Middle East

Middle Eastern Star Lore

A - D


As-Samakatan - Two Fishes in the Arabian Desert

Before Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi and other Arabic astronomers adopted Ptolemy's constellations, people on the Arabian Peninsula had their own way to navigate the sky, creating constellations like Lam, Ostriches and Vulture.

Some of their constellations were based on patterns first developed in Mesopotamia 4,000 years earlier.

While working on her PhD at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Danielle Adams developed an excellent project called Arab Star Calendars to preserve the astronomical knowledge of the people of the Arabian Desert.

The two fish; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars
Danielle Adams points out that "not all features of the Two Fish were necessarily shared by the same group of people. This listing is necessarily anachronistic because of the limited information that remains."

In her description, the Great Fish, al-hut or as-samaka al-‘azima consisted of β, ν and μ Andromedae, υ, φ, χ and ψ Piscium, η, ζ, ε, δ and π Andromedae and the Andromeda_Galaxy.

β Andromedae receives a special mentioning as batn al-hut, the "Belly of the Fish."

George R. Davis, Jr. describes al-hut naming the same stars as Danielle Adams, adding ν Piscium and the galaxy M 32 to the list.

According to Danielle Adams, "the Great Fish is a very old asterism dating back to Babylonian times. The Smaller Fish is likely not as old, but its origin is unknown."

In her description, as-samaka as-sughra, the Smaller Fish, consists of γ Andromedae, which is called "The Belly", τ, υ, χ and 51 Andromedae, φ Persei and the double cluster of NGC 869 and NGC 884.

For more information on this ancient Arab constellation, see D. Adam's essay Ancient Fish in the stellar Sea: Remnants of Babylon.

Medieval Arab Astronomy

R.H. Allen reports that Arabian astronomers depicted the constellation as a "Sea Calf, or Seal ... with a chain around its neck that united it to one of the Fishes", as their religion prohibited the reproduction of human images.

Despite religious restrictions, Persian astronomer al-Sufi presented Andromeda as a human being. His Book of Fixed Stars (ca. 964) was an illustrated synthesis of Ptolemy’s Almagest with Arabic astronomical traditions on the constellations.

Al-Sufi presented the stars in Ptolemy’s constellations with Arabic names, many of which are still in use toady.


Al-Sufi's version of Andromeda
non-dated copy from Samarkand
Source: Venetian Andromeda
α Alpheratz سرة الفرس surrat al-faras The Navel of the Mare
β Mirach مئزر mīzar Girdle
γ Almach العناق al-‘anāq The Desert Lynx
δ Sadiradra صدر العذراء sadar aleadhra Virgin's Breast
ι Keff al-Salsalat كف المسلسلة kaf al-musalsala The Palm of the chained Woman
ξ Adhil الذيل að-ðayl The Tail
Official names derived from Arabic origins are shown in bold.

The name of Andromeda's brightest star Alpheratz ( α And) is derived from the Arabic surrat al-faras "the navel of the mare." another traditional Arabic name was rās al-mar'a al-musalsala, "the head of the woman in chains". The "mare" refers to Pegasus, while the "woman in chains" of course was Andromeda.

Until 1928 when the IAU explicitly defined the boundararies of the constellations (published in 1930), Alpheratz was considered a star of both constellation.

Source: Wikipedia

Mirach, (β And) was originally called janb al-musalsalah, "The Side of the Chained Lady" by medieval Arab astronomers. That name clearly referred the the Andromeda legend, while another common Arab name, Qalb al-Ḥūt, the "Heart of the Fish," referred to the al-Ḥūt constellation.

Qalb al-Ḥūt was also the central star of the 28th Arabic Lunar Mansion, Baṭn al-Ḥūt.

The current name comes from the star's description in the Alfonsine Tables as super mizar, which later became Merach. The Arabic word mizar (مئزر) means "girdle," referring to Mirach's position at the left hip of the princess.

Sources:Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafez: Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi and his book of the fixed stars: a journey of re-discovery

Almach (γ And) is derived from the Arabic al-‘anāq, meaning Desert Lynx. In 2016, the name was officially approved by the IAU.

Traditionally, referring to the Andromeda myth, the star was also known as Rijl al Musalsalah, the "Foot of The Chained Woman."

