Constellations are groups of stars understood as imaginary stylized pictures, and often to describe their meaning in terms of mythology. Most societies, traditional and modern, identify constellations as a feature of their cultural astronomy. In ancient times before calendars were invented, farmers timed their agricultural activities according to the seeming movement of constellations across the heavens. The Greek poet Hesiod, ca. 700 BC, for example, said that farmers should harvest at the rising of the Pleiades (in Taurus) and plow when it set (Works and Days.)
The constellations through which the moon seemed to pass in its journey around the heavens gained special prominence in ancient Babylon, as the constellations of the zodiac. By the 5th century BCE, however, they measured the zodiac as twelve equal segments of 30 degrees each, thus decoupling the astrological signs from the constellations for which they were named. The Latin poet Manilius (1st century CE, Astronomica) thought that constellations rising with the native's zodiacal rising sign had a particular impact on his character and future occupation. With the increasing use of the signs of the zodiac as a belt around the solar ecliptic, however, constellations largely fell out of use in western astrology, with the exception of astrologers who work with specific Fixed Stars and asterisms.
A secondary meaning of the word constellation in English-language astrology is the relationship between two or more planets and the sign and house positions of planets in the horoscope. This is the primary meaning of Konstellation in German-language astrology. The German word for an imaginative figure based upon a group of stars is Sternbild, meaning "star picture".
- Wikipedia: Constellation
- Wikipedia: 88 modern constellations
- Star Names — Their Lore and Meaning (Richard Hinckley Allen, 1899)
- Wikimedia Commons: Zodiac (many pictures)
- The official (astronomical) Constellations (IAU)
- constellationsofwords: Explore the Etymology and Symbolism of the Constellations (Site about Fixed Stars)
Notes and References
- Plate from Andreas Cellarius' Harmonia Macrocosmica of 1661. Since the celstial sphere is seen from "outside", the sides are reversed to the view for a terrestrial observer
- Plate 29 of Urania's Mirror, from Jehoshaphat Aspin. London, 1825