Uit Richard Hinckley Allen's : Star Names - Their Lore and Meaning (1889)


The sun his locks beneath Aquarius tempers,

And now the nights draw near to half the day,

What time the hoar frost copies on the ground

The outward semblance of her sister white,

But little lasts the temper of her pen.

Longfellow's translation of Dante's Inferno.

Aquarius, the Waterman,

il Aquario in Italy, le Verseau in France, der Wassermann in Germany, has universally borne this or kindred titles; Ideler assigning as a reason the fact that the sun passed through it during the rainy season. In connection with this the proximity of other analogous stellar forms is worthy of note: Capricornus, Cetus, Delphinus, Eridanus, Hydra, Pisces, and Piscis Australis, all the watery shapes in the early heavens, with Argo and Crater, are in this neighborhood; some of whose stars Aratos said "are called the Water"; indeed in Euphratean astronomy this region of the sky was the Sea, and thought to be under the control of Aquarius.

The constellation immemorially has been represented, even on very early Babylonian stones, as a man, or boy, pouring water from a bucket or urn, with an appropriate towel in the left hand, the human figure sometimes being omitted; while the Arabians, who knew of the latter but did not dare to show it, depicted a mule carrying two water-barrels; and again simply a water-bucket. This last was Ulug Beg's idea of it, his original word being rendered by Hyde Situla, the Roman Well-bucket; but Al Bīrūnī had it in his astrological charts as Amphora, a Two-handled Wine-jar, that he may have adopted from Ausonius the poet of our 4th century. Even Vercingetorix, Caesar's foe in Gaul, 52 B.C., is said to have put the similar figure on his stateres with the title Diota, a Two-eared Jar.

On a Roman zodiac it was a Peacock, the symbol of Juno, the Greek Herē, in whose month Gamelion — January-February — the sun was in the sign; and at times it has been shown as a Goose, another bird sacred to that goddess.

New Testament Christians of the 16th and 17th centuries likened it appropriately enough to John the Baptist, and to Judas Thaddaeus the Apostle, although some went back to Naaman in the waters of Jordan, and even to Moses taken out of the water.

Its nomenclature has been extensive but consistent. In Greek literature it was Ὑδροχόος, the epic Ὑδροχεύς, or Water-pourer, transliterated by Catullus as Hydrochoüs, and by Germanicus as Hydrochoös; although the latter also called it Aquitenens and Fundens latices, saying that it personified Deucalion of the Greek Deluge, 1500 B.C. Ausonius had Urnam qui tenet; Manilius, Aequoreus Juvenis, or simply Juvenis, and Ganymedes, the beautiful Phrygian boy, son of Tros and cup-bearer of Jove, of whom Statius wrote in his Thebais:

Then from the chase Jove's towering eagle bears,

On golden wings, the Phrygian to the stars.

This title also appeared with Cicero, Hyginus, and Vergil; and with Ovid, in the Fasti, as Ganymede JuvenisPuer Idaeus, and Iliacus, from his birthplace, and Juvenis gerens aquam; while in a larger sense it was said to represent the creator Jove, the pourer forth of water upon the earth.

We find it, too, as Aristaeus, their Elijah, who brought rain to the inhabitants of Ceos, and Cecrops, from the cicada nourished by the dew, whose eggs were hatched by the showers; while Appian, the historian of our 2d century, called it Hydridurus, which reappeared in the 1515 Almagest as Idrudurus and Hauritor aquae. The great Grecian lyric poet Pindar asserted that it symbolized the genius of the fountains of the Nile, the life-giving waters of the earth. Horace added to its modern title Tyrannus aquae, writing of it as "saddening the inverted year," which James Thomson, 1700‑1748, followed in the Winter of his Seasons:

fierce Aquarius stains th' inverted year;

and Vergil, calling it frigidus, similarly said that when coincident with the sun it closed the year with moisture:

Extremoque inrorat Aquarius anno.

