Middle East

Middle Eastern Star Lore

O - P



In a Hittite legend from around 1600 BC, battle-goddess Anat falls in love with a hunter but accidentally kills him when he refuses to give her his bow.

This story may be related to a version of the Greek Orion myth, in which Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the wilderness falls in love with Orion, but is tricked by her brother Apollo into killing Orion with an arrow.

Source: Chandra Observatory

Bronze figurine of Anat
Levant region, 1400–1200 BC
Source: Wikipedia


From Wikipedia:
In ancient Aram, Orion was known as Nephîlā′. The Nephilim are said to be Orion's descendants.

Source: Wikipedia

al-jawza’ - The Arabian Orion

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.

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

al-jawza celestial-complex presentated by Danielle Adams at Arab Star Calendar
al-jawza’ is one of the largest of the eleven Arabian Celestial Complexes.

At the core of al-jawza’ is Orion, but the complete complex reaches out ito six other neighboring modern constellations.

Danielle Adams provides an extensive description of all sections of this celestial complex. She writes:
Jawza’ was and is a highly celebrated star grouping in the night sky. Like Thuraya, Jawza’ is a fantastically old star name that has been anthropomorphized over time.

By the time of Ibn Qutayba (died 889 CE), Jawza’ was a fully articulated human figure, the only one in the Arabian sky. (Thuraya only has a head and two magnificent arms.)

However, it is most likely that the earliest iteration of this asterism consisted of just the three central stars that form a straight line.

Indeed, the name Jawza’ comes from the Arabic root that means something in the center. These three stars are known to us today as the Belt of Orion.

The Arabic Star Catalog lists all the individual elements of Jawza’:

al-jawza; Source: Youtube:
Where Orion is Known as Al-Jawza'
The Lady in the Middle
al-jawza’ - الجوزاء

Mintaka (δ Ori)
Alnilam (ε Ori)
Alnitak (ζ Ori)

The Jeweled Belt of Jawza’
mintaqat al-jawza’ - منطقة الجوزاء

Same as al-jawza’ above

The Two Hands of Jawza’
yada al-jawza’ - يدا الجوزاء

Betelgeuse (α Ori)
Bellatrix (γ Ori)

The Two Feet of Jawza’
rijla al-jawza’ - رجلا الجوزاء

Rigel (β Ori)
Saiph (κ Ori)

The Head of Jawza’
ra’s al-jawza’ - رأس الجوزاء

Meissa (λ Ori)
φ1 and φ2 Ori

The Flowing Locks of Hair
adh-dhawa’ib - الذوائب

110,119, 137 Tau
11,15 Ori
ο2 Ori, π1 - π6 Ori

The Bow of Jawza’
qaws al-jawza’ - قوس الجوزاء

Tejat Prior (η Gem)
Tejat Posterior (μ Gem)
ν Gem
Alhena (γ Gem)
Alzirr (ξ Gem)
13, 15, ε Mon

The Front Footstool
al-kursi al-muqadam - الكرسي المقدم

τ Ori
Cursa (β Eri)
ψ, λ Eri

The Rear Footstool
al-kursi al-mu’akhar - الكرسي المؤخر

Arneb (α Lep)
Nihal (β Lep)
γ, δ Lep

The Maidenhead of Jawza’
‘udhrat al-jawza’ - عذرة الجوزاء

Wezen (δ CMa)
Adhara (ε CMa)
Aludra (η CMa)
ο2, σ CMa

In an ancient Arab legend, Jawza’ was promised to a man named Suhayl, who lived across the river with his two sisters. The sisters were known Shi’rayan, the Two Shi’ra‘s.

Nobody knows exactly what happened in the wedding night, but when morning came, Jawza’ was found dead. Jawza’s family sought blood vengeance and Suhayl, fearing for his life fled far to the south, away from his two sisters leaving his sisters behind.

One of the sisters later crossed the river to be closer to Suhayl. She was thereafter named ash-shi’ra al-‘abur, the Shi’ra who crossed over.