In his star catalogue Pearls of Brilliance, 17th centrury Egyptian astronomer Muḥammad al-Akhṣāṣī al-Muwaqqit called γ And Al Khamis al Na'amah, the "fifth ostrich."


Sadiradra (δ And) comes from the Arabic sadar aleadhra, the virgin's breast.

Source: Osservatorio Astronomico di Monteromano

Keff al-Salsalat is the name al-Muwaqqit used for ι Andromedae, derived from kaf al-musalsala, the palm of chained woman.

Source: Wikipedia

The traditional Arab name Adhil (ξ And) comes from the Arab word að-ðayl, meaning train or tail - most likely another reference to the al-Hut constellation.

Source: Wikipedia

1125 copy of Al-Sufi's Andromeda
Doha Museum of Islamic Art

13th century copy of
Al-Sufi's Andromeda
Source: alamy.com

Andromeda and Pisces, ca. 1450
Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada

Andromeda Galaxy in al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars

The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. although its true character as a galaxy was not recognized until 1917, it was known to astronomers as a "nebula" at least since the 10th century.

Al-Sufi refers to it as al-Laṭkhāal-Saḥābiya, the nebulous smear or smudge and as al-Ishtibākal-Saḥābi, the nebulous mass.

A 14th century copy of al-Sufi's depiction of the Andromeda Galaxy shows the galaxy at the mouth of Andromeda's fish.

Source: Ihsan Hafez, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi and his book of the fixed stars: a journey of re-discovery

14th century copy of al-Sufi's depiction of the Andromeda Galaxy
Sources: University of Oregon, Universität zu Köln


Arabian Peninsula: as-su’ud - The Auspicious Asterisms

The Auspicious Asterisms are one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

According to Danielle Adams, the Arabic term sa’d "... indicates good fortune or something that is auspicious, especially a star." Thus, the sa’d asterisms can be interpreted as "lucky stars".

There is one group of four stars and nine pairs of stars covering an area now (partially) occupied by the constellations Aquarius, Capricornus and Pegasus.

Auspicious Asterisms; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars

Four of the Auspicious Asterisms are located in Aquarius. Three of those also represent three of the Arabic Lunar Stations.

ε and μ Aquarii form sa’d bul’ (سعد بلع), the Voracious Auspice or sa’d al-bali’ (سعد البالع), the Auspice of the Voracious Eater. They also represent the 23rd Lunar Station.

The Auspice of Auspices, sa’d as-su’ud (سعد السعود) was formed by β and ξ Aquarii, which also formed the 24th Lunar Station.

The "double luck" asterism was the most sought after for good fortune among the ten Auspicious Asterisms.
Auspicious Asterisms in Aquarius; Map based on seasky.org
Sa’d al-akhbiya (سعد الأخبية) the The Auspice of Woolen Tents, is formed by three stars, γ, η and π Aquarii in the shape of a triangular tent, with a fourth star, ζ Aquarii in the center.

The four stars also represent the 25th Lunar Station.

Sa’d al-malik (سعد الملك), the Auspice of the King consists of the second brightest star in Aquarius, α Aquarii and rather faint nearby ο Aquarii.

With slightly different spelling, the asterisms are also listed by R.H. Allen.

Source: Arab Star Calendars
Tent in the Arabian Desert; dreamstime.com

Medieval Arab Astronomy

R.H. Allen points out that the religion of Islam prohibited the depiction of humans or human-like figures and that therefore, several Islamic astronomers showed the constellation as an amphora (Al Bīrūnī) or as a water bucket (Ulugh Beg).

The most popular drawings of Aquarius, however, were done by Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, who in his Book of Fixed Stars returned to the old Mesopotamian human-like image of the Water Poorer.

Al-Sufi adopted the constellations as described by Ptolemy, but assigned Arabic names to the stars, many of which had their roots in pre-Islamic Celestial Complexes and constellations.

Aquarius in a version of Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source: sciencephoto.com
α Sadalmelik سعد الملك sa’d al-malik The Auspice of the King
β Sadalsuud سعد السعود sa’d as-su’ud The Auspice of Auspices
γ Sadachbia سعد الأخبية sa’d al-akhbiya The Auspice of Tents
δ Skat الساق al-sāq Shin
ε Albali سعد البالع sa’d al-bali’ The Auspice of the Voracious Eater
ζ Sadaltager آخر ألأخبية ākhir al-akhbiya End of the Auspice of Tents
μ Albulaan ألبولعان al-bulaʽān The two Swallowers
ν Albulaan ألبولعان al-bulaʽān The two Swallowers
π Seat وسط الأخبية wasath al-akhbiya Middle of the Auspice of Tents
ξ Bunda بوندا bunda Persian: Foundation
Official names derived from Arabic origins are shown in bold.