In Babylonia it was associated with the 11th month Shabatu, the Curse of Rain, January-February; and the Epic of Creation has an account of the Deluge in its 11th book, corresponding to this the 11th constellation; each of its other books numerically coinciding with the other zodiacal signs. In that country its Urn seems to have been known as Gu, a Water-jar overflowing, the Akkadian Ku-ur‑ku, the Seat of the Flowing Waters; and it also was Rammān or Rammānu, the God of the Storm, the still earlier Imma, shown pouring water from a vase, the god, however, frequently being omitted. Some assert that Lord of Canals is the signification of the Akkadian word for Aquarius, given to it 15,000 years ago (!), when the sun entered it and the Nile flood was at its height. And while this statement carries the beginnings of astronomy very much farther back than has generally been supposed, or will now be acknowledged, yet for many years we have seen Egyptian and Euphratean history continuously extended into the hitherto dim past; and this theory would easily solve the much discussed question of the origin of the zodiac figures if we are to regard either of those countries as their source, and the seasons and agricultural operations as giving them names.

Aben Ezra called it the Egyptians' Monius, from their muau, or Μῶ, Water; Kircher said that it was their Υπευθέριαν, Brachium beneficum, the Place of Good Fortune; which Brown, however, limits to its stars α, γ, ζ and η as a Coptic lunar station; and our Serviss writes that "the ancient Egyptians imagined that the setting of Aquarius caused the rising of the Nile, as he sank his huge urn in the river to fill it."

With the Arabians it was Al Dalw, the Well-bucket; and Kazwini's Al Sākib al Mā᾽, the Water-pourer; from the first of which came the Edeleu of Bayer, and the Eldelis of Chilmead. The Persians knew it as Dol or Dūl; the Hebrews, as Delī (Riccioli's Delle); the Syrians, as Daulo, like the Latin Dolium; and the Turks, as Kugha, — all meaning a Water-bucket. In the Persian Bundehesh it is Vahik.

In China, with Capricornus, Pisces, and a part of Sagittarius, it constituted the early Serpent, or Turtle, Tien Yuen; and later was known as Hiuen Ying, the Dark Warrior and Hero, or Darkly Flourishing One, the Hiuen Wu, or Hiuen Heaou, of the Han dynasty, which Dupuis gave as Hiven Mao. It was a symbol of the emperor Tchoun Hin, in whose reign was a great deluge; but after the Jesuits came in it became Paou Ping, the Precious Vase. It contained three of the sieu, and headed the list of zodiac signs as the Rat, which in the far East was the ideograph for "water," and still so remains in the almanacs of Central Asia, Cochin China, and Japan.

Some of the minor stars of Aquarius, — ι, λ, σ and φ — with others of Capricornus and Pisces, formed the asterism Luy Peih Chin, the Camp with Intrenched Walls.

On the Ganges, as in China, it began the circle of the zodiacal signs; and Al Bīrūnī said that at one time in India it was Khumba, or Kumbaba, which recalls the Elamite divinity of that name, the Κόμβε, or Storm God, of Hesychios. This, too, was the Tamil title for it; La Lande writing it Coumbum. Varāha Mihira, under the influence of Greek astronomy, called it Hridroga and Udruvaga, in which we can see Ὑδροχόος.

With the Magi and Druids it represented the whole science of astronomy.

The Anglo-Saxons called it se Waeter-gyt, the Water-pourer; while not long after them John of Trevisa, the English translator, in 1398 thus quaintly recalled the classical form:

The Sygne Aquarius is the butlere of the goddes and yevyth them a water-potte.

English books immediately succeeding had AquaryAquarye, and, still later, the queer title Skinker. This last, which has puzzled more than one commentator, is found in the rare book of 1703, Meteorologiae by Mr. Cock, Philomathemat.:

Jupiter in the Skinker opposed by Saturn in the Lion did raise mighty South-west winds.

But the passage affords its own explanation that ought not to have been delayed till now; for we know our sign to be the opposite of Leo, while the dictionaries tell us that this archaic or provincial word signifies a Tapster, or Pourer-out of liquor, which Aquarius and Ganymede have notably been in all ages of astronomy.

Although early authors varied in their ascription of the twelve zodiacal constellations to the twelve tribes of Israel, yet they generally were in accord in assigning this to Reuben, "unstable as water." But the fountainheads of all this Jewish banner story, Jacob's death-bed address to his sons in Egypt, and Moses' dying song on Mount Nebo, are not clear enough to justify much positiveness as to the proper assignment of any of the tribal symbols, if indeed the Israelites had any at all. The little that we have on the subject is from Josephus and the Chaldee Paraphrase.

