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Stars and Constellations in Homer and Hesiod1

  • H. L. Lorimer


Heavenly bodies figure in the works of both Homer and Hesiod, but their functions in the two poems mainly concerned are very different, as accords with the contrasting character of the Iliad and of the Works and Days. For the moment it is enough to note that Hesiod's attention is directed mainly to constellations, Homer's (so to call the poet of the Iliad) to individual stars. The passages which establish the fact are few, but as the precise meaning of some of them is in doubt, it is necessary to begin with an examination of the most important.



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2 Schol. BT both give (B );both add Τ on Ψ 226 preposterously compounds ἐπί with the verb, betraying an uneasy knowledge that the equation at least needs apology. In Ψ 226 the meaning ‘moves on his way’ is appropriate, for the waning of the flames would take some time. Granted that too much stress must not be laid on the imperfect followed by an aorist, since the question of aorist and imperfect in epic diction is often determined by metrical considerations alone, still the change of tense accords with the proposed translation. The same interpretation holds for v 94, where the verb is

3 Possibly also in × 27–8, in which case a comma after is necessary.

4 As do the Greek peasant and his family to-day, throughout the weeks of constant attention to the vines which immediately precede the vintage, and the vintage itself.

5 Hippocrates 3. 68 (Littré vi, 594). The relevant part of the tract (which is a compilation) is not later than the 4th century; see RE VIII 1820 ff.

6 For the importance of Arcturus in the shepherd's year see Sophocles, O.T. 1137, and for the date the astronomical data in Jebb's Appendix ad loc. The date September 8th above was calculated from Jebb's date for 430 B.C.

7 He also uses with a short iota in 674, but reverts to the epic quantity in 677.

8 Les Travaux et les Jours, 101, n. 2. The same rain is called in 676.

9 The importance of these and the difficulty of determining them must not be overlooked.

10 An analogous misunderstanding probably underlies the name and character of the Chimaera. The monster lived in Anatolia and had been reared by Amisodaros, father of two of the followers of Sarpedon; his name is of a non-Greek type which has a parallel in that of a Carian Pixodaros mentioned by Herodotus (V 118). It is evident that the earliest Greek representations of the Chimaera are not spontaneous creations generated by a foreign fairy-tale, but laborious attempts to render all the supposed ingredients of the subject. The most rebellious is the young nanny-goat whose head—nothing could be done about the body—protrudes from the lion's back and makes the entire reconstruction look farcical. One poet at least did his best to make the creature ominous by associating the nanny-goat with that sacrificed before battle to Artemis Agrotera; this is Iphigenia's rôle in the sacrifice at Aulis (Aesch. Ag. 232), a point noticed by many scholars and now by LS9, but not by the commentators. It is even possible that (ibid. 239) refers to the worn by the girl dedicated to the service of Artemis Brauronia and Munichia in expiation, according to Schol, ad Ar. Lysist. 645, of the abominable sacrifice of a tame bear to Artemis by the Athenians in a time of famine. Such misunderstandings often arise from an attempt to give a meaning to a foreign word. Birdcage Walk and Rotten Row are familiar examples; bully beef is believed to be the British soldier's rendering of the boeuf bouilli issued to him in tins during his service in France in the first world war. At some date in the 1920s a London policeman whose chest was decorated with a row of ribbons wound up his directions to the present writer with a warning against a blind alley: ‘And don't you go down there; that's a coal-sack’. This usage seems to have been ephemeral.

11 Schol. A identifies with the Dog, offering no alternative, so does B with the alternative, obviously impossible, of a comet;. both refer to × 26 ff. as authority for the Dog and for his deadly presage. Τ explains as ‘;perhaps’ a comet, offering no alternative.

12 Sprächliche Untersuchungen zu Homer, 100 ff.

13 is quoted from Alcaeus by Eustathius in his comment on this passage; see Bergk4, Ale. fr. 155. Otherwise the only appearance of the word is in h. Mart. 7, where it is plainly an epic ornament borrowed from Σ. No kinship is recognised by philologists between and apparently a manufactured plural of designed to emphasise the supposed connection with but this does not rule out an ancient confusion between the two. Hence might arise the view that meant stars in general, a sense in which it is used by Ibycus (Bergk4, Ib. fr. 3, Diehl fr. 12); cf. the lexicographers and Schol, ad Ap. Rhod. Argon. II 517.

