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Myths about the Constellation


The River

Eridanus is a constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere. Its name represents a mythical river.

Eridanus is one of the 48 original Ptolemaic Constellations.

The name Eridanus (Ἠριδανός) was coined by Aratus of Soli, who between 275 and 250 BC rewrote the first comprehensive star catalogue, called Phaenomena, which was developed by Eudoxus of Cnidus about 100 years earlier.

Other Greek astronomers, including Ptolemy, used the name Potamos (Ποταμός), which is Greek for river. In Ptolemy's Almagest, the constellation is listed as Potamos.

Source:Ian Ridpath

Eventually, Aratus' name was more popular than Ptolemy's and in all illustrated descriptions of the constellations, dating back at least to the Leiden Aratea use the name Eridanus.

Eridanus (underneath Orion) in "Atlas Coelestis"
John Flamsteed, 1753
Source: Atlas Coelestis

Eridanus as River God
Leiden Aratea, 816
Source: Ian Ridpath
Eridanus as River God
Manuscript Harley 647, 9th century
Source: British Library
Eridanus as a River
Al-Sufi: Book of Fixed Stars, 964
Source: Wikimedia

Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Eridanus is the river carved by Phaethon. Phaethon was the son of Sun God Helios. One day, Phaeton begged his father to let him ride the sun chariot. Helios urged him to be cautious, but Phaeton lost control of the chariot and veered so wildly in different directions, that both heaven and earth caught fire. Zeus brought an end to the ordeal, striking Phaethon with a thunderbolt and have him crash down to earth.

In the Roman version, written by Ovid, Phaeton fell into the River Po, which in Greek was called Eridanus.


Extended versions of the Phaeton myth can be found at
Ian Ridpath and Wikipedia

Helios riding the Sun-Chariot
Gigantomachy Relief, Pergamon Altar
Picture by the author


In Indian Astronomy, Eridanus is depicted as a sacred river, originating below the head of Nataraja, which is the constellation Orion. In Sanskrit, it is called Srotaswini, which means stream or current. It is commonly depicted as the river Ganges.



In Chinese, Eridanus is written 波江座

In Chinese astronomy, the northern part of Eridanus is placed in the quadrant of the White Tiger of the West.

The stars from Gamma Eridani via Delta and Eta to Tau-9 formed the constellation Tianyuan, the celestial fields. According to Ian Ridpath, these were animals were sacrificed to the gods, or alternatively where animals were reared for hunting.

The southern part of Eridanus cannot be seen from China. Chinese astronomer Xu Guangqi, who introduced Western astronomy to China in the late 16th century created a list of Southern_Asterisms, in which Eridanus was called Shuǐ Wěi, which means Crooked Running Water.

according to Ian Ridpath, the stars between Upsilon-1 and Kappa Eridani represented "the celestial orchard full of fruit trees, possibly the orchard of Xi Wang Mu, the Chinese Goddess of immortality."

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Xi Wang Mu, Painting by Xie Wenli
between ca. 1751 and 1800
Source: Wikipedia

Ian Ridpath also tells us, that "... running from north to south along the present-day borders with Orion and Lepus was a chain of nine stars called Jiuliu or Jiuyou, nine flags or banners of the Emperor that formed part of the hunting scene visualized in this area.

Next to Jiuliu in northern Eridanus was a loop of nine stars forming Jiuzhou shukou, representing interpreters for visitors to the hunt from far-off regions.

Beta, Psi, and Lambda Eridani were joined with Tau Orionis to make a square next to Rigel called Yujing, the jade well for exclusive use by the nobility; the well for ordinary soldiers, Junjing, was to the south in Lepus.

Source: Ian Ridpath

Chinese imperial banners
Source: imperialchinesecourt


According to the Arab star name expert Paul Kunitzsch, Bedouin Arabs visualized present-day Achernar (α Eridani) and Fomalhaut (α Piscis Austrinus) as a pair of ostriches.

Source: Ian Ridpath

Pair of ostriches
Source: Internet Bird Collection

Sotho, Tswana, Vendaa

Achernar (α Eri), the brightest star in the constellation Eridanus is called Senakane (Sotho, Tswana) and Tshinanga (Venda), meaning the Little Horn.

