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CONSTELLATION (from the Lat. constell...

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Originally appearing in Volume V07, Page 11 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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CONSTELLATION (from the Lat. constellatus, studded with stars; co'n, with, and Stella, a star), in astronomy, the name given to certain groupings of stars. The partition of the stellar expanse into areas characterized by specified stars can be traced back to a very remote antiquity. It is believed that the ultimate origin of the constellation figures and names is to be found in the corresponding systems in vogue among the primitive civilizations of the Euphrates valley—the Sumerians, Accadians and Babylonians; that these were carried westward into ancient Greece by the Phoenicians, and to the lands of Asia Minor by the Hittites, and that Hellenic culture in its turn introduced them into Arabia, Persia and India. From the earliest tines the star-groups known as constellations, the smaller groups (parts of constellations) known as asterisms, and also individual stars, have received names connoting some meteorological phenomena, or symbolizing religious or mythological beliefs. At one time it was held that the constellation names and myths were of Greek origin; this view has now been disproved, and an examination of the Hellenic myths associated with the stars and star-groups in the light of the records revealed by the decipherment of Euphratean cuneiforms leads to the conclusion that in many, if not all, cases the Greek myth has a Euphratean, parallel, and so renders it probable that the Greek constellation system and the cognate legends are primarily of Semitic or even pre-Semitic origin. The origin and development of the grouping of the stars into constellations is more a matter of archaeological than of astro nomical interest. It demands a careful study of the myths and religious thought of primitive peoples; and the tracing of the names from one language to another belongs to comparative philology. The Sumerians and Accadians, the non-Semitic inhabitants of the Euphrates valley prior to the Babylonians, described the stars collectively as a " heavenly flock "; the sun was the " old sheep "; the seven planets were the " old-sheep stars"; the whole of the stars had certain " shepherds, " and Sibzianna (which, according to Sayce and Bosanquet, is the modern Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern sky) was the " star of the shepherds of the heavenly herds." ; The Accadians bequeathed their system to the Babylonians, and cuneiform tablets and cylinders, boundary stones, and Euphratean art generally, point to the existence of a well-defined system of star names in their early history. From a detailed study of such records, in their nature of rather speculative value, R. Brown, junr. (Primitive Constellations, 1899) has compiled a Euphratean planisphere, which he regards as the mother of all others. The tablets examined range in date from 3000-500 B.C., and hence the system must be anterior to the earlier date. Of great importance is the Creation Legend, a cuneiform compiled from older records during the reign of Assur-bani-pal, c. 65o s.e., in which there occurs a passage interpretable as pointing to the acceptance of 36 constellations: 12 northern, 12 zodiacal and 12 southern. These constellations were arranged in three
End of Article: CONSTELLATION (from the Lat. constellatus, studded with stars; co'n, with, and Stella, a star)
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