Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations

Triangulum Australe

the Southern Triangle


Hevelius, Firmamentum, 1690

A triangle is a geometric shape that has three sides. There are two triangles in the sky; this small Southern Triangle, Triangulum Australe, is a new addition to the sky and was named by Johann Bayer in 1603. The Northern Triangle, Triangulum is an ancient constellation. The three brightest stars of Triangulum Australe, are of second and third magnitude and form an approximately equilateral triangle.

The two triangles in the sky each suggest a trinity. Triangulum Australe, the Southern Triangle, was given the title 'the Three Patriarchs', representing the biblical Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, suggesting a masculine trinity. The word patriarch has its counterpart in matriarch. [The Northern Triangle, Triangulum, has feminine associations in mythology.] Patrilineality, also called 'agnatic kinship', is a system in which one belongs to one's father's lineage. The agnatic ancestry of an individual is that person's pure male ancestry [1]. The Y chromosome (Y-DNA) is paternally inherited [the letter Y has three points?].

Patriarch can be broken down pa-tri-arch 'three father archetype', or, pa-tribe-arch, which is the usual understanding of the word; a father who rules his family or tribe from Greek patria, 'family, lineage', and -arches, 'leader, archetype'. The suffix pa- from apa, father, papa, and -tri-arch, might also relate to the trinity; three persons in the one god. The words tri-angle, tribe and three are from the same Indo-European root *trei- 'Three'. A number of these derivatives have masculine connotations: Derivatives: three, tribe, tribune, tribute, contribute. From the compound form *tri-sta-i-, 'third person standing by' (-sta-, standing), testimony, testicle, testis, testes, attest, contest, detest, obtest, protest, testify, testament (from the word testes, referring to the male generative organs, that contain the 'seeds of life', from Latin testis, a witness), intestate (‘not having made a will’), sitar (a stringed instrument of India). [Pokorny trei- 1090. Watkins]

There is a tradition that St Patrick (name comes from Greek patria, father), preaching the doctrine of the Trinity to the pagan Irish, plucked a shamrock, a three-lobed leaf, and employed it as an example of the trinity.

There are few clues to go on for this southern triangle, except for the 'Three Patriarchs', and the alpha star of the constellation is called Atria. Isidore makes a connection between the word atrium (plural atria) and the word three:

“Anatrium (atrium) is a large building, or a very roomy and spacious house, and it is called an atrium because three (tres, neuter tria) colonnades are added to it on the outside. Others say it is 'atrium' as if blackened (ater, neutral atrum) by fire and a lamp, for the blackening is caused by smoke” [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD, p.308.]

Supporting the likelihood that the word atrium could be Triangulum Australe; the adjacent constellation is Ara, the Altar; Vesta ruled over both hearth and altar. The smoke from the hearth of Roman homes flowed into the atrium.

In the Etruscan Cryptolect (A new theory on the origins and language of the Etruscans), H.T. Bryor sees a link between the words atria and patriarch, and explains: "There are a series of Etruscan words which appear to have been formed from Latin by the dropping of initial consonants and sometimes the following vowel ...":

"Atri, Atrium is both a word and architectural feature thought by some to have been borrowed by the Romans from the Etruscans. It was the main entrance room of the Roman house, and the hall of temples and public buildings. The residential atrium was a place where the family's treasured ancestral masks were displayed, and in public atria the images of city fathers lined the walls. Since it is has been noted that Etruscan ateri = Latin (p)atrius would it not seem logical that atrium, a sacred place in the home set aside to honor the fathers derive from p-atrium instead of the commonly accepted notion that it finds its origins in the Latin word ater which means black, gloomy, malicious, poisonous, and also forms the basis for Latin 'atrox' ( terrible, horrible )". http://www.geocities.com/hbry/

The word atrium comes from the Indo-European root *ater- (áter-) 'Fire'. Derivatives: atrabilious (gloomy, black bile, from Latin áter, feminine átra, black < 'blackened by fire'), atrium, atria (plural of atrium), atrocious, atrocity, (these words from Latin atrox, frightful), zircon (a mineral polished to form a brilliant blue-white gem), zirconium, Atharva-Veda (the four Vedas, consisting mostly of spells of black and white magic). [Pokorny at(e)r- 69. Watkins] The names Adrian and Adriatic, the city Adria (Hadria).

Atrium, a hall, or an entrance, the courtyard of a Roman home the reception area where guests were greeted, atrium also means 'a cavity that has entrances and exits', it describes a chamber that connects to other chambers and passages. Also it contained the little chapel to the ancestral spirits (lararium), the household safe (arca, maybe adjacent Ara) and sometimes a bust of the master of the house. "In anatomy it means a body cavity or chamber, especially either of the upper chambers of the heart that receives blood from the veins and forces it into a ventricle. Also called auricle. They act as collecting chambers to fill the ventricles (the two lower chambers of the heart). The atrium of an ancient Roman house contained an open-fire hearth, and visitors to the home were first greeted there. This metaphor appealed to Victorian doctors who, about 1870, named these heart chambers. For blood is indeed received first into the atria, from all tissues except the lungs. The atria are like the reception rooms of the heart". (William Casselman, A dictionary of Medical Derivations).

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Triangulum Australis
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 1950 Lat Mag Sp
gamma 08SAG01 09SAG24 228 33 09 -68 29 49 -48 05 45 3.06 A0
epsilon 09SAG06 10SAG29 233 01 47 -66 09 05 -45 16 54 4.11 K0
beta 10SAG28 11SAG51 237 40 45 -63 16 43 -41 56 01 3.04 F0
Atria alpha 19SAG30 20SAG54 250 50 15 -68 56 20 -46 08 40 1.88 K5

Hevelius, Firmamentum, 1690

from Star Names, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Triangulum Australe, the Southern Triangle, much more noticeable than its northern original (Triangulum), first appeared in print in Bayer's Uranometria of 1603, although its formation is attributed to Pieter Theodor of nearly a century previous.

Caesius cited names for it drawn from the older constellation, among them Almutabet algenubi Arabice neotericis, which would show that either the Arabians had anticipated Bayer, or were very prompt to learn of his work. But he also called it the Three Patriarchs, doubtless Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from its three prominent stars; and Julius Schiller had recourse to their descendants for his alphabetical title Signum Tau.

Proctor catalogued it as plain Triangulum, the Northern Triangle (Triangulum) being one of his Triangula. The French, Germans, and Italians exactly translate the Latin words. The Chinese equivalent is San Kio Hung.

The constellation lies south of Ara, between the tail of Pavo and the fore-feet of the Centaur (Centaurus), Gould assigning to it 46 components down to the 7th magnitude. The lucida alpha comes to the meridian on the 14th of July.

alpha, 2.2, beta and gamma, 3.1 each, were — perhaps are now — the seamen's Triangle Stars.

Ideler said that La Caille substituted for it Norma et Regula, but in maps of the present day both constellations appear side by side.

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