Middle East

Middle Eastern Star Lore

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Medieval Islamic Astronomy

R.H. Allen gives two Arabic names for the constellation, both meaning "Twins." The older one was برج الجوزاء - Al Burj al Jauzā, the other one, used by Arab astronomers was التوأمان - Al Tau᾽amān.

In addition, an asterism consisting of γ, μ, ν, η and ξ Geminorum was called
Al Nuḥātai, the Camel's Hump.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia

The stars of Gemini are 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.

Colored 15th century copy of
al-Sufi's illustration
Source: New York Times

In the Al-Asad constellation, Gemini's brightest stars, now known as Castor (α Gem) and Pollux (β Gem), formed the paw of Adh-dhira’a al-Mabsuta, The Extended Forearm. In that constellation, they were called Al Awwal al Dhirāʽ (α Gem) and Al Thānī al Dhirāʽ (β Gem), the First and the Second in the Forearm.

Al-Azfar, The Claws were formed by ρ, τ, ι, υ, κ, δ, λ, ζ and ε Geminorum.

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

Many of today's common names of Gemini's main stars are of Arabic origin:

Extended Forearm and Claws
Source: Arab Star Calendars
α Castor الراس التام المقدم Al-Ras al-Taum al-Muqadim The Head of the foremost Twin
β Pollux الراس التام المطهر Al-Rās al Taum al Mu᾽aḣḣār The Head of the hindmost Twin
γ Alhena الهنعة Al-Han'ah The Brand
δ Wasat وسط Wasat Middle
ε Mesbuta المبسوطات Al-Mabsuṭāt The Outstretched
ζ Mekbuda المحبة Al-Maḳbūḍah The Contracted
ξ Alzirr الزِرّ Al-Zirr The Button
Official names derived from Arabic origins are shown in bold.

Around 964 AD, Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi published his Book of Fixed Stars, in which he assigned Arabic names to the stars and constellations identified 800 years earlier in Ptolemy's Almagest.

Al-Ras al-Taum al-Muqadim (α Gem) - The Head of the foremost Twin - was the name given by Arabic astronomers to the star known as Castor in Greek astronomy.

In the ancient Arabic mega-constellation Al-Asad, the star was named Al Awwal al Dhirāʽ - the First in the Forearm. In 1650, Egyptian astronomer al-Muwaqqit returned to that constellation, using the name Aoul al Dzira, the First in the Paw.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia.

Colored Egyptian copy of
al-Sufi's illustration
Source: diomedia.com

Al-Rās al Taum al Mu᾽aḣḣār (β Gem) - The Head of the hindmost Twin - was the name given by Arabic astronomers to the star known as Pollux in Greek astronomy.

In the ancient Arabic mega-constellation Al-Asad, the star was named Al Thānī al Dhirāʽ - the Second in the Forearm. al-Muwaqqit used the name Muekher al Dzira, the End of the Paw.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia.

α and β Geminorum formed the Seventh Arabic Lunar Mansion, named adh-dhira’ after the "Extended Forearm" in the Al-Asad constellation.

The Sixth Arabic Lunar Mansion, called al-han’a, "The Neck Mark" consists of the stars γ and ξ Geminorum. "Neck Mark" refers to Al Hanʽah (The brand at the neck of the camel) for γ Geminorum

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

Alhena (γ Gem) comes from the Arabic Al Hanʽah, meaning "the Brand" (on the neck of the camel).

Together with μ, ν, η and ξ Geminorum Alhena formed an asterism called Al Nuḥātai, the Camel's Hump.

Al-Muwaqqit used the name Nir al Henat, meaning "The brightest of Al Henat," rferring to al-han’a, the Sixth Arabic Lunar Mansion.

Originally, the star was called Al Maisan, "The shining one." Through the transition of Arabic star tables to the Alfonsine Tables (which were written in Castilian) to the Latin tables of Renaissance Europe, the name was mistakenly transferred to λ Orionis.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia.