The other sister stayed behind on the other side of the river and cried and cried so much that she was named ash-shi’ra al-ghumaysa, the little bleary-eyed Shi’ra
al-jawza; Source: Youtube:
Where Orion is Known as Al-Jawza'
The characters of this legend expand the celestial complex beyond the stars of al-jawza’. To the south of Jawza’ is Suhayl, represented by Canopus (α Carinae), the second brightest star in the sky; so far to the south that it can only be seen at latitudes south of 35 degrees North.

Shi’rayan, the two sisters are still on opposite sides of the river (which is the Milky Way).

ash-shi’ra al-‘abur, the Shi’ra who crossed over, is represented by the brightest star in the sky, Sirius (α Canis Majoris) while ash-shi’ra al-ghumaysa, the little bleary-eyed Shi’ra on the other side of the Milky Way is Procyon (α Canis Minoris).

Source: Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams kept the legend of Jawza’ and Suhayl alive in two essays:

Jawza’, Snow Queen of the Arabs: Winter begins

Whose stars? Our heritage of Arabian astronomy.

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

Much of the later versions of Orion go back to the original al-jawza’ complex. But there are also some other interpretations of "the one in the middle."

R.H. Allen tells us that al-jawza’ was originally the term used for a black sheep with a white spot in the middle of the body. In his theory, the constellation was seen as the middle figure of the heavens.

Allen also tells us that another translation of al-jawza’ is "Walnut" and that the stars of Orion's Belt were once called "The Golden Nuts."

Later, in the 10th century AD, Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi based his description in the Book of Fixed Stars on Ptolemy and depicted the constellation accordingly.

However, al-Sufi also mentioned another Arab interpretation in which Rigel (β Ori) was called rāʽi al-jawza’, the Herdsman of the Jawza’ with α, γ, δ and κ Orionis being the Herdsman's camels.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Jim Kaler: Stellar Stories.

Colored 1602 copy of
al-Sufi's illustration
Source: Wikipedia

Almost all of today's common names of Orion's main stars are of Arabic origin:

α Betelgeuse بط الجوزاء / يد الجوزاء Ibṭ al-Jauzā / Yad al-Jauzā Armpit / Hand of al-Jauzā
β Rigel رجل جوزة اليسراى Rijl Jauzah al Yusrāʽ Left Leg of al-Jauzā
γ Bellatrix النجيد Al Najīd The Conqueror
δ Mintaka المنكة Al Minṭakah The Belt
ε Alnilam النظام al-Niẓām String of Pearls
ζ Alnitak النطاق an-Niṭāq The Girdle
κ Saiph سیف الجبّار aaif al-Jabbar Sword of the Giant
ι Hatysa نير السيف Nayyir as-Sayf The Bright One of the Sword
λ Meissa الميسان al-Maisan The Shining One
υ Thabit ﺛﺎﺑﺖ Tabit The Endurer

Official names derived from Arabic origins are shown in bold.
The name Betelgeuse (α Ori) has its roots in the Arab words ibṭ al-jawza’ and yad al-jawza’, both referring to the al-Jauzā constellation. Since al-Jauzā later became Orion, ibṭ al-jawza’ and yad al-jawza’ are often translated as "Orion's Armpit" and "Orion's Hand," respectively.

R.H. Allen lists a number of other Arab, Persian and Coptic names, all referring to "Shoulder", "Arm" or "Hand."

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

The name Rigel (β Ori) is derived from rijl jawza’ al yusrāʽ, the Left Leg of the Jawza’;. According to R.H. Allen, the name Rigel first appeared in 1252 in the Alfonsine Tables.

Source: R.H. Allen

The name Bellatrix (γ Ori) is also taken from contemporary reprints of the Alfonsine Tables. Tee original Arabic name, first used by 9th century Persian astrologer Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi was Al Najīd, meaning "the Conqueror."

Orion based on King Alfonso X's
Books of Wisdom of Astronomy
Source: Patrimonio

Al-Balkhi had the name al najīd originally assigned to Capella (α Aur), but in the 15th century, the name shifted. Timurid sultan and astronomer Ulugh Beg called the star al murzim al najīd, meaning "the Roaring Conqueror" or "the Conquering Lion", which, according to R.H. Allen is "... heralding his presence by his roar, as if this star were announcing the immediate rising of the still more brilliant Rigel, or of the whole constellation."