Dante, in the 19th canto of Il Purgatorio, wrote that here

geomancers their Fortuna Major

See in the Orient before the dawn

Rise by a path that long remains not dim;

which Longfellow explains in his notes on the passage:

Geomancy is divination by points in the ground, or pebbles arranged in certain figures, which have peculiar names. Among these is the figure called the Fortuna Major, which is thus drawn,

  [image ALT: two lines of text interrupted by a design of eight small stars, in five rows of 2, 2, 2, 1, and 1.]

and, by an effort of the imagination, can also be formed out of some of the last stars in Aquarius and some of the first in Pisces.

In astrology it was the Airy Trigon, Gemini and Libra being included, and

a sign of no small note, since there was no disputing that its stars possessed influence, virtue, and efficacy, whereby they altered the air and seasons" in a wonderful, strange, and secret manner";

and an illuminated manuscript almanac of 1386, perhaps the earliest in our language that has been printed, says of the sign: "It is gode to byg castellis, and to wed, and lat blode." With Capricorn it was the House of Saturn, governing the legs and ankles; and when on the horizon with the sun the weather was always rainy. When Saturn was here, he had man completely in his clutches — caput et collum; while Jupiter, when here, had humeros, pectus et pedes.

As Junonis astrum it was a diurnal sign, Juno and Jove being its guardians, and bore rule over Cilicia and Tyre; later, over Arabia, Tatary, Denmark, Russia, Lower Sweden, Westphalia, Bremen, and Hamburg.

Proctor's Myths and Marvels of Astronomy has a list of the astrological colors of the zodiac signs attributing to Aquarius an aqueous blue; while Lucius Ampelius, of our 2d century, assigning in his Liber Memorialis the care of the various winds to the various signs, intrusts to this the guardianship of Eurus and Notus, which blew from the east, or southeast, and from the south.

The astronomers' symbol for the sign, ♒, showing undulating lines of waves, is said to have been the hieroglyph for Water, the title of Aquarius in the Nile country, where a measuring-rod may have been associated with it; indeed Burritt drew such in the hand of the figure as Norma Nilotica, a suggestion of the ancient Nilometer.

Brown, in the 47th volume of Archaeologia, has these interesting remarks on the symbols of the signs:

Respecting these Mr. C. W. King observes: "Although the planets are often expressed by their emblems, yet neither they nor the signs are ever to be seen represented on antique works by those symbols so familiar to the eye in our almanacs. Wherever such occur upon a stone it may be pronounced without any hesitation a production of the cinque-cento, or the following century. . . . As for the source of these hieroglyphics, I have never been able to trace it. They are to be found exactly as we see them in very old medieval MSS."; and Mr. King is inclined, in default of any other origin, "to suspect they were devised by Arab sages" — an opinion which I do not follow. The subject is certainly shrouded in great obscurity; and even Professor Sayce recently informed me that he had been unable to trace the history of the zodiacal symbols up to their first appearance in Western literature.

While Miss Clerke writes that they are found in manuscripts of about the 10th century, but in carvings not until the 15th or 16th. Their origin is unknown; but some, if not all, of them have antique associations.

Hargrave's Rosicrucians has an illustration of an object showing an Egyptian cross and disk with our present symbols of Leo and Virgo, or Scorpio, purporting to be from the breast of a mummy in the museum of the London University. If this statement be correct, a much earlier origin can be claimed for these symbols 1) than has hitherto been supposed.

From his researches into the archaic astronomical symbolism on classic coins, monuments, etc., Thompson concludes that the great bas-relief of the Asiatic Cybele, now in the Hermitage Museum at Saint Petersburg, was designed to represent the ancient tropics of Aquarius and Leo; and that Aquarius, Aquila, — or more probably the other Vultur, our Lyra, — Leo, and Taurus appear in the familiar imagery of Ezekiel i.10, and x.14, and of The Revelation iv.7.