Wasat (δ Gem) is the Arabic word for "Middle" which can be seen as the middle of the constellation but according to R.H. Allen can also relate to to the position of the star very near to the ecliptic, the central circle.

Source: R.H. Allen

The names of Mebsuta (ε Gem) and Mekbuda (ζ Gem) date back to the ancient Lion constellation Al-Asad. Together with ρ, τ, ι, υ, κ, δ and λ Geminorum, they formed the Claws of the lion.

Al-Mabsuṭāt (Mesbuta) means "The Outstretched (Claw)"; Al-Maḳbūḍah (Mekbuda) means "The Contracted (Claw)"

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

Alzirr (ξ Gem) comes from the Arabic al-zirr, meaning "Button. No explanation for the origin of the name is given.

Source: Wikipedia.

Arabic Names of the stars of Gemini
Chart done by the author based on a map by seasky.org


al-asad - the original Lion

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.

Author's sketch of al-asad, based on a presentation by Danielle Adams
Click the image to see the original in the Arab Star Calendars
Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson has developed an excellent project called Arab Star Calendars to preserve the astronomical knowledge of the people of the Arabian Desert.

The largest of these Arabian constellations is al-asad, the Lion. Covering 135 angular degrees of the northern sky, it is perhaps the largest constellation ever conceived by stargazers. R.H. Allen (in Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning) called is a "monstrosity", Danielle Adams, (in the Arab Star Calendars) much more appropriately calls it a "Celestial Complex".

Danielle Adams provides an extensive description of all sections of this celestial complex.

She writes:
"The Lion of ancient Arabia was so massive that it roared from January to May, stretching across three seasons in its pre-dawn stellar settings, according to the rain star calendar of Qushayr. The cold season of winter continues with the setting of the Two Forearms and then the Nose of the Lion. The setting of the Forehead of the Lion marks the end of winter and the onset of the warm spring rains. Some weeks later, the Two Shanks of the Lion set about 40 days apart, defining between them the rainy portion of the summer.

All of this seasonal rain activity unfolds over the course of about four months, between the morning settings of the two brilliant pairs of stars (its Two Forearms and its Two Shanks) that roughly define the boundaries of the Lion."

Colored reproduction of al-sufi's illustration
Source: Stuart Rankin; taken at the Library of Congress
Here is a listing of all stars of the different segments of the al-asad celestial complex.

Clicking on the headline name of a segment takes you to an extensive description of that segment in the Arab Star Calendars, which provides a lot more valuable information.
The Clenched Forearm
adh-dhira’ al-maqbuda
الذراعة المقبوضة

Procyon (α Cmi)
Gomeisa (β Cmi)

The Extended Forearm
adh-dhira’ al-mabsuta
الذراعة المبسوطة

Castor (α Gem)
Pollux (β Gem)

Collectively, The Clenched Forearm
and The Extended Forearm are
The Two Forearms
adh-dhira’an - الذراعان

The Claws
al-azfar - الأظفار

Wasat (δ Gem)
Mebsuta (ε Gem)
Mekbuda (ζ Gem)
ι, κ, λ, ρ, τ, υ Geminorum

The Two Nostrils
al-mankhiran - المنخران

Asellus Borealis (γ Cnc)
Asellus Australis (δ Cnc)

The Sneeze
an-nathra - النثرة

Praesaepe (M 44)

Collectively, The Two Nostrils
and The Sneeze are
The Nose of the Lion
anf al-asad - أنف الأسد

The Eyes
at-tarf - الطرف

Ras Elased Australis (ε Leo)
Subra (ο Leo)

The Eyelashes
al-ash’ar - الأشعار

Ras Elased Borealis (μ Leo)
Al Minliar al Asad (κ Leo)
Alterf (λ Leo)
ξ, 6, 10 Leonis, 2 Hydrae

