Pinzon in 1500, the natives along its banks called the group Tapura Rayoaba, the Jaw of an Ox; and even in civilized countries it has been fancifully thought that its shape, with the horns extending to beta and zeta, gave title to the constellation.

In China it formed part of the White Tiger, and also was known as Ta Leang, the Great Bridge, from a very early designation of the Hyades and Pleiades; but as a zodiac constellation it was the Cock, or Hen, recalling the modern Hen and Chickens of the Pleiades. When the Jesuits introduced their Western nomenclature it became Kin Neu, the Golden Ox.

After Egyptian worship of the bull-god Osiris had spread to other Mediterranean countries, our Taurus naturally became his sky representative, as also of his wife and sister Isis, and even assumed her name; but the starry Bull of the Nile country was not ours, at least till late in that astronomy. Still this constellation is said to have begun the zodiacal series on the walls of a sepulchral chamber in the Ramesseum; and, whatever may have been its title, its stars certainly were made much of throughout all Egyptian history and religion, not only from its then containing the vernal equinox, but from the belief that the human race was created when the sun was here. In Coptic Egypt it, or the Pleiades, was Orias, the Good Season, Kircher's Static Hori, although it was better known as Apis, the modern form of the ancient Hapi, whose worship as god of the Nile may have preceded even the building of the pyramids.

As first in the early Hebrew zodiac it was designated by A or Aleph, the first letter of that alphabet, coincidentally a crude figure of the Bull's face and horns; some of the Targums assigning it to the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, from Moses' allusion to their father Joseph in the 33d chapter of Deuteronomy, "his horns are the horns of the wild ox"; but others said that it appeared only on the banners of Ephraim; or referred it to Simeon and Levi jointly, from Jacob's death-bed description of their character, — "they houghed an ox"; or to Issachar, the "strong ass" which shared with the ox the burdens of toil and carriage.

It has been associated with the animal that Adam first offered in sacrifice, {Page 382} or with the later victims in the Jewish temple; and the Christian school of which Novidius was spokesman recognized in Taurus the Ox that stood with the ass by the manger at the blessed Nativity. Hood said of this: "But whether there were any ox there or no, I know not how he will prove it." In the "apostolic zodiac" it became Saint Andrew; but Caesius said that long before him it was Joseph the Patriarch.

Representations of the Mithraic Bull on gems of four or five centuries before Christ, reproduced in Lajarde's Culte de Mithra, prove that Taurus was at that time still prominent in Persico-Babylonian astronomy as well as in its religion. One of these representations, showing the front of the Bull's head, may very well be the origin of our present symbol of this sign, gamma, although it also has been considered a combination of the full and crescent moon, associated with this constellation as a nocturnal sign; and some assert that Taurus was drawn as a demi-bull from his representing the crescent moon. This appears on a Babylonian cylinder seal of about 2150 B.C. Still earlier in Akkadia it seems to have been known as the Bull of Light, its double title, Te Te, referring to its two groups, the Hyades and Pleiades, which in every age have been of so much interest to mankind; and a cylinder has Gut-an-na, the Heavenly Bull, mentioned in connection with rain, so recalling the rainy Hyades. Epping says that it was the Babylonians' Shur, and that four of their ecliptic constellations were marked by its stars; while Jensen mentions it as symbolic of Marduk, the Spring Sun, son of Ia, whose worship seems to have been general 2200 B.C., — probably long before, — and that it was originally complete and extended as far as the Fish of Ia, the northern of the two Fishes. This high authority carries the formation of Taurus still farther back, to about 5000 B.C., even before the equinox lay here. The name of the second of the antediluvian Babylonian kings, the mythical Alaparos, seems connected with this constellation or with the lucida, Aldebaran; and its stars certainly were associated with the second month of the Assyrian year, A-aru, the Directing Bull, our April-May, as they were in the Epic of Creation with the conquest of the Centaur.

Taurus was the Cingalese Urusaba, the early Hindu Vrisha, Vrishan, or Vrouchabam, in the Tamil tongue, Rishabam; but subsequently Varaha Mihira gave it as Taouri, his rendering of Taurus, and Al Biruni, in his India, as Tambiru.

With the Druids it was an important object of worship, their great religious festival, the Tauric, being held when the sun entered its boundaries; and it has, perhaps fancifully, been claimed that the tors of England were the old sites of their Taurine cult, as our cross-buns are the present representatives of the early bull cakes with the same stellar association, tracing {Page 383} back through the ages to Egypt and Phoenicia. And the Scotch have a story that on New Year's eve the Candlemas Bull is seen rising in the twilight and sailing across the sky, — a matter-of-fact statement, after all.

The Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy four centuries ago gave it as Fearr.

Astrologers made this sign the lord of man's neck, throat, and shoulders; Shakespeare having an amusing passage in Twelfth Night, in the dialogue between Sirs Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, when both blunder as to this character of Taurus. And it was considered under the guardianship of Venus, sharing this distinction with the body of Scorpio, — some said with Libra, — whence it was known as Veneris Sidus, Domus Veneris nocturna, and Gaudium Veneris: an idea also perhaps influenced by its containing the Peleiades, the Doves, the favorite birds of that goddess. It ruled over Ireland, Greater Poland, part of Russia, Holland, Persia, Asia Minor, the Archipelago, Mantua, and Leipzig in modern astrology, as it did over Arabia, Asia, and Scythia in ancient; Ampelius assigned to it the care of the much dreaded west-northwest wind, Pliny's Argestes. White and lemon were the colors allotted to it. On the whole, it was an unfortunate constellation, although a manuscript almanac of 1386 had "whoso is born in yat syne schal have grace in bestis"; and thunder, when the sun was here, "brought a plentiful supply of victuals."

