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Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning (Dover Books on Astronomy) Paperback – 2 Jan 2000
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First the constellation itself is described: when it was proposed; the legends associated with it; its names in many languages; and so on. Then the stars within the constellation are listed in order of their Bayer letters. Each star is described, giving its multitude of names in many languages, and stating if it had ever been mislabelled by some authorities (which happened unfortunately often). The amount of text devoted to each constellation varies considerably according to how much information needs to be imparted. The smaller Chinese constellations and their star names are also noted.
There are almost 80 pages of indices of incredible thoroughness: a General Index; an Arabic Index; an Arabic Alphabet; a Greek Index; An Index to star references in the Bible; a list of sources. These are essential to the usefulness of the book and they put modern (computer assisted and feeble) indexes to shame.
To give just a few examples of the charming miscellany of information found here:
(146) gives easy instructions for finding one’s Local Sidereal Time by looking at the position of beta Cas in relation to the pole star.
(195) In a passage discussing Deneb (alpha Cyg), the star marking the tail of the Swan, Allen says, “Caesius ... also designated it as Uropygium, the Pope’s Nose of our Thanksgiving dinner tables.”
(Throughout) there are carefully chosen classics of poetry.
There is also plentiful scientific information here, as it was known when the book was first published in 1899: magnitudes, colours and proper motions of stars; orbital elements of binary and multiple stars; some spectroscopic information. The spiral structure of one or two galaxies had recently been discovered. Here it was speculated that these are solar systems early in their course of formation.
This is a must-have and still useful book for any lover of astronomy and its history.
It covers all the constellations and the Milky Way in consummate detail and the information isn't just regurgitated piecemeal. It's interspersed with items of poetry which, for me, really brought the descriptions to life. Bear in mind however that it was written in 1899 and some of the statements Allen makes may refer to constellations that are no long extant, and search as I might I found nothing about the teapot or the steering wheel :-) But this is to nitpick, if you want to know the meanings of the names of the stars and constellations, never mind that at the finish we aren't really sure whether the names are based on tales from Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Arabic or the 16th / 17th centuries, this is the book, it's a journey in itself.
As has been said it is really a reprint but none the worse for all of that.
It will add to my collection of references on astronomical naming of stars and and constellations.
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