The Forehead
al-jabha - الجبهة

Regulus (α Leo)
Algieba (γ Leo)
Adhafera (ζ Leo)
Al Jabhah (η Leo)

The Mane
az-zubra - الزبرة

Zosma (δ Leo)
Chertan (θ Leo)

The Sheath of the Penis
qunb al-asad - قنب الأسد

Denebola (β Leo)

The Two Haunches
al-warikan - الوركان

Zavijava (β Vir)
Porrima (γ Vir)
Minelauva (δ Vir)
Vindemiatrix (ε Vir)
Zaniah (η Vir)

The Two Shanks
as-saqan - الساقان

Spica (α Vir)
Arcturus (α Boo)

The Rump
al-‘ajz - العجز

Kraz (β Crv)
Gienah (γ Crv)
Algorab (δ Crv)
Minkar (ε Crv)

The Tail Hair
al-hulba - الهلبة

Coma Star Cluster
γ Comae Berenices,
8, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 31 Com

The Tail Hair Strikes
darb al-asad bi hulbatihi
ضرب الأسد بهلبته

Alula Borealis (ν UMa)
Alula Australis (ξ UMa)
Tania Borealis (λ UMa)
Tania Australis (μ UMa)

In her Star Calendar Blog, Danielle Adams kept the memories of this magnificent constellation alive.
Check out her essays on the Roaring of the Lion, the Dog Tooth of Time and the Sky-Raisers.
The Protracted Roaring of the Lion
Abundant rains from an ancient beast
The Smiling Dog Tooth of Time
The Lion brings warmer weather
The Setting of the Sky-Raisers
Widespread rains of summer

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

Throughout the Middle East, the constellation is called Lion in many languages. The Persians called it Ser or Shir; the Turks Artan; the Syrians Aryo; the Jews Arye; all meaning "lion."

Source:R.H. Allen

in the Book of Fixed Stars, Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi adopted Ptolemy's constellations, but there was an original Arabic Lion constellation long before that (see below).

Most of today's Arabic names of stars in Leo can be attributed to al-Sufi, but some of them may be a lot older than that.

15th Cent. reproduction of al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source: Malek Museum, Teheran

α Regulus قلب الأسد qalb al-asad The Heart of the Lion
β Denebola ذنب الاسد ðanab-al-asad The Tail of the Lion
γ Algieba الجبهة al-jabhah The Forehead
δ Zosma الزبرة al-zubra Lion's Mane
ε Ras Elased Australis الرس الأسد الجنوبية al rās al asad al janūbiyyah The Southern Star in the Lion's Head
ζ Adhafera الضفيرة aḍ-dafīrah The Braid / the Curl
η Al Jabhah أل جبهة al-jabhah The Forehead
θ Chertan الخراطان al-kharātān Two Small Ribs
κ Al Minliar al Asad المنهار الأسد al minhar al asad The Lion's Nose
λ Alterf الطرف aṭ-tarf The View (of the Lion)
ο Subra زبرة zubra Upper Part of the Back
μ Rasalas الرس الاسد الشمالي al rās al Asad al Shamaliyy The Northern Star in the Lion's Head
Official names derived from Arabic origins are shown in bold.

Regulus (α Leo) is Latin for "prince" or "little king." In Arabic, the star was called qalb al-asad, meaning "Heart of the Lion." While in this case the Latin name prevailed, many of the other stars in Leo kept their Arabic names.


Denebola (β Leo) is shortened from Deneb Alased, from the Arabic phrase ðanab al-asad "tail of the lion."

The star formed the twelfth Arabic Lunar Mansion, called al-sarfrah (the Weather Changer). Timurid sultan and astronomer Ulugh Beg used Al-Sarfrah as the name for β Leonis.

Sources:Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafezs, R.H. Allen

Algieba (γ Leo) originated from the Arabic al-jabhah, meaning "the forehead."


Zosma (δ Leo) is derived from the Arabic al-zubra, which can mean both "Shoulder" and "Lion's Mane."

al-zubra is also the name of the eleventh Arabic Lunar Mansion, formed by Zosma and Chertan (θ Leo).