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


The Hyades

The Hyades marked by the sailor.

— Potter's translation of Euripides' ...

As when the seaman sees the Hyades

Gather an army of Cimmerian clouds,

Auster and Aquilon with winged steeds.

— Christopher Marlowe's History of Doctor Faustus.

alpha, theta1, theta2, gamma, delta, and epsilon Tauri, 10° southeast of the Pleiades, Whitening all the Bull's broad forehead, form one of the most beautiful objects in the sky, and have been famous for ages, especially with the classical authors.

{Page 387} Mythologically they were daughters of Atlas and Aethra, and hence half-sisters of the Pleiades, with whom they made up the fourteen Atlantides; or the Dodonides, the nymphs of Dodona, to whom Jupiter entrusted the nurture of the infant Bacchus, and raised them to the sky when driven into the sea by Lycurgus. Similarly they were said to be the Nysiades, the nymphs of Nysa, and teachers of Bacchus in India.

Anciently supposed to be seven in number, we moderns count but six, and Hesiod named only five, — Kleea, Eudora, Koronis, Phaeo, and Phaesula; but Pherecydes gave a complete list of them, although one of his names has been lost, and the rest, preserved by Hyginus, vary from those given by Hesiod, and doubtless are somewhat corrupted in form. These were Aesula or Pedile, Ambrosia, Dione, Thyene or Thyone, Eudora, Koronis, and Polyxo or Phyto. Pherecydes probably took in beta and zeta, at the tips of the horns, omitting some of the fainter stars now included in the group; Thales, however, is said to have acknowledged but two, — alpha and epsilon in the eyes, — "one in the Northern Hemisphere, and the other in the South"; Hipparchos and Ptolemy named only alpha and gamma as Uadon; Euripides, in the Phaethon, counted three; and Achaeus, four. Ovid used Thyone for the whole, but none of the sisters' names have been applied to the individual stars as in the case of the Pleiades.

They are among the few stellar objects mentioned by Homer, — and by him, Hesiod, Manilius, Pliny, and doubtless others, given separately from Taurus. Pliny called them Parilicium, from their lucida, Aldebaran.

The Greeks knew them as Uades, which became "Hyades" with the cultured Latins, supposed by some to be from uein, "to rain," referring to the, wet period attending their morning and evening setting in the latter parts of May and November; and this is their universal character in the literature of all ages. Thus we have Hyades Graiis ab imbre vocat of Ovid's Fasti; pluviasque Hyadas of the Aeneid and of Ovid again; and pluviae generally, which Manilius expressed in his

Sad Companions of the turning Year.

While far back of all these, in the She King:

The Moon wades through Hyads bright,

Foretelling heavier rain.

Pliny wrote of them as being "a violent and troublesome star causing stormes and tempests raging both on land and sea"; in later times Edmund Spenser called them the Moist Daughters; Tennyson, in his Ulysses, said:

Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades vext the dim sea;

{Page 388} and Owen Meredith has "the watery Hyades" in The Earl's Return. The queer old Guide into Tongues of John Minsheu, calling them the Seven Stars, — the only instance of this title that I have met for this group, — makes still more intimate their connection with the showers; for at its word Hyades the reader is referred to the word Raine, where we see:

Hyades, uades, dictae stellae quaedam in cornibus Tauri; quae ortu occasuq, sus pluvias largosque imbres concitant.

And in Doctor Johnson's Dictionary the word is defined as "a watery constellation." Thus they have always been considered most noteworthy by husbandmen, mariners, and all who were dependent upon the weather, even to the last two or three centuries.

Ovid called them Sidus Hyantis, after their earthly brother, Hyas, whose name, after all, would seem to be the most natural derivation of the title; and it was their grief at his death which gave additional point to Horace's tristes Hyadas, and, in one version of their story, induced Jove to put them in the sky.

But their colloquial title among the Roman country-people was Suculae, the Little Pigs, as if from Sus, Sow, the Greek Us, Homer's Sus, which indeed might as well be the derivation of Uades; as uein. This name constantly occurs in astronomical literature from the time of Columella and Pliny to Kepler, Hevelius, and Flamsteed; Pliny accounting for it by the fact that the continual rains of the season of their setting made the roads so miry that these stars seemed to delight in dirt, like swine. And this idea, trivial though it seems, was sufficiently prevalent for Cicero, a century before Pliny, to think worthy of contradiction in his De Natura Deorum. Smyth said that the title might come from the resemblance of the group to a pig's jaws; or because Aldebaran and its companion stars were like a sow with her litter. Peck suggests, in his Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, that Suculae was the oldest Roman name, given before the Greek appellation was known, and to be compared with our popular stellar titles such as the Dipper, Charles' Wain, etc. Isidorus traced it to sucus, "moisture," a pleasanter derivation, and possibly more correct, than that held in ancient Italy. This will account for Bayer's Succidae.