The Vienna School of Astronomy "translated" the Arabic name to Bellatrix, which is Latin for "Female Warrior," hence again referring to Jawza’ as a woman.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen
There were several Arabic names for Orion's Belt. It was known as al nijād (the Belt), al Nasak (the Line) and al Alkāt (the Golden Grains or the GoldenNuts).

Source: Wikipedia

The names of the three belt stars are closely related to the "Belt" image:

Mintaka (δ Ori) is derived from the Arabic al minṭakah, which is another name for "the Belt."

Source: Wikipedia

Alnilam (ε Ori) comes from the Arabic al-niẓām, which is a string of pearls.

Source: Wikipedia

Alnitak (ζ Ori) is derived from the Arabic an-niṭāq, meaning "the girdle."

Source: Wikipedia

Arabic Names of the stars of Orion
Chart done by the author based on a map by seasky.org
Saiph (κ Ori) comes from the Arabic saif al jabbar, meaning "sword of the giant."

Referring to the star's position at the "right leg" of Orion, 17th century Egyptian astronomer al-Muwaqqit called the star rekbah al-jawza’ al yemeniat, the "right knee of the giant."

Source: Wikipedia

Iota Orionis was originally called nayyir as-sayf, "the Bright One of the Sword."

In 1951, Czech astronomer Antonín Bečvář assigned the name Hatysa to the star. In 2016, that name was chosen by the IAU over the original Arabic name as the official designation of Iota Orionis.

Source: Wikipedia

The name Meissa (λ Ori) derived from the Arabic al-maisan, "The Shining One." Originally, that name was used for the nearby γ Geminorum. 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.

The original Arabic name of λ Orionis was Al Hakah, the "White Spot," most likely referring to the translation of al-jawza’ as a black sheep with a white spot in the middle of the body.

Al Hakah was also the name of the Fifth Arabic Lunar Mansion, formed by λ Ori together with φ
1 and φ2 Ori.

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

Thabit (υ Ori) is derived from al thabit, which means "the Endurer." R.H. Allen notes that the name first appeared in 1835 in the star atlas Geography of the Heavens by Elijah Hinsdale Burritt. No further details were given.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen


Medieval Islamic Astronomy

In Arab, Pisces is called Al Samakatain, "the Two Fishes."

In al-Sufi's version of the story of Aphrodite/Venus and Eros/Cupid, the two tied themselves together with a cord in order not to lose each other in the Euphrates. The knot of the rope is marked by α Piscium which wascalled Al-Rischa ("the cord") in Arabic, leading to today's official designation as Alrescha.

Other stars tracing their names back to an Arab origin are Dzaneb al Samkat (ω Psc) - the "Tail of the Fish" and Fum al Samakah (β Psc) - the "Mouth of the Fish."

Source: Wikipedia, brickthology.com

1607 copy of Pisces in
Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source: Princeton University Library Catalog


Jewish Folklore

From Wikipedia: In Jewish folklore, when two fallen angels named Azazel and Shemhazai made it to the earth, they fell strongly in love with the women of humankind. Shemhazai found a maiden named Istehar who swore she would give herself to him if he told her the sacred name which granted him the power to fly to Heaven. When he revealed it to her, she flew up to Heaven, never to fulfill her promise, thus she was placed in the constellation Pleiades.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Collin de Plancy, Dictionnaire infernal

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

In Arab astronomy, the Pleiades were the center of the third Arabic Lunar Mansion, called al-Thurayyā.

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


From Wikipedia: In Turkish, the Pleiades are known as Ülker. According to 11th century Turkic lexicographer Kaşgarlı Mahmud, ülker çerig refers to an army made up of a group of detachments, which forms an apt similar to a star cluster.

Source: Wikipedia

The star cluster of the Pleiades is part of the constellation Taurus, but given the amount of Star Lore related to them, they deserve a separate entry.

Turkish tactics
Source: Mehmetçik TV

Back to E-N Forward to Q-Z

Back to Star Lore
Start Page

Back to Mythology
Start Page

Back to Space Page

Back to English
Main Page

Back to Start Page