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Lyra is a small constellation in the northern sky that can be seen in the South up to about the 40th parallel south. Its name is the Latin word for lyre.
Greek Mythology

Ian Ridpath tells us that the first lyre ever made, was "... invented by Hermes, the son of Zeus and Maia (one of the Pleiades). Hermes fashioned the lyre from the shell of a tortoise that he found browsing outside his cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Hermes cleaned out the shell, pierced its rim and tied across it seven strings of cow gut, the same as the number of the Pleiades.

The lyre got Hermes out of trouble after a youthful exploit in which he stole some of Apollo’s cattle. Apollo angrily came to demand their return, but when he heard the beautiful music of the lyre he let Hermes keep the cattle and took the lyre in exchange. Eratosthenes says that Apollo later gave the lyre to Orpheus to accompany his songs."

Source:Ian Ridpath

Lyra with Lacerta, Cygnus and Vulpecula
Sidney Hall, Urania's Mirror, 1824
Source: Wikipedia

Wikipedia tells us, that "...Orpheus's music was said to be so great that even inanimate objects such as trees, streams, and rocks could be charmed. Joining Jason and the Argonauts, his music was able to quell the voices of the dangerous Sirens, who sang tempting songs to the Argonauts.

At one point, Orpheus married Eurydice, a nymph. While fleeing from an attack by Aristaeus, she stepped on a snake that bit her, killing her. To reclaim her, Orpheus entered the Underworld, where the music from his lyre charmed Hades.

Hades relented and let Orpheus bring Eurydice back, on the condition that he never once look back until outside. Unfortunately, near the very end, Orpheus faltered and looked back, causing Eurydice to be left in the Underworld forever."

Orpheus surrounded by animals
Ancient Roman floor mosaic
Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Mesopotamia

In Babylonian Star Catalogues, Lyra is listed as a goat, called UZA.

Source: J. H. Rogers: Origins of the ancient constellations

Around 12,000 BC, Vega, the brightest star in the constellation and the fifth-brightest star in the night sky, was the northern pole star. As such, it received special attention in Mesopotamia.

The Assyrians named the pole star Dayan-same, the "Judge of Heaven", while in the Akkadian language, it was Tir-anna, "Life of Heaven".

In the MUL.APIN Tables, Vega is listed as
dLAMMA, the messenger of Baba. ζ1 Lyrae and ε Lyrae, the two stars next to Vega are called dNin-SAR and dErragal, respectively.

Source: J. H. Rogers

In Babylonian astronomy, Vega may have been one of the stars named Dilgan, "the Messenger of Light".

Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Rome

To the Romans, Lyra was knows as Vultur Cadens (Falling Vulture) or Aquila Cadens (Falling Eagle).

In the Roman Empire, the start of autumn was based upon the hour at which Vega set below the horizon.

Sources: Wikipedia/Lyra, Wikipedia/Vega,

Arab Astronomy

According to Ian Ridpath, the name Vega "... 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."

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

The two stars at the "bottom" of the constellation have Arabic names.

Sheliak (β Lyr) means "harp", in reference to the constellation as a whole.

Sulafat (γ Lyr) id the Arabic word for "tortoise", after the animal from whose shell Hermes made the lyre.

Source:Ian Ridpath

Celtic Mythology

The Celts called Lyra Talyn Arthur, or King Athur's Harp.

Later, it became known as King David's Harp and as such, it became the Coat of arms of Ireland.


Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology, Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraţrór are four stags that eat among the branches of the World Tree Yggdrasill.

Richard Denning identified Lyra as the antlers of Dáinn, with Vega being its eye.

Source: Richard Denning: What did the Vikings and Saxons call the Stars?

The four stags in the Tree of Yggdrasill; Sæmund's Edda, 1908; Source: Wikipedia

Ancient India

In Hindu Astronomy, Vega is the main star in the 22nd Nakashtra, called Abhijit, meaning "the Victorious One" or "the One who cannot be defeated." In the Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, Krishna was born under this Nakashtra.

The Mahabharata also tells the following story: "Contesting against Abhijit (Vega), the constellation Krittika (Pleiades) went to Vana the summer solstice to heat the summer. Then the star Abhijit slipped down in the sky."

Page of the Mahabharata
Source: Wikipedia

It has been suggested that the "slipping of Abhijit" and ascension of Krittika might refer to the gradual drop of Vega as a pole star since 12,000 BC.