Bassus and others knew the group as u-psilon, the symbol with Pythagoras for human life; and the Roman V, as it resembles those letters, — alpha and epsilon being the extremes, gamma at the vertex. But Ulug Beg's translator wrote:

"Quinque stellae quae sunt in facie, in forma lambdae Graecorum et forma rov Dal."

In the Alfonsine Tables we find Lampadas, the accusative plural of Lampada, a Torch.

{Page 389} Occasional Arabic titles were Al Mijdah, a Triangular Spoon, and Al Kilas, the Little She Camels, referring to the smaller stars in distinction from Aldebaran, the Large Camel; Al Ferghani wrote the word Kalais. These Little Camels appeared in one Arabic story as driven before the personified Aldebaran, in evidence of his riches, when he went again to woo Al Thurayya, the Pleiades, who previously had spurned him on account of his poverty. Another author made the word Al Kallas, the Boiling Sea, so continuing in Arabia the Greek and Roman ideas of its stormy and watery character. Generally, however, in that country, the Hyades were Al Dabaran, which was adopted in the 1515 Almagest, as well as in the Alfonsine Tables of 1521, where we read sunt stellae aldebaran, specially referring to the star gamma "of those in the face." The Arabic title, therefore, was identical with that of the 2nd manzil (Arabic Moon Mansion), which these stars constituted, as they also did the 2nd nakshatra (Hindu Moon Mansion), Rohini, Aldebaran marking the junction with the adjacent Mrigacirsha.

The Hindus figured this asterism as a Temple, or Wagon; and there are many astrological allusions to it in the Siddhantas, the collective term for the various standard astronomical books of that people.

The Chinese utilized it for their 2nd sieu (Chinese Moon Mansion), Pi, or Peih, anciently Pal, a Hand-net, or a Rabbit-net, but included lambda and sigma; although some limited this station to epsilon, the farthest to the north. The She King thus described it:

Long and curved is the Rabbit Net of the sky;

but with that people generally it was the Star of the Hunter, and, with the astrologers, the Drought Car. This title, however, was inappropriate, for the Hyades seem to have been as closely identified with rain in China as in Greece or Rome, — indeed were worshiped as Yu Shi, the General, or Ruler, of Rain, from at least 1100 B.C. Still this character was not native, but must have been derived from western Asia, where the early rains coincided with the heliacal rising of these stars, which was not the case in China by nearly two months. The adjacent small stars, with xi, were Tien Lin, the Celestial Public Granary; and the whole group was known as the Announcer of Invasion on the Border.

The Hyades have been identified with the scriptural Mazzaroth, but there is little foundation for this; even less than for their identification, by Saint Jerome and by Riccioli, with the Kimah of the Book of Job, ix, 9.

Anglo-Saxon titles are Raedgastran, Raedgasnan, and Redgaesrum, whatever these may mean; and the Boar-Throng which that people saw in the sky may have been this group rather than Orion as generally is supposed.

It is thought that the Hyades have a united proper motion towards the {Page 390} west. They are rich in doubles and full of interest to the owners of even small glasses.

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

The Pleiades

 Atlas - The father of the Hyades and Pleiades, who was condemned to support the weight of the heavens on his head and hands.  Titan bearing up the Heavens.  The Endurer.  Believed by some mythologists to be the originator of the constellations.  Others believe it was Chiron (Centaurus).

Plein - (Pleione, the mother), means `to sail', making Pleione `sailing queen' and her daughters `sailing ones.'

Alcyone - Seduced by Poseidon. The Central One. The Hen.

Asterope (Sterope) - Raped by Aries and gave birth to Oenomaus, king of Pisa.

Celæno - Seduced by Poseidon. Was said to be struck by lightning.

Electra - Seduced by Zeus and gave birth to Dardanus, founder of Troy.

Maia - Eldest and most beautiful of the sisters. Seduced by Zeus and gave birth to Hermes. Later became foster-mother to Arcas, son of Zeus and Callisto, during the period while Callisto was a bear, she and Arcas were placed in the heavens by Zeus (she as Ursa Major, Arcas Ursa Minor).

Merope - The missing one or Lost Pleiades. This is the seventh of the sisters. She alone, married a mortal man; Sisyphus, and she repents of it, she hid her face in shame at being the only one not married to a god and from shame at the deed, she alone of the sisters hides herself in the sky (there is some dispute over whether it is Merope or Electra that hides herself, i.e. the star does not shine). Her husband, Sisyphus, son of Æolus, grandson of Deucalion (the Greek Noah), and great-grandson of Prometheus. Sisyphus - Merope's husband - founded the city of Ephyre (Corinth) and later revealed Zeus's rape of Ægina to her father Asopus (a river), for which Zeus condemned him to roll a huge stone up a hill in Hades, only to have it roll back down each time the task was nearly done.  

Taygete/a - This is the sister who consecrated to Artemis the Cerynitian Hind with the golden horns that Heracles (3rd labor) had to fetch.  Seduced by Zeus and gave birth to Lacedæmon, founder of Sparta.

The seven sweet Pleiades above.

— Owen Meredith's The Wanderer.

The group of sister stars, which mothers love

To show their wondering babes, the gentle Seven.

— Bryant's The Constellations.

the Narrow Cloudy Train of Female Stars of Manilius, and the Starry Seven, Old Atlas’ Children, of Keats' Endymion, have everywhere been {Page 392} among the most noted objects in the history, poetry, and mythology of the heavens; though, as Aratos wrote,

not a mighty space

Holds all, and they themselves are dim to see.

