For anyone entering the field of Greek mythology, the two volumes by Robert Graves entitled The Greek Myths (Penguin) are a masterful synthesis, with copious references. Another useful summary, with many notes and references, is A Handbook of Greek Mythology by H. J. Rose (Methuen). For other background information I consulted the Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford University Press) and the Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Pierre Grimal (Blackwell); the latter, in particular, contains a fund of references.
The starting point for all studies of Greek star lore is a poem called the Phaenomena (Appearances), written c.275 BC by Aratus of Soli. The Phaenomena of Aratus is based on a book of the same name written the previous century by the Greek scientist Eudoxus of Cnidus. No copies of the book by Eudoxus have been preserved; we have only Aratus’s poem. An English translation by G. R. Mair is available in the Loeb Classical Library series (Harvard University Press and Heinemann). A more recent translation and commentary on the poem is Aratus: Phaenomena by Douglas Kidd (CUP, 1997).
The Latin adaptation of Aratus that was reputedly written by Germanicus Caesar in the early part of the first century has been translated by D. B. Gain; see The Aratus Ascribed to Germanicus Caesar (Athlone Press, 1976). A Latin work with many echoes of Aratus is Astronomica by the Roman poet Marcus Manilius, written early in the first century AD. It has been translated into English by G. P. Goold in the Loeb Classical Library.
Another early Greek source is the Catasterisms ascribed to Eratosthenes in the second century BC – although not, according to modern authority, actually written by him. This is a highly obscure essay and when writing this book I could find no record of an English translation. I referred to the French version of the Catasterisms published in 1821 by Abbé Halma. Since then, an English translation has appeared in the book Star Myths by Theony Condos (Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, 1997).
The Myths of Hyginus by Mary Grant (University of Kansas Publications, 1960) contains an invaluable English translation of Hyginus’s Fabulae and Poetica Astronomica, among the most influential works on constellation mythology but scarcely read today. Another translation of the Poetica Astronomica is also included in the more recent Star Myths by Theony Condos, mentioned above.
Apollodorus was a Greek writer who produced an encyclopedic summary of Greek myths called the Library; I referred to the Loeb translation by Sir J. G. Frazer. Many popular myths received their definitive retelling in the works of the Roman writer Ovid; for his Metamorphoses I used the Penguin translation by Mary Innes and the Loeb edition of his Fasti by Sir J. G. Frazer. My source for Apollonius Rhodius was the Penguin translation by E. V. Rieu. For Ptolemy’s Almagest I consulted G. J. Toomer’s thoughtful translation (Duckworth, 1984). For an online version of Ptolemy’s catalogue, see
or see here for scans of the Peters and Knobel edition:
For the origin of star names, I have relied on the booklet A Dictionary of Modern Star Names (originally Short Guide to Modern Star Names and Their Derivations) by Paul Kunitzsch and Tim Smart (Sky Publishing, 2006). Useful background on star names can also be found in an article by Dr Kunitzsch in the January 1983 issue of Sky & Telescope. A collection of Dr Kunitzsch’s scientific papers has been reprinted as The Arabs and the Stars (Variorum, 1989). An illuminating paper by Gwyneth Heuter on the origin of star names is to be found in Vistas in Astronomy, vol. 29, 1986, p.237.
My sources for Chinese constellations have been the books by Ho Peng Yoke (1966), Sun and Kistemaker (1997) and Chan Ki-hung (2007). Ho translated an important Chinese astronomical survey from the mid 7th century AD, contemporary with the Dunhuang star chart. Sun and Kistemaker have attempted to reconstruct the sky from an even earlier time, in the first century BC. Chan’s book presents reconstructed star charts from two eras: one from the 18th century, by when the Chinese sky had reached its final form, after which it was supplanted by western constellations; and an older tradition, from the 11th century AD.
The Sky Explored by Deborah Jean Warner (Alan R. Liss, New York, and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam, 1979) is an invaluable survey of the history and development of celestial cartography, and contains much incidental material on constellation history. A notable work on the modern constellations, Filling the Sky published in 2003 by Jim Fuchs, provided useful additional information and references when I came to revise the text for this web edition. Morton Wagman’s Lost Stars is a painstaking survey of changes in star designations between catalogues and in response to changing constellation boundaries, as well as being a good survey of constellation history.
Archie Roy’s speculations about the origin of the constellations are contained in his paper in Vistas in Astronomy, vol. 27, 1984, p.171. Arguments by Bradley E. Schaefer for a later date of origin are to be found in Journal for the History of Astronomy, vol. 35, 2004, p.161. E. R. Knobel’s analysis of the star catalogue of Frederick de Houtman is in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 77, 1917, p.414. (See also Knobel’s subsequent note.)
R. H. Allen’s Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning (Dover) and W. T. Olcott’s Star Lore of All Ages (Putnam’s) are fun to dip into, but I have not used them as prime sources for mythology.
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I am indebted to many people for their assistance while preparing the original manuscript for the printed edition of this book. The expertise of Dr David Dewhirst at the University of Cambridge proved invaluable in tracking down some obscure references. My research was further aided by the help and interest of Janet Dudley and John Hutchins at the library of the former Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux in Sussex, and of Peter Hingley at the Royal Astronomical Society library. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to David Calvert at the Royal Greenwich Observatory for supplying the constellation illustrations, photographed from the star atlases of Bode and Flamsteed in the Observatory’s library. (Following the closure of the RGO, their rare books are now held at the University of Cambridge.) For this web edition, I have in some places used additional scans from the Tartu University Virtual Museum, Estonia. George and Lena Bekerman assisted with translation from the French of Abbé Halma’s version of the Catasterisms. Wil Tirion provided help with information on the Dutch constellation-makers Keyser and de Houtman. The late John Ebdon, director of the London Planetarium, as ardent a Graecophile as he was an astronomer, read my manuscript before publication and suggested some improvements.
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