Today's names of Aquarius' three brightest stars are directly derived from the Auspicious Asterisms (see above).

The name Sadalmelik (α Aqu) is derived from sa’d al-malik, the Auspice of the King.

The name of Aquarius' brightest star, Sadalsuud (β Aqu), comes from sa’d as-su’ud, the The Auspice of Auspices. Originally, β Aqu was called nir sa’d as-su’ud, the brightest of the Auspice of Auspices, while ξ Aqu was called thanih sa’d as-su’ud, the second of the Auspice of Auspices.

R.H. Allen adds 46 Capricorni to the Auspice of Auspices.

In Persian astronomy, β and ξ Aquarii formed the 24th Lunar Mansion, called Bunda, the Foundation. THe name is commonly used for ξ Aquarii.

Sadachbia (γ Aqu) was derived from sa’d al-akhbiya, the Auspice of Tents.

17th century Egyptian astronomer al-Muwaqqit assigned individual names to the stars of the Auspice of Tents. γ Aqr was named Aoul al Achbiya, the "First of the Auspice of Tents", π Aqu, was named Wasat al Achbiya, the "Middle of the Auspice of Tents" and ζ Aqr was Achr al Achbiya, the "End of the Auspice of Tents."

In the 17th century, Hugo Grotius assigned the name Seat to π Aqu, while
ζ Aqr is now commonly known as Sadaltager, a name of unknown origin.

The name Skat (δ Aqu) comes from al-sāq (الساق) - shin. The star is not part of any of the Auspices.

The name Albali (ε Aqu) comes from sa’d al-bali’, the Auspice of the Voracious Eater, also known as "The Swallower."

Al-Muwaqqit named ε Aqu Nir Saad Bula, the brightest of the Auspice of the Swallower.

Al-Muwaqqit added a third star to the original pair and named ν and μ Aquarii collectively Albulaan, which is the plural form of al Bula.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Aquarius in Book of Fixed Stars
of Alfonso the Wise, 1279
Source: facsimilefinder.com

17th century copy of
Al-Sufi's Aquarius
Source: @HistAstro


Arabian Peninsula: an-nasran - The Two Vultures

The Two Vultures are one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

According to Danielle Adams, on the Arabian Peninsula, the term nasr "... designated a class of large birds known for plucking flesh with the curved ends of their otherwise flat beaks. The Egyptians revered the vulture for its utility in eliminating decaying animals, and the Arabs similarly regarded them favorably."

The Two Vultures; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars
an-nasr al-ta’ir (النسر الطائر), the Flying Vulture consists of the bright stars α, β and γ Aquilae.

The other vulture, the Alighting Vulture is located in what is now the constellation Lyra.

For more information on this ancient Arab constellation, see Danielle Adams' essay Auspicious Vultures in the Dark Sky: The autumnal rains return.

Source: Arab Star Calendars
In the ancient, tragic Arab legend of Jawza’ and Suhayl, the bright star Canopus (α Car) represents Suhayl, who had to flee to the south after the death of his wife Jawza’ (presented by Orion's Belt).

Source: Arab Star Calendars

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

In his Book of Fixed Stars, Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi relate Greek star names and constellations with traditional Arabic ones.

The name Altair (α Aqi) comes directly from the classical Flying Vulture, which today is seen as a flying eagle. Danielle Adams explains that in modern-day Arabic, the term nasr indicates an eagle, but at the time the constellation was first observed it was more commonly used for vultures.

Sources: Wikipedia, Arab Star Calendars

The name Alsahin (β Aqi) is derived from the Persian term šāhin tarāzu (شاهين ترازو), meaning the Beam of the Scale, which was an asterism consisting of α, β and γ Aquilae.

15th century copy copy of
al-Sufi's illustration
Pergamenthandschrift M II 141,

Aside from meaning "beam" or "pointer," the Persian word al-šāhin can also mean "royal falcon."

Source: Wikipedia

The second word of the šāhin tarāzu asterism is the root of the name Tarazed (γ Aqi).