All literature contains frequent allusions to them, and in late years they probably have been more attentively and scientifically studied than any other group.

They generally have been located on the shoulder of the Bull as we have them, but Hyginus, considering the animal figure complete, placed them on the hind quarter; Nicander, Columella, Vitruvius, and Pliny, on the tail,

In cauda Tauri septem quas appellavere Vergilias; —

although Pliny also is supposed to have made a distinct constellation of them. Proclus and Geminos said that they were on the back; and others, on the neck, which Bayard Taylor followed in his Hymn to Taurus, where they

Cluster like golden bees upon thy mane.

Eratosthenes, describing them as over the animal, imitated Homer and Hesiod in his Pleias; while Aratos, calling them, in the Attic dialect, Pleiades, placed them near the knees of Perseus; thus, as in most of his poem, following Eudoxos, whose sphere, it is said, clearly showed them in that spot. Hipparchos in the main coincided with this, giving them as Pleias and Pleiades; but Ptolemy used the word in the singular for four of the stars, and did not separate them from Taurus. The Arabians and Jews put them on the rump of Aries; and the Hindu astronomers, on the head of the Bull, where we now see the Hyades.

The Pleiades seem to be among the first stars mentioned in astronomical literature, appearing in Chinese annals of 2357 B.C., Alcyone, the lucida, then being near the vernal equinox, although now 24° north of the celestial equator; and in the Hindu lunar zodiac as the 1st nakshatra, Krittika [Allen notes: The Krittikas were the six nurses of Skanda, the infant god of war, represented by the planet Mars, literally motherless, who took to himself six heads for his better nourishment, and his nurses' name in Karttikeya, Son of the Krittikas.] Karteek, or Kartiguey, the General of the Celestial Armies, probably long before 1730 B.C., when precession carried the equinoctial point into Aries. Al Biruni, referring to this early position of the equinox in the Pleiades, which he found noticed "in some books of Hermes," wrote: {Page 393} This statement must have been made about 3000 years and more before Alexander.

And their beginning the astronomical year gave rise to the title "the Great Year of the Pleiades" for the cycle of precession of about 25,900 years.

The Hindus pictured these stars as a Flame typical of Agni, the god of fire and regent of the asterism, and it may have been in allusion to this figuring that the western Hindus held in the Pleiad month Kartik (October-November) their great star-festival Dibali, the Feast of Lamps, which gave origin to the present Feast of Lanterns of Japan. But they also drew them, and not incorrectly, as a Razor with a short handle, the radical word in their title, kart, signifying "to cut."

The Santals of Bengal called them Sar en; and the Turks, Ulgher.

As a Persian lunar station they were Perv, Perven, Pervis, Parvig, or Parviz, although a popular title was Peren, and a poetical one, Parur. In the Rubais, or Rubdiyat, of the poet-astronomer Omar Khayyam, the tent-maker of Naishapur in 1123, "who stitched the tents of science," they were Parwin, the Parven of that country to-day; and, similarly, with the Khorasmians and Sogdians, Parvi and Parur; — all these from Peru, the Begetters, as beginning all things, probably with reference to their beginning the year.

In China they were worshiped by girls and young women as the Seven Sisters of Industry, while as the 1st sieu (Moon Mansion) they were Mao, Mau, or Maou, anciently Mol, The Constellation, and Gang, of unknown signification, Alcyone being the determinant.

On the Euphrates, with the Hyades, they seem to have been Mas-tab-ba-gal-gal-la, the Great Twins of the ecliptic, Castor and Pollux (Gemini) being the same in the zodiac.

In the 5th century before Christ Euripides mentioned them with Aetos, our Altair, as nocturnal timekeepers; and Sappho, a century previously, marked the middle of the night by their setting. Centuries still earlier Hesiod and Homer brought them into their most beautiful verse; the former calling them Atlagenes, Atlas-born. The patriarch Job is thought to refer to them twice in his word Kimah, a Cluster, or Heap, which the Hebrew herdsman-prophet Amos, probably contemporary with Hesiod, also used; the prophet's term being translated "the seven stars" in our Authorized Version, but "Pleiades" in the Revised. The similar Babylonian-Assyrian Kimtu, or Kimmatu, signifies a "Family Group," for which the Syrians had Kima, quoted in Humboldt's Cosmos as Gemat; this most natural simile is repeated in Seneca's Medea as densos Pleiadum greges. Manilius had Glomerabile Sidus, the Rounded Asterism, equivalent to the {Page 394} Globus Pleiadum of Valerius Flaccus; while Brown translates the Pleiades; of Aratos as the Flock of Clusterers.

In Milton's description of the Creation it is said of the sun that

the gray Dawn and the Pleiades before him danced,

Shedding sweet influence, —

the original of these last words being taken by the poet from the Book of Job, xxxviii, 31, in the Authorized Version, that some have thought an astrological reference to the Pleiades as influencing the fortunes of mankind, or to their presumed influential position as the early leaders of the Lunar Mansions. The Revised Version, however, renders them "cluster," and the Septuagint by the Greek word for "band," as if uniting the members of the group into a fillet; others translate it as "girdle," a conception of their figure seen in Amr al Kais' contribution to the Muallakat, translated by Sir William Jones:

It was the hour when the Pleiades appeared in the firmament like the folds of a silken sash variously decked with gems.