Aquarius is not conspicuous, being chiefly marked by the stars γ, ζ, η and π, — the Urn, the familiar Y, — called by the Greeks Κάλπη, Κάλπις, Κάλπεις, and Situla, or Urna, by the Latins, Pliny making a distinct constellation of the latter; and by the line of fainter stars, λ, χ, φ, ψ, ω and others indicating the water running down into the mouth of the Southern Fish, or, as it is occasionally drawn, uniting with the river Eridanus. Spence, commenting on this figure on the Farnese globe and its description by Manilius, Ad juvenem, aeternas fundentem Piscibus undas, and Fundentis semper Aquarii, wrote:

Ganymedes, the cup-bearer of Jupiter. He holds the cup or little urn in his hand, inclined downwards; and is always pouring out of it: as indeed he ought to be, to be able from so small a source to form that river, which you see running from his feet, and making so large a tour over all this part of the globe.

Manilius ended his lines on Aquarius with Sic profluit urna, which Spence translated "And so the urn flows on"; adding:

which seems to have been a proverbial expression among the ancients, taken from the ceaseless flowing of this urn; and which might be not inapplicable now, when certain ladies are telling a story; or certain lawyers are pleading.

Geminos, in his Ἐισαγωγή, about 77 B.C., made a separate constellation of this stream as Χύσις ὕδατος, the Pouring Forth of Water; but Aratos also had called it this as well as the Water, although in the latter he included β Ceti and the star Fomalhaut. Cicero gave it as Aqua; and the scholiast on Germanicus, as Effusio aquae; while Effusor and Fusor aquae were common titles. The modern Burritt has Fluvius Aquarii and Cascade.

The stars marking the ribs of the figure in this constellation are, in some maps, mingled with c and others in Capricorn.

Although of astronomical importance chiefly from its zodiacal position and from its richness in doubles, clusters, and nebulae, it also is interesting from the fact that one of its three stars ψ was occulted by the planet Mars on the 1st of October, 1672. This occultation was predicted by Flamsteed, and, on his suggestion, observed and verified in France and by Richer at Cayenne; and the several independently accordant results are considered reliable, although made more than two centuries ago. These have enabled our modern astronomers, especially Leverrier, accurately to ascertain the mean motion of Mars, and materially aid them in calculating the mass of the earth and our distance from the sun.

Aquarius lies between Capricornus and Pisces, the sun entering it on the 14th of February, and leaving it on the 14th of March.

Argelander catalogues here 97 naked-eye stars; Heis, 146.

La Lande, citing Firmicus [Mathesis, VIII.29.13] and the Egyptian sphere of Petosiris, 2) wrote in l'Astronomie:

Aquarius se lève, avec une autre constellation qu'il nomme Aquarius Minor avec la Faulx, le Loup, le Lièvre & l'Autel;

but elsewhere I find no allusion to this Lesser Waterman, and the statement is incorrect as to the other constellations; indeed the Faulx is entirely unknown to us moderns.


α, 3.2, pale yellow.

Sadalmelik is from the Arabic Al Saʽd al Malik, the Lucky One of the King, sometimes given as Al Saʽd al Mulk, the Lucky One of the Kingdom, under which last title Kazwini and Ulug Beg combined it with ο. It similarly was Sidus Faustum Regis with the astrologers. Burritt called it El Melik and Phard, but this last seems unintelligible.

The Rucbah of the Century Cyclopedia is erroneous for this star — indeed was intended for α Sagittarii.

Sadalmelik lies on the right shoulder of the figure, 1° south of the celestial equator, and has a distant 11th‑magnitude gray companion.

With ε and θ Pegasi it made up the 23d sieu Goei, or Wei, Steep, or Danger, anciently Gui; but Brown says that the word signifies Foundation. α was the determinant star of this lunar station.

Gould called it red, and of 2.7 magnitude. It culminates on the 9th of October. From between α and η radiate the Eta Aquarids, the meteors visible from April 29th to May 2d.


β, 3.1, pale yellow.

Sadalsuud — not Sund nor Saud, as frequently written — is from Al Saʽd al Suʽud, liberally translated the Luckiest of the Lucky, from its rising with the sun when the winter had passed and the season of gentle, continuous rain had begun. This title also belongs to the 22d manzil, which included the star with ξ of Aquarius and c of Capricornus.