Source: Wikipedia

Another traditional Arabic formation going with the "scale" theme is Al Mizān (ألميزان), the Balance. This asterism consists of δ, η and θ Aquilae, which are unofficially still named Al Mizān I, II and III, respectively.

Source: Wikipedia

ε and ζ Aquilae bore the traditional Arabic name Deneb el Okab, derived from the Arabic ðanab al-ʽuqāb (ذنب العقاب), the tail of the eagle. Later, the stars received the additional Latin extension Borealalis (ε Aqi) and Australis (ζ Aqi), meaning northern and southern.

In 2016, the IAU officially assigned the name Okab to ζ Aquilae A.

Source: Wikipedia

λ and ι Aquilae share the traditional Arabic name Al Thalimain, derived from al-ẓalīmayn (الظلیمين), the two ostriches.

Source: Wikipedia

Colored reproduction of al-Sufi's illustration, Bologna 1250-1275

In his Pearls of Brilliance, 17th century Egyptian astronomer al-Muwaqqit used a number of unique Arabic names for some of the stars of Aquila.

δ Aquilae was named Djenubi Menkib al Nesr (منكب ألنسر ألخنوبي), the southern shoulder of the eagle, θ Aquilae was named Thanih Ras al Akab (تاني ألرأس ألعقاب), the second (star) of eagle's head and ζ Aquilae was named Dzeneb al Tair (ذنب الطائر), the eagle's tail.

Argo Navis
Medieval Arab Astronomy

Most Arabic astronomers adopted Ptolemy's constellation.

Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, in his Book of Fixed Stars called it ṣūrat al-safīnah, the constellation of the ship.

On the Manuchihr Globe, it is called kawākib al-safīnah.

Canopus (α Carinae), the brightest star in Argo Navis is not visible in the northern parts of the Mediterranean and thus did not play a big role in Greek Mythology. Ptolemy conducted his observations in Alexandria (where the star is visible) and thus included it in the constellation.

However, in the southern parts of the Arabic world, for example in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, Canopus was an important part of astronomy and mythology. For details, see the mythology of the constellation Carina.

Argo Navis in a 1417 reproduction of Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source: sciencephoto.com

Hebrew astronomy

In Hebrew astronomy, Aries was named טלה (Taleh); it generally symbolizes the "Lamb of the World".

Source: Wikipedia

The image to the right shows the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the center piece of the 15th century Ghent Altarpiece, generally considered the first major oil painting to gain global fame.

Ghent Altarpiece; BBC News

Arabian Peninsula: al-hamal - The Lamb

al-hamal (الحمل), The Lamb, is one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

According to Danielle Adams, on the Arabian Peninsula, the term al-hamal "... refers to a first-year lamb ... of the fat-tailed sheep variety."

The complex consists of three distinct parts, The Horns and The Little Belly, which are both located in what is now Aries and the Fatty Tail, represented by the Pleiades.

When it was first used, the Lamb was the location of the vernal equinox; its stars formed the first three Arabic Lunar Mansions.

The Lamb; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars

qarna al-hamal (قرنا الحمل), The Two Horns of the Lamb were formed by α and β Arietis. Individually, the two stars were called al-nath (النطح), the Butting (α Ari) and al-natih (الناطح), the Butter (α Ari).
β Arietis, together with γ Arietis were also called aš-šaraţān, the two signs, referring to the fact that the two stars once marked the northern vernal equinox. They formed the First Arabic Lunar Mansion.

al-butayn (البطين), the The Little Belly,, also called batn al-hamal (بطن الحمل), the The Belly of the Lamb originally (according to Danielle Adams) most likely consisted of the stars 41, 39 and 35 Ari.

She also list an alternative position, consisting of δ, ε and σ Arietis.

Persian scientist Al-Bīrūnī defined al-butayn as δ, ε, π and ζ Arietis.

The stars of al-butayn formed the Second Arabic Lunar Mansion.

Sources: D. Adams, R.H. Allen, I. Hafez

Possible stars of al-butayn
Map based on seasky.org
alyat al-hamal (ألية الحمل), the The Fatty Tail of the Lamb was made up by the Pleiades. More information can be found here.

For more information on this ancient Arab Lamb complex, see Danielle Adams' essay The Little Lamb that Changed the Calendar: The vernal equinox in Arabia.