Von Herder gave Job's verse as:

Canst thou bind together the brilliant Pleiades ?

Beigel as:

Canst thou not arrange together the rosette of diamonds of the Pleiades ?

and Hafiz wrote to a friend:

To thy poems Heaven affixes the Pearl Rosette of the Pleiades as a seal of immortality.

An opening rose also was a frequent Eastern simile; while in Sadi's Gulistan, the Rose-garden, we read:

The ground was as if strewn with pieces of enamel, and rows of Pleiades seemed to hang on the branches of the trees;

or, in Graf's translation:

as though the tops of the trees were encircled by the necklace of the Pleiades.

William Roscoe Thayer repeated the Persian thought in his Halid:

slowly the Pleiades

Dropt like dew from bough to bough of the cinnamon trees.

{Page 395} That all these wrote better than they knew is graphically shown by Miss Clerke where, alluding to recent photographs of the cluster by the Messrs. Henry of Paris, she says:

The most curious of these was the threading together of stars by filmy processes. In one case seven aligned stars appeared strung on a nebulous filament "like beads on a rosary." The "rows of stars," so often noticed in the sky, may therefore be concluded to have more than an imaginary existence.

The title, written also Pliades and, in the singular, Plias, has commonly been derived from plein "to sail," for the heliacal rising of the group in May marked the opening of navigation to the Greeks, as its setting in the late autumn did the close. But this probably was an afterthought, and a better derivation is from pleios, the Epic form of pleos, "full," or, in the plural, "many," a very early astronomical treatise by an unknown Christian writer having Plyades a pluralitate. This coincides with the biblical Kimah and the Arabic word for them — Al Thurayya. But as Pleione was the mother of the seven sisters, it would seem still more probable that from her name our title originated.

Some of the poets, among them Athenaeus, Hesiod, Pindar, and Simonides, likening the stars to Rock-pigeons flying from the Hunter Orion, wrote the word Peleiades, which, although perhaps done partly for metrical reasons, again shows the intimate connection in early legend of this group with a flock of birds. When these had left the earth they were turned into the Pleiad stars. Aeschylus assigned the daughters' pious grief at their father's (Atlas) labor in bearing the world as the cause of their transformation and subsequent transfer to the heavens; but he thought these Peleiades apteroi, "wingless." Other versions made them the Seven Doves that carried ambrosia to the infant Zeus, one of the flock being crushed when passing between the Symplegades, although the god filled up the number again. This probably originated in that of the dove which helped Argo through; Homer telling us in the Odyssey that

No bird of air, no dove of swiftest wing,

That bears ambrosia to the ethereal king,

Shuns the dire rocks; in vain she cuts the skies,

The dire rocks meet and crush her as she flies;

and the doves on Nestor's cup described in the Iliad have been supposed to refer to the Pleiades. Yet some have prosaically asserted that this columbine title is merely from the loosing of pigeons in the auspices customary {Page 396} at the opening of navigation. These stories may have given rise to the Sicilians' Seven Dovelets, the Sette Palommielle of the Pentameron.

Another title analogous to the foregoing is Butrum from Isidorus, — Caesius wrongly writing it Brutum, — in the mediaeval Latin for Botrus, a Bunch of Grapes, to which the younger Theon likened them. It is a happy simile, although Thompson [Allen notes: He traces the word back as equivalent to oinas, a Dove, probably Columba oenas of Old World ornithology, and so named from its purple-red breast like wine, — oinos, and naturally referred to a bunch of grapes; or perhaps because the bird appeared in migration at the time of the vintage. This is strikingly confirmed by the fact that coins of Mallos in Cilicia bore doves with bodies formed by bunches of grapes; these coins being succeeded by others bearing grapes alone; and we often see the bird and fruit still associated in early Christian symbolism.] considers it merely another avian association like that seen in the poetical Peleiades and the Alcyone of the lucida.

Vergiliae and Sidus Vergiliarum have always been common for the cluster as rising after Ver, the Spring, — the Breeches Bible having this marginal note at its word "Pleiades" in the Book of Job, xxxviii, 31:

which starres arise when the sunne is in Taurus which is the spring time and bring flowers.

And these names obtained from the times of the Latin poets to the 18th century, but often erroneously written Virgiliae. Pliny, describing the glow-worms, designated them as stellae and likened them to the Pleiades:

Behold here before your very feet are your Vergiliae; of that constellation are they the offspring.

And the much quoted lines in Locksley Hall are similar:

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising through the mellow shade, Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

Bayer cited Signatricia Lumina.

Hesiod called them the Seven Virgins and the Virgin Stars; Vergil, the Eoae Atlantides; Milton, the Seven Atlantic Sisters; and Hesperides, the title for another batch of Atlas' daughters from Hesperis, has been applied to them. Chaucer, in the Hous of Fame, had Atlantes doughtres sevene; but his "Sterres sevene" refer to the planets. As the Seven Sisters they are familiar to all; and as the Seven Stars they occur in various early Bible versions; in the Sifunsterri of the Anglo-Saxons, though they also wrote Pliade; in the Septistellium vestis institoris, cited by Bayer; and in the modern German Siebengestirn. This numerical title also frequently has been applied to the brightest stars of the Greater Bear (Ursa Major), as in early days it was to the "seven planets," — the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Minsheu had the words" Seven Starres "indiscriminately for {Page 397} the Pleiades, Hyades, and Ursa Major, saying, as to the first," that appear in a cluster about midheaven."