β and ξ also constituted the Persian lunar station Bunda and the similar Coptic Upuineuti, the Foundation; but β alone marked the sieu HeuHiu, or , Void, anciently Ko, the central one of the seven sieu which, taken together, were known as Heung Wu, the Black Warrior, in the northern quarter of the sky. It is found in Hindu lists as Kalpeny, of unknown signification. On the Euphrates it was Kakkab Nammaχ, the Star of Mighty Destiny, that may have given origin to the title of the manzil, as well as to the astrologers' name for it — Fortuna Fortunarum.

Al Firuzabadi of Khorasan, editor of Al Ḳāmūs, the great Arabic dictionary of the 14th century, called some of the smaller stars below this Al Au᾽ā, the plural of Nauʽ, a Star, but without explanation, and they certainly are inconspicuous.


γ, 4.1, greenish,

on the right arm at the inner edge of the Urn, and the westernmost star in the Y, is Sadachbia, from Al Saʽd al Aḣbiyah, which has been interpreted the Lucky Star of Hidden Things or Hiding-places, because when it emerged from the sun's rays all hidden worms and reptiles, buried during the preceding cold, creep out of their holes! But as this word Aḣbiyah is merely the plural of Ḣibāʽ, a Tent, a more reasonable explanation is that the star was so called from its rising in the spring twilight, when, after the winter's want and suffering, the nomad's tents were raised on the freshening pastures, and the pleasant weather set in. This idea renders Professor Whitney's "Felicity of Tents" a happy translation of the original. ζ, η, and π are included with γ under this designation by Ulug Beg — ζ, in the centre, marking the top of the tent; Kazwini, however, considered this central star as Al Saʽd, and the three surrounding ones his tents.

All these stars, with α, formed the 23d manzil, bearing the foregoing title.

γ, ζ, η, π, and τ were the Chinese Fun Mo, the Tomb.

It was near γ that the Capuchin friar of Cologne, Schyraelus de Rheita, 3) in 1643, thought that he had found five new satellites attendant upon Jupiter, which he named Stellae Urbani Octavi in compliment to the reigning pontiff; and a treatise, De novem Stellae circa Jovem, was written by Lobkowitz upon this wonderful discovery. "The planet, however, soon deserted his companions, and the stars proved to be the little group in front of the Urn."


δ, 3.4,

the Scheat of Tycho, and Scheat Edeleu of Riccioli, is Skat in modern lists, and variously derived: either from Al Shi᾽at, a Wish, said to be found for it on Arabic globes; or from Al Ṣāk, the Shin-bone, near which it is located in the figure. But Hyde, probably following Grotius, said that it was from Al Saʽd of the preceding stars.

On the Euphrates it seems to have been associated with Hasisadra or Xasisadra, the 10th antediluvian king and hero of the Deluge; while, with β, κ, and others adjacent, it was the lunar station Apin, the Channel, and individually the Star of the Foundation. The corresponding stations, Khatsar in Persia, Shawshat in Sogdiana, and Mashtawand in Khorasmia, were also determined by this star.

The Chinese knew it, with τ, χ, the three stars ψ, and some in Pisces, as Yu Lin Keun, the Imperial Guard.

From near δ issues a meteor stream, the Delta Aquarids, from the 27th to the 29th of July, and not far away Mayer noted as a fixed star, on the 25th of September, 1756, the object that nearly twenty-five years later Sir William Herschel observed as a comet, but afterwards ascertained to be a new planet, our Uranus.


ε, 3.4,

was Al Bali, the brightest one of the 21st manzil, Al Saʽd al Bulaʽ, the Good Fortune of the Swallower, which included μ and ν; these last also known as Al Buläān in the dual. Kazwini said that this strange title came from the fact that the two outside stars were more open than α and β of Capricorn, so that they seemed to swallow, or absorb, the light of the other! The corresponding sieu, MoMuNiu, or Woo Neu, a Woman, anciently written Nok, was composed of these stars with the addition of another, unidentified, ε being the determinant; and the same three were the Euphratean lunar asterism Munaχa, the Goat-fish, and the Coptic Upeuritos, the Discoverer.

