Early Astronomy in the University of Michigan Collections

The Tradition of Eratosthenes’ Catasterismi

This work of Eratosthenes was originally an independent work. But in the early Roman period it was added, as a commentary, to an edition of Aratus (the so-called Φ edition, dating to the second-third century CE). In this way the two works became strictly connected, and the Catasterismi made Aratus’ text more fun to read by adding all the mythical stories; yet this was also one of the reasons why the original version of Eratosthenes’ Catasterismi did not survive. Aside from the Epitome and the Vatican fragments, a longer and richer version of the original work of Eratosthenes can be found in books 2 and 3 of Hyginus’ Astronomy. This is a basic introduction to astronomy in Latin by Hyginus, a freedman of Augustus and librarian of the Palatine Library, who, in the early first century CE, used the Eratosthenes’ work as the main source for stellar myths (Astronomy, Book 2) and descriptions of stars in constellations (Astronomy, Book 3).

This page is from a 1502 edition printed by Giovanni Battista Sessa, the founder of a prominent Venetian family of printers who were active for two centuries. After the death of Giovanni Battista, the elder, the business was continued by his son Melchiorre, whose sons, Giovanni Battista, the younger, Melchiorre, the younger, and Marchiò carried on publishing through partnerships with other printers well into the seventeenth century.

Here we see the Centaur holding the ‘Beast’ (or Lupus). It is interesting that the image is a mirror image of how the constellation appears if we star-gaze from earth, because left and right are switched. This is typical of constellations as reproduced in many globes.

Star Mythology: Eratosthenes’ Catasterismi

Giving an Identity to Constellations

Stars and Constellations

Select Bibliography

  • Hard, Robin. 2015. Eratosthenes and Hyginus, Constellation myths. With Aratus’s Phaenomena. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford - New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pàmias Massana, Jordi. 2013. “Il testo dei « Fragmenta Vaticana » nella tradizione dei « Catasterismi ».” In Antiche stelle a Bisanzio: il codice Vaticano greco 1087, edited by Fabio Guidetti and Anna Santoni, In Seminari e Convegni / Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Pisa: Edizioni della Normale: 77-91.
  • Pàmias Massana, Jordi, and Arnaud Zucker. 2013. Ératosthène de Cyrène, Catastérismes. Série grecque de la Collection des universités de France. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

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