The "Horn" most likely refers to a horned animal, like an antelope, as the Magellanic Clouds are considered the tracks of the "Horn Star" and the "Little Horn" by the Sotho people.

To the Sotho, the disappearance of the Pleiades and the appearance of Achernar (α Eri) signals the beginning of the cold season.

Source: ASSA - African Ethnoastronomy

Antelopes in a rock painting
Source: Don Hitchcock


The Boorong in north-western Victoria call Achernar (α Eridani) Yerredetkurrk, which is also the name of the owlet nighgar, a small, nocturnal bird. According to Robert Mathews, the owlet nighgar is the patron saint of all women.

In Boorong legend, Yerredetkurrk is the mother-in-law of the great ancient warrior Totyarguil, which is represented by Altair (α Aquilae). To avoid incest, Aboriginal tradition prohibits any contact between a man and his mother-in-law. This tradition is well represented in the way the two respective stars appear and disappear in the sky:

© Betty Bundamurra

Yerredetkurrk is highest in the sky between September to December - the breeding season of the owlet nightjar. At that time, Totyarguil cannot be seen. Totyarguil returns to the sky in late summer, when Yerredetkurrk is only very dim above the southern horizon.

Source: John Morieson B.A: The Night Sky of the Boorong
Another Boorong leged tell us about a feud between Yerredetkurrk and her son-in law:

One time, Totyarguil's family was stuck on a mountain top that was too steep to climb down. Totyarguil called out to his wife and children to jump down, one by one, and he would catch them in his arms. He caught all of them safely, but when Yerredetkurrk jumped, he pretended he could not catch her, and she fell heavily on the ground. She recovered, but surely held a grouch.

Some time late, Yerredetkurrk spotted a vicious creature in a water hole. She covered the hole over with leaves and grass to resemble a huge bandicoot's nest. She then tricked Totyarguil to enter the nest to retrieve the animals. Totyarguil fell into the water hole and the monster at the bottom caught hold of his feet and drowned him. Luckily for Totyarguil, his uncle Collenbitchick came to his rescue and managed to revive him.

Source: Morieson


To the Wati in the Western Desert, Canopus (α Carinae), the second brightest star in the night sky and Achernar (α Eridani) are the fires of two sky heroes, which are represented by the Magellanic Clouds.

The heroes judge the life and accomplishments of people when they are dying. Evil people are speared by the older spirit (the Large Magellanic Cloud) and then taken to Achernar, which is the fire of the younger spirit (the Small Magellanic Cloud), where they are being cooked and eaten. The spirits of good people are protected by the older spirit and are taken to his fire, which is Canopus.

Sources: Wikipedia, Dianne Johnson p. 174

Fire Dreaming
© Jorna Newberry

The Warnindhilyagwa live far away from the Wati at Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, but to them too, Achernar (α Eridani is the fire of spirits represented by the Magellanic Clouds. For the Warnindhilyagwa , the Clouds represent the Jukara, an old man and an old woman who cannot gather their own food.

Source: Dianne Johnson p. 163

Modern Day Fiction

In some maps of the Star Trek universe, the planet Vulcan is shown to orbit 40 Eridani.

In 2018, a Super Earth Exoplanet was discovered in the habitable zone of 40 Eridani.

Source:Wikipedia and

Artist's concept of the Star Trek universe planet Vulcan
Part of The Art of the Impossible, a 2003 novel of Star Trek: The Lost Era takes place in the Cursa System, the (fictive) planetary system of planet of Cursa (β Eridani).

The system is controlled by the Klingon Empire, and is attacked by the Cardassian Union in the year 2333.

Cursa System
Star Trek Gamepedia
The location of The Vengeance Factor, a 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is Acamar III, the (fictive) third planet of Acamar (θ Eridani), where the crew learns of a group of Acamarian nomadic pirates known as the Gatherers.

Acamar III
In the Dune universe by Frank Herbert, "Eridani A" is orbited by the planet Richese (the fourth planet in orbit). Richese and Ix are "supreme in machine culture"; their devices are commonplace and considered essential throughout the Dune universe.

Dune: House Atreides

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