Allerlei - Classical Constellations: Crater to Eridanus

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Crater, was the Cup that Corvus used to bring water back to Apollo. The Cup has been connected with many other legends as well.


Delphinus, the Dolphin, is sometimes said to be one of the dolphins that rescued Arion, a Greek singer and musician. The myth tells how Arion traveled to foreign lands to entertain people. After a while he got homesick and so he hired a crew of sailors to sail him back home. Arion filled the boat with the treasures that he earned from his music. Once at sea the crew thought how easy it would be to steal Arion's riches. They were going to throw him overboard but Arion begged to let him play one last song. The sailors all enjoyed the song and it was so good that even dolphins swan close to the boat to hear it. When at last the song was over Arion dove into the ocean and the crew thought he must have drowned. They did not know that a dolphin had let Arion ride on its back and took him home. Meanwhile the ship had arrived in port and the crew said that Arion was not on board because he had decided to play his music at another town. They hoped that the lie would let them escape with Arion's treasure. But then Arion appeared and told the king the truth. The crew was punished and Arion regained his riches. Drawing of a real dolphin

The picture above makes Delphinus look like some kind of sea-monster! The drawing at the right was done by me and it looks a lot more like a real dolphin!

Another Greek myth explains how people were turned into dolphins. One day, Dionysus, god of wine, was walking along a seashore. Some pirates were sailing by and they kidnapped him. The pirates thought that Dionysus was just a man with expensive clothes. They tied him up and planned on holding him for ransom. Once they were out to sea the rope around Dionysus' hands and feet magically fell away and he just sat there smiling. "He must be a god!" cried the helmsman. "We must release him at once!" But the rest of the crew thought that the helmsman was just being afraid. They were not going to let the rich man go. Then suddenly Dionysus made a grape vine grow up the mast and wine flooded the deck. Next he turned into a lion and pounced on the captain. The crew were terrified and jumped into the sea but as soon as they touched the water they turned into dolphins. Just as the helmsman was about to dive into the ocean Dionysus stopped him. "You are the only one that wanted to release me," he said. "For that I will spare your life."


Equuleus, the Little Horse, is usually shown with only the head drawn. It is not clear what horse these stars are supposed to represent. Perhaps it is Celeris, brother of the winged horse Pegasus. When you go outside to look at Equuleus you will probably find that it looks up-side-down. I flipped the picture to make the Little Horse look right-side-up (but you'll notice that the words are now up-side-down!).


Cygnus, the Swan, is a celestial bird that can be seen flying through the Milky Way. One of the more famous myths about this Swan comes from a Greek myth about a man named Cyncus.

Helios was a great charioteer. He had to be because it was his job to keep the sun moving in the sky every day. The sun was his chariot and it was drawn by a powerful team of horses that pulled it from east to west. One day Helios had a son. The mother was a river nymph called Clymene. The boy's name was Phaeton but he never got to know his father. When Phaeton got older he asked his mother who his father was. Clymene at first refused to tell but she later gave in to her son's request and told him that his father was the god Helios. Phaeton raced to go visit his father! Helios was so happy to see his son that he promised Phaeton anything he desired. The boy immediately asked to drive his father's chariot. Helios told Phaeton that it was not a good idea - he spoke of the powerful team of horses and the strength needed to control them. He spoke of the dangerous journey, especially when passing by the huge scorpion and the ferocious lion. Still, Phaeton insisted and Helios was true to his word.

The chariot ride at first was uneventful but then the horses realized that the hand controlling them was not the strong hand of Helios. They bolted to and fro and try as he might the terrified Phaeton could not control them. In the reckless journey the fiery chariot came so close to earth that some of it was burned. That is how Libya became a scorched desert. Finally the Earth itself cried out to Zeus for help. Zeus struck Phaeton with a lightning bolt sending him plunging into the river Po and the horses back to their stable. Cycnus, a close friend of Phaeton, stood by helpless as the remains of Phaeton sank beneath the water. "My friend must have a proper burial," thought Cycnus. So Cycnus dove again and again into the water to recover as much as he could.

Now all the goings on had attracted the attention of many gods and they were amused by Cycnus' repeated diving into the river. They thought that he looked much like a swan does when it dives. But they were also deeply touched by the great love Cycnus had for Phaeton. To honor such devotion the gods turned Cycnus into a swan and placed him in the Celestial River, the Milky Way, for all to see.


Draco, the Dragon, is a constellation in the far northern sky. Many cultures have had stories about dragons. The oldest story is about a goddess who was also a dragon. Her name was Tiamat and she was one of the most important deities in ancient Babylonia. This constellation may have been inspired by Tiamat. It has also been suggested that Draco is the dragon that Hercules killed in a Greek myth.


Eridanus, the River, is the longest constellation in the sky. It starts by Orion and meanders south. There are a lot of ideas as to what particular river, if any, this constellation represents. Some say it is just a celestial river, others say that it may represent the Nile River (a famous African river), and others say that it is the river that Phaeton fell into.

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