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

Most of the main stars in Aries carry traditional Arabic names. Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi based his description on Ptolemy and depicted the constellation as a ram. Others, however, saw it as a "nondescript four-legged animal with what may be antlers instead of horns," as shown in some Islamic celestial globes.

Source: Wikipedia

Hamal (α Ari), the brightest star in Aries lends its name to the entire constellation. It is derived from the Arabic rās al-ħamal, the "head of the ram."

Source: Wikipedia

The name Sheratan (β Ari) stems from the Arabic aš-šaraţān, "the two signs" (see above).

Source: Wikipedia

The name Mesarthim (γ Ari) is a classic example of misinterpretation. Originally, the star shared the name Sheratan with β Arietis. According to Wikipedia, in medieval manuscripts the name Sheratan got corrupted to Sartai.

13th century Spanish copy of al-Sufi's illustration
in the Book of Fixed Stars; © akg-image

15th century Czech copy of al-Sufi's Aries
© Alamy Stock Photo

In 1803, when Johann Bayer developed his star catalogue Uranometria, he erroneously interpreted that name as the Hebrew word מְשָׁרְתִים (mᵉshārᵉthīm), meaning "servants." Later scholars picked up on the term, for example, the English astronomer William Henry Smyth (1788-1865) called it Mesartun - and so, the name stuck.

Source: Wikipedia, Constellation of Words

The name Botein (δ Ari) is derived from al-butayn (see above).

Source: Wikipedia


Medieval Islamic Astronomy

According to R.H. Allen, Arab astronomers called this constellation Al Saraṭān, meaning "Crab."

It was also part of the ancient Arabic mega-constellation Al-Asad - the Lion. This constellation (The Arab Star Calendars of the University of Arizona calls it a "celestial complex") centers in modern day Leo and Gemini, but also reaches into Canis Minor Cancer, Hydra, Virgo, Boötes, Corvus and Ursa Major.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Arab Star Calendars.

Cancer's two main stars still carry Arabic names today. The names of the two other stars are Latinised versions of former Arabic Names.

Colored copy of
al-Sufi's illustration
Source: researchgate.net

α Acubens الزبانى‎ Al-Zubanāh The Claws
β Tarf أل طرف Al Tarf The End
γ Asellus Borealis الحمرين Al-Ḥimārain The Two Asses
δ Asellus Australis الحمرين Al-Ḥimārain The Two Asses
Official names derived from Arabic origins are shown in bold.

Acubens (α Cnc) is derived from the Arabic al-zubanāh, "The Claws."

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia.

Tarf (β Cnc) comes from the Arabic al-tarf, meaning "The End. According to R.H. Allen, the name refers to the end "...of the southern foot on which it lies."

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia.

Adopting the Greek myth of the gods and their donkeys, (see here), γ and δ Cancri were collectively known as al-ḥimārain, "The Two Asses." The name was Latinized to Aselli. Individually, the two stars became Asellus Borealis, "The Northern Ass" (γ Cnc) and Asellus Australis, "The Soutern Ass" (δ Cnc).

Source: R.H. Allen

γ and δ Cancri flank the Beehive Cluster, an open star cluster that, to the naked eye, looks like a small nebulous object. (The brightest star in the cluster is ε Cnc. According to Star-Facts, the name Meleph for this star comes from the Arabic al-ma᾽laf, “the stall.”

In the ancient al-asad constellation. The two stars were seen as the an-nathra, the "Tip of the Nose" of the lion, specifically as Al-Mankhiran, the "Two Nostrils" and the Beehive Cluster as the sneeze.

Source: Arab Star Calendars

an-nathra is also the name of the 8th Arabic Lunar Mansion, formed by the Beehive Cluster, together with γ and δ Cancri.

Source: Ihsan Hafez

15th century copy copy of
al-Sufi's illustration
Pergamenthandschrift M II 141,

The Two Nostrils
Source: Arab Star Calendars

Canes Venatici
The Borgian Globe

The Borgian Globe is an Arabic celestial globe manufactured in 1225 and recovered in 1790 by Cardinal Stefano Borgia. It shows the Ptolemaic constellations, inscribed in Kufic characters.

In addition, it shows two constellations not shown on any other globe. One is an oval shape, enclosing eight stars in the location of the modern constellations Leo Minor and Lynx.