Bayer mentioned for it Mantellum and Mantile, marking the Napkin or Towel held in the youth's hand; but in some early drawings this was shown as a Bunch of Grain Stalks.

Grotius had Ancha and Pyxis, but neither appropriate; while in our day the former is applied only to θ, and the latter is never seen as a stellar title except in La Caille's Pyxis Nautica in Argo.

Eastward from ε, near ν, is the Saturn Nebula, NGC 7009, that the largest telescopes show somewhat like the planet.


ζ, Binary, 4 and 4.1, very white and white.

Although unnamed, this is an interesting star at the centre of the Y of the Urn, and almost exactly on the celestial equator.

Mayer discovered its duplicity in 1777, and its binary character, first noted by Herschel in 1804, was confirmed by his son in 1821; but the period is not yet determined, although it is very long.

The components are 3ʺ.3 apart, and the position angle 322°.


θ, 4.3,

is Ancha, the Hip, although on most modern atlases the star lies in the belt on the front of the figure. The word is from the Latin of the Middle Ages, and still appears in the French hanche, our haunch.

reeves says that in China it was Lei, a Tear.


κ, 5.5.

Situla is applied to this, from the classical Latin term for a Water-jar or -bucket, the later Arabian word being the somewhat similar Saṭl, and the earlier Al Dalw.

Gassendi, however, derived it from sitis, thirst, the Waterman's Urn having been figured by some as an Oven!

Theon the Younger, father of the celebrated Hypatia of our 5th century, termed this star Ὀινοχοεία, the Outpouring of Wine, as if by Ganymede; and others, Κάλπη, and Urna, the southern edge of which, near the outflow, it marks.

Keats, in Endymion, very fancifully wrote of this Urn:

Crystalline brother of the belt of heaven,

Aquarius! to whom King Jove has given

Two liquid pulse streams 'stead of feather'd wings,

Two fan-like fountains, — thine illuminings

For Dian play.

In China κ was Heu Leang, the Empty Bridge.


λ, 3.8, red,

is the most prominent of the first stars in the Stream.

Proclus followed Aratos in calling it Ὕδωρ, the Water; and others, Ἔκχυσις, the Outpouring; Aratos describing it,

Like a slight flow of water here and there

Scattered around, bright stars revolve but small;

although these titles, appropriated by Bayer for λ, originally were for the whole group set apart as the Stream.

λ, with about 100 stars surrounding it, was the 23d nakshatra Catabhisaj, the Hundred Physician, whose regent was Varuna, the goddess of the waters and chief of the Adityas, the various early divinities of Hindu mythology, and all children of Aditi, the Sky and the Heavens.

With ι, σ, and φ, it was the Chinese asterism Luy Peih Chin, the Camp with Intrenched Walls; but this included stars in Capricornus and Pisces.

ο, 4.7, a little to the southwest of α, was associated with it under the title Al Saʽd al Mulk. In China it was Kae Uh, the Roof.

π, 4.8, was called Seat by Grotius, as one of the group Al Saʽd al Aḣbiyah.

Sundry other four or five small stars in Aquarius were given by Reeves as Foo Yue, the Headsman's Ax.


1) An interesting article on the symbols appears in Bailly's Histoire de l'Astronomie Ancienne, Paris, 1775.


2) Petosiris, the philosopher of Necepsos, the astronomical King of Saïs. was an almost mythical character to the Greeks; for Ptolemy termed him ἀρχαῖος, although he is generally assigned to the period of 900‑700 B.C.


3) De Rheita is more deservedly famous as a supposed inventor, in 1650, of the planetarium, an honor also claimed for Archimedes of the 3d century before Christ, for Posidonius the Stoic, mentioned by Cicero in De Natura Deorum, and for Boëtius about the year A.D. 510. This instrument is the orrery of modern days, named by Sir Richard Steele after Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery, for whom one was made in 1715 by Rowley, from designs by the clock-maker George Graham. Professor Roger Long constructed one eighteen feet in diameter, in 1758, for Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where it probably still remains; and Doctor William Kitchiner mentioned one by Arnold, annually exhibited in London about the year 1825, that was 130 feet in circumference.