Ulugh Beg called the star Al Ṭhahr al Asad, the Lion's Back.

Sources:Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafezs, R.H. Allen

Ras Elased Australis (ε Leo) and Ras Elased Borealis (μ Leo) are combinations of Arabic and Latin. The original names were al rās al asad al janūbiyyah and al rās al asad al shamaliyy, meaning "The Southern Star in the Lion's Head" and "The Northern Star in the Lion's Head", respectively. "Southern" and "Northern" were later replaced with the Latin expressions Australis and Borealis.

Derived from al Janūbiyyah (southern), ε Leonis is also known as Algenubi.

For μ Leonis, the IAU approved the shortened name Rasalas.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

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

13th century Spanish reproduction of al-Sufi's illustration; sciencephoto.com

Chertan (θ Leo) is derived from the Arabic al-kharātān "two small ribs", originally referring to δ and θ Leonis.


Adhafera (ζ Leo) comes from the Arabic aḍ-ḍafīrah "the braid/curl", a reference to the lion's mane.


Al Jabhah (η Leo) means "the Front" or "the Forehead" (of the lion).

Al-Jabhah is also the name of the tenth Arabic Lunar Mansion, formed by Regulus (α Leo), Algieba (γ Leo), Adhafera (ζ Leo) and Al Jabhah.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafezs

Al Minliar al Asad (κ Leo) means the "Muzzle of the Lion."


Alterf (λ Leo) comes from the Arabic aṭ-ṭarf, meaning "the view" or "the Eyes" (of the lion). .

Al-Ṭarf is also the name of the nineth
Arabic Lunar Mansion, formed by Alterf and χ Leonis.

Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafezs

Subra (ο Leo) is derived from the Arabic Arabic al-zubra, which can mean, "Shoulder", "Lion's Mane" or "upper part of the back."

The name was originally applied to δ and θ Leonis.


Leo in The Book of the Birth of Iskandar
Source: wellcomecollection.org

Leo Minor

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 square underneath the "Tail" of Ursa Major at the location of modern day Canes Venatici. The other one is an oval shape, enclosing eight stars in the location of the modern constellations Lynx and Leo Minor.

al thibā᾽ wa‑aulāduhā on the Borgian Globe
Source: atlascoelestis.com

R.H. Allen cites two different interpretations. German astronomer C.L. Ideler described the formation as al thibā᾽ wa‑aulāduhā, a Gazelle with her Young. Arabist Friedrich Wilhelm Lach, on the other hand, called it al haud, the Pond (into which the Gazelle jumps).

Sources: R.H. Allen, atlascoelestis.com


Medieval Islamic Astronomy

The brightest star in the constellation Lyra is Vega. According to Ian Ridpath, the name "... comes from the Arabic words al-nasr al-waqi’ that can mean either ‘the swooping eagle’ or ‘vulture’, for the Arabs saw both an eagle and a vulture here. The constellation was often depicted on star maps as a bird positioned behind a lyre ... It seems that the Arabs visualized Vega and its two nearby stars Epsilon and Zeta Lyrae as an eagle with folded wings, swooping down in its prey, whereas in the nearby constellation Aquila, the star Altair and its two attendant stars gave the impression of a flying eagle with wings outstretched."

Source:Ian Ridpath

Lyra in "Uranographia"
Joannes Hevelius, 1690
Source: Atlas Coelestis

Milky Way

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

Ian Ridpath tells us, that "...to the Arabs of the Middle Ages the Milky Way was known as al-madjarra, from a word meaning a place where something is pulled or drawn along, such as a cart track."

Persian astronomer Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973–1048) described the Milky Way as "... a collection of countless fragments of the nature of nebulous stars."

Syrian scholar Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350) proposed that the Milky Way is "a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars."

Sources: Ian Ridpath, Wikipedia, islam.wikia.org

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