The other one is a square underneath the "Tail" of Ursa Major at the location of Canes Venatici.

karab alebl on the Borgian Globe
Source: atlascoelestis.com

R.H. Allen, referring to orientalist Assemani, called the formation al karb al ibl, the Camel's Burden. Felice Stoppa called it karab alebl, the Camel Pack.

Sources: R.H. Allen, atlascoelestis.com

The Sultan's Tables

In 1439, Timurid sultan and astronomer Ulugh Beg set a new standard in astronomical observation publishing the Sultan's Tables or Zij-i-Sultani.

In it, he called the star later known as α CVn Al Kabd al Asad. The name literally means "The liver of the Lion", referring to the Arabic celestial complex al Asad, the Lion. However, "Liver" in this case is not a biological term, but a technical one. According to R.H. Allen, it indicates "... the highest position of any star within the compass of a figure reckoned from the equator."

Source: R.H. Allen

Canis Major
Arabian Peninsula: udhrat al-jawza’ - The Maidenhead of Jawza’

Jawza’ is one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It is centered in Orion but also includes parts of neighboring constellations.

The stars δ, ε, η, ο
2 and σ Canis Majoris formed the asterism ‘udhrat al-jawza’, the Maidenhead of Jawza, representing the virginity of Jawza' a tragic female character in Arab mythology. (You can read the whole story here).

Later, Islamic astronomers adopted the Virgin designation, and the stars became known as al-‘adhara, The Virgins, a name still carried today by Adhara (ε CMa).

Presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars

Jawza's husband Suhayl came from the other side of the river (which is the Milky Way). After Jawza's tragic death, he had to flee to the south. One of his sisters, ash-shi’ra al-‘abur, the Shi’ra who crossed over, followed him. The two are represented by the two brightest stars in the night sky, Sirius (Suhayl) and Canopus (α Carinae - ash-shi’ra al-‘abur)

Sources: Arabic Star Catalog, R.H. Allen

Medieval Arab Astronomy

In medieval Arab astronomy, the constellation became al-kalb al-akbar, "the Greater Dog", later transcribed as alcheleb alachbar.

Islamic scholar Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī referred to it as kalb al-jabbār, "the Dog of the Giant."

today, many of the stats of Canis Major still have Arabic names.

Sources: Wikipedia, Richard H. Allen

The name Mirzam (β CMa) derives from the Arabic murzim (مرزم), meaning "The Herald," most likely because of its position, heralding th rising before of Sirius in the night sky.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Muliphein (γ Cen) comes from the Arabic muħlifayn (محلفين), meaning "Jurors." The star shares its linguistical roots with the slightly differently spelled Muhlifain (γ Centauri)

Source: Wikipedia

Wezen (δ CMa) derives from the medieval Arabic al-wazn (وزن), meaning "Weight." Richard H. Allen suggest the name describes the star's difficulty to rise above the horizon in the northern hemisphere.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

The name Adhara (ε CMa) goes back to the ancient Arab al-‘adhara (the Virgins) asterism (see above).

Egyptian astronomer Muḥammad al-Akhṣāṣī al-Muwaqqit called the star awwal al-adhara (أول العذاري), the "First of the Virgins."

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

ο2 CMa was called thaanii al-aðārii, the "Second Virging by

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

The name Aludra (η CMa) also has its roots in the original al-‘adhara (the Virgins) asterism (see above).

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Furud (ζ CMa) comes from the Arabic al-furūd (ألفرود), the "Solitary Ones," a name used by early Arab poets for a number of stars in the Canis Major and neigboring Columba.

Al-Sufi, on the other hand, called these stars al-ʼaghribah, (ألأغربة) "The Ravens".

Another translation for al-furūd is "The Bright Single One."

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Canis Major on the Manuchihr Globe, 1632; Wikipedia

Arabic star names in Canis Major
Map based on seasky.org

Canis Major in Pergamenthandschrift M II 141,
a 15th century copy of al-Sufi's drawing

Sirius Reference in the Qur'an

Sirius is mentioned in the 53rd Surah, An-Najm ("The Star"), of the Qur'an, where it is given the name الشِّعْرَى (aš-ši‘rā or ash-shira; the leader).

The verse is: "وأنَّهُ هُوَ رَبُّ الشِّعْرَى", "That He is the Lord of Sirius (the Mighty Star)".

Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Persia

In Persian mythology, Sirius appears as Tishtrya and is revered as the rain-maker divinity.

Tishtrya is a divinity of rain and fertility and an antagonist of Apaosha, the demon of drought.

In the struggle with Apaosha, Tishtrya is often depicted as a white horse, rising from the Vourukasha Sea, the source of all waters.

Sources: Wikipedia, World History Encyclopedia

Apaosha and Tishtrya
Source: Twelve Gods of Persian Mythology

Canis Minor
Arabian Peninsula

The stars of Canis Minor are part of the ancient Arab legend of Jawza'.

When Jawwza' died, her husband Suhayl had to flee to the south. He became Canopus (α Car). One of his sisters followed him into exile and became Sirius (α CMa), called ash-shi’ra al-‘abur, the Shi’ra who crossed over.

The other sister, however, stayed behind on the other side of the river (which is the Milky Way). She cried over the loss of her brother and her sister and was called ash-shi’ra al-ghumaysa, the little bleary-eyed Shi’ra, a name that was given to α Canis Minoris. Nearby β Canis Minoris was called mirzam al-ghumaisa' (مرزم الغميصاء), the "Girdle of the Bleary-eyed One."

Sources: Wikipedia, Youtube: Where Orion is Known as Al-Jawza'

Medieval Arab Astronomy

The medieval Arabic astronomers maintained the depiction of Canis Minor (al-Kalb al-Asghar in Arabic) as a dog; in his Book of the Fixed Stars, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi included a diagram of the constellation with a canine figure superimposed.

There was one slight difference between the Ptolemaic vision of Canis Minor and the Arabic; al-Sufi claims Mirzam, now assigned to Canis Major, as part of the collar of Canis Minor.

While α Canis Minoris is now known by its Greek name Procyon (see above), β Canis Minoris was given the proper name Gomeisa, derived from al-ghumaisa', the Bleary-eyed One.

Source: Wikipedia

Canis Major in Pergamenthandschrift M II 141,
a 15th century copy of al-Sufi's drawing


aydi ath-thuraya - the Hands of Thuraya

aydi ath-thuraya - the Hands of Thuraya is one of 11 Celestial Complexes described by Danielle Adams in the excellent project called Arab Star Calendars.

In pre-Islamic Arabic astronomy, the Pleiades were known as Thuraya and an anthropomorphized figure, the Hands of Thuraya extend across a large amount of sky from Cetus across Perseus to Cassiopeia.

The stars of what is now Cassiopeia formed al-kaf al-khadib (الكف الخضيب) - the Henna-Dyed Hand.

D. Adams' presentation of aydi ath-thuraya (Cassiopeia highlighted by the author)
Click the image to see the original in the Arab Star Calendars
NGC 884 and NGC 869, two open star clusters (now assigned to neighboring constellation Perseus) are seen as part of the hand. They are called washm al-mi’sam (وشم المعصم) - the Tattoo of the Wrist.

Sources: Arab Star Calendars, R.H. Allen
Wikipedia adds that after the rise of Islam, the hand was sometimes seen as the bloodied hand of Muhammad's daughter Fatima.

Another Arabic interpretation of the stars of Cassiopeia is that of a camel. Drawings date back to al-Sufi. in Addition, R.H. Allen and E.B. Knobel both mention al-Tizini, a 16th century Syrian astronomer, who apparently called the constellation Shoter (شتر) which is Persian for camel.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Arab Star Calendar, Wikipedia

The Hand of Thuraya
2001 sketch by Roland Laffitte Source: atlascoelestis.com
Cassiopeia incorporated into a camel
Source: Bodleian Library, Oxford

Medieval Arab Astronomy

In the Persian and Arabic adaptations of the Ptolemaic Constellations, Cassiopeia was called al Dhāt al Kursiyy (ذات الكرسي), the Lady in the Chair. Al-Sufi depicted her as a queen on a chair, sometimes holding a crescent moon in her hand.

The depiction of Cassiopeia with a palm branch was adopted (and made pupular) in the
Alfonsine Tables where the constellation was described as habens palmam delibutam (holding the Consecrated Palm). R.H. Allen remarks "... how the palm, the classic symbol of victory and Christian sign of martyrdom, became associated with this heathen queen does not appear."