As the group outline is not unlike that of the Dipper in Ursa Major, many think that they much more deserve the name Little Dipper than do the seven stars in Ursa Minor; indeed that name is not uncommon for them. And even in our 6th century, with Hesychios, they were Satilla, a Chariot, or Wagon, another well-known figure for Ursa Major.

Ideler mentioned a popular designation by his countrymen, — Schiffahrts Gestirn, the Sailors' Stars, — peculiarly appropriate from the generally supposed derivation of their Greek title and meteorological character of 2000 years ago; but the Tables of some Obscure Word is of King James I anticipated this in “Seamens Starres the seaven starres."

The Teutons had Seulainer; the Gaels, Griglean, Grioglachan, and Meanmnach; the Hungarians, who, Grimm says, have originated 280 native names for stars, called the Pleiades Fiastik and Heteveny, — this last in Finland Hete wane; the Lapps of Norway knew them as Niedgierreg; while the same people in Sweden had the strange Suttjenes Rauko, Fur in Frost, these seven stars covering a servant turned out into the cold by his master. The Finns and Lithuanians likened them to a Sieve with holes in it; and some of the French peasantry to a Mosquito Net, Cousiniere, — in the Languedoc tongue Cousigneiros. The Russians called them Baba, the Old Wife; and the Poles, Baby, the Old Wives.

As we have seen the Hyades likened to a Boar Throng, so we find with Hans Egede, the first Norse missionary to Greenland, 1721-34, that this sister group was the Killukturset of that country, Dogs baiting a bear; and similarly in Wales, Y twr tewdws, the Close Pack.

Weigel included them among his heraldic constellations as the Multiplication Table, a coat of arms for the merchants.

Sancho Panza visited them, in his aerial voyage on Clavileno Aligero, as las Siete Cabrillas, the Seven Little Nanny Goats; and la Racchetta, the Battledore, is a familiar and happy simile in Italy; but the astronomers of that country now know them as Plejadi, and those of Germany as Plejaden.

The Rabbis are said to have called them Sukkoth Renoth, usually translated "the Booths of the Maidens" or "the Tents of the Daughters," and the Standard Dictionary still cites this supposed Hebrew title; but Riccioli reversed it as Filiae Tabernaculi. All this, however, seems to be erroneous, as is well explained in the Speaker's Commentary on the 2d Book of the Kings xvii, 30, where the words are shown to be intended for the Babylonian goddess Zarbanit, Zirat-banit, or Zir-pa-nit, the wife of Bel Marduk. The Alfonsine Tables say that the "Babylonians," by whom were probably {Page 398} meant the astrologers, knew them as Atorage, evidently their word for the manzil Al Thurayya, the Many Little Ones, a diminutive form of Tharwan, Abundance, which Al Biruni assumed to be either from their appearance, or from the plenty produced in the pastures and crops by the attendant rains. We see this title in Bayer's Athoraie; in Chilmead's Atauria quasi Taurinae; and otherwise distorted in every late mediaeval work on astronomy. Riccioli, commenting on these in his Almagestum Novum, wrote Arabice non Athoraiae vel Atarage sed Altorieh sen Benat Elnasch, hoc est filiae congregationis; the first half of which may be correct enough, but the Benat, etc., singularly confounded the Pleiad stars with those of Ursa Major. In his Astronomia Reformata he cited Athorace and Altorich from Aben Ragel. Turanya is another form, which Hewitt says is from southern Arabia, where they were likened to a Herd of Camels with the star Capella as the driver.

A special Arabic name for them was Al Najm, the Constellation par excellence, and they may be the Star, or the Star of piercing brightness, referred to by Muhammad in the 53d and 86th Suras of the Kuran, and versified from the latter by Sir Edwin Arnold in his At Hafiz, the Preserver:

By the sky and the night star'

By Al Tarik the white star!

To proclaim dawn near;

Shining clear —

When darkness covers man and beast —

the planet Venus being intended by Al Tarik. Grimm cited the similar Syryan Voykodzyun, the Night Star.

They shared the watery character always ascribed to the Hyades, as is shown in Statius' Pliadum nivosum sidus; and Valerius Flaccus distinctly used the word "Pliada" for the showers, as perhaps did Statius in his Pliada movere; while Josephus states, among his very few stellar allusions, that during the investment of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes, 170 B.C., the besieged suffered from want of water, but were finally relieved "by a large shower of rain which fell at the setting of the Pleiades." In the same way they are intimately connected with traditions of the Flood found among so many and widely separated nations, and especially in the Deluge-myth of Chaldaea. Yet with all this well established reputation, we read in the Works and Days:

When with their domes the slow-paced snails retreat,

Beneath some foliage, from the burning heat

Of the Pleiades, your tools prepare.

{Page 399} They were a marked object on the Nile, at one time probably called Chu or Chow, and supposed to represent the goddess Nit or Neith, the Shuttle, one of the principal divinities of Lower Egypt, identified by the Greeks with Athene, the Roman Minerva. Hewitt gives another title from that country, Athurai, the Stars of Athyr (Hathor), very similar to the Arabic word for them; and Professor Charles Piazzi Smyth suggests that the seven chambers of the Great Pyramid commemorate these seven stars.