14 It is true that on two monuments of the Late Bronze Age, the Great Goddess ring from Mycenae (JHS XXI (1901), 108 fig. 4) and the Genii ring from the Tiryns hoard (AM LV (1930), Beilage XXX 2), the sun and moon figure as a highly conventionalised motif, one therefore which must have been common form in contemporary art and may have become traditional in some obviously not that of the Shield of Achilles. The Great Goddess ring dates to the end of the Shaft-grave period, that of the Genii is possibly a little earlier; both are products of Minoan inspiration, possibly of Minoan execution as well. On both the sun and moon are placed in a sort of exergue which surmounts the main design; in each the sun, a disc with a number of radii, is placed to the right, the sickle-shaped moon to the left, on the Tiryns ring resting on its tips in a horizontal position; the ‘phase’ therefore has no significance. The exergue is separated from the main design on the Mycenae ring by a pair of wavy parallel lines, on that from Tiryns by a single line also wavy; this may be a mere convention or it may represent the horizon. The background of the sun and moon on the Goddess ring is left clear, that on the Tiryns ring is filled with a series of closely set pimples, divided by four branches into five sections. The meaning of these is disputed. They have been claimed as stars; if this is the solution we may possibly have in them the ultimate source of our They seem, however, too thickly sown. As it is generally agreed that the Genii are performing a rite designed to promote fertility, it is conceivable that the pimples represent seed or the surface of land for its reception.

15 H 138, Σ 487, ε 273. It is true that in × 506 there is no mention of the principal name Skamandrios, but we already know from Z 402, in a passage which Andromache's lament vividly recalls, that this was the name given by Hector to his son.

16 Which suggests that the true meaning of Boeotia is ‘The Arable Land’.

17 Boutes, the eponym of the Boutadai and Eteoboutadai of Athens, was undoubtedly a hero of the plough, as his marriage to Chthonia shews (Apollod. I 15, 1). The word, which is simply the Attic form of Bootes, must have faded out of Attic speech long before we first encounter it. It occurs in Aeschylus, Euripides, and Theocritus, but invariably with the meaning boukolos.

17a Its close resemblance to the plough on the Kleinmeister cup is obvious and accounts for the fact that in so many regions and periods the Great Bear has been known as the Plough.

18 Reproduced from MuZ III 248.

19 See NED s. v. ‘Wain’.

20 Eskimos of Alaska and certain Indian tribes of N. America have named the constellation a bear, but the Iroquois at least have restricted the animal to the four stars and in the three see three hunters who pursue him. See Frazer, Pausanias, IV 191.

21 Paus. I 32, 1; III 20.4; VIII 23, 9.

22 Paus. VII 18, 12.

23 Schol. ad. Aristoph. Lysist. 645, Bekker, Anec. I, pp. 444–5.

24 C. Hawkes, The Prehistoric Foundations of Europe, 341.

25 R. Munro, Lake Dwellings of Europe, 208, 209, figs. 58, 59. The more advanced type has a diametric bar pierced at the centre with a hole to receive the end of the axle; a pair of cross-pieces are fixed one above, one below the axle-hole and at right angles to the bar.

26 See Blegen, C. W., BSA XXXVII 8 ff., ‘New Evidence for the Dating of the Settlements at Troy’.

27 The following dates are roughly calculated from Hofmann's table, which gives the first visible risings and settings of the stars and constellations in the latitude of Athens and the year 430 B.C.; see RE VI cols. 2427–8 (s.v. ‘Fixsterne’). Owing to the precession of the equinoxes these dates are later than they were in the time of Hesiod. Mazon (Les Travaux et les Jours, 96, n. 3) took 750 B.C. as a conventional floruit for Hesiod, and advanced the dates of 430 B.C. by five days; as the tendency has since been to reduce this date to 700 B.C. or slightly later, an advance of four days is made in this paper.

28 Cf. Alcman 76 B4 D.

29 The plough land of each holding was equally divided, and each half bore a crop only once in two years. This was an axiom of Greek farming in the historic period.

30 Op. cit., 97.

31 On the shield of Achilles (Σ 541–2) the first and last are selected for representation; corresponds to (Op. 463).

32 Op. cit., 111. We find confirmation on the ‘Kleinmeister’ cup, on which both ox and mule teams are represented ploughing.

33 Here again the ‘Kleinmeister’ cup illustrates the poet; a cart drawn by a pair of mules conveys two large pithoi, the regular storage vessels of ancient Greece.

34 HP VI 4, 4; cf. VII 15, 1.

1 The author wishes to thank The Times newspaper for permission to reproduce (from the issues of July 1st and December 1st, 1949) the diagrams FIGS, 1 and 2. These maps of the heavens show (FIG. 1) the attitude of Bootes as described in the Phaenomena of Aratus 608–9, rising in a horizontal position ‘all in one piece’, dominated by Arcturus; (b) (FIG. 2) the last stage of his gradual disappearance, when Arcturus has already vanished, but the hands of the Ploughman remain. The first stars of Orion, above the Belt, are coming into view; Sirius still lags far behind. See p. 100.

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Annual of the British School at Athens
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  • EISSN: 2045-2403
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