Sources:Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath, R.H. Allen

According to Wikipedia, both Al-Sufi and Ulugh Beg used the
name al Dhāt al Kursiyy also for the constellation's brightest star.

Officially, that star (α Cas) is named Shedar, coming from the Arabic word şadr (صدر), meaning Breast, indicating its position in the heart of queen Cassiopeia.

Source: Wikipedia

Cassiopeia in Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source:Bodleian Library, Oxford
The name Caph, (β Cas) goes back to the henna-stained hand al-kaff al khadib.


Ruchbah (δ Cas) is derived from the Arabic rukbah, (ركبة), meaning "Knee", indicating its position in the knee of queen Cassiopeia.


θ and μ Cassiopeiae share the name Marfak, derived from the Arabic al-mirfaq (المرفق), meaning "the elbow," referring to queen Cassiopeia.



Medieval Islamic Astronomy

There does not seem to be a specific legend regarding the Centaur in Middle Eastern mythology. R.H. Allen informs us that there was an early Arab constellation called Al Ḳaḍb al Karm, the Vine Branch or Al Shamārīḣ, the broken-off Palm Branches.

The picture of a palm branch loaded with dates was also used by Ptolemy, who described Centaurus as holding Lupus, the wolf in one hand and the palm branch in the other.

Source: R.H. Allen

Al-Sufi, in his Book of Fixed Stars adopted Ptolemy's constellation and called it Al Kentaurus.

Several depictions in the Islamic world adopted Ptolemy's concept and today, many of the stars of Centaurus carry Arabic names.

Source: Wikipedia

Seen from Earth without visual aid, Alpha Centauri appears as one bright star - the third brightest star in the night sky. However, the Alpha Centauri system consists of three stars, each with its very own name.

Rigil Kentaurus is the traditional name for Alpha Centauri. It comes from the Arabic Rijl al-Qinṭūrus (رِجْل القِنْطورُس‎), meaning the "Foot of the Centaur."

An alternative name for Alpha Centauri was Toliman, which is an approximation of the Arabic aẓ-Ẓalīmān (الظَّلِيمَان‎), meaning "The Ostriches."

Lupus and Centaurus in a 15th century copy
of Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source:Science Photo Library

Centaurus on the 17th century Manuchihr Globe

The name was originally given to λ and μ Sagittarii by 13th century Persian astronomer Zakariya al-Qazwini but later appeared in European star charts as a name for Alpha Centauri.

In 2016, the Working Group on Star Names of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to attribute proper names no longer to multiple systems but to individual stars instead. In 2016, the name Rigil Kentaurus was assigned as the proper name for Alpha Centauri A.

In 2018, the name Toliman was officially approved for Alpha Centauri B.

The third star of the system, Alpha Centauri C carries the Latin name Proxima Centauri.

Source: Wikipedia.

Hadar, the official name of Beta Centauri comes from the Arabic hadara, which describes a "settled, civilized area."

There was also a commonly used Latin name, Agena which was derived from genua, meaning "the Knee" (of the Centaur).

Source: Wikipedia

Muhlifain (γ Cen) comes from the Arabic muħlifayn (محلفين), meaning "Jurors." The star shares its linguistical roots with the slightly differently spelled Muliphein (γ Canis Majoris).

Source: Wikipedia

Alnair (ζ Cen) is derived from the Arabic Nayyir Badan Qanṭūris
(نير بطن قنطورس), meaning "The Bright (Star) of the Body of the Centaur."

Sources: Wikipedia, Kunitzsch, Smart: A Dictionary of Modern Star Names

Menkent (θ Cen) means "Shoulder of the Centaur." It is a hybrid of the Arabic word mankib (منكب), meaning "shoulder" and the Latin kentaurus.

Sources: Wikipedia, Constellation of Words

Several sources provide the name Alhakim for ι Centauri without giving any further explanation. In Arabic, Al-Hakeem (الحكيم) means "The Wise," referring to the wise Centaur.

Sources: Wikiwand, seasky.org

Traditionally μ, ν and φ Centauri were called Kabkent, a fusion of the Arabic word Qalb (قلب), meaning "heart" and the Latin kentaurus.

Source: Wikiwand

Centaurus, Lupus and Ara, in Liber de stellis stellarum fixarum, a 13th century Latin translation of al-Sufi
Sources:Louvre Abu Dhabi, @HistAstro

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