Ancient China

In Chinese, Lyra is written 天 琴 座.

In Chinese astronomy, the entire constellation is located in the 9th Lunar Mansion, called Niú (Ox), which belongs to the quadrant of the Black Tortoise of the North.

Here, it forms three asterisms.

Vega and (among others) the adjacent stars ε, ζ Zeta Lyrae form the constellation Zhinü, the Weaving Girl.

β, γ, δ, λ Lyrae and a number of fainter stars form Jiāntāi, the "Clepsydra Terrace", while η, θ Lyrae and other, fainter stars for a line called Niǎndào, the "Imperial Passageway", a route followed by the Emperor when traveling between palaces.

Sources: Ian Ridpath and Wikipedia

Chinese constellations in Lyra
Map based on

Vega's asterism, the Weaving Girl is also called Celestial Granddaughter, as in Chinese legends, Weaving Girl was the granddaughter of the celestial emperor.

Weaving Girl's husband was Niulang (meaning Cowherd), represented in the sky by the star Altair (α Aquilae).

Hong Kong Space Museum tells the story of Weaving Girl and Cowherd:

"Weaving Girl worked hard year in year out, weaving colorful brocade for the gods and goddesses. However, she stopped weaving after she married Niulang. Outraged, the celestial emperor ordered the couple to be separated by the celestial river (the Milky Way) and only allowed them to meet once a year. On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, the magpies would spread their wings together to form a bridge, enabling the tragic lovers in heaven to meet that night."

Source:Hong Kong Space Museum, Wikipedia
Cowherd and Weaving Girl
Source: Hong Kong Space Museum
All Things Chinese provides an extensive, illustrated version of the tale.

The tale of The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is considered one of China's greatest folk tales. The Qixi Festival, commemorating the two lovers has been celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month for the last 2,000 years, dating back to the Hab Dynasty.

Source: Wikipedia

Cowherd and Weaving Girl
Source: All Things Chinese
Similar festivals take place in Japan (Tanabata Festival) and Korea (Chilseok Festival).

Source: Wikipedia

Pacific Islands
In Hawaii, Vega is called Keoe, meaning Sweet Potato.

Source: University of Hawaii
In Māori, Vega is called Whānui meaning broad, wide or extensive.

Sources: Maori Star Names, Maori Dictionary
In Northern Polynesia, Vega was called whetu o te tau, meaning the year star. For a period of history it marked the start of their new year when the ground would be prepared for planting. Due to Axial precession, this function later became denoted by the Pleiades.

Source: Wikipedia

Boorong (Australian Aboriginal)

The Boorong called Vega Neilloan, the Malleefowl.

When the star sets just after duskfall, it was time to collect the malleefowl's eggs.

In Boorong mythology, Neilloan is the mother of the great ancient warrior Totyarguil.

Sources: Wikipedia, Museum of Victoria, Stanbridge, Morieson

Source: Wikipedia


To the Pawnee in the North American Plains, Vega was one of the four Direction Stars that were used to align their dwellings.

Pawnee earth lodges were dome-like, resembling the sky. The centers were held up with poles that were marked white, yellow, red, and black as colors of the stars.

White stood for Sirius (α CMa), yellow for Capella (α Aur), red for Antares (α Sco), and black for Vega (α Lyr).

Source: Pawnee Star People


The Inca saw a llama with a foal in the constellation. They associated Vega with Urcuchillay, a god that was worshiped by Incan herders, believed to be a llama who watched over animals.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia (German)

Modern Day Applications

Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra was the first star to have a car named after it. The French Facel Vega was manufactured from 1954 to 1964.


Facel Vega
Source: Wikipedia
In 1971, Cevrolet launched the Chevrolet Vega,which was manufactured until 1977.

Chevrolet Vega Coupe
Source: Wikipedia

Modern Day Fiction

In the television series Babylon 5 the Vega Colony is an outpost world of the Earth Alliance in the Vega star system.

In the movie Contact, written by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, SETI researchers, using the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, detect a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence, sent from a transmitter array orbiting Vega.


For a comprehensive list of Science Fiction focusing on Alpha Centauri, see Wikipedia's Vega in fiction.

Very Large Array
Source: Wikipedia

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