The classical map of the sky, with the 48 Greek constellations, was derived from at least two different pre-Greek traditions. One tradition comprised the 12 signs of the zodiac, with several associated animal constellations, all of which developed over ~3200-500 BC in Mesopotamia in a religious or ritual tradition. These were taken over by the Greeks around 500 BC. However the other Babylonian constellations, their farming-calendar tradition, were not adopted. The other tradition was not Mesopotamian; it comprised large constellations which appear to date from ~2800 BC, probably from the Mediterranean region, devised for the navigators of ships. They include huge bears and serpents which marked the celestial pole and equator at that time, and probably the four anonymous giants which we know as Hercules, Ophiuchus, Bootes, and Auriga, as well as some of the large southern 'marine' constellations. The origins of some other constellations, including the Perseus tableau and various animals, are unknown; they may have been new creations of the Greeks. The Greeks assembled the classical sky-map from these different sources between 540-370 BC, but many of the familiar legends were only applied to the constellations later.
Journal of the British Astronomical Association
- Pub Date:
- April 1998