Grecian temples were oriented to them, or to their lucida; those of Athene on the Acropolis; of different dates, to their correspondingly different positions when rising. These were the temple of 1530 B.C.; the Hecatompedon of 1150 B.C.; and the great Parthenon, finished on the same site 438 B.C. The temple of Bacchus at Athens, 1030 B.C., looked toward their setting, as did the Asclepieion at Epidaurus, 1275 B.C., and the temple at Sunium of 845 B.C. While at some unknown date, perhaps contemporaneous with these Grecian structures, they were pictured in the New World on the walls of a Palenque temple upon a blue background; and certainly were a well-known object in other parts of Mexico, for Cortez heard there, in 1519, a very ancient tradition of the destruction of the world in some past age at their midnight culmination.

A common figure for these stars, everywhere popular for many centuries, is that of a Hen with her Chickens, — another instance of the constant association of the Pleiades with flocking birds, and here especially appropriate from their compact grouping. Aben Ragel and other Hebrew writers thus mentioned them, sometimes with the Coop that held them, — the Massa Gallinae of the Middle Ages; these also appearing in Arabic folk-lore, and still current among the English peasantry. In modern Greece, as the Hencoop, they are Poulia or Pouleia, not unlike the word of ancient Greece. Miles Coverdale, the translator in 1535 of the first complete English Bible, had as a marginal note to the passage in the Book of Job:

these vii starres, the clock henne with her chickens;

and Riccioli, in his Almagestum Novum:

Germanice Bruthean: Anglice Butrio id est gallina fovens pullos.

We see in the foregoing the Butrum of Isidorus, Riccioli's great predecessor in the Church. The German farm laborers call them Gluck Henne; the Russian, Nasedha, the Sitting Hen; the Danes, Aften Hoehne, the Eve Hen; while in Wallachia they are the Golden Cluck Hen and her five Chicks. In Serbia a Girl is added in charge of the brood, probably the star Alcyone, Maia appropriately taking her place as the Mother. The French and {Page 400} Italians designate them, in somewhat the same way, as Pulsiniere, Poussiniere, and Gallinelle, the Pullets, Riccioli's Gallinella. Aborigines of Africa and Borneo had similar ideas about them. Pliny's translator Holland called them the Brood-hen star Vergiliae.

Savage tribes knew the Pleiades familiarly, as well as did the people of ancient and modern civilization; and Ellis wrote of the natives of the Society and Tonga Islands, who called these stars Matarii, the Little Eyes:

The two seasons of the year were divided by the Pleiades; the first, Matarii i nia, the Pleiades Above, commenced when, in the evening, those stars appeared on the horizon, and continued while, after sunset, they were above. The other season, Matarii i raro, the Pleides Below, began when, at sunset, they ceased to be visible, and continued till, in the evening, they appeared again above the horizon.

Gill gives a similar story from the Hervey group, where the Little Eyes are Matariki, and at one time but a single star, so bright that their god Tane in envy got hold of Aumea, our Aldebaran, and, accompanied by Mere, our Sirius, chased the offender, who took refuge in a stream. Mere, however, drained off the water, and Tane hurled Aumea at the fugitive, breaking him into the six pieces that we now see, whence the native name for the fragments, Tauono, the Six, quoted by Flammarion as Tau, both titles singularly like the Latin Taurus. They were the favorite one of the various avelas, or guides at sea in night voyages from one island to another; and, as opening the year, objects of worship down to 1857, when Christianity prevailed throughout these islands. The Australians thought of them as Young Girls playing to Young Men dancing, — the Belt stars of Orion; some of our Indians, as Dancers; and the Solomon Islanders as Togo ni samu, a Company of Maidens. The Abipones of the Paraguay River country consider them their great Spirit Groaperikie, or Grandfather; and in the month of May, on the reappearance of the constellation, they welcome their Grandfather back with joyful shouts, as if he had recovered from sickness, with the hymn, "What thanks do we owe thee ! And art thou returned at last ? Ah ! thou hast happily recovered!" and then proceed with their festivities in honor of the Pleiades' reappearance.

Among other South American tribes they were Cajupal, the Six Stars.

The pagan Arabs, according to Hafiz, fixed here the seat of immortality; as did the Berbers, or Kabyles, of northern Africa, and, widely separated from them, the Dyaks of Borneo; all thinking them the central point of the universe, and long anticipating Wright in 1750 and Madler in 1846, and, perhaps, Lucretius in the century before Christ.

Miss Clerke, in a charming and instructive chapter in her System of the Stars which should be read by every star-lover, tells us that: {Page 401} With November, the "Pleiad-month," many primitive people began their year; and on the day of the midnight culmination of the Pleiades, November 17, no petition was presented in vain to the ancient Kings of Persia; the same event gave the signal at Busiris for the commencement of the feast of Isis, and regulated less immediately the celebration connected with the fifty-two-year cycle of the Mexicans. Australian tribes to this day dance in honor of the "Seven Stars," because "they are very good to the black fellows." The Abipones of Brazil regard them with pride as their ancestors. Elsewhere, the origin of fire and the knowledge of rice-culture are traced to them. They are the "hoeing-stars" of South Africa, take the place of a farming-calendar to the Solomon Islanders, and their last visible rising after sunset is, or has been, celebrated with rejoicings all over the southern hemisphere as betokening the "waking-up time" to agricultural activity.

They also were a sign to ancient husbandmen as to the seeding-time; Vergil alluding to this in his 1st Georgic, thus rendered by May:

Some that before the fall 'oth' Pleiades

Began to sowe, deceaved in the increase,

Have reapt wilde oates for wheate.

And, many centuries before him, Hesiod said that their appearance from the sun indicated the approach of harvest, and their setting in autumn the time for the new sowing; while Aristotle wrote that honey was never gathered before their rising. Nearly all classical poets and prose writers made like reference to them.

Mommsen found in their rising, from the 21st to the 25th of the Attic month Thargelion, May-June, the occasion for the prehistoric festival Plunteria, Athene's Clothes-washing, at the beginning of the corn harvest, and the date for the annual election of the Achaeans; while Drach surmised that their midnight culmination in the time of Moses, ten days after the autumnal equinox, may have fixed the day of atonement on the 10th of Tishri. Their rising in November marked the time for worship of deceased friends by many of the original races of the South, — a custom also seen with more civilized peoples, notably among the Parsis and Sabaeans, as also in the Druids' midnight rites of the 1st of November; while a recollection of it is found in the three holy days of our time, All Hallow Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day.

Hippocrates made much of the Pleiades, dividing the year into four seasons, all connected with their positions in relation to the sun; his winter beginning with their setting and ending with the spring equinox; spring lasting till their rising.; the summer, from their appearing to the rising of Arcturus; and the autumn, till their setting again. And Caesar made their heliacal rising begin the Julian summer, and their cosmical setting the commencement of winter. In classic lore the Pleiades were the heavenly group {Page 402} chosen with the sun by Jove to manifest his power in favor of Atreus by causing them to move from east to west.

Notwithstanding, however, all that we read so favorable to the high regard in which these stars were held, they were considered by the astrologers as portending blindness and accidents to sight, a reputation shared with all other clusters. The Arabs, especially, thought their forty days' disappearance in the sun's rays was the occasion of great harm to mankind, and Muhammad wrote that "when the star rises all harm rises from the earth." But Hippocrates had differently written in his Epidemics, a thousand years before, of the connection of the Pleiades with the weather, and of their influence on diseases of autumn:

until the season of the Pleiades, and at the approach of winter, many ardent fevers set in;


in autumn, and under the Pleiades, again there died great numbers.

Although the many legends of their origin are chiefly from Mediterranean countries, yet the Teutonic nations have a very singular one associated with our Saviour. It says that once, when passing by a baker's shop, and attracted by the odor of newly baked bread, He asked for a loaf; but being refused by the baker, was secretly supplied by the wife and six daughters standing by. In reward they were placed in the sky as the Seven Stars, while the baker became a cuckoo; and so long as he sings in the spring, from Saint Tiburtius' Day, April 14th, to Saint John's Day, June 24th, his wife and daughters are visible. Following this story, the Pleiades are the Gaelic Crannarain, the Baker's Peel, or Shovel, a title shared with Ursa Major.

Another, still homelier, but appropriately feminine, name is hinted at in Holland's translation from the Historia Naturalis, where Pliny treats of "the star Vergiliae":

So evident in the heaven, and easiest to be known of all others, it is called by the name of a garment hanging out at a Broker's shop.

Those who have traced out the origin of the title Petticoat Lane for the well-known London street will recognize what Pliny had in mind.

In various ages their title has been taken for noteworthy groups of seven in philosophy or literature. This we see first in the Philosophical Pleiad of 620 to 550 B.C., otherwise known as the Seven Wise Men of Greece, or the Seven Sages, generally given as Bias, Chilo, Cleobulus, Epimenides or {Page 403} Periander, Pittacus, Solon, and the astronomer Thales; again in the Alexandrian Literary Pleiad, or the Tragic Pleiades, instituted in the 3rd century B.C. by Ptolemy Philadelphus, and composed of the seven contemporary poets, variously given, but often as Apollonius of Rhodes, Callimachus or Philiscus, Homer the Younger of Hierapolis in Caria, Lycophron, Nicander, Theocritus, and our Aratos; in the Literary Pleiad of Charlemagne, himself one of the Seven; in the Great Pleiade of France, of the 16th century, brought together in the reign of Henri III, some say by Ronsard, the "Prince of Poets," others by d'Aurat, or Dorat, the "Modern Pindar," called "Auratus," either in punning allusion to his name or from the brilliancy of his genius, and the "Dark Star," from his silence among his companions; and in the Lesser Pleiade, of inferior lights, in the subsequent reign of Louis XIII. Lastly appear the Pleiades of Connecticut, the popular, perhaps ironical, designation for the seven patriotic poets after our Revolutionary War: Richard Alsop, Joel Barlow, Theodore Dwight, Timothy Dwight, Lemuel Hopkins, David Humphreys, and John Trumbull, — all good men of Yale.

I have not been able to learn when, and by whom, the titles of the seven sisters were applied to the individual stars as we have them; but now they are catalogued nine in all, the parents being included. These last, however, seem to be a comparatively modern addition, the first mention of them that I find — in Riccioli's Almagestum Novium of 1651 — reading:

Michael Florentius Langrenius illarum exactam figuram observavit, & ad me misit, in qua additae sunt duae Stellae alus innominatae, quas ipse vocal Atlantem, & Pleionem; nescio an sint illae, quas Vendelinus ait observari tanquam novas, quia modo apparent, modo latent.

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